A Few Travel Notes on a Tour of the COVID-Cooridor

It’s catch-up day on the ole bloggeroo. My apologies for the somewhat erratic posting over the last two weeks. Now that I’m back home from a 5000+ mile road trip through the heart of COVID country, we will return to regularly scheduled programming. 

As part of that, I’d like to offer a few somewhat playful (but also honest) notes about my travels these past few weeks.

1. COVID Conscious. We did not spend the same amount of time in every state that we passed through, although we did spend at least one night in Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Alabama. Of those five states, Alabama was the most mask conscious. In fact, several fast food restaurants where we stopped for some road food had their dining rooms closed to limit the spread of COVID. We ate in places that required masks and most service personnel wore masks. The same was true in St. Louis, but not the case in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida. 

2. Traffic. I was really surprised by how little traffic there was on the roads and generally how easy it was to travel through the southeast (with the exception of South Carolina). One of the more amusing things was noticing that drivers of Nissan Altimas and Chevy Tahoe/Yukons were by far the most aggressive and (to my mind) reckless drivers.

3. Landscapes. Perhaps it’s living in a place that is among the flattest in the world, but I couldn’t help but appreciate the diversity in the landscapes that we saw on our travels. Even traveling by interstate, I became fascinated by the subtle changes in topography and vegetation on our travels. The undulations of central Virginia, the jagged hills of around Birmingham, Alabama, the highway cut into the mountains of West Virginia, and the flat expanse of the Missouri valley in Iowa all struck me as particularly distinct, and while not unexpected, I feel like I appreciated the topography more after over a decade of traveling back and forth across the country largely in an airplane.

4. Seascapes. One of the coolest experiences that I had on my travels was a couple of boat tours of the Roosevelt Channel which runs between the islands of Captiva and Pine Island on the west coast of Florida. In particular I enjoyed a tour given by Brian Holaway who not only demonstrated a remarkable ability to read the landscape of low-lying barrier islands and, as impressively, the seascape of sand bars, channels, and buildings.

For example, I was fascinated by the Punta Gorda Company Ice House in the Safety Harbor off North Captiva Island (PDF of the National Register registration here). Set out on stilts, fishermen would bring their catch to the ice house, which would give them credit and transfer the fish to the mainland for sale. 

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We also cruised by the “Fish House” owned by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and built originally by J.N. “Ding” Darling. Darling who was a political cartoonist and conservationist, built the house in 1942 and the surrounding land as a base for his conservation efforts. It was purchased and is maintained by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation as part of an artist-in-residence program. 

He also took us to a shell mound on the island off Cayo Costa. I assumed that this shell pile might be a midden of some description, but our guide suggested that its size and the uniformity of shells might hint a ritual or ceremonial function. In any event, the site was impressive with large shells tumbling down the mound into the sea:

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5. Listening and Driving. For the first time in my life, I listened to an audio book!! Don’t judge me!! I downloaded Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest, The Ministry for the Future (2020). I feel like this book deserves its own blog post, but the audiobook ran for over 20 hours of my 30+ hour drive and provided a distinct soundtrack to the low rumble of my truck’s big diesel engine.

It’s a bit odd not to have a paper (or even digital) book to fall back on for plot points or to check spellings. So I’m not entirely sure what my review will look like, but it probably won’t be any more impressionistic than my usual reviews!  

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