Key West, Florida - Part 3

Key West Day 3 Southernmost Point smOur plan was to take two days to reach Key West and use three full days to get back. The reason Cutter and I wanted three days on the return trip was because we planned to cross the Florida peninsula by way of the Tamiami Trail (US41) and ride north through Naples, Fort Myers, Sarasota, and St. Petersburg/Tampa before angling back northeast to the Jacksonville area, Savannah, GA, Charleston, SC and then on to home.

Photo at left: This is probably the most photographed object in Key West. That's Cutter on the left and me on the right.

Day 3 (Friday): Objectives

On Day 3, we had four key objectives:

  1. Take good photos outside of Sloppy Joe's, the Hog's Breath saloon, and the mile markers for "Mile 0" of US 1 and "90 miles to Cuba"
  2. Drink a beer at Alabama Jacks on Card Sound Road
  3. Get a photograph of an alligator along U41, called the Tamiami Trail
  4. Stay over night at Mongo's house in Sarasota

As expected, we were a little slow-moving that morning, after a late night out. We quickly came to realize that Friday would be a long day because we took our time packing the bikes and getting our final Key West photos, including the one here of us across from Sloppy Joe's Bar.

Once more, let me say that I was grateful we stayed at the Crowne Plaza on Duvall Street. It'a a very nice place and conveniently located.

Here something to be aware of if you plan to visit the Gog's Breath saloon. When we rode down to the Hog's Breath for some photos and to purchase T-shirts, some cranky old guy from across the street started giving me a hard time about us parking our bikes outside the bar. It was a mostly empty parking lot on a very quiet morning in Key West, yet he was still bitching that "this lot doesn't belong to the bar." If you plan to go to the Hog's Breath, don't try parking anywhere near it. In fact, in hindsight, I do recall all of the patrons I noticed walked in from the street across the parking lot into the back of the place--just as Cutter and I did.Sloppy Joes Day3 sm
Even though we were unimpressed with Sloppy Joe's band and clientele the night before, we still went through hassle of getting some photos of us in front because it's probably the best known joint on Duvall Street.

Photo at right: That's Cutter and me with our bikes across the street from Sloppy Joe's.

Begin US1 sm

Mile 0 and the Polish Couples

After the photos on Duvall Street, Cutter and I sought three more signs to photograph:

1. Mile 0 for US1
2. "Southernmost Point" marker on the edge of the island
3. Start of route AIA

First, we found the mile 0 sign at the intersection of Whitehead Street (US1) and Fleming Street (cross street). We parked the bikes and began snapping pictures when we happened to have the good fortune of meeting two couples from Poland. The men were excited to see our Harleys and we were happy that they agreed to take our photograph in front of the signs and bikes. The men asked to sit on our bikes and have us take their pictures, which we were happy to do. I noticed that their wives stood rather far away: they were either seeking shade or a safe distance from a couple of scraggly-looking bikers. 

Photo at upper left: Cutter and I met two Polish couples who were happy to take our picture in front of this famous sign. In return, we let the men sit on our bikes and we took their pictures, while their wives looked on from a distance. (I suspect we made them nervous.)

We then rode down Whitehead Street to where it ends at the Atlantic Ocean and bears left onto South Street. There we found what is probably the most-photographed place in Key West, the famous "90 Miles to Cuba," or "Southernmost Point" marker. (See the photo at the top of this post.) 

Cutter Alabama Jacks sm

Alabama Jacks

On our way into the Keys from Homestead on Day 2, Cutter had wanted to take Card Sound Road out to the islands rather than the traditional US 1 route. You get one chance to get on Card Sound Road in Homestead and we missed it. The swampy conditions minimize the number of roads down there.

Fortunately, we watched closely for Monroe County Road 905 on our way north and took it to Card Sound Road. There's not much out there besides the Monroe county landfill. 

I had to do a double take when I saw a sign for Crocodile Lake. They meant to name it "Alligator Lake" right?  Has anyone ever even seen a crocodile in Florida (outside of a zoo)?

Photo at upper right: Cutter was very happy we managed to find Alabama Jacks and stop in for a cold brew on a hot summer day.

We almost blew by Card Sound Road but managed a quick U-turn and found our way to the toll booth and discovered Alabama Jacks on the left just a hundred or so yards down the road. It's a great indoor-outdoor kind of place with a view of the water out back. It's biker friendly and I highly recommend a stop there.

The Monster Gator sm

The Not-Really-Sleeping Giant Alligator

I have a new experience to put in my "Top Ten Stupid Moments" list. Stay away from wild alligators, at least three times their body length away.

Photo at left: Contrary to what my ignorant brain was telling me, this alligator was not sleeping and it is not docile; and it is able to move short distances very quickly, canal or no canal.

From Alabama Jacks, Cutter and I continued on Card Sound Road into Homestead and then north on Florida 997 (FL997) to US41 (Tamiami Trail). As we approached US41 on FL997, we saw very active thunderstorms to the northeast and northwest. Fortunately, we turned left onto US41 just as rain started pelting us and we left the scary-looking lightning behind us. The weather continued to impress us as we road on US41 as saw heavy rain falling from the sky to the north of our the route. We felt very lucky that we didn't encounter any significant rain until 8:00 p.m. that evening. 

Cutter and I had been riding along the Tamiami Trail (Tampa-Miami) for a couple of hours and were getting more and more bummed out as we failed to see any alligators along the road. The best we encountered was a carcass from a six-footer reeking in the southern Florida heat. Finally, when we seemed almost to Naples (but were really 50 or 60 miles away) Cutter spotted a monster and signaled for us to turn around.

A canal runs along the north side of the two-lane road with a guard rail between the road and canal. There is a narrow shoulder on the road where we parked our motorcycles. We shut them off, grabbed our cameras, and snapped one quick photo each. We didn't talk as we did not want to "scare" the alligator. As if…

As we determined later when we discussed this encounter from a safe distance 100+ miles away, we had the same thought at the same time after we took our initial photo: "We need to get closer for a better shot." Well, the second we touched that guard rail, we learned where the phrase "leapin' lizards" comes from: that huge beast turned 90 degrees toward us, open is mouth wide, and leapt at us. In a split second, it went from being 20-24 feet away to being 6-10 feet away, albeit in the canal.

We just about poo'd our pants, jumping back a foot in one quick motion and getting on our bikes wondering, "What were we thinking when we shut them off?" For another second, as we went through the process of starting our bikes, Cutter and I thought to ourselves--as we later confessed to each other--"Maybe it's gone," as we attempted to peak over the guard rail into the canal. But before we could have a second stupid moment, we signaled to each other to get moving. 

In hindsight, I recognize three factors I should have considered before moving in for a closeup photo of a 12-foot alligator:

  1. It got to be that big by surviving a long time and eating well.
  2. If it's 24 feet away, but it's twelve feet long, it can cover the distance between us very quickly.
  3. And most importantly, while a canal creates a barrier difficult for humans to cross, it is actually the alligators primary hunting environment. 

Mongo is Real sm

Mongo the Treasure Finder 

On the last day of the ride, as we were riding on NC55 in Apex, NC, Cutter observed that the theme of this ride could have been "Wildlife," as we encountered many different animals, such as pet raccoons in Gainesville, FL and a large python in Savannah, GA and passed through the sanctuaries of many kinds of creatures, including panthers in the Everglades and endangered deer in the Keys. However, I did meet one very interesting person and his lovely wife: Mongo and Sarah, who live in Sarasota. They are friends of Cutter whom he met initially at his honeymoon on Grand Cayman Island in 1989.

Photo at right: Mongo is one of the most interesting and hospitable people I've ever met. A Vietnam War veteran, he's keeps himself in great shape.

As we road north on I75, we got close enough to Sarasota that in spite of it getting dark and rain beginning to come down, we went the distance to reach Mongo's place. We arrived under open carports across from his condominium just as a strong thunderstorm began pouring rain out of the sky and lightning and thunder added to the drama. Cutter and I were profoundly relieved to be out of that mess. Mongo was just coming from the airport and when he arrived told us that he just saw a biker go down. From what he could tell, this rider, wearing minimal clothing and no helmet was actually exceeding the speed limit by a wide margin in the pouring rain and lost control of his bike. Mondo said that other motorists closer to the scene stopped and called for help. This just reinforced our sense of gratitude for being off the road.

Mongo is a US Marine. Though he served only three years in the Corps, they were 1966-1968. He was at Hue during the Tet Offensive and the experience made him a Marine for life. He was also wounded in combat and suffers from a permanent disability. Though he qualifies for retirement, he just took a new job helping place disabled Vets in productive employment. I learned many things from him, one of which is that the term PTSD has now fallen out of favor for the shorter PTS: Post-Traumatic Stress. It is no longer considered a "disorder" by many.

The most interesting part of Mongo is that after the war, he moved to the Cayman Islands and became a treasure finder. I made the mistake of referring to him as a "treasure hunter" but he quickly corrected me: "many hunt treasure; few actually find it." And find it he did. He showed us some of the many pieces he has on display at his house and a book from a well-known auction house where the greatest of his finds was auctioned off for millions of dollars. He is a self-taught expert on locating and recovering valuable objects lost at sea in relatively shallow water.

Next week, I'll cover Day 4: the ride from Sarasota, Fl to Savannah, GA.

Keep the shiny side up! 

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