The Florida Gator Rally
From: T. "Buick"
I just returned from the GatorRally in the Florida Keys, and as many of you are now in the first throes of impending winter, I debate about torturing you with the gory details. Yet, on the off chance that there might be someone out there who has both the desire to "rally vicariously" and who has never visited South Florida, read on.
"Corky, Myles, and Buick Go To The Conch Republic"
It all began innocently enough.
For most of the Eastern and Northern Presidents, rally season is a memory. For some of us who didn't get enough from April to September, the GatorRally is hosted by the Tri-County BMW club of the Miami/South Florida area. It's held at Marathon, in the Florida Keys, about a hundred miles south of Miami. In terms of culture, it's a _thousand_ miles south of Miami. Okay: everybody run get your road atlases out and turn with me to the "Florida" page. See it? Okay. Now we're ready to talk.
I had planned to make this trip for about three months, as I knew in advance that I would miss some other rallies in the August and September time period due to that Workin' Problem. So, I was primed to go regardless. Then, last week, I put out a message to the List asking who might be going and did anybody want to ride together. Imagine my surprise when Corky Reed (Mayor, by God!! of Reed's Landing, L.A. - that's 'Lower Alabama' ) came back that he might go. We agreed to meet in Lake City, FL, on Thursday, and so we did.
The weather in north Georgia turns pleasantly cool around this time of year, and there is color in the trees, so I pulled out early Thursday morning to a most pleasant set of conditions. I normally detest the Super Slab, but the anticipation and the sun and the pleasant coolth put me into a zone where not even a brief but intense traffic jam could put me off. I live on the north side of Atlanta, and getting out of the bedroom communities and their traffic can be a challenge at the morning rush. I lived in L.A. (the real one, not Lower Alabama) for five years, so Atlanta traffic, while it has its moments, has nothing to offer that I haven't seen before. I recall at one point in L.A., the fights and scuffles on the SoCal freeways were so bad and the gunfire incidents so common, gun stores in several areas had signs in the windows: "Last Ammo Before Freeway." Yikes!!
Anyway, by 0830, I was out on the beltway rolling down past I-20 and on down to I-75. The traffic was actually pretty light once out of Atlanta, and Cosmo started rolling up the miles on that little spool in his speed-o-meter like he does. I had done some work on his suspension over the last few weeks to tauten it up and get better damping control, and the results seemed good, with a nice level ride and just enough feel to know where the tires were. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of I-75 from Atlanta to Florida, know that it is one of the smoothest surfaces anywhere in the south, courtesy of several years of continuous construction delays and a bazillion dollahs of taxpayer's moolahs. Whoever invented that goddamned-big machine that goes down the road and skims the top irregularities off the pavement should get the Nobel Peace prize, or be elected a Roades Scholar or something for the contribution to the peace of mind of all the Snowbirds from the Midwest and Presidents going to the GatorRally. It is also one boring road, for the most part.
Some impressions of I-75:
- Passed O.B.'s Barbeque down around Mcdonough, GA. I can never remember what exit it is at, and because of that, have never eaten there. During Daytona Trailerfest weeks, O.B.'s has Harlye drags and Rice Burner Bashes.
Corky and I had agreed to meet at a barbeque place at exit 82 at Lake City at two o'clock, and true to form, we were both ordering within ten minutes of the appointed time. Amazing how two people 400 miles apart can make a pact over the Internet and coordinate that well, while you can't meet your neighbors for dinner within an hour of when you said you would. The Mayor is an unique character, a "One-er", and a story unto himself, so I'll leave that for some other time and for you all to get acquainted yourselves. Suffice it to say, that he can tell his stories better than I ever could, and that I haven't laughed as much in a long, long time.
I-75 below Lake City has been under construction for as long as I can remember. God knows what they're doing to it to take so long, but at least they've got the concrete crash barriers and narrow lanes gone, and except for a few places, the speeds are normal I-75. (!!) It widens out just north of High Springs, and you can boogie.
Past Gainesville (old Alma Mater, U. of F.), one crosses Paine's Prairie, a peculiar place marked by a rest stop and some signs. What is the Prairie now was once a shallow lake in the late 1800's, complete with a steam ferry boat and plenty of fish. Sometime around 1880, an underground cavern opened up, and the lake drained into the Floridian Acquifer, the porous limestone layers that allow fresh water to flow underground. Instant prairie. The resultant marshy bogs were known as one of the highest concentrations of poisonous snakes, other reptiles of all kinds, and general wildlife anywhere in the U.S. In the fifties, U. of F. fraternity pledges were routinely required to walk the old U.S.441 two-lane road across the Prairie barefoot, at night, dodging cottonmouths, rattlers, and coral snakes that crawled up on the warm pavement after dark. Some initiation rite, eh?
It's amazing what the years of development have done to central Florida; no, to Florida in general. From Ocala south, the retirement communities, golf courses, and strip malls increase with every mile until you're well past Orlando and Tampa. Corky, with his R100R and trailer, and I made a steady 70-75 down between the billboards, bound for Bradenton, our planned stop for the night.
Corky had been talking to Myles Lewis, a President from Bradenton, and we decided to overnight there and meet up. Checked in at the Fritz-Carlson Four Seasons (Motel 6), and used the last of the daylight to find the source of Corky's bike's intermittent surging and loss of power: drained a quart of water out of the right float bowl. Myles showed up just after I got back from the nearby Refreshment Store with supplies, and we all toasted Rallying. We agreed to meet at seven the next morn, and Myles trundled off on his trusty `78 R100 to catch some rack time, as he shoots X-rays on third shift all week, and was toasty from sleepiness. Corky and I proceeded to argue Semantics, Pragmatics, and Symbolics until well into the evening, to my great amusement.
Morning = Waffle House. Nothing beats a cheap, greasy Waffle House breakfast and a gallon of coffee to get ya goin' in the morning (unless it's that diner on Tenth Avenue and 16th - I think - in Manhattan, the one with the greasy home fries and sausage, right up the street from the Landmark tavern) . We fueled up and Fueled Up and were on the road by 0800. I'll skip the rest of I-75, and jump right to Florida 29 south of Imokalee. Great road! Old Florida, and the upper end of Big Cypress National Preserve, a fabulous natural area populated with cypress, palmetto, pine, hardwood, and marsh grass, to name but a small bit.
Below Alligator Alley, one can see the life of the Glades.
- There were egrets which stood in canals fishing, motionless, waiting for small fish to pass their twiggy, stick-like legs, oblivious to three motorcycles passing at 65 miles per hour.
So much beauty, and so fragile. If you have never been in the Glades, by all means, go, before they're gone, or forever, irretrievably altered by the growth. Some people say there's no change of colors in the land signifying the change of seasons in Florida: Myles remarked that the change of colors is on the license plates on the cars, as the snowbirds and retirees arrive after Labor Day.
My good travelling companions suffered my side trip to the Everglades National Park headquarters for a Passport stamp, and a short sidebar to Royal Palm, a fabulous hammock, or stand of hardwood in the midst of the pa-hay-okee, or "Sea Of Grass." There were baby alligators on the bank three feet off the walkway, mama Gator in the channel, and the water that looked so dark from the road was actually quite clear and had plenty of fish. Afterwards, we were off to indulge one of Corky's wishes: a trip to Alabama Jack's bar, on Card Sound road. Here's another interesting place, a biker bar at the foot of the bridge out to Key Largo, on the "other" route to the Keys, the "back way." We had good, cold beer and grouper sandwiches to hold us over until arrival at the rally grounds in Marathon.
The Keys start when you turn right on Key Largo on 905. One enjoys about twelve miles of the unspoiled part of the uppermost Key before the road joins back up with U.S. 1 at the town of Key Largo. At that point, you're in the developed upper part of the Keys. One passes John Pennekamp Park, the only park in Florida that is under water (its a coral reef preserve), dive boats, winter homes, and endless mangrove on the way down to Marathon. There's a great contrast between the older and newer parts, with the older buildings sitting next to brand-new strip malls. I don't think there are many buildings older than the forties except for Key West, as the hurricanes of 1947 and later took out a bunch of them. An uncle of mine told of crossing Seven Mile Bridge in a Hudson with the waves breaking over the rails, ahead of one of the big storms.
Down through Tavernier, Duck Key, and Islamorada, and on into the campground at mile marker 47, there were the typical, odd sights of the Conch Republic:
- old, established restaurants, watering holes, and marinas - The Crack'd Conch, Seven Mile Grill (which is not at mile marker seven nor at Seven Mile Bridge), Herman's Green Turtle, etc.
Well, the sights go on and on. Its a combination of Margaritaville and Cheesey in Paradise.
The Knight's Key Campground is a nice site for a rally. There are trees for shade (needed), water on three sides, and a mellow feel about it. There were about fifty or sixty registered when we signed in by lantern light about 7:00 P.M., on the way up to a hundred, maybe. We set up our travelling gypsy caravan under some trees where there were picnic tables, and proceeded to set up camp and refresh ourselves. Not long after, we found Rick Landi and others, including Terry-Miami (T-Mia) and The Lovely Edwina (TLE), Paul Meredith (down from Manchester, NH, good show !), and others. As the stars came out, so did the jokes and good cheer, and soon there was a contingent of us over at the Seven Mile Grill for dinner. There was the usual after-dinner badinage and bald-faced lying, headed up by The Mayor, who seems to have a story for everything, including having lived on a sailboat not three hundred yards from this campground several years ago.
Saturday morning dawned hot and humid, sunny and clear. Took me a while to get the cobwebs cleared out, but once up and about, it appeared the campground had filled. Greg Pink and John Outlan (the Orlando one, I understand there are two ) were there from the Presidents, and plenty of Internet-challenged. Myles and Paul Meredith and I left for Key West about eleven, just as the bike judging was getting started.
What can one say about Key West? It is a very unusual town, to say the least. There isn't much of it left that Ernest Hemingway would recognize, I suspect. The Southern Cross Hotel and Captain Tony's Bar is there, and they are fairly well intact. The old red brick Customs House that served as Post Office for many years is under renovation as an historical site. The marinas and boat yards cater to yachts instead of fishing boats. The beaches are still white, and the older homes are elegant and mysterious, peeking out from behind walls of vegetation. We had lunch at Turtle Kraals, an old turtle cannery now serving perhaps the best lunch in town, on a veranda out by the water. The old men smoking cigars in the lobby of the Southern Cross made a fine contrast to the tourists eating cheesburgers on the porch of the Hard Rock Cafe, and one can buy Harlye logos on most anything in the shops on Duval Street. I didn't see a tattoo parlor, but somehow I just know there's one in town somewhere.
We cruised back up to the camp before sunset, in contrast to the dozens of Beemers going south into town for the street carnival behind Mallory Square and the obligatory sunset photos. I paused long enough to get a photo of Cosmo and me at the marker at the Southernmost Point in the States, ninety miles from Cuba. Hemingway would have cruised over there and had dinner and drinks after fishing the flats and tarpon fields. Today, I can't even buy a Cuban cigar.
Saturday night was spectacularly clear: a million stars, cool enough, and a light breeze. Just right for another long debate on Cognitive Dissonance with Dali Meeow from Miami (Stephen Karlan) and P. Carwell (Corky) Reed, Ph.D. Three Psychologists at a picnic table in the Keys: does anybody need Analysis?? Guess not.........after all, it's a pleasant 80 degrees, the stars overhead, Beemers still cooling from rides, waves lapping at the shore, and cool refreshments in hand...........it's a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it. Sheesh.
Okay, so we stayed up late again. So sue us.
Sunday morning dawned breezy. Front coming, bringing cooler air and possible rain. Paul had left Saturday night to burn some miles off the 1800 back to Manchester. Others were rolling out by six. After coffee and an energy bar, I packed up and got ready to roll. The campground folks wanted a group shot, but they were sleepin' at the switch, and there were only about twenty showed up. Corky and Myles left for the west Florida route, Myles to Bradenton, Corky to visit a friend in Port Charlotte on his way back to Reed's Landing, between Pensacola and Mobile. Me, I found everybody but T-Mia and TLE already gone from the Prezze's contingent over by the water, and after a quick "Adieu", I pointed Cosmo up the road.
It's the karma of road riding that if you wear your all-weather stuff you're less likely to get rained on, and I didn't. Up through Miami and onto I-95, past the Gold Coast and up to St.Augustine, I hit Fort Matanzas National Monument around 4:30 P.M., for another Passport stamp, before hitting Jacksonville and the best sunset of the trip just as I crossed the St. Johns river on I-295. I-10 was dark, dark, dark, and it got chilly on me after the sun went down. Around Valdosta, only four more hours to home, I decided to skip the 1000-in-1 and checked into a Mo'. Good plan. Monday morning, four hours up I-75, and I was home.
There are a thousand more things I could tell you about what I saw and learned and heard and experienced, but there isn't enough bandwidth. This was a good rally, and a good trip, and the companionship was outstanding. There is one thing, though, that I won't forget to say: Thanks !! Thanx to the rally organizers, thanx to Corky and Myles, and all the other Prezzes, and Thanx to Fate for allowing me this one more rally stroke before the season is over even for me. If you guys can remember it, next year, try to make it to the GatorRally. If there's enough of us, we can have an even bigger party in the Conch Republic!!
From: Hans "BMWmcdude"
The Florida keys I wouldn't want to live there but its a fun place to ride to, and so we did about 180 BMW enthusiasts gathered at Knights key for some sun and fun. There was the presidential beach fest with Terry ferrying drinks from the shore to the floating dock and Edwina trying to bean Corky with an empty mug, its a good thing that stranger there had good reflexes.
The floating barge there was actually the Pink man telling Terry he needed to get more sun because he was starting to look a little pale. And of course the mayor of Reeds landing (Corky Reed) and his wisdom. " One of the nicer things about growing old is that you no longer hear all the snide remarks people make about you" ah the things you learn at BMW rallies. After a quick check of the ticket numbers ( as usual they picked the wrong ones) some headed to the most western key for the sunset celebration and to look at the resident weirdo's and tourists. Its all there and I hope most of it stay's there.
After a few hours of that I headed north and as I so did the Pink man. After a few lefts and a couple of rights I asked him " do you know how to get out of here? No I was following you! After we hit the highway all I saw of him were his taillights, that boy sure can ride!
Early to bed, early to rise to a gorgeous and windy sunrise. Returning from the shower I found my tent 20ft away hanging in the mangroves about 3 ft from the shoreline, in it were my leather jacket, boots, thermarest, sleeping bag and some clothes, some wind, from now on I will stake my tent down no matter how nice it is. I was on the road before the majority of riders including Pink (thats a first) a leisurly ride north with the temperatures gradually warming into the mid 80's, not bad for the 3rd of November.
yup I sure do like Florida.
From: Myles B. Lewis
Ok, what else can I say that hasn't been already said. The Gator Rally was great. Nice and relaxing. Riding down with Corky and Tom was truly enjoyable. Nice roads, nice company, nice scenery. Seeing all my friends at the rally was great! TMia, TLE, Hans, PinkMan, Roger, DaliMeow, Paul M., Rick L., whoever else I forgot, and several from other clubs than IBMWR.
Nothing exciting happened to me like it did to Hans, but I know he wasn't alone. I saw several tents blowing around Sun Morning. My ride down and back on the new Corbin seat, RT bars, BunzEez gel pad all contributed to a great time. Now I won't have to buy a new bike after all. DaliMeow was kind enough to let me ride his R1100RS. What a hoot! Great power, handling, suspension, responsiveness, but an uncomfortable riding position for this old beat up rider. I definitely enjoyed the oilhead engine. Maybe I'll get that oilhead roadster yet...someday....dream on...
Anyway, That's my report.
AND NOW REGARDING THE WINTER RALLY, It's Jan 17-19 in North Fla. Now, N FLA can be cold that time of year(40's-60's and maybe colder) but if anyone is interested in buzzing down, I'll be glad to look into cabin rentals for us Prezzes. Just for fun, I just called the campground. I have 2 one bedroom HEATED cabins on hold. There is a queen bed and 2 twin beds in each cabin. Outside water, and bath houses are available. I don't have the rates yet, since they haven't worked out the discounted rates for the rally yet. Standard rates are $50/night for 4 people. $8 each additional person. OUCH! I've got a friend who said he got a cabin for $15/night for the rally, if I remember correctly. I figure we can get a bunch of us in a cabin or 2. Anyone interested? Let me know by the end of November if not earlier so I can confirm the cabins. There are only a total of 5 left including these 2 and they're only on a verbal hold. All the 2/3 bedroom cabins are gone.
Let's party in January!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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