Day 3
February 7th, 2008                                  
Coral Gables, Florida  

It was a perfect morning in South Florida today, warm, sunny and bustling.  I shared the breakfast table with Leann while waiting for Sal to get ready.  She had a test first thing this morning and was looking over a few notes.  I felt bad for disturbing her.

Finally Sal appeared, "so ya ready to go?"  I said, "yeah."  "Ok, I gotta give a lesson at 9, and then we can ride down to Key Largo for lunch."  "Ok sounds good, but I'd like to swing by the Everglades, for some pics."

I loaded the RT and mounted the GPS in the cradle.  We eased out of Sal's driveway about 8am and headed south.  I don't know the routes we used because I was just following, but we worked surface streets out of the city, and then picked a couple of county roads to the Homestead area.  

The streets in the area are layed out grid fashion and once you understand the numbering system, pretty easy to navigate.  Our morning ride took us past mostly fruit orchards and horse land.  I never realized Central and South Florida were such big equestrian areas.

We arrived at the stables at 9:05 after a nice ride.  Sal's client was already on the scene and he got started with her hour long lesson.  I took a seat near the corral and watched.  I also used the time to call Debbie, and send my son a few text messages.

I watched with interest the stark differences on what was going on in the corral.  When Sal had the tether he could make the horse do anything he wanted, but when the lady took over, the horse was a different animal.  He virtually ignored her and did what he wanted.  He had no respect for her.  Sal told me horses are pack animals and respect the alpha, and the trainer has to establish that.  The lady was diminutive in stature, with a soft voice and passive manner.  When the lesson was over I told Sal, "Dang brother I don't know a thing about horses, but I'm thinkin that lady needs to sell that horse."  "Yeah I told her the same thing."
​Sal Landa going through the paces.
When the lesson was over, we "saddled" up and took a few surface streets to a Chevron con store just outside Homestead.  We topped off the tanks and went inside for something to drink.  Two Dade County deputies were sitting outside and in a long conversation with a few locals.  We took our snacks and went outside to join them.  The store was a busy place.

I wanted to arrive in Key West by late afternoon, and should have no problem doing that, it was not all that far mileage wise, but U.S. 1 is the lone highway for getting there, and this time of year bogs down, so I couldn't take it for granted.

After our break I brought up Everglades National Park in the attractions menu and tapped go, and the next thing I know we were moving through the city of Homestead.   This city has been ravaged by so many hurricanes the last few years, they are still trying to rebuild.  I noted a few billboards  warning unscrupulous contractors would be prosecuted by the state if caught.  In the midst of all the insurance money being thrown around, a lot of that went on.

On the way to the park we passed a HUGE correctional facility.  I guess with the city of Miami so close, they are not short of customers.

I was last in the Everglades in 2002.  That trip I was with Ron, Sal, and Uncle Phil.  We came here, then moved on south camping in a campground near Key West by late afternoon.  On that day we rode all the way down to Flamingo, but today I'll not be going that far.  You can read about that trip here.

​A tourist family from California took this picture for us
We paid our 5 dollar entrance fee, and rode the mostly quiet road into the swamp.  Tall grasses swayed in the warm wind, and cypress trees stood off in the distance.  Folks, the Everglades are drying up.  Florida has been captive to a 2 year drought that has punished the wetlands. On my last ride through here water was next to the road in many places, but now I looked out over dry fields where wetland once thrived
Persistent drought, and flood control are slowly drying
up the Everglades.   When I passed through here in 2002
this field was under water.

I noted a small lake down a dirt road so we peeled off the highway and went over to check it out.  I captured a few pictures and stood about.  We were about halfway to Flamingo.  "Look, I don't need to ride all the way to the end, I have all the pics I need."  "Ok lets head back and go eat lunch at Alabama Jacks."
I noticed this lake, and stopped to look around.
On that we turned north and rode back out to Key Largo.  The day was hot now, over 80 muggy degrees.  I made sure all the Roadcrafter vents were open and went to  summer gloves.
​The RT pointing the way out of the swamp.
Back past the prison we rode to Florida City where we took a right turn on U.S. 1 South.  The Zumo 550 displayed 96 miles to Key West, and a time of arrival 5 something.

A short ride from Florida City we left U.S. 1 for CR 905a, known by the locals as Card Sound Road,  a arrow straight, remote road through the marshes.  I guided the RT behind Sal's Honda as we headed south.  The warm sun felt good on my face.

At the north side of the bridge you'll find a hang out called "Alabama Jacks."  Like they say in the jelly business, "with a name like that it has to be good."  We backed our sport touring bikes next to cruisers and went inside.  Our bikes looked out of place.
​Alabama Jacks has good road food.
Alabama Jacks is my kind of place.  Open deck overlooking the sound, good food, and informal.   I had a pretty good hamburger and fries, and Sal had the Red Snapper.  We were eating a late lunch.  The patrons sat around and mingled in shorts and t shirts, in the 80 degree weather.  Because of the great rear round weather, I didn't see any walls in the dining area.  It was open in all directions, the place has a great ambience and fits the style of the Keys.  I asked Sal, "so watcha reckon they're doin up in Chicago right now?"  "I dunno, but whatever it is I'm glad it's them and NOT me."  "For sure."  For the heck of I checked the internet to see.  "dang the present temp there is 22 degrees with 23 mph wind gusts, and possible lake effect snow later."  "Man, that sounds brutal," as we dove in our food.

We were just 2 old firefighters enjoying our retirement.  We both enjoy talking about our fire department days.  It was good to be with someone who understands how I feel about being a retired firefighter
​When I took this picture, the temp in Chicago was 22 degrees.
The folks at Alabama Jacks seemed ok with that.

After lunch we lingered around in a long conversation that covered many things.  The atmosphere was so good I was reluctant to leave, but I had to move on south.  We took care of our tab, and walked across the deck to the parking lot.  "Well brother it was good times for sure,"  as I put my gear back on.  "Yeah, it was.  Have a safe ride and stay in touch. "

I started up the boxer twin and paid the 50 cent toll to cross the bridge off the Mainland for the Keys.  The first of many bridges on the route to Key West.  A short ride later, I made a right turn on CR 905 and was back on U.S. 1 in a few miles.

The Overseas Highway (U.S. 1) connects a series of islands all the way south to Key West.  Most of the islands are nothing more then small strips of land not much wider, than U.S. 1 itself.  From Key Largo to Key West, a Long Rider crosses a long series of bridges and causeways.  In between you must pass through a few resort towns, some bigger than others.  Over the causeways and bridges the scenery is good because your eyes are treated to Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
As seen from U.S. 1 South, somewhere near Islamorada
This time of year is close to peak season for the Keys and long lines of cars moved steady in both directions.  I rode along at 50 mph, but in a few isolated places I was able to get up to 65.  The Highway Patrol keeps a strong presence on the Keys, so be wary.

Islamorada is one of the more active cities in the Keys, and has  a relative large population.  School was out when I came through and I had to stop several times for busses discharging students.  I also crawled through 20 mph school zones.  Nothing  upsets locals more when they see a tourist ignore school zone speed limits and flashing bus signs.  I was sure not to do that.

I kept riding south out of the city over the causeways in the late afternoon.  It was a great ride, and it was hard not to believe it wasn't mid June.  It was that warm.  I could see sailboats out in the water, and guys fishing off portions of the old highway that was left intact for such purposes.
​Another scene from the shores of U.S. 1
Near Marathon the highway drops down to beach level and makes for a really nice view of the water.  I was in a line of cars running about 50 mph.  My eyes wanted to linger at the sights around me, but I reminded myself with, "Stay focused on what's goin on Guy, don't let the scenery distract ya."  About that time I saw brake lights light up on a few cars of ahead of me, but the joker to my immediate 12 o'clock is looking off to the ocean, and not paying attention.  "Dang, fixing to be wreck!"  I slowed down, but there was nothing I could do for the guy in front of me, the red SUV suddenly hit the brakes and skidded, rising up on the 2 right wheels, I feared the top heavy vehicle might roll over, but it came back down and slammed into the rear of the car in front of him.  Pieces of plastic shot up, and the air bags deployed, I saw the drivers head snap forward and then bounce back.  "Dang!"  I brought the RT around and through the dust of the airbags with no problem, the scent stuck in my nose.  I pulled to the front of the wreck and ran back to check on everybody.

"Hey! y'all alright?"  Four stunned guys emerged out of the impacted vehicle, "Yeah I think so."  I heard one say.  A man came out of the SUV rubbing his head. 

"Dang what did I just do?" 

"Daaaang, ya just ran all in the back of those guys." 

"Oh man what a mess, I'm from Illinois, I don't need this."  "Well, you alright?"  "Other then my feelings, yes."

I asked, "somebody gotta phone?  Might oughta get the cops coming this way."  "I'll call them."  The vehicles were blocking U.S. 1 and traffic was quickly lining up.  "Look here, help me push these rides outta the way, so we can open the road, they'll be backing up all the way to Mainland in just a few minutes if we don't."

"We better not, we gotta preserve the scene for the investigator."

"Don't worry about that, obvious what happened here, they're a lot more concerned  about the highway backing up than this fender bender."
​The only real damage occurred to the left side of the bumper.
The deployed air bags were going to be the biggest problem.

Traffic was already snarled a half mile in both directions, but we managed to get the vehicles off to the side.
"Look here, I'm gonna get back on the road, nothing I can do here."

I proceeded south on 1 toward Margaritaville.  The bottle necked north bound traffic wasn't moving for almost a mile.

At the 7 Mile Bridge vista I pulled in for some pictures and was held up by what I call a "Highway Evangel."
His message was all over the place, not that it was bad, just hard to follow.

"You know God wants to save your soul, he made all this you see around you, all you have to do is let him in your life, you have to turn your life around."

He was dressed in some kind of white rob, with a bedroll around his shoulder.  "He finds out I'm Catholic, he's really going to turn it up on my wayward soul," I laughed.
​I met this guy near the 7 Bridges.   He said I should turn
my life around, but he wanted a "donation" before giving me
the details on how to do that.

"Look here brother, I'm with ya on all that, so what cha doin?

Sleepin under bridges all the way to Key West?"

"of course not"

"looks like it to me, is this the part where ya ask for a donation?"


"Look, I'm NOT gonna give ya any money, but here's some beef jerky I picked up back in the Panhandle couple days ago."
"Thanks."  He immediately opened it and went to work.

I left the vista into what was now a mean setting sun.  The glare was tough all the way into Key West.

Riding past the campgrounds I looked for a place to come back to later on.  The KOA on Sugarloaf Key looked like the best option.
In the late afternoon light I finally made it to Key West.  It was great.  I turned on Roosevelt Street and followed the waterfront down to Duvall.  Tourists were strolling the streets and shopping, and hundreds of Chinese made scooters were everywhere, piloted by nonhelmet riders.

Pastel houses with tin roofs lined the streets, and palm trees swayed in a gentle breeze.
"Pastel houses with tin roofs lined the streets, and palm trees swayed in a gentle breeze."

I took a few backstreets and worked over to the Southern point marker, that today seemed to be a popular spot for picture taking.  The sun was setting so I took a few pictures and admired the view of the sun dipping below the ocean.  It was nice.
A popular spot for the tourists. 

When that was over I eased back over to Duvall Street to find something to eat.  I settled on a cafe that opened to the sidewalk.  I parked the RT where I could see it, and went inside.​​

The crowd was definately Jimmy Buffet material.  They were chugging beer and singing loud.  

Not hungry from the late lunch, I asked my server for "some gumbo and diet coke."

I sat there taking things in, and thought back to the ride I took here with Uncle Phil and the boys in 2002.  Come a long way since then.  That was many, many miles ago.
 End of the line for U.S. 1 South.
I doubled back they way I came in (the only route anyway) and headed for Sugarloaf Key, about 12 miles north.  About halfway I stopped to call Debbie, because I wasn't sure I'd have a signal back at the campground.
"yeah I'm done for the day in just a few more miles baby."

"ok call me in the morning."

The lights of the RT are very good and shined brightly over the bridges to Sugarloaf.  The night air was moist and warm, and the breeze felt good whipping through the vents of the Roadcrafter.

The KOA sign lit up under the intense lights of the BMW and I followed the road down to the closed office.  A man came to me in a golf cart and had me fill out the paperwork, "they open at 8am in the morning, pay the fees then.  Follow me, and I'll put you in a nice spot."  "ok."

I set the stand after a 242 mile day, it was close to 8pm.

The campground was packed solid with 100s of RV's from all over America.  The most I'd ever seen at any one campground.  It looked like a football stadium on game day.

As for me I was tucked in a corner under a few trees, out of the way.  I had to set my tent up in the dark, but managed with a good memory and flashlight.  After squaring away my bed, I cleaned the RT, and walked over to the large shower house.  Like all KOAs they were clean and orderly, even had a TV on in the corner.

On the way back to the tent I spotted a FJR and a GL rider sharing a tent site.  "Why would they want to sleep in front of the rest rooms?" Was my first thought.  Too noisy and bright for me, but I guess they didn't want to walk far.  I didn't stop to speak.

Back at the tent, the warm, sticky night brought out the mosquitoes, making it impossible to stay outside the tent, so I went inside and zipped up.  "Man I wish I'd a brought my DVD player."  I was kind of bored, so I put some journal notes in the Axim and surfed the internet with the Blackberry.  

The night was so warm I slept outside my sleeping bag.  "Funny, the last time I was in this tent was in the Blue Ridge and it was 30 degrees."  My tent has served me well for many miles.  It still looks like new.

It took almost an hour before my eyes grew heavy, so I could drift off to sleep.