May 01, 2009 GMT

I only intended to spend a couple of days in Miami to get the bike from customs but my bike literally ‘missed the boat‘. It was rejected at the docks because the case it was in wasn’t strong enough. The shipper had to remake the box and put it on the next ship a fortnight later. This wouldn’t have been so bad if they had told me early enough to change my flight but I only found out a couple of days before I was due to leave. Instead of arriving eight days after the bike (to allow for any possible delays) I arrived six days before the second ship was due to dock. My riding clothes, panniers etc. were supposed to be shipped with the bike but for some reason unexplained to me all the luggage was still in the UK. The shipper sounded like he was doing me a favour by air freighting it but as it arrived on a different day to the bike and to a different cargo handler. I had to spend two expensive days running around Miami in taxis to shipping agents, customs and warehouses instead of one.

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South Beach, Miami

It was nice having some sunshine after a long cold British winter but I spent a lot of time each day on the internet or phone chasing the bike and luggage. I was in Bayside beside the port. I had been told to collect the bike from there although annoyingly it went on a truck past my hotel to a warehouse near the airport. In between hounding wayward shippers I walked round the local marina, listened to numerous free Latino concerts or went to the famous art deco South Beach a short bus ride away.

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South Beach, Miami

When the container with my bike in it was finally unloaded the law of sod dictated that the NLL, a branch of US customs wanted to xray it which took five days. And to round things off nicely they charged me $70 as my contribution to the examination of the container. The NLL released the container the day before Good Friday and my first bit of good news, Good Friday isn’t a public holiday in the USA. Clearing the bike through customs wasn’t straight forward and cost $300 but by mid afternoon I was riding back to the hotel.

Parking between two cars at parking meters outside the hotel I made four trips to my 17th floor room and back loading the luggage onto the bike then went to legally park it a five minute walk away. That evening I enjoyed a final Latino meal and concert knowing that at last I could start my trip.

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South Beach, Miami

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Even the 'Restrooms' Look Cool

Saturday morning I headed to an Everglades campsite 60 miles from Miami and a totally different world. After pitching the tent I went for a walk round the campsite lake keeping an eye out for alligators but thinking of my west coast of Scotland holiday last year where we tried and failed to see otters. Within five minutes I saw my first alligator, a big adult at the waters edge facing a picnicking family. It was less than 200 yards from my tent and fifty of those were through water! Later on I rode 15 minutes to Royal Palm, one of the oldest parts of the park and almost became blasé about seeing alligators. At one point I could see eighteen at once.

The following day I went for a fifteen mile walk to a beach. A bit of a challenge in the Florida heat although it turned out the mosquitoes were marginally worse than the baking sun. Only a fortnight earlier in England I thought I would never be warm again! Signs said not to feed or disturb the wildlife but the mosquitoes and I waged a long and bloody battle which I lost by a whisker. I had insect repellent and sunscreen lotion but fearing chemical meltdown if I used both I had opted for the sunscreen lotion.

I wanted to ride to the Florida Keys and originally intended to stay on one of the islands but the keys were expensive so opted to see them on a day trip of 280 miles instead. The road is single carriageway most of the way and busy. There were a number of roadworks on the day I went also but the scenery got better and better the further I went. I got the photos of the Southernmost point in the USA and Hemingways’ house but then lost them in the digital ether along with some others. On the way back to the Everglades I discovered that I wasn’t only camping with alligators. Although rare there were Pumas in the area as well.

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You Don't Have These Worries In Northumberland, Note The Mosquito Assaulted Face

The next place I wanted to visit was Daytona. The beach was used for land speed records before they started using Bonneville. That was before my time but I remember vividly Barry Sheenes’ crash on the banked turn of the race track. I was racing at club level at the time and his 180 mph crash left him seriously hurt and requiring a number of pins and screws to put him back together. I stopped off at a state park campsite on the way. I found the state or national park camps better than the commercial recreational vehicle (RV or motor home to the Brits) sites. They will have walking or other recreational facilities on site where on the RV campsites you need to ride off camp for everything. All the camps so far have been well equipped and most have wifi, useful for me as I gave up trying to manage using internet cafes and public libraries to keep in touch and bought a small laptop.

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Daytona Speedway

You can ride on Daytona beach although there is a charge and a strict 10mph speed limit these days. Daytona Speedway race track allows you to see the track and visitors centre for free. Alternatively you can pay for a guided tour or a lap in an American saloon race car. I saw a couple of cars going round the oval track. There’s more sensation of speed live compared to television. Interesting but I’m not converted to oval racing.

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American Race Cars

Slowly heading north up the Atlantic coast I came across St. Augustine with what appeared to me to be a castle too old to be in America. The Spanish first arrived here in 1513 and the first European settlement in America was established in 1565. The castle, Castillo De San Marcos was started in 1672 and held off a number of British attacks. There was a large oven to heat cannonballs before firing at the British to try and sink their ships. To this day the Spanish flag has flown over St. Augustine longer than any other including the Stars and Stripes.

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Castillo De Marcos in St. Augustine

My last stop in Florida was Fernandina Beach close to the border with Georgia. I had the excitement of booking a flight home for a short spell in Fernandina Beach library. As I was entering my credit card details a window opened up advising that I had two minutes of my computer session left. I imagined being cut off and not knowing if the transaction had completed however I managed to get the ticket booked. I’m flying out of JFK, New York, a bad choice in retrospect as a smaller city would be easier to get to and find parking for the bike. I now have to pace myself to arrive in New York for my flight or make a detour if it looks like I will arrive too early.

Posted by at May 01, 2009 06:36 PM GMT

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