The Last days of Florida
After a great ride along the dead straight, and, as it turned out, very aptly named “Alligator Alley”, we arrived back in Venice to rest, recoup and re-organise after our trial run while we waited for the insurance papers and the new GPS system to arrive.
This was now November and it was Thanksgiving, Jacquie and I were both looking forward to a night in together, maybe a little cuddle up on the sofa in front of the telly, and cooking ourselves (or rather Jacquie cooking me) a lovely Turkey dinner. We were both thrown a little when we got an invitation to a Thanksgiving meal being held at one of Steph’s friends’ houses, and we surprised ourselves even more by agreeing to go!
The next day was great fun going through borrowed clothes to find ourselves suitable attire for such an occasion. Jacquie ended up looking remarkably like Krystle Carrington, whilst I pulled off a very convincing “preppy” look with white Chinos, a blue shirt and boating sandals!
The average age at the dinner was well into the upper 80s, the Pianist, who was the only other male present in a room full of widows was an extremely sprightly 93 year old who played the piano beautifully, later accompanied by Steph and a few of the other ladies as the wine flowed freely.
We excused ourselves a little after 8pm to go back to the house to pack for our departure the next day, and eventually were allowed to leave after several stern warnings about security in Mexico and thieves in Honduras.
We were finally ready to head off on the real start of the trip, well , almost, wwe would still be on roads that we had travelled before, but at least we were off in the right direction now. We were to head back to Tampa, across to Orlando, and then the plan was to ride up to Daytona to spend the night, before riding up A1A to St Augustine ti see Giz and spend a couple of days at the beach house there. But, as usual, things didn’t quite go to plan.
As we got to the East side of Orlando , about 2 hours behind schedule, we stopped for a Wendy’s and a map check. A closer look at the map revealed that we would be better retracing our steps for 10 miles or so, heading in to Titusville, so that we would be able to have a run along A1A the next day all the way along to St Augustine, so off we went, arriving in Titusville just after dark.
The great thing about arriving somewhere in the dark is that you never know what you are going to see when day breaks. Titusville held a great surprise for us.
On drawing back the curtains of our room in the Riverside Inn, we saw we really were right on the riverside, and on the other side of the water were the Nasa Shuttle launch pads.
We debated on weather or not to book in for another night in Titusville, and just have a day riding the A1A and hanging out on Cocoa Beach,
but ended up deciding against it. Once again, I was wrong, Jacquie was right, and after a day of riding along stretches of A1A, having a wee kip on the beach at Cocoa and a spot of lunch, we ended up back at the Riverside!
One of the major factors was bumping into Doug.
Doug and his wife, Julie, owned a saddle shop on the road to Daytona, which we dropped into on our way north. They were a great couple, and we got talking, firstly about how to make Jacquie’s seat more comfortable, and ending in world economics. …like you do!
Anyway, Doug convinced us to wait around to see the shuttle land the next day, which was mainly why we ended up back at the Riverside. Once again, things didn’t quite go to plan that day either. The weather rolled in, the landing was postponed, and we decided to head for St Augustine, but just as we were finishing our breakfast, the storm, predicted for 4pm, arrived.
We put on our waterproofs for the first time and with some trepidation, started off.The rain gathered intensity as we headed north, the weather station channel on the bike’s radio bleeped in continually, with alarming frequency, to report on Tornado warnings, some to the east of us, the more worrying ones to the north, where we were headed.
As we approached Doug and Julie’s shop, the rain became so hard we could hardly see the road, and we decided to pull in.
We dried off a little in the shop, drank some coffee, chatted, shopped, and killed time until the weather seemed to ease , and we took our cue to make a break for it and try our luck once more.
The rain stayed with us all the way to Daytona, be it less forceful as the morning deluge, and when we got to Daytona , we pulled into the first hotel we found and checked in.
Our 7th floor room afforded a great view of Daytona beach, with a moody grey sky and crashing waves, it was a far cry from the not so distant memory of my last visit here, when I had ridden along the beach in swim trunks and flip flops, and indeed had ridden all round Florida in shorts and a T shirt in beautiful 80degree heat , but that was March, and this was December, and my what a difference!
We went out after making a makeshift clothes line and hanging our wet clothes above the heater to dry. Not having much in the way of back up clothing, Jacquie wore my combats, about 10inches too big for her in every direction, and I put my damp jeans back on, as we went out in Daytona to search for “biker heaven”. But it was closed…or on holiday, or just not there. The town was all but deserted. We rode around for a while, went up to look at the outside of the Daytona speedway, and then went to the Starlite diner, another cool chrome 50s diner for some good old fashioned American comfort food, meatloaf!
The next day we awoke to sunlight streaming through the faded curtains, rested and dried off, we dismantled our ingenious clothesline, and after a quick dip in the freezing cold pool(I didn’t tell Jacquie that there was a heated one on the other side of the hotel) we headed off, finally riding up the A1A in sunshine.
We had a great ride up the coast road, the ocean to our right and beach houses scattered along the road on our left, and best of all, warm air and sunshine. I relished riding without my jacket, neck warmer, fleece and gloves, not to mention how happy we both were just to be dry!
I insisted on taking Jacquie to see the Kennedy space centre, and after a quick look around,we rode all the way up the coast to St Augustine, America’s oldest settlement, and stopped for a walk round the Anastasia lighthouse, before heading on to Jacksonville.
We stopped for a quick rest and a bite at another funky chrome old school diner, before continuing on to Tallahassee, the state’s capital.
Tallahassee was, to all intents and purposes, quite a disappointment. I had been led to believe that we were to be met with grand old houses and parades, a formidable historic district, and other delights of the state’s capital. This was, alas not entirely the case. True, the former Capitol building was most pleasant, but there was hardly any sign of life around the town, and try as we might, we couldn’t find anything…. interesting. We took 3 elevators to the observatory on the 22nd floor of the new capitol building, to look at, well, trees mainly.
After spending too much time in the city-in my opinion, 5 minutes would have been too long, so we saddled up and headed to Wakulla and the Wakulla Springs State Park.
Wakulla was another of Jacquie’s finds after researching in her guidebook whilst I had the unenviable task of flicking through the innumerable amount of rubbish TV channels to find something to watch, usually falling asleep in the process.
The Springs were used as the set for two Tarzan movies as well as “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”. We were also hopeful that we may come across the ever elusive Floridian Manatee, which had so far evaded us. A gorgeous ride south of Tallahassee for some 30 minutes or so, took us along winding roads and through lush forests until we reached the State Parks. We were greeted by a very welcoming Park Ranger, who informed us that the Manatees were indeed out in the Springs and could easily be spotted from the swimming area.
We rode up to the lodge, parked up, and headed down to the Boat House to embark on a boat tour of the Springs. Sure enough, right there by the pier, were a dozen or so Manatees, rolling around up close to us in the water. There were 3 mothers, with their young suckling, and what I guess were a few males lolling around nearby. Jacquie was pleased as punch, and it was a great sight to see.
The boat ride was another great moment. We spotted several Alligators, various species of bird (lost on me but keeping Jacquie’s interest up), and were shown the original Tarzan tree, were Johnny Weissmuller hollered his Ah-ah-ah-ah-ahhh. There were many more manatee sightings, and in the clear waters of the springs, these creatures really looked so cute. Once back ashore, we went into the lodge, begged a couple of towels, and after changing in the Pool House, we braved the Spring waters, which supposedly maintained a 67 degree average year round, even though it felt a whole lot colder. It was even more chilly when we got out the water, after remembering all the alligators we had seen a few minutes ago just along the bank, into the 50 degree temperature of the early evening.
We ran back to the pool house, changed and got back on the bike to find our moterl for the night before it got really cold.
A half hour or so up the road, our trusty (usually) GPS took us to the Panacea Motel, which would serve our purpose, and looked like it would be in our price range - by its sheer bedraggled-ness- we would have paid anything they asked us though, to get out of the cold, which had now dropped to high 30s.
We showered and warmed up, then headed out to the only eatery for miles, which fortunately proved to be a great little steamed shrimp joint, before walking back under a sky of a thousand stars back to the Panacea Motel for some rest.
The next day we woke bright and early, well at about 10, and headed back the road we had come the night before to re-visit a sight we had seen in the dusk the previous night. Parked on a patch of land by the roadside, in a perfect crescent were 15 or 20 rusted old relics from the 40’s and 50,s. Fords, Cadillacs, Desotos and Buicks, still looking amazing in their decay were parked, and seemingly abandoned, to me it was like an art installation.
I jumped off the bike and set about clambering all over the cars, opening doors, taking pictures, and generally frolicking about, while Jacquie looked on quite bemused.
It was only later that day, about 40miles down the road in charming Carrabelle, that we were told by a local that the “crazy ol’ coot” that owns the cars quite regularly calls the cops on people who “trespass” on his property…seems we had a lucky break!
Our ride from Car Art Show, as I called it, down and around the coast was a beaut. We had warm sunshine, a real rarity so far, and a one-lane road running along the side of the Gulf of Mexico. We passed a couple of small towns, and decided it was time for a brunch stop. Just at that moment, I looked around for a place and lo and behold, just off the road, in the town of Carrabelle, I spotted the Carrabelle Junction Café.
A great place to take a quick break
This place, and as it turned out, the whole town, was a little gem.
The Café was owned by Ron, a native Floridian who had spent most his adult lifer in San Francisco, before coming back to Florida to open this Café.
The place was full of 50s memorabilia, had old diner style booths, and a menu to die for. We got chatting, and after brunch walked around the town to visit the World’s smallest Police station. On returning to the bike, a big, white-bearded gent stopped and started talking bikes with us. As it turned out, he too was a biker, from up Georgia way, and was a Minister.
At his request, we joined hands while he uttered a little prayer and blessed us, and Garth-our bike, for the trip ahead.
Once again, we headed off, on our way out of Florida.
Mexico City beach
Posted by Dan Shell at December 15, 2008 06:13 AM GMT
There were a couple more stops, before the county line, our first of the trip, in Mexico Beach and Gainsville, before we finally made it to our next state, Alabama.
We only had a tiny part of Alabama to cross at its southern most strip, and all we really saw of the state was the USS Alabama, the aviation museum next to it, and the sub. We scrambled about the Battleship, took pictures with the big guns, went below decks on the sub, and then headed off again to find refuge from the cold front and the night.