This was supposed to be the trip report from our motorcycle ride to Daytona Beach, Florida for Bike Week 2019. However, due to reasons outlined in this particular journal, we ended up riding 364-miles to Jacksonville, Florida, for dinner on Wednesday and then 80-miles to Flagler Beach for lunch on Thursday, before essentially riding 500-miles back home Thursday night.
Wednesday: The Ride to Jacksonville
This year’s ride down would be a repeat of our ride down last fall — the Chuck & Julie Special — where we’d make a 364-mile ride down to the Ramada Inn & Conference Center in Jacksonville, Florida, on Wednesday, spend the night, and then ride that last 90 miles into Daytona on Thursday. Up and until last fall, we’d make the 450 mile ride to Daytona often times solo in just one day, leaving at home around 6:00am and hitting our 1st official Bike Week stop, Finn’s Rooftop in Flagler Beach, around 2:30pm before making our way to our hotel by 5:00pm or so. Needless to say, we’d be a bit tired on Thursday night. But, hey, it worked for us twice a year since 2012. But, the two-day ride down is definitely a bit more relaxing since there’s no real urgency to “get to Daytona” by early afternoon.
With that as background, we left the house around 9:40am which gave traffic time to die-down and made our way to the Delta hanger at Hartsfield-Jackson Int’l Airport where we met up with our friends Chuck & Julie. Chuck rode his bike loaded-up for the trip to work at 4:00am to start his normal shift, Julie Uber’d down just a bit ahead of us, and we arrived around 10:15am, 15 minutes ahead of schedule, and immediately pointed the bikes South on I75. The weather was overcast and in the mid-50’s, so not exactly the warm, sunny ride we’d hoped it would be.
We stopped for lunch at Chili’s in Macon, Georgia, about an hour later at 11:20am, as that would be one of the last, familiar “bar & grille” restaurants we’d encounter on the Golden Isle Parkway — our preferred back way down — until we reached Waycross, Georgia, around 3:30pm. Again, the nice thing about going down to Jacksonville for the night is it takes the urgency out of making good time so we could arrive in Daytona early enough to enjoy a full afternoon and evening after being on the bike for eight hours. So, lunch at Chili’s was a leisurely, enjoyable time. It was about 12:30pm when we headed back out on the next leg of the ride to Eastman, Georgia, where we’d stop for gas noting Jacksonville is just a two tank ride when you’re getting about 37 mpg on riding two-up on a fully loaded Harley-Davidson touring bike.
Our next stop was at the Applebee’s in Waycross, Georgia, at 3:30pm, to ‘hydrate’ and hopefully shed a few layers of outer wear now that the temperatures were sneaking into the 70’s, although the sun was playing hide & seek with us. Again, great time just relaxing at the bar before hoping back on the bikes for the final leg down to the Ramada in Jacksonville.
Thus far, we’d encountered no real traffic, which I suspected would change as we got on the 295 beltway and I-95 South out of Jacksonville, noting that I oped to stay on US Route 23 all the way into Jacksonville and deal with the local traffic through four or five small towns, instead of jumping over to I-95 at Kingston, Georgia, to by-pass the local traffic. I-295 South did not disappoint, we hit traffic as soon as we jumped on. It finally opened up when it changed to a 3-lane closer to the I-10 interchange, and I-10 East was wide open, as were the first few miles on I-95 South. The last 5 miles to our exit at Baymount were another story, but for Florida at rush hour it still wasn’t awful. We reached the gas station at our hotel right around 6:00pm, topped off the tanks, and checked-in.
Much to our surprise, and despite being told by the reservations agent that the hotel’s restaurant and bar remodel had been completed and they were once again open for business, such was not the case: the place was unchanged from our trip down last fall and the same as Chuck & Julie recalled from a year ago. Chuck & I both specifically asked about the restaurant and bar. Very disappointing. Anyway, we checked got settled in our tired-looking rooms and headed out to grab some dinner about 30 minutes later at 6:45pm.
As we did last year, we headed down to Gator’s Dockside Grille, a sports bar just a mile or two from the hotel. We had a nice meal and a great time, but we always have a great time when we’re with Chuck & Julie. After that, we headed back to the hotel and spent a good hour or so socializing in the lobby before turning in for the night. The plan for the ride down to Flagler Beach was to leave around 10:30am and make our way to A1A at Mickler’s Landing and take it all the way down into Flagler, arriving around 12:30pm for lunch.
Thursday: Our Brief Visit to Flagler And Then Heading Home – My Bad
Between the time zone change, etc., I found myself up around 4:30am and did my best to rest until Debbie woke up on her own. Normally, I’d just get out of bed, move to the arm-chair or sofa in the corner of the room and hop on my laptop. Unfortunately, the chair or sofa weren’t where they were supposed to be, it was just a large unoccupied space with a lamp and nothing under it. I think it was around 8:15am when we finally got up and headed to breakfast before they shut it down at 9:00am.
We had ourselves squared away and out to the bikes around 10:00am where I found Chuck & Julie already getting themselves packed up and ready to roll. I had a brief chat with a couple of guests who were headed to some golf tournament about the Harley and never gave that a second thought, as I assumed they meant down towards Daytona… where we were headed as that was the context of the discussion at that moment.
We rolled-out right around 10:25am and made our way onto I-95S to the Old St. Augustine Road Exit — a slightly different route from last fall that kept us off Old St. Augustine Road with all of its intersections a bit longer — and then made our way onto the Nocatee Parkway. It was when we got to the parkway I quickly realized the golf tournament the guests from the parking lot were attending was at Palm Valley Golf Club in Nocatee which put us into some unexpected traffic. Thankfully, that and a small detour / back-up in St. Augustine were about our only disruptors on the ride down to Flagler beach, setting aside your average Floridian’s seeming lack of motoring skills or attention to the world around them: I’m not sure which it is, but drivers across Florida require my full attention as you never know what they’re going to do. But, all that said, it was a lovely 74-mile, hour and 50 minute ride.
When we arrived at Finn’s in Flagler right around 12:30pm per plan, I was surprised to see so many darn cars, far more than the number of motorcycles that were on hand. In fact, I can usually find a place to park the bike with the trailer right near the restaurant, not so today. I had to circle the block twice before I finally found a space long enough two blocks up A1A. Sadly, this put me in a foul mood, as we seemed to be facing yet another “Bike Week” overlapped with “Spring Break” where the number of cars vastly outnumbered motorcycles, making for a lot more traffic since cars consume the space of four motorcycles. As Debbie noted, Spring Break’s overlap with Bike Week certainly explains why the number of kids and extra cars in Daytona seems to grow year-over-year as the number of “Bikers” continues to decline.
When we reached the rooftop bar it looked to be a mixed crowd, about 60% bikers and 40% non-bikers, some of whom were locals just out for lunch. Again, my impatience started to get the better of me… not a good omen for the weekend since I’d have to be dealing with traffic, crowds, etc. for the next two and a half days. However, we did find some standing room at the bar and, a short time later, Debbie secured a corner table out in the sun so we made our way there to have lunch and socialize.
The fish taco’s were delicious and as we were eating and enjoying the warm sun our friends Mike M. and Jeff L. from Atlanta with their respective friends showed up and joined us, finding some seats at the nearby bar. We had a good time chatting with them, some of the locals at the table next to us, etc.
It was probably around 3:00pm when we left Finn’s to head to our respective hotels for the 4:00pm check-in. Chuck & Julie were staying a hotel in Ormond Beach, about 5 miles from were we had our reservations back at the Nautilus Inn in Daytona Shores. All told, it was almost an hour-long ride to the Nautilus given all of the traffic along A1A / Atlantic Avenue due to traffic control at Main Street.
By the time we reached the hotel I was extremely annoyed and frustrated by all of the car traffic and just not in a good mood. We have been coming to Daytona for spring and fall Bike Week since the fall of 2012 and have stayed at various hotels along Atlantic Avenue, having discovered the Nautilus Inn and stayed there for the 1st time in October 2017, then again in March of 2018. They were both exceptional experiences. Sadly, year-over-year Bike Week has been changing as has the world around Bike Week, including the overlap with Spring Break that causes the hotels, restaurants, streets and even the Bike Week venues to be filled with a mixed crowd of motorcycling enthusiasts and children of high school and college age, some with adult supervision and some without. But, it is the traffic that has become a nightmare. As long-time readers may recall, in October 2015, Debbie and I were struck by a elderly motorist with minimal insurance who was cited for an illegal left turn from the right lane across two lanes of one-way traffic that put Debbie in the emergency room and our motorcycle on a flatbed. Since that time it has been a love-hate relationship for me at Bike Week, as the experience has changed from one of escaping to enjoy the warmth & hospitality of Daytona for a few days each March with fellow motorcycle enthusiasts to being overwhelmed by motorists in cars everywhere we turn — some with questionable driving skills and little or no insurance — and venues filled with curiosity seekers from Spring Break activities. To that end, I have said over and over again there are some people who should not be “here” at Bike Week, with reference to the inter-mixed Spring Breakers, under or un-insured drivers with poor motoring skills, and the Bike Week crowds.
So, it was with all of this pent-up frustration that we entered into the hotel lobby and it just went south. I’ll skip the details but if suffices to say, after waiting impatiently I finally got to the counter to check-in and ended up getting in a bit of an altercation with the check-in agent on an unwarranted $25 trailer parking fee. Things escalated a bit and we ended up leaving instead of checking-in. As we were leaving the parking lot of the Nautilus Inn I realized I was the person who didn’t need to be at Bike Week in Daytona.
Bike Week and I are no longer a good fit and it is unfortunate I had to “discover” this while checking into the Nautilus Inn. While I could have certainly found another room in Daytona, the things that cause my love-hate relationship would still be there… I just needed to remove myself from the situation.
It was not an easy decision since we’d come down with friends who we’d planned on spending our time with, as that would leave them on their own… and that wasn’t fair. And, it wasn’t an easy decision because I knew Debbie was really looking forward to getting away from the dreary cold weather we were having at home for a few days of walks on the beach and fun in the sun in Daytona. I sent off a note to Chuck and we talked briefly on the phone, so he understood but was clearly disappointed. Again, we had other mutual friends in Daytona for Bike Week so, in the back of my mind, I figured they’d still have friends to spend their time with.
It was around 4:30 when we headed-out of town the long-way around so as to avoid the bike week traffic. My plan was to ride home, all 471-miles worth, arriving sometime around midnight if we didn’t encounter any traffic, made a couple of gas stops and had dinner somewhere along the way. The biggest challenge was getting in to Atlanta ahead of the strong storms that were expected to pass through shortly after mid-night. Yes, we could always stop and spend the night at a Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express along the way, but the weather for Friday morning wasn’t all that much better so best to push through, get home and settled back in.
It was relatively smooth sailing after encountering a bit of traffic 90 miles and an hour and 40-minutes into our ride in downtown Jacksonville on I-95 just ahead of the I-10 West interchange. After fueling up in Jacksonville we didn’t stop again until we reached Valdosta, Georgia, about 118-miles and a little before 8:00pm later for dinner at Cheddar’s, same place we stopped for lunch with Chuck & Julie back in the fall. This was not quite 1/2 way home for us, as we still had 256-miles and 4-hours of riding ahead of us when we left around 8:30pm. We were running on fumes when we pulled in for gas in Arabi, Georgia, about an hour and 77 miles later; this would give me enough gas for the final 180-mile leg through Atlanta at our 82mph cruising speed.
I found it odd that when we pulled into the gas station our ETA at home was around 12:24am, but after rolling out it jumped to 12:41am. Well, after getting around Macon on I-75 and heading due North towards Atlanta, about 85-miles from home we ran into a bridge construction project where they had two of the three lanes of I-75 shut down, noting that this is prime time for truckers who have to go around Atlanta to get from Point A to Point B making a mess of the situation.
We were at a dead stop or crawling speed for a good 20 minutes and my left hand was cramping from having the clutch pulled-in for so darn long. I’m now thankful we had the clutch valve replaced before this trip, as I’m sure the hydraulic fluid in the clutch, transmission and engine oil temperatures were soaring. After getting past this little delay it was smooth sailing through Atlanta and into the house with only a brief rain shower as we rode through Atlanta. I should note, I was looking at the weather radar about every 30 minutes since we’d transitioned onto I-75 North from I-10 West, trying to figure out if and when we’d encounter any rain. I knew we’d get a little wet going through Atlanta, but it looked like we’d just sneak into Cobb County during a break between passing storms so I opted to just press through the light rain with the 1/2 helmets and full leathers vs. stopping to put on rain gear and full face helmets, as that would have merely delayed us and put us a higher risk of needing that gear in Cobb County.
We rolled into the garage right at 12:30am and the rain started right around 1:15am. Looking back at the weather radar, what we road through in Atlanta simply got heavier as soon as we’d passed, so thank you Lord for answering my prayer for Debbie’s safe and dry arrival back at the house. Me, I deserved to be hit with your worst after bailing on our friends and stealing Debbie’s vacation from her. Sometimes I forget that it’s just not about me.
I unpacked the trailer and put our suitcases and Debbie’s overnight upstairs while Debbie finished her chicken fingers from Cheddars. A short time later she headed to bed while I spend a couple of hours decompressing from the long ride and continued to wrestle with my decision to abandon Bike Week. Again, I was not in a good place when we arrived in Daytona and the likely outcome from that — dealing with the Spring Break traffic and crowds mixed with the Bike Week traffic and crowds — was also not good and I probably knew this before we left which is why I could never get excited about making the trip.
Friday: Introspection & Moving Forward
Friday was all about being honest with myself about my lack of patience and self-control, choosing vacation destinations wisely, mending fences and figuring out the plan forward. I know Debbie was truly crushed by the loss of her vacation, even though she’s quick to rationalize it was probably for the best. Our friends Chuck & Julie are true friends, so there’s no loss of love there, just disappointment that we weren’t with them as planned for Bike Week.
Looking forward, as I said, we won’t be going to Daytona for fall or spring motorcycle rallies for at least the next year or two, if at all. Do I really want to be doing THIS when I’m in my 70’s? Motorcycling is a pastime and hobby, not a lifestyle for us. We’re not “bikers” by any stretch, just motorcycling enthusiasts. So, perhaps motorcycle rallies are not the place for us, or at least Daytona’s Bike Week. Smaller motorcycle rallies in Panama City Beach that don’t overlap other events like Spring Break are still a maybe, or maybe not. Our annual 4th of July trip to Key West, that’s still happening. In fact, motorcycle road trips that have nothing to do with major events will likely be more frequent and take the place of Bike Week / Rallies in the future.
Debbie’s kept herself distracted with laundry, cleaning, etc., because the weather is truly depressing and seeing her this way is perhaps the biggest, crushing blow to me at this point as this really is all on me. She did enjoy the riding down and back, so the passion for riding motorcycles is still there, as is the enjoyment we have of spending time with our friends. The Bike Week vibe is a toss-up.
Me, I need to get out and clean the Harley as it’s now covered by just under 1,000 miles of road grime after our ride down to Finn’s Rooftop in Flagler Beach for lunch. Yup, that’s the bottom line: We just rode 1,000 miles to have lunch with friends who live 15 miles away.