Friends encouraged me to visit Cedar Key, and now I'm wondering why I've never been before, and when I can return. The town of said name was incorporated in 1869, and is located on Way Key, part of a group of 6 islands referred to as the Cedar Keys. The boom years for the area were the 1880's when the population peaked at 1,887, but today's estimate is 857.
Cedar Key is a quaint, Old Florida town with a single gas station, a local food market, a few shops and restaurants, and an abundance of open space for outdoor activities. Situated on the Gulf of Mexico and the lower Suwannee River, Native Americans called it home for more than 5,000 years; John Muir arrived here in 1867 upon completing a 1,000 mile walk; and the Cedar Key National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1929, today comprising 13 islands.
In the few miles I traveled, I watched a sounder of wild boar run (15' away!), a pod of dolphins swim at sunset, and an unlimited number and variety of birds in flight, including an american eagle.
The small town is surrounded by one of the largest undeveloped estuaries in the country and is a draw to kayak, fish, hunt, hike, bike, birdwatch, and enjoy the sunset. And, while I did enjoy cycling, trail walking, camping, chatting with locals, and sunsets at the pier, I must return.
I was so in relax mode that I missed visiting the Cedar Key Museum State Park and the Historical Society, but even more shocking, the restaurants closed before I enjoyed a night out in this "clam chowder capital".
Cedar Key hasn't seen the last of me!
On Friday the 13th (honestly), I got a call from my Leesburg friends that he had a sore throat and they were now quarantined for 3 days awaiting testing. So sadly, we didn't enjoy a few days of fun this year after all. That same night, a friend (in healthcare) wrote to ask, "Where are you hunkered down for Covid-19?," and offered me a place to stay in Maryland.
But, my biking and camping trip in Lafayette, Louisiana was still on, multiple reservations were in place, and I was heading northwest as planned. El pronto, I dialed Shellmound Campground and alleluia, they'd find a tent spot for me, and off I went on Saturday to visit Cedar Key, 4 days earlier than expected.
The weekend was busy with local families and tourists camping, as well as day visitors fishing, boating, and trail walking. My first night I had to pitch my tent in the day use picnic area for lack of any other option, but happily moved to a waterfront spot on Sunday afternoon when most locals returned home, and some tourists started their end-of-season trek north. My sister emailed to offer me a place to stay, but driving to winter in Massachusetts wasn't anywhere on my radar at this point.
It wasn't until Tuesday the 17th that life began to distinctly change. I woke to two cancellations via email -- my next sleeping spot a week away in Gainesville (now in lockdown), and my ultimate destination -- Cycle Zydeco in Lafayette, Louisiana! That same morning, Florida announced the closure of all state park campgrounds. Thus began two days of minor panic as I realized that (a) I was truly homeless, (b) a serious health crisis was unfolding, and (c) my next 7 planned destinations, across 5 states through May, no longer made sense (or no longer existed).
It was sheer luck that I was hunkered down in a small town, and at a county campground, but the closure timing was an unknown variable. By now, however, we were a fairly tight knit group of travelers, and most of us were asking the same questions -- "What's still available?, How busy are the highways?(as the Canadian border was closing, too), and What about supplies like food, gas, etc?"
People were kindly sharing information (the National Forests and private campgrounds were still open; the highways were jammed; some Airbnb hosting existed), while I was kicking tires within a couple of hours drive for a bed or a campsite. I would've been really happy to simply stay in my tent in this beautiful place, but in the end decided that a known entity was the best solution. On Sunday the 22nd, I pointed the Element southeast once again to an Airbnb in Melbourne that's oh-so-familiar to me.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover