I took part in the Iron Butt Association’s Florida Gator 1000 ride on Thursday, March 10th. It started from the Ramada Inn on San Jose Blvd in Jacksonville, FL, which is the IBA headquarters for the Daytona Beach Bike Week Annual IBA Party. It was a bit different from the traditional SaddleSore 1000 rides. For this ride the route was predetermined, GPS coordinates were made available to the riders before the ride, a detailed log documenting all stops was not required and we were issued rally flags. As the IBA site put it, “The Gator 1000 will give you a taste of what bonus hunting is about without all the technical concerns of rallying”. The overall theme was one of gator hunting. For the purpose of this ride, a crocodile and gator were considered one and the same!
I set my alarm for about 4:15am, got showered and dressed, and headed over to the Ramada, which conveniently for me is only a few miles from my home. I arrived at 5:00 am and there was a great buffet breakfast waiting for us. I had a light breakfast, and then checked in at 5:30 am to provide my odometer reading and to get my rally flag. I was #32.
During the ride you must take photos of your flag at the designated landmarks. That is how you prove that you were there. In an earlier email, the organizers had mentioned that having several bungee cords would be very helpful for displaying the rally flags. I had brought a bunch of small bungees with me, so while I waited for the rider meeting to begin, I went out to my bike and crimped on 4 bungee cords to my rally flag, one on each corner. That way during the ride I would not have to be fumbling with them. I also dug out my Nikon D90 to take some pictures of the pre-start activities. Crap! The battery was dead. That was the one item I forgot about the night before. !@#$%^&*(). I was really counting on that to get some great photos! Oh well, my cell phone camera would have to do.
As luck would have it, the weeks leading up to this ride had been beautiful and sunny with temps in the 70s. Thursday however was rainy and cold, and while we were given the option of completing the ride at a later date, there was no way that I was going to postpone this ride, especially after the disappointment of several weeks earlier when a broken clutch cable prevented me from completing the IBA Lap of Florida Insanity Gold ride. I had packed my rain gear as well as extra clothing and extra pairs of gloves (I wound up using all three pairs of them during the ride) and decided to put on my rain gear. The forecast was for the rain to stop by late morning, but at 5:45 it was raining steadily.
After the brief rider’s meeting, we headed out. It was only about a 30-40 minute ride to our first stop which was at a Corky Bell’s seafood restaurant in Palatka, FL. Their mailbox is a big gator! I was one of the first there, and while everyone else was attaching their bungees, I trotted up, hung my rally flag and snapped the picture.
From there I headed on to Leesburg, FL. This is a pretty ride down Route 19 through the Ocala National Forest. Stop #2 was a photo at the Gator Harley Davidson dealership in Leesburg.
From there it was west on Rt. 470 to Lake Panasoffkee. I stopped for gas and an energy bar and then picked up I-75 and headed south. The next rally point was at the north end of the Skyline Bridge in St. Petersburg. You needed either the toll receipt or a photo to prove you were there. I opted for the toll receipt and kept going. The bridge was not bad. I’m used to riding over the Dames Point Bridge in Jacksonville, so the Skyline bridge wasn’t an issue for me, but if you aren’t used to riding bridges such as these, it might be a big time pucker factor… A few hours later I was south of Naples and entering the Tamiami Trail, US 41. We had three rally points along this stretch.
The next stop was at the Smallwood store and Museam in Chokoloskee, FL and the southernmost tip of US 29. I skipped the museum – I just wanted to press on.
I headed back north to US 41 and stopped again for gas. The rain had finally let up and I took off my rain gear. The next stop was the Miccusukee Indian Village.
Continuing east, near Kendall, I headed south on 997 to Florida City, then picked up Rt 9336 to the Everglades National Park. I paid the $5 entrance fee and entered the park. It was about a 30 mile ride to the Flamingo Visitor Center. The road was mostly deserted. I did pass some riders heading north who were clearly ahead of me. And a number of police cars with lights flashing. Were they in pursuit of other riders…? I watched my speed…getting stopped was not going to help my time. There were two riders just leaving when I got to the visitor center and they very kindly pointed out where the Guy M. Bradley marker was. I would have wasted a lot of time looking for it.
Guy Bradley (1870-1905) was the first wildlife law enforcement agent killed while performing his duties to protect the nation’s wildlife. Bradley was a game warden hired by the Audubon Society and deputized by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. He was shot and killed July 8, 1905 while attempting to arrest a man for killing egrets in the Everglades.
This plaque reads “Guy M. Bradley, 1870-1905. Audobon warden was shot and killed off this shore by outlaw feather hunters, July 8, 1905. His martyrdom created nationwide indignation, strengthened bird protection laws and helped bring Everglades National Park into being. Erected in his memory by the Tropical Audobon Society.”
Leaving the park, it was what photographers call the “golden hour”, that time when the land glows with the warm colors of the sunset. I was headed north, but all around me and in my mirrors I could see the most magnificent colors in the sky and decided that I had to stop and try to capture it. With a little assistance from Photoshop, I was able to combine several exposures to create the image below. Not bad for an iPhone!
From there it was on to Homestead, then south to the Card Sound Bridge to Key Largo. I got to the bridge at the same time as two other riders and one of them held my rally flag so that the number appears. Rally rules – no number visible, no points allowed. The balmy scent of the water was such a treat as I crossed over and rode along the low-lying causeway. But I didn’t see any crocodiles crossing the road.
This next photo was just a pain in the ass. The iPhone’s camera was compensating for the reflective sign and the sign was readable but my rally flag was dark. I turned off my flash but then the entire picture was dark and blurry. I finally used my extra bungees to wrap the entire sign to hold my rally flag up, shined my flashlight on my flag, and got a photo that is legible. In addition to the bungees, some of those suction cups with the hooks attached are helpful for smooth surfaces such as this. I’ll pack some for my next rally.
I stopped at a McDonalds in Homestead to grab a salad and cup of coffee. Then it was on to the Florida Turnpike and North to Daytona Beach. I took the I-595 cutover from the Turnpike to I-95 and enjoyed the HOV lane all the way through Ft. Lauderdale and points north. Around Port St. Lucie I was getting drowsy, so I stopped for gas and took a nap at the Iron Butt Motel. I woke up feeling pretty good and got back on the highway. The temperature was really dropping and even with 5 layers on I was getting cold. I wanted to add another layer but didn’t want to stop before Daytona Beach, so I just kept going. It was during these early hours of the morning that I began worry that I would be the last rider back. I hadn’t seen anyone else for hours and felt that my stops for dinner and rest were a mistake.
Imagine my suprise when I got to the last rally point at the Congo River miniature golf course in Daytona Beach and saw other riders there! The rally rules called for a photo of either the live gators or of the sign for the place (our rally flag did not have to be in these photos). I took photos of both, put on my rain jacket for another layer to block the wind, and headed to US 1 and north to Ormond Beach where I picked up I-95 for the last blast up to Jacksonville.
I arrived too late to check in at the hotel (this last stop was manned between 10pm and 2am), so I got gas across the street so that I would have a receipt for my timestamp. Lo and behold, there were about 5 other riders there! How odd – we all rode over 1000 miles, stopping at different times for fuel, food and rest and finished up at the same time!
Friday night was the IBA dinner where we had a fun time sharing stories with other riders. Bob Higden and Mike Kneebone both had the group roaring with laughter and it was an honor for me to receive my certificate of completion from Mike in person. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make this ride and the party such a great success!