US129, a.k.a. “The Dragon,” is famous for its 318 curves on 11 miles. Unfortunately, that road is far away on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. Here in Florida, we joke that we have something similar: 11 curves on 318 miles! On a recent trip I realized that it was no joke.
My girlfriend and I were planning on taking a long daytrip for our last weekend in January. It was one of those rare occasions when neither one of us had our kids for several days. No major prep, just hop on the bike and go somewhere. Fortunately, Sondra is as much a motorcycle fanatic as I am. I think she could not care less if I even had a car. She is not a whiny rider either, only when I slow down to below the speed limit (not that I ever speed!)! Yep, she is awesome. No guys, you can’t have her!
We saddled up after a double hot cup of coffee. It was a cold and windy day. The promised high was only 60. I know, I know, but I did say “here in Florida.” We are wimps, I don’t deny it. When we took off at 9 a.m. it was less than 50 degrees. That meant full winter outfits for us.
It really wasn’t that cold, just the wind was northern and we were travelling east. Sudden gusts would pound us around like ragdolls, although at times, that was the only excitement during the trip. I got to feel miniature curves!
Speaking of curves, most Floridians respect them, they just don’t know them. Many years in the Sunshine State myself, I “de-curved” as well.
The first day on the Dragon, I couldn’t keep the bike on this side of the double yellow. That at idle! I realized how much my mind worked in the straight line. I lost my ability to bend the bike that far. As a T’ai Chi instructor, I expected to be in total balance at all times. I guess the rules are different when you come on two wheels from Florida!
However, one day of mindless fun later, I was a real foot scrubbing expert again. Remember the first time your foot touched the tarmac in a deep curve? Of course you do—it will stay etched in your mind forever!
After that memorable trip it became an obsession of mine to finding curvy roads here in the Deep South. Every chance I had I would take a different road, just to look for new radiuses (radii?).
I knew right away that this trip would lack them. We decided to ride around Lake Okeechobee. It is the largest lake in the US outside of the Great Lakes, with a circumference of about 100 miles. The east side of it held some promising scenery.
We started out from just outside of Charlotte County on the southwest corner of the state. My Ducati Multistrada could hardly wait for me to push the button. It responded with a pleasing purr, or: frrr.
We looked like a couple of happy space travelers decked out in helmets and full gear. The radar detector (I got that from Sondra for Christmas – told you she was a keeper!) happily chirped the familiar test tune.
769 had the first curves of the day. Nothing major, but with the added fake-hill impression, which is created by a few quarter mile dips, it looked quite unlike Florida.
That is a big plus. It is also a nice warm-up, since going out of Port Charlotte, there is always a mild congestion close to I-75.
It dissipated slowly as we passed the cars one by one. There are a few familiar speed traps along the way, so these passes had to be timed well. However, the first few bursts of the fast air while passing also gave a little burst to our adrenalin. All the aches and pains, all the worries and problems in this world, suddenly disappeared along with the cars.
About ten miles of pleasant curves and cow pastures later, we took a right on 761, just to make a left on 661 soon after. This is one of my favorite secret roads in the area. It has six major curves, each close to a 90-degree angle. The suggested speed is 30mph which some people double for added pleasure. They are the true knee-dragging kind.
Sondra does great in the curves. I don’t even feel her on the bike. I do check on her once in a while, even though I do know that she’s still there.
The scenery is a bit different, with some farmhouses and even a private air strip next to the road, in addition to the oranges and the cow pastures.
We turn right onto 72 for a quick mile. It runs into 70 just before Arcadia. This is a nice junction, giving way to more “secret roads” of mine. However, this time, we take a right to the town.
Arcadia is a pleasant old Floridian farm town, laced with dozens of antique shops in its historic downtown. The old Opera must be the biggest antique store east of the Mississippi. The outskirts are packed with aging southern-type houses with their wide patios housing the mandatory porch swings. Surprisingly, there are a few curves winding through the city, but the speed limit takes away much from their enjoyment.
Now comes the test of nerves. From Arcadia to Okeechobee, there is not one curve. Fifty-five miles of flat, bendless asphalt that fills people’s brains with boring lamentation on the size of the Universe and other important life questions.
The scenery doesn’t help. More cow pastures with the occasional orange grove. At least two highway patrol cars are mandatory on this road.
Thank goodness for the wind. It keeps my mind on the road by giving us a few gusts once in a while. Sondra doesn’t like it, but I assure her that it’s OK. It is kind of like going into curves, just sitting more upright.
It is amazing that after 18 years in Florida, I still get amused by its nature. I still laugh when I see the cows with their “pilot fish”- the cattle egrets that hang around them, waiting for the bugs that try to escape the ever-munching behemoths.
I always keep my eyes open for the alligators, like it is such a big deal to spot them. The bald eagles and turkey buzzards are an everyday normalcy. On this stretch of the road, you may also see the rare Caracara – a bird of prey, also Mexico’s national bird. Grazing wild hog, deer, armadillo, raccoon, gopher turtles and opossum are everywhere. You have to keep your finger on the brake at all times.
There are some “hills” and more orange groves as you cross US 27, soon giving way to more of the prairie-like setting. I remembered a nice road through the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation a while back, which runs from 70 through 721, but it would make our day too short. We were still 15 miles West of Okeechobee.
Arriving in Okeechobee is a nice relief. It feels like real civilization, with real (not hand-pumped) gas stations and semi-clean bathrooms.
The Multistrada has a gas gauge issue. It will indicate reserve, even with the tank half-full. I follow the amount of miles that we made, so I can always calculate how much gas I have left. It is not a pain, just an issue.
Other than that, we both felt at ease on the bike. It is quite forgiving on the legs and back. You sit on it practically like on a dirt-bike. It is super comfortable. At higher speeds, there is plenty of room to slide back and lean forward. That position introduces you to the wider part of the seat as well.
Gassing up had an additional bonus. It let me move my fingers. They felt frost-bitten from the lack of any movement. I didn’t have to pull the clutch since we crossed US 27, which was 30 miles ago!
Okeechobee is a busy town in the winter. It hasn’t escaped the annual influx of the snowbirds – a Floridian term for northern visitors in the winter time. The snowbirds are a special breed: a local theory states that only the ones who fail the driving test up north, may come to visit. Even then, they have to drive slowly in the fast lane; otherwise they have to go back into the freezing North. Extra bonus for those who drive to happy hour in the middle of rush hour!
We get our first glimpse of the lake as soon as we turn left onto US 98/441 at the last traffic light. Not right away, though: You have to climb the dike that surrounds the lake to get a decent view. On a sunny day like this, you get rewarded by an ocean-like array of colors: Dark blue with the occasional blinding sunshine reflected from the rough surface. You can not spot any gators on such waves.
Speaking of waves, the first curves appear out of nowhere. They are not big or fast by any means, but they sure are welcome. The wind now blows into our backs which makes the ride even more pleasurable.
On this section, I don’t mind driving the speed limit. Not that I would ever speed. There is so much to see. The dike on the right doesn’t change much, but everything else does. Homes ranging from shacks to mansions, as well as sugar cane mixed with mangoes and palms are everywhere.
If you feel like stopping, there are several places where you can cross the dike to the other side, where you will find vast empty parking spaces and barren picnic tables.
We are still disappointed that there are no alligators in the rough water, which now looks dark-brown and extremely murky.
The town of Pahokee feels like an Egyptian post card: tall palm trees (although not dates) mixed with plantations of the greenest kind in the darkest soil you can imagine. So dark, as if the Nile had been flooding the area for eons.
The palm trees were of the enormous and smooth kind. Looking up felt like a tropical paradise. By then the sky turned blue to mix with the green palm leaves.
Another sugar cane, corn, and mango field later, we were gently frrr-ing down on 715, on the way to Belle Glade. We only touched the outskirts, but it became clear that this was even more Egypt-esque than Pahokee. This place even had a canal—only this was clean. No offense Egypt.
By the time we hit Clewiston on the mid-southern end of the lake, we had been badly beaten by the wind (which was now coming from the right), the road constructions, trucks, and other factors, of which some involved moderate speeds.
Starved, we made it to the local tiki bar for some grubs and hot coffee. Not before we checked out the dike on this side of the pond. It was surprisingly beautiful. It reminded me of the Everglades. The sun was shining from behind us this time, so we were able to take a good look. There were more trees and bushes on small islands, as well as in the water, than anywhere else on the lake. It was quite a colorful picture.
We were so hungry that we forgot to take a picture. The food was as expected. I ate too much of the sweet potato fries though, so for the rest of the trip I felt like I had swallowed a brick. Sondra did like the space heater. It was still a near-freezing 55-ish in the air.
Going up on US 27 the speed limit goes up as well, to 65 mph. Feels good to open the throttle. I didn’t go too fast--not so that I would lose my license. Not that I ever speed.
There are at least two fine curves on this section of the road. So far that makes it about ten good curves on this whole trip.
We turned left before Palmdale to take 74 West, to Punta Gorda. I swear there is not more than one very slight turn on this entire road--50 miles straight, as if you were in Arizona. Of course, we are still on the motorcycle, so nothing else matters. The miles go by very fast when you are having fun.
We made it just in time to gas up on US 17. The pump made an attempt to be the only thing in the day to piss me off, but I still had a big smile on my face, recently induced by sudden bursts of fast air. The bastard finally gave in after punching in my zip for the third time, and opened at least the medium grade, to weakly pour out and feed the Duc. It deserved the super, but they were out.
The sunset caught us in Punta Gorda. Sondra got to enjoy it while we were crossing the Peace River on I-75. I had to watch the road... for familiar speed traps. OK, so maybe I was a little bit over the limit. Anyway, it was a fun ride!
We arrived in pitch dark, cold and tired, but very happy. The Duc logged exactly 250 miles. Under the load, with the wind and some fast riding, it still yielded about 38 miles per gallon. I normally get 40-45 out of it. Just to make the day right, I took a bit longer route home—the one that contained an additional decent curve. It was number 11.
By Csongor Daniel