To The (Near) Tropics!

I know, I know, it’s been too long since my last post… I’ve been bad about keeping you updated! I’ll just start where I left off – leaving NYC.
From New York I went straight to Philadelphia to visit an old friend of mine from lovely San Francisco (not that she’s old), Barbara Quigley. She put up with me for several days and even acted as my own personal tour guide (isn’t it wonderful having connections?!?). Philly was a rush, we were always running around checking things out. Barbara is one of those people that knows everything about everything around her, and can get you from Point A to Point B quickly and without any problems. I just followed along with my thumb in my mouth, wide eyes wandering with the blank expression of cluelessness. The good thing is, Barbara made sure I never wandered off; I can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d gotten lost in the City of Brotherly Love (I wasn’t convinced that all the people on the street harbored “brotherly love” toward me). We walked up the “Rocky Steps” in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum and had to do the touristy thing – a picture with our fists in the air. We visited the Franklin Institute and nerded out at all the awesome science exhibits. And OOh, OOH! I saw the Liberty Bell! I wanted to ring it, but the man in the spiffy uniform wouldn’t let me…

Art Museum
ROCKY POSE!
I wanted to ring the bell…

There’s nothing cooler than Giant Ben Franklin


 
Philadelphia Phun Time had to come to an end, and once again I was off, this time to the west to reach the Shenandoah Valley. I figured, if John Denver sang about the Shenandoah River, the valley should be worth seeing, right? RIGHT! In fact, this part of the state was more beautiful than I had ever anticipated. By the time I’d ridden the 105 miles of Skyline Drive on the Blue Ridge Mountains, and subsequently the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, I decided that, if I were to live anywhere east of the Mississippi, this is where I’d be. Denver wasn’t kidding around.
 
View from Skyline Drive in Shenandoah Park



Preparing breakfast just off the Blue Ridge Parkway

I have a problem, you see: when the road is fun and beautiful, I find it hard to make myself stop for a break; I just want to keep going and see what’s around the next bend. When the road is dull and boring, I find it hard to make myself stop for a break; I just want to keep going and get it over with. In the case of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I wish I had stopped more often just to enjoy the 

OOooOOhh I LOVE the fog! Except when I’m riding…

scenery. I rode the 574 miles that is Skyline Parkway + Blue Ridge Parkway in just two days; I should’ve spent three, but hey, you live and learn, right? In any case, I saw more beauty in that two days than one sees in much of the country.


Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge




Blue Ridge Parkway

It was on the Blue Ridge Parkway that I met a gentleman who greatly influenced my experiences over the next several weeks. Mr. Larry Correll, of Venice, Florida, rides his motorcycle up to the Blue Ridge Parkway every once in a while just to enjoy a cigar or two. I had pulled off the road to buy a banana from a little general store – I was craving fruit, as I’d been dining on sardines and oatmeal – and Larry approached me while I feasted on the still-too-green-and-bitter banana. I thought this would be the typical “Where are you from? Where are you going? You’ve been away from home since June? Wow! I wish I could do that!” conversation. I was quickly proven wrong. In fact, a couple minutes with Larry made me wishing I was him! Larry has ridden in every state, as well as through all of Canada. He’s ridden through Mexico and Central America as far as Panama, and has ridden in much of Europe, Australia, and some of Asia. He’s ridden across the U.S. nine times and makes an annual trip up to and through Alaska. Larry has put over a million miles on motorcycles. And he’s a really nice guy. After just a few minutes of talking (and after he chastised me for not having enough stickers on my bike – I’ve gotten more since you saw me, Larry!) he invited me to pay him and his wife a visit down in Florida, since I’d be going that way anyway. He also insisted I visit the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge near Deal’s Gap, since I’d be going down that way to ride the Tail of the Dragon. Larry even called the owner to make sure there were still tent spaces available (Clearly Larry is a well-connected individual. Remember what I said about having connections?). I did in fact end up at the Iron Horse. Let it be known that, so far, the Iron Horse is the only place I’ve had to pay mulah to sleep at night! My goal was to go the entire trip that way, but I just had to check out the Iron Horse. I had a spaghetti dinner and sat around a bonfire with a bunch of other motorcyclists, chatting and watching the flames for a long while before turning in.


I survived the Tail of the Dragon

The next morning began a day I had long awaited – I was going to ride the Tail of the Dragon, legendary for its 318 curves in 11 miles of asphalt. Motorcyclists arrive from all around the country just to ride this thing. What a rush! I think I counted the first four or five curves before giving up. One does wonder, after riding up the TAIL of the dragon, does one then reach the buttox of the dragon? I saw nothing of the sort, though there is a beautiful lake and afterward a stretch of parkway bordering the Great Smokies. Riding up into Tennessee, I entered the National Park and lazily wandered along the windy roads through canyons and along streams in the Smokies. These mountains are a gem, a stunning display of forests and peaks and mist. I had a wonderful lunch of sardines and crackers (again… yummy…) at the pass, which also delineates the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, and over which the Appalacian Trail runs.

The Great Smoky Mountains

From the Smokies I rode down into the northeastern finger of Georgia and found a nice wooded turnout next to a country highway along a large creek to pitch camp. To make things even better, I had ridden through a mild thunder shower, and by the time I set up camp the rain had stopped and a thick mist filled the air. I took a much-needed bath in the creek and went for a long walk down that country road before turning in for the night.

My destiny…?

I had planned on CouchSurfing in eastern Florida while working my way down to Key West (Corner #3!). When I got a hold of my host, however, they informed me that the Hurricne Isaac was coming through, and they weren’t sure how much of an impact the rain would have on the first-floor apartment. So, I made a detour to Columbus, GA, where Mom’s cousin Mike and his family live – the Henleys! I arrived after giving them a three-hour notice. Fortunately they were graceful enough to welcome me with open arms and even FEED me. Well, I liked that so much, I decided to stay a few days and relax. It had nothing to do with wanting to visit them or anything like that. Okay, maybe a little bit. Besides, Phillip has an Australian sugar glider, which was really fun to play with!

Phillip’s Sugar Glider

The day finally came to leave Columbus, so I did… for an hour or two, then I came back. I had discovered that I’d left my cell phone at the Henleys’. By the time I returned to the house, it was too late to leave again, so I stuck around one more night. THEN I left Columbus and rode south! It was a LOOOOONG ride down into and through Florida. And hot. And humid. But wait, Larry lives in Venice, 470 miles away. A day of riding and two sore butt cheeks later, I dismounted my bike in front of a beautiful home next to the Gulf of Mexico, face numb and hands shaking from vibration. I managed to crawl up the steps to the front door despite the fact that the muscles in my legs had atrophied and my arms felt like over-cooked noodles. Penny, Larry’s wonderful bride, answered the door and, with a sweet smile, asked the Golden Question every traveler dreams of:
“Would you like something to drink?”
I believe I rehydrated myself with three bottles of beer and two glasses of wine before Larry and Penny took me out for pizza and another two glasses of wine. I cannot, CANNOT emphasize enough how generous people have been to me throughout the course of my trip. After dinner Larry and I enjoyed cigars on the back deck of their home, overlooking the inlet from the Gulf. The next mornig I joined Larry and a group of people for yoga on the beach, and afterward Larry and I rode our motorcycles to a little town called La Belle (about 95 miles from his home) for lunch (which Larry bought for me). We made plans for me to return on my way back north, and after lunch he sent me on my way. Several hours later (and another sore pair of butt cheeks) I made it to Everglades National Park. I paid a visit to the Visitor’s Center and then rode into the bowels of the Everglades – just as a rainstorm hit. Well, this was the perfect opportunity for a shower! I found a small building with an overhang, parked the bike there, stripped down to my shorts and stood in the downpour, scrubbing and washing away all the sweat and grime that a day of riding in Florida can provide. When you travel like this, you have to take what you can get. I spent the evening riding down to the terminus of the main road that goes throug the park, down to the southwestern edge of mainland Florida. There was a thunderstorm brewing to the west, and I got off the bike to enjoy the show. In just a few seconds, I realized my mistake: clouds of mosquitoes surrounded me. I had taken my gloves off to relieve myself, and in the time it takes one to go pee I had been the generous host of dozens of mosquitoes dining on my hands. They filled my helmet, and in the course of breathing I had inhaled one that stuck in the back of my throat (it came up later while I was riding away). A ranger had told me the mosquitos were the worst down at the southwestern end (called Flamingo), so I headed back toward the northeastern side of the park to camp. In the morning I was up early for some sunrise sightseeing, and later in the morning I attended a ranger-led tour to see some wildlife, including lots of alligators. Then it was off to Key West!


Smallest Post Office in the United States. Really!



Everglades in the afternoon…



…and everglades in the morning.
The lowest “pass” I’ve ever ridden through



?



Apparently they pick at the rubber weather stripping on vehicles.

Alligator!

Key West is an interesting place. Not quite American, and not quite… NOT. My CouchSurfing host, Bill, informed me that Key West, along with a few of the other keys, had in fact legally seceded from the Union years ago and named themselves the Conch Republic. And they’ve never officially been readmitted back INTO the Union. Huh. Well, as long as my cash works here, I guess I’m okay. I spent a day and a half in Key West, exploring up and down Duval Street. I swam on the Atlantic side of the island, and I swam on the Gulf side of the island. I had a mojito (the worst mojito of my life) at an open-air bar overlooking the Gulf. I drank rum and smoked cigarillos with Bill on his front porch. And, I visited the “southernmost point,” as well as Mile Marker Zero for US Route 1. It was a unique experience, but I had the bug and couldn’t wait to hit the road again.

 
Looking due west from Key West
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One response to “To The (Near) Tropics!

  1. Sounds awesome dudeseph! I've ridden my trusty subaru forester over the tail of the dragon! When I was there some photo companies took my picture and posted in on their website. What day were you there? If they took your photo maybe I can find you. ❤

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