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THE WEATHER IS HERE. Let it snow up THERE (part II)

November 30, 2010

I arrived in Homestead, Florida on my second day on the road.  The ride was just over 1,200 miles and except for being freaking freezing for most of the first day – was easy and enjoyable.

I was riding my new Aprilia Caponord and with the exception of the saddle, the bike was flawless.  I loved the upright seating position, the wind protection from the tall windscreen and hand guards and how much gear I could carry.  I thought the GIVI Monokey tail box was silly looking until I realized how much gear could fit into it.  It’s absolutely waterproof and lockable.  A great place for my helmet, camera, laptop, Mt. Gay rum, cigars, and all the other high security items I had packed. 

When I got to Homestead, I checked into another Value Place hotel.  The entire week for the largest unit (a two bed, couch, full fridge, TV, dresser, etc) was something like $400.00.  Fantastic.  I’ve written about Value Place before – these are fantastic short term budget hotels (as long as you tastes are simple).  You want to spend $400 a night – look any of a dozen offerings in Key Largo or Islamorada, or further into the Keys. 

About Homestead, I knew nothing.  Guidebooks are sadly out of touch with the reality of the town.  I half expected to be robbed on arrival and my kidneys sold on the black market.  Nothing was further from the truth.  It’s a lovely little town with some rough areas but mostly, it’s urban sprawl, Starbucks, fast food places and funky bars.  It’s the last town before the Florida Keys proper.  After I checked in and unloaded all my gear I rode next door to a gigantic shopping center where I was delighted to find a liquor store and a mega Publix grocery store. 

I filled an entire shopping cart with food and essentials for a two week stay.  When I pushed the cart out to the massive parking lot I had second thoughts about all the crap I bought when I rolled the cart up to the bike.  Standing in the warm Florida breeze with an overflowing shopping cart I wondered how all this stuff would fit into the Caponord’s bags.  But sure enough, with some careful placement everything fit into the hard panniers, Givi top box and my tank bag.  Several folks walked by with amused looks on their faces watching this disappearing act.  I rode back to the hotel, unloaded the bike, cooked dinner, had a rum in the warm Florida evening, smoked a cigar and hit the sack.  Not bad for two days in the saddle.

The next morning I was up early and headed for Key Largo.  Key Largo has something of an interesting history.  As early as 1639 Key Largo was identified on a Johannes Vingloons chart as  Caio dos 12 Ligues.  A Spanish chart  in 1733 referred to the area as Cayo Largo and finally in 1774 as ‘Key Largo.  The first community in Key Largo was established in 1870 with a population of 60.  According to Wikipedia Key Largo was named Rock Harbor into the 1940’s and the name was changed based on the success of the film ‘Key Largo" and pressure from local businessmen.

 

Anyway, for the most part, Key Largo is just an old Bogart (1943 Key Larg0) movie and a diving paradise.  That afternoon I rode down US 1 south to John Pennkamp State Park to start working on my tan.  The park offers a huge variety of activities.  Scuba diving, snorkeling, glass bottom boat tours, boat rentals, swimming, etc.  Today, all I wanted was to stretch out and forget about the snow up north.   So I settled into my beach chair and forgot about skis, snow, snow tires, slush, ice, and cold weather.  Why the hatred of cold weather?  Well, after several years in Vermont, I was standing the kitchen of my house in Stowe, VT washing dishes in the kitchen sink.  I remember looking up from my chores and gazing out the large kitchen windows at my yard.  The view was not as as scenic as usual due to the fact that snow was halfway up the window glass.  We’re talking about something like FIVE FEET OF SNOW.  It was either that or having to put a ladder to the side of the house and climb up to the roof and shovel the satellite dish out from under knee deep snow.  Either way, I vowed then not to spend another winter in Siberia (Stowe, Vermont).

Here is another satisfied Vermont customer enjoying a “mild” winter.

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So about a year later, here I am enjoying and early December snow free day in the Florida sun.

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The waters off Key Largo are part of a 70 nautical square mile preserve and park and the first underwater park in the USA. 

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Later that afternoon I continued south on US 1 for lunch at the famed Fish House.  For the rest of the week this would be my second home for meals, gossip, and meeting friends.  As I wrote in my year end review, if you want to eat in Key Largo – it’s the Fish House and nothing else.

IMG_1427Eat well, make friends………………

Enjoy VERY LARGE drinks…………

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Make more friends………………

Great food.

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Next door to the Fish House is one the many t-shirt/sandal shops.  This one however is filled with absolutely beautiful Eastern European apparent supermodels.  Believe me, if you get down there walk over and check it out.  Here’s a Google Earth link to the place.

Salt soaked, sun baked, and happier than I had been in years I rode back to Homestead in the warm Florida evening.  I have to mention here that during my stay in the Keys I was absolutely and completely irresponsible with regard to riding gear and safety.  No helmet, no gloves, jacket, boots, etc.  I was in full squid mode – flip flops, t-shirt and shorts.  Call it irrational confidence, whatever, I don’t recommend it for anyone.  But this week I was living the “irresponsible life”.

Later that evening, my friend Fred arrived from Vermont.  Fred is another motorcycle addict but his passion is off-road riding and Indy-light race cars, highly modified guns, windsurfing, fine wine, fine art, stereos, etc.  In other words he’s a trustafarian.  But hey, I won’t hold that against him.  He’s also a fellow off-road driving instructor with me at Michelin’s Off-Road Experience and one of the funniest and most sarcastic people I know.

Fred enjoying the high life in South Florida

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The next morning we were headed back down US 1 to Key Largo for diving.  The weather was absolutely fantastic.   That morning we found a charter dive boat and went out on the reef for snorkeling.  It’s a 1/2 day excursion and I seem to recall it cost around $40.00 per person.  The day before I went snorkeling out of Pennkamp State Park and was underwhelmed by the experience.  Today we made certain that we would get out far enough to be into deep water and a variety of reef sites. 

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Pulling up to the first dive site:

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Getting my “Captain Ahab” on

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Snow?  I don’t see any snow.  I can easily forget about Vermont.  Florida seems like a paradise where I can ride my motorcycle year round, and enjoy water like this.  I bought an underwater camera for the completely reasonable price of $20.00 and had fun swimming down to the bottom taking pictures of fish, coral and barracuda.  Fred’s favorite pastime was to swim to the bottom of the reef and stick his hands into dark places and yank out whatever he could find….  Uhhhh, not my idea of a good time.  I was making my way back to the dive boat when a 6 foot shark swam past me and disappeared into the distance.  I surfaced and the dive boat Captain was on the bow of the boat looking at me.  “Shark” he said.  “Yup” said I (which is not what I was thinking).  This being a regular tourist spot he had no worries and apparently they swim up all the time.  Suddenly I really needed to be in the boat clutching a cold beverage.   Regular occurrence or not, if you see a shark that size in the water you want to get out – immediately. 

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Key Largo diving is best known for the underwater Jesus (covered in Fire Coral, by  the way).  The statue is eight and a half feet tall and weighs 4000 pounds.  It’s easy to snorkel down to the bottom for a looks see. 

And of course this song…….(this one is for you Tim)

Fred is suitably horrified by that last posting

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Back on land, we immediately went to Snooks Bayside for drinks.  Many, many drinks.  It’s fun being in a tropical location for Christmas.  Especially one that is so completely dedicated to drinking, sun and vacation. My favorite purchase of the entire trip was made at Snooks.  They sell T-shirts that have a circle and a slash on the front pocket with the words “Betty Ford Center” and “Rehab is for quitters” on the back of the shirt in huge letters.

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Of course, feeling no pain, we staggered over to the Caribbean Club.  Check out that awning.  You can imagine the delights that await inside. 

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TOMORROW – KEY WEST and ELVIS….

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