It was Saturday morning, September 9th.
My early morning agenda included looking for gas, making a pot of coffee, taking video of every room of the house, then putting up boards.
5:30 AM, I hit up the Gas Buddy app. Looked like there was some gas nearby. Before even drinking coffee or brushing my teeth, off I went.
One station had no gas, but a station on another corner had some. I pulled up and was able to top off the gas tank.
While I was putting up the boards, the Irma advisories kept coming in. Each one was more intense, and coming closer to a direct hit on Tampa/St. Petersburg.
By early afternoon, with the boards up, we decided to take off up north. A friend of ours offered us a place to stay, and more and more people we knew were leaving, so we took off. We departed at about 3:30 PM.
We headed north up US Highway 41, straight from Fowler Avenue in Tampa all the way to Williston. Google Maps, via our website link, showed lots of red and orange along Interstate 75 from Tampa all the way to Gainesville.
Along highway 41, gas was out at 75-80% of stations. The few stations that did have it available had long lines of anywhere from 20-30 cars. Most of these stations were between Tampa and Brooksville. Hardly anything going north through Inverness, Floral City, Dunnellon, and Williston.
One station in Williston had gas–and a police escort.
All along 41, I looked at all the houses, businesses, stores, even the beautiful old trees. I wondered how much of this would be damaged 36 hours from that moment–or even destroyed. No one knew.
Keeping up with Google Maps, it looked like Interstate 75 was pretty clear from Ocala north. So we decided to take State Road 121 (aka Williston Road) out of Williston to get over to Interstate 75 on the south side of Gainesville.
We tried a few gas stations at Williston and Interstate 75, but no gas was available. One had just run out. It was worth a try to top off, but we were still fine gas-wise. No big deal.
Once on 75, we kept our eye on Gas Buddy. Anything in Gainesville that had any availability was well within town–near the University of Florida. Traffic was moving at the posted speed limit.
Gas Buddy was showing some availability at Exit 399, near the City of High Springs, 15 miles north of Gainesville.
Should we get off? Why not. Not many people were getting off, so we tried it.
We saw a line of 10-12 cars at a Mobil station right off the exit. They accepted 3-4 cars, before running out of gas. We drove west on US 441 towards High Springs.
Not far after the Mobil, like a desert oasis, there was a Raceway station on the right side of the road with 2-3 open pumps and no one pulling in. We pulled right in, sure enough, an open pump with no pesky yellow bag on the handle!
The gas tank was filled up, and off we went!
We took 441 through High Springs and back onto Interstate 75. Traffic flowed nicely all the way into Georgia.
Once into Georgia, with traffic continuing to flow nicely, it seemed like a normal world again. A world where services were plentiful, where we weren’t slaves to a dreadful forecast for the past week.
Our end destination was in Kentucky, but how were we going to drive all night with a baby, a dog, and two weary drivers?
We’d been told about a lack of lodging, and those reports were true. We were looking up hotels on a couple of the different booking websites. Nothing pet friendly.
I got to thinking: Interstate 75 takes a north-northwest trek through Georgia. I started looking for small-medium sized towns west of Interstate 75. The City of Americus came up on my map, about 25 miles to the west of the interstate.
One thing led to another, lo and behold, an Econo Lodge in Americus had a pet-friendly vacancy! We booked it right then and there, exited the interstate near Cordele, and headed west to Americus.
We can drive west to Americus tonight, sleep, get breakfast, then head north back to Interstate 75, was my thought. It only added 30 miles to the overall trip.
Stop For the Night
We arrived at Econo Lodge of Americus, checked in to our room which was marked down to $59 per night. The room was marked down because it was part of a renovation of the hotel. The only imperfection in the room we noticed was an unfinished baseboard, and it was missing a coffee maker. The room was quiet, clean, and the mattress was brand new and comfortable.
The next morning we had our complimentary breakfast at the adjacent Hampton Inn, which I believe was owned by the same group. The Econo Lodge’s dining area was still under construction. The Hampton Inn’s food was delicious and there was plenty of it for both hotels. The ladies attending to the dining area were fantastic and friendly.
This deal, gotten under difficult circumstances, driving 80 miles per hour on the interstate, was likely the best one we’ve gotten on lodging yet.
North from Americus
We topped off the gas in Americus. There seemed to be plenty of gas available at local stations. We noticed no lines, no yellow bags.
The rest of the trip to Kentucky was completely uneventful as everything north of about Atlanta seemed to be business as usual.
Getting out of Florida was pretty easy with a little planning. We had no real backups to deal with. Our number one goal: We wanted to get topped off on fuel one more time before leaving the state, and we accomplished that mission without too much trouble.
We were fortunate. Many people undoubtedly had it way worse.
Now, how were we going to get back? Join us in the next article on how that went.
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