Friday, April 22, 2016

Last Ride To The Everglades, bittersweet

April 21, 2016

For my last ride of the season here in Florida I decide to revisit the Everglades. We have made this trip plenty of times, and the route to get there is always the same. (The sketchy 82 to the wind tunnel on 29). But something about this ride made it extra special. 

Maybe it was just because it was my last ride and it had me savoring each familiar mile. While at the same time made me a little sad because it also signified the end of my time here. 

From the first time I came here on a two week visit many years ago, I have always felt a special connection here.  And now it has become my home away from home, and a place where I feel like I belong. Or maybe it is just because I love the heat so much. Okay, enough with the sentimental interlude.

Click image to read History of Post Office
I had wanted to revisit the little post office on 41 in Ochopee. (Ochopee is located in the Big Cypress National Preserve that 41 cuts through). 

The last time we were there was back in 2011 when I was riding my little V-star 250. This Post Office has a bit of history behind it and is considered the smallest Post Office in the US. 

Amazingly, it has also been in continuous use since 1953.  Although when we pulled in the post master was on a lunch break and it was closed. But my real reason for wanting to stop here again was for the photo op of the Harley’s in front of it. Just an obsession of mine.

A little further up the road from the post office is one of those kitchy road side attractions. My interest was sparked a while back when I stumbled upon it on the Internet on my never ending quest to find quirky places to visit. 

The SkunkApe Research Headquarters  is run by Dave Shealy. He has spent a life time tracking a creature that lurks in the Everglades within the Big Cypress Swamp known as the Skunkape. 

According to Dave and the locals; there is a large ape-like creature that is covered with hair, stands up right and smells like a skunk. It lives in the Everglades and can be traced back to 1891. You can decide for yourself. If your so inclined you can stay at the convenient Campground adjacent to it or if you are in for a bit of adventure take one of their Adventure Tours into the Everglades. Maybe you might find the Skunkape or at least have fun trying.

Hey! The Skunkape is trying to steal my bike!

Upon entering the gift shop we were welcomed by the Skunkape's cousin. (At least that is what I assumed)

Guarding the yard was a very large panther.

As we geared up to leave, my zipper on my jacket broke. My zipper had been giving me a bit of trouble lately and I was hoping it would last until I had a chance to bring it in to get a new zipper. But as my luck would have it, as I went to zip it up the teeth pulled apart and I was left holding the pull tab. I put the pull tab in my pocket and just buttoned the top and bottom part of my jacket so we could continue on to our next stop. Not a good plan. I realized as I headed down the road that the wind catching in my jacket not only made the perfect sail for a boat it was also like getting punched by a...Skunkape as the wind buffeted on my chest.   

Such a nice guy to fix my zipper
At least we didn’t have far to travel and pulled into the HP Williams Picnic Area on Turner River Rd. 

Before we went exploring the park I wanted to see if I could fix my zipper. I fiddled around with it for awhile and gave up, resigning myself to the fact that I would have to ride all the way home feeling like at any moment I would become air born. 

Then my BF gave it a try and after a bit of work managed to get it back together again, ah my hero. I had a feeling he planned it that way, watch me struggle then step in to save the day *grin*

The last time we were at this park we had seen alligators lounging on the banks of the river, from the safety of the board walk. However the only thing we caught a glimpse of this time was a few fish in the murky water. 

Look real close you will see a bug-eyed fish or click the pic to enlarge :)

It wasn’t until we headed back along 41 that my BF caught sight of this rather large alligator. 
We turned around and stopped at the side of the road to get my ‘money’ shot. 
That was one big gator!
Close up

We thought we might head back on 841, a rural road which would eventually bring us back out onto 29. That was until we turned down it and were faced with loose gravel.

My BF was in the lead and his bike was kicking up quite a dust cloud. I hung back to minimize my dirt intake. 

About a quarter mile in we stopped at a bridge, which was the only paved portion to this road, to access our situation. A couple of cars drove by covered in a thick layer of white dust that obscured what colour the cars actually were. It was then that we decided that we were not up for another adventure ride on the Harley’s.  Well mainly it was me, I wasn’t. I had eaten enough dust in the small stretch to the bridge that I couldn’t image doing that for the next 7 miles and at speeds of less than 10 miles per hour. I am pretty sure that if I said ‘lets go for it’ he would of obliged. So we turned around and headed back the way we came along 29. 

As I rode back a melancholy descended upon me. Anyone who rides knows that of all the emotions one associates with riding, melancholy is not one of them. Exhilarating, uplifting, joy... only positive feelings, you get the idea. Even though on the surface my smile was a mile long and I was still totally in the moment of free spirited bliss that undertone was still festering there, and I couldn’t help but feel it twinge at me.

It has always brought a tear to my eye when I put my bike to bed and close up for the year. It will feel like an eternity before I get to sit in his saddle again. To feel the wind in my face and let my worries of the day get lost in those soothing tropical air currents. To feel the thrill of discovering a new road to travel on or just relish in the pure pleasure of the ride on a familiar one. 

Good-bye my sweet Sporty Blue.
Good-bye my sweet Florida.
Until we meet again...

Map Route to the Smallest Post Office, Skunk Ape Research Headquarters & HP Williams Roadside Park 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Random Thoughts On A Solo Ride

April 8-2016

I did IT and IT was Amazing! 

What was so amazing? Finally getting out on my bike for a solo ride. My first solo in Florida to be exact. Even though it wasn’t an epic ride, it was more of a notable turning point of sorts for me. 

A journey that I believe is the next step to my riding independence, while at the same time trying to discover who I am and what direction I want to go in the next phase of my life.

But first things first, I had to get my bike out of the garage. Okay, that might of been a bit dramatic. Actually, it didn’t really present that big of a problem after all. Just the minor act of moving the car and leaving it parked at the end of the driveway allowed for plenty of room to back out my bike without fear of smashing into it. With that accomplished I suited up and headed out.

I had just pulled out onto the road when my gas light came on, so it was obvious that my first stop would need to be at the gas station. As I made my way through the neighbourhood a wide grin spread across my face. It must of had an infectious effect on a few people that I saw as they each gave a big wave and had a smile as big as mine as I passed by. 

"Wheee....I feel like a celebrity!"

As I pulled in at the gas station every pump was occupied leaving me to wait for my turn behind an SUV. A few minutes went by and finally the guy whose truck it was came back to start pumping gas. (Gas stations work different here; when paying in cash, you pay first inside then fill up - unlike the trusting Canadians). Anyway he starts pumping his gas and gives me the thumbs up and says “Nice bike, is that an 883?” I nod my head and speaking loudly over the thrum of my engine say “yes”. He continues with “What a great day for a ride, hope to get out soon myself” He finishes up and gives me a big wave as he pulls away. 

“Bikers are naturally friendly folks, even when on four wheels” 

I really had no destination in mind that day, rather a direction towards those rare twisty roads that are so illusive around here. I meandered down a few side streets letting my memory serve as my road map until I came upon my target called Buckingham Road. A rare find indeed, with its swooping curves that lazily weave their way around a mix of cattle and horse ranches. Peaceful, serene, a place to loose ones self.

Even though I must of been on this same road a hundred times before with my BF over the years,  this time it was completely different. My bike was my guide and my desires were my direction.

Now that I am officially in the “middle aged” bracket I asked myself... “What the hell do I really want to do now with my life?” A glimmer of a thought started to form, then silence was the reply.

Eventually I came to The Hut restaurant and pulled in for a break. It wasn’t open yet and I had my choice of spots so I settled off to the side near a group of trees and drank some ice water from my cooler pack. 

Being here I recalled the time a couple of friends had went on a ride with us around Lake Okeechobee and stopped in here for a drink (non alcoholic of course) It was a good day. 

After my brief rest I decided to head back the way I came in order to get to another curvy road called Treeline Ave. Besides it gave me a chance to ride those curves once again. (A do-over in biker lingo) My only goal was to miss as many traffic clogged roads as possible. Along the way I missed a street I should of turned down, but soon another came along and I discovered a new road to head down. My timing was perfect to be out when I was. I managed to hit long stretches of next to no traffic giving me time to let my thoughts wander as my tension blew away in the wind.

“I am doing this, me alone, and it feels great!”

Making the turn onto Treeline Ave I was yet again travelling along a mostly deserted road. Fortresses of gated communities sprawled out along this section with their perfectly manicured lawns and private golf clubs hidden behind walls of trees. 

After crossing over Alico Road I realized how close I was to Costco and decided to make my way into the parking lot. It occurred to me as to be there I might as well grab a ‘bottle’ for my reward for when I got back home. *smile*  

A perfect fit...honest that was the smallest bottle they had.
I decided to brave a little more traffic and head back along the main routes and make a cut through town just because. 

I made one last stop at the WinnDixie to get a bag of chips to satisfy my munchie craving and crammed them into my saddle bag on top of my bottle. 

I ended up having to remove my backpack and wear it to make room for those all important chips.  Missing a few more streets (on purpose) that I could of turned down to get home, I eventually made it back in a round about way.

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, into the future.....

“If not now...when?" 

Even though my ride was only a 62 mile (99 km) ride, it proved something way more valuable than putting on miles. I proved something to myself and for that I am so proud of me. 

I realized that I can test my limits and not fear where it will take me. It allowed me to rejuvenate my soul and bring me one step closer to understanding just where and what I want to do with the remainder of my life. And of course with my spirit free to roam it cleansed my senses. Liberation is a wonderful thing. Now I can’t wait to do it again and again. 

“Random silly thoughts, hard serious questions...but in the end, isn’t it really just about the ride - maybe I just need a longer one”

Partial Route of my tour - Buckingham / Treeline Buckingham is a fairly long road and there is much more to it than the brief section I travelled on.