The fifth day was set to be a long but adventurous day. I would be headin' from St. Pete to South Florida, then ridin' through the Everglades en route to the Keys, then back to St. Augustine Beach in the northern part of the state to stay with another cousin and his wife.
After three quick hours of sleep, I slammed a cup of coffee, got my things together, said my goodbyes and headed out. First thing's first though, I was about due for an oil change. I yanked it into the nearest Hellmart, got the items needed, and changed the oil right there in the parkin' lot.
That done, I jumped on I-75 and headed south.
The weather had made a full U-turn from the night before, and it was about a purty a mornin' as I could ask for. There were palm trees and gulf water as far as I could see as I crossed the lower Tampa Bay... definitely a right purty place.
I saw three bald eagles on the trip, and all were in Florida. I didn't get any pictures, but as I don't get to see but a few of 'em a year, I tend to remember the sightin's well. The first one I saw just north of Naples, which made a bright and beautiful mornin' even better.
I jumped off I-75 onto U.S. 41 at Naples, and headed off into the Everglades. I saw my second eagle floatin' above me somewhere in there, but I was disappointed that I didn't see any panthers or gators. The Glades themselves are very vast and beautiful... another place I wish I could have taken more time to explore.
As I rode along, I saw some rain developin' up ahead. It didn't look to be anythin' more than a few drops, so I donned the helmet and left the raingear in the bag. Questionable decision... twenty minutes later, there wasn't a dry thread to be found. However, it was in the 90's, and it was a warm, tropical rain, so I damn near enjoyed it. I rode back into the sunlight, and was dry again within a few hours. All things considered, it was the only solid rain I ran into the entire trip, so I can't bitch too loud about that.
On the other side of the Everglades, I saw signs for Key West, so I followed 'em. They took me to Homestead, which is more or less the last outpost before you head out to the islands. By this point, it was early afternoon and I knew I wasn't gonna get to cousin Nate's house anytime soon. I thought briefly about scrappin' the islands and just headin' north, but I'd come that far so I decided to push on. I topped off the tank and was on my way.
I prolly shoulda done a little more research. When I was thinkin' about ridin' out to Key West, I was envisionin' a few small islands and a lotta bridges. Boy, was I wrong. It's 127 miles from the mainland to Key West, and most of it is island with 35-45mph speed limits. Couple that with construction zones and cops everywhere, and it was very slow goin'. In other words, it was damn near seven hours straight of continuously monitorin' my speed so I didn't get pulled over again... very stressful on the brain. While I'll treasure the memories of doin' it, I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to do it ever again.
All that said, it was hellaciously purty out there. I've never been to the tropics before, so to finally see the turquoise water in person was neat. In hindsight, I shoulda stopped for a few minutes and dipped my feet in for a little bit, but at the time I was too overwhelmed with how late I was runnin' and tryin' not to get yanked for speedin' again. The bridges I encountered were fun to run, and it gave me warm and fuzzies to stare out over all that purty water.
Once again, I got to take in another gorgeous sunset as I headed back across the Seven Mile Bridge.
I got back to the mainland well after dark and stayed north on U.S. 1, and that's when my penchant for avoidin' toll roads when possible bit me in the ass. Let's just say that downtown Miami is purty much batshit crazy, even at 9:30 on a Tuesday night. After narrowly avoidin' an untimely demise several times, I finally was able to jump onto I-95 where I had some room to breath again.
By then, I had exhausted my supply of road snacks, and I was startin' to drag ass. I knew I was in for a long slog up to Nate's place, so out came the headphones blarin' Pantera and gum to keep me awake. Even still, I had to stop several times in addition to my fuel stops to clear the cobwebs.
I finally rolled in to Nate's around 3:30am. As Nate is a former Texan, I was again greeted with a handshake and a cold beer. The late hour be damned, I thoroughly enjoyed that beer, and another, as we caught up for an hour or so. He finally decided to head back to bed for an hour before he had to leave for work. By then, his wife was already up and gettin' ready for work, and I passed out on the floor while waitin' for her to get outta the shower. Bein' on the floor didn't matter... I was wasted tired and still slept like a baby. It was a fittin' end to a fustercluck of a day.