Monday, September 25, 2017

Vespa In A Post Apocalyptic World

"What?" my neighbor said to me as he watched me get on 2008 Vespa S150 for the 25 mile ride back to Key West."You riding that moped on these streets?" He had a point things were a bit rough right after Irma landed. And in Key West where everyone rides 50cc scooters  a 60 mph 150 is indistinguishable from a 35 mph model. 
So how is a Vespa as a survival tool when civilization teeters on the brink?  In normal times I use the scooter to commute on the Overseas Highway where it's perfect. Speed limits vary between 45 and 55 mph and the Vespa allows me to keep up with the normal flow of traffic. With the wind at my back the 150 cc motor sends me down the flat straight road at up 65 mph (showing 70 on the speedo). It does not allow me to get into trouble by passing or speeding in the carefree manner my motorcycle allowed me to. My Bonneville got trashed by salt water and it does not look likely to be a survivor and with two Vespas at my disposal it doesn't look like I'll be replacing it in this phase of my life.
The Vespa is known for its metal body and sturdy construction and its load carrying ability. On my rides checking neighborhoods after the Category Four storm ravaged the Keys I came across all manner of things, including these pallets on Sugarloaf Key. The National Guard dropped off supplies for survivors and I easily loaded a box of MREs onto the seat.
 My MRE carrier:
Fuel: I found that riding at 50 mph indicated (45mph actual) I saved a ton of gas. The fuel gauge on on the S150  is quite accurate so it encouraged me to keep my speed down. Quite aside from the objects laying around on the roadways in the early days. I should have filled a five gallon jug before the storm but I was stupid and forgot. I know better...
So I had to round up some jugs find a gas station that was open and be very careful about how much I burned. This is a big issue for a scooter as survival tool. I could have used a front rack on the Vespa with a one or two gallon jug strapped on just for peace of mind. I did strap a jug on the floor boards but I like to keep that area clear in normal use. 
I always carry a tire repair kit under the seat and flat tires were constantly on my mind. The ease of use of the Vespa, the low weight the open body make it much more suitable than a motorcycle. Then there is the fact that the Bonneville has tubes in the tires. A flat would be truly awkward in these circumstances. 
To a population used to riding around in giant trucks and SUV type vehicles the idea of using a 230 pound scooter to get around in the best of times seems weird. In a crisis those big trucks look so self important with their heavy duty whatnot and then this hairy old hobbit comes rolling by on a moped. Oops!
But the scooter got me where I wanted to go. I did not drive through flooded areas but I dodged downed trees and powerlines and I managed gravel and sand just fine. Having experience is decidedly a plus in these types of conditions
One thing drivers of trucks don't have to worry about is decapitation. Wires down are a serious issue for a rider after a storm and you need to keep a sharp eye out. Plus wires can come down later even if the road was open previously. This was one of my biggest fears:
The hospital was closed after Irma as there was no running water in Key West, so an injury could be severely inconvenient or fatal. That was always at the forefront of mind when I was riding or doing anything else. 
Some heavy duty wires were so low down they even kept me out of my street. Luckily these were so thick I had no trouble spotting them:
I even picked up a kid hitch hiking and gave him a 15 mile ride toward Miami. Florida is no helmet law state (for adults) and it was easy enough to pop him on the solo seat for a short ride. The Vespa did sterling work.
So how did my Vespa survive the storm? Well it was small enough to fit in the elevator at work so I took it to the upper floor safe fro potential flooding. I wondered who would yell at me for parking in front of the detectives bureau but I guess people had other things on their mind. There were only two dozen of us left to ride out the storm anyway.
Then of course I wondered what I would do if the storm in some way knocked out our elevators. Would my Vespa be stranded upstairs? In stressful times we worry about anything...
The fun factor is always there so if you enjoy riding getting on the Vespa can be a bit of an escape too. My wife and dog were safely evacuated so I only myself to look after which made the Vespa perfect for these two weeks of isolation.
The weather channel said this was a non-survivable event in the Florida Keys. When I found their truck stuck with a flat tire I let my feelings be known about the way they rated my chances of survival:
In the end I have to say my decision to keep and use the Vespa as  survival tool was perfect for me. On the other hand I am a confident rider after half a century in the saddle and that makes it easy for me to choose to use a Vespa in circumstances others may think bizarre.
The more I ride these ultra smooth perfectly reliable modern Vespas the less I miss the two stroke geared  Vespas of my past. These machines go and go and they do it well. 
My orange survival tool.
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I should point out I had a non survivable event shortly after I wrote this piece. My drive belt blew on the road and I had to get help from friends to round up my ailing car and trailer and get the Vespa off the road. I knew before the storm I should change the belt as it was nine years l'd even though the scooter had only run 326 miles when I got it. I changed the tires promptly but the belt...well I wanted to get a few miles out of it.Of course when Irma intervened in my life I was too late to order a new belt and when I locked the other Vespa safely away I meant this one to follow but circumstances left me thinking I'd be better off riding the Vespa than driving the car. On the whole I think it was the right choice but like so much of irma I was foolish and ill prepared and that was my fault not the scooter's. All the shortcomings in my preparation are my fault as I know better. I just never saw Irma coming our way -Miami was the target- and of course I know better than to  assume the course of a hurricane too. Human error all round. My error all round.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Marathon -Irma

I went to Marathon a week ago to check on a  friend's boat
 They did not get the worst winds so like Key West structural damage could have been worse.



 I rode my Vespa down Highway One to Sombrero Road where I wanted to visit the marina but there was a checkpoint so I couldn't gain entry to check the beach.

 Instead I rode down to the high school to check my wife's workplace and found it more or less dry and intact and went back to work hoping for the best.








Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pigeon Key - Irma

Even driving the Seven Mile Bridge you know there's something wrong. Assuming you didn't know a Category Four hurricane had come ashore with its strongest  winds at the other end of the bridge you could sense something wrong. There's  mats of seaweed everywhere...
...The traffic is relief convoys of law enforcement and utility trucks. I stopped to let traffic by as I have been trying to stay at  50 mph or less on the Vespa. Even though it will go faster I save gas and run I hope less risk of injury at a time when there no medical facilities to help.
As you read this things will be getting back to some sort of chaotic normality in Key West with utilities and some services. But out here beyond the ravages of Big Pine nothing will get fixed for a while. This is pigeon camp the old railroad camp across the wide expanse of water bridged around 1911 by Flagler's engineers. Railroad maintenance staff lived at Pigeon Key alongside the track that ran on the old bridge:
The bridge itself was  supposed to get an upgrade maybe to make it safe for tourist traffic once more, traffic that was most recently transported to the island by boat. AS it is it seems there is work to be done here:

To see how Pigeon Key used to look when it was accessible by road train: Pigeon Key.

By now one has to accept the characteristic new look of Florida Keys vegetation: the hurricane burned look of brown limbs and no leaves:
And yet there are places even on this small island that show no apparent damage. So random....
The very modern solar array looks good. I wonder what it's powering now?


I saw this orb floating between the bridges. A lobster pot adrift and catching seaweed in symmetrical concentric circles:
The Australian pine known suddenly thanks to Facebook to all and sundry as "Fred"pulled through just fine with dignity and foliage intact. In winter the tree is dressed with Christmas lights by some anonymous lover of the season:
The road itself on the new (1982) bridge has striations from cleaning by humans or more likely by Irma.
There are islands scattered off the bridge, products of the digging the engineers did to lay down the cement casements which the bridge sits on. The islands have been trashed too.
Check this one out on the north side of the Seven Mile Bridge nearest Big Pine:
In close up this formerly green impenetrable mangrove island reveals the outline of a structure among the trees:
This is the entrance slope to Veterans Memorial Park at the south end of the Bridge:
Public toilets ( the structure remains though the interior is probably gone);
As was:

The  picnic tables along the waterfront:
As was:
Vegetation totally wrecked and this place was lovely.
As was:
Luckily the water remains the same:

A ride through a burnt out landscape.