Wednesday, March 15, 2017

South Beach Park – Vero Beach Florida


Our road trip today took us across Florida over to the Atlantic coast. We were headed to a place called Vero Beach and ended up at Park called South Beach to gaze at the Atlantic Ocean. 

I suppose this cruise was more about getting in a good long ride instead of going to any specific place. We certainly did what we set out to do with adding another 315 miles to our Florida riding season.

This was to be full day ride for us so we took off around 9:30 am. We took the scenic route along N. River Road (78), (the alternative is along 80) connected with 29/27 and then onto 70 most of the way over to the Atlantic coast. 

Route to Vero Beach

Of course, it wasn’t all non-stop riding, we took several pit stops along the way to stretch the legs and gulp down water. By early afternoon we reached South Beach Park. Bonus, unlike at the Fort Myers beach, parking was free.

Gotta luv places that cater to motorcycles! 

There was a boardwalk out to the beach, and we took in the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean with its brilliant turquoise blue water. We were obviously not dressed for the beach in our motorcycle boots and jeans and it didn’t take long before we started to overheat on the beach sand. I snapped a couple of shots of the ocean and then we headed back to where the picnic area was.  

We chose a picnic table under the shade of a cabana to plot our route home. Guess everyone would rather be on the beach than picnicking so we had our choice.

Nearby, there was a group of squirrels acting squirrely. 

They were so fast I barely managed to get one in the frame before they scattered up a tree. 

Heading back home we stayed on the Federal Hwy (1) unfortunately it is all stoplights and the traffic was heavy.  The plan was to take 714 and travel along the top of Lake Okeechobee down through Buckhead Ridge and Moore Haven. 

As we sat at a stoplight we noticed the sign for SE 714, however there was not one for SW 714, the way we needed to go. We chalked it up to how a lot of roads around here are disconnected because of the canals. (Usually a mile or so further up there will be the continuation of the road when it is like that). However, we should have turned because we realized later that it was in actual fact where we needed to turn, just the sign was missing. Chalk up our not so little detour as an excuse for more miles of fun and our extra miles ended up giving us another 50 of them. 

Route Back Home

"I have seen a fork in the road, but a rake was a new one on me"
As we headed along 76, laying in the middle of the road was a rake. Lucky I seen it and swerved to avoid potential disaster, just goes to show you that a motorcyclist always has to be aware of their surroundings. As much as I sometimes get lost in the scenic views and deep thoughts, part of me always pays attention to the road because something like that can be deadly. 

Shortly after missing the rake I noticed one dark cloud hovering above, it was very ominous looking yet the sun was shining beyond it. The road was damp and I just thought that we were lucky enough to have just missed the spontaneous downpour. (very common in Florida) Then a moment after that thought popped into my head something sharp hit my face, at first I thought it was a bug but then another and another. That ominous cloud decided it wasn’t finished after all and split open again as we passed beneath it. Soon it felt like I was riding through a cascade of spikey cactus needles, assaulting me in the face with a ferociousness that only speed can produce. At least we eventually rode out of it and before the chill of being wet would get my teeth chattering the sun shone down with its warm rays to dry me off. 

We connected onto 98 near Lake Okeechobee and followed that all the way down through Pahokee. The small sleepy communities that surround Okeechobee are quaint and the ride was relaxing. As we got to Pahokee, a section of tall palms lined either side of the road like sentries.  We continued until we got to SR 80 which would take us all the way home.

By the time we got to Clewiston the sun was quickly disappearing. We had planned on grabbing a bite to eat somewhere but now I was tired and we still had about an hour or so ride before we got home.  We stopped just to fill up gas and I switched out the lenses on my sunglasses from the day riding to night riding.  

We finally pulled into the driveway at 7:45 pm, a large glass of wine tasted really good….

Cruising Through Life & Enjoying The Ride...

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Chokoloskee Island – Florida

Mystery, Mayhem, Murder....
As with most of the Islands that boarder along the Gulf of Mexico in Florida there is an air of mystery, a dash of outlaws and a few ghost stories woven in to send a chill down your spine. Chokoloskee Island that is part of the 10,000 islands in the Everglades National Park is certainly no exception. 

Chokoloskee is one of the smallest Islands, at a mere 0.23 square miles (0.6 km2), that we have ventured onto with our motorcycles. As we rode the causeway that connects Chokoloskee Island to the mainland via Everglade City I realized just how close it was to sea level when the Mangroves periodically parted like curtains creating an imaginary window frame that allowed me to catch a glimpse of Chokoloskee Bay lapping at the land. Elevation at its highest point is 10 ft. / 3 m, although I never came across a spot that was even close to that high while we were there.

Suffice to say, the Island caters to Canoe or Kayak enthusiasts and of course, fishermen. It boasts an RV park, marina and a motel along with guided tours of the Everglades. It is also home to about 300 residents.

Smallwood Store & Museum
The oldest and I suppose the most famous attraction (only attraction) to see on the tiny Island besides nature is the Smallwood Store & Museum. It was established in 1904 by Ted Smallwood and was the only source for goods and mail for the isolated homesteaders. Because of the remote location, the store became a popular hub of socialization for the families who had settled in the area to eke out their meager living by farming, fishing and trapping.

For over 70 years it remained an active trading post / store and in 1974 it was put on the National Register of Historic Places, only to close eight years later in 1982. A lot of the original goods were left behind,  many of which dated back to the early 1900’s when Ted was the first “white man” in the area to trade with the Seminole Indians. The store was re-opened by Lynn Smallwood McMillin, Ted’s granddaughter, in 1990 as a way to preserve and showcase Florida’s pioneer history. Among the many hidden gems to be found in the museum are spittoons and pelts from the fur trading days.  To round out the collection of some of the turn of the century’s curiosities; "Matanzas Sugar Estates” burlap bags from when Ted traded with Cuba and Nehi Soda bottles (A flavored soft drink that originated in the United States and was introduced by Chero-Cola/Union Bottle Works in 1924.).

Who Was Edgar J. Watson?

Watson's Place
The pure remoteness and isolation of the Everglades vast network of wetlands and Mangrove forests has historically been an excellent place to provide cover for seedy characters, more so of the notorious variety, who wanted to elude the law. So, it wasn’t surprising that the legendary Edgar J. Watson who had a murderous reputation in the early 1900's eventually made his way down to the swamp to set up roots in the area. Another surprising twist to Edgar’s story is that despite his deadly temperament and murderous past he was also a successful plantation owner who made a very good living in selling sugarcane syrup. (Whether he was an 'honest' business man is a question unanswered)

Like most of the areas towns folk, he frequented the Smallwood Store for supplies but always kept to himself. Watson became an accepted member of the community or maybe he was just politely tolerated until his murderous deeds started to actually affect them. It was well known that he was an outlaw and it was believed that he had an affiliation to the Jesse James gang in Arkansas, where he was also suspected of killing the “Bandit Queen”, Belle Starr. When he fled from prosecution to Florida, his murderous ways followed. 

Quinn Bass from Arcadia was allegedly stabbed to death by Edgar but was never proven. He even managed to get acquitted from Sam Toland’s murder while visiting relatives in Lake City. He then was suspected of killing a man named Tucker along with his nephew who was squatting on his land. There were even rumors that he would kill the workers on his plantation rather than pay them. 

Over the years the body count piled up around Edgar yet strangely there never seemed to be enough evidence to convict him with a crime, let alone murder. The closest he ever came to being punished for a crime was when he tried to cut the throat of Adolphus Santini of Key West while attending an auction. Watson had gotten into an argument with the man and if not for bystanders pulling him off, Santini would have been another horrific addition to this serial killer’s reign. Consequently, he managed to elude the attempted murder charge by paying Santini a small fortune at the time of $900.

It wasn’t until a young boy who witnessed the murder of Hannah Smith at the hands of Edgar Watson that the towns people took it upon themselves to confront the prolific killer.  Edgar finally met his own gruesome demise in 1910 at none other than the Smallwood Store. A dozen or so of the towns people ambushed him and proceeded to blast him with 33 bullets. It is said that the wife of Ted Smallwood sold Watson ammunition that was tampered with and when he stepped off his boat and tried to get a shot off at the mob that was waiting for him, his gun misfired and it was game over for the notorious outlaw. After a hurricane unearthed 50 skeletons that had been buried on Edgar Watson's property his guilt had finally been confirmed and all the suspicion that surrounded Florida’s mass killer was laid to rest.

There is supposedly a blood stain on the wall of the Smallwood Store where Watson was gunned down and to this day whispers of his ghost circulate telling tales that he continues to haunt the store along with his victims. 

Everglade City

After leaving Chokoloskee Island and its torrid past we stopped at Ernest Hamilton  Observation Tower in Everglade City to lighten the mood. 

We took a walk down the boardwalk to a canal that filters out to Chokoloskee Bay. 

This little excursion lent an opportunity for a photo op of a group of Pelicans hanging out on the dock posts. I opted not to climb the tower, (age could be a factor) but I could imagine the view would be spectacular.

Observation Tower location
As we left Everglade City the Souvenir & Gift Shop caught my eye, well actually the Giant Gator statue out front did and naturally I just had to get a picture with my bike.

Ride em Gator...

Motorcycle Route: Chokoloskee Island

Miami Herald 
Tampa Bay 
Naples Daily News 
Ernest Hamilton 
Smallwood Store 
Bloody Edgar Watson 
Find A Grave 
Edgar Watson 
Everglades National Park 10,000 Islands 

Cruising Through Life & Enjoying the Ride...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Solo Ride In The Sunshine State

Honestly, I am happy
even though I don't look it
This year the BF left on a “All Boys” vacation to Nicaragua. Yes, I was a tad bit jealous, especially seeing he was also going to explore it on a motorcycle. I wouldn’t have been so forgiving to let him take off for a week if I were stuck back home in Ontario Canada under a mountain of snow. But seeing I am here in Florida and best of all with my motorcycle, I was actually going to enjoy having some ‘alone’ time.

Today’s ride was my three-hour sabbatical of sorts, and it certainly emptied the cobwebs out of my head.  It was like achieving a ‘Zen’ moment, only I felt at one with my bike, body and mind. 

“I can see clearly now…”  (song lyrics that just popped in my head, it happens)

One thing that became apparent after eight years of riding, today was the first “longish” ride I have actually taken alone. Sure, I have puttered around but never strayed too far and never for very long. The more adventurous rides have always been with my BF. This little birdie has finally begun to “spread her wings”. Not to say I don’t like riding with my BF, we just have different riding styles. For instance, I like to stop and snap a picture when something interesting catches my eye, he on the other hand never seems to notice and zooms by. Motorcycling and pictures just naturally go together (obviously from a bloggers point of view) and I was thinking when I started out today that I would end up with dozens of pictures of interesting things along the way. Funny thing happened though, I never did. (Hence the lack of pictures.) I only stopped once, okay that is wrong, twice. The first stop was to top off the tank, so that really doesn’t count. 

Now on with The Ride…
Motorcycle Route: Treeline Ave. – Three Oaks Parkway – Immokalee Rd. 

The actual route time will vary depending on where you are coming from

I took Treeline Ave. which is a two-lane road and has a moderate amount of traffic in spots. It is also one of the few roads around here that has some decent sweeping curves, which are hard to find in Southwest Florida. This is also a very popular route for motorcyclists because of that, and judging by the number of bikes I seen today, quite a few had the same idea as me.

When I got to Alico Rd. I made a right so that I could connect at the start of Three Oaks Parkway. It is just a short ride past the on ramp of 1-75 and you can only turn left onto it. However, it looks like one day this road might eventually go to the right. Three Oaks has even less traffic and is a pleasant ride through gated communities with manicured lawns and park like settings. Somewhere along the line the road morphs into Imperial Parkway. (If I had to pinpoint it I would say once you cross Coconut Rd.) Then it does another metamorphous and becomes Livingston Rd. I think this road just can’t make up its mind on what to call itself. Anyway, the entire way is nice, but there are a few traffic lights that might bog down the ride. I hit a few, but it wasn’t as irritating as riding on 41 through Fort Myers.

When I got to Immokalee Rd. I turned left.  The shops and housing developments soon give way to Orange groves. Once it opens up be prepared for it to get a bit windy. I pulled off for a small break, mainly to chug down some water and to finally take a picture. I noticed that I had stopped at the ‘Corkscrew Island Neighborhood’ sign, a place that is basically in the middle of nowhere and landlocked as far as I could tell. So what I really wanted to know is why is this area called an Island? ahem, moving on... this road will take you by the Immokalee Casino, if you are so inclined to make a stop. I then made a left on Main Street in Immokalee and headed towards home. 

By the way, besides the liberating feeling of independence I had on this ride it also made me realize just how much I need (not want) I really need, to get another motorcycle when I get back to Canada, purely for therapeutic purposes of course. Hmm, wonder if OHIP covers that.  

(I know, soon you all will be telling me to shut up and just get another bike already)

Cruising Through Life & Enjoying The Ride

Monday, January 30, 2017

Yeehaw Junction Florida and the historic Desert Inn

My reason to visit ‘Yeehaw Junction’ was to explore more of the history surrounding one of "Old Florida's" rural areas. Who am I kidding, it was just because of the funny name.  

Anyway, I also really wanted a full day trip, one of those “oohhh my body aches, but what a ride” type of cruise. 235 miles (378 km) later I had gotten what I asked for. 

(FYI: If we had come in from the other way we might have seen a town sign, but we didn’t so I had to rummage through the Internet to find one.  The Yeehaw Junction Welcome Sign –Photo by Jim )

Our road trip started like so many of ours do when we venture north, using the starting point in Alva and heading out along North River Road we connected onto FL-29. From 29 through 27 it is mostly Orange groves between flat open fields. (Note to self: check wind velocity before leaving) Eventually all that gave way to the open range of Cattle Ranches along FL-70 with the air getting a little ‘ripe’ in spots. 

Shortly after passing the Cracker Trail Country Store, (which by the way, had gas pumps) my gas light came on. Really, it couldn’t have warned me before. 

I was resolved to cross my fingers and hope that another gas station would appear on the horizon. A good lesson to learn, it is always a good idea that when riding a back country road, don’t pass up a gas station. You never know when you will find another. 

As I was running on fumes it would be 22.4 miles (36 km) later until we would finally come across a Sunoco Gas Station on US 441. Totally relieved that I made it we filled up and took a few minutes to stretch. Little did we know that it would only be a short ride, 13 miles (21 km) before we pulled into the Desert Inn Bar & Restaurant.  

History of the Desert Inn Bar & Restaurant
The Desert Inn dates back to the 1880’s when it was established as a trading post along a four-corner trail system used by the areas cowboys and loggers. The Desert Inn serviced the locals in more ways than one as it also doubled as a brothel.

Eventually actual roads made their way to the Desert Inn in the early 1930’s, and the area became known as “Jackass Crossing” or “Jackass Junction” in honor of the ranchers and lumbermen who relied on mules to work the cattle or haul lumber. It wasn’t until the 1950’s when the Florida Turnpike passed through that the state legislators felt that the name was a little too risqué for the influx of winter tourists and changed the name to ‘Yeehaw Junction’ which also tied it into the nearby railroad depot. 

There are several versions of how the origin of the name ‘Yeehaw’ came to be. One suggests that it was named for the Seminole language word meaning "wolf".

But I am more inclined to believe the version that suggests that “yeehaw” is similar to the noise a mule makes. It even ties in nicely to the original name from when the area was referred to as ‘Jackass Crossing’. See,even the Desert Inn agrees.

A plaque stands proudly in the front of the weather-beaten building proclaiming a bit of its history (Funny there was no mention of it having being a bordello on the sign) and in 1994 was registered in the National Register of Historic Places. 

Click to enlarge image

Exploring the grounds
We had no intention of eating there, so we didn’t venture inside for a photo op. I imagine it would have been interesting judging by the exterior – “C'est la vie” (That's life), opportunity missed.

Met a few chickens wandering the grounds out back. 

-Fresh eggs or chicken for the restaurant?  

The motel out back has recently (how recent I can’t say) undergone an exterior face lift by adding a painted log wood façade. 

Not sure how the inside of the rooms look.  (I got the feeling that it is more likely used as an “hourly” stop over – remnants of the ‘good ol’ days’ perhaps). 

But their website does proclaim to have clean rooms  and it is good to know that it always “passes the health inspection”. 

Well in that case, who wouldn’t want to vacation on a busy road smack dab in cattle country…

Homeward Bound, but first let’s eat
On the way back we varied our route to take us through Okeechobee and then on into LaBelle. 

The wind had really started to pick up and extreme gusts pummeled at me making for a very hard ride back through the vast openness of the countryside. (I just held on real tight).

We stopped for supper at The Log Cabin in LaBelle on FL-80.  We got there shortly before 5pm and already the place was filling up fast.  As its name would suggest, it looks exactly like a log cabin on the inside, with rows of picnic tables and rustic decor. However, they seem to be a little slow on taking the Christmas decorations down. Even the inside was decked out in Christmas garland. 

The restaurant offered a nice selection of smoked BBQ fare. The prices were reasonable and I was amazed when they offered a free cup of soup for a starter and free ice cream for desert. How often does that happen now a days? (For the record, I declined both)

“Hog” Parking  - reserved for Harleys - haha

Yeehaw Junction Florida Route

Cruising Through Life & Enjoying The Ride...

History Sources: 
Florida Rambler  Studio Hour Glass  Wikipedia  Desert Inn Restaurant 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Ave Maria… a little town in the middle of nowhere

At first glance the sign that proclaims Ave Maria looks like all the other gated communities that boast 'resort style' living in Florida. 

Most gated communities around here usually have tropical names like Pelican Preserve, Gulf Harbour and Majestic Palms so when I had seen ‘Ave Maria’ (Which is a Catholic prayer to the Virgin Mary – Hail Mary) It sparked my curiosity and warranted further investigation. 

After a little digging, it became apparent that this place wasn’t at all like the other gated housing developments that hide behind lush landscaping throughout Florida.  

It was in fact a bonafide fully functioning town established in 2007. The town sprung up basically in the middle of nowhere between Immokalee and Naples. Its entire concept is based around it being a Catholic University Town and was the vision of the devout orthodox Catholic Tom Monaghan who is the founder of Domino’s pizza. 

Upon entering, the streets are immaculate, flowers in bloom and perfectly manicured grass flows alongside the road. Not one leaf is out of place. We even passed a crew pressure washing the sidewalk.

Parked in Town Center across from Church

We made our way to the Town Center where all the shops and businesses are situated around the main focal point, the Catholic Oratory (private chapel owned by the Towns Catholic University). 

The front of the Oratory is reminiscent of a monolith with a 30-foot sculpture depicting the Archangel Gabriel greeting the Virgin Mary created by Marton Varo. 

[Fun Fact: 54 tons of Carrara marble was extracted from the same quarry used by Michelangelo to construct the sculpture. The sculpture was unveiled at the Oratory on March 25, 2011. – On Jan 19, 2017 Ave Maria University sold the Oratory to the Diocese of Venice making the transition from a ‘quasi parish’ to regular parish.] 

The shops and professional businesses were of what you expected in a small town, from a lawyer to a bank, a clothing store, a little coffee shop with a sidewalk patio, along with a local ‘watering hole’ called The Pub, (What else would it be called) and of course a religious gift shop.
It had the feel of a small village that I had visited when we had gone to Italy, which obviously was the way Tom Monaghan had intended. 

The big difference was that there was very little traffic or people for that matter. I certainly wasn’t complaining

The 4,000-acre town is Golf cart friendly which also just happens to be a popular mode of transportation for the community inhabitants.  (Golf cart garages are even an option for a new home here)

I found it to be a surreal little town making me feel strangely peaceful yet leaving me with an unsettling under current as we sauntered around the town centers quaint streets. As we wandered along the ‘Stepford Wives’ flashed across my mind. (A horror thriller movie about an idyllic town where the women have been turned into obedient robot housewives). Maybe I just watch too many horror flicks…

But seriously, walking around this town truly felt like I was walking around on a movie set, it was so picture perfect it just felt like a fictional town. Don’t get me wrong, I could see the real sense of community pride and the few people that we did come across were very polite and genuinely happy to see us. A family pulled up in a golf cart as we were about to get on our bikes to explore more of the town. The woman struck up a friendly conversation about motorcycling with us while she waited for her children who had gone into a store to get back. 

We continued on our bikes exploring some of the neighbourhoods . All of which have a specific designation, from family friendly to 55+ and even one for the more affluent offering luxury estate homes. Each section offering its own unique form of recreation within the neighbourhood from private golf courses to nature trails. However, most of the development is still heavily under construction and the town is only at 10% of its capacity. (That explains the lack of people)

We then drove over to the far end of the town where the recreation facilities, North Park and the Water Park is located. This area is for the exclusive use of the residents of Ave Marie. However, there is no restrictions on driving around to have a look.

A sign caught my eye on the way to check out the Water Park,
and then I noticed something in the background… 

 FYI, this is NOT the water park
The sign read – “...The feeding, harassing, or other disturbance of alligators is strictly forbidden”. Really, do you need a sign to tell you to leave an alligator alone!

the resident alligator

A Bit Of Ave Maria History  
A ‘Gated community’ that becomes a complete town ….

After a decade since its inception this small town is still not without its controversy. Ave Maria is actually a planned community based on strict Catholic ideologies. It is owned and governed by Tom Monaghan in partnership with the developer, Barron Collier Company.

When Tom Monaghan first announced his plans for the town he expressed that there would be a complete ‘ban on contraception and pornography’. He later rescinded that comment when construction got underway. To this day, some still consider the town a “religious-centric” community and “unconstitutional”.  According to the town it welcomes everyone regardless of religious denomination.

My personal thoughts after reading the opinions and stories that surround this little community and actually visiting it,  I just think that it comes down to people wanting to live within a safe community. This one just happens to have a strong Catholic presence and for some they actually like a more controlled environment in which to live.  - After all no one is forced to live there or are they…. 

Ave Maria motorcycle route

Article: Ave Maria 
Article: Ave Maria Herald 
Article: Daily Mail 
Article: Daily KOS 
Article: Wired 
Article: Wikipedia  

Cruising Through Life & Enjoying The Ride...