Monday, October 7, 2013 – Bradenton to Key Largo – 281 miles
Woke up to rain this morning. It had rained all through the night, so I’m glad I packed the ST before turning in. It was still dark as I geared up and went downstairs for breakfast. The rain had slowed to a drizzle as dawn approached. With almost 300 miles to Key Largo, I wanted get an early start, knowing it was going to be slow going through this storm.
The sky was dark with heavy, gray clouds as I rolled out of the parking lot and headed east toward Arcadia. I could see where the storm front ended in the far distance and the horizon was brighter, but that was not to be my luck today. As I approached Arcadia and turned south, I saw what I was in for – very dark, very menacing clouds – the very center of this storm!
Within two mles the rain came down. Hard and steady. I was the only vehicle on this county backroad with nowhere to pull over. But not to worry. I felt peaceful, and relaxed, the ST performed flawlessly, and my excellent gear kept me dry and comfortable. After riding in this for about one hour, and about 60 miles from Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park, I broke through the edge of the storm front into bright sunshine and…….. HEAT! But it was good to be on dry roads again.
Feeling a bit peckish, I wanted to stop and have a bite to eat and guzzle some water. But not on this county road. Straight as an arrow with nothing but scrub brush and palmettos as far as the eye could see, in the middle of Nowhere, FL. So, with no traffic at all to be wary of, I pulled over onto the shoulder that was about as wide as my boot, for a quick snack and H2O. Not a single vehicle passed me in any direction. Hunger and thirst satisfied for now, I mounted back up and quickly got the ST up to speed and beyond ( had to have some extra fun, you know).
Cruising merrily along about five to ten over, I notice flashing yellow lights in the distance. I ease off the throttle and actually come down to the speed limit (ha, ha) as I approach the lights. No vehicles are around, no road crews – just me. Or is it? This would make a perfect alien landing strip. Could it be? Or is hunger playing games with my brains glycogen levels?
Down to 50 MPH, I approach the first set of lights, which it turns out, are mounted on yellow road signs with big, black, letters. I downshift and ease up to the first sign which reads:
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING A FLORIDA PANTHER PROTECTED AREA
What? Panthers? Really? About 30 yards onward, a second sign:
SPEED LIMIT 40 MPH. PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION
WTF? Extreme caution? Not just caution, but EXTREME caution? Now I’m starting to get a bit nervous. Rolling on, a third sign:
PANTHER CROSSING NEXT 7 MILES
You have got to be shitting me! Panther crossing? Are they joking?
What would a panther do if we were on an intercept course, hit each other, I go down pinned under my moto and the panther is injured and pissed. A deer would crawl, hobble, drag itself into the woods if it could. A panther? I’m envisioning it dragging itself over to me and start gnawing away at my arm, or whatever is easily accessible, while I wait for NO ONE to come by on this lonely road. I’m alone out here!
I position the ST smack in the middle of the road and ride the broken white lines to give myself plenty of wiggle room to either side, while I scan left and right for black heads with beady green eyes. I was worried about panthers, not cars at this point. For twenty more miles I was on red alert until a final sign:
YOU ARE NOW LEAVING A FLORIDA PANTHER PROTECTED AREA
Whew! Jeez, that was nerve wracking. A few miles later I come up on the T intersection of SR 41 – The Tamiami Trail. This is the road that will take me to Homestead, FL just outside of Miami, and a stones throw to Key Largo. I make a mental note to re-route myself on my return trip, so as to avoid any Panther Possibilities along Panther Alley. No sense in tempting fate twice, yes?
Now heading east, I enter Everglades National Park, and an anticipated, but still disappointing sight:
And so it was throughout Big Cypress National Peserve and Everglades National Park due to our government’s childish bickering. Although Everglades N.P. didn’t make up a big part of my trip itinerary, it would have been cool to visit. SR 41 traverses the northern boundary of the Everglades, so I did get to see some of it from the road.
By now, hunger had seriously taken over my ability to ride safely, and, as luck would have it, I came upon the Gatlinburg of the Everglades (those of you from the south know what I mean) – the Miccosukee Indian Reservation. Tacky Tourist Trap that it is, but hey, it had an “eating establishment!” Actually, and surprisingly, the food was pretty good. With my energy level back up to normal, I took a walk around this tourist destination:
If my Florida history serves me right, the Miccosukee were a faction of the Seminoles and fled to south Florida during the Seminole Indian wars. They are the only direct descendants of the original Seminole tribe to have remained in Florida since.
Back on The Tamiami Trail continuing east, I finally enter Homestead, FL. I can feel the excitement as I turn south through downtown Homestead and see the sign for US 1 – The Overseas Highway! Key Largo 15 miles, the sign read as I made my way past Florida City. I can smell the salt air as the Atlantic ocean to the east and Florida Bay to the west come into view. Up and over the causeway that spans Jewfish Creek, made famous by Henry Flagler’s Overseas railroad, and the “Welcome to Key Largo” sign fills my helmet visor. My eyes tear up as I yell in my helmet “I made it! The Florida Keys! Woohoo!” I make a u-turn to the northbound side of US 1 to get to the Holiday Inn, my hotel here in Key Largo. Humphrey Bogart and Key Lime pie are on my docket tonight!
Up next: The African Queen; The Overseas Highway; Seven Mile Bridge; Key West.