24 May 2007

Solo Ride with Mom

Beginning mileage: 15,015

This Sunday was the date my mom passed away in 1998, so she’s been gone for nine years. I marked the day in a way that I think Mom would have approved: my first long solo ride on my motorcycle.

Like many women, I had a difficult relationship with my mother. I don’t know that she ever understood me, and it sure took me a long time to understand her. And by the time I thought I did, and was able to have the important heart-to-heart talks with her that I would’ve liked to have, she was in the clutches of Alzheimer’s disease and was struggling just to remember what day it was, never mind her innermost thoughts and feelings about her quirky daughter. In the end, all I could do was try to make her know how much I loved her. I hope that was enough.

This is one of those things that makes me wish I believed in the survival of the soul, life after death, and love everlasting. I don’t, but I can still memorialize people I love who have passed, like Mom.

I memorialized Mom today by taking my first long solo ride. Man, she would’ve loved riding a motorcycle. She had such a wild streak. By the time I came to know her, it had been somewhat tamed, I don’t know whether it was by domesticity or by cultural imperatives or just by her own reticence. But tamed though it was, it was still there, a restless undercurrent in her life, emerging occasionally when she’d had enough of what she clearly felt was a too-mundane life.

I’ve been accustomed to thinking of Mom in connection with convertible cars and long days at the beach—she loved both of those things. I don’t know that riding a motorcycle was ever anything that even approached her radar (though she did ride a nephew’s mini-bike once). But if it had, and if she ever had, she would absolutely have loved it: the speed, the wind, the curves, the on-the-road wildness. She loved being on the road, and this would have been just another dimension of it to love.

So today, I rode alone, but with Mom--hence the title of this post. Follow along on this Gmaps route: Blackwater Ride

I put down the passenger pegs on my bike, and Mom was my invisible passenger as I motored through the live-oak-canopied streets of historic Bagdad (that’s Bagdad, a tiny and very old town in northwest Florida, as distinguished from Baghdad, a large and ancient city in Iraq). From there, I wiggled through the narrow streets of Milton, a somewhat-less-tiny though just as old town, to get to Munson Highway. Finally out in the county, I poured on a little more throttle, zooming past Bob’s Canoes and that cool, deep, sandy-bottomed arm of the Blackwater River. I turned off at Indian Ford Road—what a romantic, evocative name, calling up visions of Native American bands and their traditional river crossings, marked perhaps with trees trained into bent shapes, bound with vines as saplings, so the adult trees would point the way to the place where the water was shallowest, the crossing shortest and easiest.

Snapping back to the early 21st century, I turned my attention to the road itself. This road is short but twisty, with some near-90-degree turns and some fun rollers, swooping down onto narrow, rustic bridges over shady creek bottoms and back up into the leaf-dappled sunlight. There was almost no traffic, which I found odd for a Sunday, but maybe, since it’s a road well used by folks hauling boats to the river, most of the traffic occurred earlier in the day. For whatever reason, the road was only lightly traveled, and I enjoyed the solitude. Mom and I, that is.

At the intersection of Indian Ford and Deaton Bridge Road, I turned right, heading for that pretty little section of Blackwater River State Park. Here, the woods close in, surrounding the road for several miles—nothing but cool, cool green. Then, where the road crosses the Blackwater River, the woods recede briefly to allow vistas of the winding river, with its clear water and white sandbars: the "beaches" of north Santa Rosa County.

Plenty of canoers, kayakers, tubers, and swimmers on this hot, sunny day in May in the Florida panhandle, taking advantage of those river beaches and that cold river water. A very inviting scene, and Coyote, my bike, suggested diving into the river to cool off--
but alas, as the sign warns, "NO JUMPING FROM BRIDGE."

I followed Deaton Bridge Road south, past the little outlying Navy airfield where the helicopter pilots practice—not much going on there today. Pretty soon, Deaton Bridge dumped me out onto Highway 90 at the Harold Store. Harold, Florida is a tiny, tiny town (some would say barely a town at all, but just the proverbial “wide spot in the road”), marked most conspicuously by the Harold Store. On its face, it’s only a convenience store, but it’s also a meeting spot of sorts—for patrons of all sorts. The cycling club that I ride with on Saturday mornings occasionally rides to this store as a halfway point. We get snacks and drinks, hang out at the handy, shaded picnic tables while we fuel up for the 21-mile return ride. That’s one genre of patrons. The other genre was there today: teenagers with beat-up cars and trucks, having slipped the bonds of church and Sunday school, and now apparently looking for other teenagers with cars and trucks, and all of them looking for something to do. I got lots of surreptitious looks and a few bold stares as I got off my bike and grabbed a cold drink. And I think all of them were watching as I motored back out onto the highway. My first thought was “Good grief, get a life!” But as I reflected on myself as a bored teenager, with few resources for combating the boredom but more than these kids probably had, I relented. What the heck—they were just being kids together.

Now, on this ride, after you hit Highway 90, you’re pretty much on your way home. But it’s still a pleasant ride, back over the Blackwater River as it skirts the little town of Milton, through tree-lined Bagdad streets, down Bagdad peninsula, to our little home on the Bay. I could just hear Mom ooh-ing and ahh-ing, laughing and carrying on. Jeez, Mom, I know we didn’t get along a lot of the time, but I wish you could’ve gotten in on this part of my life. You would’ve loved it!

Ending mileage: 15,102

18 May 2007

Thunder Beach! Days 2 & 3

Saturday was bright, clear, and hot—a beautiful day for riding but with the promise of more heat to come. I decided to stow my jacket in a saddlebag instead of wearing it. This surprised even me, because I’m usually such an ATGATT girl. But I did wear a long-sleeved shirt—nice light wicking-fabric shirt with a zip neck. People kept asking me wasn’t I hot, but I really felt pretty comfortable—probably something to do with the wicking fabric and the fact that the long sleeves kept the sun from beating directly down on my arms—and shoulders, and belly, and all the other various body parts that were widely on display among the sea of riders.

Seal Guy arrived and we saddled up, having planned to do the Saturday Poker Run, sponsored by ABATE of Florida, White Sands Chapter. I was excited to be doing my first ever poker run, and I knew I’d have fun, regardless of whether I won anything! We started at Edgewater, where we met Blonde Guy. Everyone signed up for the run and drew their first cards. The Chief and I shared a hand, and we started out with a Three of Hearts. Low card, but the Heart made it seem promising.

Next venue was Hammerhead Fred’s, beach bar and grill (t-shirts say “I got hammered at Hammerhead Fred’s”—Blonde Guy couldn’t resist buying one). First thing, we drew our next card, which was a Six of Clubs. OK, that’s a possible straight in the making. Hammerhead Fred’s was a fun sort of place—across the road from the beach, friendly, comfortable, a little crowded but not too, too—so we had lunch there. Excellent crab claws and lots of other good stuff!

After Hammerhead Fred’s, next stop was the Treasure Ship, which is a building that actually looks like an old, sea-worn wooden ship, right on the water. The Chief and I drew a Seven of Diamonds—our straight was still taking shape! Woo-hoo! We had cold drinks, to celebrate and to stave off dehydration, while enjoying the cool breeze off the Gulf of Mexico (see photo, above) and talking to some other riders.

The fourth stop on our route was Dusty’s—and it WAS dusty. Dusty, small, and incredibly crowded, so we just drew our card then headed out: a Five of Clubs! Our little straight was so close I could taste it. I couldn’t wait to get to the next stop to draw what I was sure would be a Four of Something.

Which, of course, it was not. *sniff* At the last venue, the Sandpiper Beacon Beach Resort Tiki Bar (what a mouthful!), I drew *drum roll, please* a……nother…..Five. Rats Rats Rats! So we ended up with a pair of Fives. Oh well, it WAS for ABATE, which is a good cause. And we did end up at another cool, friendly beach bar-and-grill, where there was a band and dancing and lots of friendly bikers to get to know. Also a crowd, some heat, and some wildness among the dancing group—but that goes with the territory. LOL Here are the guys at the Tiki Bar. That good-looking silver fox in the middle is the Chief--hubba hubba!

BTW, Seal Guy and Mrs. Seal run Leatherwood Cottages, a mountain resort of vacation cottages in beautiful Maggie Valley, North Carolina, "in the Heart of the Great Smoky Mountains." It's a great, friendly place to stay if you're ever passing through that area.

After the fun wore off a little, I wasn’t too surprised to find that I was pretty hot, but what did surprise me was how tired I felt. So I headed back to the condo, leaving the guys to just be guys together for a while. I got a chance to relax in the ac and regroup. I love the crowds and hot, noisy fun for a while, but I also need my downtime.

After everyone straggled back to the condo and got cleaned up and rested up, we went to a little local Italian place for dinner. Seal Guy’s headlight was dimming, so he and the Chief rode off to find an auto parts store before dark, which left Blonde Guy and me to deal with the wine and hors d’oeuvres we’d ordered—hey, someone had to do it. The Chief and Seal Guy returned with both headlights blazing not too much later.

We had our dinner outside on the little porch, watching and hearing the constant stream of biker traffic up and down Beach Road. Several other biker groups stopped where we were for dinner, and we had a good time chatting with them about the day’s events. One woman was riding a gorgeous V-Star, and I practically salivated over the thing when she let me sit on it. Very nice! Might be my next bike.

We lingered pretty long over dinner, what with the headlight incident, then the entrees, then dessert, then swapping stories with other bikers. Finally, to my surprise, everyone was ready to call it a day. I’d expected those guys to motor off toward the action further to the east, but instead we all dragged our tired selves “home” for the night. Well, except for Seal Guy, who decided to go all the way home that night instead of waiting until next morning. We tried to dissuade him, but it was not to be done. We saw him off with many exhortations to take care and to call us when he arrived.

* * *

Sunday, the remaining three of us said good-bye to Panama City Beach, Sunnyside, and Thunder Beach. The weather cooperated all the way home—a little overcast, but mostly dry and warm, just like Saturday. This weather was a minor miracle because storms had been forecast for the entire weekend, but we never saw one of them. A few clouds appeared from time to time, but no rain and certainly no storms. PC Beach—and most of the northern Gulf beaches—can be like that though—it can be rainy and yucky in town, but out at the beach, it’s a lovely day. Not two hours after we returned home, the skies opened up—which made us glad we’d gotten an early start.


While doing all that stop-and-go riding on Friday, I had mentally sworn off bike rallies, if this was what they were going to be like. I hated the traffic and the heat. But as so often happens, when the events were recollected in tranquility, I reconsidered. Sure it was a little hot, sure there was lots of traffic—but that’s pretty much what it’s all about. After all, it’s only a bike RALLY if there are lots of bikers, right? OK, though I still don’t see myself doing Bike Week in Daytona Beach, I MAY return to Thunder Beach in the fall. Hope it’s a little cooler then.

Also regarding all that stop-and-go riding, I surprised myself with my skill at it. Not that I don’t still have a lot to learn, but I did just fine with all the clutching, braking, and shifting, while maintaining a reasonably tight formation with the others. And I did well on the other unfamiliar roads as well. All things considered, I was pretty satisfied with my riding during the weekend. Yay!!!

So there it is: a novice looks at Thunder Beach. It was fun, hot, crowded, interesting, educational (yes, educational!), hot, and fun. Can’t wait for the one in October!

Ending mileage: 14,935

16 May 2007

Thunder Beach! Day 1

4-6 May, we rode over to Panama City for the Thunder Beach Rally—my first motorcycle rally EVER!

Quick impressions:
Thousands of bikes
LOTS of women riding their own
Lots of unhelmeted heads, both male and female—a little surprised about the females
More stop-and-go riding along Front Beach Road than I could’ve wished for
I CAN ride in that kind of traffic and crowds, though I don’t much enjoy it
Though it was hot, a lightweight long-sleeve shirt was better, I think, than a short-sleeve or sleeveless, at least with my fair skin
Needed a visor for off-bike time in the sun
Would’ve been much more fun with more couples in our group
Love the Yamaha V-Star
Nice condo our friends let us use—gotta remember to send a thank-you note
First day, after all that stop-and-go, thought I’d never want to go back. But once I settled in and got into the spirit of it, I think I could enjoy that kind of thing a couple/three times a year.
The Poker Run was fun, even though we didn't win.
The stunt riders were young and fearless. Not much sense of self-preservation, but fearless. Great showmen.
Next time, make time for the beach.

Ending mileage: 14,935

Friday morning we were packed and out of the chocks before 9:00, leaving Cocoa in the care of SIL and the neighbors. We took I-10 east to the next exit, then Rte. 87 down to Navarre. We stopped in Destin for breakfast at Another Broken Egg, one of our absolute, all-time fave breakfast spots. There’s always a wait for their perfectly cooked eggs and their delicious traditional home fries, and it’s always worth it!

After breakfast, it was a pleasant run on into Panama City Beach. Some traffic through Destin, but it thinned out after we got through the most developed section.

The borrowed condo we were staying at was in the Sunnyside area, on Rte. 30-A, just across the road from the beach (which, btw, we never went to, though it was nice riding alongside it for some of the time). Two bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, comfortably furnished and appointed. A bit far from the “action”—event venues, that is—but also a nice refuge from all that craziness when we’d had enough fun for the day.

After freshening up, the Chief made a few calls. We had this nice, big condo to use for free and thought it was a shame it was just us, since the six friends we’d invited had all wimped out. So the Chief invited a couple of friends. Friend #1, Seal Guy, has a wife who doesn’t ride, and Friend 2’s (Blonde Guy) wife does ride, but was out of town for the weekend. I was a little disappointed that it sounded like this was turning into a guys’ weekend, but both these friends are OK, so I figured I’d have fun anyway, and if I got tired of the rally scene early, the Chief would have someone to continue “rallying” with. Both friends said they’d be there on Saturday morning.

Finally, we headed out to find the party. We went first to the Shoppes at Edgewater, basically an outdoor mall anchored by a bowling alley, and with a huge parking lot, now full of bikes. There was also a sound stage with a live band, lots of vendors, a custom bike show, and plenty of food and drink. We spent a lot of time ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the gorge-o-licious custom bikes, some made for actual riding as well as many that I think of as “fantasy bikes,” bikes that seem made more for being seen than for being on the road. Wild paint jobs, low low low frames as well as the hundreds of beautiful bikes parked in the parking lot. Had something to drink and listened to the band. I found a clip bag I liked, but thought I’d look around some more to see if I could get a better deal—always looking for a bargain! Before we left Edgewater, I saw a lovely HD Dyna Low Rider, in that great maroon color Harley does. The rider turned up while I was standing there drooling, so I got to talk to her about it. She LOVES it—has been riding it for three years now. Someday maybe…..

Next stop was the Boardwalk Resort—more bikes, more vendors, more to eat and drink. I found a nice jewelry booth and chose a pair of onyx earrings. I also talked to the guys at the Soft Bottom Butt Savers booth about a seat pad for my bike--gotta LOVE that name. They had this setup with a stool with one of their seat pads on top. First you sit on it and just feel the love—EXTREMELY comfy. And when you get up, they pick up the cushion and show you what you were sitting on: a bit old honkin’ padlock—I mean huge—but of course you never felt it because of their seat pad. Well, I guess that means I’m not a princess. LOL I didn’t end up buying a Soft Bottom Butt Saver then and there, but I may get one eventually. While wandering around the Boardwalk Resort, we also saw this cute, fluffy little white guy in a Harley cap, and he struck a nice pose for the camera.

After a cold drink, we hit the road again. Beach Road was choked with riders, so it was all stop-and-go driving—not that much fun. We got a little relief from the congestion when we headed away from the beach to another venue, Frank Brown Park, where there was a stunt riding show. The stunt riders were pretty young—someone said the youngest was 17, but some of them looked younger than that. These guys revved their motors, flew up a ramp, then into the air, and seemed to hang in the air for a while before dropping down the ramp on the other side. After a few straight jumps, they started doing acrobatics at the apex of each jump: feet out to the side, whole body off the saddle and twisted to one side, hands on the saddle and feet in the air—holy mackerel! One of them was a young woman--here she is doing her stuff.

I couldn’t do most of that stuff standing still, never mind in midair at the top of a jump! Maybe when you’re a teenager and you heal quickly, you’re more fearless. Or not as concerned with self-preservation, or both.

Before leaving the park, we got some homemade ice cream—yum city!—and the Chief looked at some Victory bikes. Very cool and apparently well made, but that’s not what he really wants. THIS is what he really wants. I also found another clip bag, same as the first one, but for four dollars more! I told the guy they were selling them cheaper at Edgewater, but he wouldn’t come off the price. Oh well, no sweat, we’d be back at Edgewater tomorrow, and the park guy lost a sale. Too bad.

After as much rally fun as we could stand, we lollygagged on back to our home-away-from-home to clean up and get ready for dinner. By the time we went out to find a restaurant, jeez louise, every place along Beach Road was choked with bikes and riders. That would be fun for later, but not for dinner, so we headed away from the beach and found a nice little steak house. By the time we finished dinner, we were both beat, so dragged our sleepy selves back to the condo to rest up for Saturday’s festivities.