Friday, March 10, 2006

Meanwhile, back on the bike...

"Bike Week" in Daytona Beach, Florida. This is just the typical scene outside virtually every hotel lobby.


I thought it would be interesting to visit Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, so I didn't want to overshoot those places in the early morning hours. I was determined to find a motel or campsite south of there.

Clearly, Daytona Beach's "Bike Week" was putting a strain on accommodations everywhere. In Vero Beach, Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral, the story was the same. Hotels were at 100% occupancy. (But I realized something I don't think I ever saw south of the U.S. border: "vacancy/no vacancy" signs, which we take for granted. In Latin America, you never know the occupancy status until you go inside and ask the desk clerk.)

Sebastian Inlet State Park, the one state campground along this stretch of coast was gated, with no entry permitted after 11:00 p.m.

I eventually found one room available in Cocoa Beach. It was 3:30 a.m. or so. The Holiday Inn Express manager was very apologetic. He would have to bill a full night's fee even though I would have to check out by 11:00 a.m. He understood when I said it was absurd to pay over $100 for this. I'm sure it was "the computer" that was in charge.

It was becoming obvious that I would have to wait until people started checking out today, then try to check in early. I drove out to the Space Center, past the Visitors Center and Astronaut Hall of Fame. Reluctantly, I continued northward, leaving Cape Canaveral for another journey.

It was senseless looking for a motel in the Daytona Beach area, but I pulled up to a Waffle House to have some breakfast. Around 5:00 in the morning, there were a couple Harleys parked outside, and others occasionally cruised the boulevard. I asked the waitress about the events taking place in town and she provided some general directions to the center.

Decided to have a look, even though at this hour nothing would be happening. As is the case, it seems, for most Florida cities, Daytona's beachfront is lined with hotels. (You would hardly know there's a beach if you're not a guest.) I drove up and down Atlantic Avenue, and was astounded at the sight: every hotel had designated a parking area for motorcycles, many were right outside the lobby. Seas of chrome and custom paint. Bikes were packed in so close, if one fell over it might send a hundred others toppling.

Though Harleys probably comprised 90% of the motorcycles I saw. But all motorcyclists are welcome for "Bike Week", regardless what you ride. The city clearly opens it arms for this event.

Security was tight, and when I stopped at several hotels to have a look at the bikes, I was closely-monitored.

Good luck finding a room in Daytona Beach (or in any other community within a 500-mile radius!)

It was so peaceful at 6:00 a.m. I couldn't imagine what this city would sound like a few hours later (and I wasn't going to stick around to hear.)

As the eastern sky began to show some color, I took a few photos outside the hotels, then drove over to the Daytona International Speedway. There, the major motorcycle brands had tents and booths set up to show off and demonstrate their products. I wandered into the grounds on my bike and found the BMW tent.

By 7:00, things were becoming active, and a line was already forming, riders eager to take a new BMW out on a 42-mile circuit. Among the bikes available to "demo" were the new R1200GS "Adventure" and the HP2, a stripped-down 1200cc enduro.

On display (and available for demo rides) outside the Daytona International Speedway, BMW's new R1200GS "Adventure" model. They still haven't modified the rear mud guard (which will fall off after a little abuse) and the front fender (still too little clearance for the mud.)

They have outfitted the new "Adventure" with heavy-duty panniers and top box, and, sensibly, the panniers are now top-loading.

BMW's HP2, 1200cc enduro bike. Now HERE'S some front wheel clearance! No problems in the mud for this bike.

Another angle on the HP2

But I wanted to exit Daytona Beach before "all hell broke loose." I had seen enough motorcycles in the last few days, and was losing my sense of individuality and identity. (And, besides, I just didn't look cool in my un-stylish riding suit, riding a dirty, overloaded Beemer!)

North of Daytona, fatigue was starting to drag me down, so I began looking for a place to rest briefly: a park, a rest area, anything. At Palm Coast, I left the interstate and followed route A1A, a shoreline drive, toward St. Augustine.

Along this road, dunes block the view of the ocean (and probably serve as protection against hurricane surges.) Mostly, the property is private, with custom built homes on the inland side of the dunes and elevated to look beyond to the sea. I don't have any basis for the belief, but it feels like a god-given right for all people to be able to view the oceans and seas. The nightmare of The Hamptons out on Long Island, where the public is virtually walled off from the water, evoked a similar gut reaction. This is the stuff that gives rise to revolutions! (But I have to be careful not to speak my mind too much here. Florida appears to be George W. Bush country!)

It's related to dreams. If you can't look out across the water and dream and wonder, if that's a privilege reserved only for the wealthy, privileged and powerful, life is not worth living. If you are denied the opportunity to climb a mountain and survey a landscape, or look up at night and see the star-scattered heavens (something those confined to light-polluted urban landscapes can't do), why continue?

I think the ride along the coast was only raising my blood pressure! I am thankful there remains so much Pacific seashore accessible to all. It reflects a more enlightened management and egalitarian spirit.

Historic St. Augustine is a beautiful city. I had one goal upon reaching the city: find a place to rest. Anastasia State Park, tucked into forested sand dunes, offers camping, but it was completely full, again due to Bike Week the ranger told me. For a $1 fee, she said I could go into the day-use areas, however, and probably find a place to nap.

I followed her advice and found a picnic area. A bench provided an opportunity to stretch out for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. That was enough to refresh me for a little more riding.

Continued on to Jacksonville. Here, I was curious to see the Naval Station at Mayport, where the Navy has historically based some of its aircraft carriers. I made it as far as the gate, and was unsurprisingly turned around. "Do I look like a terrorist?" These Marine guards have no sense of humor.

A Starbucks stop provided a final boost. The afternoon was growing hot, and I was eager to put an end to this riding. Sat with my coffee. The term "numbskull" literally applied. There was not much activity in there.

The Jacksonville skyline is big, modern! Not what I had envisioned. An interesting-looking city. I skirted around to the west. At around 1:00 p.m., in Jacksonville's western suburbs, I found a Hampton Inn with plenty of rooms! A brand new hotel, and an $89 price that was better than most I have seen in Florida.

After more than 24 hours, and just under 800 miles of driving, it was time to rest.


I went to the Cross Creek Steakhouse for dinner. It's a chilly three- or four-mile ride down the interstate. (There aren't many places to dine near the hotel.) I had to ask directions from people at a nearby gas station, and was suddenly confronted with ignorance that frankly frightened me. In a very short time, I crossed paths with perhaps six adults who, it seemed, might not have even graduated high school.

At the restaurant, I didn't have much difficulty drawing a connection between the over-sized portions and over-sized people. After experiencing Latin America, it is so shocking to witness the excesses we "enjoy".

But here I was sitting at my table, judging all these people around me, and those I had met earlier, knowing virtually nothing about them. Nothing of their lives and upbringing, hardships and achievements. I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these people, not above them.

The manner in which the restaurant's servers address customers brings a smile:

"What will you have to drink tonight, sweetheart?"

Dear, sweetheart. Only in the South.

The bar walls are covered with the usual beer promotional merchandise. One sign reads: "Guinness: drink straight from the bottle."

Unless there's a chilled mug or glass, I prefer to drink beer from the bottle, which throughout most of Latin America appeared to be inappropriate. Almost always, beer was poured into a glass. When I did drink from the bottle, I was very self-conscious.


For me, it's virtually impossible not to turn on the TV in a hotel. Yet it's usually such an unrewarding experience.

Our infatuation with violence is obscene. News broadcasts repeatedly showed an incident in which a Los Angeles area police officer shot an unarmed, and defenseless Iraq War veteran. It was not enough to show the video clip once during a news report. It had to be replayed two, three or four times. Just to make certain we receive a full dose of horror.

And then I tuned to Fox, with their thinly-disguised sensationalism. They offer "analysis", complete with a panel of "experts" speaking on the top three stories: the police shooting, a murdered grad student in New York and the teacher who had sex with a 14-year-old student. This is the material deemed worthy of the enormous human effort it takes to broadcast "news" around the World. Have we lost our minds, or what?

Since leaving the U.S., I hadn't listened to NPR (National Public Radio). To hear it today was like being reunited with an old friend. You know, NPR and Democracy Now! actually report news! How refreshing.


Everything's so easy here. Doing laundry in machines! Ice provided at the push of a button. Climate control at your fingertips.


Dicky Neely said...

You sure timed your arrival in Daytona right for a bike enthusiast!

timtraveler said...

It would help if I were a Harley enthusiast, but I'm not!