Motorcycling: A Ride to Key West & Back – 1,752 Miles

This week was all about making our annual motorcycle trip down to Key West, Florida.  After getting ready to go on Monday, we headed out Tuesday for the first 450-mile leg down to Orlando for our 4th visit to the Hilton Grand Vacation’s Tuscany Village Resort, and then made the final 387-mile ride down to Key West for our 6th visit and 4th stay at the Cypress House.  We encountered a bit of traffic and rain as we got into the Keys but it was a good ride.  The trip home was a bit more of a challenge in that we decided to ride 600-miles to Valdosta, Georgia, so we’d have a shorter, 256-mile ride on Sunday and encountered a lot of rain and traffic on that long ride.  Thankfully, the 256-mile ride home on Sunday was perhaps the easiest, low-traffic ride or drive we’ve ever had on Interstate I75.

Note: If you’re a regular reader of our blog and just finished the July 8th Weekly Journal, like parts of the summary above, most everything else in this entry will be a repeat.  This one is just tailored down a bit for the folks who are mostly interested in motorcycle adventures.

Monday: Getting Ready For The Trip

Miss Debbie had a bit of a health issue last week but as of Monday it looked like we’d be good-to-go for the motorcycle ride down to Key West tomorrow.  With that in mind, it was around 10:00am when I headed out on the Harley to run a few errands.  I wanted to get a pair of tinted Mountain Shades Ergonomic Wrap, Wind Sport Roscoe glasses that incorporate a foam rubber seal between the glass frames and your face to keep dust, wind and rain from getting in behind normal sunglasses for our long rides on the Interstate.  I picked up a set of the same Roscoe glasses with clear lenses a few months back and they were great. Once we’re on non-interstate roads, normal wrap-around sunglasses are fine.  So, to get those I headed down to Cycle Gear in Hiram, Georgia, about a 25-minute ride.

Back at the house I moved the Bushtec trailer we tow behind our Harley Road Glide Ultra out of the shed and into the garage so it could be prepped and packed for the trip to Key West in the afternoon with the various riding gear, motorcycle-related tools, spare parts for the trailer — including several sets of wheel bearings, a bearing puller and press, etc. so as not to be nearly stranded like we were back on the May trip to Florida — ahead of packing our street clothes, my laptop and the cooler tomorrow morning.

Tuesday: The Ride to Orlando and an Afternoon at the Poolside Bar

I used some sleepless hours during the night to do a few more pre-departure things such as fixing a playlist on the Harley’s iPod, putting a wrench in my tool box that I’d need to remove a trailer wheel, switching out Debbie’s helmets so she’d have her full-face for the ride down and making sure our rain gear was packed in the saddle bags instead of the trailer so it would be easier to access and “suit up” if we ran into any heavy rain.

After a little breakfast and packing our bags into the trailer we were on the bike and out of the driveway by 5:50am, 10 minutes ahead of plan.  I decided to “test” our SunPass that we use on the Florida Turnpike to pay tolls on the I-75 Express Lanes in Atlanta, noting the “Georgia PeachPass” and Florida “SunPass” are purportedly accepted in either state.  We’ll see how that works out.  Of course, traffic was so light on Interstate I-75 we didn’t need to spend the $1.20 to use the expressway but, again, hopefully we’ll see if the SunPass works so we can continue to use the I-75 and I-85 expressways as we head in and out of Atlanta vs. sitting in traffic.

Being the 4th of July week, traffic through Atlanta and all the way down to Orlando, Florida, was relatively light… at least in the direction we were headed.  I took advantage of the mild 70°F and 80°F temperatures that we had for the morning ride to stretch our 1st “leg” to two and a half hours and 200 miles before stopping for gas.  It was a stretch to be on the bike that long for Debbie, but I knew there’d be a few of those on this trip so best to check it early.  We only made one other gas stop on what turned out to be a 7-hour trip down to Orlando, a record for us.  Past trips have usually included four 15-minute stops and a bit more traffic so this was really a nice treat arriving at 1:00pm.

The folks at the Hilton Grand Vacations at Tuscany Village couldn’t have been nicer when we arrived.  We were checked-in early and our request for a room in Building #1 on an upper floor was met so we were within easy walking distance to the pool side bar and grill.  After checking in I sent Debbie to the bar to secure some seats as we’d be camping out there for lunch and to watch the FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final match between the USA and England.  I took the bike around to the parking lot in front of our building and got all of our luggage moved into our room, got out of my riding clothes and into some shorts and a t-shirt and then joined Debbie at the bar.  Much to our delight, our friend Mario was working the bar and he took great care of us.  We met him on our 1st solo motorcycle trip to Key West back in 2014.  He was born in Habana, Cuba, immigrated to the US, served in the U.S. Marines and is just a joy to visit with when we come to Hilton’s Tuscany.

Yes, the US won the match and we had a wonderful lunch, cocktails and a late afternoon snack before retiring to our room to relax and clean up a bit before we returned to the bar for dinner around 8:00pm, just ahead of the 8:30pm COPA American Semi-Final match between Brazil and Argentina on my laptop since we were able to stream the game over the Internet and set up the laptop on the bar so we and a few other guests who were also soccer fans could watch the match which wasn’t being offered by ESPN on cable.  Brazil won the match on penalty kicks shortly before 10:30pm when we retired to our room for the night.  It had been a long day.

Wednesday: The Ride to Key West and an Unexpected Surprise

We were up at 7:00am and that put us on plan for pre-8:00am departure after packing up the motorcycle and grabbing a little breakfast at the hotel’s pantry.

Traffic headed south towards Miami on the Florida Turnpike was light so, once again, we had a relatively easy time with just two gas stops for the 398-mile, 7-hour ride.  We rode through a light rain shower before we got into Homestead, Florida, and then another light shower between Florida City and Key Largo, with a final short rain storm and perhaps some hail about 20 miles East of Key West.  Thankfully, the really heavy rains had come through about 30 minutes earlier.  So, all-in-all, we did really well dodging the weather.  Yes, we had some heavy traffic near Florida City and then again on US1 between Florida City and Key Largo but that was really it.  Again, like the ride down to Orlando, we made really good time and kept moving on days when it would have been awful to have been caught sitting in traffic given the heat index.

As part of dealing with the heat, when we made a fuel stop in Key West I swapped out the 14″ windscreen on the Road Glide for the 9″ shorty screen to give me more airflow now that our riding speeds would be in the 35-55mph range instead of 80mph.  Debbie also opted to wear her 1/2 helmet for the rest of the ride vs. the full-face she’d been wearing since we left the house on Tuesday morning.

When we arrived at the Cypress House in Key West at 2:35pm and we were thrilled to see they were able to secure our usual parking space on the property for the motorcycle.  Yes, it would cost us $25/day this year, but that’s still less than what it would have cost for on-street parking or the parking garage 3 blocks from the hotel.

Note: For those who are curious, our Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra and the Bushtec trailer performed flawlessly on this trip: no drama or any issues of any kind.

As soon as we had everything moved into the room and the motorcycle and trailer stashed in our parking space, we headed two blocks west on Caroline Street to the Flying Monkey bar and grill at 3:00pm where we enjoyed our first cocktails in Key West and some buffalo chicken fingers while watching the FIFA Women’s World Cup match between Sweden and the Netherlands to see who would be playing the US in the final match on Sunday.  We had a great time re-hydrating and getting some food on our stomachs and eventually we also had an Ahi Tuna over spring salad for an early dinner at 4:30pm.  We headed back to our room around 5:00pm to finish watching the World Cup match that had gone into overtime and to relax.

Sadly, as we headed out for the evening we discovered that our favorite hangout in Key West was closed for remodeling, so our night time plans had to be altered dramatically.  We ended up at Sloppy Joe’s for a while listening to two different live bands that were OK but not great.  We stopped by Capt. Tony’s, Kevin’s Irish Pub and also checked out two of the places that had DJ’s — Rick’s Cafe and Fat Tuesday — but they were spinning South Beach top 40’s, not the real top 40’s music that we can dance to.  So, we ended up sitting on the 2nd story balcony of the Bull & Whistle Saloon people watching towards the latter part of the night before getting a slice of pizza from Angelino’s and then called it a night.  It’s not the night life we’d hoped we’d be enjoying but we made the best of it.

Thursday: A Good Day but a Short Night; Whoops

We woke up to the sound of thunder and rain as a storm moved through Key West right around 7:00am.  It was gone as quickly as it began, and after having a little breakfast at the Cypress House we officially began the day with our usual 2.5-mile walk from one end of Duval Street to the other.  When making this walk we are literally walking from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, which is about a mile each way, and then we added at least another 1/2 mile wandered around a bit, visiting a few stores and finding nothing exciting.

We stopped for lunch at The Boat House, where we had a wonderful blackened Mahi Mahi sandwich.  From there we made our way to The Flying Monkey bar again where we had our daily dose of frozen drinks.  After lunch we did a little more exploring, sticking our noses in the bars and restaurants that we don’t typically frequent, spent some time walking along the waterfront and enjoying the view of the Key West Channel and all of the various activities that make use of it, e.g., fishing charters heading out or back, scuba diving excursions setting out on the 65′ catamaran’s, squadrons of jet ski rentals, parasailers, you name it.

Around 3:30pm we headed back to the Cypress House where we spent the rest of the afternoon visiting with the other guests in the pool.  Two of the couples were there with us last year and there were 3 or 4 other couples who we had a nice time chatting with.  It’s a very diverse crowd that you find at our little B&B and in Key West in general.  It was around 5:30 when we headed off for dinner at the Conch Republic Seafood Company where we ran into Bob & Rene from Delaware and Andre who works at the Cypress House as we sat down to have cocktails.  Sadly, I over-achieved on the two-for-one cocktails when I somehow ended up with a 3rd very deep pour.  Combined with being a bit dehydrated, only a light breakfast and lunch, it made for a short night for yours truly and, in turn, Miss Debbie.  Oh well, it happens.

Friday: A Tour of the Great Florida Reef & Dancing the Night Away

We began Friday the same as Thursday with our 2.5-mile walk down and back the length of Duval Street and did a bit more exploring.  Once again, we didn’t find anything all that special in any of the shops.  Other than art in all of it’s forms produced by local artists, most everything else being sold in Key West is junk made in China… and pretty much every shop has the same junk.  I guess that’s the downside of having visited Key West six times now: the newness wears off along with the shiny new thing luster.

As for lunch, we ate at Flying Monkey again because it was, well, convenient, good and a great value.  The highlight of our afternoon was taking a trip out to the Great Florida Reef on a 65′ long catamaran where a series of very thick glass windows were installed in the V-hulls at the bottom of two observation bays.

The Great Florida Reef is the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States and, at width of about 4 miles and 170 miles in length, it is the third largest coral barrier reef system in the world.  The largest is Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the second largest is the Belize Barrier Reef.  It took about 30 minutes to make the 6-mile cruise out to the reef and the boat sat over the reef for about 15 minutes which, combined with the boarding and de-boarding process comprised the 2-hour trip.  While it was interesting and is perhaps one of the few ways to personally observe the reef short of going in the water with either snorkeling or diving gear, it was not the greatest implementation of underwater viewing technology and is not the most user-friendly configuration.  Anyone with physical disabilities would be hard pressed to get much out of it, assuming they’d even be able to get on the boat, etc.  But, hey… we checked the box on Key West’s Glass Bottom Boat tour!

We were back in Key West promptly at 4:00pm, which gave us enough time to walk the 4 blocks back to our hotel where we cooled-off and relaxed a bit in our hotel room before joining the other guests out in pool.  Again, just a great collection of people with a wide variety of background and experience and all of us seem to find ourselves in Key West as a way of getting away from from it all.  Yes, despite it’s shortcomings, it is a very easy place to go to relax and either do a lot of “stuff” or do nothing at all.

After cleaning up a bit, we walked 3 blocks down to Bagatella’s restaurant, a place we were introduced to on our last visit.  Once again, the meal did not disappoint.  However, we must have gone on a weeknight last time when there wasn’t nearly as much “noise” coming from their neighboring businesses.  But, setting aside the noise, we split a wonderful Caesar salad and a near-perfectly prepared piece of Swordfish served over roasted corn & black bean risotto with grilled asparagus and a poblano cream sauce.

Following dinner we checked-out the live music up and down Duval Street and found quite a few really good musician’s, a very different group from the one’s we were seeing on the week nights.  The Hog’s Breath Saloon had an outstanding duo early in the evening — Dan Harvey +1 — and then a four piece jazz group called Happy Dog came on at 9:30pm and they were exceptional.  However, there’s not much of a dance floor at The Hog’s Breath and what little of it there was was taken up by fans of the band, or so it seemed.  From there we wandered down Duval Street and, once again, the DJ’s at Rick’s and Fat Tuesday were spinning the South Miami music, and while the band at Sloppy Joe’s was really good, that meant the place was packed so even though they had cleared a dance floor it was impossible to get to.  As we were walking past the Bull & Whistle Saloon the trio going by the name of the David Warren Band was on stage in the Bull (the downstairs bar & showroom) and they were exceptional.  Which is to say, the lead guitarist and vocalist (David Warren) was amazing and backed up by two really solid guys on the bass and drums.  The unusually lumpy stone and tile floor wasn’t the ideal dance floor but we spent a solid 2 – 3 hours dancing the night away just the same.  Yes, we finally got our dance groove on in Key West which allowed us to end our visit on a high note.

We passed on pizza after dancing and headed back to our hotel shortly after midnight, remembering that we needed to be up and on the road before 8:00am since we’d be making a 600-mile ride up to Valdosta, Georgia, on Saturday.

Saturday: A 600-mile Long and Wet Ride to Valdosta Georgia

Per plan, we were up early and had the motorcycle packed and ready to roll by 7:30 for the ride up to Valdosta, Georgia, some 600 miles away where we’d find a place to stay once we arrived.  We typically stop back at the Hilton’s Tuscany Resort in Orlando on the return trip from Key West, but we wanted to be back at home before 11:00am on Sunday so we could watch the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final match between Team USA and the Netherland’s.  That necessitated something less than the 7 to 8 hour ride from Orlando, so Valdosta looked to be a familiar place just a little under 4 hours from home, assuming we didn’t run into traffic on Sunday.

I wish I could say the ride to Valdosta was uneventful, but it was anything but.  The forecast for Florida gave us pop-up thunder showers from the Key’s all the way into South Georgia for the duration of our ride.  We lucked out as we made our way out of the Key’s by arriving in four different Key’s within 15-20 minutes after massive showers passed over the areas.  We only had to deal with the wet roads and dodge puddles, which was a relief since we were able to see all of these massive thunder heads moving across the Keys as we rode East on the Over-Ocean Highway, never mind other ones that were following closely behind.  When we arrived in Key Largo I decided to go ahead and swap out the small windscreen I used in the Keys for the larger, Interstate one a bit early as it looked like we’d eventually hit rain as it was falling on the 16-mile from Key Largo to Florida City, never mind more after that.  Sure enough, we ran into a light shower that we were able to ride through without stopping to “gear up” and got as far as North Miami before we pulled into a service island to top off the gas tank and put on our rain gear: a series of strong storms were brewing ahead of us.

All told, we rode through 8 different rain storms, three of which were very heavy where one of those just past Orlando was a downright deluge.  In addition to riding in light to very heavy rain for at least a few hours on the motorcycle, we had to make lengthy detours around two major accidents and ran into gridlocked traffic twice in places where there was no alternative to staying on the tollway to make our way North.   Unlike our ride down, I also made a point of stopping every two hours or so just to give us some time to stretch our legs and ended up taking an extended lunch break hoping the 25-minute back-up from an accident just north of Port St. Lucie might be a bit shorter if we waited it out for a while.  No such luck.

Anyway, we finally made it to Valdosta at 7:30pm and were able to find a room at the Hampton Inn.  With our room key in hand, we left the hotel and went to a nearby restaurant called Cheddars where we’ve stopped to eat on past trips through the area after discovering it during the 2017 Georgia Tandem Rally in Valdosta. We lucked out and were able to find seats at the bar even though there must have been 50 people standing around waiting for tables and had a lovely meal.

We returned to the Hampton Inn and found our room and then immediately requested a change as there were small children running around in the room just over ours.  They gladly moved us to a 4th floor room and despite being incredibly musty when we first walked it, it worked out just fine.  Seriously, this was absolutely one of the more tired Hampton Inn’s we’ve ever stayed and it’s way overdue for a make-over.  But, that said, the shower was warm, the towels plentiful and the bed and linens were comfortable enough to give us a good night’s rest and that’s all that mattered.

Sunday:  A Relatively East Ride Back Home & Three Soccer Finals

We were up at 6:00am and after grabbing a light breakfast at the hotel we had our overnight bag back in the trailer and were on our way towards home at 6:40am.  It was 72°F and foggy out so we started our 256-mile ride with our rain gear on to deal with any moisture as well as to keep us a bit warmer.  My guess was, we’d be able to take them off when we made our one stop about 1/2 way home near Macon, Georgia, around 8:30am.  The GPS suggested we’d be home around 10:12am, so add-in a 10-minute fuel stop / bathroom break and we’d be there well before the FIFA Women’s World Cup final got underway at 11:00am.

We ended up enjoying a traffic-free ride home with just that one stop north of Macon at 8:40am, pretty much per plan.  The temperature had only gotten to 78°F, but it would certainly start to rise quickly so we stowed the rain gear and pressed on and that worked out just fine.  We arrived home at 10:19am, right on schedule, after enjoying our very first drive North on I-75 where we encountered no back-ups or heavy traffic: it was truly a joy!

It didn’t take us long to get the motorcycle and trailer unloaded, our luggage unpacked and laundry underway… the usual post-trip activities.  The 1100am FIFA World Cup Final between the US and the Netherlands was a really good match and we were happy to see the US women prevail with a 2-1 victory.  We had a brief interruption in the broadcast when a thundershower rolled through about 30 minutes into the 1st half of the game, much to our surprise as there was no rain in the forecast until the afternoon… so yet another reason it was good we arrived home at 10:19am instead of 11:35am as we certainly didn’t need to ride through any more rain on this trip.

I spent my afternoon out in the garage cleaning the 1,751 miles of road grime off the Harley and trailer. The motorcycle was a mess, to be sure, and it looks like I may need to pull apart my taillight to figure out where moisture is getting in and under the lens.  That’s something for Monday or Tuesday when I also pull off the trailer hitch before putting the trailer back in the storage shed until late October for our next planned trip down to Panama City Beach, Florida.

Bike Issues: None!

The only issues we had with the bike and trailer on the entire trip were relatively minor:

  • There seemed to be an inordinate number of landscape and concrete trucks out on the Florida Turnpike near Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale that had debris blowing or falling off their loads and pelting us at times when it was just hard to get clear.  In addition to us getting pelted the Harley’s front facing fairings took a few hits that I’ll have to touch up.
  • The Custom Dynamics ProBEAM sealed LED Taillight somehow ended up with a lot of moisture inside the assembly.  I’m guessing the year-old light had a dis-bond in the seal that allowed a little water in and Lord knows there was a lot of water on the roads that would have been thrown up against the rear fender.  However, a note to Custom Dynamics on Monday was answered with a new taillight headed this way under warranty: gotta love those guys.  Great products, service and support.

That was it.  Running the front tire at 40 psi seemed to allow it to self-heal some of the cupping that I was getting running the bike at between 36 and 38 psi.  I’d thought the front might need replacing before the trip but David, our tire guy at AllPro Garage, said it would be fine for this 1,750 mile trip and it was.  As for whether or not well get another Florida trip out of the tires in October, that remains to be seen.

Future Trips to Key West:  Maybe or Maybe Not

As for any future trips to Key West, we only rushed this one because we needed to be home by July 8th for our granddaughter’s 13th birthday and because we’ll be heading to Pennsylvania early on July 10th for a family visit and a 3-day tandem rally between the 11th and 17th before heading back home on the 18th.  On the 22nd we’ll fly down to the British Virgin Islands for a 10-day sailing cruise. So, yeah… it was probably a bit of a stretch to stick this Key West trip into a six-day window, in July.  Moreover, with this being our 6th trip to Key West we’re pretty familiar with the town and typically go to the same places now that the newness has worn off.  So, perhaps we’ll need to change things up in the future by making the trip at a different time of year or carving out more time for the ride down with stops along the way, Lord knows we have several friends who live along both Florida Coasts and inland as well and could easily “make our way” to Key West instead of doing the 2-day blitzkrieg days back-to-back coming and going.  And, then again, there are a lot of other places to go and visit so perhaps we should take a break from Key West for a few years.


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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