The Ride Goes On Forever, This time to Key West

The Ride Goes on Forever 

Those who ride are considered insane

By those who cannot feel the wind

One of the places I have wanted to visit for some time is Key West. I didn’t have a good reason other than it is the furthest point you can ride to in the States and I had not been there. That seemed reason enough, now all I needed was a time. Then I received an offer to start a job the 3rd of January. When I started the job I would have no leave time, so it seemed logical to do the trip before I started work. As this was a rather sudden trip I would be gong alone and as the Honda had already had its workout for the year I tagged the BMW for the trip. One of the problems of course was that this was to be a winter trip. But, I was heading for south Florida, so how cold could that be? I already had a heated jacket liner and gloves. Ever the trusting sole I ordered up a heated pants liner and heated insoles. Like the Boy Scouts, I like to be prepared. I loaded up and pulled out on Sat. the 11th with temperature in the 40s and a strong north wind. I dropped down to Pauls Valley to see the future work site and then headed east across Oklahoma. I have been this way before, so I didn’t run across anything new. I did the Talihina drive, and I was about the only person on the road. Closing in on the east end of the drive the road became wet. It seems that while a cold front was chasing me from the NW I was chasing a rain front to the SE. When I cleared Mena the weather sort of cleared and it warmed up some. I took Highway 8 to the SE, and it is a nice road. Highway 8 is a local 2 lane that wanders around across the south of the state in the general direction I wanted to go. The further I went, the wetter the road became. By the time I reached Monticello it was either get into the rain gear or stop. It was late and I decided to stop. During the night the front caught up with me. It was 26 degrees with a strong north wind when I left in the morning. I just plugged myself in and away we went. I was headed for Itta Bena Mississippi, the birthplace of BB king. What I didn’t know was that I would find the birthplace of someone else. It seems that Leland, Mississippi it the birthplace of Jim Henson, the creator of Kermit the Frog and a host of other Muppets.022 A little way down the road in Indiananola I saw a sign directing me to the BB King Museum and delta music center. As it was early on a Sunday the museum was not open so there is not much I can say about it. Down the road just a bit was the town of Itta Bena which was larger than I thought it was going to be. For sure it is larger than Twist Arkansas. It seems that Itta Bena was the name of a Plantation in the area and it means Home in the Wood in, I would guess, an Indian language, probably Creek or Caddo. What was surprising was that there was no mention of BB King anywhere in the town. Twist with a total population of 25 at the most had two signs and he only played in a bar at there. Failing on finding anything on BB King I headed on down the road. By this time I had been on the road for about 6 hours. It was about 32 with a strong wing and I was getting chilled. So I pulled into a McDonalds and put on the pants liner and the heated insoles for the first time. Nice. I was heading for Tuscaloosa where I had been told you could find the best BBQ ever. It was not that big a problem to find the Dreamland BBQ and by then it was snowing. Not a lot, but for sure snowing. I will have to say that the BBQ was different than what I am used to. It wasn’t bad, just not my idea of what BBQ ought to taste like. As the place was fairly busy there were probably quite a few folks there who would disagree with me. The road for the day had been pretty good. This was not a major road, but it was still a 4 lane and well taken care of. The scenery was mostly trees, and a lot of them and not a lot of traffic. Darkness comes around 5:00 this time of the year, so I called it a day in Montgomery. I think the highest temp I had seen was 34 and that only for a short while. The next morning it was 26 and all of the news and weather folks were making it sound like the end of the world. I only got lost once leaving Montgomery, and nothing serious then. I had found a road heading straight south into Florida. I crossed into Florida at a town named Florala and found the highest point in the state. Now 345 feet is not much, the Rockies don’t have to worry about the competition, but Florida tries.026 In a little bit I hit highway 20 and headed east. This area has quite a bit of horse and cow growing going on and a whole bunch of trees. One thing about driving through trees, if you have seen one, that about covers it. One pine tree is pretty much like the others except for a lot of the trees had Spanish Moss hanging all over them. Not so much on the pines, but the oaks sure did. I made it over to Perry and headed south. This is the area of the state that has a bunch of sinkholes, large and small. If you know what you are looking at, they are all over. In fact, I saw several business advertising that they took care of house structural problems including sinkholes. How you are going to deal with a sink hole is beyond me, but in Oklahoma we don’t have to worry about things like that. Another thing I was noticing is that there were a lot of businesses closed for the season and getting a room in a motel was not going to be a problem. What was a problem was that they all had the heat set real low so when you checked in it took some time for the place to warm up. I stopped for the night in Chiefland and it was 32 degrees. The next morning it was 24 degrees and all of the news was about the big freeze. What I was happy about was that the wind was not blowing so I was good to go. I was on a nice road making good time heading into Tampa. The closer I got to Tampa the more crowded the road became until it was essentially a city street with nothing but businesses and stoplights. It did not take long to get all of that I needed and I dropped over to the east and picked up a toll road which lead to I-65. As a side note, if you are not aware, Florida is very big on toll roads. Once on I-65 I cleared Tampa and St. Petersburg and with no good options I stayed on it towards Naples. This is one of the parts of the state I was not real thrilled with. As far as I could tell all this area is built up housing developments and swamps. If there were businesses making anything I did not see them. I dropped off the interstate at Naples and picked up 41 going through the everglades. Again, not too much to see here: swamps, trees, moss, lots of birds and ever now and then, a fake Indian village and a place for air boat rides. Years ago I had used an airboat duck hunting in Matagorda Bay in Texas. That was a lot of fun and I was thinking about giving one a shot. However, the ones they are using look like buses with the sides off and they only go a few certain places and it really didn’t look like much fun. 030So, on across the Everglades we went. I hit Homestead and saw a sign about Key West and headed south. It was an interesting idea, but not a very good idea for making time. It was a farm to market highway, two lane, carrying a lot of truck traffic. There were tomato and other farms all along the road, and they were all very busy. It was going to freeze that night and they were trying to do all they could to save their crops. They were spraying water over what they could with the theory being that if the water froze the plant and fruit would not. What they could not spray they were picking, ripe or not. Eventually I gave up on that road and dropped east to pick up the big road.  Heading south on Highway 1 it was easy to tell that it was built up out of the swamps. Shortly south of Homestead you go across the first bridge onto Key Largo. After that it is just a series of small Keys or islands connected by bridges. The road is mostly two lane and the speed limit it 45 and some 55, and crowded. Along the road were every type of business, motels, resorts, boat shops, boat storage places, boat repair places, dive shops, rental shops of every type, and every now and then a tree. Quite a lot of them were closed for the season. At least I think it was for the season. Considering the economy, they might be closed for good. One of the keys is interesting. Apparently it is the home to the endangered Key Deer. The speed limit was lower and there were fences all over to keep the deer off of the highway. Considering the size of the key and the population there can’t be many Key Deer left. I did not run one down, I didn’t even see one. That is the only Key where they had the signs about the deer. I wanted to be a Key West at sundown, and I made it. However, it did not do me much good. The clouds had closed in and there was no sunset to see, green flash or anything. So it goes. I pulled into Key West and checked into a motel which advertised their low price. I didn’t think it was all that low but when I made a comment they said for sure it was low for Key West which is probably correct. It would have been a very low price in Canada. They did have directions to a good meal and it was in walking distance. Being in Key West, (on the ocean) I had some grouper and some very good Jack Daniels. 033That night the temperature set an all time record low for Key West, 47 degrees. The next morning dawned clear and cool. These people were going nuts. Most of them don’t have coats. I saw several people riding scooters with hoodies, sneakers and shorts. It is a small island so they can’t go far and at 55 degrees is not going to freeze them to death.   What I didn’t find was Fort Jackson which the maps and signs say is there. I was following the signs and then next thing I knew I was at a loading dock with a bunch of ships and assorted stuff but no Ft. Jackson. If you like neat towns, Key West would be a good option. It is an old town and the buildings reflect that and where it is. The island is small and so is the town. As a result the houses are small with little if any yard, no garages, little off street parking. I will say that most of the houses appeared to be well kept and the town as a whole was clean. As I said, it is a small town and it didn’t take me long to see all of it I wanted and then I headed north. It was a much better ride than the ride in. There was not a cloud in the sky. The temperature was in the 60s by then and just a slight breeze. Also, as it was early there was not much traffic, just the thing for a nice days ride. This is one of the views just before a bridge. They usually had pull outs at each end of a long bridge so people could pull off and fish or, in this case, launch a boat. However, like trees, you can only take so many photos of oceans and islands. Water tends to look like water. As I went along again I was not very impressed with what I saw. The view of the ocean was pretty, 005but the view along the highway, in my opinion, was not. It was mostly various types of businesses most aimed towards the tourists. You could easily buy, store or repair any type of water craft you could think of, and very crowded even being the off season. This must really be a mess in the summer. In the summer the temperature easily hits the high 90s with high humidity. Tie that in with lots of slow traffic and that does not strike me as a good place to be riding a bike. Winter is better. So, on I went. I was going to follow Highway 1 north until it got into the metro area. At that point I would get on the interstate or more likely a toll road. It didn’t take long for the road to get down to an urban 4 lane so I did the toll road and moved out. It was around midday so the traffic was not bad. I did not know that Miami had a smog problem. I would have thought the location and lack of hills would have taken care of that. Not so, there was a very visible haze and it got to my eyes as I rode along. It did not take long to clear the Miami area. I picked up what the map called the Sawgrass parkway. This highway, 27 I think, goes as straight as an arrow across some of the flattest land I have seen and, at least in the southern part, is nothing but very wet sawgrass. It grows about 5-6 feet tall and that is all you see. The road does not turn at all for at least 50 miles. I would not want to drive this at night. Towards the north end they started growing lots and lots of sugarcane. It appears that one of the largest growers is the King Ranch, and going by the brand it is the same King Ranch as in south Texas, interesting. This road goes down through central Florida and it seems that in this area people actually work at something rather than just buying things. As mentioned, there was the sugarcane and then a bunch of ranch land for cows and horses. North of that were the orange groves. They were doing a lot of work in these groves. The oranges were not ripe but they were freeze damaged and could still be used for juice. Expect to pay more for orange products in the near future. I stopped for the night a little south of Tallahassee and again had frost in the morning. However, the sky was blue and the wind was not blowing so it warmed up quickly and turned into a very nice day. I caught a road heading west through the Florida Panhandle which was a very pleasant ride. It first ran through a lot of trees and then along the beach. I understand about wanting a nice view from your house but I will never 010understand about building a house right on the beach, especially when it is obvious that the beach is being eroded. Over time, sometimes very short, your land and house will eventually go away. I stopped for a nice bowl of gumbo and a salad in Port St. Joe. All along this stretch of road were beach houses with for sale signs everywhere. Some of the obviously have been up for sale for some time. There was also a lot of construction that had been stopped. If you are looking for a beach house, this might be a place to get a deal. As I entered Panama City the sky got to looking rather like rain, and soon. Also the road was again getting to the four lane urban thing so I climbed into the rain gear and headed north. It did rain, but only for about 30 minutes and eventually I picked up the interstate and called it a night just across the bay from Mobile. The temperature in the morning was in the high 50s and overcast. I was a little worried about heading into Mobile during the rush hours, but that turned out to not be a problem. I picked up my road which headed NW across Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. They grow and harvest a lot of trees in this area with some limited farming and ranching. The land is still flat but not as flat as Florida. Along the way it started cooling down. When I went through Natchez is was right at 32 with a strong north wind. By the time I got to Marshal Texas it was still near 30 and time to stop for the night.  The next morning it was 30, clear with a stiff north wind. I headed north and west and hooked up with highway 259 and was on the home stretch. I had been this way many times. One more fill up in Broken Bow and then it was down familiar roads to home. So ended another good trip, I had covered a little over 3500 miles and done something I had wanted to do for a long time. Now I can say that I have been from the end of the road in Canada to the most southern point in the States. I have been to Acapulco which is further south, I think, but I had wanted to go to Key West, and now I have. All trips are good, some just better than others. I was not impressed with South Florida. Overall, it seems to be just a place where people can show how much money they have and the folks down there are geared up to get as much of that money as they can. Bar Harbor Maine is much the same way. The cities in southern Florida are pretty much like big cities everywhere. They don’t need me. However, as is said, been there done that and don’t need to go back. It was pretty cold throughout much of the trip, but that wasn’t a problem. The electric gear pretty much did the job. I was heated from the soles of my feet to the tips of my fingers. At the end of the day I was just as warm as when I started.