New Years in Key West


This trip to Key West has more meaning behind it than I had originally thought. On July 7th, 2000, I had a motorcycle accident on Hwy 215 in North Carolina on a 1999 Ducati Supersport 750 that I'd bought just a few months before. This accident resulted in me totaling the bike and breaking my right femur in three places. If you'd like to read a little more about this bike and the accident, please go here: Dead Duck.

I got tired of all the lecturing about how dangerous motorcycles were and being asked constantly if I was going to ride again after the accident. I bought a “new, old stock” 1998 Ducati ST2 two months later at a “steal”. I had come to realize that I had a 50/50 chance of riding into the mountain or off the mountain that day, neither of which is good when you are riding by yourself. I started to think that life was too short, and there was a lot of the United States I wanted to see before I pass on. I played with the thought of going to Key West, Florida for New Years, since I'd never been there, and I always heard people say good things about it. During Bike Week in Daytona, a lot of people ride down there during the week, and I remembered a lot of my buddies, while in college, talking about going down there during spring or Christmas break.


At my parent’s house during Thanksgiving, I’d playfully mentioned to my mother about riding the bike from Easley, SC to Key West and then mentioned it again during Christmas. I still hadn’t made plans, as it was mandatory that I work during the Christmas Holidays to do maintenance on equipment that necessarily ran seven days a week throughout the year. December 28th rolled around, and we had finished all that was scheduled. I spoke with my boss about the next two days, and he told me I could take those days off, if I wanted. I decided right then…..I’m going to Key West!

There was a record-setting, cold front moving from the north, and I was hoping to stay ahead of it. I checked the Weather Channel’s website, and things didn’t look good. The front was supposed to move through that evening. I mounted the panniers on the ST2 and loaded the bike. One pannier had my full rain-suit in it, and the other only had three days of clothes, toiletries, a small tool roll, and a can of chain lube. I had difficulties falling asleep due to the anticipation of the ride I was setting out on the next morning.

I woke up early in the morning for a very rude awakening. It was 29 degrees outside!!!! I don’t own any fancy heated grips nor a heated vest, so I bundled up the best I could and set out alone. I rode from Easley to a friend’s bike shop in Mauldin, SC as my first leg of the journey. It was only about thirty-five miles and I was chilled to the bone, already. I warmed up for an hour while socializing with the owner and mechanic, all the while debating on turning around and heading back home. Talking about this trip I had barely started and getting motivated by talking to the two guys in the shop, I decided to continue. I figured if things got too bad, I’d stop at my parent’s house in Columbia.


Stubborn as I am, I jumped back on the bike and headed down I-385 to I-26 only to get cold enough to have to stop in Columbia. I stopped at Downtown Ducati, a dealership that no longer exists, and the dealer I had bought my previous SS750 and this ST2 from. I told them of the journey I was on, and after a half hour, I left there to continue down I-26 toward I-95.

I didn’t make it another 30 miles before I needed gas and was freezing, again. At least the sun was warming me up a little bit, but it just wasn’t enough. At the gas station, I put my rain suit on, hoping to cut back on the wind that was going right through my clothing. I put on my helmet, wrapped a scarf around the base of it, and put on my old snowmobile gloves that my father had brought down here from Indiana. It was already past one in the afternoon. I’d been on my trip for about four hours to cover a distance that usually would take about two and a half hours, and the temperature was hovering around the 50-degree mark. This was not turning into the “fun” I was hoping, but I decided it was something I “had” to do.

About an hour later, I was on I-95 heading south. Traffic was terrible! I was thinking that it was Holiday traffic with people returning from their families for Christmas. Within 30 minutes, I was standing on I-95! We were in a total standstill and in the middle of No-Where, SC. Being in the middle of the country, I assumed there was an accident, and I would pass it soon. It was stop-and-go at a painfully slow pace for about an hour and I never saw an accident. This made absolutely no sense to me for traffic to be this bad, a stop-and-go traffic jam on an Interstate near no major towns and not due to an accident. I started to observe the vehicles around me while thinking they must have thought I was nuts to be out on a bike in 50-ish degree weather. It was then that I started to notice something. Most of the vehicles were sporting stickers, banners, and flags of football teams from around the country. Duh! I was stuck in traffic because of the bowl games!!! It was at this time that I was starting to dislike football even more than I ever had before.

I originally had a goal of getting to Melbourne, FL before the end of the first day of riding, but with the cold and the traffic, I made it to Ormond Beach. Twelve hours after leaving the house, I’d only covered 460 miles of my thousand-mile journey. I was tired, sore, cold, and disappointed in how the day had gone. I figured the temperature never got above fifty-five degrees this day. When I decided to get off of the road, the first hotel I came to, fortunately, had a vacancy, and I took it. Once in the room, I didn’t even unpack the panniers. I took a long, hot bath to try to regain warmth back throughout my body. After the second time of filling the tub, my thighs didn’t feel cold anymore! Hurray! Across the parking lot was a Denny’s, so I fueled up on dinner and was in the hotel room and fast asleep, shortly afterwards.

I awoke to temperatures in the very low 40s and a long and boring ride on a very-straight I-95. The ride was uneventful, and I finally pulled over at another Denny’s in Melbourne for breakfast. It was here that I finally called my parents to let them know where I was and safe. The conversation with my mother was a bit comical. It went something like this:

Mom: “Hello?”
Me: “Hey, Mom. Guess where I’m at?”
Mom: “Um………I……I dunno. Where are you?”
Me: “I’m at Denny’s in Melbourne, Florida. I’m on the Ducati.”
Mom (after about 20 seconds of quiet): “Ah……What you are you doing there?”
Me: “I told you at Christmas I was going to Key West for New Years and riding the bike.”
Mom: “Ooooohhhh….I thought you were kidding.”

I’ve always been known to joke with my mom. For my 25th birthday, she’d bought me a black leather jacket. I joked about how I had to buy a bike to go with it. Two weeks later, I pulled up to the house with a Harley. First words I said were “I got the bike to match the jacket”. Her first words were, “I hope you have lots of insurance”. Anyway, back to the trip...

The drive to Miami was nothing exciting. At a gas stop just north of Miami, I decided, that since it was in the upper 50s, I’d at least take my scarf off. I drove about five miles, and the wind noise and cold air going down the front of my jacket was killing me, so I pulled off to the side of the interstate and put it back on. Ah….nice and quiet, again.

I’d never been this far south in Florida and had no idea what Miami would be like. All I knew of Miami was what I’d seen in the movies like “Scarface” and on TV shows such as “Miami Vice”. I didn’t see much of the city from I-95, and other than a white van attempting to take my space in the lane, it wasn’t too bad of a drive through the city, until, I-95 ended. It was strange how the interstate just disappeared. There was an endless line of stoplights from this point on, but I did see the local Harley dealer. I figured I’d stop for a T-shirt, and get some pointers about Key West and what some of the best sites to see would be. It was here that I learned a painful thing about Key West on New Year’s…’s like Mardi Gras in New Orleans! The guy at the Harley dealer asked me if I had hotel reservations. I gave him a look like one of a deer trapped in the headlights of a speeding car only to tell him that I planned on just finding a place when I got there. He sort of snickered and said, “Good luck.” I stepped into the parking lot, pulled out my trusty cell phone, and called the “800” number I had memorized to a hotel chain. The woman only found one room, and I’d have to get it for the nights of the 30th AND 31st to get it. What was the price each night, you may ask? How does $230 EACH night sound?!!!!! I ended up making reservations in Florida City at a sub-$50 a night. I was still about 120 miles from Key West, though!


I finally did make it to Key West and had a great time. The cold weather followed me down there with Miami having a low of 34 degrees that night and the high in Key West being about 65 degrees on New Year’s Eve Day. Seeing the monument for Key West being the southern-most part of the USA, the Christmas tree hanging upside down in the Hogs Breath Saloon, and meeting all the people was a great way to kick off the best motorcycling year I’ve ever had. In 2001, I started in Key West and wound up covering over 21,000 miles, going to 24 states, and seeing such sites as Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, the Badlands, and Niagara Falls. Since 2001, I’ve totaled up 44 of the 48 states, been in two Canadian Providences and Mexico, and seen many of the different sights the United States has to offer. I’ve even dedicated a whole wall of a room in my house to these trips…..all this because of a broken leg on July 7th, 2000.

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