​​​BamaRider


Day 4
February 8th, 2008
KOA Campground
Sugarloaf Key, Florida


I slept ok during the night, but for some unknown reason a rooster fired up about 5 am and called non stop for over an hour.  "Why doesn't somebody go over there take that joker out?"  I didn't know if he was a pet from a nearby RV, or a member of some kind of petting zoo in the campground.  "Who the heck puts a rooster in a petting zoo?"  I was a little put out at the noise.

"Errr Erra Erra Errrrrrrrr," was his call, "Where's Colonel Sanders when ya need him?" was my response.  Finally I gave up, and at sunrise, put my clothes on (have to lay down in my tent to do that) and walked to the bath house to wash my face and brush my teeth.  

I took my tent down and packed the Moto Fizz, then strapped everything down on the RT.  I mounted the Zumo in the cradle and booted it up.  I'll be riding auto route to SR 41, where I'm going to pick up a custom route east of SR 997.  I wanted to ride Big Cypress Preserve, eat lunch in Everglade City, then head north to the Tampa area on back roads.  I was anticipating a 400 plus mile day, on mostly local and state roads.

Final objective for the day was Fort Cooper State Park, I was heading there in a roundabout fashion for sure.  Ride north awhile, ride east, then north again.  Like I said earlier, I seldom take the most direct route.

It was 7am and the office wasn't open.  I left a note in the box to send the bill.  I didn't know what else to do, but I had to get on the road.  They forget most Long Riders are not like late the sleeping RV jockeys, we get started early.

The morning was again warm and humid.  I made my way off the service road and turned north on U.S. 1.  I wanted a early start to get off 1 before the real fun starts.  It was Friday, and I was sure by late this afternoon, the highway would be home to long lines of vehicles trying to get to Key West.
​ Keys morning.  Great riding on U.S. 1
It was a great morning to be on a ride.  The early morning sun glistened off the water as I traversed the long bridges and causeways back to the Mainland.  Traffic was much better than yesterday, and I made good time.
Many miles of the old highway were left intact when the new bridges went into service, and currently in use as fishing piers.

The compass view on the GPS said I was riding north, with a elevation of 22 feet.  

On Long Key I jetted past a school bus, Roto Rooter van, and a Winnebago.  The only real competition I had all the way to Key Largo.  The expansion joints on the bridges were really bothering me with the suspension on the "normal" position, so I hit the ESA button and took the suspension to the comfort bearing.  A marked improvement, now my fillings were no longer jamming.

The wind was calm, and the water surrounding me seemed to soothe my being.  It was a fun ride back to the Mainland on a beautiful morning.  

Near the Mainland a draw bridge was open, and I was held up for about 15 minutes.  "I wonder how they time when to open this thing, I mean if they miss it, the ship is gonna tear a bunch of stuff up, not like he could just hit the brakes, but I reckon he can throw the props in reverse."  I got off the bike and walked around, it was HOT standing in the sun with all my riding gear on.
​Waiting out the draw bridge near Key Largo.
In Key Largo I saw the Denny's we ate breakfast at in 2002.

After putting down a pleasant 100 miles, I stopped at a Shell con store for a break.  Getting in the parking lot was anything but routine, because the road was under construction (widening project) and I had to split barrels like a horse in a show.  There were also a lot of rocks and dust at the transition point, (parking lot/highway) it wouldn't take much to put a guy on the ground.

I went inside and washed my hands, and bought a drink to go with my sandwich.  I was checking out when a guy came in whistling some kind of 80s tune.  I knew the name of it at the time, but now my memory fails me.  It was stuck in my head the rest of the day, and I cursed him for it.

I was sitting outside on a block when my brother called to see what was going on.  "Not much everything's good."  "Ok just checkin, yanno some folks still work for a livin."  I called my sister and then Debbie.  I sent Chris a text, because he doesn't have time for a conversation when he's in the office.  I told that boy they're working him too hard.

While I was sitting at the con store the FJR and the Goldwing guy from the KOA came by, they were both pulling trailers.

After a lengthy break, I collected my gear and got back on the road.  Just before leaving, the fire station next door, pulled the apparatus out for the morning inspection.  I use to dislike that chore because it was so routine.
The Zumo routed me back to the turnpike, and I plunked down another 3 dollars to ride about 25 miles north, where I was directed to take a exit into Kendall.  It was tough going as I worked the fringes of the city to my custom route starting point.  "I hope this thing knows what its doin."  I've been a GPS convert for 1 year, and 5 tours, I can vouch for their accuracy, convenience and versatility.  Nonetheless, every once in awhile it comes up with a really off the wall route, "and I think this might be on of them."

The route worked out, and sure enough, the green flag of the custom route starting point appeared on my screen, but I think it would have been better to stay on the turnpike.

Like all of my custom routes this one was created back in my study, using my atlas and software.  My intent was take control of the ride from here to Central Florida.  I had particular roads to ride and places to see.  I was starting things off on SR 41, a mostly straight road through the swamps to the Gulf of Mexico.

I found this route through the swamp more interesting than that of the park road.  More of the culture is on display here.  A long, unswerving canal, bordered the north side of the road, and every so often a flood control lock came up.  The area is known as Big Cypress National Preserve.  It also cuts a quick path through the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, complete with trailers, trading posts, and run down houses.

Not long after picking up the route I came across a large tourist trap, the signs on the road advertise it as the "Everglades oldest, largest and best, airboat rides."  The place was really busy when I got there.  Several buses were in the parking lot, and mini vans with Northeast plates dotted the perimeter.  "I reckon I'll get something to eat here."
​Advertised as the oldest, and best in the Everglades
The air boats were steadily coming and going from the docking area, I could hear them rev up and idle down till they cleared the congestion.  I shuffled on in the busy snack bar looking for something to eat.  It was a Friday in Lent, which meant fish.  The snack bar was school cafeteria style, you pulled items off the display and paid at the end of line.
​These folks were waiting for a turn on the airboats.
I stood back and scanned the menu overhead, surprisingly no fish was on the list so I went back outside and geared up.  "Ill ride on to Everglades City, and see what I can find there."

They might have had the oldest and best airboat tours, but their snack bar wasn't hitting on much.

Back on the road riding west, the RT zapped through the swampland smoothly and without effort.  The boxer twin loafed along about 65 mph, passing the occasional tour bus and RV.  The Cypress Trees drooped over the highway, and brackish water lapped at the edges of the road.  "Man I bet they're some biiiig snakes out there."
Big Cypress National Preserve.  I took this pic from the 
saddle of the RT while on SR 41
.
The screen was trimmed low in the warm South Florida air.  I was in full summer mode, with textile gloves, zipper down on the Roadcrafter with vents open.

I found another air boat vendor, this time on the north side of the road.  It was a much smaller operation with only a few boats tied to the pier.  A gift shop/tourist trap was attached.  I brought the RT in to check things out.  I went in the shop, that for some reason was a dark and gloomy place.  I feared it was a front for a Voodoo shop.
​Checking out another Everglades Tourist trap
  ​A long haired, skinny Hispanic guy stepped out from the back.  "You wanna go for a ride, gotta special on today."  "I'm sure y'all do, but it'd be kinda anti climatic after riding a sleek and fast motorcycle."  I think the RV guys support the airboat business in the Everglades, with the mini vans bringing up the rear.  "Well yeah, I guess so."  "Look I'll just have one them Diet Cokes."
​This joker was inside the gift shop.
At the age of 52 I was the youngest guy in town.

The Road Kill Cafe (common name for a cafe, see it all over the country) was near the road so I went there, only to find the place was out of business.  I went around back and returned to the front, where I noticed a small yard sign pointing down a sandy street to the "Camilla Grill."  I headed that way, and came across the 15 or so people pedaling bikes.  They weren't making much progress, and their line stretched for a quarter mile.  I plodded my way around slowly.  Didn't want anyone picking up the paper, "Long Rider takes out Ma Richards on her way to Bingo Hall.  Held without bail in Collier County Jail."

The Camilla Grill is located on a dead end overlooking the back water.  It reminded me of "Alabama Jacks" but with a much different clientele.  About 25 patrons sat inside the screened in dining hall, and on the decks outside.  Every one of them was at least 65.

I stepped up to the window. "I order here?"

"yeah, and I'll bring it out to ya," the young lady said.

"so what kinda of fish y'all have?"

"well we're out of everything but grilled Kingfish."

"Do what?  How'd that happen?"

"I dunno, but it's pretty good"

"Ok bring me that, and a baked potato."

I went outside to the deck and sat at the bar facing the water and docks.  Several boats were tied to piers of nearby houses and marinas.  While waiting for my food I called Debbie.  "Yeah, looks like a long day, the GPS says I still have 268 miles to Fort Cooper."  I looked over the remaining routes to the park.  I'll be picking up I-75 for a portion of the ride, but leaving it north of Tampa.
​A smaller and less crowded airboat vendor on SR 41  
I was shocked to see I had a good signal, so checked messages and brought up the weather radar.  All was good.  The couple took a seat next to me, but we didn't speak.  I guess I looked anti social with my Blackberry out.
The road beckoned so I got back under way.  Getting back on 41 meant negotiating a 4 or 5 inch ledge.  I paused for a moment to gather my strategy to get up and over, and back on the highway.  "I'm gonna hafta take it head on, and then turn west, going over at an angle will surely dump me on the ground."  I was going to have to check BOTH directions before going out, because the maneuver would take me into the east bound lane before I could get going west again.  I pulled the stunt off with no problem and took off west.

It was mid afternoon now and I was over 200 miles for the day as I cleared the swamps, and moved back into civilization.  I was delayed by a work zone near Ochopee. I had just missed the pilot truck, and it took forever for it to come back for us.  "What is that joker doin?  Eatin a sandwich at the other end?"  He showed back up just before despair set in.

At the crossroads of U.S. 29 and SR 41 I turned south for Everglades City to find something to eat, I was famished.

​U.S. 29,  Everglades City, about 3 miles from this spot
The town of Everglades City is a retirement community of a couple hundred people.  The first thing I noticed when I arrived in town was a group of senior citizens on bicycles leaving the library.  "I guess they're headin over to the bingo hall now." 
​Main drag through Everglades City.
At the age of 52 I was the youngest guy in town.

The Road Kill Cafe (common name for a cafe, see it all over the country) was near the road so I went there, only to find the place was out of business.  I went around back and returned to the front, where I noticed a small yard sign pointing down a sandy street to the "Camilla Grill."  I headed that way, and came across the 15 or so people pedaling bikes.  They weren't making much progress, and their line stretched for a quarter mile.  I plodded my way around slowly.  Didn't want anyone picking up the paper, "Long Rider takes out Ma Richards on her way to Bingo Hall.  Held without bail in Collier County Jail."

The Camilla Grill is located on a dead end overlooking the back water.  It reminded me of "Alabama Jacks" but with a much different clientele.  About 25 patrons sat inside the screened in dining hall, and on the decks outside.  Every one of them was at least 65.

I stepped up to the window. "I order here?"

"yeah, and I'll bring it out to ya," the young lady said.

"so what kinda of fish y'all have?"

"well we're out of everything but grilled Kingfish."

"Do what?  How'd that happen?"

"I dunno, but it's pretty good"

"Ok bring me that, and a baked potato."

I went outside to the deck and sat at the bar facing the water and docks.  Several boats were tied to piers of nearby houses and marinas.  While waiting for my food I called Debbie.  "Yeah, looks like a long day, the GPS says I still have 268 miles to Fort Cooper."  I looked over the remaining routes to the park.  I'll be picking up I-75 for a portion of the ride, but leaving it north of Tampa.
​My view while eating lunch in Everglades City.  I know 
it's a tough life but someone has to live it.  Might as well
be ME

A man broke out crooning some kind of country song I didn't know.  He wasn't half bad, and when he finished he got a nice round of applause.

I fished out my Blackberry and noted some isolated rain had popped up near Immokalee, nothing large, but it looked near where I was going.  I took out my Axim to put a few notes in, but didn't get far when I dropped the stylus, it fell between the cracks to the water below.  "Don't reckon I'll be puttin any notes in."

The grilled Kingfish was ok, I wasn't too impressed with the fish itself, but the seasoning and presentation made it palatable.  When I finished ,the lady came over to pick up my plate.   Her dark hair was in a bun waitress style, she was mostly attractive.  I think the climate has something to do with so much of that around here. She picked up the plate and said.  "You know we don't get many visitors of your persuasion around here."  "Persuasion?  From a waitress?  This has potential for being different."  I murmured.

"Well look, I ain't no spring chicken myself baby."

"yeah but c'mon, you're still a long way from the retirement home."

"true, and I hope I NEVER end up there, but no guarantees I can't.  So how long ya been in Everglades City?"
"Couple of years, I work till 6 everyday"

"yeah I'm thinkin not much business around here after 7pm, everybody is in the bed by then."

"you laugh but that ain't far from the truth.  So where ya from with that accent?"

"Alabama"

"Don't hear it around here, mostly snowbirds from up north yanno.  So where ya goin?"

"back home to Alabama, I'm on a quick ride.  Just seein stuff and enjoying the weather."

"So where all ya been?"

I quipped, " it'd be quicker to tell ya the places I've NOT been."

"Must be NICE"

"look here sweetie, I better get back ridin, I don't wanna get stuck in the traffic jam when the shuffleboard tournament is over."

"hahaha."

Never did find out her name.

I went back to the crossroads at 29 and 41 and topped of the gas tank at a BP con station.  Cost for this fill up was 18 and some change.  "Could be worse, could be in the U.K."  I reset the fuel gauge on the Zumo and got underway for the long ride north.

U.S. 29 was more of the same as it took me north through more swampland.  I got stuck behind a deputy, but he was running along about 70.  I stayed behind him and he didn't seem to mind.
​A Long Rider can find all kinds of creatures in the swamps
of South Florida.

The skies grew dark, right where the radar said it would.  The rain was off to the east of me, but close.
North of Immokalee I took SR 82 towards Ft. Myers.  Within a few miles I started running into traffic.  From there I took I-75 North and bore down on Tampa.  I was going to come through at rush hour, but the saving grace was the interstate stayed on the east side of the Bay and didn't go through the center of the city.
After all the back road riding and U.S. 1 the last couple of days, it was nice to stretch the legs out on the RT.  The pace was quick on 75 and the BMW felt good at 80 mph.

Welcome to I-75, the Florida version of the New Jersey Turnpike, that should tell you something.  All 3 north bound lanes were busy as the RT glided over to far left and and settled in.

It has been my experience the 18 wheelers of large companies and freight movers, are less prone to drop a retread, as opposed to the independents.  It is easy to tell tell the difference in the two from appearances.  There are thousands of both on I-75.

My butt was kind of stiff so I took a break at a McDonalds in Venice.  I came off the freeway, through a few red lights, and backed in the parking spot.  The store was decorated in 50s motif, reminiscent of the soda bars of the 1950s.  It was not a big place.

I ordered a apple pie and diet coke and took a seat at the front window.  "Need to wash my hands," so went to the rest room, the door was propped open with the yellow "floor wet" cone.  I stepped over it and headed for the sinks.  A 50ish, Mexican lady was mopping the floor.  

"HEY!! you can't come in here!  I'm tryin to clean up!"

"I just need to wash my hands m'am, I won't bother ya"

"I don't care, I gotta job to do, and I can't do it with people in here!  I thought you white boys could read English."

I could tell she took her job seriously, but it was hard not to laugh.  "I can't wash my hands?"

"NO! Now move on along, I'll be finished in a minute, y'all keep messing up in here and I keep cleaning,"  Then she said something in Spanish.  Not wanting to get hit in the head with a mop, I went back out.  On the way I met another man, about my age on the way in, "look here, better not go in there."  "Why not?"  "A lady is in there cleaning the floor and jumped all over me for just trying to wash my hands, if you got something else in mind, no telling what she might DO.  She went off on me BIG TIME."  About that time she poked her head out and looked at us, "Vamose! Adios! Both of you!

"I see what ya mean"

I went back to my booth and just ate my pie with dirty hands.  I put a call into Debbie.  We're due to meet tomorrow afternoon in Destin.  "Yeah, I look to be there about 4."  My son was coming in from the west out of Mobile.  We were going to have a nice family weekend at the beach.  I told Debbie where to go to check in the condo and advised her I'd call her back tonight from the campground.

While talking on the phone I saw a Valk rider come in with a passenger.  He parked next to the RT.  He was very frail looking and I feared he might drop the heavy cruiser into the RT.  Somehow he managed, and I acknowledged him when he came in the store, but we didn't speak.

The ride into Tampa was hectic.  I was bogged down in a 10 minute back up near Brandenton.  The cause?  Some joker jack knifed his southbound trailer, and tore up the rear tailgate of his pickup truck.  He only had one lane blocked but it didn't matter.  It even backed up the north bound side, just from idiots rubber necking.
Between I-4 and 275 I hit a big time traffic jam.  All lanes were reduced to a crawl.  What normally takes 10 minutes to cover, took almost 45, as I poked along in first gear when I wasn't stopped all together.  Then, I went over a small bride over a secondary road, and broke free.  No wrecks, merging, or construction zone to cause such a massive slow down, no explanation whatever.  For some reason it just backed up.

Free at last, I turned the RT loose on the countryside in the late afternoon dusk.  I was well over 400 miles for the day, and the last 100 had been less then fun.  The landscape surrounding me was very much like Central Alabama.  Lots of green trees, farms, and rolling hills.

I exited I-75 at U.S. 98 and stopped for gas.  I wasn't on reserve yet, but it seemed like a good time to fill up.  It was almost dark as I slipped through Brooksville and went to U.S. 41 north.  I was closing in on the park, and would soon be staking out my tent.

The highway to the park was busy and dark.  No longer in the warmth of South Florida,  the air was cool.  
The brown sign used to announce a government park of some kind stood out in the night.  "Fort Cooper State Park--->  I took the road to the entrance and was immediately greeted by closed gates.  "Park Closed."  "What the hell?  This ain't right."  My trip planning told nothing about the park not being open, and the URL said zero about it being a seasonal park.

"What am I gonna do now?"  I rode into Inverness, found a con store parking lot, and went to the GPS.  Rainbow State Park, where I camped in 2002, was 20 miles north up the same highway according to the GPS.  I decided to ride there and spend the night.  "I know what's there, it's a busy park and will be open."  I asked the 550 to take me there, and went through the city of Inverness to the other side.

SR 41 was a dark, spooky ride.  It was Friday night and the honky tonks along the way were lit up with Christmas lights, their parking lots full.  I really didn't like being stuck out here this time of night.  Too many drunks out.  Several times I was flashed to dim my lights, and I had to signal back I was NOT on bright.  The RT has excellent lights, and they were most welcome on this ride.

Dunnellon was a town getting ready for the weekend when I came through. Con stores were selling beer out the door by the case, and the fast food and cafes were doing a brisk business as anxious working class folks, couldn't wait to spend some of the paychecks just handed out.

Just north of town I turned off on SR 40 and missed the park entrance.  "I don't understand, I should be at the park, unless I missed the entrance back on 41."  Even though I'd been here before, nothing looked familiar, it could've been the darkness, but it was more likely my 6 year old memory was bogus.

I kept riding down a small, narrow, local road that I thought might take me to the entrance, but no luck.  I checked the GPS for nearest campground of any type.  My miles of long riding taught me, it is not uncommon for private campgrounds to sprout up around state parks, but not here.  I went back to the GPS and requested take me to Ocala.  "I'll just ride there and pick a motel."

The road looped back around to SR 40 and off I went to the city.  It was very dark and cool now, and deer were a real threat, but I saw none.   Ocala was 20 miles away.  This was the most night riding I'd done in several years.  Not that I'm not good at it, I am, just rather not do it.

The lights of the oncoming traffic glared in the screen of the 1200, and the instrument panel's red glow lit up the numbers for me.  I kept the RT in 5th gear at 55 mph, as I examined the treeline for deer, and the roadway for debris.  I had no problems.

In Ocala, none of the motel options appealed to me. Too pricey, or flop houses with rooms by the hour.  I went to the GPS for nearest Motel 6, 34 miles away in Gainesville.  "What the heck, I'm good for it."

I jumped back on 75 and took off north.  If I had just stayed on 75 all those miles ago, I'd already be in Gainesville, but not the way it went down, so now it was just make the best of it.

A firm, but steady throttle hand knocked out the last 35 miles routinely.  I eased my speed up to 70 but remained ever vigilant for deer.  I fear a deer strike more than anything.  I just wanted to get off the road and find rest.  I took exit 384 and came to a stop in front of the motel after a 554 mile ride.  Long day but it was fun.
I was delighted when the lady issued a downstairs room, I started the RT one last time and ran down room number 156, unlocked the door and threw my gear on the bed nearest the window.  Not sure what to do next, I called home and flipped the tv on.  

It was almost 9pm, and despite the fact a lot of restaurants were close by, none of them were seafood.  "I'm not hungry anyway, I'll just walk down to the corner con store and pick up some popcorn and a Mountain Dew before taking a shower."

The evening stroll was pleasant down to the store, and I was back in the room in about 15 minutes taking a hot shower.  It felt good to knock some of the chill off, despite the fact it was 60+ degrees outside.

I remembered I had a extra stylus in the right pocket of the Roadcrafter, so I was able to catch up on my journaling before getting sleepy.

With nothing else to do, I ate popcorn and clicked channels till I got sleepy.  I'll be on another custom route in the morning to Destin.  I was looking forward to seeing my family at the beach, and spending time together.