Last night after studying the maps and playing around in Google Maps, I decided I should aim for Gainesville, Florida. Not only would that put me just a short (3-ish hours) drive from the Center for Great Apes, but it would be amusing to say that I drove from Gainesville (GA) to Gainesville (FL).
I wanted to drive back roads to enjoy the scenery and pass through the small towns of Georgia, but I could see that I wouldn't be able to make it even to the Florida state line in one day, much less to Gainesville. It's not just the lower speed limit. The interstate (I-75) is the shortest route. The secondary roads amble all over.
So I compromised. I decided to take state route 11 as far as Macon, GA, where I would pick up I-75. The route was a good choice. Turns out that it's labeled a "Georgia Scenic By-Way." Once I got past Jefferson, where 11 has weird little spokes that dead end (and got me mixed up) it was an easy drive. I stopped in several small towns including Monticello, where I walked around a little crafts market in the town square and bought some homemade cookies and a fan, and Gray, where I visited a local bookstore (with beautiful wood floors) and chatted with the owner.
I was having such an enjoyable time, I started studying the maps again to see if I could extend the non-interstate part of the drive. Fortunately, I was able to discipline myself. At Macon I got onto I-75 and started making good enough time that I was confident I would make it to Gainesville by 5PM -- or close enough -- even stopping at almost every rest stop and one outlet store. (The same one I stopped at 7 years ago. They carry my brand.)
I crossed into Florida pretty much on target. I stopped at the Welcome Center -- where visitors are offered a small cup of orange or grapefruit juice -- and picked up some motel discount coupon books. I studied the options and decided to continue aiming for Gainesville, even though there appeared to be more and more economical motel options in Lake City, which is not quite as far south.
As I continued down I-75, the clouds were gathering and I started to see flashes of lightening. Then the rain started to fall. I found myself driving into a squall so strong that I lost sight of the tail lights of the car in front of me. I slowed way down and turned on my hazard lights. Lake City began to seem like a good option. Then the rain eased up. I drove through several squalls. Sometimes the road was covered with water and I worried about hydroplaning. Apparently many of the other drivers didn't, because they never slowed down. Funny thing is that on the trip 7 years ago, when I entered Florida near Jacksonville, I was hit by a sudden downpour. That time I actually pulled off the road and waited it out. Something about Florida -- in hurricane season.
I finally made it to Gainesville right around 5PM. I headed to the motel I had targeted based on price and internet access. It didn't look all that great, but the advertised price was reasonable. But the check-in clerk said that coupon price was not available. It would be $15 more -- and, by the way, internet access is only in the reception area, not in the rooms.
I decided I should shoot for Ocala. But before driving another 30 minutes, I called one of the hotels. Not only would they honor the coupon price, they would give me a better rate. Plus breakfast is included and there is a restaurant right there, so I wouldn't have to drive to find a meal. When I checked in, they gave me a gift pack!!! And did I mention that the rate is better than I would have paid in Gainesville. A very lucky turn of events.
So here I am. All fed and 35 miles closer to my destination tomorrow. I plan to sleep in. I covered 415 miles today!