Day 4
February 1st, 2002
Key West,  Florida

I was up before the sun taking my tent down and packing up. Soon Phil, and the others were doing the same.  I was still worried about my niece but it was still to early to call.

The sky was turning orange to the east, and revealing a partly cloudy, rainy day.  The clouds to the east looked dark and rainy, but we were heading north, and had a good chance to miss them.
 ​Thunderstorms in the Atlantic, Key West, Florida
Phil asks-

"how y'all on gas?"

"I got enough to make the Mainland." I respond.

We wanted to ride north in the early morning, thinking it might allow us to get back to the Mainland before the morning commute into Miami gets started in earnest.  We pulled out of the campground into the northbound lanes of U.S. 1 right on schedule.

The air was still warm and muggy, even this time of morning. What must it be like here in July?

We rode north back over the bridges and causeways that connect the Islands to the Mainland. Traffic is low, and the riding is good.  The clouds begin to break apart the farther north we ride.  Riding through the Island towns I can see standing water, testimony to the east bound rain that moved through area the night before.
Riding over the ocean, and along the seashore the air is scented with salt and sand.  It stings my nose.  The sunrise over the ocean is another Kodak moment.  I savor the ride back north, I know once we reach the Mainland, the quiet ocean will give way to urban sprawl all the way to Orlando.

As we ride through Marathon I see a law enforcement cadet class out on morning PT.  They run in formation like the military.  The backs of their shirts wet with sweat in the humid air of the Islands.  I can feel them curse us as we glide by.  Here we are out having fun, while they run and sweat.  They envy us cause we can stop whenever we like for something cool to drink.  They wish to unload their instructor on us, so they may escape.  Keep the faith guys, I have been where you are, the reward at the other end of your training, is a rewarding career, and not just a job.  And in 25 years you can ride by on sleek, powerful machines touring the country.
Entering Key Largo, we round a curve in full view of a FHP cruiser.  We are not speeding, and we go by unmolested.

In Key Largo we stop for gas at a Mobile station, and I get to use my Speedpass.  Very handy.  Sal zips over to nearby cafe and gets a hit of Cuban coffee.  Sal says it only takes a little to wire you up good for the day. 
I called Katie, and checked in with her.  All was fine.  She asks where I am and I say "Key Largo."  With my mind at ease, I feel better.

A few minutes later we pull into a Denny's for breakfast.  We decide to eat now, and ride through lunch.  
The place is crowded and we have to wait to be seated.  Standing in the lobby, 4 Canadian Air Force enlisted men enter the lobby.  They are young, and fit.

I speak to a young sergeant-

"so how did y'all rate a trip to Key West in January on a government ticket?"

"I dunno they came up to me and said, "we need you to go to a school in January for 2 weeks."

"where is it?"

"Florida Keys"

"I'm IN"

"don't ya wanna know what the school is?"

"don't care."

I thanked them for the job they do for their country, and all free people.

Our hostess shows us to our table, and I had the pancakes and bacon.

I listened around to the accents, I could have been in Trenton, New Jersey.  Everybody was "toiking like dis".  Two of the Canadian Airmen were speaking in French, a few tables from us.

After breakfast we gather in the parking lot for pictures. We are saying good bye to Sal.  A few miles after we pick up the Turnpike, he will turn off for Miami.

A man comes over to admire the bikes, and tells us he owns a Gold Wing.  He is from Ohio. He takes a group picture for us.

Full from breakfast we jump on the Turnpike north.  The skies look threatening and dark now.  I fear we will run into some major rain any minute, but we don't.

We beep and wave as Sal moves over to the exit lane, and leaves us.  I throw my arm out and hold my wave as long as my can.  Sal Landa is one of the good people in this world, and I can't wait till we ride again.

Down to 3, we keep pushing north.  We stop every few miles and pay our 75 cent tolls.

Phil informed us last night, he was going to pass on Orlando, and keep going north as far as he could today.  It made sense, Orlando to Nashville is a long shot at one time.  As we neared Alligator Alley (I-75 to Tampa) Phil went straight, and we turned off for I-95 North.  He threw his left hand up and waved, and disappeared in the traffic.

I think he just wanted some time to ride alone, a sentiment I can understand.

Now down to 2, Ron and I pressed on through the traffic and construction of I-95.  It was a mess.  We get stuck in a construction zone, and spend 30 minutes covering 3 miles.  It sprinkles on us a few times, but nothing serious.

We now question the wisdom of leaving the Turnpike.  But the 12 bucks in tolls seemed pretty steep to me.
I-95 along the Atlantic Coast is awful.  Some of the worst riding I have ever encountered.  In fact, there is no pretty way to get to the Keys.  If you ever decide to ride to down there, the price you will pay will be getting through Central and Coastal Florida.

North of Fort Pierce, I-95 thins out and we are able to put some miles down.

We take a butt break at a Mobile station near Palm Bay.  I have chips and Mountain Dew.  We lounge on the grass and curb, and rest.  It was a most welcome break.

With Ron in the lead, we finally, leave I-95 and take U.S. 192 for the last 40 miles into Orlando.  A nice road past swampland and ranches.

We approach a intersection controlled by a stop sign near Kissimmee.  A orange truck sees us coming, but doesn't care, and pulls right out in front of us, then drags ass.  We brake, gear down, then go around him.  What a idiot.

Entering Kissimmee, I spot a flashing shopping center sign-90 degrees at 3:05pm.

I'm hot and tired now, and ready to get to Ron's house. We work our way to Ron's house through the endless red lights and sprawl of East Orlando.

At last we turn into Ron's neighborhood, and pull into his driveway, 374 frazzled miles for the day.

I only take in my personal bag.  My plan is to rest up a few hours then hit the road.  I don't like riding at night, but I-75 north is 3 lane, and a nice road.  Plus there is nothing to see, so I won't miss anything traveling at night, but traffic. So I decide to leave out at 12am, to ride the last 500 miles home.

I also wanted to catch my son's ballgames on Saturday. I missed his opening day game on Friday, and felt bad about it.  A 12am start will bring me home in time to watch both games.

We sit around the table, and Ron offers his computer to me check email.  I sign on to about 40 emails, most of it junk, but a few web site fans, mailed wanting to know how the trip was going.  I responded then signed off.
I called home and told my wife I would be home as planned on Saturday.  I don't tell her I am leaving out at 12am.  Somehow, she worries more if I ride late at night.

I took a shower and relaxed, then Ron and I loaded up in his Toyota truck, and bolt for a Hooters supper.
I eat up some wings and we make small talk with the young waitress.  It was Ron's first trip to Hooters, and judging by this visit, not his last.

I kidded around with 3 young college guys from Rhode Island who were sitting at the table behind us.  They were loud and trying to flirt with the waitress as if they were in Rhode Island.  I politely informed them southern girls required a different approach.  They got a good kick out of that.

We got back to Ron's house after 10, and I decided to lay down and take a nap before departure time.  

I placed my cell phone on charge, to prepare it for the ride home soon to come.

Before laying down, I checked the Weather Channel.  A cold front out of the north, was working its way south.  Temps behind the front in Alabama, were in the 40s.  Leading the front was a rain squall.  Great.  I couldn't complain much, the weather had been great all week, and if I get wet 50 miles from home, no big deal. 

Its funny, when you become a long distance rider, you become very familiar with meteorological lingo.  Fronts, wind bars, chill factor, rain squalls, and tracks are no longer just words to you. You learn about weather patterns in mountains, and how fronts move across the country.  And wind.  You always like to know how fast, and what direction it is coming from.  If the wind is from the north its going to be cold, from the south means rain.  Tight iso bars on a map, means that area can expect strong wind.  I learned all these things when I became a long distance rider.

I retired to the spare bed, and curled up for a nap.  I fell asleep quickly.