I’ve been counting down the number of wake-ups to our weekend motorcycle trip down to fall bike week in Panama City Beach (PCB) since Labor Day. We enjoyed our trip up to the Maggie Valley and Gatlinburg, but what we really needed was some fun in the sun!
This would actually be the first of three short mini-vacation weekends for us in October as we’ll be headed down to Daytona for Biketoberfest on 16 – 19 October and then to Columbus, Georgia on 23 – 26 October for the Southern Tandem Rally (as in tandem bicycle). However, PCB has become a very “comfortable” long weekend destination for us over the past few trips as we finally broke the code on how to get the most out of what the weekend had to offer. It was a pretty good formula that included hitting a few favorite places for meals, some of the Thunder Beach events, and making a trip down to Mexico Beach. We modified it a bit last fall after hooking up with what became some very dear friends from Atlanta. Their Yuppie, Hippie, Biker Loop made for a full day and more time on the bike, but also displaced some of our Thunder Beach events.
This fall’s trip seemed a little disjointed for a number of reasons, but we were determined to make the best of it and get some much-needed R&R.
Thursday & The Trip Down
One of the challenges of heading off on these extended weekends is timing your weekday departures. I’ve found if we get out the door by 6:00am we can beat Atlanta traffic, regardless of whether we were headed to PCB or Daytona. However, our partners in crime weren’t too keen on the original plan to hit the road by 6:00am and we finally agreed that we’d meet down in Lithia Springs around 7:00am. This was 20-minutes later than my “ideal” departure time and as expected, the additional traffic was very noticeable. In fact, our friends got caught up by the school busses, another early morning traffic hazard that you can usually avoid with that 6:00am departure.
Fortunately, most of the delays were confined to our friend’s ride from home to the QuikTrip in Lithia Springs which delayed their arrival until around 7:15am. After they got themselves “fueled up” with gas and some fast food we were on our way to PCB. Now, to be fair, I should probably learn how to be less schedule-driven on these trips and just go with the flow when it comes to stops, detours, etc. Unfortunately, when I get in a car, on a motorcycle or even on a bicycle I become objective focused and if the objective is getting to point X by a certain time or in a certain number of hours that becomes my goal. It’s a struggle for me to do otherwise and I’m sure our friends grow weary of what I’m sure is a lot of non-verbal impatience during stops. All I can say is, I’m trying to get better about it and be more flexible, but it is a challenge!
Back to the trip down, temperature wise it was in the mid- to upper 60’s when we left so we didn’t feel the need to leather up with chaps or over pants and made due with sweatshirts under our insulated Fieldsheer jacket liners and gloves. Debbie opted for her Shoei full face helmet and I was Ok with just my Daytona polo helmet. This was a good option for about the first two hours; however, towards the end of the 2nd hour it felt like it was getting colder and not warmer (which it probably was as the humidity spiked when the dew point was reached just before sun rise) and we were never so happy as when the sun finally began to do its thing.
We stopped for gas in Phenix, Alabama, but didn’t remove any layers until we got down to a second short bio-break in Dothan, Alabama. Even then I think it was just me eliminating my sweatshirt. David & Deb may have taken off their chaps as well, but it certainly never got to a point where I was going to be comfortable wearing just a long-sleeved T-shirt until we arrived in Panama City Beach.
We rolled into the parking lot at Sharky’s around 12:30pm local time, a little later than I’d planned but still early enough to find four seats together at the bar. Debbie and I had our Baja Taco’s for lunch, as is tradition, along with her first Pina Colada and my first Bud Lite of the trip. The weather was delightful – despite dire forecasts for rain and thunderstorms throughout the week leading up to the event – and we had a great time enjoying a long and leisurely lunch break.
After getting checked-in at our condo we headed over to Panama City Beach Harley-Davidson so we could check that visit off our list before the larger crowds arrived on Fri & Saturday. We checked out the 2015 Road Glide Custom and CVO Road Glide Ultra while we were there but didn’t really find anything else that rocked our world. We took the long way back to Wally World via Pier Park and a cruise down Front Beach just to see what was happening – not much, to be quite honest as it looked like a very light turn-out even for a Thursday.
Sadly, we’d missed the trip out East to and through Mexico Beach but with rain expected on Friday I would have made the trip Thursday too. However, we caught up with our friends at the Beach Bar and Package Store where Debbie and I had a couple of oh so delicious Mud Slides, or at least I think that’s how it played out. I may have waited a bit too long to do this post event recap!
After grabbing some groceries and putting those back in the condo we attempted to check off a Thunder Beach event by heading over to Hammerhead Fred’s for dinner and the 2nd Miss Thunder Beach prelim that was scheduled for 7:00pm. This turned out to be a huge disappointment as the food service was slow, the Tuna was overcooked and of generally poor quality. The “event” was also a bust. The emcee came out at 7:00pm to welcome folks to the event, but then introduced the house band “Buck Wild” who then played until we left 45 minutes later… without any hint that there was a planned event. There’s a fine art to “holding an audience” but whatever they were doing at Fred’s wasn’t working… at least for us. The band was good, not great and like most of the “good” bands at these biker events was just too damn loud.
We headed over to Pineapple Willy’s in the hopes of finding a seat for the 9:00pm Jacob & Brock band but were very surprised to see that Willy’s was shuttered for the night. Turns out, Jacob and Brock were down the street at the Full Throttle Magazine venue “Lucky 13” as were our other friends. We headed that way and spent about an hour visiting, but when the band started the music just didn’t sound up to par. That and standing around in a dirt lot with bar stools made from 2×4’s wasn’t all that inviting. It must be a Sturgis or Iron Horse Saloon-like thing. When we saw that some of our friends had gone missing we decided to walk across the street to Sharky’s where we’d heard a pretty good-sounding band out of Nashville earlier in the day doing sound checks. We found a nice booth next to the beach and spent about an hour or so there enjoying what was in fact very good music before checking back in with our friends over at the Lucky 13 tent who, by this time, had moved on to somewhere else. It had been a long day for us by then so we headed back to the condo and called it a night.
Friday… a Great Day at PCB
Friday turned out to be a really great day, despite strong thunder storms that moved in around 11:00am and stayed with us until mid-afternoon.
I was up around 6:00am and Debbie woke up about an hour later. We enjoyed a quiet morning together, a little breakfast and as the sun came up Debbie decided to make the most of it and headed down to the beach to get some of the morning rays. Just looking out over the Gulf, it appeared like it was going to be a beautiful day; however, weather radar suggested otherwise as some pretty strong storms were brewing on the horizon that would probably move in around 10:00am – 11:00am and stick around until mid-afternoon.
As Debbie headed out to the beach I headed down to wash the bugs from Thursday’s 339-mile ride down to PCB off of Blue. Sterling Reef is always great about setting up and supplying a bike wash stall for its guests and I was pretty sure that I’d have it all to myself at 7:30am in the morning.
David & Deb stirred around 9:00am and we watched the weather begin to roll-in and wondered if Debbie would give up before the rain started to fall: it was a tie! The weather that rolled-through was pretty rough at times: very strong winds, sheets of driving rain and of course lots of thunder and lighting: it truly was a Thunder Beach weekend. Although I missed the initial storm coming in, I did set up a GoPro to catch a few hours of the storm moving through in a time-lapse that worked out pretty well.
We sat out the weather for a while but started getting hungry around 1:00pm and decided to take a chance on getting ourselves up the street to Runaway Island during a lull in the storms where we could have lunch and watch what should have been the last wave of rain roll through. I opted to throw on our rain jackets and full-face helmets as I simply don’t trust mother nature: it was the right call. We got within a 1/2 mile of the restaurant when the rain began to fall: it’s good to be prepared!
We had a great time and a great meal at Runaway Island. As we finished our lunch our friends from Atlanta unexpectedly arrived and headed out to the patio bar. We eventually joined them and had a great afternoon waiting for PCB to dry out.
After lunch we stopped by the condo to drop off the full face helmets but kept the rain gear in the saddle bags “just in case” as we headed up to the Full Throttle Magazine venue, Lucky 13, where our friends would be hanging out and watching Atlanta-based “No Sweat” perform. We hung out there for a while and watched the gang having a good time with their friends in the band. It was a bit too early for me to start “hanging out” so I suggested that we head down to the Old School Bike Show at Miss Newby’s, one of the “must dos” on my PCB list.
Imagine my surprise when we ran into Harley Davidson of Atlanta Co-Owner and General Manager Jeff Eubanks and his wife Carol aboard a 2015 Limited in the Lucky 13 parking lot. Jeff recognized me from our two encounters at HDA which is pretty amazing; I wish I had that kind of recollection when it came to faces and names. It took me a second to put “Jeff” together with the face but then it clicked. What a really nice couple! I introduced Debbie and our friends David & Deb to Jeff and Carol and we had a nice little chat. Jeff said he’d seen us last night but didn’t want to interrupt whatever it was we were doing. Yet another reason that I really enjoy the Harley community: it’s a very warm and welcoming fraternity filled with some of the best people you’ll ever want to meet. Again, that Jeff recognized me out of the crowd from just two visits was amazing.
We made our way to Miss Newby’s and had a pretty good time at the Old School Bike Show; there’s always a great crowd at Miss Newby’s, the folks that work there are awesome and the bikes are always quite interesting. We arrived late enough that we got to sit through the award presentations and were shocked to see the Cushman take the People’s Choice Award; really? It’s cute and all, but the ’28 Harley was definitely the pick of the litter. Oh well, there were enough awards that just about everyone walked away with a piece of hardware.
After getting freshened up at the condo we headed back to Runaway Island for dinner out on the deck. The gentleman playing guitar on the deck was excellent and someone who we’d enjoyed at another beach side bar in previous visits; good to see him at this really nice place. Our server was attentive and had lots of good suggestions, the meal was excellent and the sunset spectacular! This is why we love going to PCB! It IS about being on the Gulf for those all so very therapeutic sunrises, sunsets and just the calming effect that sitting and watching the waves roll in has.
After dinner we headed down to Pineapple Willy’s for Jacob & Brock about 30 minutes before they were scheduled to start playing at 9:00pm and were fortunate enough to nab four stools at the bar, as every table in the place had already been claimed. As on our last visit, they looked short-staffed so I think we did well to be at the bar where we had a very attentive barkeeper. I should probably note they rebranded the band as “American Tread” and were doing a CD launch all weekend long, so they had a bunch of friends hawking tshirts, CDs and other stuff next to the stage. Once they got past a couple of new original pieces they started playing the more familiar cover tunes Debbie and I quickly made the most of it by jumping out on the dance floor: something else we go to PCB for! We probably danced to at least 1/2 of the songs they played during the hour and a half that we stayed there.
Around 10:30pm we headed down to the Salty Goat to see if we could find our other friends from Atlanta. As we arrived they were just getting ready to leave for Tootsie’s down at Pier Park so we saddled back up and joined them. We had a great time at Tootie’s and I can’t even begin to tell you what time we finally called it a night. All I know is that my sweet Debbie blew us all away with some pretty fancy clogging — I had no idea that she was that good at clogging — and I’m told that I was in pretty rare form. Not quite New Years 2012 in Savannah form, but definitely loosened up and having a good time. The gang left en masse from Pier Park for a brisk ride back to the condo. There were still quite a few bikes and people out as we headed down Front Beach; always a good thing for the local businesses.