Another adventure on the road for me and my husband Dave on our Harley’s. It was Bike Week once again, where the sun is shining, the bikes are plentiful and the smell of exhaust and oil is in the air. Motorcyclists from around the globe come to Daytona Bike week. Mostly to show off their custom paint jobs, parts and sounds and of course to get as wasted as humanly possible. So wasted that some three hundred pound biker fell off his bike while cranking the throttle waiting to make a left turn at a red light. It’s just one big party in the streets of Daytona.
Now, because we live in the perpetual cold of Chicago, we have to trailer the bikes (hmmph) from our house and drop it in South Carolina so that we can proceed on two wheels. I am not a fan of having to trailer motorcycles, but when you live in the land of snow, there is no alternative.
Dave had to work the day we were planning on leaving, so we left about six in the evening on Thursday. After fighting traffic through Chicago for about three hours, we were free of the road construction and never ending traffic. I was just glad to be out of there and heading South. Living at the Northern tip of Illinois, it takes approximately seven hours to get out of the godforsaken state. Cutting through Kentucky and stopping around Nashville Tennessee, we made the decision to crawl in the back of the pickup for some shut eye. Except I didn’t get any. It was pretty chili and despite the fact that we were snuggled together I was still cold and there was no room to move. Such is life on the road. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The sun started to rise and as I lay there with my cold, stiff body, I hear this raspy old voice having a conversation with someone named Roxy, “Hurry up and poop! Do you see all this poop on the ground that all these ignorant people didn’t pick up?” Dave looked at me, “Do you think Roxy is a dog? “ I was surprised at the question, “Well, I hope it’s not her husband,” I answered.
We waited to emerge from the back of the truck so I wouldn’t give the woman a heart attack with my nefarious morning face. Eventually we were able to get back on the road, stop and get a gallon of coffee and made it to our South Carolina destination by five p.m. When Dave and I go on road trips, it takes us twice as long as most people because we take every back road possible and take some time at the gas stations. We meet alot of interesting characters on these back road gas stations and we find out what goes on in the area, just in case we ever want to come back. We drink coffee and Red Bull at every stop, which means we’ll have to stop again in another hundred miles to pee.
The next morning on Saturday, we awoke to rain that turned to snow, so we had to move on with the bikes on the trailer. We talked about waiting until the weather passed or even possibly riding through it. We watched the weather and saw that it was also happening in Georgia so there was no “riding past it”. I wanted to get to the sunshine a.s.a.p so we hopped back in the truck and drove in the direction of our hotel in Daytona; The El Caribe. South Carolina ended up with six inches of snow, by the way, which is unusual weather for them. The storm went through Georgia and parts of Alabama that day.
It was forty-seven degrees when we arrived in Daytona. Also unusual weather for them, any time of year. We checked into our whimsical hotel, with its lime green stucco walls and neon pink hot air balloon advertising it’s where-about’s at the top corner of the building. The boy at the front desk was very friendly and surfer like. He had on a long sleeve shirt and knee length shorts with flip flops. What more do I need to say? This is the life.
Parking space is usually a challenge when this many people come to an event, so after parking the trailer in one place, the truck in another and the bikes in yet another place we were able to get to our room, take a deep breath and just relax. The forecast for the rest of the week was hopeful.
Our room was overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and there was a rather large balcony for us to hang out and breath in the ocean air and what Dave and I both liked best was the kitchenette WITH a coffee maker. Sweet!
We decided to go out for dinner, instead of using the kitchenette, and met some characters at the pizza joint we ate at. Australians and Canadians that spoke French, but somehow we were able to communicate just fine.
The next day, Sunday, was about sixty degrees. A little better than the day before, and definitely better than Chicago. After a nice hot shower and an exorbitant amount of coffee, we headed over to Main Street where it was action packed and full of entertainment. I have to admit, I was really nervous about riding my bike in the midst of all this, so I did hop on the back of Dave’s bike just to check it out so that I knew what to expect when riding mine. The streets were crawling with people and even more bikes somehow. Everything was open and so alive from all of the energy and color. The intensity of artwork and vibrancy of hue and shades on the motorcycles were exquisite. There were scenes and super heroes, pirate girls and skulls with flames airbrushed on the tanks and fenders. Some even had custom embroidered seats. It was one big, weeklong soiree. We stayed for a day and checked out the montage of people, bars, shops and entertainment. Before we left we did buy ourselves some new riding boots.
Bound for Key West, we left the next morning and it was about sixty degrees with hopes for it getting warmer throughout the day. As we were packing up the bikes we met some guys in the parking lot. Three brothers to be exact. I guess there was a fourth but he couldn’t make the trip. They introduced themselves to us extending their hands, “Hi, I’m Turtle and this is my brother Pan Head and my other brother, Half-Wit. “ Dave and I looked at each other and smiled without having to say a word, just knowing, this is why we do it. This is what it’s all about. We introduced ourselves and talked about Shovel Heads and all sorts of bikes for about a half hour, we admired each other motors and chrome. When it was time to go, we agreed that we’d see each other later. Dave was so excited that we just made some new friends, “And the best part is their names”, he said to me with a big smile across his face.
Stopping at the gas station, Dave decided to check my oil and saw that it was disturbingly low. We would have to ride back to Main Street for motorcycle oil and I had no desire to ride back into town where it was so packed you could barely move, so we left Dave’s bike at the gas station, both got onto my bike and rode into town. About an hour later, we were on Interstate 95 heading south. Whew. Going seventy miles an hour, trying to cut through the hellacious winds of forty miles an hour, we made it to the next gas station about a hundred miles south from where we started. This is how often we stop for gas because I have a three and a half gallon tank, so between a hundred and one hundred and thirty miles we stop. I need to get off the bike about then anyway to stretch and consume some water or coffee and I need a rest from my brain running away with itself, because it doesn’t always run to good places.Although i have to say this is when I get my best ideas for writing. Unfortunately, I have no way of recording the ideas while doing seventy-five on two wheels.
We made it to Route 1 in South Miami around 7 p.m. I was relieved because I figured we would be to our destination in Key West in a couple of hours. It was dusk and the sunset was the brightest pink I had ever seen. The air was warm, which I hadn’t felt in seven months and palm trees were everywhere. Dave pulls up at the side of me, pointing to his motor. I hear a loud knocking. I felt the color drain from my face, and it was pretty red from the day of riding, regardless of all the sunscreen I gooped on all day. We pulled off at a multifarious gas station. There seemed to be some sort of dope spot around the corner, people getting high in the parking lot, business men in their jaguars pulling up to pump gas, hippies walking around the parking lot trying to get rid of some puppies they had, just to name a few of the environmental delights. The gas station was a typical looking gas station on the inside. Drinks, snacks, hot dogs, coffee, gum, candy, restrooms, etc…When I looked to the back of the store there was a beautiful cherry wood wine bar, with older, sophisticated gentlemen, sitting with their Armani suits and cigars. This was a business in the back of the gas station, a cigar shop/winery. Everything seemed to work together quite well, even the guy in his work van smoking crack that Dave borrowed some tools from. All together, it took us nearly two and a half hours to get his bike running in tip top shape again. The problem was a compensating nut came loose in the primary drive on the crank sprocket. I don’t ever worry when we have a breakdown because he can fix anything. He’s kind of like a MacGyver of mechanics. Everything is always okay when I’m with him.
Back on the road again, riding on the one and only road in and out of the Keys, with signs alerting us to watch for crossing alligators. This was somewhat disturbing to me because I have no idea what an alligator is capable of. Obviously quite capable if they have to have warning signs about alligators crossing a highway that has walls on both sides. I didn’t realize they could climb walls or that they would have a desire to leave the water to step into traffic. I was on a motorcycle! Were they going to run really fast and tear me from my bike and run off with me, climbing the wall back to the depths of the swamp?
Three hours later we entered the Key of Key West and about ten miles from our much desired bed, my headlight went out. There is nowhere to buy a headlight for a 1981 super glide at one in the morning, in the Keys, so we stopped at a Circle K and bought a mini flashlight, wrapped a bungee cord around the headlight and strapped it on so that I could be seen for the rest of the way. See what I mean? I don’t ever have to worry.
Off we went, once again with my mini mag guiding the way. We finally arrived at The Lighthouse, our Bed and Breakfast. It was a beautifully gated house. There were palm, rubber and banyan trees surrounding the B&B. The banyan tree is an absolutely magnificent tree. The word tree doesn’t even come close to the scope of what it is. It’s more like the mother of trees. The source of the universe. Simply amazing. They look as if the branches drip of themselves to form an enormous trunk that grows up and out.
Our room had French doors looking out onto a back deck that encompassed the entire property bearing couches, trees, tables, chairs and of course a pool. It made me over look the fact that our bed was shaped like a taco and there was a consistent flow of hot water for all of about three minutes in the shower. We stayed across from the Hemingway House which had tourists swarming, taking pictures all day long. We were staying one block from Duvall Street, which is a main street where all the parties happen, so naturally that’s where we went. There were restaurants, deli’s, coffee houses and an assortment of boutiques and bars.
Roosters ran free in the streets, like squirrels do in the Midwest. They chased each other around the neighborhood, up into the trees and clucked at each other playing and flinging leaves everywhere. It was quite entertaining for people who aren’t accustomed to this sort of thing. All of the Victorian style homes had wrap around porches on both the lower and upper levels. Most of the entry ways were French doors and the shutters on the windows were actually functional. (Hurricanes). It looked like the old west meets the Bahamas.
Then there were the much smaller, dilapidated homes, still having porches, most of which had rocking chairs with older gentlemen rocking in them and their dogs lying next to them. The entire Key consists of 4 miles by 4 miles but it’s amazing when your one person in the middle of it all. It felt as if I was secluded from the rest of the world and nothing but good times can happen. Everything was wild and free here.
The street performers in Mallory Square were quite entertaining, their performances consisting of humor and danger. Some would jump through a small hoop of fire and some would juggle knives while walking on a rope that was held by audience members with other audience members lying underneath the rope. They all made it very clear that this was their job and how they make money, so to give at least five dollars at the end of the performance. Unique crafts to admire and foods to graze, cats and dogs with neck bandanas walking loose, the smell of elephant ears and funnel cake all while being surrounded by miles and miles of beautiful blue, green ocean. Background music to life playing, the after smell of torch fuel from the fire eaters and hoop jumpers, vacationers and locals milling around the Square, where the sun sets and the fun begins. El Meson De Pepe, a Cuban restaurant on Wall Street in Mallory Square was where we ate dinner that evening, which was also the place we stopped earlier for a cup of coffee and had a conversation with the bartender about how he arrived there eight years earlier, hasn’t driven a car since and has no desire to go back to “the real world”. To me this is the real world. After all reality is what you make it, right?
The next day we went to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, where we fished off the jetty and baked in the sun; the beautiful, wonderful sun. The Fort was built in 1845 and used in both the Civil War and during the Spanish American War. We took a ride on the Gulf side of the island, which is where it seemed to be the more resort-y side, so we rode back to the Atlantic side. I was finding that I didn’t want to be a tourist there; I wanted to be a local. That felt more fitting somehow. I was finding that I never wanted to leave, and we asked our B&B if we could book another night but they had no vacancies, so when it was time, we got back on the bikes and headed the only way we could; North. It is the most amazing ride I have ever been on. The sun shining (as always in this state), a two lane road and the ocean on both sides. Every now and then we ride through another Key that is actually a town. There are only five actual towns with a population in the Keys; Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine and Key West. All exquisite. And simply peaceful.
Our next stop was Key Largo. On a whim before we left Key West we looked to see if there was anything available in Key Largo. We stayed at a gorgeous place called Dove Creek Lodge at mile marker 94.5. This is how people know where to go is by mile markers. Everything is addressed with a mile marker. The Lodge was quite peaceful and serene. The staff was accommodating and friendly. They treated the people (us) that were staying as if we were regulars. The common area on our floor had a large balcony, an enormous leather cushioned couch with a flat screen and DVD’s we could watch either there or in our room. We were overlooking the ocean once again. A beautiful pool surrounded by sand and background music was off to the side. Background music to life is essential and if I were to become President someday, this would be one of the many things that would be incorporated into our world. (Vote for Gina). A hammock hung on a couple of trees by the gazebo and the rest of the hammocks lined the ocean side. The room was beautifully painted and the bed was simply luxurious. I slept better that night than I have in a long time. The bathroom was huge and had plenty of room to comfortably dress and primp. Now, I know most people don’t spend too much time in the room, but it’s nice to come back to something clean, functional, spacious and comfortable after a long, hard day of lying around in the sun, fishing, swimming and eating. Traveling is a lot of work for us because we don’t stay in one place too long and riding the motorcycles takes twice as long to get somewhere, longer to bungee all of our stuff to the racks, as opposed to throwing everything in the trunk of a car and much more tiring than driving a car, but it’s also twice the adventure. I’m sure there may come a day when I vacation to vacation. But for now, I travel, which is not really vacationing. The definition of travel suits me better.
We spent the day sunning ourselves and swimming in the eighty-five degree pool. Making friends with the vacationers whom I think were of Italian Jewish descent from New Jersey. Next door to the Lodge there was a restaurant called Snapper, we took a gander at the menu and ended up having dinner at The Waffle House, which is one of my favorite traveling food establishments to eat at. A nice greasy, diner. I love breakfast, especially for dinner. At The Waffle House everything is cooked in front of you and it is somehow served with such speed and efficiency that I barely have time to get to the point of starvation. And it’s cheap. After our delectable dinner we headed back to the room for a night of television, conversation and rest. Morning came once again and it was on the bikes back to Daytona. Finally, seventy-five degrees. A beautiful, warm and sunshiny ride up Route 1 with nothing but ocean on both sides. And possibly running, climbing alligators. But really, the salt water air, sun shining on my face, waves crashing on either side and wide open road. There’s nothing like it. Nothing.
Back to Daytona
We arrived one last time in Daytona to stay at The Sands Motel. One of the less desirable places we stayed at. Pretty dirty. The floor was sticky and the bathroom was black with mold and mildew. It was all pretty gross and way too expensive, but it had a kitchenette and there was a Winn Dixie across the street. Macaroni and Cheese and Jambalaya for dinner. It was delicious. The next day we met with Dave’s old friend Jeff and went to dinner at the ——— . Hanging above the door, there was a sign that read; NO RAGGAMUFFINS ALLOWED. I had to ask if I could go in because I wasn’t so sure I qualified. It turns out I wasn’t a ragamuffin. Something my mother called me as a child, amongst other things. We sat at the window; you guessed it, overlooking the ocean, watching a guy play this cool Frisbee game with himself. A stunt I had never seen before. I guess this is a normal activity in Florida. You have to dip the backside of the Frisbee in salt water and the wind needs to be fairly strong. The guy wore himself out.
Watching people on the beach from a second story was quite entertaining, but the drunken spring breakers at the table next to us faired to be what we chose to watch most of the time. Oh, to be young, loud and obnoxious again. Our server was great and the food was once again spectacular. I have to say we ate and walked a lot on this trip. But those are a couple of my favorite things. The next morning it was time to head back and we were not looking forward to it so we stayed until almost two o’clock walking the beach and went to one final restaurant. We sat outside and watched all the traffic of the motorcycles that had stayed an extra day like us. We made more friends with some people that stayed behind. And we were able to say goodbye to our new friends, Pan Head, Turtle and Half-Wit. Riding a motorcycle can be a lifestyle for some and the community created is a brotherhood. It’s wonderful to be a part of and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, give the wave when passing another motorcycle.
Written by: Gina Lesavage