Friday, October 10, 2008

Days 3 and 4 - Ride to FLC2C Event

Today was going to be a fun, full day and I woke up early, excited to get on the road. I spent last night at a nice Holiday Inn Express in Chiefland, FL and had some great BBQ for dinner. I rode south on US 19 for a few miles, then crossed east to pick up the Suncoast Parkway (darn! Why didn't I remember to get that Sun Pass??). I took this toll road straight south to I-275 in Tampa, where I headed west across Tampa Bay to St. Petersburg. I thought the Suncoast Parkway was pretty in most places, and it sure did speed me along toward Tampa.

I had two things I wanted to get in St. Petersburg, both for the AMA Grand Tours I'm participating in. This will be the last 6 weeks before the AMA contests are over for the year. I've done diddlysquat on the AMA Italy in America Grand Tour, but have amassed a considerable amount of booty for the AMA World's Largest Grand Tour. So I headed south on 275 toward the downtown area of St. Petersburg, and got off onto 375 headed east.

This was a really pretty area, and I wandered around on the streets a little bit, just checking things out. Ultimately I headed to my first stop, The Coliseum, a really neat older building apparently still in use for what it was intended for. I pulled into the drive and let the one-way aisles take me around the back of the building and to the other side into a really pretty, shaded parking lot. The whole complex had a really neat, old-style Florida look and feel about it. I enjoyed just sitting there in the shade on my bike soaking it all in. Finally, I posed my photo, got on the bike, and wandered through the parking lot to an exit.

I found myself on a one-way street headed in the wrong direction. But with the freeway (375) running along side I had to continue until I found an underpass. Things were even prettier on the other side of the freeway and, after a few wrong turns, I eventually worked my way over to the next AMA photo opportunity at Mirror Lake Park. This was such a gorgeous "old-Florida" area! And my destination was the Mirror Lake World's Largest Shuffleboard and Duplicate Bridge Club. Just to be sure it truly was the world's largest, I rode once around the circumference of the club, amazed at all the shuffleboard courts...countless numbers, all lined up side by side for an entire block. I pulled into the parking lot and worked my way over to the sign that declares their claim as world's largest.

That done, I returned to 375 west to 275 south and prepared to cross the Skyway Bridge to Bradenton. I approached the toll plaza, wishing once again that I'd remembered to buy that Sun Pass, and came to a stop next to the toll booth. Flipping up my visor and turning down the GPS volume, I realized the woman in the toll booth was talking to me. She was a very pleasant woman, perhaps a little older than I am. "You're not going to ride that bike across the bridge, are you?" This was said more as a declaration of amazement than a real question. "Girl, you sure are braver than I would be!" This really made my day! It is a tall bridge, but we have a couple of very tall bridges right here in Houston: The Beltway 8 Ship Channel Bridge (which I think is actually steeper if not taller) and the Fred Hartman Bridge across the Ship Channel further south. So I really hadn't given it any thought. Besides, I survived riding across the Mackinac Bridge...ON THE GRATED this was nothing!

I made it across the bridge without incident (not even white knuckles or sweaty palms) and continued toward Bradenton where I would work my way west to the DeSoto National Memorial. It was along this stretch of roads that I noticed, for the first time, the shortage of Premium fuel. Not one single gas station had anything other than Regular gas. I stopped at two different stations, before deciding to just fill up with Regular and not worry about it, since the reserve light was now on and I didn't want to worry about it after leaving the park.

DeSoto National Memorial is a beautiful little park, set on a small peninsula overlooking Tampa Bay and the Manatee River. The parking lot is shaded by giant live oaks dripping with Spanish Moss. Inside the visitor center I got my National Park stamp and browsed the bookstore (of course). I asked the usual question of the park rangers: If I could buy only one book (I'm on a motorcycle and have little space) what would you recommend? This has always worked, I've never been disappointed in my book selection. They came through with an excellent book recommendation about the Spanish explorers in America. I took the time to watch the very excellent film about DeSoto and his conquistadors before walking a bit of the trail and taking some photos of the overlook and gorgeous view of the bay.

Now I would head back up to Brandon, near Tampa, get to the hotel, change into shorts and sandals, and go find some lunch. It was an easy 30-40 minutes back to Brandon and the hotel was easy to find, on a perimeter road around a large shopping mall complex. I arrived just minutes after Richard Buber, and pulled my bike up behind his Honda Dream. It's become a tradition of his to ride the FLC2C on a restored vintage bike of some flavor. Last year it was a military BSA, the year before that, a Honda CB160. This Honda Dream was gorgeous!

I went inside and got checked in, then went back out to unpack the bike and move it to a parking spot. Changed out of riding gear, I walked over to the mall and found a really nice little deli and had a sandwich and cold drink. Other riders began showing up throughout the rest of the afternoon, as did Al, the event organizer.

We had a giant group for dinner that evening at the Olive Garden, within walking distance of the hotel. Lots of photos of dinner are at my on-line photo album:

The next morning, Al had set up registration in front of the hotel and immediately the line snaked back along the driveway, and riders who lived nearby and did not stay at the hotel started arriving. It was fun to watch the bikes and riders, and to walk among them chatting. The first bikes departed around 7:40 AM or thereabouts, and the last bikes, of which I was part of, departed close to 9:00 AM, maybe even later.

The route across FL was "pure AL" with lots of zigs and zags and turns. I warned Al that I would be bailing out of his group so that I could get to the mid-point checkpoint to take photos. I found my opportunity when the route took us under I-4 and there was an on-ramp right there. With the checkpoint entered into my GPS, I let it take me to the very attactive town of Kissimmee...not the Disneyworld Kissimmee but the real, authentic, historic town center. The check point was one block off the main road but the problem was, there was an Hispanic festival going on in the park right next to the checkpoint, so all roads were blocked off. Fortunately, the couple manning the check point talked to the police, letting them know there would be a couple hundred motorcycles arriving throughout the day, so the woman manning the blockade on the street I approached from let me through.

After hanging around the checkpoint for an hour, with no arrivals, finally Ray and Joe arrived and we decided to get lunch, wandering over to the festival and scoring some excellent cuban food. At that point, the checkpoint was still very slow, so I departed with Ray and Joe to finish the ride and arrive at the final checkpoint, at a beautiful park on the Indian River in Cocoa FL. The second half of the route was definitely the best part of the ride. The last segment took us on a road along the Indian River, past some stately and gorgeous homes then into the little village of Cocoa.

We somehow were managing to stay well ahead of most of the FLC2C participants, so we hung out a bit at the final checkpoint then headed to the hotel. I was eager to get out of the riding clothes and into something more comfortable. Al's mom was there in the lobby and it was so good to chat with her again. She had 3 of her girlfriends coming and they were planning a gals' night out!

Later than evening, the riders gathered around the hotel pool for awards and door prizes. It was a wonderful, if long, day and it was so good to see so many MTF members at the event. Some I don't get to see but once a year, so this was a great opportunity to get caught up with everyone.

Tomorrow: Up the east coast to St. Augustine then home to Houston.

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