June 2007 - Solo Ride to Florida

I call this a trip report as opposed to a ride report because I was actually on a road trip with a definite destination, instead of just being out and about as my wife and I usually are.

Whoppie flippin' do, right? ;)

Anyway... The trip began on Wednesday, June 20th at roughly 7:30 am. For yearsI have told folks that I had a rule that I'd ride in the rain, but I won't leave in the rain. Well, I broke that one. As I rolled theNomad out of my basement workshop the sky look ominous and a few heavy drops hit the fuel tank. Heading to the local BP station to top off with Amoco's best it began to mist a little.

Damn.

After topping off the tank I went ahead and suited up in my rain gear facing the inevitable. I was going to get wet. "Well", I thought. "Maybe it won't last too long… "Ha!

I had decided that I wanted to take U.S. 301 down into Florida, then follow U.S. 27 on into Clewiston. The hitch was how to get to 301. There are numerous ways through the `woods' as I like to say to getto it, but most of those back roads appeared to be taking me way out of the way. However, in eyeballing the map it appeared that if I took I-85 to Charlotte, then I-77 to Columbia, then picked up U.S.321 and followed it to 301 I'd be going in almost a straight line due south.

"Why not?" I mused.

Oh lawdy, what a mistake.

85 in the rain wasn't too bad. Traffic was flowing pretty well and the road surface was OK. But some where along NC 49 intersection it was all stop. Then moved s-l-o-w-l-y until just a bit before the 77/85 intersection.

If I had a nickel for each of the strange looks I got…

Merging onto 77 seemed easy enough as I rounded that sharp left turn, then it bottle necked, and STOPPED. RIGHT NOW. That was when I heard the horrifying sound of tires locked up and squalling against the pavement. My fellow southerners will understand when I say I drawed up waiting for the impact. But there was none. I looked around for someone with that just messed up their pants look, but didn't see anyone, so I focused back in on the job at hand.

I was in the left hand lane, which meant I had to merge over two lanes to get onto the highway. 77 was basically a slow moving parking lot and no one seemed to be interested in letting anyone from the merge lane in. Just as I was cussing myself for my bone head decision to take this route a NC Highway Motor Patrolman on a BMWcame up beside me on the shoulder and motioned for me to follow him!

Hot damn! An escort! The Trooper then turned on his flashing blue lights and blipped the siren a time or two and it was almost like Moses parting the Red Sea. No, no one magically moved out of the way to let us by, but they damn sure all turned and looked, then held still while we eased by on the shoulder and then onto the roadway itself! Shortly we came up on an accident scene, which was no doubt where the Trooper was going anyway. As he pulled off he waved at me again as I went by. How cool was that? With the exception of one Yuppie in a Lexus on a cell phone almost joining me in my lane the rest of the ride down 77 was uneventful. Even so, it was nerve racking as heck and something I don't ever plan on doing again.

It was raining even harder as I pulled into the first rest area on 77 there about mile marker 65. Traffic was fairly light by this point, but I was miserably wet and the skys didn't look any better ahead. I stopped to call my wife and get her to go on line and get a radar view of the area so I could try and determine what was ahead of me. To be honest I was considering turning around and going back to get my car! Lovely Wife Julie had some slightly encouraging news in that it appeared to her that I would run out of the rain soon and then there was only a chance that I would get in more south of Orangeburg. Spirits lifted slightly and with the knowledge that if I turned around I'd never live it down, I soldiered on.

Her forecast was partially right, as within a few miles the rain stopped. The sun didn't come out, and the skys were gray, but at least it wasn't raining. It also wasn't long before I saw in my mirror to see three lights coming at me. A large one in the center and two smaller ones to either side. The unmistakable look of a motorcycle with a light bar. The bike eased by me, going about 5 mph faster. As the rider passed he gave me the thumbs up sign (Hey look! Another idiot riding in the rain!) and then motioned for me to `come on'. I fell out behind him and into `formation'. We rode that way all the way into Columbia, and trust me when I say we weren't letting any grass grow under us either. Sadly, he jumped offon I-20 west bound and I continued on, heading for 321.

I stopped for fuel almost immediately after getting on 321, and while pumping the liquid gold the bottom fell out. Again. It rained on me, more or less (mostly more) the rest of the day. At times it was brutal. At times it was almost nothing. But the road was wet and required my full attention at all times. U.S. 301 came up quickly enough, and happily was a good road. Not heavily traveled, in goodshape, and easy to make time on.

A couple of things I feel are worth noting. It was obvious that before the interstates were built U.S. 301 was a main north/south artery. Scattered along the route was a gaggle of old style `motor lodges' and restaurants. A few still hanging on and in business, but showing their age. Others just dilapidated shells, a sad testimony to days gone by. The other thing worth mentioning is the Georgia Welcome station at the GA/SC state line. What a cool place! I needed to stop about then to change into some dry socks and take abreak. The nice lady running the place was great, offering the use of the employee bathroom if I wanted to change clothes and to make a motel reservation down the road. She new how far it was to the state line, and the names of some good restaurants along the way. Very refreshing. She even gave me a free soft drink and offered up somefree Georgia peanuts. I left feeling good and momentarily dry.

As darkness loomed I began to try to determine where I'd stop for the night. I wasn't far from Ocala, Florida by now and that seemed like as good a place as any. I had logged 535 miles that day and roughly450 of it was in the rain. Not bad. A Travel Lodge motel appeared ahead of me, so I pulled in and asked about a room. In short order I was in a hot shower and then dry clothes. Shortly after that I had my belly full and was looking forward to a nap. Unfortunately I had only two pair of dry socks left and my boots were soaked. I spent several hours using an iron and a blow dryer trying to dry out my stuff so that they would at least be reasonably dry in the morning.

I was up early, not sleeping very well for some reason. Still keyed up about the rest of the trip I suppose. I went ahead and covered my T-bag in case of rain, but didn't suit up right away. I rode a short distance to a little place called Lady Lake, Florida where I stopped for a while to visit my sister and her husband who were visiting his mother. They would be joining me later in Clewiston so I stayed only a short while, then continued on.

Everything went well until I got to Avon Park, Florida where, you guessed it, the bottom fell out, again. I managed to get my rain gear on just as the rain caught me. But it was your typical Florida `sun shower' in which it rains like nobodies business for about 15 minutes, then the sun comes out. This happened three more times before I got to my destination.

As I have mentioned, I grew up in this little town I was headed to, and know the area intimately. Clewiston is a small town that is spilt right down the middle by U.S. 27. About 9 miles north of town there is a turn and intersection where S.R. 80 splits off from 27 continuing on towards Ft. Myers. The turn is a fairly tight (by highway standards) and has a good degree of banking to it as it was designed to accommodate traffic running at 70 mph. Going south on 27 it is a left turn and makes me think of going into turn 1 at Daytona, especially on a motorcycle. The relatively high degree of banking combined with the highway speed makes you just want to lay into the turn and wick the throttle. Unfortunately the geniuses that designed this intersection/turn have the traffic continuing on S.R. 80 exit off to the left on the north bound side of 27, crossing over and climbing the banking of the south bound side. However, the degree of the turn, combined with the banking makes it hard to see traffic coming south bound, especially a motorcycle. Then, to add insult to injury (literally) the traffic coming off 80 and wanting to go north on 27 have to cross the south bound lane at the exact same point,then merge into the fast lane on 27. We have always called this turn "The Monster" and I have had several friends killed or injured in this spot over the years.

I was dreading this one turn for 200 miles.

As I came up to the turn running about 65 mph looking ahead (like all good riders do) I noticed a pick up coming north getting into the turn lane for S.R. 80, AND an SUV poising itself off 80 wanting to go north on 27. It's probably been 5 years or more since I've been on this road, and over 30 years on a bike, and here I was heading right into the jaws of the monster. I backed off, got ready to brake and kept my eyes on both vehicles, yet the turn is sharp enough and banked enough that you have to watch your position in the turn as well. To be honest, I don't know what I would have done besides crash if the vehicles would have moved. If I would have turned left down the banking I would have been in the median immediately and in a situation like you see the NASCAR boys getting into when they come off the banking onto the apron of the turn. If I would have turned right I would have headed up the banking and launched off the turn like Fireball Roberts did many years ago at Daytona, and into a sugarcane field. Fortunately everybody held still and I just rode through the turn.

It was still early when I got checked into my motel room, so I showered and watched some TV. A little later I walked down to the restaurant and lounge, had a burger and a couple of tall cool ones, then crashed by 8:30.

The visit went well and we all had a good time being with each other and taking in the local sights. Sunday morning came around to soon and I had to head back for home.

The easiest thing to do was to go back the way I came, so that's what I more or less did. I did take a couple of detours to see some places that I hadn't seen in a while, adding about 30 miles to the overall trip.

Surprisingly it didn't rain a drop on me the whole way back. The first day I rode 500 miles to Statesboro, Ga., then got up the next day and rode on in. This time though, I got on U.S. 601 north of Orangeburg and rode it all the way to well north of Charlotte where it intersects I-85. The only `interesting' things that occurred being when I came up on the end results of a high speed chase between a suspect and local Sheriffs deputies, and on a section of four lane when an old man was coming south on the north bound side. Both of these incidents happened with enough line of sight and warning (thanks to my CB radio on the bike) that I was able to react well ahead of time and were no real big deal.

All in all it was a great trip, and one I would do again. In fact, it wet my whistle for more `distance rides'. I think I'm now at a point where when I have a trip to make I'm going to have to be shown why I can't take my bike, instead of just thinking it might be fun to take it.

Bruce