Let’s see if I can’t pull this off in a single entry with less than 3,000 words! (yeah, right)
Reader’s Digest Version
It was good to get away for a long weekend, but Thunder Beach at Panama City Beach (PCB) is a mere shadow of its former self for us. The ride down is still one of the more enjoyable ones, Sharky’s is our Loco’s away from home, Mustang Sally puts on one of the best shows you’ll see outside of Nashville and it was quality time spent with good friends. I strongly suspect being without our full compliment of peeps had a detrimental effect as the larger group tends to create it’s own energy and makes heading off on your own as needed much easier. Regardless, the bike rally buzz is just about gone as the roads are choked with cars and only a few really good hangouts remain in business… but even those are often times sparsely populated and lack the bike week vibe.
Bottom Line, this was probably our last trip to the fall edition of Thunder Beach unless they move it back to the end of September. It’s just too late in the year for the beach, and PCB is all about being on the beach, far more so than Bike Week in Daytona.
Wednesday – Pre-Departure Stuff
We both arrived home from work and running errands around 6:30pm, early but not that early. After catching our breath Debbie looked to me and asked, “So, where are we going to dinner?” I pretty much assumed we’d be going to Loco’s for our pre-departure dinner so I was already on the same page with her. When we arrived it looked busy and, sure enough, the bar was full. We found our friends Stewart, Teresa, Billy & Dava at the bar and chatted with them long enough for a seat to come open; one was all we needed as I’m always fine with standing. We split some guacamole and the Ahi Poke tuna as our dinner and didn’t linger too long since we still had things to do back at the house.
It was probably 8:30pm when we arrived at home. I headed out to shuffle the motorcycles and the Accessory That Shall Remain Nameless (ATSRN) around so we’d be all set to roll-out on Thursday morning. I also did that all important tire pressure check and was truly surprised by how much the tires on the ATSRN had bled down since it was last used in May for the Spring edition of Thunder Beach trip. I was also surprised to see that both tires on Blue II had also bled down about 5 lbs since checking it about four weeks back.
It was probably 10pm when I had everything packed and ready to go for our 5:45am departure in the morning.
Thursday’s Ride & 1st Afternoon In Panama City Beach
Debbie set the alarm to go off around 4:30am so we’d have an hour to get ourselves up, the final packing done and grab a bite to eat before gearing up and heading off to meet our friend Chuck at a nearby gas station for the ride down to Panama City Beach (PCB) together. Chuck would be picking his wife Julie up at the airport in PCB in the evening as she was flying home from a week-long visit to Cuba.
The weather forecast called for clear and sunny, but the temps were in the low-60’s when we left so heated jackets and gloves plus leather was the smart play to make sure we remained comfortable. We were out the door at 5:45am per plan and when we arrived at the gas station at 6:02am, Chuck had already been there long enough to gas up and be kicked back waiting for us to arrive. My plan was to by-pass the Atlanta freeways and take secondary roads down to Palmetto so we’d have a fairly traffic-free ride all the way to PCB. It’s 40 miles versus 52 miles via freeways and takes about the same hour to make the ride from my perspective. As expected, the traffic was very light traffic all the way down to PCB.
We made two stops along the way: the first was the traditional stop at a Marathon gas station in Phenix, Alabama, where we met up with our friends David & Deb. They’d gotten a bit of a head start by riding down to a Hampton Inn in Phenix City on Wednesday night so Deb could sleep in the extra 2.5 hours it took for us to get to Phenix City. We decided to take off the heated jackets and gloves for the next 90-minute leg to Chipley, Florida, since the sun was finally up. However, that may have been a bit pre-mature as I shivered for about 20 minutes while we rode in and out of the early morning shadows. Once again, other than a short construction delay in Eufaula, it was a perfect and traffic-free ride down to Chipley where we stretched our legs and shed our jackets for the final hour-long leg into PCB.
We pulled into Sharky’s parking lot at 11:03am (now on Central Time) right on schedule and toasted the start of our extended weekend vacation in PCB.
After finishing our Baja Taco’s I left our Debbie with our friends at Sharky’s and took Blue II and the ATSRN over to the Bushtec folks at Lucky 13 to get some new tires installed. The tires on the ATSRN were the original ones from 2002 that had 900 miles of use when I bought it in September 2013. We’ve since then put 25,000 miles on those tires and the sidewalls were beginning to show some cracking and the tread had been squared off: $200 and 40 minute later I was good to go.
We headed to our condo at Sterling Reef around 2:00pm and I neglected to be attentive to the “check in time” of 4:00pm. I guess I got spoiled with our previous 10 stays at the Reef when we booked their own condos and early check-in was never a big deal. However, this time we booked through VRBO with a private owner and it’s been a bit different. So, when we attempted to enter the condo the door lock code that had been provided wasn’t programmed to work until 4:00pm. I called the owner who was gracious enough to reprogram the lock so we could get in and all was good again.
After getting settled-in we made a trip over to PCB Harley-Davidson just to check the box on that visit. Really wasn’t much to see there that we hadn’t seen before and even the women’s apparel was pretty lack-luster. Definitely not the same as Rossmeyer’s over in Daytona Beach where there’s always more than enough going on to keep you busy for an hour or two.
It was about 5:00pm when we left PCB H-D and since our appetites were still on Eastern Time we went on to dinner at Runaway Island on the Gulf. Debbie and I split the grilled Salmon and Gouda grits with a side Caesar salad: it was really good. Runaway Island is definitely a safe bet for a good meal.
The plan for the evening was to stop by Walmart to pick up groceries for the condo, then go back to the condo and get squared away before heading over to Sharky’s to catch Mustang Sally. Yeah well… we made it to Walmart and back to the condo, but that was it… at least for me. Debbie had gone into our room to get prettied up for the evening and when I went in to check on her around 7:00pm I made the mistake of laying down on the bed and was out. I didn’t wake up until midnight. It wasn’t a total bust for the evening as David & Deb were Ok with staying in and Chuck was also good with it since he had to pick-up Julie from the airport at 10:30pm.
After waking up at midnight I realized I’d be hard-pressed to go back to sleep so I decided to go ahead and knock out a few hours of work instead trying to do it in the morning. I finished up around 3:00am and by then was able to go back to sleep for a few more hours before getting up at 6:00am and enjoying a beautiful sunrise.
Debbie was up a while later and we headed off for a 3 mile walk on the beach around 8:00am. It was a brisk walk with temps in the mid-60’s and a stiff breeze blowing but it felt good. As we walked along the beach we came upon a couple of really cute sand sculptures that had apparently been created during the previous high-tide out in front of the Bikini Beach Hotel: one was a salamander and the other was a sea turtle. I included Debbie in the photo for scale and, well, because she makes every photo that much more interesting.
After our walk, some breakfast and the awakening of our friends we headed off to begin the day with a visit to The Liq. We were actually their first customers of the day when we rolled into the empty parking lot at 10:00am and were greeted by Steve, their master mixologist. Steve reported a good summer, but the city fathers have killed-off Spring Break in PCB and that’s put a hurt on the business.
Debbie had her Mudslide while the other folks enjoyed Bloody Mary’s. Around 10:45am other friends from Atlanta – Rick, Erick, Mike, Elvis, etc. – arrived and big-hearted Rick absconded with my dear Debbie to ply her with another Mudslide… a huge Mudslide that she really didn’t need: we had a blast! Should have probably hitched our wagon to the Brewster’s Crowd for the day as I think they had the inside track on when to be where.
One of the other things we look forward to on each trip to PCB is the 90 minute ride from The Liq out past Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe To the Indian Pass Raw Bar. It’s a nice ride out on Hathaway Bridge across and along St. Andrew Bay into Panama City THEN out through Tyndall Air Force Base on Route 98 to Port St. Joe. However, neither the four-hour adventure nor the fare at Indian Pass Raw Bar was doing much to excite everyone else so we opted to stay around Panama City Beach for the day.
It was about 11:00am when we headed over to the main Thunder Beach venue at Frank Brown Park to see what was going on there. Chuck found a T-shirt that expressed the Navy veteran and patriot’s sentiments towards terrorists and made him the most popular guy at Frank Brown Park. The girls all found some frilly things at one of the vendors but that was about it. It was about 12:30pm when we headed east towards Historic St. Andrews on St. Andrews Bay in Panama City for lunch.
My original plan was to go to Gracie Rae’s for oysters — a place that we’ve been to a couple of times on past trips — but imagine our surprise when we discovered they didn’t open until 4:00pm. Had it really been after 4:00pm on Fridays when we arrived in the past?? We called an audible and went to Uncle Ernie’s next door instead. We had a good time, good food and still had plenty of time to enjoy the afternoon since we opted-out of the traditional long-ride out to Indian Pass Raw Bar.
After lunch we headed back to Panama City Beach and the Old School Bike Show at Ms Newby’s Bar & Package Bar. I was really surprised to see only three or four true “old school” motorcycles, about one-third of the usual number of vendors set-up and a very small crowd on hand whereas in past years the place would be packed, nearly three deep at the bars.
Since it didn’t take all that long to check out the three or four old-school bikes mixed in with 20 or so other “older” bikes we wandered out to the handful of vendor booths where we found Debbie a very nice patriotic, knit halter top before heading on back to the condo to chill for a couple of hours and get ready for dinner at Angelo’s Steak Pit.
Angelo’s didn’t open until 5:00pm on Friday’s so we figured we’d wait until around 6:00pm to head over and try to catch the initial rush hour crowd heading out as we arrived. It worked out just as planned. Chuck raved about Angelo’s and I’ll have to say it’s one of those “regular spots” that just never hit our radar during past visits, right up there with some of the other places like Capt. Anderson’s or Schooners. Perhaps it was the mediocre dining experience we had at Schooners or the menu selections since Debbie and I prefer lighter fare. Anyway, I will say that the steaks were really, really amazing. Debbie and I split a 16oz New York Strip and it was as good as any we’ve had anywhere else. David shared a piece of his Rib Eye with me that I ate for breakfast on Saturday morning and a day later it was still melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Debbie sampled their frozen drinks with a Pina Colada in a souvenir red boot goblet which was really a bizarre sight but what the heck: when in Rome.
After dinner we made a short stop back at the condo and then continued on our way to Sharky’s where Mustang Sally out of Nashville would be playing around 9:00pm. Amazingly, there was very little traffic until we were within 200 yards of Sharky’s and, as we’d been seeing since arriving, 80% of what made up the traffic was cars and trucks, not bikes. Even the parking lot across the street from Sharky’s at the Lucky 13 lots was mostly filled with cars, leaving just small pockets of room for motorcycles.
As expected, Sharky’s was packed wall-to-wall without a seat to be found. But, once the band starting it didn’t matter: they put on a great, energy-filled show that held everyone’s attention. Well, sort of held the attention. I must have gotten restless as I wandered off to the bar a few too many times and “got ahead of the buzz” at some point.
Thankfully, my friend Chuck picked up on my deteriorating condition and when the band took a break after the first set he suggested we go for a walk and find something for me to eat so I’d be able to ride back to our condo in an hour or so. We made our way across the street to the Lucky 13’s venue and after wandering through a few of the vendor booths found a place that was still making pizza: boy did I need that pizza!! I bounced right back after that and had no problem making the ride back to our condo without any trouble. So as to set aside any fears, Debbie wasn’t partaking in the adult beverages and confirmed I was ‘good to go” before we rode back to the condo: I’m very good about knowing when I should and should not ride or drive and she confirms it before we ever climb on the bike or get in the truck.
We didn’t stay up long once we were back at the condo as I’m pretty sure it was close to midnight by then.
I was up with the sun again on Saturday but it was a whole different kind of day outside. If it was brisk on Friday morning, I’d call what we had on Saturday down right chilly. It never got out of the low-50s before 9:00am with a strong wind blowing once again. So our walk on the beach never happened which was a huge disappointment: that’s one of the things we really look forward to on these trips.
Our first stop was of course at The Liq so my sweetie could have her Mudslide. While we were there our friend Chuck went to the aid of a fellow rider whose stretched rear frame Hayabusa drag bike died right in front of The Liq.
I must note, it was a bit of a memorable encounter in that you had a rider from a very different “tribe” of bikers whose Hayabusa drag bike broke down in front of what is essentially a Harley biker-bar during bike week. Let’s just say there wasn’t a huge rush of help put forth because: (a) it’s hard to know what the heck could be wrong with a heavily modified Suzuki drag bike; (b) the rider looked and acted a bit like the Predator on holiday with a girlfriend who wouldn’t or couldn’t get off the bike (weird); and (c) he just didn’t seem willing to even give “that look” to suggest he wanted or needed any help. However, after a little encouragement from Julie who cut to the chase by noting – what does it say about the state of affairs to have a biker break down in front of a biker bar and no one offers any help – Chuck went over and asked him what he thought the problem was or if he needed any help. We’d all assumed it was either out of gas or the electrical system wasn’t working and what he described to Chuck seemed to confirm electrical. Chuck happened to have a battery booster in his saddlebag and in moments had a now very happy-looking biker and his girlfriend on their way… at least until the bike probably stalled again. Anyway, I thought it was a good story so I shared it and good on Chuck for being the white knight and coming to the couple’s aid.
After our morning cocktails we began an abbreviated version of Jeff Lentz’ “Yuppie, Hippie, Biker-Bar” ride out west on Route 98 to A1A with stops in Seaside at the Bud & Alley Rooftop bar and the Red Bar in Grayton Beach. The wind was blowing in our faces and the temperature never really got to a point where riding without jackets would be an option. And while Seaside wasn’t as busy as it has been during previous visits, the rooftop bar was full. So, as we did last spring, we stayed at ground level and relaxed in the patio area between the Taco & Pizza Bar for a while. Not exactly the same experience as looking out over the Gulf from the rooftop bar, but relaxing none-the-less.
We made our way over to the Red Bar after that where after about a 15 minute wait we were seated in a corner booth surrounded by several other groups of bikers from Thunder Beach. Our grilled Mahi sandwich was good, but I should have passed on the Tuna Dip and fries: just didn’t need those. Again, a good time because of the company more so than the environment as something seemed like it was lacking. I suspect being jammed in the corner with a small group of six vs. having the entire back of the restaurant to ourselves with a party of 22 and Ollie Pettit visiting with us may have had something to do with it.
With the smaller than usually turnout at Thunder Beach we opted-out on making the trip inland to the Outpost for Bikers in Freemont, Florida. With the Thunder Beach crowd being even smaller than usual in the Spring, and without Mike McGinnis running things at the Outpost, it just didn’t seem to have the same vibe or energy as it had in the past. Again, perhaps it’s a sign of the times.
Heading back into Panama City Beach our next stop was Pier Park where we planned to look in on the Thunder Beach Custom Bike Show and see what the Pier Park Vendor area had to offer. I was surprised to find the “Bling Rider” folks at Pier Park whereas in past years they were one of the vendors who set-up down at Ms. Newby’s. Then again, they sell higher-end, brand-name fashions so the Pier Park location ‘should’ have been better than the biker-rich environment at Ms. Newby’s. Julie found a sweatshirt and pleather jacket and Deb found a leather biker vest that she had a Harley patch added-to. From there we wandered through the bike show and saw a couple of pretty wild customs, a really nicely restored Indian Racer and a moderate size crowd.
After checking out the bike we walked down to Tootsie’s to rest our feet and get out of the sun for a while. It had a small crowd on hand for mid-afternoon on Saturday and because of that the band was a bit louder than it needed to be.
Relaxing seemed to give way to being a bit worn out so we headed back toward the condo where the plan was to recharge our batteries before heading out for dinner and whatever the evening might hold for us. Again, that was the plan. In fact, I even had to stop at the ATM to re-fill my wallet, as I expected I’d be dropping a few more Andrew Jacksons during the evening.
However, once we were back in the condo with the College Football games on the tele the plans for the evening-out quickly morphed into plans for an evening-in. And, as much as I really wanted to head back out to get dinner, go kick-up our heels at Pineapple Willy’s and then head back to Tootsie’s for the evening I found myself having a serious bout of the chills and otherwise feeling like I might need to say in. In fact, I think I spent the better part of six hours drifting in and out of sleep wrapped up in a comforter on a chair and ottoman in the condo. I woke up long enough to eat a couple of pieces of pizza that we had delivered from Island Pizza just down the street near the shops at Edgewater: it was really good pizza! I’m still not sure what caused me to end up with the chills, but in retrospect and with how I’ve felt since being home, I’d venture a guess I may have been fighting some type of mild bug.
Our friends made the best of the evening and, if nothing else, it was good to relax and get a TON of sleep on two of the three days we were in Panama City Beach. No, that wasn’t the plan… as we really needed and wanted to get in some on-the-bike time during the day and hit the various clubs in the evenings. But, when your body needs to rest, it’s going to do it!!
I had to do a double take when I checked the temperature on Sunday morning when I woke up: it was 41*F at 7:00am. Our plan was to be on the road by around 8:30am (9:30am Eastern) so we’d be back in the Atlanta area around 4:00pm. It didn’t take us long to get ourselves packed, the ATSRN hooked up to Blue and everything loaded in the trailer. In fact, I think we had ourselves ready to go and were eating breakfast as our roommates began to emerge from their respective rooms.
It was definitely heated jackets & gloves weather and Debbie opted to wear her full-face helmet for the entire ride, as the morning would be cold and in the afternoon we’d be back on the freeways. Traffic getting out-of-town was non-existent. And, riding up to Chipley and then onto Eufaula where we stopped for lunch we probably saw more motorcycles on trailers than were being ridden. And while the temps were a bit on the cool side, the skies were clear and it was truly a great day to be out on the bike… albeit with the heated gear taking the edge off for the first 2.5 hours of the trip.
After a brief stop at the Arby’s in Eufaula for lunch we were back on the road. Once again, light traffic meant any easy ride through Phenix City and were it not for a grass fire that shut down a lane just after getting onto I85 North, it would have been a traffic-free ride home. And by home, I mean to Loco Willy’s! Sadly, Chuck & Julie had to go by the airport so she could pick up her car, so it was just us and Deb & David back at Willy’s for a safe-arrival celebration.
All-in-all, a good trip, but not as memorable as some others. In retrospect I definitely believe I was nursing some type of bug throughout the trip which sucked the wind out of my sails a few too many times. Being so late in October the weather in PCB just wasn’t what we’d hoped for. Skipping the ride out to Indian Pass and not getting any oysters during the visit was a big miss, as was not getting to Pineapple Willy’s and/or Tootsies where we could do some dancing. But, on the plus side, we enjoyed a lot of quality time with our friends David & Deb and Chuck & Julie, something we don’t often get to do. The meals we did have were all good and no one had any mechanical issues or issues at home that could have distracted us from enjoying time-off and away from home.
Had all of our friends been able to attend it would have likely been a different experience; definitely missed having all of our “peeps” to run around with and maybe that’s really what was missing.