Panama City to Gulf Shores via the Town from The Truman Show
Google Maps is the best app ever created. Should you choose to dispute this fact, you're wrong. To remedy the drag-and-drop issue from yesterday, you can set those new points as another stop along the way. An easy solution that now pipes turn-by-turn directions into my ear. This is a big deal since I can't rely on my phone's screen while riding. Even while stopped, I can't use it with my gloves on. It also allows me to share my exact location with friends for safety and if you have it enabled, though a bit creepy, tracks everywhere you go. Not only that, you can create your routes on a computer where you have a mouse and keyboard and then use the "Send to Phone" option. Once there, you can add them to your home screen so you can use Maps to search for stuff nearby without losing your directions. It's great, completely alleviating a major stress during a trip like this.
The ride from Panama City Beach to Gulf Shores snakes along the neverending beauty of the Gulf Coast. I start on Hwy 30 out of town, the same highway 'Ol Drunk Uber Danny was driving me down last night. Ever since leaving Orlando, I'm surprised how many bikers I encounter and this only increases as I take the scenic Hwy 30-A instead of the quicker Hwy 98. I missed bike week in Panama City by one day, but am told by locals at the bars last night they're happy to be rid of them, unaware I'm riding one myself. I suppose I don't give off the biker vibe.
Hwy 30-A was another recommendation. Thanks to everyone who emailed, texted, and called. This is exactly the slow ride I need through quaint beach neighborhoods with pastel-painted houses and manicured lawns. I started with half a tank and already need gas. I swing in to fill up and a jacked up Ford with a Confederate flag license plate pulls into the pump facing me. The bearded, tattooed 40-something driver walks straight over to admire the bike. "2016?", he asks. "It sure is", I reply, happily, because yesterday that's the made-up answer I gave a different man. He knows a guy that bought a 2016 Street Glide brand new. They start around $21k. The guy that details it for him took it out for a ride and passed out on it because he's diabetic. The bike ended up in a tree with $17k worth of damage. I never heard what happened to the rider. Let's assume he's fine. Before pumping his own gas, he backs his truck up so I have enough room to get out. This proves that even in full dork gear without neck tattoos, you still get respect from fellow riders.
Back on the road, I ride past a picturesque neighborhood with food trucks to my right and red brick roads to my left leading to the beach. Since I'm in the future, it's only until I arrive in New Orleans and talk to my friend Brad that I find out it was Seaside, the town from The Truman Show. I thought that movie was filmed in a studio because the town was so perfect. It's real. And it's perfect.
Fed up with water on only one side of me, I head to the Navarre Beach Marine Park, an island south of Pensacola. Just across the bridge is a small, desolate community of beach homes with no commercial buildings. Beyond that lies a 20-mile stretch of a national park with white sand dunes on either side of the road and salty water beyond them. The speed limit is 25 mph and the car in front of me obeys laws. Thankfully, they soon turn off and I accelerate to 35 to get air in my jacket. I stop in a turnout, run to the top of a dune, and spin in circles taking in the wonderful panorama. Pristine, untouched beaches in all directions and blue water to the horizon. Jumping back on, houses become more frequent as I pass through Pensacola Beach and take the bridge off the island.
Riding through Pensacola goes quicker than expected with little traffic. I'm making good time so before realizing I'm only 20 miles from my destination, I stop at Flora-Bama for lunch. Though the crab cakes are tempting, I order the fish tacos and enjoy the view.
Once I finish, I walk back to the bike to discover I left my GoPro stuck to the windshield and didn't lock the bike. Which means anyone could have turned it on and ridden away with it. I was too excited to jump off and take a picture of my first border crossing into Alabama, a stupid mistake I don't intend to repeat. I fire it up, no key required, and the next 20 miles fly by in anticipation of meeting up with a friend. I pull into the parking lot of the nicesty accommodations thus far, an actual hotel, and unpack the bike. I meet Levi and his girlfriend at the pool after dropping my things off and am greeted with cold Bud Lights just after 1 p.m.
We spend the next couple hours catching up until my skin starts to ignite under the hot Alabama sun. We load up the cooler with ice, make a pitstop at Dollar General for suntan lotion and a beer refill, and get to the beach.
Levi has been coming to Gulf Shores for years with is family, so after receiving varying degrees of sunburn on the beach, we shower at the hotel and are led to dinner. I order seafood, trying to get my fill while on the coast and help myself to a few of Levi's all-you-can-eat shrimp. We check out The Hangout, a huge bar not far from the restaurant, but since it's still early in the season, it's dead. The next stop is Pink Pony Pub, a small bar on the beach with karaoke. It started off strong until a drunk birthday girl wanting every ounce of attention kept getting on stage to somehow make her friends laugh.
We use this opportunity to leave, make a quick stop at Mudbugs for a drink and worse karaoke, and end up at The Flying Harpoon. It's a laid back bar seemingly converted from a house. I order a Bushwacker, my first. I don't know the official recipe but if I had to guess, you pour a couple shots of rum into a large glass, fill the rest with milk fat, and then pour half a bottle of chocolate syrup on top. It's delicious. I have a second and regrettably bum a smoke off Levi as we talk about his recent move to Nashville. His girlfriend wants to go home, but with no cabs, she doesn't make it far down the dimly lit streets before joining us back at the bar. I polish off my Bushwacker, and we take the long way home around a downed bridge. A cool, relaxing end to to a sun-filled day.