Day 1
January 29th, 2002
Prattville, Alabama

The idea for a Key West ride was born on the Canada trip.  I had always wanted to visit there, but just never could work it in.  I was at Fall Eastoc and mentioned to Sal, I needed to get down there soon, he said, "I'm in, just lemme know when."

I came home from Canada and got out the calendar.  By January I would be longing for a long trip, so that would be a good time to go for it.  I scheduled the appropriate off days, and soon after, Ron signed on, and then Phil.  With all the players lined up, it was time go.

I am meeting Ron Epperly of Orlando, and Phil Derryberry of Nashville at Rainbow State Park near Ocala, on the first night.  From there, we ride south to Miami, to pick up Sal Landa, who lives in Coral Gables.  We then make the short ride the next day to Key West.

I kissed my wife good bye at 7:01 am and rolled out the driveway, into the fog blanketed streets of Prattville.  The fog was thick, but not Blue Ridge thick.  Weather-guessers were predicting a warm, partly cloudy day, and I figure the sun will quickly burn off the mist.

I give everyone plenty of distance, as I make my way through East Prattville to I-65 South.  The morning commute is still not full blast, and I slither through Montgomery in growing fog.

I go to U.S. 231, and turn south to start the trip to the Keys.  The fog is still thick, and visibility is less then a quarter mile in the low spots.  I watch the moisture droplets gathering on the STs windscreen.  The wind parting them precisely down the middle, and then off the sides.

My mind drifts to my rear tire.  It is less then good, and this trip should finish it off.  I intended to replace it, but the Honda Shop ordered a front 205.  It was too late to reorder, so I will just have to get by.  I dislike starting a long trip with a less then good tire.  And this tire was certainly not in that category.  I will have to be extra careful on wet roads.
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I am riding south over very familiar territory.  Been this way a thousand times.  The fog shrouds the surrounding countryside, but that has little effect on me, because I know the landscape.  A barn I know to be behind the white house near Pine Level, can't be seen this morning because of the fog.

I begin to see clumps of hay on the road.  At 55 mph the ST fluffs the clumps as I ride past.  Blowing them away like the Big Bag Wolf on the pig's straw house.  Soon, I see the source of the hay.  A south bound pick up pulling a goose neck trailer, emerges from the fog.  The farmer has 6-7 large rolls on the trailer.  I bet he started with 8, but the wind has left at least 1 on 231.  I move to the left to overtake him, and the ST carves through the blowing straw.  Several pieces manage to find their way into the quiet zone behind my windscreen, and one even settles on my tach, and rides with me for al mile.

I pick my way through the college town of Troy.  It is still early and not much is going on.  As I make my through Troy, I see closed down shopping centers, and vacant buildings.  Row after row.  At the south end of town I find the culprit of the urban blight.  The Wal Mart Super Center.  It came to town 3 years ago, and promptly shut down the rest of retail life in Troy.  Just like it does everywhere else in America.  When the mega store comes to town, businesses that had been in operation for over 50 years, are closed down in 2-3.

The morning is still cool, and I have on medium weight gloves.  The fog is  not lifting, and I grow inpatient, because I am forced to keep my speed down in the reduced visibility.  I cruise in the fog at 55 mph.  

I am really excited about going to Key West.  I think about what a great time lies ahead, as I quietly ride south on 231.  My bike is running as good as the day I brought it home.  Heck, I am even afraid to change the spark plugs, thinking I might jinx a good thing if I do.

I enter a mist covered Dothan, 115 miles later at 9:15, and look for a place to take a butt break.  I find a Texaco Mart, and pick up some Mountain Dew and peanuts.  I sit on the curb, and notice a lone hitchhiker in the fog out on 231, trying to get a ride north.  He looked lonely and frustrated, because so many are passing him by.


















                    A lonely hitchhiker on US 231, Dothan, Alabama

I leave Dothan on U.S. 84 East.  Still foggy.  How much longer will this last?

I am now in the heart of the Alabama-Georgia Wiregrass country.  Why they call it that, I don't know.  The Wiregrass area is made up of peanut farms and fields.  Quiet lowlands with creeks and forests.  Nice riding.

I cross the Chattahoochee River into Georgia.  Not much changes, except the price of gas.  Cheaper by a nickel a gallon in Georgia.  Less taxed.
U.S. 84 is a smooth 4 lane road east.  It is pleasantly quiet on this Tuesday morning.  I sing a few songs, and think back to the brutally cold winter of 1977.  I was just married, and was riding my Z-1 to work everyday.  Day after day of 20 degree temps.  It was really cold for Alabama that year, and it was just my luck it was the same year I gave my car, to my wife.  I thought about that as I rode east on this warm, muggy January morning.  Weather can be a strange thing.



















                          A fog shrouded US 84 near Donalsonville, Georgia

I pass a Laundromat in Donalsonville, and notice a lady struggling with 3 baskets of clothes.  Glad its her and NOT me. 
As I near Bainbridge, the fog begins to lift.  I can see the sun burning holes in the blanket.  Attaboy, get rid of this pesky fog so I can RIDE.  Bainbridge is busy little Wiregrass city on the banks of a river.

I have a decision to make.  I am now in the Eastern time zone.  Do I stay on Alabama time?  Or adjust to that awful, makes no sense, Eastern time?  It is nearing 11am in Alabama, and the time I normally eat lunch, but if I do, that is going to put me in the local cafes at 12:15pm, peak eating time for the locals.  Or do I starve myself, and ride on another hour and eat lunch at 1pm local time?  I opt for the latter, and pass by several nice, but busy cafes.

I keep moving east.  The fog is gone,  the sun hot and the breeze warm.  Forty miles later, in Cairo, I pull into a McDonald's for lunch.  I have the number 5, chicken nuggets. 

Two teenagers come in wearing strange vampire like clothes with body jewelry.  This is Cairo, Georgia?

Working my way out of town, I catch a distinct scent.  Vinegar, brine, and corn syrup.  The stuff pickles are made of.  A pickle plant job was the last job I worked before the fire department.  I worked there five loooooong years.  I worked outside among the barrels.  It was hot, nasty work with long hours.  I hated it.  I will never forget the smell.  It has been almost 25 years since I last smelled it.  Now the scent is overloading my brain, and bringing back images of days long ago.  

I pull into a gas station and ask-

"hey where is the pickle plant?"

"turn here, and go down to the stop sign and make a left"

A few blocks later, I find the Roddenberry Food Plant.  Sure enough, I see the barrels out back.  The pickle operation appears to be shut down, but I still smell the remnants.  I look out over the barrels, and then clear out.

I leave Cairo, and go east to Thomasville where I make a route change to U.S. 19 South. 

I enter Florida, and find myself passing through the old south town of Monticello.  A nice town, with a pretty courthouse square.  U.S. 19 wraps around the building and then continues south.  I am beginning to see Palm trees, and other landscape changes as I ride south into Florida.

I pass under I-10, and 19 transforms into a 4 lane.  The traffic is low and the riding is good.  It takes a lot to keep the ST any where near the speed limit.  I settle in at 70 and hope if I get busted, they will be easy on me.

I stop for gas in Perry, and after I fill up I take a butt break with chips and Dew.  As I sat on the bench a heavy set lady sits next to me.  She is the clerk for the store.  She tells me she is from Miami, but left the city 12 years ago.  Settling in the quiet town of Perry.  She is talkative, and I listen to her explain how you have to know someone, to land a good job at what the locals consider to be the shrine of employment for the area.  The paper mill.  I keep my thoughts to myself.  I wanted to tell her, it is unjust to tell the local kids the best they can look forward to is the paper mill.  Nothing wrong with a paper mill job, but don't hold it up as the Holy Grail.  Tell them they can be anything they want, but no one is going to give it to them.
She tells me to be careful riding south.  The deputies down there enforce the speed limit.  Something they don't do in Alabama.

I vent out the Roadcrafter as the temp soars to the mid 80s.  I am also wearing lightweight textile gloves.

U.S. 19 takes me past swampland and scrags.  The Gulf is only a few miles to the west of me, and the warm breezes blow through the Palms
In Chiefland, I duck into a Winn Dixie for supper items.  I pick out a nice NY strip, a can of white potatoes, and peaches for desert.  It is muggy and humid.  This is January?

I switch over to U.S. 27A and promptly see one of the deputies I was warned about, writing a receipt to a guy in a big black SUV.

In Williston, I drop over to U.S. 41 South for the last few miles to the campground.  Traffic is picking up as the day draws to a close.

I take the side road into Rainbow Park and stop by the office to register. The female ranger says-

"you looking for the others?"

"yeah, are they here?"

"yeah Paul is in site 12"

"who?"

"Paul"

"oh yeah, you mean Phil"

"whoever, but he's here, just go look for him around to the left."

I am surprised to see Phil here already, I did not think he would be here till later as he had the longest ride.  I later find out he spent the night in central Georgia, not north.  I see the 2 red STs and pull in.

Ron had a short 90 mile ride in from Orlando.

Big smiles and grins as I dismount.  Great to see the guys. 

I rode 417 miles for the day. 

We spend a few minutes talking and laughing, and kidding each other. Like teenagers out of the house for the weekend, we are bubbly with excitement from the ride just completed, and the anticipation of the rides to come.


















                        Phil and Ron discussing the day's ride 

I unload and set my tent up.  Not too close to "Paul's" as I need a good nights sleep tonight. 

Finished with that, the 3 of us walk down to the store for drinks and snacks.  I see a RV lady cooking something on the grill and holler over-

"hey what's for supper?"

And with a northeast accent I hear- "I dunno what are YOU GUYS cooking?"

On the way back we stopped by the deck and looked out over a small, but quick moving river.  It was scenic and tranquil.

Back at the tents we fired up the grill and put the steaks on.  As the steaks sizzled on the grill, I thought about riding, my friends, seeing the country, and upon reflection of all that, how could anyone wonder why we do what we do?

















                    Steaks on the grill, after a great days ride

We ate steaks by the light of flashlights, and planned out the next days ride. Awesome.

After supper, I walked over to a nearby bathhouse and took a nice shower.

I called home and checked in.

We spent the rest of the evening in idle talk, and turned in about 11pm.

The night was warm, and I had trouble sleeping in my bag.  Too hot.  I would then move the top of it, and be too cold.  I finally managed to doze off for good a few hours later.
 
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