We took a nice long ride last week, me on my 250cc Suzuki UJM and my pal Doug on his 1500cc “Kowalski” Kawasaki Vulcan metric cruiser. My brother in law joined up with us along the way on his new Harley Sportster, the Iron 883 one.
I was at the Westview Dunkin’ Donuts in Coral Springs at 7:30am. Meetup wasn’t till 8, but in the past, I’ve tried to get a cup of coffee in before a ride and the drink was just too hot to drink before kickstands-up, so I got there early. Had a bagel with egg & cheese, too. A decent breakfast.
Doug showed up on time and we headed west on Westview, passing on the way a younger man on an older Bonneville pulling out of his apartment complex. I caught glimpse of the cream tank, silver tank badge, and the Triumph T-shirt on the millennial. A stab of envy quickly passed.
Doug and I had set up his new Sena SMH10 Bluetooth headset, the same model I have, so we were able to talk to each other on the ride. But it was difficult to understand what he was saying once we got over 35mph. I have used that system before with another friend, with crystal-clear results, but that was when I had it in a different helmet. In my current lid, the Bell Bullitt, the opening at the bottom lets in too much air and noise so I really couldn’t understand him well. It would continue to be a disappointment all day long.
Passing through Coral Springs and into Margate, I led Doug into the western swing that SW80th takes around the back of Kings Point, down NW198th to McNab and onto Hiatus Road, which slips past City Furniture to Commercial Boulevard and another Dunkin’ Donuts, where my brother in law Todd was waiting. A quick chat with him, looking at his bike and his mods to it, and it was time to get the show on the road.
I had proposed taking the Sawgrass Expressway down to I75, but Todd did not have a Sunpass account tied to his bike, so we took the surface roads over to Sunrise, around the backside of Sawgrass Mills Mall onto Sunrise Blvd and out to I75 for free. Taking that westward for about five miles led us to the remnants of Andytown, an abandoned party town at the intersection of US27, an ancient byway that runs up the spine of Florida. 27 will take you from midtown Miami in the south all the way up to the northern FL border with Georgia and beyond. If you follow it far enough – and through enough stoplights – you’ll end up at Fort Wayne, Indiana. Along the way you’d pass through Tallahassee, Chattanooga, Tennessee; Lexington, Kentucky; and Cincinnati, Ohio. At one point it went all the way through Lansing, Michigan, to Cheboygan, but the name of the road has changed up there now.
But we weren’t headed north. We were heading south, and would not be on US27 for very long. A mere 35 miles or so we could see the towering Miccosukee Resort & Gaming building which indicated our right-turn, US41 – the Tamiami Trail.
We got a fill-up on gas at that intersection’s biker-friendly Dade Corners, with Todd reminding us that he could probably only get around 100 miles to the tank. Something to keep in mind, so we topped off and headed west.
Construction on the Tamiami Trail started in 1915 and took a little over ten years. Miami’s Capt. Jaudon had proposed a road connecting Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts with an eye on developing his properties in the Everglades. The notion was seconded by Tampa’s Mayor Dickey. The name Tamiami is said to be a contraction of the phrase “Tampa to Miami,” but the cities argue over who named it.
It’s a good road. Just one lane in each direction, separated by a broken yellow stripe, we had a canal (and a whole mess of alligators warming themselves in the heat of the rising sun) on our right, and thick woods on our left. We were cutting a path right through the Everglades.
We passed Miccosukee Indian villages with their tiki hut roofs, airboat ride launch ramps, and had the Big Cypress National Preserve off to our left, for miles and miles. I had meant to stop at the ValuJet Flight 592 Memorial but we passed it without me noticing, so that was missed. A sign showing the silhouette of an airplane indicated when we were passing the Dade-Collier Airport & Flight Training Center. Endless acres of sugar cane stretched out to our right, beyond the gators in the canal.
Todd, Doug and I broke up the ride by passing each other and taking turns in front or back. It was still difficult to hear Doug at that speed, so we reverted back to hand signals. We waved at all the bikes headed the other way. This was the week between Christmas and New Year, so a lot of other folks had the idea to ride, too.
About 35 miles after getting gas as Miccosukee, we came to the Big Cypress Oasis Visitor Center, a nicely appointed facility who’s main attraction is a wooden walkway over the canal, so you can see the alligators easily and so that moms can freak out about their young children somehow falling into the jaws of the gators. They must feed them at night (the gators, not the children), because there were a lot of them there.
We had planned on getting to Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe in time for lunch, but when we got there a sign said they were closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Bad luck! Joanie’s was featured on the Norman Reedus Rides motorcycle-themed TV show and is a biker magnet. No crab cakes for us!
So we continued west, and as we were quite hungry at the outskirts of Naples, we were lured in by a barbecue smoker by the roadside at Texas Tony’s Rib House. Their food was excellent and the service quick and friendly.
Continuing into Naples, we crossed the Gordon River and followed US41/Tamiami as it made a sharp right-turn and headed north. Only 10 blocks from the Gulf of Mexico, we could smell the ocean.
Although we were in downtown Naples, traffic was light and we didn’t hit too many red lights. We found more gas at a station and had a little rest, and kept moving north. There’s a lot of money in this area and it shows, in the decor of the shopping centers, in the makes of the cars on the road, you can just feel it.
It was only 13 miles up to our next target, Bonita Beach Road, where we cut to the left and headed over to the coast road which has about 13 different names as it travels north with the Gulf of Mexico on the left and Estero Bay on the right. There are many cuts through the sand bars and beaches, so there are many bridges over those cuts. Which means we had many elevated views of the area.
Looking for a spot where we could pull over and see the Gulf, we found Lovers Key State Recreation Area and gave that a shot , but it’s actually not up against the Gulf of Mexico, it’s protected by a barrier. And it’s $11 to get in. We moved on.
Another couple miles north we crossed a large bridge over Big Carlos Pass and saw that the hotels on the left had a huge white sandy beach, and we could park our bikes in their parking lot in a way that allowed us to achieve our primary goal: photographing our bikes with the Gulf in the background. Ewan McGregor was right when he said traveling on a bike you come home with hundreds of photos of your bike with slightly different backgrounds.
After we got our photos we started a brutal 5 mile drive up Estero Island, which we thought was going to be a pleasant beach town to drive through, but unforseen road construction brought the two lanes to a crawl, and in some places, a complete standstill for no good reason at all. These 5 miles took us 45 minutes to traverse and it was absolutely mind-numbing, even with all the tourists walking around, we lost the will to enjoy the views. We were happy to finally reach the right-turn onto 865 and start the homeward part of our loop, back northeast.
Traffic picked back up again and we worked our way smoothly northeast, roughly following the Caloosahatchee River as it makes it way out of Fort Myers towards the Gulf. We were headed in the opposite direction, and we stopped for a moment to peek at our phones to get our bearings in Google Maps.
I could see on the map that our next target road was highway 80 which would take us back across the state towards the big lake. And I could see that highway 80 started in downtown Fort Myers, just next to the Edison Bridge across the Caloosahatchee. So we navigated towards that intersection, not knowing that highway 80 – called First Street at that point – was a one-way road, headed the wrong way. When we got to tha tintersection we were aiming at, we realized we had boxed ourselves in to crossing the bridge we didn’t want to cross, but we had no choice. So we rocketed over the huge Edison Bridge, did a u-turn on the other side and came back across again, finding our way to Second Street instead and picking our way carefully back northeast until we found solid footing on highway 80.
We had made a mental note that the town of LaBelle would be our last chance at gas before heading due east back to our side of the state, so when we crossed through that town we found a gas station, filled up again, and switched our tinted visors for clear ones, as sunset seemed to be within an hour.
The 30 miles across Highway 80 were straight, flat, smooth and uneventful, other than our bikes bringing death to thousands of insects as the sun went down. Although north of the Everglades, highway 80 has plenty of insect life to offer, as you’re surrounded by sugar cane farms almost the whole way. As we rode into Clewiston there seemed no reason to stop, as we were into the nighttime portion of our ride and we were all really just wanting to get back home. We had been on the road for about 11 hours at this point.
We continued on into the tiny town of South Bay, at the southern tip of Okeechobee, again plastered by insects. We filled up tanks again, cleaned the bugs off our helmets, and at this point Doug said his goodbyes, as he was headed northeast and we were headed southeast.
Todd and I blasted 40 miles in the dark from South Bay down US27 to Andytown, where we had joined US27 earlier that morning. Splitting up there, I made it home about 20 minutes later, nearly 12 hours after leaving for breakfast that morning. We had run 332 miles in a large clockwise loop around South Florida.
It was one of our better rides.