9 Things I Learned About Florida

Bike-packing setup on a couple Kokopelli pack rafts in Wekiwa State Park.
Not shown: about fifty alligators.

By Emilie Colby

ORLANDO INTL AIRPORT, ORLANDO, FL. 1PM LOCAL TIME.

It is very, very hot, and very, very flat. It’s about as different from my adopted home of Colorado as it is possible to be while still being on the same continent. When I left Denver in the wee hours on a sales trip to visit MTI dealers, it was a balmy 32F/0C and my partner wondered why I wasn’t taking a coat on the trip. (“I’m going to Florida,” I stressed. “Right, but like, what if it rains?” he reasoned. “It’s Florida, it will still be 90 degrees,” I replied confidently, despite never having been to Florida.) 

Luckily for me, and my lack of coat, Florida stayed horrifyingly toasty for my entire visit. Over the ten day trip, I gained a new appreciation for air conditioning and Douglas Adams’ advice to always know where my towel is (so I can mop the sweat off).

Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates (SANCA) at Nathan Benderson Park.
The facility is so gorgeous that I had to stop the car and ogle.

ONE: Air-conditioning and sunscreen are your friends. 

I don’t tolerate heat well. I never have. It’s why I try to live in places with snowy winters. -15F/-26C? No problem at all, just wear a coat. 90F/32C and 95% humidity? Let me die and ascend this human plane to one which doesn’t make me sweat so much. 

Florida, in case you were unaware, is very hot and very humid. Thankfully, it’s also very well air-conditioned. Entering any building is like climbing through the wardrobe into winter. Just don’t think about the energy use implications too much. 

View from the boardwalk at John D. MacArthur State Park.

TWO: Hungry? Go to Publix.

Nearly everyone I met said, “Have you tried the fried chicken at Publix?” I hadn’t. It wasn’t until day three of my trip that I found myself in the prepared foods section of the local chain, contemplating bone-in versus bone-out. I don’t want to suggest that grocery store fried chicken changed my life, but it definitely changed the way I feel about fried chicken. 

THREE: I can’t pronounce Kissimmee

I can’t, that’s all there is to it. Every time I tried, someone gently corrected me. No matter how many different ways I said it, none of them were right. Kih-SIM-ee? Kih-suh-MEE? Kuh-sim-ee?

Beach at John D. MacArthur State Park.
Absolutely none of these prints are from me falling over.

FOUR: West Coast, Best Coast

The eastern coast of Florida is beautiful: mangroves, miles of beach, sailboats for days. But something about the Gulf of Mexico – a body of water I had never seen – with its wide swimming beaches, calm waves, and manatees is so unlike other ocean-adjacent places I’ve visited. 

FIVE: Jurassic Park is real and it’s just outside Orlando.

Have you paddled through Wekiwa State Park? It’s a jungle in there. A jungle that seems out of time with the 21st century. Huge, ancient trees hang over the water dangling vines that might also be snakes. Alligators, black and wet, lurk on the banks and you don’t know they’re there until you hear the splash of them moving. Don’t swim in water you can’t see through. 

It sucks when your phone rings on a paddle, but could you find a better office?

SIX: Miami has a mural garden.

I don’t know what I expected to find in Miami, but a mural garden wasn’t it. My traveling partner, a Miami native, stopped us at the Wynwood Walls to kill time during rush hour traffic. As someone who likes to think of themselves as an art buff, it was a jewel in an already beautiful city. We bopped around the outdoor murals and indoor installations, me stopping to take pictures every few minutes. 10/10 would recommend. 

This sculpture is awesomely macabre, like if Nessie and Skeletor had a kid.
Sculpture by Alexis Diaz.

SEVEN: All chicharrones are not created equal.

If you, like me, thought that chicharrones were fried pig skins with the consistency of a puffed rice cake, ordering them in south Florida will knock your socks off. Traditionally, chicharrones are deep fried pork belly and while they might send you into cardiac arrest, they are worth the risk.

EIGHT: Just because there are supposed to be alligators doesn’t mean you’ll see any. 

In an effort to see as many of the quintessential parts of Florida as I could, I drove across Route 41 between Miami and Tampa. The Tamiami Trail, as Route 41 is also known, runs right through Everglades National Park. Supposedly, this part of Florida is extra full of alligators, but I only saw one, in the parking area at the Miccosukee reservation. I was deeply disappointed by the lack of gators, but not by the multitudes of “don’t feed the alligators” signs. 

NINE: Just because you can’t see the alligators doesn’t mean they aren’t there. 

Seriously. Don’t swim in murky water.

Don’t forget to bring your towel! (And your PFD.)

Emilie Colby is the daughter of MTI owner Gordon Colby, and in that role has served the company on and off for most of her life as a gopher, brand ambassador, warehouse worker, sales and customer service extraordinaire, marketing whiz, and indentured servant. Easily spotted in a crowd thanks to her six-foot frame, variously colored and considerable quantity of hair, and balcony-reaching voice to go with a demeanor best described as not shy, some of you may know Emilie from the trade show circuit. This is her first blog for MTI, to go with her first sales trip. We’re pleased to say the trip was a success, in addition to introducing her to Publix fried chicken.

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