My one-way flight from San Francisco to Orlando arrived just before 5 p.m. on Saturday evening. The airport, I find, blocks Uber and Lyft so I wait in the cab line and get my driver. He asks where I want to go, stares blankly after my response, and instructs me to type it into my phone and give him directions. I'm not bad at directions, but is this really how he operates his cab? How has he not lost his mind with bad directions givers? Anyways, we make it flawlessly to my Airbnb. Mike, the owner, is traveling in Europe, so his girlfriend shows me around. The two of them live upstairs and the entire first floor is set up like a hostel. There are bunk beds in a large room in the back, a handful of private rooms, a common room, shared kitchen, and mopeds and kayaks for rent. I also don't understand these two, apparently, privacy and peace aren't requirements of theirs. The moment I walk in, four dogs nearly tackle me. I'm told they also have two pet ducks in the back yard but am not lucky enough to meet their acquaintance. I'm shown my bunk and meet a bunch of the other guests sitting on the screen porch overlooking Clear Lake. David is the loudest, a sales manager at Solar City, now Tesla, originally from Jersey. He lives outside of Orlando but stays here over the weekends because it's cheaper than an Uber and he doesn't have to drive home drunk. Smart. I also meet Miguel, whose parents are Brazilian and just moved back to Brazil. He, on the other hand, lives in Santa Cruz, less than two hours south of where I live. Then there's Jim, a 40-something big guy that, after a few beers, tries to convince me the Four Lokos he buys still have caffeine in them and he usually has four a night. Even one is excessive. Also, he has an Adderall prescription and I should really take some along with me to keep me alert during the trip. I politely decline as this doesn't seem like the time to pick up an Adderall habit.
After a few hours with the roomies, I take a Lyft downtown for food and a few drinks. My driver on the way back rode a sports bike from Indiana to Orlando in one day and his wife is an ultra-marathoner who's training to hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail! How am I meeting these people?
I wake up Sunday before my alarm and don't even try to fall back to sleep, there's no chance. I brush my teeth and realize I forgot to put deodorant on yesterday and already stink. Is there really a point in showering before getting on a motorcycle in full gear and 90-degree heat? Maybe your answer is yes. Mine is no. David wakes up as I'm ordering a Lyft and offers to give me a ride on his way to Miami Beach. I gathered last night he didn't move quickly but figured it's only 8 a.m. so I have an hour before the shop opens and accept. He then lost his keys, his wallet, his debit card, and his t-shirt in rapid succession. Then he needs gas. Then he has to roll a blunt, which he does one-handed with impressive speed. I also appreciate that he waits to smoke it so I don't walk in to rent a motorcycle for a cross-country trip smelling like Cheech.
I arrive at Eagle Rider at 9:30 a.m., an hour and a half later. No bid deal. They pull up my reservation for an Indian Chieftain but didn't have any so offer a Harley Street Glide. I explain that, though my original reservation was for a Chieftain, I called last week to change it to a much smaller Scout because the former was too big for me. A Street Glide is nearly the same size. He doesn't have any Scouts. In fact, he doesn't have any other bikes at all. And no, there won't be any more available tomorrow. In fact, there will probably be less because they're shipping most of their bikes to their Chicago branch. He apologizes for the error. I have the email stating that I changed my reservation but don't even pull it out. What good does that do? If he doesn't have any smaller bikes he doesn't have any.
Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. ―Dalai Lama
I sit on the Street Glide. It sits lower so doesn't feel as terribly heavy as the Chieftain even though they're only separated by 50 lbs. I have little choice but to accept it. If I can't handle it, I can pay a stupid amount of money in Daytona Beach at that Eagle Rider branch assuming they have something smaller. I sign the paperwork, load up my gear, and hesitantly depart. Just like the Chieftain, once it's moving it's a wonderful ride. So it feels great at first, but it's hard to get a good read until I make it to Kennedy Space Station due east of Orlando and hit the parking lot. I have to stop quickly to avoid a car while turning at slow speed. Not a great situation with a huge bike. But it handles perfectly. I get it upright and stopped with little effort and even avoid honking and cursing at the offending driver. I'm confident I wouldn't have kept the Chieftain up in the same situation. I park, breath a sigh of relief, snap a few pictures, and am off.
My next stop is Daytona Beach to touch the Atlantic and make this a true coast-to-coast trip. I quickly walk to the water's edge and back as I'm the only dork in jeans and waterproof motorcycle boots on the beach. I then stop at Daytona International Speedway. I can hear cars doing practice laps but can't see inside. I imagine it's like past laps I've seen cars drive around circular tracks so am not disappointed. I swing by Target to trade in my kid-sized sleeping bag for a tripled-checked replacement good for up to 5'11". That should allow me to fit my whole body in at one time, pretty incredible.
The night before in Orlando, I heard on the news the Kentucky Derby winner trains in Ocala, FL, a city I planned on passing through. Ocala has a storied history dating back thousands of years and has recently become the horse capital of the world. I look up the farm and it's only a few miles out of my way, so that becomes my final stop before the push to Cedar Key for the night. Riding through the countryside on the way, I pass beautiful equestrian farms as far as the eye can see.
I don't have reservations in Cedar Key but plan to pull up to a campground and ask if there's anywhere I can put up a tent. First, though, I head into town to get dinner. I park at The Market, I imagine the only one in this tiny town, grab my camera, and wander down to the water. As I'm walking onto a dock full of fisherman, small shops, and a few tiny bars, I see a motel on the actual dock with rates I have to ask about to make sure I'm reading the handwriting correctly. I ditch my camping idea, a shower sure sounds nice. The manager used to be a long-haul trucker and found out about this job opening via Facebook. He's from Alabama, says he's 47, though he looks about 20 years older, and he's great at his job. I don't know how he survived in a truck, the man loves talking to people.
I shower, unpack the bike, catch the sunset, and grab some crab cakes on the dock. I head to the bar across the street, it's just after 9 p.m. but is the only place still open. I make my way to the beer cooler and ask the bartender if there's a beer menu. He mimes moving his head back and forth to look at the beers in the cooler. Okay, sir, I guess I deserved that. I pick one and bring it to the bar. Right after he opens the bottle, I say, "you take credit, right?" He slides the "Cash Only" sign from 12 inches away from me to six inches away from me. Strike two, Rocky. I reach for my wallet and find two $5 bills, he finally speaks to tell me the total, $5.35. "Do you have an ATM?", I ask. "No, all the ATMs on the island are down for some reason." Strike three. I drink my beer, reminisce about the day and how happy I am the Street Glide is turning out so well, and call it a night.