Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Motorcycle Ride

Middle Florida 2008


I had owned my Triumph Bonneville 865 about eight months when I was sent to a training class near Clearwater in May 2008. Now that my Bonneville has been drowned by Hurricane Irma and with my dog young and energetic and eager for road trips I see no point in replacing it with a Street Twin or a Moto Guzzi 750, my preferred options, I wanted to look back at how much fun I had with over a decade and a hundred thousand miles. I miss it, the best motorcycle I owned, easy to ride, reliable and good looking. 
It was a fine trip up to Palm Bay, an anonymous strip of chain stores located north of Clearwater and west of Tampa. It's 430 miles north of Key West and I took 11 hours to make the ride, wandering wildly on my "road ready" Bonneville:

South Florida is mostly sugarcane fields south of Lake Okeechobee, miles and miles of straight roads and waving green leaves. In the distance one can see factory cities, sugar cane plants that process the raw cane:They belch smoke when they are processing and provide big black smudges of sky to alleviate the open beauty of the fields. Sugar cane is an appalling crop, it sucks the nutrients out of the soil requiring huge amounts of fertilizer to be poured into the soil annually. The harvesting of the cane is such hazardous and horrendous work the companies import labor from the Caribbean (Jamaica principally) to wear armor in the hundred degree heat and slash at the cane with machetes. All this and the industry gets huge subsidises to make it viable. And the fertilizer runs off into Florida Bay and the coral reefs of the Keys. The fields are picturesque though...
Lake Okeechobee is the second largest freshwater lake in the nation, second only to Lake Superior. However prolonged drought combined with an excessively precautionary draining of the lake before hurricane season has left the place almost dry. I looked over the top of the levee and could see no water, just miles of reeds. Riding round the lake all one can see is a high berm of grass:
The weather for my trip was about perfect. It was about 80 degrees but south Florida was swept by cooling breezes all day long and at times I was almost (almost!) chilled, by the un-summer like breeze. The Triumph ran strongly, humming along at 70 mph along the dead straight roads. I kept stopping off to take pictures and ease my butt, because the seat, though authentic for a 1960's looking motorcycle is a bit hard.
Central Florida is a very rural, very different from coastal Florida and this area is home to trucks and tractors:Moore Haven, county seat of Glades County was ravaged by the great hurricane of 1935, the one that trashed the railroad in Matecumbe Key, and the town itself appears never to have recovered completely. They have built a rather attractive waterfront walkway with trees and benches in a park like atmosphere:And the waterway itself is a cross-Florida stopping place much favored by traveling boaters. Though most land oriented tourists rarely bother to come inland to see these places...
Further north the state becomes less tropical, no longer frost free and filled with rolling hills and orange groves. Indeed Florida is bisected by a limestone spine that rises dozens, dozens I tell you, of feet above sea level. So much so they have turned Highway 17, a roadway that criss-crosses Highway 27 into a scenic route. It is scenic too. Check this out, a view across a valley!
Hillcrest Heights indeed, and I keep insisting Florida isn't flat. This is the land of rolling hills, open parkland masquerading as cow pastures and gorgeous pine forests. I was in the middle of orange grove country which is where your winter Florida fruit comes from, these funky little trees:And when they crush the fruit as they load it into trucks, fruit laboriously handpicked by emigrant pickers, the air is redolent with the smell of fresh squeezed orange:
Central Florida is also the home of retirees, less wealthy perhaps or less attuned to urban life. they come to towns called Winter Haven and Frostproof to spend their winters in tiny cottages or immobile homes, the retirement they always dreamed of. And they may be far, relatively from tidal waters, but they build their own beaches and docks around the many fresh water lakes that dot central Florida:

Friday was a great day in the saddle for me, swooping hills, winding roads, empty of traffic and mine to enjoy in perfect weather.