In January, Hoosier moto hearts yearn for warmer climes. Why not go through the effort to be in Florida for 3 days of moto adventure? That’s what nine iDesmo members set out to do on the cold and windy morning of Wednesday January 4th. The overall plan – as orchestrated by our club prez, Greg McDaniel, with help from Dave Edwards – was to trailer the bikes to and from Ocala, Florida, with 3 days of warm, sunny riding in between. In addition to planning the trip and sorting out logistics, Greg and Dave each offered up their trucks, trailers and driving skills to get us and the bikes safely to and from Ocala. Other riders were: Jonathan and Justine Hines, Eric Holloway, Jamal Malik, Don “Moose” Parish, Gavril Tsechpenakis and Dave Jenkins.
Wednesday was sunny the entire drive down to Ocala. Dave E. was a task master at the fuel stops, given his intent to miss the typical Atlanta afternoon rush hour. We managed that goal, and overall, construction and traffic were light. It was a long 900 mile drive, so we didn’t roll into Ocala until 9:30pm. Since we thrived on snacks at fuel stops throughout the day, once we checked into the hotel, we were quite happy to find the nearby Chilis still serving dinner. Not usually a great food choice, but they served up great margaritas and local craft beer!
Day 1 Ride: Ocala to Homestead
Thursday morning greeted us with a beautiful sunrise and 65 degrees. We made quick work of unloading and packing our bikes, and set out on our first day’s ride. We headed south on I-75, and after a few miles we stopped to top our tanks. Soon thereafter, Dave Edwards split away from the group to head west to the Florida National Cemetery and onward to the Gulf Coast. The group rode SE along the Lake Wales Ridge and to Green Mountain. (Yes, a mountain in Florida!) This place, at 245’ elevation, is not the highest point in Florida – that would be in the Panhandle near the Alabama border – but it does have the highest prominence in the State at 200’. As we rode past the Academy in Montverde, Greg was quick to spot an Italian café where we had lunch. We then embarked along the Green Mountain Scenic Byway and assorted local roads around Lake Apopka. Speed limits were low, but at least we were riding some curves!
From Lake Apopka we picked up US 27 and headed south toward our day’s destination, Homestead. As we rode deep into southern Florida, we approached Lake Okeechobee at Clewiston. It was fascinating that we could not actually see this famous fresh water lake from our vantage point on the highway, but rather, we could only stare up at the immense 143 mile long Herbert Hoover Levy that contains the lake. It was eerie knowing that the lake level was over 10 feet above us! We followed this magnificent levy for about 10 miles to the small town of South Bay, at which point we turned due south through vast sugar cane agricultural areas. Under a setting sun, and riding south on Ronald Reagan Expressway about 30 miles north of Homestead, Eric, Greg, Gavril and Dave J. missed the turn onto Highway 94. This move separated us from Moose, Jamal, Jon and Justine. (Jamal made the correct call!) An opportunity for a U-turn was several miles down the expressway, so we arrived at the hotel in Homestead about a half hour after the main group. That evening the group, including lone rider Dave Edwards – who rode across Alligator Alley this day – enjoyed dinner at a Cuban restaurant. Some of us were not accustomed to Cuban cuisine, so it was interesting that Gavril, who is Greek, was our expert in Cuban dining! (He was also informative on Greek food too, of course, but that’s for another time.)
Day 2 Ride: Homestead to Key West
On Day 2 we spilt into 2 groups: Dave E., Eric, Jamal, Jon and Justine headed directly for Key West, while Dave J., Gavril, Greg and Moose took a detour to Flamingo Ranger Station in Everglades National Park. Air temperatures quickly climbed to the mid-80s with ample sunshine (and humidity). The ride from the NP entrance to Flamingo point was along a two-lane road with few crossroads. This road is the southern-most pavement in mainland Florida. Since it was a weekday, traffic in the NP was light, which made for some occasional spirited accelerations. As Gavril, who lived several years in Miami, had warned us, mosquitos in the NP were unbearable. Oh well, that kept us in the saddle rather than lingering at the ranger station!
Traffic in the Keys was heavy at times, especially as each group approached Key West. Tiring of the jams, we elected to lane-split….but discovered it is not legal to do so in bicycle lanes even at 8 mph. Note to future motorists.
Dave E’s group arrived in Key West by early afternoon, while Greg’s group rolled in around 5pm. Pressure was on to get to the bustling plaza at Mallory Square in time for a famed viewing of sunset over the Florida Strait! All but Dave J., Moose and Gavril made it in time for this “must-see” experience. Later in the evening, we all met at the Half Shell Raw Bar for dinner. Afterward, we gathered near the pool at the hotel and shared a couple bottles of wine (thanks Greg!). Most everyone light up locally hand-rolled cigars, including Justine! Talk centered around anxieties of predicted next-day thunderstorms and late-day 50 degree temperatures in Ocala. There were differing tactics: leave Key West before sunrise, or wait to depart a little later in the morning.
With so much history, culture and exclusivity, we were a bit frustrated that we only had an afternoon and evening to take in as much of Key West as we could. Next time, more time in Key West!
Day 3 Ride: Key West to Ocala
On our third and final day of riding, Jon and Justine left Key West around 5:30am, while Eric, Gavril, Greg, Moose and Dave J. (middle group) left around 6:15am. Dave E. and Jamal were the last to leave around 9am. It was a clear, warm morning in Key West, but as we rode toward the mainland on Highway 1, the rising sun created a stunning fiery outline around imposing hammerhead clouds in the distant north. Each of the three groups made basically the same route choice to ride an easterly route toward Ocala to minimize the impacts of the impending cold front and the rain it was to bring. However, the middle group was splintered a few miles north of Miami when Moose, who in his typical riding manner of bringing up the rear, did not take the I-75 West exit that Eric, Greg, Gavril and Dave J. took. Turns out that Moose was on the best route, while the other 4 became destined to take I-75 west to Tampa Bay area. Well, that move added about 50 miles to our days’ ride!
Regardless of route, all of us experienced a good bit of rain and high winds during the afternoon. Temperatures dropped to 50 degrees by mid-afternoon as we approached central Florida and Ocala. Who would have thought that heated grips (which not everyone had) would be needed in Florida, even in January? We each probably were thinking of the single digit temps back home during this cold, wet ride so as to make the ride more tolerable. On a good note, at least the sun began to shine in late afternoon to offset the cooler temps.
We covered about 550 miles on this last day of riding. With the winds and rain, we all were especially ready to check-in at the hotel and prepare for dinner – and some drinks! First, we had to load the bikes to be ready for an early Sunday departure back to Indiana.
Justine and Jon made it to the hotel well before the rest of us, so they were able to scout out a nearby restaurant. (It’s really nice when someone can make an executive decision around food!) We all assembled around the bar at El Toreo, where we celebrated our shared Florida moto miles and friendships!
The Drive Home
Well, with about 1150 moto miles over the past three days, our trip was not over. Now for the 900 mile drive back to Indy! With the bikes loaded the evening before, we were ready to go around 6:30am Sunday morning. There was some concern about possibly icy road conditions between Chattanooga and Atlanta, but as it turns out, the entire route was dry and we were adorned with sunny skies. Oddly enough, it was 19 degrees when we pulled into Carter Van Lines in Zionsville – the same chilly temperature as when we left.
What a great trip! New and renewed friendships, mostly fine weather, and no accidents or bad incidents!
Many thanks go out to Carter Van Lines for staging the trailers and assorted vehicles, and especially to Greg and Dave E. for use of their trucks, trailers, and equipment – not to mention their driving a total 1800 miles.
Can’t wait until the next moto adventure with iDesmo!
Article written by Dave Jenkins – iDesmo Member