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Florida '05

Feb 24 - Mar 3, 2005

Mid-February, it's snowing outside and I'm reading the ODSC Forum messages when one catches my eye:

Florida Trip
Hey. I am driving a 3/4 ton truck to florida to pick up a boat motor. I intend to spend a week including driving time, leaving on feb. 25th. That should leave 3 or 4 days to ride the klr from fort lauderdale to wherever. I intend to park the truck and camp or motel it from there. I have a trailer and could probably fit 2 bikes on it, with mine in the back of the truck. The trip is leaving the london area. Anyone interested in some mid-winter riding let me know. Thanx.

How could I resist!  Didn't know who the poster was, but it turns out that Barry had been on one of my ODSC Falls Tour rides so at least he knew me and a week later we are heading south with his KLR in the truck and my V-Strom on a MX-Caddy rack on the trailer hitch. 

Everything seems great until we buy a newspaper in Tennessee and see the weather forecast is rain, thunderstorms, and showers for the next 5 days in Miami.   During the lunch stop near Knoxville we notice we are in the mountains - close the the Smoky Mountain National Park - and make a quick change in plans.  Half an hour later, the bikes are unloaded, we are kitted up - it's sunny and 4C - and following directions from the teenager in McDonalds who knows a dirt road to the nearby mountain top.  This road turns out to be too rough for the V-Strom, but we really luck out when we just head out exploring and find an incredible selection of dirt and paved roads.   Without a doubt. the paved roads we found were the best motorcycle roads I've been on - and that covers a lot of riding.  Got them marked on my GPS and will be back there for more riding for sure.

Riding dirt roads near Knoxville, TN in the Smoky Mountains
Don't ride this road at night!

We ended up riding for about 5 hours until dark, so we needed to drive all night to stay on schedule for our meeting with the 'boat engine guy" in Ft Lauderdale - no problem with Red Bull - that stuff is definitely 100 octane caffeine (the can says it's Taurene, whatever that is).   Must be good business selling boat engines on eBay - this guy, Glenn, (a dead ringer for Joe "Vinnie's Cousin" Pesci) lives in a huge house with all marble floors, a swimming pool, etc and has his boat moored in his backyard.   A real nice guy - tells us just to park the truck in his driveway, take off on our bikes for few days and he'll load up the motor, etc while we are riding.  An hour later we're on the road to the Florida Keys.   Lunch in Key Largo is relaxing, but we are too hot as we're riding in Canadian gear.  We watch the Harley's go by with helmetless riders wearing T-shirts and jeans and think they are crazy.  We would never do anything like that!  It's a long ride to Key West - 2 lane, speed limit 30, 45 and very occasional 55mph - lot's of traffic - and it's a Saturday.

Heading down the Keys
Long straight 2-lane, saved only by the palm trees and ocean views.

Key West is the most southerly point in the USA and seems to be a party town.  The main drag - Duval Street - is almost all  bars and restaurants, many of the bars have take-out windows as it's legal to walk down the street with a beer in your hand! Almost everyone there has a rental scooter or golf cart and the combination of drunken pedestrians, drunken 2 and 4 wheel drivers, street entertainers, and exhibitionist loud-pipe Harley owners make Saturday night in Key West a night to remember - especially as it was also pouring with rain and no one seemed to notice.

Key West
This is what you get for $225.18 on Saturday in Key West!
Duval Street at 7am on Sunday morning
Key West downtown
The most Southerly point in the USA

After trying a slow ride down the main street in shorts, T-shirt and sandals (just because we legally could), we checked out of our motel fully clad in riding gear to head back up the Keys.  It was so hot, we soon realized why everyone rides with minimal gear and promised ourselves we'd ride really slow and careful (ya, right) if we took off helmets, jackets and gloves.  It was really pleasant doing this but by evening we'd regret it when we found we had 3rd degree sunburn.  Watching the late night news in the motel confirmed we'd been lucky, as nearby West Palm Beach had been hit by tornado strength rain storms.

Florida Keys
 Nice sunny ride up the Keys
Interesting dirt road until it reached the locked gate - perhaps Al Buck could use this in his DualSport ride? 

Back on the "mainland" we took a room in Homestead and planned Monday's route - decided a visit to the Everglades National Park and a ride along Hwy 41 with a detour through Big Cypress National Preserve looked interesting. The only interesting thing about this part of the trip turned out to be the wildlife - everywhere we stopped there were numerous alligators, turtles, egrets, herons, etc - the roads were flat and quite straight so weren't really interesting in themselves, but - it's February and it's warm and sunny ....

Florida Everglades
Everglades National Park
The Tamiami Canal ran alongside Hwy41 and Barry rode the dirt service road.
 SR91 Loop Road in Big Cypress Preserve is mostly a gravel road.
Joanie's Blue Crab Cafe and my lunch - tasty alligator nuggets.  Barry went with the cheeseburger! 

After a side trip to Marco Island to view "the homes of the rich and famous", we headed to Ft Myers for the night - the roads were soaked so we'd again lucked out and avoided the storms which were sweeping Florida.  The roads back to Ft Lauderdale didn't look too interesting on the map, and we were too far from Ocala National Forest to head there, so we decided on a visit to Arcadia (one of the badly hit areas in last year's hurricane season) and a trip around Lake Okeechobee - as there appeared to be a dirt road between the highway and the water, like on Hwy 41 - and then leave Florida early for some Tennessee riding on the way home.  Okeechobee turned out to be a disappointing trip - the apparent 'dirt' road was in fact a paved "bicycle and hikers only trail", but luckily the No Motorized Vehicles sign had fallen off at the access point we tried so we got to ride one section before before heading back to the highway.  That was the only view of the Lake we'd get as there's a 30' high levee all around the lake, making it invisible from the road. 

Lake Okeechobee
Some people just have to get wet ..
Arcadia, FL
Many buildings still not repaired after last season's hurricane damage
Barry loves visiting derelict buildings

Back in Deerfield Beach, Glenn had done a great job of loading the boat engine on the truck while we were gone, and in no time we had the bikes loaded and on our way to Tennessee.  Decided to stop off in Daytona Beach as Trailer Week - err, sorry Bike Week - was due to start in a few days.  Unfortunately it was dark when we got there and the actual beach was closed for riding/driving but we got to walk on it.  From here, we planned on driving non-stop through the night to Tennessee, but after a couple of hours driving Barry reverted to his "Fireman night shift mode" and needed to sleep the rest of the way!  Fortunately I was stocked up on Red Bull so we made it on schedule but as dawn broke all we could see was snow - all that rain in Florida - which we missed - was falling here as snow.  The Blue Ridge Parkway was closed and there was too much snow and ice on the side roads to make it worthwhile.  Disappointed, we had no choice but to keep going, but at least we'd now be able to take a motel on our last night rather than our planned second straight night of non-stop driving. 

The long ride home  ... 
 This is the way most bikes arrive in Daytona ...
Blue Ridge Parkway in March ...

After getting ready to explain why we had 2 bikes and a boat motor on the truck, it was a bit anticlimactic just to be waved through at the Canadian border, but it was a pleasant end to a very enjoyable week away from snowy Ontario.  Many thanks to my new friend, Barry, for taking me with him on this adventure.