Wizard's Wild Weekend!
Cedar Key, Florida
2008 December 3-9
Wizard's Wild Weekend!
Cedar Key, Florida
2008 December 3-9
Interactive map of this trip can be found here:
For the past three years, Kevin Healy has invited his MTF friends to meet him in Cedar Key in early December. This is the first year that I will join them. Sylvia and I will ride to Cedar Key together, then Sunday we will head north together and midday she will split off to the northeast back to Virginia and I will follow the Florida coast west as I head to Texas.
Day 1, Wednesday
December 3, 2008
Salem Church Ruins
Sylvia had some things to take care of Wednesday morning so it was 2pm before we were ready to pullout of Fredericksburg on I95 to make tracks southbound to Florida. Even though we left in the middle of the day, the temperature was only 46 degrees. The sun sets early this time of year and when we loose the sun, we get cold fast.
We stop for the night in Fayetteville, NC just after 7pm. We fuel up the bikes and have Subway for supper while I call Choice Hotels for a room at the Quality Inn down the road.
Day 2, Thursday
December 4, 2008
The morning gets off to a slow start and it's 10:25am by the time we pull out of the Quality Inn. We cross the border into South Carolina at 11:30am and make the obligatory visit to Pedro.
Alpha Man is another "flat visitor" that arrived for a visit from Texas.
Alpha Man tries out a new hairdo, but decides that it's not for him.
Instead, he tries out a sombrero.
Enough time spent here. Time to fly south!
Nothing remarkable about traveling south on I95. We make the miles until it's time to exit for the one side trip I wanted to make today near Sheldon, SC to see the Old Sheldon Church Ruins.
We arrive as the sun sinks behind the trees and throws shadows from the ruins.
The church building was burned down twice: Once during the Revolutionary War by the British and again during the Civil War by the Federal Army.
We make it to Brunswick, GA after dark and meet some of Sylvia's friends for supper before checking into our hotel on the south side of town at 9:40pm.
Day 3, Friday
December 5, 2008
We left Brunswick, GA under overcast skies with temperatures in the mid 50s. We traveled about 17 miles south on I95 before taking exit 14 and headed west across the southeast tip of Georgia. Looking at the map this section of Georgia reminds me of a duodenum. I'm not sure what the locals call this area, but "the Duodenum of Georgia" would make sense to me. After all, Florida and Texas both have a Panhandle . . .
We thought we were simply on our way to the Okefenokee Swamp, but a surprise bonus location was put in our path before we arrived at the Okefenokee. We pulled into Folkston, GA from the east and by the time we made it to the railroad tracks, we knew that this was a unique little town. The population of Folkston in the last census (2000) was only 2,178. During its earlier days, Folkston was the self-proclaimed "Marriage Capital of the World" due to the number of Floridians whose passion could not endure their state's waiting period to tie the knot. They would travel north into Georgia in search of more lenient requirements. The amorous couples would find themselves entering Folkston single, but leaving town in the state of wedded bliss...or at least legally married.
But what got our attention was the number of train tracks running north/south and the fact that the rails never seem to have the chance to cool before another train comes though the middle of this small town. In fact, there are so many trains coming through here that this small town has been dubbed "The Folkston Funnel." There are actually up to 80 trains a day passing through Folkston as they come and go from Florida to the rest of the nation.
The town has embraced it's fate and rather than complaining of the noise and interruption of local traffic, have embraced with open arms the Railfans that come from around the country to watch trains pass through town. The town has even built a special covered platform near the tracks for those participating in the sport/hobby of "Fanning the Funnel." The platform is even equipped with a scanner to allow the rail fans to listen in on the railroad radio traffic.
The old restored train depot is home to the local visitor center and a railroad museum. There are souvenirs available for purchase in case visitors wish to return the open arm embrace of Folkston by opening their wallets before leaving town.
Alpha Man was impressed with the "juice trains" in the display case. We didn't get to see one come though the funnel, but heard that the juice trains get priority. If there is ever another train wanting to use the track at the same time as a juice train, the juice train will win. The Florida juice must get through!
Before we get too caught up in fanning the funnel at Folkston, we see the time and remember that we still need to make our way to the other popular local attraction -- the Okefenokee Swamp.
Only 10 miles southwest of Folkston is the east entrance to the National Wildlife Refuge, the Okefenokee! I position the RT down in the ditch for a photo-op with the entrance sign for my flat visitor, Alpha Man.
Once inside the park, we find the visitor center and see there are lots of boats waiting to take visitors for a tour the swamp, but we take note of the weather as a few drops start to fall and decide to saddle up and keep moving toward our destination of Cedar Key. I sure would like to arrive in Cedar Key in time to see the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico.
We leave Okefenokee and pass right through the "duodenum of Georgia" and into Florida. If anyone wants to visit the duodenum of Georgia, set the GPS for St. George, Georgia.
Alpha Man at the Florida state line on highway 121.
We couldn't miss this fruit stand on CR 129 where we crossed over I10 near Sanderson, Florida.
We enter Florida about 1:30pm and stopp in Lake Butler for lunch at a small deli about 2:30pm. Byt he time we leave Lake Butker, there's a light rain, but nothing heavy as we zigzagg our way southwest across Florida to find the "lost key" on the western shores of northern Florida due west of Ocala. Anyone that knows the geography of Florida, will realize that this is NOT where Florida generally keeps the Keys. Generally when looking for Keys in Florida, you would travel as far south as possible until you hit the Overseas Highway. That road will take you down the chain of Keys all the way to the "lowest key" of Key West. But Cedar Key is lost . . . or hidden . . . however you choose to see its location, it's not found with the rest of the Keys. We follow highway 24 and arrive at the Cedar Key welcome sign on the edge of town at 5:19pm.
By 5:27pm, I'm taking photos of the sunset.
If you listen closely, you can hear the bird's wings flapping and the distant sizzle as the hot sun gently lowers itself into the extinguishing waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I take a deep sigh. We made it in time to see the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.
This is the view from the motel parking lot just a block away from where I took the previous photos.
After getting parked, unpacked, and settled into the Beachfront Motel, we started mingling with other motorcyclists in the parking lot. Some of the folks I knew from other similar gatherings and some I had never met before. But within a few minutes, I had added more faces to the "known" column.
After dark settled in, we gathered in the motel parking lot and walked en masse to Dock Street to the Dock Street Depot for supper. Dock Street is the "happening place" in Cedar Key, especially after dark when weekend sailors (and bikers) come in looking for a meal and/or a party.
Day 4, Saturday
December 6, 2008
A Day in Cedar Key
Obviously, today wasn't a day about riding the miles. Far from it.
We are in Cedar Key, Florida . . . in December. We are going to enjoy being here. We start the day by walking to breakfast at Annie's Cafe.
Annie's is a small place with a relaxed atmosphere. There wasn't much room inside with most of the Wizard's friends arriving ahead of us.
So Sylvia and I sat with a few others on the back screened porch overlooking this channel.
When we got back from breakfast, some saddled up for a ride to lunch at Horseshoe Beach about 75 miles away. These are some of Wizard's friends that regularly attend this gathering. They've already seen Cedar Key and are ready to expand their exploring.
The rest of us decided to stay around Cedar Key to see the local sights. Cedar Key is a little place. It shouldn't take long.
One of my obvious mandatory photo-op stops is the post office.
Cedar Key, Florida 32625
The local grocery store shows a little local culture.
This is looking back at our motel from Palmetto Drive. We are staying at the Beachfront Motel which sits right on the point.
A small channel that leads to the Gulf of Mexico.
Pretentious ISN'T a word that comes to mind in Cedar Key.
This property didn't have any vacancies. It's know as the Honeymoon Suite.
Those of us that were in the motel's parking lot gathered for a group photo as the sun sank low.
(click to enlarge any photo)After dark, we walked back to Dock Street again, but this time gathered at the Seabreeze Restaurant for our evening meal and more social time.
Day 5, Sunday
December 7, 2008
Riding The Nature Coast to The Forgotten Coast
Sunday morning we take our time getting up and loaded to go. Our first stop is breakfast at Annie's Cafe before leaving town. Most of Wizard's friends had already cleared breakfast and were miles down the road toward their own destinations when we walked in careful not to let the screen door slam behind us. We eat breakfast while visiting a bit with Jim & Donna Phillips of 2-up rally fame and before we knew it, the time was already 10am when we leave Cedar Key in our review mirrors.
Sylvia and I ride north from Cedar Key to Chiefland where we take a jog westward to look for sea cows.
Our destination is Manatee Springs State Park located on the Suwannee River. If we're lucky, the manatee will be visiting.
This section of the Florida coast from Tampa Bay north to Florida's Panhandle near Carabelle, FL is known as The Nature Coast.
The old time boaters and travelers knew it a "the lonesome leg" of Florida.
Manatee Springs was registered as a Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of Interior in 1972. It is a first magnitude spring discharging an average of 100 million gallons of water every day. The waters are a constant 72 degrees, providing a warmth for the manatee during the winter - November through April.
We searched the clear spring waters, but saw no manatee today. The park is a popular place for snorkeling and scuba divers, but today the waters flowed undisturbed. Maybe the sign below has something to do with that. It got the attention of AlphaMan and his friend, Flat Francisco. They were on the lookout for the gators, but we saw none.
After visiting the springs, we take a stroll on the boardwalk to a floating boat dock on the Suwannee River.
The Suwannee River starts its journey at the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia meandering 266 miles and crossing Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. It provides the division separating Florida's Panhandle from the rest of the state.
The river was named Suwani meaning "Echo River" by the native Timucuan Indians.
Stephen Foster wrote the song "Old Folks at Home" also known as 'Swanee River', though he never saw the Suwannee River made famous in his song. Florida adopted this song as their official state song in 1935.
Fishing on the Suwannee River.
From here, Sylvia and I will take separate roads. She will head back to Virginia and I will follow the Florida Coast toward Texas.
The RT waiting to take me back on the road.
I travel north along The Nature Coast on US19.
When I pass through Old Town, Florida my inquiring mind asks these questions:
How old does a town have to be to be called Old Town? What was it called before being called Old Town? Maybe New Town?
US19 onto US98 and continue westward following the coast.
Just west of Perry, as I'm traveling through a rather tall and thick stand of palm trees, I look up to see a bald eagle flying overhead. Seeing a bald eagle while fleetering always seems to me to be a good sign. Last year I saw one as I crossed from Maine into Canada.
It was along here I saw this sign. Made me think of the big "Snipe Hunts" in Texas. (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)
Bit of trivia: The Snipe bird is a shore bird that is very difficult to hunt even for a truly experienced snipe hunter. The term "sniper" came to mean a marksman so skilled as to be able to shoot a snipe. Now you know . . .
As I cross the Ochlockonee Bay, I leave The Nature Coast behind and enter The Forgotten Coast.
Ochlockonee Bay transitions the Ochlockonkee River to the Gulf of Mexico.
Fleetering The Forgotten Coast of Florida.
The World's Smallest Police Station" since 1963.
The phone company provided a booth for the official police phone that up until then had been in a call box bolted on the side of a building.
Dog Island is an island located off the coast near Carrabelle.
When I saw this paw print in the sand, I guessed it might one of the island dogs visiting the mainland. (It's the little clues/signs that one has to pay attention to in life.)
Carrabelle Beach is west of town and has a special place in WWII history. This is the D-Day training site. In 1943 the Army's 4th Infantry Division trained here and on Dog Island for the Normandy Invasion of 1944. (click to enlarge)
I cast a long shadow as I walk along Carrabelle Beach imagining the amphibious infantry assault teams landing on the sandy shores.
Crossing the Apalachicola Bay bridge at sunset.
Apalachicola is derived from the Indian words meaning "people on the other side of the river" though many of the locals choose to translate it as "land of the friendly people."
It was dark as I rode into Mexico Beach, Florida. I stopped in a parking lot to take a photo of some Christmas lights. As I was trying to set the camera up for the shot (helmet and earbuds still in place), I thought I heard someone yelling across the two lane highway. But in the limited light, I couldn't see them. Not that it mattered. None of my business. I don't know anyone in this small coastal town. But the "calling out" seemed to get louder and more insistent. I reached up and muted the XM radio getting piped into my helmet and looked into the darkness toward the voice. I see a fellow crossing the highway. He calls out again, "Hey, Mr. BMW man! Mr. BMW man!"
I realized that he is coming my direction and talking to me. I'm Mr. BMW man . . . in his eyes. Now that he has my attention, he proceeds to invite me to the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony getting ready to take place at the other end of town -- four blocks away. I decline to remove my helmet or inform him that maybe Ms. BMW woman would have been more correct, but I do decide to take him up on his offer and make my way to join the small crowd gathering at Sunset Park where the large tree is waiting it's moment to shine.
Home for the night is Panama City at the Comfort Inn. A nice place for a few bucks. I got the room for less than $45. They had been forced to reduce rates due to the economy and fuel prices robbing them of their usual number of customers. I just may route myself back through here another time; reasonable rates, clean room, good linens, strong wi-fi signal AND and Schlotzsky's across the street! By 8pm I was sitting across the street enjoying an Austin, Texas original -- a Schlotzsky sandwich.
Day 6, Monday
December 8, 2008
Riding The Emerald Coast
I wasn't in a hurry to get on the road today since I'm not planning on many miles, but then I got to talking to some of the employees of the motel (guess they weren't too busy since I was about the only guest they had staying that night) and ended up leaving later than I wanted to leave.
Even with my late start, I take my time and follow FL30 that hugs the coast until it joins back up to US98. I can imagine that during the busy season this would be a very busy stretch of road, but on this Monday in early December, the traffic is very light and I am able to whip a u-turn when and where I wish.
This section is known as The Emerald Coast, so named for the green water lapping at the white sandy beaches. It is filed with hotels, resorts, shops and restaurants all here no doubt to get a piece of the spring break crowd and other tourists seeking the calming effects of the Emerald Coast.
This shark hanging at Sharky's Restaurant caught my eye. I thought it would make a good photo op for AlphaMan.
If you've never had a Whataburger, you've been deprived! Whataburger is always on my list of places to stop whenever I go south because . . . Whataburger is what a burger should be! Usually I have to get to Texas before I can sink my teeth into one. If you're not in the mood for a hamburger, try the Whatachick'n or Whatacatch (fish).
The first Whataburger was opened in Corpus Christi, Texas in August 1950. I had my first Whataburger in San Antonio in the 1960's. I found this one in Destin, Florida just before crossing the bridge at Choctawhatchee Bay.
After eating my Whataburger and making a phone call, I ride across the street and take a walk along the waterfront. I met this pelican hanging out waiting to be fed trash fish by the local fishermen.
He raised his neck to get a better look at me when I 'ooched' up close to take these pictures. There's no zoom involved here. He actually let me get this close.
After passing Fort Walton Beach and Elgin Air Force Base, I continue following US98 and see these Palm Tikis. After about 1/2 a mile, I talk myself into turning around to take a better look.
I met Charlie, the Tiki artist. He's a friendly sort and takes a break from his chainsaw to chat with me a bit. I end up buying this one -- to be shipped home of course. PalmTiki
Fifteen miles after the stopping at Charlie's TikiPalm studio, I'm pulling into the Gulf Island National Seashore, Naval Live Oaks Visitor Center in Gulf Breeze, Florida.
Out behind the visitor center, there's a deck and a hiking trail.
That's Santa Rosa Island off in the distance with the Gulf of Mexico on the other side of it.
Time to follow the sun. My plan is to make it through Alabama and into Mississippi before stopping for the night.
About 123 miles later, I arrive in Ocean Springs and find Doughboys. I have a poboy sandwich for supper and get checked into the Quality Inn for the night.
Day 7, Tuesday
December 9, 2008
Ghosts Left by Katrina along the Mississippi Sound Coast
Today I am going to try to finish a leg of a ride I started in 2006 -- to survey the damage left by Katrina on August 29, 2005. In May of 2006, I rode US90 along the coast of Mississippi westward as far as Ocean Springs where the US90 bridge from Ocean Springs to Biloxi was wiped out. Today I will cross over the new bridge into Biloxi and continue to follow along the coast of the Mississippi Sound, passed Pass Christian and over another post-Katrina bridge into Bay St.Louis.
Home last night was the Quality Inn in Ocean Springs, MS.
Before crossing the new bridge, I take a short detour onto Lover's Lane and use someone's decorated gate for a Christmasy pose.
There's Biloxi at the far end of the brand new US90 bridge. The old bridge looks dwarfed next to the new one. It was tossed about like an upset scrabble board by Katrina.
Fleeter FILE photo: The last time I was here was in May 2006. This was as far as I got on US90 before I had to give up the secondary highways and follow the herd on I10.
Link to my Fleeter trip May 2006.
Another file photo from May 2006:
The Biloxi Lighthouse is the only Mississippi lighthouse still standing since Katrina destroyed the other remaining lighthouses in 2005. Built in1848, it's in the only lighthouse in the US to stand in the middle of a four lane highway.
This is the typical view riding from Biloxi to Pass Christian (Harrison County, MS). Beach on left, a lot of large vacant lots on right where high dollar beachfront homes used to sit.
The RT sitting on a side street among old live oaks that are still standing though obviously a few limbs thinner since Katrina passed through. The posts are all that's left of a fence once surrounding a prime lot.
Notice the rescuer's paint markings. It was searched 9-04, no bodies found here.
The death count in Harrison County contributed to Hurricane Katrina: 126.
This old section of US90 highway leading to the old bridge is still half flooded and half sand covered.
I came across the solitary building remains in Bay Saint Louis on Beachfront Boulevard.
It is painted with a message: Solid. Everything else in the vicinity has been razed and cleared.
I'm curious enough about what this building's purpose was before Katrina, that I decided to stop and get a closer look.
Seems to me that this was the safe portion of a bank. I guess that explains the "SOLID" message painted on the building. I suppose it will take more than your typical neighborhood bulldozer to demo this structure!
After circling around the town of Bay Saint Louis, I head to I10 in order to make the 300 miles into Texas before the weather hits. I know the weather is moving toward me from Texas, but I should have plenty time in following the fast herd on I10.
My plan went well until 10 miles west of Baton Rouge where we all slowed to a crawl. There must be an accident up ahead, but the question is . . . How far up ahead? After about five miles of constantly feathering the clutch, I decide it's time to make a decision. I see an exit up ahead that will provide me an escape north where I can catch US190 back west. I pull over a few feet past where the exit peels off and got the attention of the truck driver behind me.
As he pulls up next to me, I ask, "How much further does this problem go?"
"10 miles," he said. That decided it for me. I cut a right into the exit lane.
This delay causes me to meet the cold front sooner that I was planning. The winds whipped up and a few rain drops fell as the leading edge blew past me. A few gusts made a serious attempt at separating me from the RT. But the RT and I have bonded too well for that to happen!
My bailout route nearly doubled my miles to Lafayette. I bailed 39 miles back on the freeway, but arrive in Lafayette 68 miles later. The good news is that state highway 77 provided several miles of curvy road through Maringouin on the way to US190 and at Livonia, I joined the Acadiana Trail for a few miles (also known as the Evangeline Highway) that runs from Beaumont, Texas to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
When I join back with the traffic on I10, the wind has settled down and the temps are a few degrees cooler. Still a good ride as I head to Texas! Just 100 miles to go. I settle in and enjoy the miles rolling by. By the time I get to the Sabine River, it's dark and the I notice a chill as I start to cross over the Sabine River bridge. But when I get to the top of the bridge, I'm watching the numbers drop on the RT's temperature gauge. When I roll off the bridge and onto Texas soil, the temperature has dropped a full 10 degrees since I left Louisiana -- less than 500 yards ago!
At the first exit in Texas, the rain is coming down in buckets. Then by the time I take the second exit, the frontage road is flooding. There's a couple inches that can't drain faster than it pours from the sky. I sit at the light watching the signal swing in the wind and then slowly make my way through the intersection when the light turns green. My friends live only two miles from I10. The rain is coming down so hard that I am depending on the GPS to let me know where to turn because I can't even see 20 feet ahead. Once in their neighborhood, I'm straining to see the driveway as I get close to their house--hoping I can make it out through the lack of visibility. I am relived to see that Carolyn has the garage door raised and the light on -- It's like a lighthouse signaling the path to safety for the wayward traveler. I can't see where the driveway meets the street through the water rushing along the curb, but I follow the light and manage to pull in safely to a dry garage. Thanks, Carolyn!
Sorry for the fuzzy photo, but I think this will spell out the weather I can expect for the next couple days. As you can see: Today-thunderstorms, 48 degrees; Tomorrow-rain showers, 36 degrees; Thursday-snow/rain mix 33 degrees. Welcome to Texas!