Key West, Florida - Part 1
Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 3:44PM
Michael A. Uhl in Charleston, Daytona, Florida, Key West, Rossmeyer's HD, Savannah, Tmiami Trail

I had been desperate for an out-of-state ride all year but money has been hard to come by and time off from work has been just as scarce. Fortunately, June 6-10, I could afford the privilege and joy of taking five days off from my day-to-day life and join my friend Jeff "Cutter" Northcutt on a ride to Key West, Florida. It was a great break from my day-to-day reality and an opportunity to remind myself why I've devoted so much time and money to my Harleys. Over the next few weeks, I'd like to share with you some of the highlights, stories, and lessons learned that you might find useful or entertaining. 

Cutter designed this ride and served as the ride leader. I appreciate his planning effort, especially reserving nice rooms for us in Ormond Beach, FL (adjacent to Daytona) and Key West, right on Duval Street. Cutter also demonstrated his usual keen sense of where interesting adventures and photo ops were to be found. We visited more than a dozen saloons and bars, sites of interest ranging from an aircraft carrier to an Everglades park, and took more than 700 photos.

Four Great Overnight Stops

We spent our four nights away from home in these locations:

- Daytona/Ormond Beach (hotel adjacent to Rossmeyer's HD dealership)
- Key West (Crowne Plaza on Duval Street)
- Sarasota (Mongo's home)
- Savannah, Georgia (Best Western)

This week, we'll look at the trip south, Day 1 and Day 2.

Day 1: Cary, NC to Daytona Beach, FL

Our ride started on a cool, moist Wednesday morning. It was 57° F with light rain, an unexpectedly poor combination for June in central North Carolina. I was having second thoughts about going as I rode away from my garage into the wetness: I hate starting a multi-day ride in the rain. It seems like you never get dry after that. However, given that I had commited on this and we were heading to southern Florida where it almost had to be warmer, I kept going to our meeting point. Cutter and I met at a gas station on NC 55 in Apex, NC and headed south on US 1.  In hindsight, I see how appropriate it was for us to start the first long stretch of the ride on US 1, because that was the same road on which we reached our ultimate destination: US 1 Mile 0 at Key West, hence the graphic at the beginngin of this post. US 1 is the one and only road from the Florida mainland into the Keys.

For those of you who ride down to Daytona Bike Week each March, you know that the fastest way there is I40 east to I95 south. However, I95 can be hairy at times and Cutter is not nearly as fond of interstates as I am. As it was, we made good time on the back roads and enjoyed some of the scenery. From US1 we got on US15 south through Society Hill, South Carolina. I mention this little town because there is a great-looking house on the east side of the road, at number 829, that looks like the perfect haunted house. I'd like to see it at Halloween!

Flagler Beach sm

We got on I95 south near Florence, SC and through on-and-off rain rode to just south of Jacksonville, FL where we got off to head east on Florida 202 (I95 exit 344) to the famous route A1A, whiuch stands for the name Atlantic Route 1 Alternate.

Photo at right: Route A1A in Flagler Beach, FL looking from the second floor deck of bar at which we stopped for a brew

A1A is a biker's dream road, especially if you like to ride with the ocean in sight. We passed through St. Augustine, which like much of Florida, is geared toward tourists. We stopped at Fort Matanzas for some photos. We had to wait for 15 minutes or so in St. Augustine for a drawbridge before we could continue south on A1A.

We stopped for a beer in Flagler Beach (see photo) and headed to Rossmeyer's Harley Davidson dealership in Ormond Beach, which is adjacent to Daytona. We stayed at the Destination Daytona Inn & Suites, which is on the same grounds as the dealership. Obviously, it's biker-friendly, though perhaps a bit pricier for those used to staying at the Motel 6, which includes moi. This time, I think it was worth paying a little extra to stay here because I wanted to look around the dealership in the morning before hitting the road for Key West.

Apparently, Rossmeyer's dealership is the largest in the country. I've ridden out to the Las Vegas dealership and it looks to be a close call. Rossmeyer's is definitely newer and brighter. And with a hotel, bar, and restaurants within close walking distance, this is a fun dealership to visit. The big drawback to Rossmeyer's place may be its location: it's a 20-minute ride into Daytona Beach, which is a key point of biker activity for the area. On the other hand, maybe some distance from the rowdy nights of the Beach is a good thing. :-)

We ate dinner in Daytona Beach by way of the Iron Horse Saloon on US1 in Ormond Beach. We ate at some generic sports bar and then headed over to the Boot Hill Saloon on Main Street in Daytona Beach. I've been told by multiple sources that this is the hub of activity during Bike Week and Biketoberfest.  It is definitely a rocking place and they had a band just getting started when we arrived around 9:30. The place next door, Main Street Station, was also rocking. Given that it was a Wednesday night, I was impressed by how many bikes and people were there. I recommend you stop there, especially if you've never seen the place. It's classic.

We then managed to get back to our hotel bar before thunderstorms rolled in. We could see the lightning flashes as we made the 20+ minute trip north to Ormond Beach. Like the rest of the next four days, we made the most of our time and went to bed tired.

Boot Hill Saloon Cutter smDay 2: Daytona to Key West

We started off Thursday with a visit to the Daytona HD dealership, which was only 50 yards or so from our hotel. We wandered around in the large building, took some photos, and bought some things. Then it was back to I95 south where we hauled ass down to Miami.

Picture at left: Cutter outside of the Boot Hill Saloon

Cutter lived in Boca Raton for a few years back in the 1990s and was familiar with most of south Florida, at least the way it was then. Based on his experience, we took the Sawgrass Expressway around Miami. This is a toll road ($1) and unless you want to see Miami, I highly recommend you use it to avoid Miami traffic. Imagine bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic in south Florida heat on your air cooled engine. Yes, pay the toll(s) and keep moving. We took the Sawgrass to the end at US1 near Homestead, FL.

US 1 as it leaves the mainland is unusual in that concrete "Jersey barriers" line the road on both sides and the median so that for many miles, you cannot turn around and the only place to stop is right in the lane itself--there is no shoulder. So, before you leave Homestead for Key Largo, make sure you won't need to stop along the way. You'll also see a "Crocodile Crossing" sign as you enter the Keys. We didn't see any, but I doubt they'd put a sign up if it wasn't a distinct possibility.

Now, here is something you should be aware of: when you have finally arrived at Key Largo, you still have approximately 106 miles--as indicated on the roadside mile markers--to go until you get to Key West. And most of that 106 miles is at a speed of around 45 mph. So, from Key Largo, you should plan on two more hours to reach Key West, not including any stops. 

Rossmeyers HD smPicture at right: Rossmeyer's Harley Davidson dealership, the largest in the US

Cutter and I did make a stop for dinner at a great little place in Islamorada behind the Shula Burger. It's a dumpy little outdoor restaurant next to the Tiki Bar. The view is great and the food is reasonably priced, which is unusual for the Keys. 

From there, we continued on US1 south, dodging some endangered miniature deer along the way. As we were covering the last 20 or so miles, we hoped the clouds would clear so we could enjoy what could have been a spectacular sunset. Alas, no luck. The clouds actually thickened. As we arrived on the island of Key West itself, I was not particularly impressed. That changed when we turned right off Truman Avenue (US1) onto Duval Street. As I said to Cutter, as a big grin stretched across my face, "It looks like they're throwing a big party, and we're invited!" It was about 8:30 when we arrived and the street was packed with people. 

I will pick up the story here next week.

Keep the shiny side up!

-The Long Rider 

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