Eight days into our around-the-country trip, my friend and I walked the long stretch of white sand beach in Grayton Beach State Park from the setting sun towards the rising full moon.
We had pulled in to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, a few hours earlier and ridden our bikes to the beach after dinner, happy to finally be at the wide-open coastline that we would follow to Padre Island in Texas before heading inland to the California coast.
We locked our bikes near the bathhouse and took a nature trail off the parking lot through wind-mangled scrub oaks and magnolias and over the dunes. It was a clear evening, and the sunset reflected in the few clouds stretched out above the horizon. We had the beach to ourselves.
Lying in the surf, we could see the moon on our left, the sun on our right, the great dome of darkening sky in between, and a few stars beginning to show. We were hardly surprised to learn later that Grayton Beach is ranked among the most pristine, beautiful beaches throughout the States.
The following day, we drove to Gulf State Park campground across the state border in Alabama. We backed the van into the trees in the back of the site, where an all-too-tame raccoon continually tried joining us for dinner. He came right up to the doorway, and with paws up peered at me pleadingly as I was preparing our meal. Picking up a pot and spoon, I chased it back into the woods with as much noise as I could muster.
Not long after we rolled out onto the highway the next morning, we found the Happy Shak Hippie Boutique in Gulf Shores, Alabama. This self-proclaimed “Woodstock hippie haven on the beach” – complete with a psychedelic peace van parked out front for photo-op crazed tourists like ourselves – stocked everything from tie-dye shirts to hand-blown glass pipes. This was a great find.
We stopped in at nearby Kitty’s Kafe for quick breakfast that was served, as the sign had promised, with good old Southern hospitality.