Wednesday & Pre-Flight, 15 October
On Wednesday evening I shuffled the motorcycles around in the garage so I could pre-stage Blue. Packing for these long-weekend “bike week” trips to Panama City, Daytona Beach and similar short-weekend getaways on the motorcycle has always been a challenge.
Getting back to the pre-flight, I think we had everything that needed to go laid-out and Debbie’s personal care bag ready to go along with my computers, GoPro Cameras and motorcycle gear by 8:00pm so we were able to relax and have a good night’s rest before Thursday’s 458-mile / 10 hour journey to Daytona.
Yes, I recognize that if you just want to get from Atlanta to Daytona as fast as possible you can certainly get there in about 7 hours: just take the Interstate the entire way at 10+ mph over the posted limit, do splash-and-go fuel stops and hope you don’t hit any traffic or get stopped for speeding. However, as you’ll see below, our “journey” takes a bit longer but it also makes for a more enjoyable, repeatable experience.
Thursday, 16 October
As planned, we were up around 5:00am — pretty much normal for a weekday — to make our 6:00am planned departure. Any later than that and I75 through Cobb County becomes a parking lot and the longer you get tied up in Cobb County the more likely it is that you’ll also get tied up at the I75/I86 merge in Atlanta.
Things were going well as we prepped for departure, but getting ourselves suited up for the ride and out of the garage took a bit longer than usual as I decided we’d be better off starting out with our heated jackets and gloves: I just didn’t see the temps getting into the mid-70’s anytime soon. We finally rolled out of the driveway at 6:20am.
Sure enough, that slight delay landed us in heavy traffic from the I575 merge down to the I75/I285 interchange at 6:30am. After that we encountered a little bit of a slowdown as we hit the I75/I85 merge but being in the HOV lane helped for a change.The rest of the ride down I75 to the I20 interchange in Macon was an easy trip and our heated gear was definitely the right call; it wasn’t getting any warmer as we made our way south.
We jumped on GA Route 23 just a few miles east of Macon and took that lovely, lightly travelled two / four lane highway down to Hazlehurst, Georgia, where we met up with our partners in crime David and Deb around 10:30am. They decided to break up their ride into two segments to cut down on the saddle time and had spent the night at a Jameson Inn.
Our next stop was the Applebee’s in Waycross, Georgia, for lunch about an hour away at the 268 mile mark in our 458-mile journey. Lunch was good, as always, but it was still too cool to shed all of the outer wear just yet so we pressed further south still wearing sweatshirts under our leather jackets.
Normally we’d take GA Route 23 all the way to the I295 loop and then make our way west around Jacksonville to I95 south; not exactly an enjoyable ride but it’s the most efficient. This time we opted to take a flyer on GA Route 40 east into Florida and I95 south to I295 east and then exited on Butler Boulevard which put us in the parking lot of a McDonalds on Route A1A at Ponte Vedra at 1:30pm, about 374 miles from home.
We stopped in Ponte Vedra as it was finally warm enough for us to get rid of our outerwear and feel some warm sun against our bodies before making our way south on A1A through St. Augustine to Daytona Beach with a brief stop at Finns in Flagler Beach.
We were able to meet up with another couple that David & Deb knew at Finns around 3:00pm, some 434 miles into our trip. It was a great way to add a little more social time into what was a pretty long day in the saddle and Finns is a great place to spend time relaxing while enjoying a panoramic view of the Atlantic.
The final leg of the ride to our hotel down in Daytona Shores was about 24 miles and we arrived at the Hampton Inn Oceanside around 4:40pm… some 10 hours 20 minutes after we rolled out of our driveway. Again, we could have probably made the trip in 7 hours by taking the 475-mile all interstate route down I75 to I10 east to I295 and then south on I95 to Daytona Shores, but where’s the joy in that? After all, we were pretty much “at the rally” from 1:30 until we arrived at our hotel since one of the four most popular rides at Bike Week / Biketoberfest is heading north from Daytona on A1A to St. Augustine with a stop at Finns! We’d already done that and it wasn’t even time for dinner.
After getting settled into our rooms I led our friends down past Main Street to the Oyster Pub on Seabreeze Boulevard around 5:30pm. I was somewhat surprised that they had a light crowd which told me that overall turn-out for Biketoberfest was probably going to be light as well. We were seated near the bar at the exact same table as we were last spring and had a grand time: great service, the charbroiled oysters were out of this world and the vibe although more subdued that in the spring was still pretty good.
We headed back to Main Street and did the parade thing until we found a parking lot that offered easy in / easy out and spent a few hours exploring the various venues. We were able to hear a little bit of Jasmine Cain over at the Full Moon Saloon and caught the end of some type of Halloween zombie contest at Dirty Harry’s before heading upstairs at the Chrome Bar & Grill to watch the goings-on on Main Street for a while.
I got a kick out of seeing the Bombardier Recreational Product (BRP) marketing crew show up with a couple of CamAM Tricycles that they attempted to park along Main Street “just like any other bike” so they could take photos to prove the point. I’m definitely getting old, as they looked like a bunch of giddy sorority sisters who were into the latest thing. The icing on the cake was the “models” that were hired to pose on the trikes, dressed like 1%ers. And no, the CanAms didn’t “fit in” by a large margin; those things have a footprint that’s nearly as big as a Miata and it looked like someone had attempted to park a couple cars on the sidewalk. But I digress.
After that bit of entertainment we left our other friends to continue enjoying the view from Chrome’s upper deck while we took a stroll up and down Main Street. We stopped at a few places and checked out Hypersona, the band that followed Jasmine Cain at Full Moon Saloon. The band was really good, but I got the sense there were a lot of locals hanging in all of the bar venues who were just a bit too comfortable and not quite blending-in with the fun-loving but more mature biker crowd from out-of-town. I think we finally decided to head back to the hotel around 9:30pm as it had been a long day and we both needed some down time.
All in all, it was a pretty good first day of vacation. We had a very pleasant but long ride down to Daytona, a good time at lunch, a coastal ride with a nice stop at Finns, dinner at the Oyster Bar and were able to check the box of a visit to Main Street.
Friday, 17 October
We started out our day with a light breakfast in the hotel lounge and then took about a 2.5 mile walk on the beach; one of the reasons that we always look forward to visiting places like Panama City & Daytona Beach!
After we got back from our walk Debbie went out to get some sun while I gave Blue a quick hand wash at the hotel’s make-shift bike wash station to remove the 450+ miles of dead bugs and grime. Well, that and it’s always a good idea to wash off your bike whenever you’ve been riding or had your bike parked overnight outside near a large body of salt water: it’s amazing how fast corrosion can attack your chrome and any hardware that’s not high quality stainless steel. After washing the bike I went back to our room and did a little work on my laptop, as there were a few things I needed to get done before resuming vacation in earnest.
It was probably around 11:00am when we found our friends David & Deb and told them that we’d be headed up to Sarge’s Patio Grill for lunch and then walking over to check out the bike show on the boardwalk next to the Daytona Beach Pier. They were about 20 minutes behind us in arriving at Sarge’s but the timing worked just fine. Sarge’s isn’t a fancy place, but they had some great blackened Mahi Mahi tacos that made for a very nice, lite lunch. We walked the half mile to the boardwalk and spent about a ½ hour at the bike show before heading back to collect our own bikes and making the ride out to Bruce Rossmeyer’s Destination Daytona / Harley-Davidson dealership.
The bike show was what I’d characterize as “just OK”. After a while custom and restored bikes all start looking similar at these rallies. Thankfully, there were only a couple of the “big wheel” baggers in evidence: I personally think those have been overdone and seen their time, but that’s just me. There were also a couple of “kooky” bikes that I’ll try to find photos of, as I didn’t snap a single photo while we were there; weird.
The ride out-of-town on Route 1 wasn’t too bad until we got within about ½ a mile of Rossmeyers and the I95 interchange. I should have jumped off on Pine Tree and taken us out onto the “Loop” & Dixie Highway to bypass the east bound traffic mess that always seems to be created by poor traffic light management at the interchange. I preferred the days when officers would get out in the intersections where they could see traffic backing up and quickly react to keep everything flowing. Instead, there were just two motor officers standing with their backs to traffic manually cycling the traffic lights to a poor effect: very frustrating to say the least. Anyway, in the future we’ll take the Old Dixie Highway and visit the White Eagle Lounge before Rossmeyer’s on our next visit. Getting to Rossmeyer’s headed west bound is always easier as traffic is typically much lighter.
Once we finally got to Rossmeyer’s the day improved dramatically. We found some refreshments, checked out the bike show and other goings-on in the pavilion, wandered through the dealership and a few vendor booths and were pleased to realize we really didn’t need anything! Here’s a short video made by Rossmeyer’s that provides a snapshot of what goes on at Destination Daytona / Rossmeyer’s Harley-Davidson.
After an hour and a half at Rossmeyer’s we headed west on Route 1 to the aforementioned White Eagle Lounge: the place was definitely hopping! They had a great band out back — Big Engine — a large and energized crowd and there was just a good vibe to the whole place. We wandered around a bit and enjoyed a couple of songs by the band, easily spending about an hour there.
The next thing on my list was a ride along the Loop – Marco Polo / Dixie Highway / N. Beach – to the Granada Boulevard Bridge in Ormond Beach. It’s an understatement to say that the Loop ride is one of the most relaxing rides you’ll ever take in Florida. I made a very short, 1 minute and 44 second video of our ride through on the Loop.
My apologies to our friends who freak-out when they see us riding our motorcycle at Panama City Beach and Daytona Beach bike weeks often times without our helmets. Bear in mind, of the 15,000 miles a year that I’m on a motorcycle, there are perhaps 200 miles that get racked up “IN” Panama City Beach and Daytona where we opt to take advantage of the heavy concentration of bikes and lighter than normal car traffic to enjoy a little wind in our hair. Trust me, I know the risks… as does Debbie. We’ve discussed it. We’ve also taken note that there are a lot other risks we take in life and, well, that’s life.
Yes, there were four bikers who died from crashes in and around Daytona coinciding with year’s Biketoberfest: 3 locals and an out-of-towner. One local had a collision with a motorist way out in Port Orange, the other three were also riding solo and simply lost control of their bikes and ran into things where helmets probably didn’t matter: one rode into a tree at 1:30am along the Loop, another was speeding to work across one of the bridges in broad daylight and hit the curb while passing a car on the narrow shoulder of the road and the other guy simply lost control while riding on I95 in broad daylight and hit a concrete barrier. Again, I digress…
After crossing the Halifax River we jumped on the nearly empty back streets – Riverside / Halifax / S. Peninsula – to bypass Main Street and S. Atlantic Avenue’s stoplights while making our way back to our hotel in Daytona Shores some 7 miles from Main Street. We spent an hour or so at the hotel relaxing and getting cleaned up for the night before heading to Aunt Catfish’s on the River along the Halifax, a restaurant that our new friends had recommended. Sadly, it was apparently a pretty great place as we discovered they had a 90-minute wait when someone called to check on seating. However, someone suggested an alternative place on the opposite side of the river — DJ’s Deck — that was purportedly “pretty good too”. We called and they had a 15 minute wait, which didn’t sound too bad. Yeah, well, when we arrived we realized that it was a 15 minute wait in a line backed up to the kitchen window where you ordered what appeared to be mostly deep-fried food and then found a picnic table to dine at. Not my idea of where I wanted to have dinner. While I’d initially figured we’d just head down to Main Street for some “street food” I now felt like we needed something a little more upscale.
I called the Oyster Pub – hoping for a repeat performance of the previous night – and they had plenty of room, so that’s where we headed. Unfortunately, they had way too much room and we ended up being seated in a nearly empty back room area if only to give the server back there some customers. To be honest, we should have said thanks but no thanks and asked to be moved back to the bar as the “vibe” in the backroom was pretty awful. That, in turn, seemed to set the stage for a so-so dining experience the second time around. My chargrilled oysters were awesome, but the other choices folks made… not so much. As our friend David pointed out, NEVER go back to the same place that you had a great time during the same trip: it always seems to be a letdown when you do. I tend to agree.
After dinner we headed back over to Main Street to see what bands were playing. We missed Jasmine Cain again but were well-positioned to catch the band Hypersona who we’d heard the night before: amazing lead vocals and just a solid band. Unfortunately, the spot we found that started out as a good place to watch the band and do a little dancing quickly became crowded as the locals returned again and squeezed in anywhere they could find an inch. Hey, I need my space and don’t like to see Debbie crowded so it became time to head elsewhere. We went over to Main Street Station to catch the band Big Engine who we’d seen earlier in the day out at the White Eagle Lounge: it’s amazing how all of these bike rally bands pull “doubles” every day at an event where they have to pack up and move between venues.
After a while we decided to go in search of “other entertainment” and finally decided it was time to get off of Main Street. David suggested heading over to the Ocean Deck Beach Club along the Boardwalk area and that turned out to be a great decision. There was a $3.00 per person cover charge, but the place had a great band, a good vibe and really attentive staff. Our very professional and attentive waiter was “Thor”… no kidding, this guy could have played the role; I have no idea why he was waiting tables. It was just a great place to end our Friday at Biketoberfest and probably a place we’ll head to a lot earlier in the evening when we go back down to Daytona in the spring.
I think it was probably close to 11:30pm when we finally called it a night and headed back to the hotel… and it was a pretty brisk ride by that time, with temps dropping into the upper 60’s and only a handful of other bikes out on S. Atlantic Boulevard.
Saturday, 18 October
As we did on Friday morning, Debbie and I got up, grabbed breakfast and then headed out for another 2.5 mile walk along the beach to get our day started. After our walk Debbie sat out on the pool deck to get some sun while I did a quick edit on the GoPro video I shot on Friday’s ride along the Ormond Beach Loop.
Around 11:00am we located David & Deb and made plans to head south to Racing’s North Turn about 10 minutes away in Ponce Inlet for lunch along the beach. Imagine our surprise when we arrived to find a catering truck sitting out in front of the restaurant that was serving as the kitchen while work crews were busy rebuilding the real restaurant kitchen and main dining room. Apparently there had been a fire that destroyed those two rather important parts of the restaurant on 13 July. They were able to re-open the deck, bar and store on 15 September using a limited menu and the rolling kitchen. Despite all of work-arounds and limited menu, we had a very nice lunch and the view was awesome.
After lunch we made the short trip to the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse before turning back to the north for the mandatory ride past the Riverside Drive vendor area – nothing we needed or wanted there – as well as the Victory dealer – nothing there either until they move away from their George Jetson styling — on our way to the back way to the Iron Horse Saloon via the Ormond Beach Loop.
The Iron Horse was, well… the Iron Horse. They had JB Walker and the Cheap Whiskey Band playing on the main stage when we arrived and that was just a little more country than I was looking for at 2:00pm in the afternoon. What I really would have enjoyed would have been a repeat appearance by the Blues Brothers tribute band that we saw in the spring or one of the better cover bands working the rally. However, it worked fine as background music, the crowd was great and we met a couple of really nice folks up on the elevated decks.
I think I did an OK job of picking the places we needed to visit, but I really need to do a better job of checking out which bands are scheduled to play when so we can time our arrival at these great venues a bit better. Of course, those schedules can become pretty soft pretty fast since JB Walker and the Cheap Whiskey Band wasn’t even scheduled to play at the Iron Horse when I last checked. Regardless, we spent a couple hours at the Iron Horse before packing it in and heading back to the hotel to rest a bit. I think the long ride on Thursday and Friday’s full day was starting to catch up to me and Miss Debbie.
My original plan for dinner was to stop in at Caribbean Jack’s along the Halifax on our way back from the Iron Horse. However, it was a bit too early for dinner as we headed back to our hotel in Daytona Shores. When dinner time finally came around our friends had decided to stay on the east side of the Halifax and go to a place called Neptune’s, essentially a bar food place. Even though we really weren’t in the mood for bar food, Neptune’s had lots of TVs fired up with college football and our waitress was pretty good. But still, from a dining experience” it paled in comparison to eating a really nice piece of blackened fish on the deck overlooking the Halifax and then moving down to the other end of the deck where a live band would be playing at 7:00pm; well, at least I think there would have been a band playing. Of course, I’m not sure if we would have had the energy to dance even if there was a band so Neptune’s was fine. After dinner our next stop was the hotel for an early to bed ahead of our long ride home on Sunday.
Once again, not a bad day: a great morning walk on the beach, lunch at Racing’s North Turn, a visit to the lighthouse and then another lovely ride out on the Ormond Beach Loop to the Iron Horse and dinner with friends before making a short trip back for a good night’s sleep. There are definitely a few things that I’ll want to tweak for the spring and for next fall, but I think we’ve got the basics figured out.
Sunday, 19 October
It’s always a bitter-sweet time as a getaway weekend comes to an end. In a perfect world, we would have been riding 9 hours south towards Key West instead of back home for a true vacation; some day and hopefully not too far off in the future.
We grabbed breakfast and were packed-up and headed north by 8:30am. We opted to take the more direct but sucky route home via I95 to Jacksonville vs. the somewhat longer but lovely A1A coast road. I followed my GPS into downtown Jacksonville instead of going around on the I295 loop and I’m not sure I’ll do that again. I95 was in horrible shape and it beat the heck out of us before dumping us off on Route 23 in a very questionable part of town. Things remained bleak until we finally went under I295. Frankly, I’m thinking the I295 east back to Route 40 might be the ticket for future trips.
We added a few layers of outerwear when we stopped to gas up at the Route 23 / I295 interchange as the 70F air temperature was feeling a heck of a lot colder than that. In fact, I went ahead and put my heated jacket and gloves back on and never took them off until we got back to Atlanta. We arrived in Waycross around 11:45, just in time for lunch at Applebee’s. However, I’d forgotten Waycross and the surrounding county is dry on Sunday, so no antifreeze for the cold traveler. Well, that’s not true; Debbie had some hot chocolate and soup to help warm her back up from the inside out.
Aside from one last gas stop to top off the tank and a restroom break in Eastman, GA – where we learned not to stop at the nasty Sunoco near McDonalds at 3rd Street; go for the nice & clean Flash Foods at 5th Street – it was a non-stop trip back to Kennesaw via I75. Well, almost non-stop. We went through downtown Atlanta on the I75/I85 connector and traffic was abysmal between the I75/I85 merge by the airport and the Varsity, after which traffic moved along just fine; go figure. We lost David & Deb as we crossed over the Chattahoochee River, thinking they’d be going all the way up to Barrett Parkway with us. Turns out they decided to trim 10 minutes off their trip by taking the Delk Road exit.
We debated between stopping at Loco Willy’s for hot wings and Rafferty’s for a nice rib eye steak and opted for the steak. No sense in heading home and facing all of the unpacking and whatnot that follows a long trip on an empty stomach with not much in the way of comfort food in the fridge. It was a nice way of capping off our mini-vacation and, well, we had pro football to watch!
Again, all-in-all, it was a pretty-good long weekend. We definitely felt like we’d finished a long ride after a busy weekend and the prospects of heading off on the coming Thursday evening for a 3-day tandem bicycle rally wasn’t all that inviting: staying home would have been a really good option for the upcoming weekend. Thankfully, we have a forcing function that will make us go to the rally and that’s a good thing: we definitely need some pedal bike time with our tandem friends to off-set the two weekends of big bike time.
Bottom Line: Can’t wait to head back in March!!!