Road to and from Panama City

This weekend took a 558 mile road trip in 34 hours to Panama City and back. The goal was to attend the graduation of Kelly who was graduating from her Electrical Engineering course Magna Cum Laude. The trip was just under 500 miles and wanted to see how the bike  and I held up under an assortment of roads, weather and light conditions as well as having to make a long run in a short time with little sleep.

Left Gainesville at about 1300 on Saturday and returned at about 2230 on Sunday. Got about 5 hours sleep and ate three meals. The first half of the outbound journey was hot and interstate riding. For the most part, the traffic was fast moving and uneventful. However, the heat did take a toll and found it helpful to keep a bottle of Gatorade handy for each refuel stop which happened about one an hour.  Found the drink easier to take at gas stops if it was at air temperature and so slipped it under the webbing which made it easy to pull and drink when gassing the bike. The TomTom routed me through secondary state highways on the second half of the trip.  Speed here was not so fast as highway speed and my own sense is that because the speed was slower, the Shadow had zip to pass and scoot when need be that it did not have on the interstate. On the interstate, the traffic was fast moving and the Shadow was moving at almost max throttle.  There the pick up for passing was slow and required time. Bear in mind the Shadow was loaded with about 150 pounds of camping gear and electronics.

Got into Panama City in the end of Bike Week and that was a real zoo. I guess the first and biggest impression of Bike Week was there were two kinds of bikes. There were the dirty and well used road bikes loaded with bedrolls and misc camping gear or what looked to be camping gear. The riders were dirty for sure and rode well in the saddle with real boots. Then there were the show bikes that were hauled in by  4-wheeled pick-ups and trailers. It was interesting to see the riders that came into town on their bikes. They seemed easier in the saddle and a totally different breed. Sunday morning when they were all leaving it was a real show stopper. Big pick-ups were pulling out of motel parking lots headed for who knows where. Never associated bikers with the likes of upscale motels and hotels. It seemed as if there were more bikes being hauled than ridden. Don’t know that it means anything but the bikers on show bikes had shirts and vests listing this and that Bike Week while the others had nothing or very little writing or logos.

Had dinner with Peter. It was good to sit and talk with him about the 10,000 this and thats of no consequence. Cannot believe that I was in this super good seafood restaurant and ordered a hamburger and baked potato. Peter graduates from Bayshore College with an AA in the fall and moves on to FSU for his undergrad degree and eventually to a master’s. He has been promoted to the position manager of the day shift at a restaurant. It was a good feeling to see him doing as well as he was.

That night I spent at Laurel’s house. Met her dad and it was a very good evening. Was not a very entertaining guest as I had little energy and went to bed early. However, it was nice to meet them and hopefully I will have more time to talk to them on a subsequent visit.

Sunday went out to Callaway to visit with Kelly and her parents who had come into town for her graduation. I think this was one of the happiest 10 days of my almost 7 decades on the planet. Had a chance to meet her daughter for the first time and a cute child indeed she was. About as lively as they come. The graduation was longer than I anticipated but it was well worth the effort. She graduated Magna Cum Laude. I can not imagine myself doing as well under the circumstances that she had to struggle with. At some point, I hope she writes about it because a more inspiring story I cannot imagine.

When attending Kelly’s graduation a comment that Bo Lozoff made years ago in one of his articles came to me.  “What they learn is that “me and my family” goals are simply not big enough goals. They got what they wanted, and something inside was still empty and craving because ‘me and mine’ is not enough to make a whole, happy human being.”  There has to be some sort of cosmic glue that is bigger than the I, Me and Mine of life that creates a meaningful life. This, in part, Kelly seems to have found in getting an education.

I guess it was about 1700 or so when I got on the road to head back. Once again the TomTom kept me on the back roads almost to Tallahassee. The Shadow handled them with grace and elegance. However, it was a ride that could only be taken on a weekend, as during the week, those roads surely would have been littered with logging trucks and tractors. It is on these roads the Shadow is at its height.

Logging trucks are something to be wary of at all times. Not all that long ago, I was headed south on US 441 out of Gainesville  to Lowell CI early on a cold morning. Don’t know where the driver’s head space was as it was a cold clear early morning. He pulled out of a side road and I was traveling at the posted speed. Then his logging truck just stopped once he was all the way across my side of US 441 leaving me no way around. When I saw that, my plan was to lay the bike down and slide under the truck if I could not stop. Don’t know that I have ever brought it from 60 to a dead stop in such short time. Was not more than five feet from the truck when all was said and done. Once I was at a  dead stop, he pulled the truck out of the road and went on his way. I can only think his engine was still cold from the morning and it stalled on pulling out from the stop prior to entering US 441.  He must have panicked and tried to goose it and everything just stopped.

The first two hours headed home were on country roads at the end of the day with the sun at my back, feet on the highway pegs and Johnny Cash in my ears. Had fresh gum going and the day was cooling off. Only stopped when my fuel tank went on reserve. Rolling with the dips and curves was just wonderful. I could actually feel the temperature drop and the vistas of people outside doing their chores in the front yard gave me an appreciation of life I have not had for a long time being locked up in my small world of prisons and the Zen center. Don’t know why but the scenery reminded me of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. Just laid back into my bags and put the feet up on the pegs and enjoyed life at road speed. I think one of the nicest things was that there was no human drama and trauma going on. Just clean country air, the coolness of the end of the day and I don’t know what.

Eventually ended up on I-10 headed east. Again the sun was at my back and the color was changing as the shadows increased. Cruising speed picked up to typical Florida speeds and once again the Shadow was at almost full throttle with precious little reserve in case I got into trouble. Kept an eye on the rear because the last thing I wanted was an 18-wheeler trying to crawl up my tail pipe. Hit the reserve tank somewhere east of Tallahassee and decided to have dinner after fueling. Appreciate Huddle Houses, Waffle Houses and the like because they are fast in and out. The service is better than most places and the people are friendlier.

Got back on the road and it was dark. Night riding is a lot slower than the day. In part, it is because the road is dark and it’s easier to override the headlight beams. There is a great element of faith the road will be OK. The lights on a 2002 Shadow are not all that great as the technology has made some great leaps since then. Turned out to be a cold night and ended up wishing I had brought along a sweatshirt to wear under the leather jacket. At some point on the road, had the feeling I was on an endless landing pattern on a runway.

At some point south of Lake City, there was road construction that narrowed traffic to one lane. Got sandwiched between two big rigs and truly felt insignificant.  Lots of road trash and what appeared to be tar or oil in the construction area and had to be careful. However, by then I was less than 40 miles from home and it didn’t matter.

What I did learn is that I was not the young man of days gone by and will have to do a better job of pacing myself. It took me till Monday afternoon to get my senses back. Also, have had enough of night riding and will only do it as a last resort. Should have learned my lesson on the last drive back from Miami which was all night driving. Also, am glad I programmed every 4th day as a no-travel day. It will be key to rest and bike maintenance. And that is the way it was.

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