I tried tapping this blog out while sitting in a hotel room at the southernmost point in America overlooking the sparkling blue/green waters that surround Key West. The various boats drifted by: sail, fishing, ferries and an occasional sport boat, all seen through the continuously open balcony doors.
But come on, I wasn't there to type, but carry on in the best possible Hemmingway tradition of drink, people watching and wasting away my time as could be achieved.
And it was definitely achieved, even with the appropriate homage being paid to the all powerful porcelain gods.
But I get ahead of myself.
Cheeseburger in Paradise
As a quick recap, the girlfriend's brother was flying in Friday, renting a Harley and we'd all head down Key Largo way humming Jimmy Buffet as we passed mile marker after mile marker. As a quick correction on the last Biker Diaries, her brother who we'll call Donnie (it is his name after all and besides, I must have less brain cells to be clever with after the Key West trip) does in fact ride a Victory in his native state of California and not a Sportsbike as I mentioned.
This made his rental of a Road King less of a leap but certainly still a thrill.
We picked up the bike from my favorite dealership, Peterson's. A quick conversation with a couple from Pittsburgh PA and short test ride later and we were heading down to the Keys by 9:45am. His Road King was a metallic golden bronze, equipped with a windshield, saddlebags and sissy bar. Don't tell the dealership, but wanting a naked look as much as possible, Donnie took off the sissy bar and threw it in the trunk of his sisters car. Since my girlfriend/his sister had to leave at 4am on Monday morning for an appointment in Fort Lauderdale, our caravan going south consisted of the two bikes as well as her car. With nearly all the luggage packed in the car, the riding was made that much more enjoyable.
Boys and their toys!
Beautiful weather made it even more so, with the temperature in the upper seventies and maybe a touch too much wind. Being a Northern California kid, Donnie was happy enough in a T-shirt, jeans, rented half-helmet and a pair of borrowed full finger gloves (he is the girlfriend's brother after all and although it's not the shirt off my back, it is my first pair of riding gloves). Personally, I'm a wimp. T-Shirt, denim long sleeve shirt as well as the jeans, fingerless gloves and of course half-helmet.
Donnie and I seemed similar with our main focus of riding to be as much time in the saddle and moving as much as possible, stopping only for the essential unloading and loading of fluids. Between the great mileage from a motorcycle and strong bladders we only stopped twice, and once was to eat at a restaurant we 'absolutely had to try'. I mentioned the girlfriend was on this trip, right?
The ride to Key West really doesn't get interesting until after Islamorada. Sure, there are tourist places to visit and some nice parks for snorkeling and scuba diving well before that, but for views and cruising, the trips just beginning as you leave Islamorada.
Just before the first of the spectacular bridges, the wind speed was pretty noticeable. With the height and their open design, the wind was even stronger on the bridges. Knowing the girlfriends tendency to overreact when it comes to motorcycles I warned her that the bikes would need to be leaned over considerably when riding over the bridges and not to panic at the potentially strange site.
Not that anyone would be looking at the motorcycles crossing the bridges. When traveling across these man-made transport arteries its three hundred and sixty degrees of breathtaking beauty. Where America meets the Caribbean, crystal clear turquoise waters sparkle for miles around with little islands dotted about near and far. Running alongside the modern roadway are large portions of the 1938 traffic system which consisted of bridges for both cars and trains. This is most famously seen in the Schwarzenegger movie 'True Lies' where he yells "The bwidge is ooouuuuuttttt" to his onscreen wife, Jamie Lee Curtis.
With so much to see and very few traffic lights the ride to Key West isn't just enjoyable but also a quick trip, albeit at a steady pace. Whether by car or motorcycle anyone who wants to go faster than 45 miles per hour will get both themselves and any other unfortunate soul who gets in the way, in trouble.
Although it wasn't a perfectly clear sky, we only suffered a few brief showers of rain with the warm air and sun drying off what little rain made into the clothes. By the time we were at Seven Mile Bridge, so named because its Seven miles long the wind had died down enough for a normal ride. Well, normal considering the bridge you're riding on curves off into the horizon.
The girlfriend really wanted to make her brothers trip special and booked us into the Hilton overlooking the water, conveniently located on Mallory Square and not even one block from Duval Street. This put us a few blocks from the famous 0 mile marker sign and just as close to the infamous Sloppy Joes. Yep, Key West is the only town where the sight-seeing hotspots have strategically placed bars to make sure you're never far from live music and the drink glass never gets empty.
Once at the hotel, the bikes were parked and not touched until it was time to leave again. Because they were kept at the furthest corner of the multistory parking lot, we both took off the windshields, I removed my saddlebags and Donnie used the metal cord lock that came with his bike. Ideally it was supposed to wrap through the spokes of the front wheel, but with the Road King not having any he had to improvise and wrap it around the frame and forks.
Since this is a biker blog and not 'What I did on my summer vacation' here are some highlights.
- World Famous Kelly's serves raw, fatty steak and girlfriend less than impressed.
- Matt Avery is one funny singer. Used to play guitar for Tiffany (I think we're alone now)
- A gay bed race is a funny thing to watch.
- Yes, there really is a rooftop bar where girls get body painted or just run around topless. Oddly enough, Garden of Eden is located on top of the rock bar that features an Elvis impersonator during the day. Only in Key West.
- A conch is a conch is a conch.
The last night was long and the morning far too short. Because I'm dating a very smart young lady who knows her brother likes to party and that I'm obviously easily led, she set us up for a late check out time for us before heading out at 4am for her appointment. We had until noon to pack up and get out of the room and quite frankly even that was a push. A stop was made for brunch at the IHOP located on the way out of Key West, but I picked and Donnie tried to wake up. This was the first time I'd ridden feeling less than 100 percent and as much as I was worried about the noise of the wind and engine making the ride an ordeal, it actual felt better to be riding than it did any other time.
We no sooner left Key West when Donnie made some signs he needed to pull over. Once stopped, I walked towards Donnie hunched over the front of his Road King and he embarrassingly confessed that the motorcycle lock was still wrapped around the frame and forks! A smile came over my otherwise drained body. Having ridden about 10 miles from the Hotel, going through various sharp turns in traffic, obviously the lock wasn't much of a deterrent to a would be thief. Or it could just be user error.
The wind picked up as we headed north at about the same point it dropped when riding down a few days before, making for a gusty ride, if not a little chilly on the bridges. Once again Donnie was fine with a T-shirt and I went for the sleeveless T with my leather vest. Both had jeans, helmets, gloves and very tired faces of course.
The journey back, the route actually curves in a northeasterly fashion, was a little slower than the ride down. A few slower drivers ahead and more traffic on the road took the average speed down the thirties and forties. It could've also seem like a longer ride because I was looking for Card Sound Road, a little side route that's favored by bikers riding the Key West trip.
After I told Donnie for the third time that the turn off was only five miles ahead, we finally found it and not a minute too soon. The traffic was getting heavier and the simple light free atmosphere (both in physical traffic lights as well as attitude) was quickly disappearing behind us. As soon as you take the slip road off of US 1 onto Card Sound Road, you're immediately taken back a few decades with the road cut through the short trees that dominate this part of the keys as you gently bounce along a rolling two lane road. With hardly any traffic and some nice curves thrown into the mix, it's such a great road to ride. When going the direction we came, the twenty minute excursion is topped by going over a tall bridge which gives a bird eye view of the surrounding waters and islands. Although the area is less tropical than the lower Keyes, it's still an amazing sight to see.
Once through the toll booth at the bottom of the bridge, it's time to back the bike in and grab a drink. Alabama Jacks is a favorite place to stop for bikers cruising Card Sound Road and I've mentioned it a few times in Biker Diaries. Being a Monday afternoon it was fairly quiet with only four parked bikes and no boats tied up to it's docks.
As we walked in I tried to work out why a biker couple already sitting at a table were smiling at Donnie and I. Fly open? Drool?
It was the couple from Pittsburg PA we met while filling out the paperwork for Donnie's rental! We sat next to them comparing drinking stories and Key West experiences, all the time remarking what a coincidence this meeting was. It turned out they must've been in the same bars at about the same time the night before…..what a small world.
During the conversation I finally had a chance to catch up with the girlfriend who's heavy foot it turns out gave her a nice little meeting with the Keyes finest. Because she was heading back to Fort Lauderdale for Jury Duty the policeman let her off with a warning, but she suffered the speed limit for the rest of the trip through the Keyes.
Once out of the Keyes, the highway riding was pretty much what highway riding is. An upside was not only were we going against the flow of rush hour, we were on the road about forty-five minutes before it was really starting.
Three hundred ninety six miles from door to door, round trip. As usual, there was nothing usual about the ride. It was a unique experience that just re-enforces why I love being on a motorcycle so much. Every moment, from the most mundane to occasional frustrations make the urge to ride continue to grow and find new journeys to take.
Where is that map!