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Living in Fort Lauderdale I've been to Naples plenty of times but always in a car and always by going over on Alligator Alley. This time it was going to be different, I was taking the scenic route of Tamiami Trail and seeing it all from the seat of my Softail Deuce.
The plan was this. My girlfriend and her friend from England would go to Naples on Thursday taking my suitcase in her car. I'd drive over Friday morning, meet them at the hotel and we'd all hang out until Saturay afternoon.
The trip there
Friday morning and I was ready to take the first long distance trip on my own. The route I planned was to head east on McNab, south on Nob Hill, west on Griffin, south on 27 to Krome Road then west on Tamiami Trail (41). After sitting at one too many traffic lights and taking nearly an hour to get to Krome I realized how stupid it was to take the back roads to get to 41 and should've taken the freeway to save time, but more importantly, stay cool. It was only 9.45 in the morning and the temperature was already up in the 90's so the key to staying cool was to keep moving. My frustration was compounded though by missing the turning to get on Krome and even more so with all the fine gravel being blown in my face by the heavy trucks that use 27 as far south as my 'detour' had taken me.
Once I got the initial frustrations out of the way the ride over was awesome with perfect weather, light traffic and a relatively smooth road. Saw a bunch of birds picking at a dead Alligator, some people at the Tourist Center on the north side of 41 I swear were Amish (they were dressed like Amish but then why were they driving a car?....hmmm) and about five other bikers.
Stopping at the tourist Center
Once in Naples things were looking a little unfamiliar so I decided to call the hotel for directions. Now this is where you really feel the difference between travelling in a car and on a bike. In a car you can look up the hotel number, call and get directions all while driving or when stopped at lights. Either way, it's in the comfort of air-conditioning and completed seamlessly, not interupting the trip. On a bike however, a stop has to be made with the sun beating down as you dig out the number and your phone all the while people looking on, curious to know what this biker-type is doing. Once you have the directions, they have to be committed to memory as you pack everything up again, get on the bike and make your way back into traffic hoping you don't hit too many lights so the wind will cool you down.
I did get to smile as I walked into one of the more upscale hotels that I've seen in a while in my sleeveless T-shirt, knapsack over the shoulder, helmet in hand and all sorts of stares in tow. As I made my way across the marbled lobby floor the looks from my fellow guests ranged from puzzlement to concern. Once in the room I called the girls who sounded frantic as they were lost somewhere in Naples and even though they weren't sure where they were or how to get there, could I meet them at Barefoot Beach. I repacked my knapsack, got a set of directions with two makeshift maps and headed south through midday traffic to find my girlfriend and her friend.
Every road in Naples seems brand new and at least three lanes wide but it didn't take long to hit me. There were no other bikes here. When I ride around SouthEast Florida, there'll be countless other motorcycles on the road, both crotch-rockets and cruisers. Today I saw none. This made me a little nervous since I really believe that with more bikes on the road car drivers become used to seeing them and consequently that much more aware of them. Not only would I have to find my way around but also keep an extra careful eye on the well to do natives.
When I did find Barefoot Beach I quickly realized it wasn't just a beach but a park as well that came with a $4 admission fee and I had this nagging feeling I had no cash. Sure enough when I stopped and pulled out my wallet I had the grand total of one dollar! The gentleman was nice enough to let me in to look for my girlfriend and she lent the money to keep my stay honest, though I think he was genuinely surprised when I came back so quickly with the cash.
It's amazing what you can find on the streets of Naples!
After a couple of hours on the beach (I'd changed into some trunks in the hotel room and wore them under my jeans) we headed back to the hotel and on out to dinner.
After a long day of riding....dinner!
Our waiter from dinner had recommended First Watch on Banyan Blvd for breakfast the next morning and once again I was the only motorcycle in the parking lot and the only person that looked like a biker in the restaurant. Food was good though!
As we headed back to Fort Lauderdale on Tamiami Trail the girls followed me with the understanding we'd stop off for gas, to see the countries smallest Post Office and an Indian tribal store. In case you're wondering why I'm carrying Wendy in front of the Tamiami Sign, it's because from her fear of snakes and the chance they may just be in any grassy area:)
The Countries smallest Post Office and my trusty steed
Wendy and I at the Tamiami Trail Sign
As we drove across the everglades I could see the weather systems moving around us and it seemed as though we were going to miss the rain, but when the approaching cars started looking a little wet and then had their wipers on, a bad feeling started to stir in my stomach. Just as the rain started to sprinkle my girlfriend pulled up next to me at the stop sign as we waited to turn onto Krome. I told her it would be okay if the rain stayed this light and not to worry. Bearing in mind Wendy's nervous about motorcycles at the best of times, this is easier said than done as the concern hung obviously on her face. We no sooner headed north on Krome when the heavens opened up!
We both pulled over as soon as we could and I jumped in the car to get out of the downpour. I was well and truly soaked and my boots were waterlogged but everything that was happening felt sort of cool! As soon as the rain slowed down I started the bike up and we headed north again, right back into the heavy rain. I turned right as soon as I could at the first intersection and pulled off of the road again. Knowing the girls had to get back by a certain time I suggested that I open up my suitcase, change into a dry t-shirt, throw on my waterproof jacket (well more like a windbreaker) and take the back roads home where I could ride at a slower and safer speed. They could get back on the highway and head home with the promise I'd call as soon as I got to my place.
Within five minutes of taking nearly the same route home as I did coming out yesterday the rain stopped and I just had to deal with heavy traffic, wet roads, drenched jeans were drenched and boots full of water. For the first time since the Florida summer had set in I was thankful for the heat kicking off the engine at the lights, warming my wet legs. Fortunately the ride home was pretty much uneventful from this point on.
What did I learn from the rain?
- I could do with proper waterproof gear instead of my Bank of America windbreaker!
- I need saddlebags to keep said waterproofs in.
- Full face helmets would be much better in the rain, but that'll never happen!
- Having your girlfriend follow you in a car can come in SO handy.