Welcome to another edition of Biker Chowdown where it’s not just about the food, but the adventures and people we meet along the way. Every ride down the backroads of America has its own theme. I often set out with a specific goal, objective, or greasy dive in mind, but the road always has its own agenda. Today I set out for the Clay County Seafood Festival in Green Cove Springs, FL, but what I discovered along the way were the heroes who serve our great nation.
Taking State Road 18 across from High Springs to Worthington Springs, FL I stopped for a break along the banks of the Santa Fe River. The early morning light created mirror reflections in the unique waters of the Santa Fe. Many visitors are a little reluctant to jump in the first time they see the river, it looks like fresh brewed tea poured over the Florida landscape.
The river has a hard clay bottom and the vegetation that falls into the river releases tannins that give the river it’s dark brown coloring. On this particular morning, with the sun low in the sky, the still, silent Santa Fe was my respite from a stressful week.
From there the road took me to Brooker, FL – population 338. There was a time when Broo
ker was a growing, thriving, farming community back in the 1920’s and 30’s when “The Peggy” made round trip runs to Brooker every day. Today Brooker is a small, struggling farming community with closed down shops, one gas station, and a Dollar General Store.
There is one redeeming feature that still stands prominently in Brooker – the Pinehill Masonic Lodge, established in 1881. The Freemasons had a significant impact on the founding of our nation. It was the Masons who gave free men of color the right to affiliate as far back as 1775 under the banner of the African Lodge No.1 in Boston, MA. That lodge was a bastion of the abolition movement leading anti-slavery petitions in 1777 and 1778. Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams where all Freemasons who impacted our nation. The Latin Maxim “Novus Ordo Seclorum” found on the back
of a dollar bill – roughly translated “a new order for the ages,” was just one of the many contributions masons made to America. Their influence on the birth of our nation was integrally engulfed in the understanding of our founding fathers.
From Brooker my ride continued to lead me east across the state to Starke, FL and Grannies Country Cooking Restaurant. Grannies is a favorite of bikers, first responders, and veterans. The place was packed on this Saturday morning so I took a seat at a family table in the back room. It wasn’t just a few minutes before eight EMT’s took a table next to me, but it was who I met while waiting on my country ham, biscuits, and red eye gravy that made this ride so memorable. An elderly gentlemen proudly donning his VFW jacket came in and asked, “mind if I sit here.” I would be honored.
I asked him his name and all said was “Jack,” in a gruff, don’t interrupt my breakfast, kind of voice. We talked for a few minutes when I thanked him for his service. Jack got a little teary-eyed and said, “I am the only one left from my flight team.” Jack had served in Korea back in 1951 as a Marine helicopter pilot. It was during the Korean war that the VMO-6 choppers were widely used for observation, communication, and control, but by 1951 they were also using the choppers for medi-vac missions, like those seen on MASH. It was then I made the mistake of mentioning the 1970’s sitcom and Jack set me straight real quick about what wartime conditions where really like.
Jack was a reminder of the character of men that make America great. There was no pretense and no filters, Jack told you exactly what he thought about war, politics, and welfare. He drank his coffee black and much to my chagrin, he splattered his eggs with half a bottle of ketchup. If there was one word I could use to size up this crusty old veteran it was fearless. It wasn’t because of the stories he told, or the abruptness of his response to some of my questions – it was something inherent in his nature. He was the type of man you could trust to have your back in a life or death situation.
After breakfast at Grannies, the day just sort of deteriorated. I rode out to the fairgrounds only to learn that the seafood festival had been cancelled so I rode on in to Green Cove Springs to my favorite coffee house and decided to order mine black in honor of my new friend Jack. Now I don’t put sweetner in my coffee, but I have always been told if you can drink it black for two weeks you will never go back to putting cream in your coffee. I quickly realized I wasn’t there yet. To make things worse there were some liberal yahoo’s working on a local campaign all sitting around the table bashing our president. Oh how I wish Jack had been with me. I can only imagine what he would have said. We don’t always have to agree on politics, but I grew up in an age where you respected the office of the president even if you struggled with the policies of the man sitting behind the desk. I downed my coffee and started my trek back home.
I did however, find this hidden gem leaving out of Green Cove Springs – the Clay Theatre built in 1900. If any of my readers want to join in a partnership, this historic gem is listed for only $350,000.
From Green Cove Springs the road took me south through Palatka, Interlachen, and Hawthorne. The weather had been good to me all day. I somehow managed to skirt the edges of some serious storms, and the clouds and misty cool air made it perfect riding weather – well at least till I hit Hawthorne. If you are not a frequent rider in Florida, you may not understand the need of carrying rain gear with you even on the shortest rides. Florida is notorious for sunshine one minute and blistering Hurricane force gales the next. I wasn’t half a mile from the McDonalds when the heaven’s opened, and by the time I arrived a couple minutes later rain gear was no longer necessary. I was soaked to the bone. I walked in dripping wet with every eye in the place looking on me with pity. I got me a hot coffee and spent the next 20 minutes sitting in a booth while a pool of water gathered at my feet.
The sun returned but I was so wet I didn’t even bother wiping down the bike. The remainder of the ride home was about 30 minutes through Gainesville, Alachua, and back to High Springs. For a moment, and only a moment I was lamenting my cold, wet cloths when I remembered the stories Jack shared about conditions in Korea back in the 1950’s. Each and every day I get to ride is the result of men like Jack who sacrificed for my freedom. Every meal at a roadside diner was purchased by some brave man or woman who died to keep America free. A few wet clothes on a Saturday afternoon – we all need to get real, get on our knees and thank God and the heroes who serve this great nation.
Until next time remember – it takes 37 muscles to frown, 17 to smile, but only 7 to twist the throttle on your motorcycle. For more pictures from the ride, visit our Facebook page here.