Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cruising Highway 17

I left my wife at Mount Dora a charming little town on the banks of a lake, somewhere northwest of Orlando. Mount Dora is an antiquey little town filled with shoppes and pretty little knick knacks and assorted dust catchers to adorn your suburban homes. It is not for me so when my wife suggested I rent a motorcycle for the day I jumped at the offer. I took the car to Orlando and Modern Classic Motorcycle Rentals, mentioned in a previous essay and got this Thruxton for $69.My wife and her buddy Nancy who lives in nearby Ocala were lazing by the hotel pool while I filled out the paperwork and set off on a voyage of exploration. Very manly I'm sure. It was hot as blazes crossing Orlando's multi lane streets and I nearly missed the turn onto I-4 which had one solitary piddly little sign marking the major on ramp:I overshot it and while I was pushing the Thruxton back along the shoulder to the intersection a Harley rider stopped by to make sure I was okay. Which was very kind but not necessary as it turned out. I opened the Thruxton up on the freeway, but not too much as the bike only had a few hundred miles on it. I wanted to get onto some back roads, the land of broad old oak trees and dangling Spanish Moss, the like of which doesn't grow in Key West. There's quite a bit up in these parts that doesn't much resemble the Keys. I was bowling along US Highway 17 when I saw a brown sign to Blue Springs State Park, so I whipped out my parks admissions card and took a tour.
I thought it was hot as hell, but there again I was wearing jeans and boots and a motorcycle jacket, which even though it was made of mesh managed to keep me quite warm thank you. These people were lighting a FIRE! The mystery was soon explained, after I passed another huge bunch of people sunning themselves in a field. What these people were actually doing was reviving themselves following immersion in the freezing waters of the great Blue Spring. I followed a sign promising a trail and found myself on a boardwalk through the woods. A wood is not the sort of place you'd expect to find people carrying swimming fins and snorkels:Even weirder was this sign, which I'd never expect to find a woodland glade:"All scuba divers..." indeed! It turns out cave diving is a popular sport here where 100 million gallons a day of cold fresh water wells up out of this fissure in the ground: Perhaps a year-round temperature of 72 degrees (22C) seems warm to some people but on a 95 degree (35C) it seems freezing to me. Much better to take a canoe down the bubbling stream:
I spoke with a patron of the place who told me he lived 40 miles (60kms) away at Daytona Beach and he came inland to en joy a different environment as often as he could. He said it was actually a quiet day at the park and on Saturdays the place was so full you could hardly move. It seemed hard to imagine it more full than this... Back at the motorcycle in the parking lot two small boys covered their ears as I prepared to fire up the red monster, but I looked at them and said "It's really very quiet. I prefer it like that because I can go faster when no one can hear me. Remember that" I wagged my finger, "for when you grow up" and if looks could kill their mother would have had me stone dead at that point. I purred sedately away.US Highway 17 was a bit of a disappointment even after I got past the four lanes pouring traffic through DeBary and De Land, dormitory communities off I-4. The highway was determined to be efficient and straight and very sticky and hot. The architecture ran to late 20th century tacky boxes, some of which luckily sold ice cold water. Locals don't ride this area with drop handlebars because speed limits are annoyingly low, around 45 mph (70km/h) and sitting up on a mobile couch makes good sense:The Thruxton was great fun to ride nevertheless, and when I got off onto narrower side roads the fun only increased, especially where the heavy oaks threw shade across the asphalt: I wasn't going anywhere in particular so each time I passed a narrow side road I stopped, made a u-turn and checked it out. After a few interesting curves I might end up in a dead end like this. The fence carried a sign advising that if you wanted to know if there is life after death you might care to try trespassing to find out. I am unconvinced there is life after death so I wiggled the Thruxton slowly round and left whence I came. Besides I am pretty sure gravel is not going to be the café racer's forte and death seemed as likely to come from riding off road as trespassing.
I had a grand time spinning along the highway and ducking off into the wilds beyond the obvious. At one point I got stuck behind a Sheriff's deputy so I pulled off the road and took a break, just to give him a chance to get out of sight, which also gave me time to stand back and admire my gorgeous ride:
After I took the picture I noticed the dry grass rubbing up against the exhaust and I got struck by a moment of panic so I kicked it all away and stomped on it. Just in case,but passing motorists must have thought the heat had got to me. However all was well and there wasn't even a hint of fire. I was on fire though and when I stopped to fill up at the nearest locally owned Citgo (they have a big advertising blitz on the billboards to remind people tat even though Citgo is Venezuelan owned- they aren't!). I loaded up with a couple of gallons of premium at around $2:80 a gallon as I recall: Then I staggered into the Subway where I proceeded to accidentally jump the line much to the trembling rage of two woolly hairs who were in line in front of me. The two ladies serving thought it was hilarious though perhaps they were enjoying the cool temperatures that frosted the room from my (accidental) bad behavior. I found my place in line, abandoning a momentary impulse to pull a Marlon Brando on the bourgeoisie and enjoyed the chill emanating from the pensioner in front of me in the line. Road food: a grilled chicken six incher and lots of icy coca cola: The Spanish Moss was looking good to me as temperatures remained high, humidity went through the roof and shade was my friend:After lunch was when things,meteorologically speaking, took a change: Rain clouds closed in and as the sprinkles increased I wished my rental bike came with saddlebags, because if it did I might have had the wit to bring waterproofs with me. As it was I was getting wet and the clouds up ahead were getting thicker and blacker. Until a funny thing happened.In the face of the mother of all thunderstorms up ahead I stopped to weigh my options and as I did, a helpful passer-by offered directions which was the point at which I discovered that since lunch time I had been riding in the wrong direction. That was the bad news, the good news was that if I reversed direction and started back toward Orlando the skies would be getting a good deal brighter. I lost no time in heading south.
I did not escape unscathed, because a cloudburst caught me and drenched me for about three minutes, and though I was worried mostly about the contents of my backpack, I made it through to clear blue skies once again. I was back to riding into a hair drier and I was dry sooner than it takes to tell. I also discovered that De Land is home to Stetson University of law and is also home to some impressive buildings:
And more impressive brick buildings that appeared to be school halls lining the highway like giant Lego blocks:It was time to get the motorcycle back and reluctantly I got back onto I-4 and headed toward downtown Orlando. On the way out the main exit onto the freeway was poorly marked, so it was that Highway 441 was badly signposted on the freeway. First it was shown as a two lane exit and then with no warning the exit showed up as this tiny turn lane and I had no ti me to change lanes. I nearly got rear ended as I pulled a quick slow down and lane change, in an effort to get out of the mess of freeway traffic. All of which involved another slow walk in reverse on the shoulder and an opportunity for a photograph. My wife and Nancy it turns out had had an excellent day swimming and shopping while I knocked off a long desired visit to try to see the St Johns river, a valiant effort that netted me absolutely no views of the river at all. Next time I'll try harder, on a Scrambler perhaps. The Thruxton was a fun ride, though not nearly as comfortable as my Bonneville:Nice pipes, huh? I think Frank was glad to get his baby back unscathed. I was sorry to see it go.