The Island

Posted on 29. Aug, 2015 by in Gypsy Bikers

by Scooter Tramp Scotty Kerekes

Winter of 2014

The road has been home for almost so long as I can remember and I no longer care to leave it for long. But there are times when necessity demands that I do. If one decides to take the hardest months of winter in the southern region of Florida then surely he will be warm; and just as surely will he also be trapped for months between two oceans below and the frigid north above. It’s for this reason that, as always, my arrival to this destination was again prolonged until the last possible moment.

3 That time had come.

Tom and I had been banging around Florida’s more northern regions for weeks, but the north 4 of Florida is far cooler than its south and we’d ultimately been pushed to its southern most cross-state road of hwy 41. This highway would take us through the everglades before ultimately ending not far from the 130 something miles of bridges that bounce across warm tropical islands to eventually end at Key West—which was our final destination.

That evening found us in a fine camp set to accommodate the freedom of those who desire it, and placed in complete privacy just of the road.

5 It was late afternoon when the little Cuban filled town of Homestead came into view. This is Florida’s southern most mainland town before the bridges of hwy-1 bounce onto the ocean and begin hopping across the islands. Obviously land would be scarce down there and it might take time to find acceptable real estate on which to place camp. For on those small island campgrounds cost more than many hotels on the mainland and, as usual, we’d not be using them. We’d also be looking to socialize with new people on the islands and I intended to look 6 presentable. It’s for these two reasons that I wished not to start this slow 130 mile journey until morning. So it was that Tom and I scouted Homestead for a suitable camp spot. When this was accomplished, we went to dinner. Afterwords, we returned home to crash out.

7 By 9 am the morning coffee was in my hand. When sleep’s fog had lifted I dialed a local YMCA. After the call I told Tom to get his shower stuff and clean clothes ready because they were giving us free passes.
Once clean, packed, and ready, we started for the bridges.

Eighty degree February sunshine bathed us warmly as the bridges opened up ahead. To our left 9 was the Atlantic, and right the Gulf of Mexico. Parts of the seafloor that lay just below the shallow surface are home to large patches of dark-green vegetation, while others lay white where the bottom is only sand. From high atop the bridges the water below resembled a huge patchwork quilt that stretched on forever. Smaller islands could be seen on both sides and an occasional boat broke up the monotony. It’s a strange sensation to ride a bridge that leads some distance across the ocean before you see the next island. So you traverse that island, then hop another bridge to are off again. With very few cares in the world to interrupt this experience, we rode on. And although I called a break on numerous occasions, at one point Tom had to pull us over excitedly then go stick his hands in the warm water.

10 My first concern when entering any new town is almost always locating suitable land on which to make camp. Big Pine is one of the largest islands and, because of its excess land, we searched there. It didn’t take long. But Big Pine is still 30-miles from Key West and I’d hoped to live closer; for small island life is about the water (sailing, snorkeling, diving, etc.) and unless you’re a serious water person, which I’m not, islands can get pretty boring. Past experience told me that Key West was where the action would be.

Big Coppet island sets only a few miles north of Key West and it was there we struck pay-dirt. Just past a string of 12 residential homes the pavement ends at a large dirt area situated directly against the ocean and with a perimeter of thick brush and trees. At its center is a ruined car that was burned long ago. Although a heavy slab of concrete blocks entry to the road in, there’s plenty of room for a motorcycle to pass. For the coming three weeks this would be our home.

With that settled, we rode into town.

13 I believe Key West is two by six miles long and, once the bridge had dropped us there, we traversed the road along its western shore. This island is crowded and traffic on this narrow double-lane road was heavy. Scooters cut through traffic easily on this tropical island and, as usual, they were everywhere. At our left businesses like Public’s grocery story, Wendy’s, a small movie theater, etc. stood like a picket fence. To the right was the marina and its barrage of sail boats floating at dock.

Eventually we came to Duval and I hung a right. This little tourist/party street is kinda like a wanna-be Bourbon St. 14 Lined completely with ice cream shops, t-shirt places, businesses that sell booze cruises, seadoo rentals, snorkeling, etc. Saloons and live music were everywhere. We were soon parked and I bought a cigar to smoke as we sat on the motorcycles to watch the action.

When afternoon began fading I thought of the Key West Sunset Show which takes place every evening. Soon the bikes were rolling down Duval then again parked at its west end. From there 17 we walked to the action. At the ocean’s edge a wide open area of tiled concrete serves the numerous street performers who come to work this winter wonderland. And although, cheap as I am, I always promise not to tip them, some of the shows are so good that I have to.

Complete dark had taken the island as our bikes again cruised Duval. To the right was a 20 gathering of motorcycles and scooters so we pulled in. Among them sat a man I knew. Bill is a vendor-friend-of-mine’s uncle and I’d once worked the Daytona rally with him. In his 70s now, when winter comes Bill grabs his little RV, hooks a motorcycle trailer to it, then simply drives south on the fly. Although Bill gets a little pension, he’s by no means rich and I admired the tenacity with which he simply picks up in winter then moves south with no real plan. Recently though, someone had offered use of their driveway on which to park his RV and that’s where he now lived. After talking a while I realized that, for Bill, this place is heaven. His almost daily evening routine was to hang on Duval with his buddies and I’d visit with him here often.

21 Eventually Tom and I went home to put in camp.

The second thing on my list of necessities in a new town are daily showers. The following day I bought a month membership to a local gym for $60. Unaccustomed to health clubs, Tom began taking his showers at a local cultural center (go figure).

Island life began to settle in and we made new friends. Many were retired folks who’d come to 22 spend their later years in this tropical spender. Some of them rode Harley’s. With a lot of time on their hands, what retired folks seem to do most of is party, and we began to attend their social gatherings quite often. So we hung at local houses to pig on pot-luck feasts as local musicians played for people dressed in shorts and Ts while still others splashed in the swimming pool. Strangely enough, not far to the north, 20-below record cold was bringing many I know to their knees. It seemed a surreal contrast.

28 26 To one of the best parties Tom didn’t show up and, since I seldom carry a cell phone, it wasn’t until after the celebration that I received his message. The BMW was broken down in a parking lot. It was pretty late when I arrived only to learn that the old Beemer had a clutch problem. Being unfamiliar with the complexity of BMWs, I surveyed the situation by flashlight. It was evident that if we had to get into this clutch it would be necessary to pull half the bike apart. The old Harley’s clutch on the other hand, could be completely disassembled right here. That kind of simplicity works well for me. Fortunately however, Tom’s problem was in the strange linkage the Beemer uses and, between us, it was 3am when the problem was finally solved.

27 Most of my work takes place during the rally season, which is of course summertime. By winter I tend to live from savings, whatever comes my way, and blind faith. Therefore, when a man on the street told me of a place that serves hot meals to the homeless every day, I decided to check it out. It was a great establishment and after lunch I volunteered time to these nice people and 29 soon found myself mopping floors. Next day I invited Tom and he carried out the trash. So became a common Key West routine for us. And although the work we did outweighed the food we ate, it felt good to do it; for when one gives freely to another then the world is always a better place. Besides, what else did we have to do?

Weeks passed.

If you’ve never experienced small island life then imagine slicing off one little piece of your town and completely surrounding it with water. Every day you visit only that one little section because there’s no where else to go. And if you’re a real travel junky then forget it. Also, by now the air had grown so hot and sticky that I wanted two showers a day. After only three weeks of island life, I was ready to split. But Tom wished to stay with the islands a little longer and decided to move north and try Big Pine. As for me, with the north still frozen, it seemed a good idea to simply ride off the islands and return to Homestead for a while.

Little did I suspect that the real adventure waited for me there…

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