Road Trip: ATL to Key West & Back (Part III: The Trip Home)

FRIDAY’s RIDE TO ST AUGUSTINE & FIREWORKS!

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 8.02.07 PMWe have several friends who we’ve met through tandem cycling that live in and around St. Augustine, including two – Al & Heidi – who recently retired to St. Augustine. Over the past several months we’ve talked about paying them a visit as part of our own retirement research as they and others who lived there really enjoyed what the area had to offer. As we were getting ready for our Key West trip we sent them a note and mentioned we’d be using St. Augustine as our final stop for a day or two on our way home from Key West and they graciously invited us to stay at their home and/or join them for a tandem ride during our time in St. Augustine. Because the visit coincided with the 3rd & 4th of July, another couple we know from tandem cycling – Rick & Debbie – learned of our visit and extended an invitation to join them for an Independence Day celebration at the World of Golf Village. They’d be holding an indoor cook-out with family and friends – including Al & Heidi — before taking a short walk to watch the annual fireworks extravaganza at Golf Hall of Fame. We provided tentative confirmations to everyone and told them we’d firm up our plans once we arrived in Key West and knew what our return-to-home travel schedule would be.

marriottYes, it was a bit more structured than our stay in Key West but we wanted to make it work. To do that, we’d need to be in St. Augustine by Friday afternoon which meant we could spend an extra day in Key West. But, for a variety of reasons, we decided to book ourselves into the Marriott Renaissance Inn at World Golf Village and take a rain check on staying with Al & Heidi. This would put in close proximity to Friday’s event with Rick & Debbie, just a short 25-minute drive from Al & Heidi’s home and give us a place where we could rest and recover Saturday afternoon and evening before hopping on Blue for the final 400-mile leg of our 1,800-mile motorcycling odyssey.

20150702_174151Given that we needed to be in St. Augustine by around 4:00pm on Friday afternoon, the math said we needed to get up around 6:30am so we could have Blue packed and rolling by 7:30am. It was a bittersweet moment as we left, given how much we enjoyed our third visit to Key West. But, you can certainly have too much of a good thing, so no regrets. The extra day gave us just enough extra time to get in a little more walking around time, a few more good meals and a little more dancing before saying goodbye as we rolled off the island on Friday.

The weather was lovely and our new 50 SPF UV shirts felt quite comfortable in the damp, low-80’s morning air. We also started out sans-helmets but as we approached Islamorada we could see strong rain squalls on the horizon which were giving us 20+ MPH headwinds on top of our 45-60 MPH cruising speeds. So, after our gas and light breakfast stop in Islamorada we pulled out the modular / full-face helmets which we’d keep on for the rest of the day.

FB_IMG_1435943263359

Hot, tired and hungry… about 2.5 hours to go!

As for the rain squalls, we were incredibly lucky in that what had to be two separate torrential downpours passed through the keys just before we got there giving us only rain-soaked roads to deal with. We also skirted around the edges of three other strong shower spells between Melbourne and Daytona where the helmets alone provided us with enough protection and, to be honest, the cooling effect of the cloud cover and light rain felt pretty darn good.

As far as highlights from the ride:

  • The UV shirts worked great: they will become standard issue for summer time road trips.
  • We were glad to be headed north out of the Keys, as US Route 1 south was slammed all the way from Key Largo to about the last three miles of the Florida Turnpike at Homestead.
  • The Turnpike is a much nicer road than I-95.
  • barrelWe had one “pucker moment” on I-95 when we suddenly saw brake lights come on ahead of us as vehicles started taking bizarre, evasive maneuvers that we didn’t fully appreciate until the white van that was in front of us swerved to avoid a large, orange traffic barrier that had somehow ended up being knocked about in the traffic lanes; we were able to by-pass it with a good 3 feet of clearance (yikes!). Running into it would have been bad.
  • I discovered that our Road King has 5.92 useful gallons of fuel capacity when I tried to push it too far between fuel stops and the motor came sputtering to a stop on an exit ramp.
    • Thankfully, the ramp had a downward slope to a level merge lane that had a downward slope to a gas station. I had to push Blue for about 100’, but was able to coast the last 200’ into the gas station.
    • LEDsI’ll need to re-read my fuel gauge manual, as I could have sworn that the last LED would go out before the tank ran dry, as that’s what I was using as my prompt for, “no kidding, stop and get gas” along with some in-my-head calculations on fuel consumption.
    • The problem with my fuel consumption estimates was not taking into consideration the headwinds or reduced power from the high temperatures.
  • We had a little scare when Debbie’s legs looked like they were showing signs of sun-poisoning. Fortunately, the Pharmacist at a CVS near Daytona Shores said what she needed was a healthy application of Aloe to put back all of the moisture and, well, pants to keep her skin out of the sun for the rest of the ride. We took care of both of those at that stop.

golf_worksWe rolled into the World Golf Village Renaissance at 4:14pm and finally understood the full scope of the fireworks display that Rick had invited us to watch. Every room in the hotel was sold and the place was overflowing with families. Thankfully, we’d be riding out of the hotel and parking lot areas towards the adjacent residences while folks were headed into the fireworks displays, and then we’d be heading back to the hotel as those same folks exited World Golf Village.

We were cleaned up and headed over to Rick & Debbie’s condo at 6:00pm where we also found Al & Heidi and several other tandem cycling friends: Randy & Claudia, Reg & Michelle, Don & Carol.  Randy was kind enough to grab some photos from our corner of the condo…

11703128_10153427568509869_7762332767665373822_n 4th_2 Left to Right 1st row: Mark, Heidi, Debbie, Michelle & Reg4th_3 4th_4

Left to Right: Claudia, Al & our host Rick

20150703_211858_LLSRick & Debbie also had their kids and grandkids on hand along with quite a few other friends from St. Augustine. We had a great time visiting with our friends and meeting many of their other guests before taking a short walk to the golf course to watch the 15-minute long fireworks display. It truly was a spectacular display and we were grateful Rick & Debbie invited to join in the festivities.  The hotel was an absolute zoo when we walked-in. Adults were spilling out of the bar while kids of all ages ran amok or filled-up on Starbucks Coffee in the lobby store. Yikes! Thankfully, given how tired we were, it wasn’t all that hard to ignore the noise spilling into our room and we were able to fall asleep well before 10:30pm.

SATURDAY’S TANDEM RIDE & A LAZY AFTERNOON

11666098_10153429474944869_6709630227529475455_nWe were probably a bit nuts for doing so, but we went ahead and made plans to join the aforementioned tandem cycling friends at Al & Heidi’s home around 7:30am for an 8:00am tandem ride. The ride would be about 40 miles (give or take) followed by lunch at the Sunset Grille. This meant that we’d need to set our alarm for 6:00am so I we would have time to get up, find breakfast, make the 25-minute ride over to Al & Heidi’s where I’d need to spend about 15 minutes getting their spare tandem (which they acquired from us about 2 years ago) adjusted to fit us and then change into cycling attire to be ready for the 8:00am ride start. I think our friends gave us a less than 50/50 shot of actually getting up given the 8-hour motorcycle ride we’d just made the day before, but by golly we made it!

11709626_10204630692116291_7943375650653044392_nWe had a great ride and it was truly much-needed. Other than a 25-mile ride I made alone about two weeks ago, the last time Debbie and I rode a tandem it wasn’t a tandem: it was the triplet at the Georgia Tandem Rally. Right after the rally Debbie’s dad began to lose his fight with a long-term illness and that pretty much consumed every spare minute that Debbie had, and then services fully consumed both of our non-working hours. So, with that behind us, it was nice to be back on a tandem together. After the ride we all grabbed quick showers at Heidi and Al’s then carpooled about 2 miles to the Sunset Grille on US Route 1 on Anastasia Beach. We took over the 2nd floor deck and had a very nice lunch. After lunch it was back to Al & Heidi’s where the plan was to relax and socialize until around 5:30pm and then head for dinner at 6:00pm.

Well, I must say, after getting back from lunch our long day in the sun on Friday plus Saturday morning’s tandem ride was finally catching up with us. So, around 2:30pm we unfortunately had to call an audible and head back to our hotel for some much-needed rest. We really wanted to try to hang in there as cocktails and dinner would be great fun with that group.

Note: We truly love all of the many friends we’ve made pursuing our cycling and motorcycling passions. It just goes to show, if you’re passionate about something and find others who share that passion, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find life-long friends.

The timing of our ride back to the hotel was not the greatest as we had to suit-up in our rain gear and full-face helmets before jumping onto I-95 as there was some heavy rain falling between SR16 and our hotel. The cooler air was nice and riding in the rain isn’t all that big of a deal: just more stuff to re-pack in the morning.

caddyshackOnce we got back to the hotel we both feel fast asleep around 3:30pm and didn’t wake up until 6:30pm, so we clearly needed the rest. We walked next door to the Murray Brother’s Caddyshack restaurant for dinner and were back at the hotel by 8:30, just in time to open the curtains and watch dozens of fireworks shows up and down the coast from our 9th floor window for the next hour or so.  It was a spectacular end to a busy couple of days with a long ride waiting for us in the morning.  I did some pre-packing to minimize the amount of time it would take to get ready to leave in the morning and I think we called it a night around 10:00pm.  Even with our 3-hour naps we were both pretty tired.

SUNDAY’S RIDE HOME

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 8.02.36 PMWe set the alarm for 6:00am and hit the snooze button three times before finally getting up at 6:15am.  It took us about 45-minutes to get ourselves organized, pull Blue around to the hotel entrance and load-up for the ride home.  We decided to hold off on breakfast until later in the morning at our first planned stop near Valdosta as neither one of us were really all that hungry or in need of caffeine.

We started out with our modular / full-face helmets and just our long-sleeve UV shirts assuming that the temps would quickly rise as they did on the three previous legs of our journey: not so today.  When we stopped for breakfast and gas near Valdosta we discovered we’d both been tempted to signal for a pull-off to add a layer several times but convinced ourselves it would warm-up any moment so that wouldn’t be necessary. Sometimes you just need to give-in, and this morning would have been a good time to start!

Our breakfast stop at Cracker Barrel was a bit longer than we’d have liked, but checking the traffic and weather radar, it looked like we were still on plan to stay ahead of both. There was a strong storm cell moving east across Georgia that we definitely didn’t want to ride through and time was of the essence.  We were almost thwarted by an accident that occurred about an 1/8th of a mile ahead of us just past Exit 18, leaving vehicles and debris scattered across I-75.  We were fortunate in that we weren’t involved, but still close enough to sneak through the open center lane before the entire highway was shut down.  When we made our second gas stop just north of Perry, Georgia, it looked as though we might only see a few sprinkles of rain from the leading edge of the storm system and that’s exactly what we encountered as we made the transition from I-475 to I-75 and for about 10 miles there after.

We had two more close calls on I-75: the first was another lane obstruction that sent vehicles scattering just ahead of us when a car with a roof-top luggage carrier lost the lid and contents of the carrier.  Thankfully, we were in the left-hand lane and they were in the #4 lane so all we had in front of us were a few articles of clothing.  I can only imagine what kind of back-up that caused as it played out.  The second was the ubiquitous police-induced brake-checks in Hampton, Georgia that seem to always occur, i.e., the local police from Hampton run laser traps on I-75 almost on a 24/7 schedule which creates a very predictable traffic back-up in both the north and southbound lanes. Thankfully, we went through shortly after noon with light traffic so there was just the start of a larger traffic jam beginning to form.

FB_IMG_1436116846502As has become something of a tradition after road trips, we headed to Loco Willy’s for some hot wings before going home.  It’s just nice to relax for a short while before rolling in the driveway as the unpacking, cleaning and get-ready-for-work routine kicks-in as soon as the Harley’s jiffy-stand hits the driveway.  Loco’s was nearly empty when we arrived at 1:15pm, which was good for us but bad for business. After our wings, fries and a Margarita we made the final 8.3 mile ride home where, as expected, all of post-trip work started in earnest, i.e., after unpacking 20150705_172418I cut the lawn, washed 1,848  miles of grit and grime off of Blue (detailing will come later this week) and then dug into the bills and some other paperwork things that had to be taken care of tonight.  Debbie unpacked our luggage and began running our dirty clothes through the laundry.  Yeah, not a glamorous way to end a wonderful 9-day vacation.

 

SUMMARY

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 8.03.46 PMWe can now check “Ride the Harley to Key West from Atlanta” off the bucket list.  All told, it was 1,848.3 miles round trip.  Breaking it up into four legs of 400-500 miles each was definitely the way to go.  We would have been better-off making the trip in the spring or fall instead of summer as the heat really can really be oppressive.  However, with the right gear and the right strategy, we made the best of it and didn’t suffer with the heat.  Our two days in Orlando at Hilton’s Tuscany resort were outstanding; we’d do that again in a heart beat.  Our four days in Key West, again… the Cypress House was nearly perfect for the type of visit we had planned and I can’t remember when we had a better time doing almost nothing aside from being together and walking for several miles each day and then dancing the evening away.  St. Augustine was a real treat in that we were able to get in some time visiting with our tandem friends on their home turf vs. meeting on neutral ground at a tandem rally.  The ride itself, again… we couldn’t have asked for better luck. We had a few encounters with rain but were well-prepared and didn’t ever get uncomfortable.  Traffic was never a problem, which was a real surprise. Seriously, we had several close calls but never had to sit “stalled” in traffic at any point, including on our return ride up I-75 near Atlanta.

Would we do it again?  Debbie said she’s ready to go!

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About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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