I’m not sure where the sense of urgency came from, but my internal alarm clock got me up pretty early. J and the kids took an early flight from Houston to Miami. The would hit the airport about 10am and then drive the truck and trailer down to Key Largo to meet me about 11:30 or so.
The time between waking up and them getting there felt like a lifetime. I went ahead and packed up (for the last time) because I just couldn't stand it. I strapped everything back on the bike because I wanted to meet them at the visitor center (and because my campsite was a dark, dismal shithole).
I milled around the park for a couple of hours when I finally got the call that they were close. I ran out in the main road to meet them. I can’t really describe how I felt but I did have a conversation with my son (the next day) that sums it all up:
My Son at Disney’s Animal Kingdom: This is like our home. I actually like it better.
Me: For me home is where y'all are. I can be anywhere.
My son: So yesterday, you came home, when we met you in Key Largo?
Back to Day 8, I loaded all my bike luggage into the trailer and we grabbed my son’s riding gear. The plan had been that he would ride with me from Key Largo to Key West. I had my reservations but I had given him my word that we would try.
In many ways this was the pinnacle of the trip. My son and me on the bike in one of the most beautiful places in the world. J and our daughter would scout ahead in the truck.
The view did not disappoint. It was long bridges, blue green water and tiny islands. It looked much like I thought it would. Yet, I'm not sure I ever believed that I was actually on the road to Key West. The idea seemed too ridiculous to be real. And yet, there we were. It was a cool feeling.
I expected this ride to only take a couple of hours, thus, it took four. The traffic was pretty rough and it was really getting hot. Despite all this, that kid had a great attitude throughout the entire trip. We had helmet comms so we could talk along the way. It was always: “Dad, look at that” or “Dad did you see that?”. He would say “CORVETTE” in the same way that that a dog would say “SQUIRREL”. We talked about cars, motorcycles and islands, it was fabulous. He didn’t bitch once about the heat or the ride. I did, but he didn’t.
There is this great intersection in Key West where you have literally come as far down as you can go. You must turn left or right. Remember, this is the first and only turn of the whole day.
|Credit Google Maps|
I couldn’t figure out which way to turn because I was so damned hot and tired. Also, after 4 hours of riding in a straight line, I'd forgotten how. We managed a left turn and I pulled into a hotel parking lot. I called J. My son got off the bike and laid down on the concrete, right there in the parking lot. J told me that left was the correct direction and I could just keep going to hit the hotel.
Five minutes later we were there. The Sheraton Key West is beautiful. They were extremely polite and accommodating. We got to our room, which was very nice, and settled down.
After a few minutes of sitting around in the room...
J:”Are you going to Land’s end”
Me: “I had planned on it but I the last thing I want to do right now is get back on that fuckin’ bike”
J: “I know but you have come all this way. I think you need to finish it.”
Me: “Really? Yeah, you’re probably right.”
J helped me with the directions and I got ready to finish the trip. I was feeling emotional but in a detached kind of way. The fatigue and relief at being with the family balanced into this strange numbness. I think that I was afraid to finish the trip. I’m still not sure why.
Back on the bike and through the town streets of Key West. What a cool town. Yes it’s a party town but unlike other coastal party towns, it has a strong identity. Chickens walk through the streets and everyone is on two wheels.
|I watched this cock walk right out in the middle of the street.|
You can see the place marker down the street.
Here is a closer shot.
I wasn’t done though. I rode back to the hotel and parked the bike. The hotel was directly across the street from the (most gorgeous) beach (in the world).
I walked across the street and down the seawall steps. As I walked across the soft white sand I pulled my keys out from my pocket. I stopped at water’s edge and tossed ‘em in.
|The keys are actually in 6 inches of water. |
The water is just so clear and clean that you can't tell.
I grabbed them, put them back in my pocket and sent a text to J:
“I’m done and coming to you”
And just like that, 1 year of planning, 8 long days, 2300 miles across 5 states and 10,000 thoughts came to a close. No accidents. No injuries. No breakdowns. No regrets.
And now to close this “third phase” of the trip, that is to say this blog, I find myself struggling for words.
I have always been a child of the gulf coast. The warm waters, the warm breeze, even the crazy storms have always spoken to me... taught me about the important things…shaped who I am. I have always hated that my experience only stretched along one small piece of the coast. This was more than just a vacation. It was more than just a ride.
This trip was about connections. Dots on a map connected by motorcycle and rider. Places that used to only live in my imagination now live in my memory. I have a mental mosaic of this entire coastline and the people who live on it. And as different as each place seems, there is an underlying spirit that is unmistakably gulf coastal. All the places and people are in some small way…connected.
This blog has also been a journey of connections. Something happens when you write a thought down. Not only is it saved for the future but it’s examined in the present. I had to think about these experiences in a way that they could be described to someone who wasn’t there. It has been difficult because the ride experience was such a rich one that I find my writing abilities pushed to the limit. Still, you probably only got about 15% of what it was like to go do this thing. Yet, I hope that you were able to connect with some of the places I described here. I hope that in dragging you with me on this trip I’ve given you a sense of what it is like to be summarily immersed in every part of this region. It remains the place I love most on this planet. While I imagine that I will visit many of the individual places again, I doubt that I’ll tour the whole region in one go.
That journey is complete and now, so is this one.
Thank you for riding with me. It has been a pleasure and a privilege.
..and to close, one last storytime….
A husband and wife in their early seventies sit on a porch in Key West that overlooks the sea.
“Did I tell you that they are both flying in with all the kids?” she said.
“No. You mean actually flying?”
“Yeah, they rented a twin-engine and she’s flying it.”
“Cool! Does she know how to fly into Boca Chica” he asked.
She gave him a flat look
“Right, of course she does” He said.
“She is planning on flying over the house on the way in.” She said
“What time”, he asked
“Tomorrow at 10AM” she said.
“What? Shit! I thought they were coming in on Wednesday”, he said.
“If you would have checked the calendar on the fridge…”, she said.
“Right, right. Damn I need to get those scooters running”, he said
“You know, we could just rent them some.” She said.
“Hell no” he said “I can fix the spares. I just need to get the carbs on the one and a new battery in the other. Shouldn’t be a problem at all. Take me maybe a couple hours at the most.”
“Why don’t you see if there are any parts that you need. Mike got really pissed the last time you made him open the shop in the middle of the night”, she said.
“Good idea, I’ll go check it out.” He said.
Sunrise the next day, the wife is sipping coffee on the same porch. The man sits down behind her. His hands are grease stained and his eyes are red.
“For someone who didn’t sleep, you look pretty good” she said
“Thanks. Well, all the bikes run now. Everyone will have their own set of wheels”
“You didn’t have do that” she said.
“No worries, I just didn’t expect to have to change tires and swap gas. I’m glad Mike was awake last night. I picked up helmets for all the grandkids as well”
“I’m sure your daughter will be grateful for that” she said
“She said that they could ride when they turned 8. They’re both older than 8”
“They’re 9 and 11” she said.
“Which is older than 8. I’m sure it will be fine” he said.
They both turned at the sound of airplane engines in the distance.
“Is that them?”
“Should be. She texted me a few minutes ago”
A small twin engine plane flew directly towards the house. Just before the plane flew over, the left wing dipped three times in rapid succession.
“Yep, that’s them” he said.
“Let’s go get them” she said.