There is an adventurer’s spirit in every true biker. If you are unwilling to weather the cold, or driving winds, or pouring rain, then just park your bike and get comfortable living the rest of your life in a cage.
I watched the weather daily for two weeks leading up to my ride at the Gibtown Bikefest in Gibsonton, FL. When I planned the trip the forecast promised mild temperatures and sunny days. As the event drew closer cold and rain were on the horizon. While I admit that embracing riding requires you have to deal with the elements, it doesn’t mean I particularly enjoy it when the weather turns bad. I had to make a choice, leave early and battle the bitter cold morning temperatures, or leave later as it warmed up risking the chance of hitting those blinding sheets of rain Florida is so famous for. I opted for the cold and headed out Hwy 27 to U.S. 19 heading to Clearwater to see my brother before heading over to the festival.
I rode for a couple of hours and stopped at a small roadside diner for a cup of coffee and to warm up a bit. The weather didn’t look promising so I put on my rain gear (15 minutes before the first small shower moved into my path). The ride down was pretty successful till I hit New Port Richey, Florida. It was then the gods of of wind, rain, and AARP drivers entered my path. After riding for over 35 years, I have learned to deal with the elements, but there is no riding course, or skill set that can protect a biker from a Florida snow bird. Driving 20 when the speed limit is 50, turning across 3 lanes of traffic, weaving in and out of lanes like a drunk on a weekend bender – this is one reason I rarely ride through the populated coastal regions of South/Central Florida. For 30 minutes I rode cautiously through the sheets of rain, the slick, treacherous roads, and the geriatric obstacle course that is Pinellas and Hillsboro Counties.
After the safe arrival at my brothers, I settled in to a relaxing day of exercise and spa time at the local YMCA, a healthy dinner of Chicken Marasla and jasmine rice, before drifting off to sleep watching “The Darkest Hour” (a must see film for any Churchill fan).
Saturday morning, I got up early, had a great breakfast and then headed off to the Gibtown Bikefest. While Gibtown is smaller than Daytona Bike Week, the Leesburg Festival, or Sturgis, it has it’s own culture, following, and as far as festivals go, it has a pretty good lineup of entertainment: Screamtown, Boss Hogg, Kentucky Headhunters and Pat Travers all performed over the weekend, but like any event it is the people who make the journey worthwhile.
My first encounter was with Riley and Maggie Barton from Palmetto, Florida. Riley was a die hard Harley owner, who customized all his own bikes. Riley and Maggie had been riding together for over 30 years, but this weekend was different. Riley (in his early 60’s) had reoccurring back problems and was scheduled for one more surgery that would determine his riding future. They came to this rally in a cage and you could hear the pause in his voice, and see the worry in his eyes over whether he would ever ride again. He showed me pictures of his Harley Panhead and it was like watching a grandpa tell you about his grandchildren. He indicated he might sell her if he doesn’t get better and the tone of his voice told me that the prospects of recovery weren’t good.
Early Saturday evening I was wandering around the Festival listening to music on the different stages when I noticed the NFL playoffs were on the television at an inside bar. I wandered in to check the score and was reminded of the ugly underbelly of biker culture. Keep in mind these folks don’t represent the majority of bikers, but sadly, they reinforce the preconceived perceptions so many have. As I looked quickly around the room, there were older riders whose hard lives were written across the lines of their face, men and women who early in the evening had already had too much to drink, but what really troubled me was a family (of sorts) sitting at a table next to the bar. This was not a bar/restaurant like a TGI Friday’s, or that sort place – this place looked like a dive bar you find in a bad part of town.
There were 3 small children between the ages of 4 and 12 sitting at a table, cigar and cigarette smoke hung in the room like an old tapestry and liquor was flowing like the Mississippi during flood season. It was tragic the second hand smoke they were experiencing, tragic the lifestyle they were being raised in, tragic that stricter standards weren’t set for where children could wander at this event. More tragic – it served as a reminder of how many children in our country are being raised in poverty, want, and moral and spiritual conditions that will continue to contribute to a decline in our Judeo-Christian values.
The remainder of the weekend was great. It was a bitter, windy 37 degrees when I headed out to church on Sunday morning. It was great to return to the Bell Shoals Church of Christ where I got to reunite with old friends and recall some of the great times we shared in the past. After church I would head out for my return home.
It was still cold Sunday afternoon when I started back on my journey home. I decided to take a very different route up Hwy 41 through the heart of Florida. About an hour and half into the ride I decided I would have a late breakfast (lunch really), in a small cafe in Floral City. Robin’s Country Kitchen was a real treat. The entire place could hold maybe 30 people – shoulder to shoulder, and when I arrived there was only one seat left at the counter. As I walked in, I experienced a different kind of biker taking up most of the seats (not hardcore, leather-draped, bikers), but cyclists in their tight little riding gear and funny shoes. They were laughing and having a grand ole time, but there was one Argentinian fellow, portly, late 50’s, hugging on every waitress in the place. He was loud, gregarious, and a site to behold in his too small cycling shorts (enough said).
Breakfast was pancakes, eggs, bacon, hash browns and lots and lots of hot coffee. I am not sure if I was just hungry, or it was just the great home cooking at Robin’s. Either way, it was another highlight of my trip and the last stop on the road home.
Gibtown Bikefest was a much needed respite from a very busy couple of months. I was a heartbeat away from canceling because of a full work load, bad weather, and other constraints, but I am always reminded of what Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the ones you did. So, throw off the bowlines. Sale away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.”