Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Everglades en Masse

A Canadian riding the All American motorcycle in alligator country. Yesterday was a day for riding motorcycles in South Florida.
David Masse was at Eaglerider promptly just before eleven, and when I showed up he was looking apprehensively at the 700 pound mastodon he had rented for the day.
He had asked for a "basic" Sportster, the 500 pound beginner's bike Harley Davidson builds to get people started on a life of owning big v-twin motorcycles. They've modernized the concept with a new line of beginner bikes, the Street 750 and 500 but when David's Sportster was unavailable they "upgraded" him to their baby touring bike, the Switchback a Harley I had looked at with some interest. I ride a motorcycle viewed by some Internet mouths as a tiddler suitable for beginners which I find odd as I started out on much smaller bikes and the Triumph feels entirely full-sized to me. I think David might not have minded a 350 as he was looking at his first ride on a motorcycle with gears, traffic and everything.
The route I had planned avoided beaches, bikinis and other distractions, stop and go traffic and the Keys. Unable to spend a night away a ride down the islands looked like too much effort for too small a return. I figured a 200 mile rectangle through alligator country might work. He looked the part.
Our first stop, after a chunk of freeway keeping up with cars and trucks, and Highway 27 a four lane road with a few lights, and Tamiami Trail with road works, was the gas station now automated, modern, and devoid of human contact. I filled the relatively modest tank on my beginner bike, but David's five gallon tank (with gauge) was looking full enough. We pressed on.
David took to the beast like a duck to water. He rode a small motorbike once in the Pleistocene Era and then more recently got an automatic Vespa 300 which he rides around Montreal. Nothing like a Dyna Switchback but he took off like the proverbial off a stick. I shrugged and tried to keep up. Seen here cruising the Loop Road searching for alligators.
Oops! There's one...We stopped and David with his long legs maneuvered the lump off the road easier than I duck walked the Bonneville on tip toe and we took the inevitable pictures of the silent, stationary dinosaur.
Being smart older men we didn't approach the critter, nor did we tweak his tail, something half witted visitors to Disneyworld Florida do from time to time... Alligators are actually laid back and ignore large humans but they are not worth bothering. They run faster than you, swim stronger than you and inflict appalling wounds with their filthy teeth. They drown their victims to allow the bodies to rot so they can eat them later. Given all that they don't have to be hungry to kill, unlike sharks who hunt when hungry, so messing with them is not smart. We were smart.
Canadian with all fingers and toes, building confidence with the Switchback.
Looking at the two bikes David noticed something that has struck me over the decades I have been riding. Namely that motorcycles generally look smaller in real life than they do in pictures. I notice this especially with motorcycles from my youth which at the time seemed huge and out of reach not only because of their cost but also owing to sheer gargantuan size...now that I am a more experienced rider, decades later they look positively tiny. Head on my 900 Bonneville looks like a bicycle:
I let David loose on an unsuspecting Florida and he was momentarily alone with his monster bike. I wonder what he was thinking.
Clyde Butcher, the man who best captures South Florida in photography has a gallery on the Tamiami (Tampa-Miami) Trail. I wasn't letting the Canadian Hog Rider get past this cabin on Highway 41 without a look in. Of course there was photography to be done outside, too.
They are everywhere this year. I saw dozens lining the canal alongside the highway, basking in the 80 degree heat after the recent cold snap which put mainland temperatures close to freezing, even here.
The other wildlife we saw plenty of alongside the road was Angler Americanus, looking for I don't know what in the tannic impenetrable waters of the Everglades canal. A mercury laden fish in return for being run down by an 18-wheeler. Sounds like a deal to me. I can't think of a better way to spend a Monday.
Road building in South Florida isn't easy thanks to the boggy nature of the Everglades, but once the routes are chosen the road beds travel in very straight lines which are not exactly designed to delight the heart and soul of a human dedicated to adventure by motorcycle. On the other hand, some days are just made for the less curvy adventures of watching wildlife and counting clouds floating overhead. Not to mention coming to grips with the peculiar starting process and baulky gearbox of a modern Harley Davidson.
David, knowing my interest in the Switchback suggested we swap bikes for the next stage, riding to lunch. I sank into the plush seat, stuck my feet forward looking for the big rubber foot boards and tried to wrap my hands around the downward facing handlebars. David thought the Bonneville had solid acceleration but the Switchback felt like it was a rocket booster when I opened it up. Miraculously the mirrors stayed perfectly still through it and the vibrations weren't allowed to interfere with the rider. I was flying through the Everglades on a couch, tracking steady and straight though I did wonder how it would cope with mountain roads.     

                          


Or rather how I would cope with mountain roads with the huge foot controls, soft floorboards and a handlebar that was as steady as a ship's tiller tied down for a storm. No wonder there are so many Harleys rumbling along the dead straight roads of Florida. A dozen years ago I rode an earlier model Dyna around California and I remember the 500 mile ride very well. Perhaps I was over thinking it, until I lurched round the traffic circle in Everglades City and nearly hit the car in front as I struggled with the weird turn signal controls and the fat handlebar throttle. Nothing like a motorcycle to make you feel like a dork, especially when you aren't man enough.
Where were we? Ah yes, lunch in Chokoloskee where David now looked at his new relationship rather more fondly than at my elderly excuse for a sit-up-and-beg motorcycle.
Thank heavens for the web. I had scouted out lunch and Havana Cafe had looked good online, and better in person.
David was vacillating between the Cuban Sandwich and the roast pork so in the spirit of my absent wife we ordered one of each and split them.
We talked of Canada, business ethics, retirement prospects (not close enough) motorcycles and the likelihood of not needing the rain gear I had brought. David was serene but I wasn't as it's been an odd winter. Not that I mind the rain if prepared for it but some people, especially newer riders tend to fear rain covered roads. Apparently not the Canadian.
We had no time left to cruise Chokoloskee, old time Florida surviving at the southwest tip of the state, a small village surrounded by tannic waters, mangrove islands and attached to the mainland by one causeway.
And so through Everglades City caught on the fly... I had thought about the Rod and Gun Club but apparently it is fast dropping out of favor with travelers, and it was no great shakes two years ago. Pass, and hope for better days for the historic hideaway for historic rich people.
Now we were under the gun as Eaglerider closed at 6 and we had two hours and thirty minutes left.
I stopped for a rain shower which was so weak as to cause no concern to the Steel Man from The North and like the condemned refusing a blindfold he rejected an offer of my new, unused Frogg Toggs bought recently to replace my well worn commuting waterproofs. Frogg Toggs are excellent if you plan on standing in rain or riding in rain. I love mine and they go with me everywhere. David's biggest concern was gas as he was running out of premium. He told me the last thirty miles to the Miccosukee gas station on Alligator Alley (I-75) was a nail biter for him. I have no gas gauge but I zero the trip meter at every fill up and I knew I was fine; damp but fine for gas. If my guest rejected the new Frogg Toggs I refused to wear my old set. The sun re-emerged and we were dry again almost instantly.
I had told David about the "twistiest road in Florida" and he knew right where it was.
He was off and running, I stopped for pictures...
...and left him to it.
Snake Road is a gently curving levy awkwardly built for photographers as there are no shoulders at all and the grass is soft and slopes away from the road surface. Eventually the Harley reappeared with a smiling rider. We shook hands like the men that we had proven ourselves to be and waved good bye as I took Highway 27 south and he continued west to Fort Lauderdale.
My private adventure began 35 miles north of Homestead where a big black cloud turned into a downpour and I happily put on my waterproofs and hunkered down for a quick ride to the Keys. It turned out rain darkness and farm vehicles are a lethal mixture as once again Krome Avenue (named for Flagler's railway engineer who died of yellow fever) was the personification of slow traffic, tons of lights, distracted drivers and a cautious 15mph top speed. Grr! I should have taken the turnpike but I was tired of freeways. Lesson learned- again!
Paradoxically the ride through the Keys was fantastic as the rain dried up and I found myself behind three cars that drove so fast I dared not keep up and they managed somehow to sweep all slowpokes before them. I got home at eight, still damp but delighted with the day and a solid 400 mile ride.
A day spent without this:
How could I do such a thing?

A rough map as I lost patience with my mapping device. Outbound we took Highway 27 a more rural, toll-free route than the Turnpike recommended.