Pigeon Key and the Old Seven Mile Bridge.
Every March there is a ritual on the East Coast. Bikers crack open their garages, check their fuel and lubricants and fire up their bikes for the kickoff to the season that is Daytona Bike Week. Hundreds of thousands descend on Daytona to get in their first ride of the year, party hard and ogle some customized steel, aluminum and silicone.
For those of us in attendance from the Pacific Coast and Southwest, it's a little different. For one, most of us have been riding all winter whenever it isn't raining, while the rest didn't give a crap whether it was raining or not. The riding around Daytona is typically monotonous, slow cruises through never-ending forests or heavily trafficked streets and way too much police presence. Don't get me wrong, the custom bikes, the killer bars and bands, catching up with old friends, etc., is well worth the trip, but I can do all of that in two or three days. Which is exactly what I did this year.
I'd always wanted to go to Key West. If for no other reason than to ride the length of a 100-mile-long island chain without ever leaving land. All the views you ever see of the Keys are of endless horizons on bridges that disappear into the blue nothing. It sounded spectacular. But as often as I got to Florida, between Bike Week and Biketoberfest, I'd never gotten the chance for a little 400-mile side trip down to the Keys.
Just one of the stunning little beaches you can ride right up to and walk a quarter mile o
Sunset near Key West.
You long-distance types might think, "400 miles, that's a good day's ride ...," but don't believe it. Various traffic delays and an overall sense of laid-back island living makes it at least a two-to-three-day round trip from Central Florida, more if you want to do anything besides riding. The speed limits in the Keys are usually 45-50, with stretches both higher and lower and frequently no place to pass. Don't be in a hurry! It kinda defeats the purpose of an island getaway.
A stretch of Card Sound Road showing two of the electronic devices that made my trip easie
And that's the beauty of the Keys. For those who like bikes, it's usually a choice between riding your bike or lounging on the beach; rarely will the two coexist. Sure there are bike rentals in several tropical spots around the globe, but typically your choices are either a beat-down rental machine or astronomical rates for more premium iron. Word on the street is that Harley is developing a "fly and ride" resort on Kauai, but that hasn't happened yet, so for now the Keys are the only place to combine beachcombing and highway cruising in the USA.
My island getaway started in Daytona with a Screamin' Eagle Ultra and some serious interstate miles to pound. Even in March, the mercury and humidity climbs pretty high in Florida, and heading straight south only cranks it up further. My first stop (aside from a couple at gas stations) was Coral Springs (80 miles northwest of Miami), where I was picking up my copilot, photographer and sister-in-law, Amanda. She had just been to the Keys last year, so she somewhat knew what to expect and where to find a good time.
The trip south through Florida is a typical Southeastern highway trip, with flat roads, chain restaurants and Wal-Marts. Coral Springs is Middle America in all of its prefab glory, with large McMansion housing projects built on reclaimed swampland and accessible only by toll road. One little piece of SoFlo trivia: Any hill you see in the southern half of the state (especially the ones surrounded by a sky-darkening assortment of birds) is a dump. As Florida sits on a very thin shelf of land, all of the landfills go up instead of in. South Florida and the Keys are actually mirror images of each other; while the peninsula sits just above the water, the Keys are surrounded by very shallow seas at the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico.
A very bike-friendly store that will let you use their can in a pinch.
The view from Marker 88.