Spring Rally 2017, Panama City Beach, Florida…

Summary:

We had an amazing time being with friends, and a great time being in Panama City Beach; how’s that?

As I’m sure I’ve written here before, when you have really great friends you’ll always have a great time regardless of where you are or what you’re doing, short of a somber event where the focus becomes shared concern and support where needed. This trip was a reminder you can always make the best of even a less than ideal situation.

Our biggest limitation for this year’s trip was the weather, as a strong cold front pushed through the entire southeast just as Thunder Beach began in Panama City Beach on Wednesday. While most of the rain fell Wednesday night into Thursday morning, the strong winds and cooler temperatures stayed with us on Thursday and Friday, with a slight improvement on Saturday. This truly put a damper on things for us, as it made it very easy to “stay in” whenever we found ourselves at the condo.  The best weather was of course on Sunday as we headed home on a lovely morning with very warm temps and very little wind.

I also felt that the “vibe” at this edition of Thunder Beach was a bit subdued, as attendance seemed to be down yet again. Some of it is probably driven by the weather but some of it seems to be the continuation of a downward trend in the number of bikes we’ve been seeing over the past few bike weeks, both in Daytona and at Panama City Beach. Cars and trucks, on the other hand, looked to have been plentiful in parking lots and on the roads, often times out numbering the bikes.

It was our first time to be in Panama City Beach on a Wednesday but also the first time in a few visits we didn’t take a long ride down the Gulf Coast through Tyndall Air Force Base and Mexico Beach to Indian Pass during our visit, and that seemed to leave us a bit more free time than usual. We also skipped the first and last stops on the Saturday ride that put us back in town at the condo a bit earlier than in past years. In fact, Debbie and I spent quite a bit of time at the condo during our visit, passing on some of the evening and late night activities. However, the rest did us good as did the one 5-mile walk we were able to work in on Saturday morning. But, not to worry, with a group of 23 people having a few drift in and out of the fray was more than normal over the four days.

So, that’s it in the 500 words or less version; the full 6,595 word version follows below. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank our friends for generously sharing their photos as a picture’s worth a thousand words.



The 2017 Thunder Beach @ Panama City Beach All-in-One Report

It was a short work week leading up to our five-day trip to Panama City Beach down on the Florida’s Gulf Coast’s so called Red Neck Rivera.

Monday was noteworthy as our friend Monica came by the house in the afternoon to close the deal on Betty; yes, our 2011 Harley-Davidson Wide Glide has a new home.  I came home from work early and was able to write-up a bill of sale, get the title ready for transfer and gather up a few other things like the owner’s manual, shop manual and my binder of all of the various receipts and other documents associated with the bike a few minutes ahead of Monica’s arrival.  It was a bittersweet moment, to be certain.  I’m glad the bike will be used and appreciated, but really wish I could have justified the on-going expense and consumption of valuable storage space needed to keep her… if only for an occasional solo ride.  But, cest la vie.  I still need to pull all of the original take-off parts out of the attic for Monica and Arne since they go with the bike, but that’s about it.  The balance of Monday evening was dedicated to getting all of our riding gear for Wednesday’s trip together and otherwise rearranging the bikes in the garage so Blue II could be staged for packing and then an easy departure.  Given the weather outlook we’d be taking a little bit of everything “just in case”.

Tuesday’s only highlights were making a trip down to Loco Willy’s for our traditional pre-departure dinner-out since the rest of the night will be spent doing the final packing for the trip and getting a good-night’s rest shortly thereafter. It was Taco’s and Tini’s night at Loco’s and we ran into a lot of friends from our Friday nights: mostly Lockheed retirees and some of their friends.  We didn’t stay too long as the packing was waiting for us at home.

Wednesday & The Trip Down:

Amazingly, the NOAA forecast remained fairly accurate throughout the week.  Now, that’s not to say the weather was ideal for a motorcycle rally because it was anything but ideal: but it could have been worse!

As planned, we left the house right at 5:45am and met our friends Bobby and Carrie Ann at the BP station just off Interstate 575 at 6:00am. Another friend, Mike M., joined us for the ride down. It was in the 50’s when we left so Debbie and I opted to go with full leather and our heated jacket liners and gloves for at least the first 2-hour leg of the ride down to Phenix City, Alabama. Thankfully, by starting at 6:00am it was early enough to take Interstate 75 south through Cobb County. Had we left 15 minutes later I75 would have been a parking lot through Marietta and that’s not the way you want to start a long ride, but dealing with a lot of stop lights along the back way down to Palmetto, Georgia to get around I75 traffic also wasn’t ideal so we really timed it right. We slowed a few times on I75, but generally made great time through Marietta on a weekday and found Interstate 285 west was moving well all the way down to I85 south of Atlanta. The light traffic and our warm gear made for a really nice ride that was thankfully free of any notable events. We stopped for gas in Phenix City across the river from Columbus, Georgia where we also gained an hour. Our next stop was for a bio break just outside Dothan, Alabama, where it was finally warm enough to shed some of our riding gear. We made our second gas / leg stretching stop in Chipley, Florida before making the final hour-long leg into Panama City Beach and the five of us rolled into the nearly empty parking lot at Sharky’s around 10:45am: all told, about 5 hours and 45 minutes.

Mustang Sally’s tour bus was parked out in front of Sharky’s as they were just setting up the stage when we walked into the bar for lunch. We found our friend and regular bartender Keegan and also met up with our friends Kristen & Steven-Ray, whom we’d met by chance a few years back at Sharky’s on the same post-ride lunch stop with Carrie Ann & Bobby.

It was a great time hanging at Sharky’s and the Baja taco’s hit the spot, as usual. After relaxing there for a little while we headed out to the bikes and ran into and chatted with Tobi Lee, the lead singer for Mustang Sally out on Sharky’s front deck.

Since check-in time at our condo wasn’t until 4:00pm, we decided to make our next stop the service department at Panama City Beach Harley-Davidson so a problem with the right-hand highway light on Carrie Ann’s Street Glide could be investigated. Debbie, Carrie Ann & Kristen decided to buck political correctness and be as flirty and girly as they could with the service writers and son of a gun if her bike didn’t move well ahead of several others who were in queue. In fact, they also managed to get Mike’s Ultra Limited slipped in for a 5,000-mile service. What a hoot! We wandered around the dealership for the hour or so that it took for H-D to replace both of Carrie Ann’s defective (and extended warranty protected) highway lights and to service Mike’s bike. As we wandered around I found a new points cover for Blue with the US Air Force seal emblazoned on it and also found a really nice tank top for Debbie. In the meantime, Debbie and the girls had done some of their own exploring and found a few other things, including a lacy top for Debbie. So, as it turns out, the least expensive part of the H-D dealer visit were the two service calls which just goes to show why vendors pay a premium to be at places like the local Harley Dealership.

Our next stop would be the condo, as we’d now be able to unpack our bikes and get into our lovely 3 bedrooms on the 3rd floor. We’d stayed in the same room about a year ago with Bobby, Carrie Ann, Ryan & Jeanette and it was really a great place. So, we were looking forward to staying there for the next four nights. Even though Bobby and Carrie Ann had graciously invited us to take the larger master with the big open views of the Gulf, we opted to take the 2nd master which has its own heating and cooling system as Debbie and I prefer to keep our living spaces a bit warmer than most of our friends: it’s one of the reasons we really like the 3BR / 3BA condos at Sterling Reef.   It didn’t take long to get settled into the room and to get the trailer unhooked from Blue, after which Bobby and I ran over to the grocery store to pick up some provisions for the condo, e.g., water, soft drinks, breakfast foods and some snacks.

In the background, there were several other couples who were leaving Atlanta a ½ a day earlier than planned in an effort to beat the rain; they included our friends Ryan & Jeanette who’d be staying with us in the condo, Jeff & Sharon who had a different condo they’d be staying in on Thursday and Arne & Monica who likewise had another condo reserved for Thursday. Jeff and Sharon along with Monica and Arne would be condo crashing with us that night while we awaited word as to whether or not Ryan & Jeanette would push through the night or come in early on Thursday. Regardless, we were settled-in and good to go in our warm and cozy room and that was a good thing!

Also in the background a dinner plan was being developed as additional folks began to arrive and merge into a larger group numbering something like 15 people; not all that unusual and part of what makes bike week events bike week events. The dinner spot was Dusty’s Oyster Bar which is one of the more popular places along Front Beach on the west end of Panama City Beach. After arriving and going in to get Debbie a much-needed Pina Colada we were quickly reminded Dusty’s only served beer and wine: it was at that moment I could immediately sense Debbie was not in a happy place. Sadly, instead of gracefully letting our friends know we’d be slipping away before we headed in to be seated we tried as we might to stick with it. But, as we made our way into the restaurant I could see Debbie had a look that said, “this isn’t working” and after a very brief discussion we decide to part company with our group of friends and friends of friends. In retrospect, it was really a poorly executed move on my part and it made for an awkward exit as I’m guessing the folks who we were going to be seated with thought it may have had something to do with them: it didn’t. Our dear friend Carrie Ann even stepped up from her seat to intercede but, as I told her, it wasn’t the table arrangements or anyone there that caused us to abruptly change our plans, Debbie and I really needed something different and we would catch up later. I’m sure we were likely – and justifiably – a brief subject of conversation after essentially walking-out on our friends. Yeah, bad on me… and it wouldn’t be the last time I / we went our separate way during the weekend, something I continue to berate myself for after the fact. Deep breathe.

We ended up going to Runaway Island, a place we’ve been to on several recent visits to Panama City Beach, where Debbie knew she could get a good Pina Colada and find several things on the menu that were appealing.  For dinner we split the blackened Mahi Mahi over Gouda grits with a side Caesar salad. It was really quite good, perhaps the best we’ve had there. We were also checking in with Bobby & Carrie Ann back at Dusty’s so we could make sure they understood why we left as well as to coordinate plans for the evening which would be meeting up at Sharky’s for the band Mustang Sally around 9:00pm.

It was a very short ride over to Sharky’s from Runaway Island and it only took us a minute to find our friends who were congregating in the open air deck where Mustang Sally would be playing under a large, enclosed tent. I believe Jeff & Sharon, Carrie & Bobby, Cowboy and Linda, Allen and Hielle and Marwan were there when we arrived along with a few friends of friends and perhaps a few others who were milling about as Mustang Sally got ready to begin playing their first set. Of course, as soon as the band began their opening song the first raindrops began to fall on the mostly outdoor venue.  Looking at the weather radar it was easy to assume it would be a strong rain squall coming through so Bobby’s suggestion to shelter at the condo and/or possibly Uber back to Sharky’s seemed like a good idea and away we went.  Now, just so Debbie and Carrie Ann would have something to carry them over if we did get rained-in, I took a chance on getting caught in the rain and after dropping Debbie off at the condo, I rode down to The Liq (a package store and bar) on Blue and picked up and brought back a pair of 32oz Mudslides. The rain turned out to be a non-event and dissipated as soon as it arrived. But, our plan to ride or Uber back to Sharky’s was derailed by the allure of staying at the condo and relaxing. Apparently I ended up becoming a bit more relaxed than anyone else… and slept in a chair on the porch until 3:30am.  We later learned the folks who stuck it out or Ubered back to Sharky’s had a great time listening to Mustang Sally without any further bouts of rain. Oh well, we’d catch the band another night, right??

Thursday, A Blustery Day:

For me, Thursday began when I woke up out on the porch around 3:30am and upon entering the condo discovered our friends Jeff & Sharon asleep on an air mattress and Monica & Arne cuddled up together on the couch.  Interestingly enough, Ryan & Jeanette’s room was still empty as they decided to spend the night in Eufaula, Alabama and would make the final 2 hour and 45 minute ride down to Panama City Beach later that morning. I wandered into our bedroom and quickly fell back asleep for a few more hours even though I had some work to do on my computer. However, the computer was at the far end of the dining room table and now inaccessible with the air mattress squeezed into the living room so work would have to wait until everyone was up by mid-morning. On the bright side, there was clearly no rush to get outside as it was still raining and everything was wet.

After our sleepover guests were up and about I made myself a steak muffin and Debbie had a yogurt for breakfast. After that I made my way to my computer to check Email and work on some weekly reports that were due for submittal by noon. As I finished up my reports we began to track Ryan & Jeanette’s progress down from Eufaula and decided that with the roads now dried-off by the brisk winds it would a good time to head to The Liq. Unlike most mornings when we arrive early enough to open the place, there was a pretty good size crowd on hand at The Liq when we rolled in around noon. We relaxed and socialized there while folks enjoyed what are some of the best Bloody Mary’s and Mudslides on the beach, or at least so I’m told. I don’t do Bloody Mary’s, but will occasionally help out Debbie with a Mudslide.

 

As we waited Monica & Arne borrowed an old Harley Sportster that had been modified by Cherokee Choppers back in Georgia to support a sidecar where the passenger compartment body had been replaced by a whiskey barrel. Later on Carrie Ann hopped into the barrel with Hielle as her chauffeur: it was great fun to watch. As I said, always good times at The Liq.

 

It was just after 1:30pm when Ryan & Jeanette rolled into The Liq after first dropping their luggage off at the condo. Shortly after 2:00pm we rode over to Runaway Island for a late lunch out on the deck with Bobby & Carrie Ann, Ryan & Jeanette, Allen, Richard & Robin, Sharon & Jeff and Monica and Arne. We took over three of the four booths and had a grand time just relaxing and enjoying lunch by the Gulf.

A gentleman who happened to be hanging out on the Runaway Island beach access deck was kind enough to take a couple group photos after lunch. Now, if I could just figure out who has all of these awesome photos!

Screwing around with Ray-Ray… yeah, it looked pretty gay: not that there’s anything wrong with that!

After lunch we headed to the Boardwalk, as it was mostly vendors indoors which would get us out of the wind for a while. Pretty sure we had most of the same crew from lunch still with us for that trip and ran into Steven-Ray & Kristen with Cowboy and a few others. While wandering around inside the vendor area we found Debbie a really great-looking faux leather dress for not a lot of $$ and we also ran into our Indian Jewelry dealers Isa & Dick from Cumming, Georgia. I can never get out of their booth without finding something and this time it was a pair of men’s copper bracelets and a really nice men’s Sterling silver and 14k gold cuff bracelet by Marc Anita: happy birthday to me!

It was an angry Gulf of Mexico with rain all around…

From the Boardwalk we returned to the condo to clean up and rest a bit before heading out for the evening. We ended up going back to Runway Island with Ryan & Jeanette for dinner. Debbie and I split the Ribeye steak with mashed potatoes and a Caesar salad; it was delicious! Ryan had the same and I’m at a loss as to what Jeanette had but believe it involved a stew and some salad. We once again headed back to the condo where we dropped off the bikes and then wandered across the street to the Lucky 13 for a while.

Having the Lucky 13 at our doorstep was a curse and a blessing: a blessing because it gave us a place to go on foot when riding bikes wasn’t the greatest option, but a curse because Panama City Beach neglected to reprogram the traffic light at Alf Coleman and Front Beach such that it backed up traffic on Front Beach on both directions day and night. And, in backed up traffic during bike week what do you get? Kids on sport bikes bouncing their engines off the rev limiters; ugg. We found our friends listening to the band in their usual spot and joined them for a while before heading back to the condo.

I think it was around midnight when we walked into the condo and called it a night, but on the way back I discovered the wind had been blowing a yellow plastic chain up against the left saddle bag’s top case, leaving some pretty ugly scratches in the clear coat: oh well, something to deal with on Friday.

Evidence after the fact suggests a few of the other folks in our group who were at the Lucky 13 when we left moved a few hundred yards up the street to enjoy a band at the Salty Goat until close to 2:00am: we just don’t have that kind of staying power anymore!

 

In retrospect, having the condo across from a big venue like Lucky 13 coupled with the cold and windy weather may have made it a bit too easy for us to stay in the condo instead of venturing out for dinner and they staying out the rest of the night.  Without a doubt, once we sit down and take a load off in the evening it’s hard for us to get going again. Anyway, its something we’ll need to guard against in the future.

Friday It Was Still Blowing Pretty Good:

When I woke up I first thought the weather might be good enough for a walk on the beach, but after standing on the porch, getting a face full of the wind and seeing other walkers bundled-up I pretty much ruled it out.  If there was any remaining doubt, it was eliminated when Debbie briefly walked out on the deck.

Since we were in for the morning I went ahead and made my breakfast muffin and began doing some work such that I’d have it out of the way before it got in the way: I think they call these work-cations. Once I had my work and out of the way I headed down to the bike to inspect the damage to my left saddlebag top case lid. Between that, the road grime from the ride down and the rain that blew in to the open garage area I decided Blue needed a wash, so that’s how I spent another 30 minutes of my morning. However, after washing the bike the scratches were still bothering the heck out of me so I rode over to the nearest AutoZone and picked up a tube of Meguiars scratch remover and application pads to see if I could remove some of the marks. The scratch remover worked pretty well and that came as a real relief as I was afraid I’d be searching out a painter to hit the top lid with another layer of clear to address the scratches. As it is now, there are just a few scratches left that I may be able to work out with a PC polisher.

With the bike’s top case lid addressed and out of the way and some of our friends off having breakfast, Debbie and I headed to The Liq and were the first ones on the porch at 9:50am local time: Debbie was looking very forward to her morning Mudslide!

The rest of our friends arrived a short time later and we spent the next 90 minutes or so socializing at The Liq. It’s always a great time there and a lot of the patrons seem to be from Georgia and, more specifically, locals from the Marietta, Canton, Woodstock and adjacent areas.

It was around 11:30am when our group headed off towards Frank Brown Park, the main vendor area at Thunder Beach. It wasn’t a long ride distance wide, but with traffic deadlocked on Back Beach Road… and just about every other road that paralleled the beach, it took about 45 minutes to get there.

 

Once there everyone pretty much broke off into smaller groups to search out rest rooms, beverages or to see what the vendors had on hand. I think the only thing Debbie came away with was a small piece of jewelry for her ankle, boot or some such. We’d really found “the better stuff” back at the Harley dealer vendor area on Wednesday and at the Boardwalk on Thursday. But, it’s just one of those places you “need to go” during Thunder Beach just to see if there might be something you absolutely have-to-have, to eat carnival food or to patronize the mini-bars staffed by scantily clad women. Well, that and they’ll also take a hero photo of you riding your bike if you come in through the main entrance; those are always nice keepsakes.

As the afternoon began to wear on and the subject of lunch came up, I suggested an homage to our Indian Pass ride: making the much shorter trip over Hathaway Bridge to the historic section of St. Andrews near Buena Vista Point for lunch at Gracie Rae’s Bar & Grill. It was actually not a bad ride traffic wise that only took about 30 minutes. The place was nearly empty when we arrived so we had it all to ourselves with the full attention of the wait, bar & kitchen staff. The oysters were tasty as was the tuna dip and the cocktails were sublime! However, the company of our friends is what made it all work. Hopefully everyone else enjoyed their time at Gracie Rae’s as much as we did: it was definitely our kind of place.

As we were leaving someone suggested dropping by Los Antojito’s for a brief Cinco de Mayo celebration. We stopped in for a short visit, but Debbie and I decided it would be better if we passed on the free-flowing Margaritas and headed back across the bridge towards our condo where we could have a little us time. Our friend Allen joined us for the ride back and we were able to work our way around the congested roads and made great time getting back to Sterling Reef: it’s good to know how traffic flows in PCB!

Back at the condo I finished up a little work and then we got into some serious relaxation: it just seemed like a good thing to do. As I said, we’re just not cut out for barhopping but do like our down time and we made the most of it. Sadly, I had a fairly fresh bottle of Camarena Silver in the freezer and may have celebrated Cinco de Mayo a bit too heartily back in the condo during the earlier part of the evening. It didn’t really kick in until later that night when I donned my kilt and we walked across the road to see what was going on at Lucky 13. It was weird, in that I was doing fine as we checked in with a few vendors. In fact, I vividly recall finding the same red, white and blue “T-Party” tank I’d bought for Debbie on Wednesday at one vendor and insisted we buy it so she’d have a back-up: I’d have been heart broken in the first one didn’t come out of the wash the way it went in or otherwise became un-wearable. I also checked out a few western style hats and all was good. However, about the time we wandered over to the pizza vendor, according to Debbie my earlier indulgences hit me like a ton of bricks. Good thing we weren’t out riding around and, well, to be honest that’s also one of the reasons we weren’t out bar hopping all that much: its become way too easy for me to suddenly go from OK to not OK. Being firmly grounded within walking distance of our condo was a good thing! We returned to the condo around midnight – you know, early for a night at Bike Week – and called it a night. I think I remember some of our friends coming in later on that night and perhaps poking their heads into the door to our room but it’s all rather fuzzy.

Saturday Things Got A Bit Warmer:

I was actually up fairly early on Saturday morning and did my best not to disturb anyone… well, other than Debbie. It was my duty to be a pest. But, on the bright side, the weather was looking quite nice, nice enough for one of our beloved morning walks on the beach. I think it was around 9:15 when we headed out after having our breakfast muffins as a few of our friends began to emerge from their rooms. The plan for the day was to meet at The Liq and from there, head to Grayton Beach around 11:30 where we’d have lunch at The Red Bar. This would actually be a somewhat modified version of the Yuppie Bar, Hippie Bar, Biker Bar ride of years past lead by our friends Jeff & Sharon.

Debbie and I were pleasantly surprised to find the weather was near perfect for a walk on the beach. For the first time since arriving in Panama City Beach we were able to ditch most of our street clothes and enjoy some fresh air while taking a brisk walk along the Gulf of Mexico. What started out to be a 2-mile walk actually ended up being closer to 5-miles. In fact, we walked about 2.5 miles down the beach to Pineapple Willy’s restaurant deck before turning around for the walk back to the condo. It was an exceptional walk and truly quality time with my sweetie!! I think it was around 10:30am when we got back to the condo, which gave us more than enough time to gas up for the ride, get to The Liq and visit with friends before kick-stands-up at 11:30am.

As we left The Liq I rode up along Jeff and suggested we take Richard Jackson to Middle Beach to by-pass the screwed up traffic flow on Front Beach at Alf Coleman and the Lucky 13. We made great time up and until we hit the merge with Front Beach. But, in all honesty, the ride down Front Beach was a heck of a lot faster and more enjoyable than the typical standstill traffic we encounter on Back Beach heading west during Bike Week. I think it may have taken us all of 30 minutes to get all the down Front Beach where it merges with Route 98 and the Wells Fargo where we’d be meeting the rest of our group of 25 folks aboard 20 motorcycles.

We headed west on Route 98 and then jumped on State Route 30A which would take us through Seaside where we’d normally stop at Bud & Ally’s, aka., the Yuppie Bar. However, we were told we’d be skipping the stop and, instead, taking a ride through some of the more upper-end neighborhoods in Seaside. Not sure the neighbors would appreciate 20 Harley’s rumbling through their quiet and serene neighborhoods but we’d play along. Unfortunately, I think we may have turned off a bit too soon and instead of finding ourselves on the lovely brick roads that meander through Seaside, we were on a series of dusty, gravel and sand-covered streets. While I know it’s bad form to “leave the group” I really didn’t expect to be heading down ‘dirt roads’ and opted to make a left turn off Grove St. so we could get back on 30A. I think there were about four or five bikes that followed us when we broke off for a more direct ride to The Red Bar over on Grayton Beach. The folks that stayed on the scenic tour arrived not long after we did as we jockeyed around for parking spaces at the always-busy Red Bar.

Our ride host & hostess had called ahead and secured the back room of the restaurant for our group so we were taken right in and seated at what must have been about 1:30pm. It took me a few minutes to chill-out after the ride out on 30A which, for whatever reason, was not all that relaxing even before the short detour onto the dirt roads. But, I think I finally got part way back into the groove by the time our meals arrived.

  

After lunch we made the 100-yard walk out over the dunes to the beach for a group photo: something of a Red Bar visit tradition.

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The next planned destination was the Outpost for Bikers on Black Creek in Freeport, Florida. Although we originally planned to stick with the group for the Outpost, I was feeling a little off after lunch and let our ride leader Jeff know we’d be holding back and then heading back to the condo so they didn’t end up looking for us on the ride or at the Outpost. I’m not exactly sure what it was that had suddenly sucked the energy out of me but we definitely made the right call by heading back to town. We stopped at the CVS to pick up a few “paper products” for the condo and made pretty good time with what seemed to be a lot less traffic than in previous years. I think it was around 3:30pm when we reached the condo and enjoyed some us time. Sitting at the condo and chilling we kept an eye on the message traffic to see what our friends were up to and were surprised to see them headed for Frank Brown Park after what would have been about an hour at the Outpost. Now, I will say, ever since Mike McGinnis retired from managing the Outpost it just hasn’t been the same. Not sure what happened, but it just lost its special vibe and the size of the crowds suggested it wasn’t only us who noticed. So, in some respects I wasn’t surprised to see the gang headed back towards Panama City Beach.

We chilled and then cleaned up as the plan for the evening was to have dinner at Pineapple Willy’s – apparently a favorite for Katelyn – and then play it by ear, with a high likelihood visits to various bars was in the outlook. As our friends began to arrive at the condo we were surprised to learn Jeanette had also headed back to the condo from The Red Bar and had been napping in their room the entire time we were at the condo; who knew! I’d even gone into their room to replenish their supply of bathroom tissue and didn’t even notice she was asleep on the bed. Anyway, everyone had themselves sorted out and we headed down to the bikes around 7:00pm and made our way to Pineapple Willy’s. Our table wait for the party of 15 or so was 30 minutes so we headed to the bar next door to get some cocktails. Just after sitting down a local cover band began their first set and Debbie and I immediately took advantage of the empty, wooden dance floor and started kicking up our heels; this is our kind of fun! As luck would have it, our table was ready after that first song so our dance session was limited to just the one song. Dinner was interesting, in that about 8 of us ordered the prime rib, only to learn they were out. However, they had some Ribeye steaks that they would substitute for the same price: sweet! The steaks were tender and the blackening spices were tasty so the steak was good.

I think we were seated around 8:00pm and finished up around 9:15, at which point we decided to walk out with Jeanette and head back to the condo vs. joining the others for a little bar hopping on the final night of Bike Week. Again, living vicariously through instant messaging, we “watched” the gang make a quick stop at Ms. Newby’s, then a few headed to Club LaVela and then most ended up back at Lucky 13 for Confederate Railroad until around 11:30pm. A few die hards were out running around until around 3:00am, by which time we’d watched part of the Marvel Comics Movie Marathon and been asleep for several hours. OK, so next time I’m bringing an extra pair of boots on the bike so I can do some dancing for real! That’ll get me out and keep me out!

Sunday… It Finally Gets Warm As We Head Home:

When we went to bed we had it in mind a large group would be heading home to Atlanta around 8:00am local (9:00am Atlanta) time on Sunday morning. Therefore, we had  ourselves up and ready to go by 7:30am. It was at that point we started to get the impression the departure time was actually looking more like 8:30am – 9:00am. Jeanette and Ryan had just left about 15 minutes earlier as they had to be at a wedding later in the day and I was really anxious to get on the road, so once again we made a somewhat hasty decision to hit the road by ourselves just a little before 8:00am, using Ryan and Jeanette as a rabbit. It looked like the larger group left out around 8:45am just watching the various updates on who was hitting which city when.

Weather wise, Sunday was the nicest morning of our stay: go figure! We left wearing only jeans and T-shirts / tank tops and felt just fine with the warm sun shining on us. However, by the time we reached the Florida / Alabama state line we were getting a bit chilled and put on some jackets. By the time we arrived in Eufaula and had lunch at 10:45 we decided we’d finish the ride in leather jackets and pants/chaps with our full-face helmets: we were definitely chilled. The rest of the ride was a lot more comfortable and less fatiguing and made cruising at 80 mph effortless.   Thankfully, we never ran into any heavy traffic and were even able to stay on I285 and I75 back into Marietta, Georgia where we jumped off to have a post ride cocktail and snack at Loco Willy’s around 2:30pm before heading home to a long list of chores. We bettered our time to Panama City Beach by about 15 minutes even with a lunch stop, two gas stops and a short clothing change.

After relaxing for about an hour at Loco Willy’s we made the final ride to the house and began the process of unloading the bike and our luggage and then Debbie started the laundry process while I started yard work. One the yard work was out of the way I washed the cars and then called it a day: the motorcycle could be washed inside the garage any time during the week. It wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, as:

  • We’ll be out of town next Saturday and the kids would be coming over on Sunday for Mother’s day.
  • The following weekend we’d be headed Valdosta with the tandem bicycle in our truck for a tandem rally on Friday-Sunday AM and need to be home by 4pm for our granddaughter Charlotte’s gymnastic meet.
  • The weekend after that we’ll be making a quick over night trip to South Carolina for a Saturday morning bike ride on our three-seater with our friend Lisa.
  • The weekend after that we’ll be heading out of town on Sunday through the following Friday.

Good grief, it’s exhausting just thinking about it.

Anyway, that was this year’s spring trip to Panama City Beach for Thunder Beach. There are a few things I’d like to get a do-over on but will, instead, consider that water under the bridge. But, at the same time, we had a lot of great times over the course of the five days and that’s exactly what we needed.

As I wrote at the beginning of this story, the friendship we enjoy with this group is truly priceless. But, that said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that we dearly missed having our partners in crime, Deb & David with us in PCB for the rally. Of course, I’m pretty sure they were too busy enjoying their Caribbean cruise to feel like they missed out on anything!

It’s too soon to tell when and where we’ll do our next rally, as I am having to take stock of how we can make sure we’re only feeding positive energy into our group. It’s the camaraderie our close-knit group of friends share that makes it all work. And, don’t think for a minute it just happens: we can see and appreciate all of the thought, consideration and energy our friends put into coming up with on-the-fly plans that allow them to have such a good time visiting with each other while they meet, touch and light-up the lives of the other people they encounter along the way. They’re like a merry band of well-trained and seasoned mischief-makers who secretly lead very adult lives during the week. We’re just glad they’re willing to put up with my various issues so we can share in some of that merriment!

Until next time.

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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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