Thunder Beach Spring 2016 – Part I of II

Our thanks to our friend Bobby & others who took most of the photos in this blog.

Wednesday Night:
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We decided to defer the final packing and prep for Thursday’s 6:00am departure to Panama City Beach (PCB) for about 90 minutes while we headed down to Loco Willy’s for a little pre-ride dinner: some yummy and fairly healthy blackened fish tacos on flour tortillas. Frankly, I can’t even make them at home for what it costs us at Loco Willy’s. The margaritas and shots of tequila on the other hand….

Once we were back at the house it didn’t take too long before we had everything packed or staged to be packed and ready to go in the morning. I had to cook a little bit of steak and gather up the English muffins, lettuce, tomato and Wickles relish that I’d be taking down to PCB for breakfast each day whereas Debbie opted to take along several yogurts. After that I had a few other things to do in the house while also getting the Accessory That Shall Remain Nameless (ATSRN) prepped and pre-loaded behind Blue so we could make a quick departure in the morning.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 8.42.27 PMAs to what we’d be wearing down, that was still up in the air. The weather guessers were still calling for up to an 80% chance of rain and thundershowers along our route when we went to bed, so I opted to put the rain gear in our saddlebags for quick access if needed. With the temps in the low-to-mid 60s, leather from top to bottom would still be the right call for at least the first part of the trip. I had the heated jackets and gloves packed just in case we found ourselves in a cold snap coming home. Full face helmets would be the order of the day for most of the ride as being on the freeway in an open face or ½ helmet just isn’t all that enjoyable.

So, all that was left to do was get some sleep which is easier said than done. I always have a hard time getting to sleep before any significant road trip and Wednesday night was no exception. Grrrr.

Thursday:

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 9.19.49 PMWe were up right on time at 5:00am but opted to stay in bed an extra 15 minutes since we were now travelling on our own schedule. More to the point, since we riding to PCB by ourselves we’d be taking the back way down through Powder Springs, Lithonia and Palmetto Georgia for the first leg of our trip. The ~40 mile back way takes an hour and a couple minutes, which is just a few minutes longer than if we took the ~52 mile freeway route. It’s amazing how eliminating that one stretch of freeway makes the ride to and from I-85 South far more pleasurable.

As we headed out there were clearly signs it had rained overnight and there was still a lot of haze and fog well past sun-up. But, thankfully, weather radar confirmed the closest rain was down in middle Alabama, well to the west of our route.

Our first leg down to Phenix City, Alabama, was about 2.5 hours and 127 miles which is about as long as I’ll keep Debbie on the bike before taking a break. The ATSRN we get about 35 mpg running 10-over the speed limit, which burns about ½ a tank of gas to Phenix City. However, the Marathon station is yet another traditional stop in just the right place. It was about 7:30am local time when we arrived, noting we moved into the Central Time Zone when we crossed into Alabama.

Looking at the weather radar, the rain still appeared to be well south and west of our route so we were feeling pretty good about making it all the way to Panama City Beach without getting wet. However, just a few miles south of Phenix City the roads had clear signs of recent rainfall and the clouds forming ahead of us did not look friendly… in the least. However, what made it all a bit confusing was the still lingering haze and fog. Well, that didn’t last for long as a rogue shower hit us just past Seale, Alabama. We immediately pulled off on the shoulder of the road and quickly put on our rain gear. In fact, we had our gear on in just the nick of time, as the light shower turned into a downpour. Unfortunately, both saddlebag lids were still wide open as was the ATSRN and the interiors of the saddle bags and contents in the ATSRN got a little wet before I had them closed. And with that, we saddled-up in our rain gear and enjoying a warm, dry ride through the 10 minute rain shower.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 5.14.57 PMEven though we were now out of the rain and the skies no longer looked threatening we opted to keep the rain gear on for the next 2.5 hour / 132-mile leg. As always, our route took us through Eufaula and Dothan Alabama into the little town of Chipley around 10:00am local. The Chevron station in Chipley is our traditional 2nd stop on the way to Panama City Beach as well as our first stop on the way back. It’s about 55 miles to our condo complex and the perfect distance for the last or first leg of the PCB road trip. As we put away the rain gear, leathers and donned lighter jackets and our ½ helmets I had Baja Fish Taco’s at Sharky’s on my mind. I’m thinking Miss Debbie had a frosty Pina Colada on her mind during that last leg.

Per our travel plan – and yes, I’m very OCD when it comes to traveling and travel logistics – we rolled into Sharkys Beachfront Restaurant just a few minutes after 11:00am. We tossed all of our riding gear in the ATSRN and make a bee-line for the still nearly unoccupied bar where we found the same friendly faces ready to take of us whom we’d met on several previous visits.

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Debbie never hesitated for a moment when ordering her Pina Colada while I opted for my usual: a shot of chilled silver tequila and a Diet Coke; it’s my thing. We also ordered up some fish dip and chips to get us going and sent off a message to our friends to let them know we had arrived. They had all met at ‘The Liq’ around 10:30am as is the norm for PCB trips and let us know they were on their way!

 girls_liq

A short time later we had most of the gang on hand and enjoyed a really nice time having lunch on the beach. And, yes, the Baja Fish Taco’s did not disappoint: they were wonderful as ever! As best as I can recall it was Carrie Ann & Bobby, Jeanette & Ryan, Sharon & Jeff, Patti, Cowboy and Chris & Jeff who joined us and who’d be the nucleus of friends that we spent most of our time with for the next four days.

sharkys2 

Our partners in crime – David & Deb – were running around PCB with Robert & Pam from South Carolina this trip so we’d be catching up with them a bit later on. Again, we had a wonderful time kicking off our time in PCB at Sharky’s: it’s become a favorite place for lunch. Moreover, it’s also become one of our regular night spots since they signed-on Mustang Sally as their PCB band!

With our own private kick-off event now complete, we made the short 2.5-mile ride down Front Beach Road to the Sterling Reef Condominium complex where we’d be sharing a 3 bedroom / 3 bath unit with Bobby & Carrie Ann and Ryan & Jeanette. We’ve typically stayed in the 2 bedroom units and one time stayed in a 3 bedroom / single bath unit on the east end of the towers but had always wanted to see what the big 3BR / 3BA units were like: we were NOT disappointed.

 

It will be hard to go back to the smaller units! Just an ideal layout with large rooms, attached baths and a huge patio with amazing views. We’d be staying in the 2nd master which had its own HVAC system: talk about perfect! We like to keep our rooms a bit warmer than most, so it was the ideal set-up for us. We also had our own small patio with an ocean view which was nice because it made it easy to get up with the sun each morning.

With our bike unloaded and the ATSRN removed and locked up as our riding gear storage locker in the motorcycle parking area, we freshened up a bit and then joined our friends for a group ride over to the Boardwalk Conference Center to look for something that someone needed, but I forget who and what.  We’d kind of hoped to find the couple who sold us some very nice antique and handmade sterling silver bracelets back in February as they said they typically set-up at Boardwalk.  Alas, they were nowhere to be found. After everyone had checked out the vendor wares at the Boardwalk, we headed over to Frank Brown Park, the main vendor venue at Thunder Beach.

Traffic on Back Beach Road wasn’t as bad as it would be on Friday and Saturday and the crowds at the park would also be a lot smaller, so it was a good time to make that trip. Our friend Jeff was actually on a mission to get some Cycle Dynamics LED lights for his new 2015 CVO Road Glide so there was definitely a purpose behind the trip. I say this because frankbrown_cocktailsthat’s about the only time we’ll head to a vendor area at a bike show or event, i.e., because we’re looking for something specific. After helping Jeff locate the Cycle Dynamics hauler at the back corner of the venue Debbie and I wandered around to see if anything would catch our eyes. Our friends were doing likewise and found a great bar! About the only thing that drew us in were some really nice wooden models of motorcycles, cars, aircraft and other oddities – I almost bought the Road King model, almost – and of course the places with nice western boots from Corral, Dan Post, etc.

dusty

Oyster Fest at Dusty’s

As we met up back at the bikes around 4:00pm or so, our friends were thinking it was a good time to go in search of oysters at Dusty’s which wasn’t all that far from Frank Brown Park. Debbie and I decided to pass on the oysters and, instead, headed back to the condo to relax for a bit as it had been a pretty long day for us with the ride down in the morning. We’d all meet up later back at Sharky’s for Mustang Sally’s 9pm – midnight gig on the deck.

20160428_163510Having the condo to ourselves was pretty nice in that we were able to fully enjoy the warmth of the sun out on the patio for an hour or so before cleaning up and heading off for dinner. After thinking about the different places we could go to eat, we decided to head over to Runaway Island where we’d had pretty good luck with fish dishes, noting that fish is about all we eat when we head to Florida. I should also probably note that Runaway Island is owned by the same folks as Sharky’s, but features a white table-cloth dining environment with upper-end offerings. The ride over wasn’t too bad for a Thursday night during bike week. We jumped on side streets to avoid the major intersections and cut our travel time in half vs. what it would have taken sitting in traffic.

Amazingly, Runaway Island’s restaurant was not all that busy, which seemed odd given it was dinner time and the roads were packed. The latter made me wonder just how many of the people who were clogging up the roads were locals vs. out-of-town guests, especially since more than 75% of the traffic was cars and trucks with Florida plates: you’d have sworn it was car-week not bike week but hey, it was just Thursday, right?

We ended up having our dinner at the bar – there’s a surprise – and splitting the blackened Mahi Mahi topped by mango salsa with a side of Gouda cheese grits and a side Caesar salad. It was one of the best meals we’ve had, short of Bonefish Grill (which is no longer in PCB), while we’ve been in PCB. And, from a portion standpoint, we’ve still not found that either of us ever need a full entrée so we’re lucky in that we can always find something to share when we eat out. Being out in the bar also meant we were able to enjoy live music during our meal: it’s just about the perfect way to spend an evening eating on the Gulf in PCB.

While we were there we met a delightful 94-year old gentleman from Pennsylvania who was down visiting and having dinner with his 70-something daughter and her boyfriend at the bar next to us. He was sweet on Miss Debbie (who isn’t) and talked about getting out and dancing a few nights a week, visits to PCB, etc. It was a delightful encounter and not unique during our visits to PCB.

With a healthy and delicious dinner in our tummy’s we felt ready to take on the night! We headed back to the condo to meet up with our friends before heading off to Sharky’s as a group. While relaxing on the patio we were treated a spectacular sunset that rivals anything we see in Key West.

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Around 8:00pm we headed off to Sharky’s and did something of an end-around ride out to Back Beach Road to by-pass the traffic on Front Beach. It added 2-miles to the normal 2.5 mile route but easily reduced the ride time from 30 minutes to about 12. After making our way into the parking lot at Sharky’s it was pretty clear we’d have to park elsewhere. It’s not that there wasn’t enough room for all the bikes, there were just so many lone wolves and newbie riders who don’t know how to park motorcycles that easily 20% of the potential parking capacity couldn’t be accessed. After making our way through the lot we ended up parking across the street at the Lucky 13 venue and that was just fine by me: at least it was better managed than the mess at Sharky’s.

As expected, there was a very large crowd at Sharky’s for Mustang Sally and it was clearly a night when nobody was going to be sitting down for the next three hours. As always, Tobi Lee did not disappoint and kept the crowd energized as Sharky’s Tiki bar was transformed into something of a beach front Honky Tonk. The quality of the musicians that were currently playing with the Mustang Sally band was pure top shelf, Nashville-level entertainment.

mustangsally

Lisa Romeo, the gal on drums, is the one who created the original Mustang Sally band and remains the one who apparently manages the business behind the scenes while Tobi fronts the band as the lead singer.   Again, just an amazing Nashville-quality band that does great covers but that also has a nice, deep portfolio of original music. And, if you were ever curious, here’s an interesting solicitation from November 2013 that provides some insight into the life of a show band musician:

Nashville based country group, Mustang Sally, www.mustangsallyband.com, is looking for a female bass player. Musicians are paid 4% of gross or $200.00 (whichever is greater) per engagement. Everyone in the band has made between $28,000 and $35,000 a year. We travel in a MCI bus and a meal and accommodations are provided on show days. We make our living touring and spend over 150-200 days on the road. The gig would require someone to live in Nashville and have a passport.

As far as our group goes, it immediately split into the “center of attention” gang standing stage left in the mosh pit area with the rest of the gang well back from the center of attention on the deck. In addition to the usual suspects, David & Deb and Robert & Pam joined-in along with several other friends of Ryan, Jeanette, Bobby & Carrie Ann. Carrie Ann and Jeanette were clearly at ground zero in the fun factory became a regular place for Tobi Lee to focus her attention during both sets. There was a lot of dancin’, mixin’, minglin’ and wardrobe malfunctionin’ going-on throughout the evening – all in good fun and good taste – and everyone had a great time. I moved back and forth between the two different gangs throughout the gig as Debbie was initially more comfortable sticking with the folks who were up on the deck. Our friend Patti kept me watered – so to speak – and I think by the time the second set was over most of our group had fully migrated to the mosh pit.

The Original Dale

As an interesting aside, I found myself standing next to a gentleman from Tennessee who could have been “Wheels Through Time Museum” founder, owner and curator Dale Walksler’s twin brother. Were it not for the different in height – noting Dale is vertically challenged like myself – I would have sworn it was Dale. The gentleman had never heard of the Wheels Through Time Museum but I’m thinking he might check it out.

We all stayed until the end of the show at midnight and aside from perhaps a single lost garment, everyone made it through the evening in fine form. We went headed to the condo after the show as it had been a long day for us and needed a good night’s rest before we did it all over again on Friday. We made a stop at a quick mart just before they shut off the lights at midnight to pick up some Diet Coke and bottled water, but that was our only stop. I believe some of the other members of our group may have ridden back to the condo and then walked the 100 yards or so to the Mehdi Sports Bar for a night-cap. It’s still all a bit fuzzy.

A great day, to be sure!

FRIDAY

Having gotten a good night’s rest, we were up shortly after sunrise and made it out of the condo and onto the beach for a 40 minute / 2-mile walk by 7:30am. There was a low-hanging cloud layer sitting on the beach when we started our walk and the humidity had to be at 100%.

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20160429_074642However, by the time we reached the 1 mile / 20 minute turn around at Beach Access Point 39 the sun had burned-off the haze and we were treated to a beautiful morning along the Gulf. If you’ve read our previous PCB and Daytona Beach visit reports you’ll already appreciate that “us time” on these early morning’s and our walks on the beach are one of the major reasons that we look so forward to these trips. After all, we can always have a great time anywhere we go with our friends, but there are only a few places where we can walk on the beach! 2-mile walk on the beach to begin the day.

Back at the condo I enjoyed my usual steak muffin sandwich while Debbie had a yogurt for our breakfast out on the condo’s patio. It was a beautiful morning with temps in the 80’s. As our roommates rested I pulled out my work laptop and spent about ½ an hour catching up on Email and what not. Shortly thereafter Bobby and others began to emerge. I think it was around 9:00am when I decided to head down and check on Blue. I hadn’t planned on washing her, but once I saw just how filthy she was from the wet roads and 10 minute rain shower I went ahead and took advantage of the wash rack that Sterling Reef’s staff set up each year. As I was washing the bike the plan for the day began to take shape with everyone being called to rendezvous at ‘The Liq’ around 10:30am for an 11:00am departure to the Indian Pass Raw Bar. As we prepared to leave we learned that Tom H. would be arriving in PCB around 11:30am, so Bobby volunteered to stay behind and wait for him to arrive.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 10.04.55 PMJust to be sure we would take the more scenic route through Panama City instead, I went ahead and volunteered to lead-out for the 1st leg of the ride out past Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe.We motored across the Hathaway Bridge & St. Andrew Bay into Panama City and took Alternate Route 98 through historic Panama City.

It was during our 1st trip to PCB that we stumbled on the route that takes you down Alternate Route 98 through the historic district to West Beach Drive, a lovely tree-shaded water’s edge community into downtown Panama City. Yeah, there are a couple of tired areas on the east side of town along with a smelly wood pulp / paper mill, but overall it’s a far more enjoyable ride than the never-ending store fronts and gas stations along US Route 98 with all of its stoplights. We stopped to give folks a chance to gas-up just before crossing over Dupont Bridge.  Ryan took over ride captain duties at the gas station and took us out on the Tyndall Parkway to Mexico Beach then onto County Road 30A past downtown Port St. Joes and to the Indian Pass Bar.

It was a beautiful day for a ride along the coast, but for some reason – perhaps we left a bit too late – the ride just seemed a bit less enjoyable than it had during past visits. Once we finally arrived at the Raw Bar we found that our group of 20 or so would begin to get seated in around 20-30 minutes, which wasn’t all that bad or out of the norm.

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However, after getting seated the challenge was getting the food we’d ordered. Or, more specifically, the baked oysters. For whatever reason, fish dip, steamed food like shrimp and crab legs and “turf food” like burgers were coming out in 10-15 minutes, which is about the norm. However, it took over an hour for the baked oysters that so many of us came to enjoy to make it to the tables. Talk about a buzz kill. You could just see the entire mood of the group shift as we sat there waiting and waiting and waiting. Even the steamed foods began to seem bland and uninteresting as the shiny aura of the Indian Pass Raw Bar was severely tarnished. And, perhaps that’s why once the oysters finally arrived they just didn’t seem all that special or good. Yeah, it was not a good experience and prospect of future, return trips were definitely dimmed.

As we were waiting for our food we did hear from Bobby and Tom who were questioning if they should come on out to the Raw Bar or just stop at Toucans in Mexico Beach, where we’d meet them on the ride back. My recommendation was to stop at Toucans (a) because Tom probably didn’t need another 90 minutes on a motorcycle and would do better to get some down time in the shade at Toucans and (b) they’d never get food unless we ordered it for them. They opted to stop at Toucans and it was the right call: after all, Toucan’s service isn’t all that swift either!

After our two-hour stay at the Raw Bar, we headed west and arrived at Toucans just as Bobby and Tom were paying their bill. About 15 minutes later we were rolling again. We stopped off at Gracie Rae’s in at the corner of West 12th St and Bayview Avenue near the St. Andrews Marina just as we did last year to enjoy a short break from the hot afternoon ride and to take in the view of St. Andrews Bay from Gracie Rae’s deck. Sadly, all of the umbrella tables on the deck were taken so we commandeered all of the tables on their covered porch and had an hour-long private gathering there.

The final leg back into PCB was a fairly easy ride and we didn’t even encounter all that much traffic. In fact, Jeff & Sharon split off with Jeff & Chris as we entered Panama City Beach assuming they’d be able to make better time on Route 98 than we’d make on Front Beach. They were almost faster… almost. As we went through the intersection at Richard Jackson and Front Beach they were just pulling up to the stop. If we’d gotten a red light they would have owned us!

After getting cleaned up back at the condo and putting on a fresh t-shirt we headed off for dinner back at Runway Island. Traffic was a major mess so once again we took to side streets to get around all of it and told our friends to do likewise, as they’d all be joining us. We pretty much owned the bar once the entire entourage arrived: we had nine at the bar with Tom, Carrie Ann & Bobby, Debbie & Mark, Deb & David and Robert & Pam. Another group of four came in and broke up our “streak” so Jeff & Sharon, Ryan & Jeanette and Jeff & Chris ended up sitting at an adjacent table. I think I got that right. Seems like I’m missing a few or have a few too many. Oh well, I’ll check the photos again. Our dinner was good, but not as good as the previous night. We had the bourbon glazed salmon with the Gouda cheese grits and Caesar side salad and the glaze on the salmon was just too thick and too sweet for our tastes. Even the Gouda grits seemed to be a bit off. However, the salad was great!

runaway dinner_runawayLeft to right: Deb, Mark, Bobby & Tom.               Left to right: Carrie Ann, Bobby & Tom.

With dinner behind us, we’d talked about visiting several different places – Miss Newby’s, Pineapple Willy’s, The Salty Goat, Tootsies, etc. – and settled on Tootsies, as we’ve had a great time there on several past visits. We once again headed off of Front Beach and did the end run on Back Beach to miss all of the traffic. When we arrived at Tootsie’s it was slammed, as always. We maneuvered ourselves into an area where it looked like a few seats would be opening up at one or two tables. The trick to all clubs is timing, positioning and then looking for an opportunity to gain a foothold on a table. Our strategy played out well as we were able to gain six of the 9 seats at the table for our group. The music was awesome but dancing was almost out of the question so we pretty much stuck to our corner of the bar.

tootsies tootsies2           Left to right: Mark, Debbie, no idea & Jeanette           L to R: Tom, Jeff & Carrie Ann

The bar service was a bit spotty in that Debbie’s Gin & Tonic came out as a Vodka Tonic and my Diet Coke ended up being a Cherry Coke; not a good start, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome. However, one of the real surprises of the night was running into a couple of folks at the bar who recognized us from Loco Willy’s.   They were also regulars, but not as regular as we are so while they looked somewhat familiar they weren’t folks oriowhose names we knew. Regardless, it was a clear reminder of just how small a world we live in.

As for other highlights from Tootsies, the same singer – Anthony Orio (right)– who our gals coaxed into dancing on the table last year was the featured act on Friday. Poor Anthony once again headed out with his tip bucket and ran into our gals and don’t you know it: once again, he ended up with a fist full of dollar bills tucked into his fly. It’s a hard way to make a living but it sure is a crowd pleaser. Anyway, despite the drink issues at the bar, it was a good time to be sure.

We left a little ahead of the rest of our group as I was feeling very tired for some reason and a bit off; probably had something to do with the Cherry Coke! I pretty much returned to the room, removed my contacts, took a couple Goody’s powders (never hurts) and then promptly laid down on the bed and fell immediately into a deep sleep as I sometimes do. And, by deep sleep, Miss Debbie will affirm that once I’m out, I’m out and not much will wake me up.

The latter is only a significant data point in that when our friends returned en masse to the condo, several of them decided to pay us a surprise visit and, instead, ended up being the ones to receive the surprise. There were purportedly some shenanigans that followed, but nothing more than the PG-13 variety I’m told and all in good fun.

Yet another great day in PCB, despite a few bumpy spots with the Indian Pass visit, etc.

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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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One Response to Thunder Beach Spring 2016 – Part I of II

  1. Carrie Ann says:

    Mark, you are an amazing writer (like Bobby) and always seem to capture every detail for this brain of mine …that forgets detail. What a great recap and trip down memory lane. I’m looking forward to many more trips with my wonderful friends. Xoxo

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