I had an excellent and dry ride up to Wilmington, NC today, falling in with two riders from Virginia and two from New Hampshire (!) on the way. I spent the day with my friends Rob and Michele Zapple seeing their nice city. Rob is a builder of custom homes and Michele owns/operates/teaches at her gymnastics gym and I got to see their work today and was very impressed. Rob’s houses are really very well-built works of art; not in the sense that they’re huge or extravagant, just well-made with all the right touches.
In the evening, we went out to dinner with their two son Holden and Jack; their daughter Zoey could not join us (see photo). I remember long ago when Rob and Michele were in their 20s and it’s great to see them still together and with a house-full of nearly-grown, great-looking kids.
Tomorrow: Heading for home.
Rain during Bike Week is an undesirable but unavoidable occurrence if the Weather Gods so decree and today we’re having “scattered thunderstorms”. The Weather Service defines this as rainfall over 30-50% of the forecast area. Bikers define it as a pain in the butt: there’s a heavy overcast and it could rain at any time. But as Vonnegut said, “So it goes”. I have the bike parked and covered and I’m holed up at the Holiday Inn Express.
I don’t mind having a day at the hotel really. I need to catch up on my Italian lessons and finish listening to the audio book “City of Falling Angels” (John Berendt’s story of the burning and rebuilding of La Fenice, the opera house in Venice) in preparation for my Italian trip. I’ll be leaving this Friday night for Venice and will be posting a blog of that trip here on this site, if you’re interested. Given that I’m going to depend on European Internet cafes rather than take a laptop, my postings are likely to be less regular.
Mindful of today’s forecast, I spent some time yesterday doing Bike Week stuff such as cleaning the bike up (it got very dirty during the rain two days ago near Daytona) and visiting the local Harley Davidson dealership. The latter is always a zoo, jammed with bikes parked and cruising and large crowds perusing the wares of vendors who set up their tents in back. I bought a “Spit Happens” bib for Mark & Tina’s 10-month old baby Alice, complete with Harley logo – don’t blame me, Mark sat her down on my bike yesterday and she reached for the handle bars and smiled.
I also visited the Broken Spoke and the Rat Hole, both well-known biker watering holes. They each had daytime activities such as jello-wrestling, wet tee-shirt contests, burn out contests, and “pig scambles” (I have no idea what this is but I doubt PETA would approve) – weird entertainment indeed. I wonder what these places are like at midnight (well past my bedtime).
The vendor fairs, of which there are several that cover acres, feature every motorcycle part and doodad you can think of. Clothes, boots, jewelry, hats, tuning services, cleaning services, tattoos, piercing, sunglasses were all on display, just to name a few. My favorites are the helmet stickers. These are the bumper stickers of the motorcycle world, are about 1” x 4”, and are hilarious. They’re often profane, vulgar, and wickedly funny. Samples include “Your Face or Mine”, “Zero to Bitch in 2.5 seconds”, and “You Were Good but Your Mom Was Better”. I really can’t see myself riding around with any of these (or those with the work F**K prominently featured) on my helmet but they are funny to read here.
I wrapped up by visiting the Dead Dog Saloon, my favorite spot, which is down in Murrell’s Inlet and overlooks the water. They also have great tee-shirts, which brings up an interesting dilemma. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself buying more tee-shirts than you have packing space for. I’ve limited myself to four on this entire trip (see photos).
I finished yesterday off sharing dinner at the Pawleys Island Tavern with all of my NYC UVA theatre friends and we had a great time. Pat and Peter Web have got to be two of the funniest people on earth. Baby Alice kept us entertained when the excellent band was not playing (that child is really great in public) and the South Carolina low country menu did not disappoint.
Tomorrow morning I’ll be packing up and making a short (1 hour) ride up the coast to Rob Zapple’s house in Wilmington, NC. Rob is another UVA theatre classmate and he and his wife Michele were my neighbors out in L.A. many years ago. Rob is a great ambassador for Wilmington and I’m looking forward to seeing the city. Hopefully, I can stay dry for that one hour ride!
Ensuring that my rain gear was fit and ready was a major priority for me before this trip and today I got to reap the rewards of my preparations. I made it from Fort Lauderdale to just south of Daytona before the clouds got really ominous looking. I stopped at a handy rest area and donned my rain gear. I was very glad that I’d tried it all on at home and that I was able to put it on today smoothly and before any rain appeared. No one likes to wear rain gear so it’s always a gamble to see how long you can go without putting it on yet not get wet (you can get soaked to the bone on a moving bike in the rain in about 30 seconds). My gamble today paid off as a short 3 miles after putting on the duds the downpour began and continued for about an hour. I stayed completely dry but was reacquainted with the difficulties in seeing the road in the rain; one has to look through a windshield, a helmet face shield and, in my case, glasses. All of which got wet in some form or another; none of which had a windshield wiper. That all combines to require absolute focus and attention when driving and that is mighty tiring.
Did I mention the smoke detour? Oh, yes, about 5 miles after the downpour began the state police closed I-95 down due to smoke from brush fires. Traffic was detoured east then north on local roads then back to I-95 (about an hour of creeping along, in the rain, sandwiched among semi’s, on slippery roads – a real treat). At least at highway speeds you can count of the air envelope around you to keep some water off you – at a traffic light it’s like sitting on your bike in the shower. Luckily, my rain gear did the job and even lived up to its promise to let air pass into the garments but not water, so no sweating to death in the rain suit.
After I got back on I-95 the rain began to taper off; another hour and the weather cleared completely and I was able to put the rain gear away and finish my ride to Jacksonville in comfort. I did get lucky in that I seem to have skirted the thunderstorms that were angling NW to SE across central Florida today, some of them pretty severe. The storm front even cleared out the really warm temps. Oddly enough, two hours after I checked into the hotel here and covered the bike, it started to rain again. Tomorrow, though, we are promised clear skies and cool temps (70s).
Tomorrow I’ll be riding to Pawleys Island, just south of Myrtle Beach, and taking a route off the Interstate on smaller roads through Manning, Greeleyville, and Andrews, South Carolina. This more rural route will shave 1.5 hours off my drive time and let me take in some of the scenery one usually doesn’t see from I-95. I may wind up stuck behind a hay combine or tractor for a few miles but that might be fun, too. Also, because Myrtle Beach Bike Week starts tomorrow, I may find myself in the company of other riders and it’s almost always fun to ride with a group.
Tomorrow: Howard’s (as the Pawleys Island Tavern is known to the locals) and my friends from Manhattan.
I’m writing tonight from Ft. Lauderdale after an uneventful but pretty ride back up the Florida Keys and up the turnpike past Miami. The weather service was a little unclear about the likelihood of rain or thunderstorms today and a few times I thought the freshening wind and low clouds might mean a sprinkle. However, I got here dry and the forecast now calls for “isolated t-storms” about midday up in Jacksonville, which is my destination tomorrow. The term “isolated” indicates that only 10% of the forecast area may receive rain, so I have my fingers crossed. Having ridden through a few thunderstorms in my day, some complete with hail, I can tell you they’re not pleasant on a bike. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
I had some time today while riding along to do some thinking about Key West. Some people go there and, attracted by the lifestyles, the weather, the whatever, want to move there. According to some Internet chat groups I investigated, many who do move, don’t stay very long (seems for some there can be such a thing as too much paradise). I am having no such urge to move to Key West; for me it would be akin to moving to OceanCity or Virginia Beach and I have no interest in that. I’m not really a beach person, don’t tan that well, don’t like the ocean much, and don’t even like most seafood! Why then, you might ask, did I go to Key West?
Well, it was a far-away destination and made for a very good motorcycle ride. It’s also famous for its fun and saloons and I’m glad to be able to say I’ve been there. I learned some stuff, saw some sights, bought a few tee-shirts, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. And it was a lot of fun seeing my two friends during when their cruise ship made port in Key West. All of the service folks, bartenders, and waiters I talked with were friendly and nice and left a pretty good taste in my mouth about Key West. What more is there to say?
However, given a choice of going to Key West or to Paris or Venice, I’d opt for the latter every time. I’m much more of a museums and frescoes kind of biker; you know – a hairy hoodlum who digs centuries-old, ornate opera houses and Impressionism.
Tomorrow: it’s on to Jacksonville, which is just a way-point for Friday’s ride to Pawleys Island, S.C. where I’ll meet up with the NYC UVA Theatre alums (our annual get together) and, over the weekend, take in a bit of Myrtle Beach Bike Week (always a blast).
This morning the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines ship “Enchantment of the Sea” docked in Key West at Mallory Square (see photos) and soon thereafter two of the passengers, my Washington D.C. area friends Carol Klein and David Peridia, disembarked and met me. This was all part of my grand trip plan and it was great to see them. We hopped on the Conch Tour Train and enjoyed a fine guided tour around Key West during the cool morning hours, learning quite a bit about the island’s history.
Then we strolled Duval Street and turned into the famous Hogs Breath Saloon, positioning ourselves near one of their real-time web cams. Carol called her son David, as promised, so that he could get on the Internet and see us, which he did. Mission accomplished, we then did some more shopping on Duval and wound up at the Grand Café for a great lunch, featuring conch fritters, shrimp, panini, Mojitos, Pain-in-the-Asses, and conichons (a type of pickle). The food was fine and the setting, in an old restored house, was great.
We chatted for quite a while, leisurely finishing our excellent lunch, and then we moseyed back to Mallory Square so Carol and David could do some last minute souvenir shopping before they had to get back on board their ship. We said goodbye and off they went and I parked myself at the Hilton’s outside bar so that I could see the big ship depart. It was an interesting ballet of dock workers, pilot boat, and cruise ship.
I spent the afternoon doing a little shopping of my own and visited a few other places and then wound up back at my hotel for a little siesta.
Tomorrow I’ll depart Key West and head back up the keys to Ft. Lauderdale. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Key West and getting here was a great ride. Next, I’ll be heading north up the East Coast to visit other friends and join other riders and I hope you’ll continue to join me here. I’m keeping an eye on a line of severe thunderstorms that could be in my path over the next few days and the brush fires that are closing highways in eastern central Florida.
Things could get more exciting on the highways, so stay tuned.
Beach towns have a lot in common and Key West, though the beach is not its central feature, is one of them. For example, there are a lot of very tanned people here (the locals, primarily) and I mean very, very darkly tanned. As the bearer of a fair complection, I’ve been careful to stay inside during the peak 11 am – 2 pm UVB hours. Another interesting phenomenon is the wide use of rental scooters, bicycles, and electric carts. These are often piloted by inexperienced tourists and it can be a real zoo out there on the main drag. The effect is practically “European”, where two-wheeled vehicles outnumber four-wheeled by quite a bit.
Duval Street is a fairly narrow, two lane road, not much as main drags go. Traffic is forced to go slowly and, given the number of pedestrians overflowing the sidewalks, that’s good. Businesses along Duval run the gamut of open air bars, hotels, souvenir and tee-shirt shops, jewelry stores, etc. and prices can be high.
This morning I ate breakfast at The Deli Restaurant down the street. During breakfast I looked out the window at the Harley and saw one of Key West’s “special” residents – a red rooster – inspecting it (chickens roam freely in Key West). The scene would have made a great picture but the bird moved off before I could haul out the camera. After eating, I visited the Key West Lighthouse and South Beach (see photo) and did a little recon on the motorcycle. Then I retreated to the shade of my room and the pool deck to get out of the sun at its peak. After 2:00 pm I headed over to the famous Green Parrot Bar and had lunch ($10 for a BBQ sandwich –there’s obviously a price to be paid to enjoy all that “fame”!).
The Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, with its great view west over the Gulf of Mexico, is another Key West tradition I had to go to. However, after sampling the performers and panhandlers at Mallory Square, I decided to retreat to the rooftop lounge on the La Concha hotel. The crowd there was jovial, there were no panhandlers at all, the drinks were fresh and the view magnificent (see photo), complete with several sailboats.
Tomorrow: a rendezvous with special guests!
They say the Florida Keys is a state of mind. So I decided today that I’d get into that frame of mind as soon as I left the mainland. It’s only about 120 miles down to Key West but I thought I could stretch the 3 hour trip into 6 by making frequent stops at pubs and restaurants. The weather was very cooperative and I left the mainland at 10:00 am. Locations on “Route 1 South – The Oversea Highway” are traditionally located by their highway mile marker (MM).
First stop: DJ’s Diner in Key Largo (MM 99) for breakfast. The food was great at this family-run place and just across the highway for your visiting pleasure was the original boat from the Bogart- Bacall flick, The African Queen.
Next, I pulled into The Lorelei Tiki Bar and Restaurant (MM 82) in Islamorada for a quick libation. Like many along this route, the open air bar is built out over the water and features a thatched roof and fantastic view. The water flanking the road, by the way, is such an incredible blue color!
At The Island Tiki Bar in Marathon (MM 56) I was introduced to a drink called “A Pain In The Ass”. This bit of heaven in a cup is half Pina Colada and half Rum Runner and absolutely fantastic. The name comes from the fact that until the era of slushee machines at bars, it was very difficult for a bartender to make one serving of this drink as it really involves making two different blender drinks. I subsequently discovered quite a few bars in Key West without the requisite slushee machine and they would not make the drink unless you agreed to buy two of them.
I stopped at the 7 Mile Grill (MM 47) for lunch, which involved my first tasting of Conch Fritters. My long time friends recognize my limited sea food palate and I have not yet decided what I think about conch. Perhaps a few more tastings in other formats are indicated… The 7 Mile Grill was an open air restaurant with a great view and excellent food. It sits at the northern end of a seven mile long bridge, which in itself is a pretty interesting driving experience. Incidentally, the speed limit down through the keys varies between 45 and 55 mph and there is surely no reason to make the trip go by quickly.
Finally, I stopped at the Sugarloaf Lodge and Tiki Bar (MM 22) for a libation and had a very interesting talk with Nancy, the bartender. She is leaving next Monday for a first time visit to Paris and has been to Venice already, so we were able to trade tips and advice about our mutual upcoming European trips.
I finally rolled into Key West at 3:30 and made an end-to-end ride up and down the main drag, Duval street, first thing, capped off with taking a picture of my Harley at the marker for the southernmost point in the U.S. All in all, it was a really terrific ride and put me in the right frame of mind. I spent the rest of the afternoon visiting a few places on Duval just to get the lay of the land. The laid back Key West attitude is obvious and pervasive and I look forward to a few days off the road soaking it up.
Florida City is not necessarily the last bit of land before you head down to the Florida Keys but it’s pretty darn close. I rode down here today from Orlando on “Florida’s Turnpike”. Not “THE Florida Turnpike”, mind you. The Pennsylvania Turnpike and The New Jersey Turnpike were good enough names for those other states but I guess Florida wanted to be sure you understand who owns their turnpike. Anyway, it’s a pretty fine road and was really uncongested most of the way on this Saturday. The $20 in tolls was obnoxious but that’s the price you pay in a state with no sales tax, I guess.
Having said that, I’m now pretty convinced that Florida drivers are some of the wildest I’ve ever driven among. Freeway speeding at 85-90 mph is common, no quarter is asked or given, and turn signals are, really, so passé. I’m not talking about bad octogenarian drivers, either. They’re all huddling over in the far right lane with me doing the speed limit +5 in order to avoid being run down. Most southern Florida cars have dark window tinting which robs you of even the small ability to see whether someone is looking your way; a driver behavior indicator that you’re not even aware of observing until it’s hidden from you.
The weather has been pretty spectacular – about 85 degrees, partly cloudy, low humidity and a slight wind. This combines to mean standing still on the bike soon gets to be a sweaty affair but when you’re moving, it’s very comfortable. I’ve developed that telltale, speckled suntan pattern on the back of my hands that comes from wearing mesh driving gloves.
I arrived here at the Florida City Hampton Inn and, as I unloaded the bike, got to hear some stories my DEA agent neighbors were telling from their early Happy Hour gathering on the balcony above me. Hmm, could be an interesting evening; let’s hope they have to work tomorrow.
I rode for about 60 miles today with another Harley driver who was heading from Savannah to Ft. Lauderdale. I have seen only a handful of riders going my direction so far but expect to see a lot heading north next week as I start my trek home toward Myrtle Beach Bike Week.
Tomorrow: a leisurely ride down the fabulous bridges and islands to Key West.