I was at the motorcycle shop paying my bill for the Vespa service recently completed. I mentioned in passing I was finally taking a motorcycle trip, just a three day trip but more than I thought I'd ever get to take this year, so busy has it been. Jiri looked at me speculatively: do you want company?
We left around three o'clock in a light rain that came and went for the first five hours of the trip. We wore waterproofs to Clewiston, our dinner stop on the south rim of Lake Okeechobee though as expected the rain eased the further north we got. Jiri was riding his salvaged Suzuki Bandit 1200 which he brought back to life in his spare time. It had lain in the weeds for a decade till Jiri bought it and now it runs just fine with new large saddle bags, bright headlights and a small windshield. I had my large windshield and top box with my small panniers and our comfortable fuel range was compatible, about 130 miles before reserve.
We gassed up in Homestead and again in Clewiston. While in Homestead I had texted my wife for dinner suggestions ahead in Clewiston and she found a place by the time we got there a little after nine o'clock. The ride through the sugar cane fields north of Homestead on Highway 27 was pitch dark except for the occasional headlights, and for me it was like being at sea. It was about 75 miles, a little over an hour at our relaxed pace and I felt like I used to on night watch on my sailboat, looking for lights to appear on the horizon.
Slowly we spotted a few cell tower antenna lights, flashing red in a cluster. Then white lights of a sugar processing plant and then finally the cluster of white lights of the little field worker town of South Bay, wood and tar paper shacks, dusty gas stations and unhappy dogs. As Jiri had never, much to my surprise, traveled Highway 27 I was in the lead. I did the navigating this trip and as I have a tendency to ride a bit faster than five over the limit I was obliged to keep an eye on my mirrors so as not to stress the more cautious Jiri.
My wife's dinner suggestion, Dixie Fried Chicken hit the spot. It was a nice alternative to the more familiar Clewiston Inn and we filled up on fried grouper and shrimp with no frills offered or needed.
We were hungry and we only talked a little. Jiri and his wife have separated and his daughter lives in Michigan with her. He is a devoted father and goes up every month to spend a week at a time with her. He's really quite ingenious, using an RV as a place to stay he has a spot to park it, they take trips in it and he has a place of his own to keep family feuding to a minimum.
He called his daughter as he does daily and I got a chance to think my own thoughts, how much I wanted to be home (that damned dog of mine!) and how glad I was my wife pushed me out in the rain with the cheerful admonition to "harden the fuck up." It was worth it to be in this alien landscape with my Bonneville in the dark of the night with another 75 miles to go to Sebring.
I have no motorcycle stereo and when I ride I like to think my thoughts, compose letters that never get written and ponder the meaning of life. The four lanes of Highway 27 through sparsely populated central Florida are ideal for that sort of thing. There are long straight stretches ten miles at a time followed by curves, interspersed north of the Lake by dips and hills as central Florida's terrain rises to awesome heights, as much as several hundred feet above sea level. The tallest point in the state is in the panhandle at almost 350 feet but Lake Wales just off Highway 27 gets close to 300 feet at Bok Gardens where the famous tower completes that height. And Britton Hill is almost in Alabama so I'm not sure how Florida that is... And so, to bed, close to sea level at La Quinta, Sebring.
Sebring is Florida no doubt, not close to tropical with live oaks, pine trees and orange groves but it's pretty countryside. It's called Highland County for a reason and Lake County is to the north as this area is peppered with fresh water views. The land around here is karst which can form sinkholes producing the oddly round lakes which look human made so convenient are they for winter residents and their little vacation homes lining the shores.
Before Jiri joined me I had a plan for the weekend and with him along I only had to modify it slightly. We left later in the morning but we followed the route I had mapped out on the always useful Google street view. One day I will buy an easily mounted iPhone holder for my handlebars but I knew the route well enough so we only had to stop occasionally to check the phone and I used the time to snap a few pictures. Traveling in company limits photography and though I enjoyed the trip my pictures don't reflect the beauty and the fun we had riding the twists and turns and dips of Highway 17, the scenic route that parallels US Highway 27. Orange bushes pictured below turn into fruit in the winter and stands appear everywhere selling fresh fruit and juice that is delicious and worth stopping to drink.
There were apparently a few insects out on the 75 degree day and they died in droves on our windshields. The route was more fun than you might imagine as Florida has a reputation for boring straight flat highways. I connected the several sections of 17 with local roads and we dived along enjoying wide sweeping curves, blind corners, small villages and shady wooded sections of road for a couple of hours. I think Jiri was surprised and he did admit he enjoyed the ride, with all of his Czech reserve allowing only a serious nod of approval.
Eventually we got gas and divined it was one thirty and thus time to end the fun and to arrive. AIMExpo 2015 was at the Orange County Convention center in south Orlando, 40 minutes away by Interstate Highway. It was time so we went and started seeing all manner of motorcycles converging on the Interstate. That was my goal: to see motorcycles other than Harleys that I usually only get to see in magazines.
Czech happiness in a Florida pasture shown below. Jiri grew up under Communism and he used to see Western European riders at the International Grand Prix at Brno where he was stuck riding a Communist two stroke. Nowadays he likes riding a powerful bike just because he can, he likes the acceleration more than the speed and until he became a farther he used to race motorcycles for fun. Now he is learning to be a tourist. It seems to suit him.
I did not organize it but in the free parking lot for motorcycles we ended up next to a lovely old Vespa 150 with my Triumph parked in front of it. I was pleased to see quite a number of scooters in the parking lot.
Indeed I could have spent hours wandering about looking at the magnificent range of machinery cramming the lot... But the show closed in five hours and we had things to see and do.
The convention area is huge as you might imagine and signs were non existent. Had there been much signage we might have taken the shuttle and saved ourselves a mile walk outdoors and a mile walk indoors...it's that big. Good exercise!
I will post pictures of the show this weekend, for my own benefit as I like to store them here on my page. If you have no interest in motorcycles return to my diary Monday for some fresh Key West content.
We found the shuttle for the return trip at six pm and I got to see a lovely six cylinder Honda at a traffic light. The sort of vision from my youth I'd never get to see in Key West..,
It was a pleasant evening just verging on feeling chill with my light weight armored mesh jacket on. The traffic lights were an amusing drag start with the car drivers who thought five under the speed limit was fast enough until I offended their penis size and suddenly my desire to get dinner awoke their absurd competitive spirit. I wonder why people can't drive their own drive and not worry about who wants to go faster? If I am in the mood to dawdle I don't let anyone hurry me along, I just pull aside if they don't know how to pass and I go at my own speed.
After dinner at an unmemorable Asian buffet place Jiri called his daughter, I took pictures and then we retired to our respective rooms at La Quinta.
Day three saw us out of the hotel at the crack of eight thirty, (planned departure at six thirty!) so I never did get to see dawn on the road, one of my goals as central Florida often gets mist and diffuse sunrises. Jiri had never seen Lake Ochechobee except from the air so as it was daylight we pulled into a park past Clewiston near South Bay and got to see not much. We even rode the bikes up onto the levy after we first walked up.
The lake is so choked with dirt and grass after a long stretch of low water years ago this area is mostly dry inside the levy except for the canal. The best views are from the Port Mayaca locks on the east rim. We girded ourselves for the last two hundred miles home.
My backside was getting sore and Jiri's knees have felt the asphalt enough in his racing career they tend to get tired also. The run south through the sugar cane was unmemorable, as cane looks as interesting as water reeds...
There was some cane burning in the distance. They do that to clean it before harvest, killing wildlife and making the Caribbean laborers dusty with soot when they cut it with machetes. The soil is soft so macines are of limited use in land reclaimed from bog. Federal subsidies make sugar cane viable in the US and you pay a five cent subsidy for every candy bar sold in the US. That the biggest beneficiaries of this corporate welfare are a family of rather unsavory Cuban billionaires who buy politicians who preach self reliance is just another of life's little ironies in the Land of the Free. Goggle Fanjul and see how they play all sides of the political purchasing game. Democrats and Republicans all are for sale for not much money and the Fanjul family buys them happily.
The rest of the ride was a matter of getting the job done. Had we left earlier I'd have insisted on avoiding Krome Avenue but it was horribly slow so I consoled myself by thinking that doubtless the Turnpike was likely crowded too...
I have good memories of this weekend, the long straight bits, the curvy bits, the rain, the cool night air Up North and the muggy feeling of being back in the Keys right before a cold front struck. And my wife and my dog welcoming me home and my memories to keep me going for a while...till next time, quite possibly with Jiri.