Lane's USA 2009 Motorcycle Tour
Update 03

Thursday 4/30/2009

Drove  311 miles from Beaumont, TX to Slidell, LA via US Hwy 90 that goes south through the Mississippi Delta region before swinging back north to New Orleans. Upon arrival in Slidell I had enough time to get to The Cycle Shop, a Honda dealer and service provider in Slidell, to get my oil changed. I will say two things about that. 1) The oil got successfully changed -- eventually. 2) Don't ever visit or go near that shop for anything. I won't tell the story on the internet, and it only matters for Honda motorcycle owners. Email me if you have a Honda-related interest in the matter.

Friday 5/1/2009

This was the greatly anticipated "meet-Lynn-in-Mobile" day. Since she was not scheduled to arrive until 4:45pm I had plenty of time to sleep in, shower and shave, have a leisurely breakfast, and mosey along the rather short Misssissippi coastline (120 miles) before heading to the airport to meet her. This coast is quite charming, even with the casinos in Biloxi. There's a "real" beach of perfect sugar-white sand, the road goes right along the beach.


The land inland has a bit of altitude, so a row of stately old homes of comfortable proportion and civilized spacing graces the area. These homes have survived everything nature had to offer, partly because they stand 15-20 feet above sea level and the four-lane well-divided road (and a small seawall) protect them from storms. Note also that this entire stretch of coast is protected by a string of barrier islands about ten miles offshore. (No, you can't see them in the photos. They're too low.)

I drove through all the towns on this lovely stretch -- Pass Christian, Long Beach (7 miles of beach), Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, Gautier, and Pascagoula -- then headed north along Alabama country roads to come in to the airport the "back way". Along this stretch were some homes -- well, lots, actually -- that make LA residential property seem silly by comparison. For example, do you think the owner of this property has a riding lawn mower?

Undoubtedly, yes. And for those of you who answered "No, his gardener does", you'd likely be wrong. These folks are proud to do their own yards, and wouldn't give away the opportunity to ride their own mower! (We know this from our 1993-94 visit.)

Lynn arrived right on time, and after rearranging the packing of the bike to accommodate her luggage, we were off to Fairhope, AL

Baron's-By-The-Bay Inn wasn't much to look at from the outside -- sort of an aging, mediocre motel -- but the rooms were pretty nice inside, and the price, though a bit steep by our lights, was quite reasonable compared with others in the area.

We took a walk across the street to view the sunset over Mobile Bay, in the process passing by an outside veranda of the local American Legion Hall, whereupon sat three aging veterans, well along with a beer or three, who invited us to come back for a drink after we'd taken in the view. So we took in the view.

Parking, which  was in the rear, was starting to get crowded, and the sign "Public Welcome" above the entrance made us consider more seriously the offer that had been made to us.

We went in.

There we immediately met Sidney Gaines, a local resident and veteran, who promptly bought us both beers ($2 each -- hmm, this could get to be a boozy evening!) Sidney had to leave, so we took our (second) beers out to the back (west-facing) veranda and watched the sun set in the company of a hard-luck sort of guy whose name we never did get. He was Alabama-born and -raised, a veteran and a smoker with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and a long-time heavy-duty alcoholic who had gone dry on New Year's Day and was nursing a glass of ice water on his 121st day sober. He said it was clear it was either quit drinking or die. More power to him.

Here's Lynn on beer #2.

After all this preamble we sauntered back across the street to Gambino's restaurant, where we had a nice Italianesque dinner and retired back to our hotel next door.

Saturday 5/2/2009

Our destination this day was a small, out-of-the-way town called Carrabelle, near the root of the Florida Panhandle, in a region Floridians call The Forgotten Coast.

You see, everything's got to have a catchy name. The area between Pensacola and Apalachicola, full of resorts, is called The Emerald Coast. East of Apalachicola it's The Forgotten Coast -- because, I suppose, hardly anyone goes to that part of Florida -- which didn't keep the fixer-upper houses back in the hammocky woods around there from costing over $400,000. Then you get around the "Big Bend" area (what mariners call the Florida Bight) where the land -- where there is any worthy of the name (in my world, "land" is something that doesn't disappear when the wind blows hard from the south) -- is flat, wet, and inhospitable and is called The Nature Coast. This is because it's the only part of Florida's coast that has been "left to Nature" -- and that only because not even a FLORIDA real estate developer would consider trying to build there.

OK, back to motorcycling. The only picture I took in The Emerald Coast was this one . . .

 . . . and that's because I have an aunt named Mary Esther, who, because she is reading this, now knows that the first town on The Emerald Coast east of Pensacola is named for her!

Which brings us to The Forgotten Coast, and this is the only photo I have of that.

Pretty nice. Reminiscent of the Bahamas.

Which brings us to The Old Carrabelle Hotel Bed and Breakfast, a "recovered" (i.e. saved from annihilation; "restored" it is not) seven room house of indeterminate age -- early 1900's, probably -- being run by a middle-aged couple whose children are out of the house now (like ours).Here's the front of the place when we arrived.

The door was locked, but it had a numerical code-lock. To the right of the door was this sign . . .

 . . . so we dutifully looked to the left of the door and found the brass mailbox . . .

 . . . inside of which was a piece of paper with the numeric entrance code and instructions to sign in at "The Monkey Bar" to the right, once inside. We signed in . . .

 . . . then followed the instructions to head upstairs to The Hemingway Room, where we would find the key in the lock. Outside the room door was this plaque:

 . . . so we went in.

Here's the entrance to the bathroom.

 . . . which had this odd elevated section of the floor to cripple the unwary who ventured in there at night in the dark, and on it the toilet, next to a boarded-up . . . fireplace?

And there, on a side table behind the spare roll of toilet paper, was a photograpgh entitled "A WRITER".

No one we know, I guess.

At one point we did actually meet the owners, but checking in to their establishment was not a process sufficiently complex to require their assistance. They were busy elsewhere on the property.

Having "checked in", Lynn took a rug out on the 2nd floor veranda to do her exercises . . .

 . . . while I simply relaxed in the mild Gulf breeze that presented itself at the corner of the veranda.

For dinner we ate apples and oranges in the room, watched an old video (no, not a DVD) in the common room downstairs, and passed a quiet night.

Sunday 5/3/2009

Morning came too early, but there were miles to cover, so up we got. On this day we would drive right around the corner of the Florida Bight (Florida's "Big Bend", remember?), transitioning from The Forgotten Coast to The Nature Coast -- the entire process of which consisted of driving through country like this, hour after hour:

This is so endless and unchanging that if you shoot the same scene with a 4x telephoto lens, you get the same result, much in the sense of a fractal:

We rode until lunch time, having not seen any coast at all, because the coast in that region is such a fragile thing, and so riddled with rivers and creeks, that there's no way you could build a road "along the water" without putting the entire thing on pilings. Of course, 500 miles further south they did exactly that, through the Florida Keys, but The Forgotten/Nature Coast has not risen to that level yet.

A late breakfast happened here.

Now what, you might ask (as Lynn did) is a swamp cabbage? Well it's something that grows in the thicket of branches of a tree like this that grows in The Nature Coast's swamps:

Breakfast being successfully concluded, we rode on and happened upon this river.

Not just any river. A river I've wanted to see for many years. A legendary river. A river of song.

This being so, we asked a passing person to photograph us with the bike under the sign. You would think anyone would know to hold a camera steady or the image gets blurred. But you never know, so I took another one myself, without myself included.

That's right, the Suwannee River, subject of a well-known song by Stephen Foster.

OK, here's the blurry version:

These are the flood markings from years past.

only side trip of the day was to head 25 miles west on a dead end road out to Cedar Key, an area I've wanted to see for a long time and would like to explore in a small, shallow boat. Here are wild flowers along the way.

Being Sunday Cedar Key was quite busy, and I only got this one photo on the approach to the island.


At this point (2 pm) we were getting antsy for lunch, but the waterfront eateries on Cedar Key were quite overcrowded, so we headed back and found a Denny's back on US Highway 98 enroute to Spring Hill and our hotel, a distance of 273 miles from Carrabelle via Cedar Key.

Tomorrow, having already seen much of the intervening area (by boat) we plan to take a FAST route to our next stop, which is actually in the Everglades.

-- Lane