Southern Loop

day1It was raining when I got up that morning, which didn’t bode well. I checked the weather radar on my phone, and saw a line of precipitation stretching from the southwest to northeast. I had two loops planned, south and north of Orlando, and it looked like if I took the southern route as I’d planned to, I’d ride out of the scattered rain showers. So I packed my rain gear and went.

My first experience on the Street Glide was fighting my way through traffic to escape Orlando – not exactly the best circumstances to learn a big, heavy bike with a different riding position than I’m used to. But I managed, and despite selecting the “avoid highways” feature of my GPS, I found myself on a series of state highways ranging from one to three lanes, and with 55-60mph speed limits. In this case, I don’t think it was a failing of my GPS. Florida is so open and flat, and the roads so straight, all of their major roads seem to be set up this way. But I wasn’t here to enjoy twisties – I was here to cruise around on a motorcycle in warm weather in January, and the Harley was well suited for that. I even got to use cruise control, since once outside the city traffic was virtually non-existent.

IMG_1131I spent the morning on an inland route, basically getting a feel for the Harley. I’m lucky I wear glasses, because between the brain bucket and the minimal windshield on the Street Glide, they were my only eye protection. At higher speeds I found myself slouching a little, just to get my face out of the direct wind blast. The most horrible moment was a Florida downpour I rode into, with huge drops on my glasses that partially obscured my vision. I knew that storms like this are localized and short lived, so with absolutely no shelter like bridges to wait under, the best thing to do was reduce my speed for safety, but press on regardless, hoping I’d get through the storm as quickly as possible. In about ten minutes, I came out the other side, and it was over.

As I’d hoped, I rode out of the line of rain as I headed south, and eventually the sun came out. The thermometer on the dashboard touched 80 at its peak. I’d brought my textile jacket, not the mesh one, in case of cooler temperatures, but I took out the liner, opened the vents, and put on my mesh gloves to maximize cooling. In January. Unreal. But this is why I came to Florida.

I got to the insanely named Yeehaw Junction at around noon, and stopped for lunch since I was hungry. I’d planned to ride all the way to Lake Okeechobee, head east to Jupiter, and then ride A1A up the coast, but I hadn’t gotten as far as I thought I would. I really had no must-see destinations further south, so I decided to cut the loop short and head east now, to Vero Beach. Cruising up A1A was one of my major goals anyway, so I didn’t mind chopping some distance. I was having fun, I was warm, and I was riding a motorcycle. That was what mattered.

IMG_1135So I took Route 60 due east (bearing of 90 according to my GPS), and I stayed on it until I literally hit the coast and Route A1A. I turned left, headed north, and settled into cruise mode. For this, the Harley was perfect. I didn’t get as many beach views as I’d hoped to. There were many resorts and apartment complexes right along the coast, between A1A and the beach. But I still caught glimpses, and there were places to park with public beach access. I stopped at a few of these, just to take a look, breathe the warm ocean air, and snap a few pictures. This one looks like a typical beach day. I should point out that I took it on January 14, yet there they were in swimsuits – and it was warm enough for that. I didn’t slack off on the beach myself. I’m not much of a swimmer, and I didn’t come here to spend the day being lazy on the beach. I came here to ride. I rode on, up the coast, all the way to Satellite Beach, Cocoa Beach, and Cape Canaveral.

I’ve been a major space geek since I was a kid, and I knew that these places were where the astronauts played. I enjoyed passing through these places, and felt like I was riding through a bit of American space history. My next destination, in fact, was Kennedy Space Center. I’d had to make a difficult choice this trip. I went to KSC as a kid, but I’d love to visit there again, since so much has changed. But I didn’t spend the money to rent a motorcycle for two days to have it sit in the parking lot, and KSC would take all day to tour properly. So I’d decided against doing the full tour, which, at $50, is not inexpensive either. Some other time, on a non-motorcycle trip, I’d like to return and check it out properly. But this time, I wanted to at least cruise by and see what I could see.

IMG_1138After entering Merritt Island, the first thing I saw in the distance was the distinctive orange color of a Space Shuttle external tank, flanked by a pair of white solid rocket boosters. I figured I was getting close. Before long, there I was – the tank and SRBs, the building that Atlantis now lives inside, and the rest of the space center. I’d hoped to get some photo opportunities from outside, but there was nowhere to park, so I made a slow pass, turned around, and set course back to Orlando.

Much to my surprise, my route took me right past the Astronaut Hall of Fame. I’d never seen it, so I stopped in, and ended up taking a little time to look around inside. They have many interesting artifacts there – Gus Grissom’s Mercury spacesuit, Alan Shepard’s Apollo spacesuit, the actual Sigma 7 Mercury capsule, and lots of other artifacts, big and small. Of particular interest to me was a little corner with QSL cards and the actual 2 meter radio used by Owen Garriott, W5LFL, who operated ham radio from space for the first time on STS-9 in 1983. Ham radio has since become commonplace on the Space Shuttle and space stations, including the International Space Station. I, personally, once contacted U5MIR on the Russian Mir space station.

After geeking out on space stuff for a while (and utterly failing to land the Space Shuttle in a simulator), I continued on course and let the GPS guide me back into Orlando. As I crossed the bridge leaving Merritt Island, I looked back, and saw not only the Vehicle Assembly Building, but at least one of the launch pads that the Apollo and Shuttle flights launched from. As with much of Florida, there was nowhere to pull over, take pictures, and generally geek out, so I pressed on, and before long found myself back in Orlando. Traffic was kind of nasty, but I was a lot more confident on the Harley, and eventually made my way back to the hotel and parked it. I walked across the street for dinner and a beer, watched a little TV back at the hotel, and my eyes shut themselves around 10:30 – quite early for me. The excitement of the day must’ve been too much.

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