The trip was set for May 4, 2002 and the time was approaching. I was like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. I could not sleep well, concentration at work was very difficult and performance was pretty low. All I kept doing was looking at the calendar and reading the Valkyrie message boards. Anything to pass the time and make the beginning of the adventure come quicker.
The night before a few of us got together at Maggie McFly's. The Rabbai and Chris, the ClueCollector, Holmes, Botman, Orca, myself and Trudy proceeded to partake in some food and libations. A really good time with friends although not without its exciting moment.
To be able to get together, I needed to have someone pick up my son Steven at his soccer practice. The plan was that we were going to drop him off and my other son Travis would pick him up at 7:00 pm. We called Travis a little after 7 to make sure that he picked up Steven but no answer. Called again a little while later and still no answer. Finally got through and he told me that Steve was not at the field and did not pick him up. My heart just about stopped. So off I fly home frantically calling home to see if Steve had left a message. None. Now I'm just about to lose it when Travis call's and said Steven was home. The coach had waited for Travis to show up but finally gave Steve a ride home when he did not. Seems my boy Travis pulled another of his "wait until the last possible minute" acts and traffic caused him to be about 15 minutes late. He got quite an earful when I got home. All in all everything turned out okay, but not the way to spend the last moments before a trip.
After Maggie's I went home and packed the Valk to that I would be ready in the morning and not be rushing around. I made sure that I had everything, twice in fact. Then came the tough part of trying to sleep.
Sleep finally did come but I awoke early. No sense trying to go back to sleep so I got up and rechecked everything: tire pressure, headlight aim, etc. Anything to make another hour passed. Finally, I could wait no more and kissed Trudy goodbye and headed off to the Rabbai's house at around 6:30.The Rabbai and Orca were just about ready as well. We had a little chit chat and were grinning like Cheshire cats. Chris remarked that driving 15K+ miles for two days in the sun was crazy. Yup, we laughed and got ready to leave.
So we were on our way. A little chilly but we soon knew that the sun would be up and it would be warmer. Off we headed down I-84. Man it felt good to finally be riding. We took I-684 down to the Saw Mill River parkway. Nice piece of road in the morning with curves that feel great at about 70. Over the Tappan Zee bridge and onto the Garden State parkway heading for our first fuel stop. Both for the Valk's and for Orca. He was hungry. After stuffing our faces Orca was still hungry. It just so happened that I had a box of strawberry Pop Tarts in the trunk and one package later and the food monster was satisfied for now.
We flew down the Garden State and then onto the New Jersey Turnpike and into Delaware. The riding was spirited to say the least. Then came Maryland and DC. Now things became really interesting. 90 to 100mph through the Beltway. It was like being in a Grand Prix race. In and out, left lane, right lane, center lane, what ever was open. The power of the Valk made it effortless to quickly squirt through holes and into open spaces. Another amazing sight was two four wheelers keeping up with us.
Again more spirited riding through Virginia. At about Richmond, we notice the traffic building up and I heard on the radio that one of the highways had been closed. The NASCAR race was to run that night and people were heading to the track. So many people that the highway needed to be closed. Fortunately not I-95, however. Around then it started to sprinkle and the sky was looking a little ominous but the rain held off for a while. The radio said that they were going to try to get the race in, so I was hopeful that the rain would hold off for us as well. Unfortunately we were heading south at quite a speed and this was where the rain was occurring.
A little while later, it began raining in earnest. We stopped for fuel and Orca and Rabbai decided to changed into their rain gear. I had my leathers on and they had been conditioned with water repellent so I figured I would just wear these. The rain did not look that heavy and I had worn them on the first Iron Butt last year at this time in about 7 hours of rain and did not get too wet so I figured what the hell. Bad choice as it turned out. Later my leathers were completely soaked and I think I probably had a half inch of water in my boots.
Rabbai has a Frogg Togg rain suit of some sort. Seems to be a one piece outfit with with suspenders. Pretty large in fact. Well, he took this out and was unfolding it and Orca looked over and said "Randy, what did you do, bring your bike cover?". I nearly burst a gut laughing and in fact for the next couple of hours I would periodically remember this and start to chuckle once again. This help during the next several of hours.
It rained off and on but not too heavy the next few hours. Within North Carolina, the "South of the Border" signs provided some amusement. Every couple of miles or so another one appeared. Then South Caroline came along with actually seeing "South of the Border". At one fuel stop, we decided we would try to hit Savannah and stop for the night.
The weather would have a different say, however. It soon started to thunder and lightning and water was coming down in buckets. We slowed down and tried to continue but visibility went to nothing so we pulled under an overpass and waited for it to slow down. Pretty scary being about 3 feet from the lane with tractor trailers and cars blasting by with very poor visibility. After a while, we decided to push on. More gallons of water and another overpass and we decided to find the next place to stay and call it a night. Luckily we spotted a sign for Knights Inn that was 12 miles away. On we slogged to it. When we got to the exit I thought that the Rabbai was going to pass right on by and my stomach got a sinking feeling, but at the last moment I saw his directional and off I-95 we went.
Santee South Carolina was our stop for the night. We picked this motor inn because it has a "free hot breakfast" included. Turned out to be not such a great deal but we were definitely happy to be getting out of the rain. We got three separate rooms, primarily because they did not have hair dryers but we figured that with the heating units we could dry out or boots and other clothing and the price was pretty low at $27 for the night. After getting some dried clothes on we went to the lounge and had a couple of beers. Pretty small lounge being bartended by a couple of kids actually. We were the only ones there and laughed and talked for a while and then hit the hay.
Day one was 780 miles give or take a few. Not too shabby.
The next day proved to be much better as far as the weather was concerned. Overcast but no rain. This definitely improved the mood. We were supposed to meet George, the Rabbai's brother-in-law sometime later in the day, but we were ahead of schedule so we called and told him we would get in touch around noon to figure out where to rendezvous. So on we went.
Georgia was just a blur. Orca took the lead and hammered down. Average speed was 100mph. At one point, the Rabbai pulled up along side and said "You said you wanted to see what it would do, so do it". So off I went, twisting the wrist for all it was worth. 127mph indicated and she started to sputter. Maybe a little more in her, but I was satisfied. We hit the Florida Welcome Center right at noon and stopped to call George. At some point, the Rabbai asked if we could keep the speeds down since he wanted to spend the next couple of days in Key West and not in jail. Imagine him asking to keep the speeds down!
While resting and what not, we meet another Valk rider. A black Interstate. Nice guy who was meeting up with his wife who was heading down from Richmond. We talked and shot the bull and he gave us a warning to watch out speed through the construction in Jacksonville area. The best part though was his license plate. "Hog Eater". Pretty cool.
We decided to meet up with George at Vero Beach a couple of hours later. So we cruised on down though Daytona, Titusville, etc. At one point, we passed this guy and girl on the side of the road with their Harley. A few minutes later they were up behind us and then he proceeded to blast by us with his straight pipes blaring. The girl on the back was just barely holding on as there was not much of a seat. Both the Rabbai and I had the same idea that he was trying to show us up so off we went in pursuit. The Harley was weaving in and out of pretty thick traffic with reckless abandon. At about 110mph, traffic closed up on us and we had to slow it down. We caught him and we would have taken him, but damn that bike was moving. A little later we spotted a group of Harleys in the grassy area of an off ramp and our Harley guy joined them. They were all dressed up with rockers and what not so it was probably not a good idea to continue to mess with them anyways.
We fueled up and were heading to Vero Beach to meet George. We met a couple of Harleys at the gas station. One of the guys told us he was originally from up our way but now lived down in southern Florida. He said that a while ago they were on a mission to find a hill to ride on. Boy is is flat down there. When we told him we had rode down from New England he said that he had once ridden down from Saratoga NY on a 1940 something Nucklehead but that it had taken him 7 days. Broke down in Philadelphia, broke down in DC, you get the picture. We all had a good laugh at this.
Back cruising along I see this piece of something flying over Orcas bike. Rabbai was in the lead. I duck and imagine that someone's tire is coming a part up ahead. The Rabbai makes for the breakdown lane and we follow and come to a stop. Come to find out, he put his credit card in his shirt pocket and buttoned it up. Seems it somehow made its way out and drifted tantalizing in front of him in the vortex created by the fairing, but he could not grab it and then it just hit the air stream and blew away and landed somewhere on I-95. There was no way that we could go back and find it with traffic rushing along at 80 to 90mph, so he called his wife and had the card canceled. Fortunately he had another with him.
We met up with George at Vero Beach on an off ramp. George had rented a 2002 Goldwing. Bright yellow. He had on a Joe Rocket riding suit. Black. Looked like a bumble bee. We stopped for fuel again and tried to decide whether to stop for the night in Palm Beach or head on down to the Miami area. It was finally decided to head on down past Miami to Homestead so off we went.
The ride down to Homestead was pretty brutal. It was hot, much construction, and quite a few accidents. People must have fallen asleep at the wheel since its a straight road and these were single car accidents with the cars quite crunched. On down though Miami we went. Quite a few people pulled up and gave us the thumbs up sign. I remember one convertible with about 5 or 6 kids in it pulling along side and waiving at us.
In Miami, I-95 ended and we dropped off onto US-1. We traveled this for quite a while from stop light to stop light. Orca and I got caught at a light with the Rabbai and George heading on. Beside us was one of our Spanish buddies dancing and grooving to some Latino music in the car beside us. I looked over to Orca and said "Hit it when it turns green". The light turned and we kicked it. Unfortunately, I was in 5'th gear and when absolutely nowhere. How embarrassing but I quickly got down to first and blasted away. About 80mph before the next light stopped us. Our buddy next to us just laughed and gave us the thumbs up.
We continued on down to Homestead where low and behold we found the restaurants of all restaurants: The Long John Silvers. If any knows the Rabbai, they know this is his favorite place to eat. For me its okay, but to watch him its like he is reaching the Holy Grail. So we had a bite to eat here. Right next door was a Fairfield Inn, so we decided to see if they had rooms and how much and spend the night. They did, not too much, so we did.
After getting our rooms, I walked over to a gas station and bought a few brews to relax with. While we were sitting outside the rooms in some plastic lawn chairs, along comes this cute southern lady looking for ice. Orca also wanted some ice but the ice machine near us was tapped out, so off he goes following this lady around the inn looking for ice. When he was coming back, George and I said we should get a picture of him wandering around with the lady and her kids. So I jokingly hollered over to Orca that damn that was a fine picture that I just took. Boy did he get pretty flustered and said there is no way that anyone is going to see that picture! We just laughed and kidded Orca about that the rest of the tip. We finished a few brews and called it a night.
Day two was about 650 miles give or take a few.
The night before I was hearing a ticking sound with the Valk and I thought it was the exhaust. I had recently changed the rear tire and dropped the exhaust as per the manual in doing so. I put in new copper header washers and I thought that maybe these had compressed a little more and I had a loose header nut. Boy was I right. All of the nuts that were left were loose, one nearly about to fall off. Unfortunately, one already did and was gone. I was a little bummed out. I tightened the others and then looked to see if there was a Honda dealer in the area. There was one in Homestead proper, but that was back a ways. So we figured we would either find a hardware store down the road or maybe a Honda dealer in the Keys. If not we would hit a Honda dealer on the ride home.
We had breakfast at Denny's, one of Orca's favorites. He had "Moons over My Hammy", how appropriate. I had a little scare in the parking lot in that I could not find my key. The Rabbai is saying "your shitting me, right?" and I'm looking through all my pockets and even back in the restaurant. I came back out and thought I was going to have to break out the spare, but there it was, in the ignition. The Rabbai was just messing with me since I was giving him a hard time about not knowing where his key was. Good one.
Since we were quite ahead of schedule, we took our time and traveled slowly down the Keys toward Key West. I was keeping my eyes open for hardware stores or Honda dealers. Plenty of hardware stores, no Honda dealer, but a Harley dealer along the way. Orca spotted this Orca statue on the side of the road so we had to turn around so that he could get a picture of it and him.
We continued our slow pace down the Keys. In Deer Key, the Rabbai was all eyes looking for a real Key Deer. These are endangered deer that only inhabit this Key and are extremely small but from what he tells me quite friendly. During his last trip he had one actually eat carrots out of his hand. With a speed limit of 35mph through the whole key, he was able to spend quite a lot of time gazing and looking for one of these creatures. Unfortunately, there was a lot of road construction in this area as well and we did not see any.
We continued down through each Key until we came to Key West. We were quite early, about 12pm if I remember right, but we went to the hotel anyways to see if we could check in early. The Rabbai came out and said our rooms were 141 and 142 and everything was set. Off the the rooms we went and unpacked a little. Off went the long pants and boots and on when shorts and sneakers.
Now for a little ride around the island. We wanted to find the Southern Most Point so we headed down US-1A clockwise around the island. Orca had a camcorder mounted on his bike and was filming this part of the adventure. We eventually found the Southern Most Point. I was a little behind getting there because of getting stuck as some lights, but we parked write in front of the monument. There were quite a few people around taking pictures and it was a little congested in this area. The Rabbai broke out his tripod and camera and the rest our cameras and we took a few pictures and chatted with some of the others down there.
Many people stopped by to take a look at our bikes parked there and asked us questions. One couple mentioned that could not believe we had ridden all the way down from New England and that "they were too chicken and trailored our bikes to Miami and rode them here". We then sought out "Mile Marker 0" on US-1. Just down a few blocks from the Southern Most Point. We repeated the picture taking here.
We asked this Blond walking down the sidewalk if she could take our pictures, but she seem quite upset that she would have to "take every thing off" and all. Darn, she just meant her headset for her CD player. She finally did take our pictures. Quite a looker but nearly a 0 on the intelligence and personality scale.
On down to Duval Street, the main drag in Key West, we went. The Rabbai took a sudden left through a street that was marked "Authorized Vehicles Only". I decided that I did not want a ticket and went straight with George and Orca following. At the next block we waited to see the Rabbai again, but nothing. A little while later he walks around the corner and motions to us to come on down. Now we need to pull a U-turn in the street and head on back down. Orca turns around and then George starts to but a car comes out of a side street and he hits his front brakes while completely turned. We all know what happens then. Yup, down on the side the Goldwing went. George looked a little flustered and was trying to right the Wing. I jumped off the Valk and went over and told him I knew how to get it up. The bike that is. So I put my ass into it and lifted on the handle bars and seat and up she came. Then George could not get the Wing to start. I remembered about the tip over switch and told him to turn it off then on and it fired right up. Away we went to park the bikes. I should have remembered that the Rabbai new what he was doing like usual and had found a bike only parking area for us to park in.
So we parked and then started waking around town. We went to a jewelry store called Abaco Gold. Part of the deal with being able to go to Key West was that I had to bring Trudy home something. Now she wanted a Horse from Ocala, but I figured there was no way to pack it on the Valk and plus, where would I keep it at home. So jewelry seemed to fit the bill. The ladiess running the place were quite helpful with what they termed "trip insurance". So I bought Trudy a nice pair of gold flower earings with little diamonds in them. The others were looking around as well. Orca almost was convinced into buying a necklace for about $1K but he said that his wife would kill him if he did.
It was getting later in the day and we needed to eat so we asked and found a restaurant. The Rabbai wanted to try Conch so we ordered some of that and he also wanted to have some "Flipper" so he ordered dolphin. All had a pretty good lunch. We were asked by the waitress about desert but passed because the Rabbai wanted some Key Lime pie. So we left and then proceeded to try to find the a place called the Blond Giraffe which was supposed to have the best Key Lime pie. We finally ended up walking and finding it.
The funny part is when the Rabbai ordered the pie. He told the girl that he wanted one pie and two forks. George and I were going to pass on the pie. The girl said "what?". "One pie and two forks". "What?" came the response again. "One whole Key Lime pie and two forks". She could not believe it but they got the pie and two forks and then we went and sat down out back at a table. George and I just sat there and watched as the Rabbai and Orca devoured the whole pie. The girl really could not believe that just the two of them were going to eat the whole pie so she brought George and I forks but we only had a bite each. Very good Key Lime pie indeed.
When left the Blond Giraffe and started walking down the streets. Along the way to the Blond Giraffe, we passed a pizza place and Orca looked like he was nearly in heaven. After the pie we walked passed the pizza place again and Orca hollered to the Rabbai to come with him. A few minute later out comes Orca with a slice of pizza. The Rabbai had refrained and told Orca "Your my hero". Here is a guy who had lunch, a half of a Key Lime pie, and a slice of pizza in less than a half an hour.
We hit the Hog's Breath Bar and had a few brews. Orca shows up a little while later and I look over and he's high-five'ing the bartender at the other bar. Having a grand old time with her and boy was she a looker. It was like he new her from somewhere, but claims he did not. First the lady at the inn and now the bartender. A regular stud muffin this Orca. We proceeded to give him some shit about this and kid him around about how these pictures were going to come out good as well.
After some more wandering around and checking out stores and people we headed back to the hotel and hit the pool for a while. About 9:30 I was ready to call it a night but Orca comes in and says him and the Rabbai are heading out back to the strip. Now the joke is that Orca hollers out and tells the Rabbai that I'm in bed with the covers pulled up around my neck watching Judge Judy. Actually I was watching Everyone Loves Raymond. Anyways, I jump out of bed and off we go back to the strip.
We park the Valks and wander up and down the strip. We hit Sloppy Joe's for a brew and then off to Margaritaville for a Margarita. A very large fellow was playing some blues on the guitar and singing a song with something to do with food. Hungry man blues or something similar. How appropriate. Excellent sounds however. We cruised around some more and then the Rabbai and Orca got a bite to eat. More food for the boys. The Rabbai checks into getting booked on a trip over to the Dry Tartugos, a civil war era penal colony about 90 miles west of Key West in the middle of the gulf. The Rabbai is somewhat of a history buff with the civil war in particular. The guys says that they will call around 8:00am the next day to let him know if they are booked or not. We decide to call it a night and head back to the hotel but it is such a beautiful night about 75, clear sky, and so peaceful and relaxing just riding. The Rabbai mentions something about taking a longer ride but on such a small island this is not possible. I mention that Miami is only 155 miles away but fortunately we think better of it and hit the hotel.
Day 3 is about 140 miles, with about 5 miles in the last 10 hours but damn it was a good time.
The next day we are waiting to hear about the trip to the Dry Tartugos. Rabbai and George were planning on going. It's about $200 for the seaplane flight and tour and Orca and myself are going to pass. The guy calls but they are booked. So now what do we do. I suggest that we rent jet skies and go screw around on those. We go down to the nearest rental place and check out the prices. $75 for an hour to screw around in a 10 square mile area or $125 for a 2 hour guided tour around the whole island and then left over time to screw around in the 10 square mile area. We decide to go for the 2 hour tour and make a time for later in the day.
I had found the address of a Honda dealer on Key West and I wanted to stop by and see if they had a header nut. So of we went to find the Honda dealer. We found the street and pulled up. It says Kawasaki on the outside but I see a Hondaline sign inside. Orca is looking for a Vista Cruise as well. So we go in. Papers and stuff everywhere. I guess on the island filling papers and keeping track is a little more laid back than I'm used to. Anyways, I tell the guy what I need and he looks a little perplexed and says that he might have a used one. I said okay and off he goes to find one. He comes back with a couple of acorn nuts but these are not the long slender ones that are the header nuts. I tell him and off he goes. He comes back a few minutes later and has 2 nuts that look like they will fit. The bike is blazing hot so I take them out and match them up but not put them on. I tell the guy that I will take them. I get a little ribbing about losing my nuts and being nutless and what not. We have a good chuckle. They dealer has a Vista Cruise but it is not the one Orca is looking for so he passes on it and we head out.
There is still quite a little time between now and the time for the jet ski ride but we decide to head back and see if we can go out earlier. The guy says no problem and we proceed to fill out forms and leave deposits in case we take the jet skis to Cuba and sell them. We get suited up with life vests and dead man cords and then the instructions for use on the jet ski's. Things like no steering if no throttle, 300 feet distance between jet skis, and the good one of where the fire extinguisher is. Yeah, like we're going to fight a fire on these things. The owner asks if we've ever been on jet ski's before and we say no. He says its as much fun as you can have as sex but still have you cloths on.
It's really sunny and we've got our swim trunks on bare feet for Orca, George and I. The Rabbai thought enough to bring wet footwear. We set out on the tour with one guide in front and one in the rear. The guide in the front is from Italy. A young guy but funny and speaks pretty good English. So we head out and the guide gives us some instructions on stopping and tests our skills a little in the calm area. The Rabbai gets off his to see if he can get back on and damn he almost could not. Fortunately most of the area around the island is about 3 feet deep so he is able to get back on. We then head over to an old submarine base and checkout the fingers where the subs used to park. Getting there we really opened the jet skis up. Ours are 750's and the guides have 1200's. In any case, these things really move.
We then pass around the tip and head out into open water. The seas have 4 to 5 feet swells out in the open past the reef. Here is where it really gets fun. We blast off following the guide to another part of the island towards the Southern Most Point. I'm behind someone, maybe Orca. I mash on the throttle and blast off. I'm holding on so tight that my hands hurt and I'm thinking that I could not let go of the throttle even if I wanted to. I get the crap pounded out of me. Sort of like riding a bucking bronco. Spray is hitting me in the face and every once in a while I'm worried that I might be hung out a little too far as the jet ski launches from one swell top and nose dives into the next. But what the hell, I'm only going to do this once, so I keep it hammered down. Orca later tells me that at one point I have the jet ski completely airborne and he could see the horizon underneath. We get to the next stopping point and my arms and hands are aching and my legs are quivering. The others seem to be in the same state.
Further runs through the open ocean to various points around the island follow and then we enter calm waters again inside the reef. We pass by the cruise liners at the dock and zip by with people watching down from above. Orca said that when he went on a cruise he would watch the people on jet skis down below and thought it looked like fun. Now he had the other perspective of looking up at the people on the ships and yes it was fun.
We had about 40 minutes left to screw around in the free riding area. The guide pointed out the boundaries for us and turned us loose. Over the next few minutes you could see the confidence boost in riding the machines. I started screwing around with tight turns and could get the machine to spin almost in place with the nose slightly diving into the water. I went over and yelled to Orca to "watch this!" and proceeded to show him. Did the spin and promptly nearly rolled the jet ski and fell off into the water. Pretty embarrassing but it was quite fun. Back on and I went. We continued horsing around the remainder of the time in which I was off the machine again and George rolled off his at least once.
Time was over and back to the docks we went. When we got there I could hardly stand up. My legs felt like jello and the muscles were quivering. That was when I also noticed that I had toasted my feet, my thighs, and my head from the sun. This was going to hurt. Back to the hotel and then out from some lunch at a steak place. After eating the Rabbai needed a nap, he's getting along in years after all. George and myself went to the pool to cool off and have a few drinks.
After the Rabbai snoozed it was back to the strip we went. More wandering, shopping for tee shirts and such and drinks to be drunk. It was a little before 6pm and the special areas on Duval street for bikes to park were not open until 6 so we parked all for bikes in a parking space and walked. The Rabbai and Orca ended up going into a jewelry store and both bought something for their missus. The bikes were quite a ways away and it was now after 6pm so I suggested moving the bikes down to around Sloppy Joe's area. We walked back to the bikes and got there just in time to see a local official finish putting parking tickets on the bikes. Seems the meter expired and I don't remember anyone putting anything in it. $20 each for a total of $80 for having an expired meter. Does not seem quite right that all 4 bikes got tickets even though we were using only one parking space but I'll send my $20 in. The others, well...
We moved the bikes and wandered around. Orca got us Southern Most Point pins for our vests and I put it on. I suggested to the Rabbai that Orca needed a bell for his Valk so we wandered around trying to find one. While doing so, we stopped across the street and watched as person after person stopped and gawked at the 3 Valks and the Wing. George was playing with some of the people in that when they got close to the Wing he would hit his remote and flash his lights. We were across the street laughing at their reactions. Many people stopped by to ask questions and comment on the Valks. It felt pretty cool. The island is full of scooters that you can rent and ride around. I do believe that we had the largest scooters riding around the island though.
A few more beers and walking and getting tee shirts and stuff and then back to the hotel. On the way we stopped at Wallgreens and got some Solarcain and some beer. The sunburns were really kicking in and Orca was in some serious pain. George, the Rabbai, and myself went to the pool and hot tub had a few and unwound and then called it a night when the hotel attendant kicked us out at 11pm.
Day 4 was about 5 miles on the Valk and about 40 miles on the jet ski.
The next morning at 8 am I could hardly move. My thigh muscles would not cooperate and walking was a chore. The sunburn on my feet and my thighs only added to the misery. And yet we had long way to travel as we were heading for home. The others were in the same shape. We looked like 4 cowboys who had just ridden across Texas. Our legs were bowed and getting on the Valk was nearly impossible. 2 hours on the jet ski had kicked our asses. And to think those guides do that day in day out and probably a couple of times a day. Much better at that then I am but then again, I'd like to see them ride 3.5K miles on a Valk and see how they would feel. Probably not bad, come to think of it because it is such an awesome machine.
But we had to go so we loaded up on Motrin and others and packed our bags and set out back down the keys towards Homestead.
The plan was that we would held across the western part of Florida along the Tami Ami trail through the Everglades and then up the western cost of Florida. George would ride up with us and then head over at the I-4 interchange to Orlando to drop off the Wing. The rental place closed at 5pm so he need to be there before then.
It took much longer than expected to travel back down the Keys to the mainland. Probably this was the same amount of time to head from the mainland to Key West, but then we were excited looking and watching each new point of interest as it came along. This morning we were leaving paradise and starting to head towards home. One half the trip was over. We did not reach the Tami Ami trail area until noon or a little after. At this point, it was decided that George would not have enough time to travel with us and still return the Wing on time so we split up with him. He would head East on the Tami Ami trail and then head up the Florida parkway to Orlando. We would head West on the Tami Ami trail and then up the West cost. We would meet up with George again at his house in Dayton Maryland sometime on Friday. We would be riding there and George would be flying home the next morning.
So we parted ways. The Tami Ami trail heads across the Everglades. We took it slow and easy so we could look for alligators. We saw half a dozen live ones and a couple of dead ones. The Everglades was not as marshy as I expected but I guess that they are feeling the effects of a drought like many other parts of the country. The Tami Ami trail is one of the straightest roads that you will ever find. It just disappears into the horizon as point. We stopped at a couple of Indian reservation area stores. Orca was looking for an alligator head for his son. The first store did not have any so we went alone until we found the second.
By this time I really was thirsty and needed a drink anyways so I was glad for the break. We went into the store but no one was around at first. Then in walks this guy that I can only describe as looking like Crocodile Dundee. No shirt on, dust hat, looking like he just came from the outback. I bought and ice cream and a drink and hung out outside while the Rabbai and Orca looked around. Orca got his alligator head. It was about 2:30pm or so and we needed to get on our way. Mr. Dundee looked in amazement when we told him we would be stopping someplace in Georgia for the night. "Tonight?" he asked. Yep, sometime tonight. He came outside and looked over the Valks and asked some questions and chatted for a little while but then we headed on.
We finished the Tami Ami trail and then hit I-75 and head north on Florida's gold cost. What a long hot ride. Up through Ft. Myers, Sarasota, Tampa. We stopped in Ocala for fuel again and rested a little. The sun and the heat was taking its toll not to mention the fact that each time it was a major effort getting on and off the Valk. I started using the passenger floor board and climbing on the Valk while it was on the side stand instead of trying to swing my leg over.
Through Gainseville and further north on I-75 we went. Another fuel stop. This time Orca needed fuel for his body and had a small snack of a sub and a small pizza. I loaded up on Poweraide. The Rabbai said he was done and that he would like to stay right there. The sun was brutal. Staying in the shade for a few minutes more seemed like heaven.
But on we went. Our goal for the night was Valdosta, Georgia. In north central Florida the highway had a few bends and hills to break the monotony. And the sun was setting. We kept on cruising. I took the lead and had Orca keep tabs on the Rabbai. I was worried that he was having trouble every time that I saw him drop back but it turned out he was playing with his Garmin-V GPS. Finally we hit the Georgia border and then Valdosta was in our sites. I asked the Rabbai where he wanted to stop and he said maybe on the other side of town. He then took the the lead and started cruising. I though Orca was going to cry as we passed restaurant after restaurant and hotel after hotel. He pulled up along side me and asked if the Rabbai knew where he was going. I said that I thought so. The sun setting seemed to give the Rabbai his second wind. We passed right through Valdosa and continued on. Finally we stopped in Adel Georgia for the night at a Days Inn.
The Rabbai said he wanted a steak and Orca was hungry as well. The problem was that all of the restaurants were closing at 10pm and it was 9:45pm now. I forgot my helmet in the room and Georgia is a helmet law state so I told the Rabbai that I was not going to eat and to get going. He zoomed off but left Orca standing. Orca said something like I guess I'm not going and I told him that the Rabbai probably misunderstood when I said I was not eating and just left not thinking that Orca was going as well. I told Orca where the Rabbai was going and off he went. I think we were all pretty frazzled and drained and a little irritable at that point. I headed to the room for a long shower and some needed sleep.
The next day, Orca told me the story in which the Rabbai went to the Western Sizzler. They were not too happy since they were almost closing. The Rabbai ordered just a steak but they did not understand what kind of potato and salad he wanted. He had a tough time getting it through their translation units that all he wanted was the steak. Orca walked in at 10pm and now they were really pissy. Randy looked over at Orca and said "I'm in Hillbilly Heaven". I still laugh when I think about this. Orca ended up at Burger King and had similar troubles in trying to order his food.
Day 5 was about 680 long hot hard miles.
The next morning we were still extremely sore from the jet ski ride. Walking up stairs to my room and to knock on Orca's door was quite a chore but coming down the stairs was even worse. We had some breakfast at IHOP. A breakfast buffet which suited Orca just fine. We saddled up and were on our way.
Our plan for this day was to head up I-75 to Cleveland Tennessee and then take US-64 over to Rt. 129 and run Deals Gap from East to West and stop somewhere around Knoxville Tennessee. So we cruised. And cruised. And cruised some more. Damn, the western side of Georga is big. 300 something miles up through. Atlanta was fun, however. We were cruising about 15 to 20mph faster than the rest of the traffic. It felt like an F-16 fighter pilot traveling through the city. But I know it was a F6 pilot which is just as good. This seemed to be the safest way through the city. At one fuel stop a guy come over and was almost drooling over the Valks. Said that's what he wanted and Orca said so buy one. He mumbled something about alimony and child support. Damn it made me feel lucky having the girl.
Finally we reached Tennessee and the Cleveland area. And it started to rain. Dark thunderstorm clouds around. Not hard rain, but it looked like any moment that the sky would open up and dump on us. We pulled off to get fuel and Orca and myself donned our rain gear. The Rabbai took the chance that the rain would stop and just put on a long sleeve shirt. I figured that if I put on my rain gear then it probably would not rain. We continued up I-75 until we found the US-64 interchange and pulled off. Instead of going right we turned left. What the hell, I thought. Orca needed some fireworks and there was a huge fireworks store just a few hundred feet down the road. While there, a black and red Interstate comes zooming off the off ramp and pulls into the gas station right next door. We stop and chat for a while with him. He's from Maryland on his way to Atlanta and had just been to Key West a couple of weeks before. He says that this is the first time that he has seen so many Valks in one place. Imagine that, only 4. He says that his Valk does not use much oil. We said what do you mean? He says he had a Kawasaki before this and it used about a quart every thousand miles or so. The Valk using oil? Not!!!
I mention that it's getting pretty late and that we need to get heading. It's about 4:30pm and we still need to get to Topton, North Carolina to hit Rt. 129. I'd really like to do Deals Gap in the daylight. So off we go. US-64 is quite a nice road with some twisties and great scenery. In parts it divided highway and others is two lane road. Along the way is the Cherokee National Forest. This looks like a nice area to explore in the future. The Rabbai mentions that maybe we should stop and stay in Topton and do Deals Gap in the morning. The roads are drying and I said that if its dry and still daylight we should make a decision when we get to Topton and that if everything is okay I would like to do it today and not wait until tomorrow because who knows what tomorrow might bring. Rain was always a possibility. We agree and continue on.
When we get to Topton, we could not stay if we wanted to. Just a very small town. We would have to back up a few towns to find a place to stay if we wanted to. So when we hit the Rt. 129 interchange we turn and cruise on. The road is a little twisty but I'm thinking I'm not that impressed. We don't see a sign for Deals Gap but the Rabbai assures me this is the way and asks what I think of Deals Gap so far. Not impressed as of yet. We continue along until we come to this dam which is pretty impressive. A passing rider stops and chats for a bit and says that this is the end of Deals Gap. Now I'm thinking that we've already been through it and I'm really getting bummed. After a few pictures its back on the Valks and away we head.
Now I'm noticing that the road is quite a bit more twisty. I'm in the lead and off I'm zooming up the hills and around the corners. I'm concentrating on hitting the corners properly and I zoom right past a little store on the side of the road and never do see the sign. I look back a few hundred feet later and see the Rabbai and Orca have turned into the store so I bang a u-turn and head back down myself.
And there it is. The sign that reads "Deals Gap". This is the motorcycle store that the ClueCollector told me on the phone about earlier in the day. He said it was a place we could hold up for a while at if it was raining. We take a bunch of pictures and then head into the store.
The store is quite impressive. Lost of accessories, riding gear, shirts, even a dyno on the premises. There is also a motel on the property and you can stay for about $45 if I remember correctly. We look around and I end up buying a book called "Proficient Motorcycling". The book is pretty good for what I've read so far with tips on cornering, braking, survival techniques, etc. As I'm paying for the book I mention that we came via US-64 and the owner says "Oh, the straight way. Now your about to ride this!" and he points to the poster hanging above him with the diagram of Deals Gap. He says that we need to watch out, however, because a storm blew through about an hour before and that there may be limbs and small trees down on the road. Great, just what we need. 318 turns in 11 miles and throw in some tree debris. I wander through the store looking at shirts and end up buying one. Orca finds a shirt and bursts out laughing. The slogan is "Ride Florida. 318 miles and 11 turns". That's the truth and contrasted with the other shirts that have sayings about Deals Gap and 318 turns in 11 miles is quite funny at the time.
I'm getting a little impatient and tell the Rabbai and Orca that I want to get moving. It's 7:00pm and I really would like to do this in the daylight if possible. So they pay for what they are getting and owner mentions that he really was not open. He closed earlier but came back in to do some paper work and opened for a little while. Damn were we lucky. A little earlier and the store would have been closed. A little later and the store would have been closed. A little earlier and the road would have been wet. A little later and it would be dark. Let's get going while we have the luck on our side.
So we saddle up and head out. I take the lead with Rabbai and then Orca following. Talk about turns and twists. Oh my god!!! I'm concentrating fully on trying to brake properly, enter the corners, and accelerate out. I'm really pushing my skills here and I begin to pull away. I know this is not because I'm riding better but rather because I know that the Rabbai has lowered his pegs and if I'm grinding here, he must really be grinding. Corner after corner they come. Am I counting them? Forget it. It's taking all the concentration that I have to stay on the road. I see a sigh in one hair pin corner that say "Speed Limit 40mph". Yeah right. In my dreams. I look down and see I took it at about 25mph and that was doing pretty good. About half the way through there is a turn out overlooking a lake. I pull over and wait for the others to catch up.
The view from this point was awesome. Fog was just starting to set over the water. We stood around and took some pictures and marveled at the road that we had just run. Orca said that he was afraid that the Rabbai was going to catch on fire with all of the sparks coming off his pegs. He said it was just like a grinding wheel. And it was even more impressive when he had sparks coming of both this foot pegs and his driving pegs at the same time.
It's getting darker now so we pack up and head off. This time Orca is in front, then me, then the Rabbai. Orca quickly blasts of and leaves us behind. The best part is the boy is doing Deals Gap with one foot on his highway peg and the other down on the foot peg so that he can hit the rear brakes. If it were not for that I believe both would be on the highway pegs. The road straightens out and I hit about 100mph to catch up with Orca. We slow down and wait for Rabbai before continuing along. Right then the sun was setting over the lake. Rabbai flashed his lights and stopped. We turned around and went back to see what he wanted. He wanted a picture of him with the sunset so he gave me his camera and went down the road a few hundred feet and came back up. In that short of time, the sun just dropped out of the sky. You could literally see it set in about 45 seconds. We took a couple of pictures that were fantastic just the same. Then we headed on down the road.
By this time, we were cruising much higher than the speed limit but we were a little low on fuel. Around a corner we came and Orca spotted a Phillips 66 sign. We slowed down and stopped at the gas station. Good thing he spotted the sign and slowed down because there hidden in the trees in the parking lot was Tennessee's finest sheriff which his radar gun glowing. We would have been bagged for sure.
Glancing over at him we fueled up and then inside to pay. Now we needed to get to Knoxville. While waiting to pay, the Rabbai moseys over to the sheriff to ask him the quickest way to Knoxville. From the way that the Rabbai tells it, the sheriff was a young bubba. Mouth full of chaw and his spittoon cup in his hand. Rabbai asks him the question and he says spits out some chaw and says something like "take that there brake neck road" but in a extreme bubba drawl. "What road?" the Rabbai asks. "That there brake neck road, that'll get ya to Knoxville". "What road?" the Rabbai asks. "That there brake neck road' bubba repeats this time pointing to the road right at the intersection that we are at. While we are sitting there a few locals go by. Most have quite loud exhausts. The Rabbai yells out "Does'nt anyone around here have a f*kcing exhaust". Orca and I a ready to head out about now. The locals probably have guns. Just then another local comes screaming by with a loud exhaust and heads down "that there brake neck road". Sheriff bubba spits out some more chaw and cruises out after him.
We head on down the road toward Maryville Tennessee. We're hungry now and figure to eat before finding a place to stay. And not a Long John Silvers either. Orca spies a UNO Pizza restaurant and Rabbai spots a Texas steak house restaurant. Orca wins this one and off we head to UNO. We cut through a parking lot to get to the entrance to UNO. I go through some mud and god damn if this mud is not thick. Its the color of a light brown and completely coated the front wheel so much that it through the balance off and I had a front end wobble. We figured while we ate it would dry up and then would fall off after. So we ate and relaxed.
We came out and I needed a few good braking maneuvers and some side to side swings to shake some of the mud off so that the tire would not wobble. We hit the first hotel but they had no rooms. The second, a Motel 8 had rooms on the second and third floors for $50 a night. I mentioned a little jokingly that we should just head for George's in Maryland. The others said okay and the Rabbai called George and told him that we were heading for his place but we might not make it. We agreed that if anyone felt tired that would would find a room. It was about 470 miles but we were pretty refreshed. So at about 10:30pm we headed out of Maryville and headed toward Maryland. The Rabbai had his GPS figure out a path to get us there and we did. I-275 became I-640 became I-40 and then onto I-81.
Before Bristol Tennesse, the Rabbai drifted into the right lane and I pulled up along side to see if he was all right. I was hoping he was tired because I knew that I was getting tired. I was getting a little road hypnotized by this point. But no, he was just fixing his glasses and drifted over there. Damn I thought. After Bristol, we stopped somewhere near Marion Virginia for fuel. We filled up and I told Rabbai and Orca that I was done. I was exhausted. My whole body was vibrating internally. There was a Budget Inn right there and I told them I was getting room. The Rabbai though I was stopping because I thought he was tired but in truth, I was done and could go no further safely. So we got a room and agreed to leave sometime around 10am the next morning.
Day 6 was about 680 miles with 318 turns in only 11 of them. What a day!!!
The next day I got up around 8:45 and showered and packed and went outside. I had been hearing a clunk and I thought that maybe my steering head bearing was going. I had also recently just put in Progressive fork springs so I was wondering maybe this had something to do with it. So I sat on the Valk and slowly turned the handle bars from one side to the other and I could hear a clunk. Then I saw it! My right top fork tube clamp bolt was loose. So loose in fact that I could turn it with my fingers. A little sick feeling came over me in that I realized that I had just ridden some 2900 miles with a loose top fork tube clamp, Deals Gap being part of it. Then I check the other side and it too was finger loose. More sick feeling. Either I forgot to tighten these, which is a distinct possibility, or I did not torque them down properly. I was a testament, however, that she still performed flawlessly.
So I asked a guy at the office where the nearest auto parts store was and head off over. I bought a set of metric hex sockets to tighten the bolts up. While there I was still reminded that I was in bubba land. In drives a car with what looks like a father and son, the son being about 40 and driving. They pull into the parking spot and the son hands the father his beer. A Budweiser Kinger no less. At 9:30 in the morning. Get me out off here!!!
We blasted off around 10am and headed up I-81 towards Maryland. Along the way we passed at least 3 Long John Silvers and I could see the Rabbai wiping away his moist eyes. We hit Orca's favorite, Denny's once again. Lunch and back on the road. Damn I-81 though Virginia is another long road cutting diagonally across the state. When we got close to Winchester, Virginia the Rabbai checked with his GPS for a route to George's house. The route it was giving him was a different route than he was planning. We were going to take I-66 over to the beltway in DC and then up to Maryland but the GPS had a route heading further north on I-81 and then taking some secondary roads over to I-70. We decided to follow the GPS route and a good thing. We would have been hitting the DC area right around 5pm on a Friday. Not a good place to be on a motorcycle.
Our GPS route took us over though Harper's Ferry. The Rabbai stopped and gave me a short history lesson on the importance and role that Harper's Ferry played in the Civil war. We were parked right next to the Shenandoah river. Leaving the the turnout area was quite a challenge. Traffic was brutal in both directions. The Rabbai pulled out and a 10 wheeler and him had to take a little evasive action to avoid become another part of history. Finally we all got out and got moving again. We blasted down I-70 to Rt. 32 to George's and pulled into his driveway a little after 6pm.
In my cooler bag in the right saddlebag on the Valk I had carried three beers since we first landed in Homestead Florida. These were iced and ready to go so when we got to George's the first thing I did was give each one of us a brew and we celebrated. George then showed Orca around his house. Now with 12000 square feet of living space, this takes a little while. There's the pool room to see with a real jukebox, the game room with 3 pinball machines and space invaders arcade machine, the TV room with a huge Sony digital TV and Bose sound system, the train room, the two kitchens, the downstairs with the soon to be weight room, the bedroom with a Jacuzzi and George's closet with his recliner, the pool and hot tub outside, the 2000 square foot woodworking shop, and on and one. We played a little pool, relaxed and had a few libations. The Rabbai even got his old ride out for a little spin.
George related his part of the journey. Had 250+ miles to ride on his own. It was hot and boring for him as well. At one point he said he was crying, not literally, but figuratively that he did not want to ride anymore. $17 in tolls on his route to Orlando. He said he got the bike to Cruise America and parked it but they wanted him to move it around back. He said he cried out "No... I'm not riding any more." They looked at him kind of strangely. He said that he has no idea how we do it but never again for him. We cracked up at this.
George then fired up some steaks, twice baked potatoes, and popcorn shrimp. We were giving Orca a little ribbing and George's wife Lisa asked Orca how he put up with us. He said and I quote "Only one of my senses works at a time and when I'm eating all my senses are concentrated in my tongue". We damn near fell off the picnic table bench laughing so hard. Later we relaxed a little in the hot tub and then hit the hay.
Day 7 was about 350 miles but it seemed much longer.
Orca wanted to leave by 9am so that he could get home before 6pm so that he could go to his son's baseball game. He had already missed two games on the trip so we agreed and got up around 7am and started to get ready. George got up and made a fabulous breakfast. Again only one of Orca's senses were operating for a while. We then hit the road a little after 9. A little while later traveling up I-95 Orca pulled up along side and said that he need to hit the bathroom real bad. Number 1 was calling. I figured we would pull over at the next rest area but the Rabbai zoomed right by. What I did not realize was that Orca did not tell the Rabbai of his problem. Soon Orca pulled along side Rabbai and let him know the problem. The next rest area we pulled off and it was quite funny when Orca jumped off the Valk and ran into the building muttering that "he really needed to go". We nearly pissed our pants watching him. More ridding and again Orca needed to stop. Must have been the orange juice at Georges.
What wonderful hosts George and Lisa are. I really appreciated the welcoming into their home.
Our last fuel stop in New Jersey and the Rabbai and I were about 90 miles from home. The Rabbai almost got squashed by a four wheeler who decided that the exit to I-287 would fit both him and the Valk. Horns blaring at him, the idiot motored on. Then coming on to the Tappan Zee, I was about to switch lanes and I did a quick head check and almost got creamed by a four wheeler screaming down the lane I was about to go into. Damn good thing for the head check. Across the Tappan Zee and on to the Saw Mill River parkway for some more spirited ride home. I-684 to I-84 and back into Connecticut. Finally Exit 16 showed up and we pulled off. This is where the Rabbai and I would part from Orca. Handshakes and hugs at the end of an awesome road trip. A few back roads and the Rabbai and I were home. Orca had about another 100+ miles to go but it was close for him as well.
I got home and then proceeded to jump one of my other riding toys, my tractor, and mowed the lawn. Then I poured a few Cap'n Morgans and Cokes and relaxed.
Day 8 was about 360 miles and great to be home.
As I sat here most of the day writing this I really reflected on this trip. I smiled and even laughed out loud. It reminded me some of the things that happened and I enjoyed it once again reliving it in my mind. What an awesome experience. What wonderful people I traveled with and what an amazing machine. For me it is not the destination that is the greatest thing, its the journey getting there. Thanks guys for letting me share this with you.