Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Cow Key Channel

Cow Key Channel is that body of water that lies between Key West and Stock Island. Technically the water is in Monroe County and the city limits lie at the seawall so one looks out on the boats at anchor and thinks perhas they too will be regulated soon enough by the county. That's because county officials are looking to manage anchored boats like these:
The seawall along Smathers Beach doubles as sidewalk and bike path, a place to enjoy sunsets and sunrises, take exercise and sometimes walk the dog, though I find it rather too dull for Rusty and therefore for me. In the picture below you can see a canoe tied to the seawall, a conveyance for getting to the boats out in midstream.
Cow Key Channel is a convenient place to live as ou can see in the picture below, parking for your dinghy and your land transport:
The channel itself is well protected from the usual winds out of the southeast or i winter from northerly storms. The waters are pretty shallow and are usually pretty calm though the tides move a lot of waterand the currents can be fierce.
Which makes these kinds of gatherings either romantic holdouts or eyesores depending on your point of view. Consider too, as the county leaders do that these people have no sewage outlet except direct into the water. So now there are plans to create proper anchorages with facilities and fees to keep nearshore waters clean and sewage free especially now the county has been planting sewaers everywhere for homes ashore.
I have no strong feelings about these matters but many people do. I have done my share of living at anchor and in marinas and I am well aware of the pitfalls, the discipline necessary to keep your water tank full, your anchor secure and your boat tidy, a job at which most of these people fail signally. And so they attract unwanted attention.
The problem with living on a boat is that it is at best cheap housing bt its not a lifestyle that encourages sailing or movement of any kind. All the onboard detritus of daily living makes it hard to get a boat in motion if its motor even works or its sails are more than tatters. There again not everyone who lives on a boat knows how to drive one.
In a city desperate for cheap housing it sees counter intuitive to make life awkward or more expensive for these last ditch romantics from a previous era. For my part I'd rather not live for free on the water as it's a hard life and usually lonely - not too many women want to live in a bleach bottle bouncing on water with a toilet that causes you to reflect closely on what you've eaten and where it goes.
I find these waterborne neighborhoods depressing as the boats are deteriorating as much as fiberglass deteriorates and there is an air to me of apocalyptic gloom to these floating sheds. The interior is almost always white fiberglass with wires hanging and nuts and bolts visibly supporting the rigging. Air conditioning is hard to organize as you'd need a powerful generator so summers are sweltering in whatever breeze there may be while cool winters can be damp and confining especially further north.
After many years of living on a boat I figured marinas were too much like trailer parks and living at anchor was too inconvenient. I like the boat as home when traveling, not when earning a living.
If these craft do get orders from Monroe County to attach themselves to secure publicly provided moorings they will probably pay two to three hundred dollars  a month. The county will probably have to get a pump out boat, a floating honey wagon to empty toilet tanks and then also provide somewhere secure for the boaters to land their dinghies while they go to their jobs ashore. 
It all seems rather complicated but that's the discussion for the Boca Chica Channel just to the east of Cow Key CHannel. There are dozens of boats at anchor between Stock Island and Boca Chica. It's too easy to live on the hook (at anchor) in the Florida Keys.
And there is the undeniable charm of waterfront living:
A nice houseboat could give you a one bedroom apartment on the water:
A kayak to go ashore provides exercise be it ever so brief:
This chunk of seawall used to be called houseboat row (LINK) because there was a row of houseboats here. They were moved to Garrison Bight Marina in the city where they pay rent to be at a dock. They were two unsightly for the multi-million dollar condos that were built overlooking these waters:
But aside from the boaty stuff people enjoy the waterfront here:


And the sunsets aroud the corner at Smathers Beach:

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cycling Key West

I try not to lose sight of the things I like about Key West and even though I am not a fan of bicycles in this town I am fond of the fact that my neighbors like to ride them. And they tend to start young too:
Let me explain: I find bicycles put me in the traffic flow so instead of enjoying the scenery and the architecture I find myself watching for cars and stop signs and distracted pedestrians (like me!). In short a bicycle is a vehicle and you have to use it as a conveyance around the narrow streets of Key West.
Residents of Key West often take pride in not having any means of propulsion other than bicycle pedals but for me who lives outside the city not only is internal combustion necessary it is also a swifter means of locomotion. I ride a motorbike or a scooter for convenience and pleasure. I have no hard feelings toward people who ride bicycles and if they ride recklessly I as a motorcycle rider am well aware of their vulnerability for which they will eventually pay with their flesh.
I expect that if I did live in Key West not 23 miles out I too would be giving my bicycle more use than it currently gets.
These abandoned scooters have been red tagged which in city parlance means their owners have now been warned that their scooters will be towed. If the vehicle cannot be moved, for instance if the tires are flat or if the license plate is expired or if a car looks like storage locker filled with junk, then it can be towed. And it will be as residents hate to see their streets junked up. 
This bicycle, below, was to me the perfect expression of the car culture. I have never previously seen a bicycle parked as though it were a car. But here it is. Parallel parked as though it belonged in a parallel universe!
I suppose the owner feels as I do about bicycles: better with an engine...

Monday, November 28, 2016

Indian Scout

I rented an Indian Scout 1200 one day on our recent short vacation in Las Vegas. It came well equipped with bags, windshield and for $55 extra complete insurance coverage.
I am very fond of the nationwide Eaglerider rental program especially after last year's rental in Orlando where an Indian Chief  Vintage gave me fits as the key-less ignition failed and left me stranded repeatedly. The Chief is a magnificent beast all 800 pounds of it but I found it unmanageable and loud. I had previously checked out the Scout at a bike show and I wanted to like it but it seemed rather cramped and uncomfortable. 
I figured renting it might be a risk but that's the point. In the event I was quite pleasantly surprised. Eaglerider was easy and efficient as always and I was ready to break out into the 65 degree day and see how this Scout which every magazine writer loves would perform.. 
Firstly the bike is low and lean and I could flat foot my 28 inch inseam easily. Duck walking the bike is simple with its 25 inch seat height! It weighs 560 pounds ready to ride but it feels much less lifting it off its side stand. Before I ride a rental bike I like to practice in the parking lot for a few minutes setting the mirrors and checking the brakes and trying to turn figures of eight.  Compared to the huge Indian Chief which was easy to maneuver in narrow circles the Scout feels ungainly with inadequate steering lock. Indeed turning around to take a picture I had to back and forth across the road to get the thing facing the way we had come. Ungainly!
My first stop on my 180 mile loop was the Hoover Dam which, though I have ridden the Southwest a lot, I had never previously seen. Here it is from the footpath on the nearby road bridge. If you don't know it's history it is rather less than overwhelming frankly. The number of cars lined up to drive the top of the dam put me off trying that for myself. Indeed when I rode out of the "restricted area" the security guard was overwhelmed by a very long line of cars wanting entry. Get here early to avoid lines.
The place was a zombie fest of the curious, people just like me...but there were too many for my taste. I came, I saw I took a picture and I fled.
After Boulder City and the dam where traffic was very heavy I enjoyed desert roads alongside Lake Mead pretty much to myself until I got close to Las Vegas and traffic jams on I-15 back into town. The air was cool on my skin but if I needed to warm up all I had to do was stop and enjoy the abundant sunshine. It was the perfect day for a ride even for this under dressed Floridian.
The windshield was a bit low for me and had it been a couple of inches taller it would have directed all the air over my head which as I was wearing a rental helmet with no visor would have been nice! The factory accessory saddlebags for a thousand bucks are  a waste though they were nice to have on the rental. They are made of leather so they will absorb rainwater like blotting paper and they have small openings at the top and don't have a lot of room to hold stuff. They have a plastic back and base liner to keep the bags' shape and the quick release buckles hidden under the leather straps are small and fiddly. If I owned a Scout I'd buy someone's accessory bags, preferably hard, lockable and waterproof. Though this is sold as a cruiser so looks are paramount and in that department the bike and the leather accessories are total winners.
The instrument is comprehensive with scrolling digital displays showing mileage and trip miles, RPM or engine coolant temperature while the main screen shows analogue miles per hour said to be accurate. I checked the engine temperature and on the road it was 176 degrees rising to a maximum of 206 F stalled in stop and go freeway traffic. It also has a very useful gear indicator for the six speed box. The digits are a little thin and hard to read in bright sunlight so I had to squint. Poor me!
My plan took me to what Google said was a pretty decent grocery store in this tiny outpost of desert civilization called Overton in the Moapa Valley, a strip of green along a river bank. I love street view and Google maps for route planning. I found a picnic table at a nearby museum so I planned to buy a sandwich at the grocery and eat it at the museum. Which part of the plan went off perfectly along with getting a full tank of gas for the rather miserly 3.3 gallon tank. I was getting about 46 miles to the gallon which seemed reasonable if not brilliant but the tank as everyone has said is too small. 
What did not go to plan was the passage of time and as I was behind schedule I had to skip visiting the museum which was a shame as I like history. Darkness falls at 5 pm around here and the Eaglerider shop closes at the same time  so I had a deadline. I didn't want to be riding after dark as temperatures plummet so I was riding to beat sunset...which was  a drag but necessary. Especially as our plans for the next day did not involve a motorcycle!
Part of the pleasure of the visit to Nevada was to enjoy completely different terrain from that which we enjoy in the Florida Keys and I found that. There were numerous washes and dry riverbeds crossing the road. Apparently they do flood as there were lots of red streaks across the road where mud had been deposited and cleaned off by road crews.
And then there were mountains across the horizon, a welcome sight after long residence in Flatistan.
After lunch I rode south 9 miles back to the turn off for the Valley of Fire State Park. This is so named by the State of Nevada thanks to the red rocks that litter the place.  The road winds its way through with side turns for various rocky attractions. No hiking was involved which was a shame as I like a good hike to enhance a ride. In any case Rusty wasn't with me and I had no time so hiking was out.
 I rode around and had a thoroughly good time not least because the Scout is a thoroughly good bike. I have read that this is the cruiser is the motorcycle for people who don't like cruisers. That would be me and I dislike the foot forward riding position. The Scout does offer foot pegs further back and they would be my choice as I feel I have better control cornering and braking with my feet properly under me, but in any case the Scout is a great bike. Surprised me.
The engine sparkles and the performance is quite surprising. I met a guy on a massive FJR1300 by Yamaha the long distance tourer par excellence and he turned his nose up at the Scout as a mere cruiser. I don't think he was real secure because even though I explained it was a rental and not my usual ride he was one of those riders who thinks everyone should be like him "Oh I ride a sport tourer" he said rather snottily. And it's a shame because he could have learned something by opening his mind. I could tour quite happily with the Scout. It's not really a little bike either even though the seat is low to the ground and it is a lot smaller than the Chief.
I'm not alone in thinking this should be a standard bike because even though it has decent suspension, especially compared to a Harley, it could be  a great ride  for a sporty rider thanks to the engine and the solid yet lightweight frame. The fat tires look very cool but they work well and that Yamaha rider would be surprised by this bike in competent hands on a winding mountain road. "Just a cruiser" - hardly the case and the magazines I've read say the same thing.
I am not a fan of six speed gearboxes generally and I found the Scout will cruise happily at 75 in fourth, a silly waste of gas of course. In 6th gear at 80 miles per hour the bike is rolling along around 4500 rpm if I recall correctly and it feels like no effort at all. Need to pass? No gear shifting needed. Before I knew it I was up to 95 smooth as butter and the 18 wheeler was a speck in the very stable mirrors. This bike is the "small" Indian but it is a touring bike in very excellent sporting style. 
It corners nicely and takes road bumps in stride. I got carried away at one point and entered a corner a bit too fast. No problem, safe braking, no wiggles, on our way at a more proper sedate speed. This is a great bike. The seat is reasonable and though the tank is small it is square and the corners at the back rubbed my thighs and not in a  nice way. I like the bench seat on my Bonneville but I found I could squirm a bit in the bucket seat on the Scout and gain some riding time. By the end of my six hour ride I had no aches or pains so I rate this machine a success on that score. I would have been ready to ride further.
I found it easy to get to know and that was a huge relief after the massive over sized Chief I rode a year ago.  I now know that my kind of motorcycle comes in what is these days a mid sized package. 
The Scout is almost as low maintenance as the rather clunky by comparison Harleys. However its modern water cooled performance requires valve checks even if only every 20,000 miles compared to a Sportster's hydraulic tappets which are maintenance free. The oil change is every ten thousand miles, compared to the Harley's five. Plus the Harley has a separate gearbox and primary drive that need attention. For both Harley and Indian have the belt drive which is silent clean and needs nothing. Pretty cool. It does run on premium gas however and with 2.5 useful gallons you have a range of about 110 miles before you need to look for fuel, which is inadequate for touring or commuting. Run out of gas here if you dare:
It's a fun ride and were I looking to buy this machine would be in the running with the Triumph Street Twin, Moto Guzzi Stone 750 or Roamer 900 and the Ducati Scrambler. The engine is amazing even if it could use a much lower gear in first to enable better walking speeds in heavy traffic. This is a fast bike, it accelerates faster than you can think, and you can fling it about like a scooter. It looks amazing too with rich finish and nice detailing. You'd be proud to own a Scout.
I got involved talking about the Scout at the Hoover Dam parking lot with a guy who likes the Chief. I told him why I thought this was the more versatile ride but for some reason most people think huge is better. The Scout is a bike that demands you ride it, no excuses. On a day when handling a giant machine seems too much, the very willing and able Scout will beg you to ride. And ride it I did, enjoying the natural beauty of the Silver State:










180 miles in six hours smiling all the way. I own the best bike of my life, my air cooled Bonneville. If I wanted another machine this would be a hot contender and let's face it the history of Indian would be a big draw, with the romantic vision of riding this great country on a scion of that past...Mind you I might well look at the five speed 1000 cc Scout 60 (sixty cubic inches) if I were thinking about buying. It costs less and looks identical with "only" 80 horsepower. I find six speeds to be a bit of drag as one ends up shifting all the damned time. On the other hand cruising at 80 mph in sixth gear is very relaxed so maybe the 1200 Scout (69 cubic inches) is better...decisions decisions.
Here's a map of that ride, its a very common loop out of Las Vegas for tourists wanting to see the surrounding desert. I met a bunch of fancy sports cars being tested on these winding roads with rather low speed limits and no visible law enforcement. I started by getting the Hoover Dam out of the way first then I went north on Lakeshore which is in the Lake Mead National Recreational area and cost $15 by motorcycle ($20 by car). Valley of Fire cost $8 for the bike at an honor system self pay station at the eastern end. You exit past a check booth at the western end. Then back to Las Vegas on I-15 from Crystal a truck stop famous for selling fireworks you can shoot off in the desert next door.
There you have it. A great day on two wheels in the desert.