Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June 30, 2010 – Day 25 Palatka, FL - Stickyfrog’s stompin’ grounds

The Clewiston Best Western turned out to be one of the best places I’ve stayed at on this trip at any price. I highly recommend them if you’re ever in the area. Breakfast their way is more than flakes & coffee, they put on a spread that should satisfy anyone’s appetite.

My run today began on highway 27-North as I headed towards my destination of Palatka to meet a friend. For awhile it looked like sunshine might be the order of the day but as I rode on I couldn’t help noticing the cloudy skies were starting to darken in places. Rain was surely on the menu.

At least the ride along Lake Okeechobee was sunny and scenic and traffic was sparse. There’s a lot to be said for riding routes a bit out of the way; the solitude allows you time for reflection which I value greatly. I also sing at the top of my lungs which the roadside cattle sometimes find disturbing.

Getting through Sebring was the only part that I didn’t care for, it’s a big town and the stop lights are set so it’s impossible to maintain a constant speed and make green lights. The net result is everyone takes off really fast and then they all have to brake hard at the next light. This cycle repeats itself over and over until finally you’re out of town and once again on the road. Whoever set their system up must have been a very nasty person with a sick sense of humor.

Besides riding through some challenging places like that I also managed to get myself onto one of Florida’s Turnpikes, the one that rolls past Disney World. At least the traffic was light and the pace was rapid so that part was OK.

I’m not actually sure how I got on the damn thing but it let me off at Eustis where I started on highway 19 heading north again.

One of the small towns, Umatilla, had some interesting older houses. I was particularly taken by one with an unusual roof design which was made of metal sheets that had a green patina. Or maybe a really bad paint job. The people were running a taxidermy business in a building behind it but it didn’t look very active. Could be the wrong time of year for it?
After that it was a pleasant run through the Jupiter Prairie Wilderness area. Traffic was nearly non-existent and I had plenty of time to stop for photos or just to gawk at the greenery along the way. I noticed there were a number of private clubs, most likely for hunting.

Rain showed up early on but I didn’t don the Frogg Toggs and it paid off, the drizzle stopped in just a few minutes and actually provided a refreshing relief to the humid heat. Then further on in the Salt Springs area it began again in earnest so I stopped and geared up. Just as I was finishing another rider pulled in to seek a bit of shelter under the trees. He’d just come from Palatka and said it wasn’t raining there but thought it might be wise to stay suited up for awhile. I agreed and did so which proved to be right, the rain continued right into town.
Hey, I can handle rain..I can see right through it...

I was supposed to meet my friend John aka “Stickyfrog” at a place called Corky Bells and it was easy to find, right along the highway. John showed up not long after I arrived and we had a couple of beers; then he had to finish a quick task he was working on at his office.
Beer Buddies...

I still had to check into a motel and at his suggestion the Quality Inn & Suites located right on the river was easy to find and I went with them. They gave me a room with a view in their annex and it’s decent enough so I settled in.

John and I met again later for dinner at Florida’s oldest burger joint; Angel’s Diner located just a couple of blocks from my motel. The waitress told us it’s been in business for 78 years, even longer than I’ve been around. Fancy that. The burgers were good and so were the freshly made onion rings, just what my girlish figure needs. I noticed several unusual items on the menu board, frog legs for instance is not something you see in my part of the country. Yummy…
So what'l you have? The frog legs?
Frog legs? Uh, nah...not tonight
We ate and then talked scooters and bikes for awhile, and then it was time for him to head to his home, another 20 miles away. John being a gentleman picked up the tab while I coughed and looked skyward, then we said our goodbyes.

Its great being able to meet some of the people you’ve only known through the Internet and this was one of those times. I hope to see John and his wife at our place some day; I told him dinner would be on me next time. Frog legs.

Tomorrow if I’m in luck, I’ll see about having Green Girl’s 6000 mile service done. John told me about Power Sports, a Kawasaki dealer located in St. Augustine so I’ll try there to see if I can get in.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 29, 2010 – Day 24 Bye Bye Key West, Hello Clewiston! Clewiston?

Not much to report today; after another Big McBreakfast I headed out north on highway 1 leaving Key West to the real tourists. For my first rest break and to buy a bottle of water I stopped at the Pigeon Key welcome center. It’s located in one of the old railroad cars left over from an early attempt to build a railroad across the Keys. I saw a number of books about it and I think there’s a museum in Key West for folks who love old train stuff.

My Uncle Estace worked for one of the railroads, I think it was Union Pacific as a pile-driver operator starting when he was seventeen. It made him loony as a pet squirrel but I guess I won’t go into that.

The gal running the place seemed happy to have a visitor to chat with so I listened to her tale of how she and her husband landed there 18 years ago. I didn’t mind as the air conditioning was working great and the water was cheap. I’m not sure if I’d want to live there but it might be fun for awhile.

After leaving Pigeon Key I rode on through the rest of the lot, enjoying the sights. It was a nice morning and I only encountered rain one time. Rain on the Keys is usually visible a long ways before you get to it so you have ample time to pull over and gear up. I almost didn’t do that today but after stopping to get a better look around the traffic at the distant squall I decided to play it safe.

My new Frogg Toggs are not made of breathable material so once on they were hot as the dickens, not exactly what I’d choose to wear if I lived in this area. Naturally as soon as I rode into the rain it stopped and heat began to build up rapidly in the suit. I put up with it for a couple of miles, then stopped and put the jacket away figuring if it started again it wouldn’t take much effort to dig it out if. That whole scheme lasted all of another 15 minutes after which I stopped again and stuffed the rain pants back into the saddle bag. “Phooey” I thought, “if it rains I’ll just get wet and maybe it’ll cool me off.” Didn’t happen, stayed dry as a bone the rest of the day.

Once I reached the mainland I followed 997 which took me through Homestead, a very nice town and evidently home to lots of people of Cuban descent. There were Cuban and Latin theme restaurants and clubs everywhere, several of which I’d have liked to visit. It was too early to stop though, so I kept on with the ride. A few miles north of Homestead I hooked up with highway 27 and stayed on that; it's a long flat featurless stretch of road and I'd been forwarned it might be boring. Still, it was all new to me and I found the farms and ranches interesting.

The New River Canal follows highway27

The long, long road stretches way out of sight along here...

There were a few small communities, all of which were focused on agricultural industries of one sort or another. The further north I got the more sugar cane fields there were until I arrived in Clewiston, self-proclaimed as the “Sweetest City in World” or something like that.

By this time it was just about 5:00pm and since there were some nice motels in town I decided to bag it for the day; the dark clouds were mustering overhead and it looked like it was going to get stormy before long.

I checked into the Clewiston Best Western and when I turned on Weather Channel they were all agog over a huge lightning storm just to the west in the Fort Meyers area. There had already been 51 strikes reported in just an hour or so and it looked like the storm was growing and moving towards Clewiston. They were warning people to stay indoors so I’m glad I chose to stay here instead of riding another hours. I’ve ridden in a number of lightning storms and I never feel comfortable with 4-5 gallons of high-test between my knees, there’s just something about it that gives this person pause…

After watching the gloom & doom folks for awhile I figured it was time to refuel myself. There’s a Sonny’s Barbeque place right up the road so I headed up there for a dinner of pulled pork, coleslaw, corn on the cob, garlic toast, and a huge tumbler of sweet iced tea. Man these southern folks know how to do barbeque and I’m loving it!

Monday, June 28, 2010

June 28, 2010 – Day 28 Certified Tourist in Key West Florida, U.S.A.

Today started with a senior’s omelet at Denny’s next door. It was actually quite good and I didn’t eat all the hash browns. Maybe I’ll be skinny by the end of the day and I’ll be able to eat a really big fat dinner?

Before starting out to explore this morning I spent a few minutes surfing the ‘net to see what’s up in Key West. Google had quite a lot as I expected so I chose a couple of places that sounded interesting. It wasn’t easy as there's so many things to see it would take weeks to do it all.

I began with a ride through some of the back alleys where a lot of regular people live. The old houses are to die for; their Caribbean architecture is one that I really like a lot.

After wandering around for most of the morning I was ready for some real touristy stuff so I headed to the Southernmost Point in the U.S.A., the big buoy where everyone has their picture taken. Except if you’re on the road with Charles Kuralt of CBS but that’s another story. Lucky me, I found a parking spot less than a block away and hoofed it on over to do the deal. 

What a mob, who invited all these people anyway? Now I understand why Charles – or maybe it’s Chuck to his friends – decided to go have a drink instead. I elected to pass and settled for a couple of long shots for my scrap book.

Wandering towards the beach area I passed by the Casa Cayo Hueso with their two signs, one promoting the Grand Hotel and the other evidently intended to dispel those ugly rumors about wild parties and 2nd floor ballrooms. Eww…sounds so, uh, wild….

Down at the beach the wind & waves were kicking up a bit and generally keeping the tourists away. They seemed to have all gravitated inland a few blocks to the many attractions there, right where I was headed.

I cut through some more back alleys, had a chat with one of the city’s finest about how big a pain in the patootie tourists in general are, and shot more meaningless pictures. The weather that had started out overcast and unfriendly looking had turned sunny and mild, just right for walking around.

Having no real reason other than Google’s guidance I headed for the Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters Museum. Hey, just listen to how exciting that sounds; it’s what old people do when they get out of the home for a few hours.

I did the deal, paid the going rack rate and climbed the bazillion steps to the top where I shot waaaay too many photos. I counted the steps and I think there are 88 or 89, but can’t say for sure as I may have stumbled a couple of times.

People I meet oft times don’t seem to have much going in the way of a sense of humor. For instance as I was starting up the stairwell in the lighthouse I said to the guy behind me “Hey if you count ‘em and get the number right they’ll give you a prize.” He gave me the dirty look prize.

There's a catwalk that goes all the way around when you reach the top. People who have issues with high places should probably not go there. Or maybe take a paper bag with them if they do. Once you're up there the operators have installed lots of little signs telling you what to look for.
My camera's telephoto feature could be better...

While I was taking more photos there was a sign pointing to Cuba 90 miles away. Turning to another guy next to me and pointing south I said “Look, you can see Castro waving right there.” Mr. Sour Puss grumbled in his best New Jersey accent “I’ll pass on that one.” He was serious...Jeeze…what’s with these people?

At the very tippy-top you can see the light-mirror-thing

I spent a lot of time looking at the view and then descended the umpty-ump not-so-funny-stairs so I could have a look at the museum.
Yes, I'm the lighthouse keeper, may I help you?

No lights were on in the museum, evidently the entire island was having a blackout. One of the grounds maintenance guys was poking around in an equipment shed and I commented that for the price they charge old guys for admission you’d think it would include interior lighting. Finally I meet someone who can laugh.
The price for it was listening to this guy’s life story beginning with his childhood in New Jersey, his brief stint as a cook in the USN, a move to CA and the two years he spent there including his time in San Diego and some other town I can’t remember. Then it was on to Alaska and tales of hitchhiking and getting rides by Indians but not Eskimos…. Huh? The grand finale was the really lengthy tale of getting his eye busted because he was holding his buddy’s 30.06 wrong and the scope got him when he fired it.

Somewhere around the move to Texas…did I leave that one out?...I began edging my way towards the exit and he sort of followed me, still relaying all the misadventures of his life. “Bye bye” I told him and zipped across the street, heading to the Earnest Hemmingway house.

I’m a big fan of Hemmingway though I haven’t read everything he wrote. In fact it took me nearly a year to read For Whom the Bell Tolls. It was in the early 60’s and the book occupied the glove box in my Morris Minor 1000; each day during my brown-bag lunch time I would read a few more pages. After that I read The Old Man and the Sea; still have that one stashed away somewhere. Others I started but don’t recall finishing. Maybe I’m not such a big Hemmingway fan after all?

Regardless of that I’d like to own his house. Well, maybe not HIS house, all those damn tourists would get on my nerves, maybe a house like his house. Where my house is now. You see? Let’s move on. Once past the gate guard/ticket seller I immediately chose the wrong way in. I realized this as there were no other people around anywhere; then suddenly there was an entire herd of them coming right at me and at the head of the line there was a woman with very good lung power. An unhappy woman.

Flattening myself up against the wall I waited as the herd went by. Herself halted them and while doing her best to make certain even the farthest person in the rear would hear her enlightening dissertation, gave me THE LOOK. Somehow I knew I needed to vacate, probably due to my many years of exposure to THE LOOK from innumerous members of the fair sex. I staged left while she and her charges continued on in the right direction. My progress went fairly well; for the most part I had no one at all to compete with while I shot more ridiculous photos.

It always feels weird looking a a dead guy's stuff
So there was this mirror in the garden..
As I was attempting to leave the house an entire new flock of glassy-eyed old people and their grandchildren descended upon the entrance door. The very one I was hoping to use as my escape route. Large people by the score were pushing and shoving to gain admittance while I was again swimming upstream. For a moment I thought I was lost and might have to do the tour all over when a skinny little kid made the crucial error of confronting me while his Granny looked the other way. I said to him “Get outta my way kid” and gave him my Jack Palance look. He backed away and nearly toppled Granny over.

Even the neighbors have nice houses

Outside again I collected Green Girl and rolled out to find a lunch place. One of the things I wanted to sample while here was the local Key Lime Pie and as luck would have it, I ran across one of the Key Lime Pie Factory places. I'm not so sure about the "factory" word, sort of gives one the impression of a large machine stomping out pies doesn't it? Anyway I wanted to have a slice and there was even public parking across the street. Inside the little establishment I immediately noticed a lack of tables, not even so much as a bar stool and counter. The showcase was full of pie slices and whole pies and boxed pies, the works, but nowhere to sit and eat one.

I asked the gal running the place – she and I were the sole occupants – about the eating arrangements, not wanting a take-out. She looked around with raised eyebrows and said “Well, I suppose you could eat one here but I just opened up and these are all frozen.” Actually I thought, I could eat one standing outside in the alley but that wasn’t what I envisioned for my Key Lime Pie experience in Key West, freaking Florida. “Uh, no thanks Ma’m, I’ll just look for a sit-down restaurant; maybe one with the thawed-out variety.” She bobbed her head up and down and I did the exit thing.

I decided to go back to the motel and see what I might come up with in the way of eating establishment ideas so that’s what I did. Along the way I shot one last silly photo, this time of a small marina I’d spotted in the morning. I like boats a lot and if I lived in Key West that little marina would be where I’d want to park my boat. Right after my lotto money arrived.

Back at the motel I finished off the remains of my sweet tea jug and then instead of researching eating options I took a nap. A fairly long nap at that which caused the housekeeping people a bit of unease as they tried to open the double-locked door.

Nap time was over and I could hear my dinner bell clanging away. I’d decided to have a run at one of the restaurants recommended by Stickyfrog, a scooter buddy who lives in Florida so off I went to the Hogfish Bar & Grill located on nearby Stock Island. This is one of those times when having a GPS made all the difference in the world. It’s a popular place frequented by locals as well as tourists but it’s location would be challenging on a bike outfitted with folding maps.
Dinner companions - Izzat what they call the cat's ass?

I arrived with plenty of daylight left and the place was about half full. The service was great, the food even better, and the ambiance reminded me of all the things I love best about the Caribbean. Open air restaurants are an invitation for soft tropical breezes to cool you and can’t be beat for setting a relaxed dining mood. I ordered the Grouper Vera Cruz dinner with Sweet Iced Tea followed by Key Lime Pie.

What a special treat this place was, the perfect end to a perfect day. Thanks for the suggestion Stickyfrog!