These shores inspired poet Wallace Stevens to pen The Idea of Order at Key West
. The vast beauty of the sea also stirred us to snap some photos, but with a couple Can-Am Spyders on hand we weren't wasting our time scribbling poetry.
Cold, overcast winters in Oregon make sunshine a hot commodity. So when the opportunity arose to ride a pair of Can-Am Spyders along the Atlantic coast of Florida, it was a no-brainer. Thirty degrees versus 75 degrees... Our bags were packed quicker than you could say rum-runners and grouper sandwiches.
My wife Cindy and I had been to Florida before so we were looking forward to the relaxed pace of the world’s largest retirement center and soaking up the sun and atmosphere the Sunshine State is so famous for. Our goal was to ride the coast from Daytona down to Key West, leaving behind the pressure of daily grind. No reservations. No set schedule. Just us with 10 days and two Can-Am Spyder roadsters... the formula for a perfect vacation.
Flying into Orlando late the first night, we opted to stay at the Hyatt Regency located inside the airport. We’ve stayed there previously but usually it’s the night before we are leaving O-Town. The rooms are excellent and there is McCoy’s Bar and Grill... The rum-runners were already flowing.
A 30-minute cab ride in the morning took us to Seminole Powersports where we picked up our waiting Spyders. You could tell dealership staff were huge Can-Am Spyder
fans and envious of the 10 days we had laid out in front of us. After a quick pre-flight of the roadsters and a few pointers of what not to miss along our way, we were headed off: Destination, Daytona.
Daytona International Speedway is an eerily desolate place when it's not Bike Week. Puncturing the silence with burning rubber made both of us feel more at home.
Riding a Spyder is an experience you will not soon forget. Ignore the 990cc V-Twin motor that puts out 106 hp, the stability control system that practically controls the bike for you or the ABS braking system that makes stopping a breeze even under the most adverse conditions. The Can-Am Spyder is all about looks... and trust-us, we got a lot of them. We weren’t even a block away from the dealership and cars were already pulling alongside taking pictures with their cell phones. The flowing-edge design of the Spyder is definitely an eye-catcher.
Daytona was about a 50-minute ride from the dealership via Hwy415. After a half-dozen wrong turns, it took us three hours to get there. First stop was the famous Daytona International Speedway. Our only previous experience with Daytona has been during Bike Week, so this was quite a bit different as the tens of thousands of people and numerous manufacturer displays were nowhere in sight. We basically had the speedway to ourselves. It’s amazing how much access you have around the place when the event security force is M.I.A. The giant empty parking lots were a perfect place for some impromptu Spyder testing and burnout practice.
The Speedway is about six miles from the coast, so we headed east over to Hwy 1. The Daytona Beach area is completely different when Bike Week isn’t happening. The neck twisting to check out the string-bikini-wearing blonde bimbo isn’t nearly as common as it is the first week of March. We found dodging geriatric jaywalkers to be more the norm when the bikers aren’t in town.
The Best Western Aku Tiki Inn is right next to the beach, has modern rooms, and offers a great happy hour, what more could you ask for? A monolithic stone head of course!
We spent our first night at the Best Western Aku Tiki Inn. Just one look at the giant stone tiki out front had us hooked. You could almost smell the rum-runners while pulling into the parking lot.
The evening provided ample time to study the maps and guides and chart a course for the next few days. Our plan was to explore the coastline and take in as many major attractions and beach bars as possible. Hwy 1 parallels the coast fairly well, but more often than not we would cross a bridge over to Hwy A1A which wanders along the east coast Barrier islands. For the most part, A1A runs the entire coast but not continuously, so it’s tricky knowing when to cross back over to the mainland. We often found ourselves riding south for miles only to backtrack north to find the bridge to town. Cindy found that talking to the locals quickly helped solve the problem of knowing when to cut back over without wasting hours wandering aimlessly. Asking for directions... leave it to a woman to think of that.
Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center is one of the most popular tourist attractions along Florida’s eastern coast. Six to eight hours are required to take it all in at the Cape’s Visitor’s Complex, which is open every day except Christmas and hosts buses departing every 15 minutes. Along with restaurants the complex holds an IMAX screen that is five and one-half stories tall. And although the Space Shuttle usually takes center stage, the tourists seemed more interested in talking about our Spyders.
Touring and answering hundreds of questions can make a guy hungry, so we made a beeline to our next destination, Captain Hiram’s Resort, right on the water in the town of Sebastian. We have spent time at the Captain’s during previous trips, so we knew what to expect. Rooms are great, reasonably priced and the best part is the beach bar and restaurant. All the food on our trip was great, but the Captain’s serves a fantastic grouper sandwich. There is also live music, and if you like staying up to the wee hours of the morning dancing in the sand and drinking rum, then Captain Hiram’s Resort is for you.
Without any rush to be anywhere and no timetable to conform to, sleeping late quickly became a habit with us. After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we were back on Hwy 1 headed to... well, we didn’t know where we were headed, we just knew that to get to Key West, we had to keep going south.
Sebastian to Hobe Sound is known as the Treasure Coast, famous for the numerous Spanish galleons that sank off the coast during the 17th and 18th centuries. Treasure hunters have scoured the seas for centuries searching for artifacts from the famous lost fleets. We, on the other hand, were more interested in searching for that perfect grouper sandwich, a delicacy not easily found in the Great Northwest. No joke... we probably ate a dozen groupers in the 10 days we were in Florida.
Continuing south we passed through Vero Beach - famous for its off-season baseball practice camps and once home to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ spring training facility. Further south is Fort Pierce, known as the Sunrise City and sister city to San Francisco. Most of the towns along this eastern coast section are appropriately spaced and run between 20-60,000 populations, many of the inhabitants in their elder years. Remember all the Seinfeld episodes... Florida is where everyone goes to retire.
We were soon in Delray Beach, another great retirement community. This pretty little town is located just south of West Palm Beach, where all the beautiful people live (not just the oldsters). Delray is one of the larger “small cities” north of Miami with a population just over 60,000 people. In 1910, it had only 250 residents when they applied for a charter to the state to incorporate as a city. Back then it was known for its abundance of pineapples. However, in 1920, when the drainage of the Everglades lowered the water table and competition from Cuba for market share grew, the pineapple industry was pretty much wiped out. Today, Delray is a prosperous town known for its incredible climate (if you don’t consider the humidity from June to September), great shopping areas and numerous restaurants.
Cabana's version of Paella Valenciana replaces the traditionally used snails with chorizo, a spicy pork sausage .
Although we only put in just over 100 miles, Delray was a good place to hang our helmets for the night and enjoy a great dinner. We pulled into the Delray Inn, which is only a block from Atlantic Street and the happening place to be... especially if you like restaurants. We dined at Cabana, a Nuevo Latino restaurant sporting a great menu of Cuban specialty plates and exotic drinks. Cindy had the Paella Valenciana, a shrimp, clam, mussel, chicken and chorizo blend that was out of this world. I went with the Mero Chileno which was pan-seared Chilean sea bass (I pretended it was grouper) cooked with spinach saute, yucca and manchego cheese. Both were incredible. We will be back.
Two hundred miles of Florida coast with nary a turn to entertain us was just about enough, so the next morning we broke out the map and started looking at alternate routes. We didn’t have any interest to go through Miami, deciding we would rather find some alligators before making our way down to the Keys so we went west. We pointed the roadsters down Hwy 1 into Fort Lauderdale, the largest city we rode through with a population close to 200,000. We didn’t spend much time there, but you could tell it was a huge yachting center. Popeye would have really liked this place.
After working our way through the maze of one-way streets we found Interstate 75, also known as Alligator Alley. This is one long stretch of highway with, you guessed it, a bunch of alligators. The road was originally built in 1969 to help connect the east coast to Naples on the west. Stories have it that over 200 men lost an arm or a leg to alligator attacks during the construction of that road. Nah... I made that up, but I bet a heck of a lot of alligator boots came out of this place.
On I-75 for a little over 60 miles, we turned south on Highway 29 and headed towards Everglades City. Once away from the coast and headed inland, we noticed an increase and abundance of road-kill. Dodging road-kill on a motorcycle is one thing, but avoiding them on a Spyder is an altogether different experience. Just when you avoid them with a front wheel, the back wheel picks it up. Cindy was subjected to a few unexpected viscera showers. Sorry, babe. There are so many dead critters on the road, it’s amazing there are any left alive. Raccoons, opossums, birds and turtles are crushed all over the state. Didn’t see any flat alligators though. Everglades City is about as quaint as it gets for a Florida swamp community. It’s an outdoorsman’s paradise with hunting, fishing, canoeing, bird watching and air-boating. We checked into the Captain’s Table Hotel, mainly because the Ivy House Inn was booked - which is where we would recommend staying. The Captain’s Table wasn’t bad... it’s just that the Ivy House is that much better.
Who in their right mind would actually entice an alligator?
We arrived in time to sign up for a sunset cruise through the mangroves. The eco-system in the Everglades is complicated and, according to our guide, it all starts with the mangrove trees. These overgrown trees have an amazing network of roots and they grow in salt water. The cruise itself was pretty good and we learned a lot about the history of the Everglades, but being a birdwatcher Cindy was a bit disappointed in the lack of fowl. I’m convinced they are all laying out on I-75.
After dining with the locals at the saloon, we called it a night. The plan was to get up early and hitch a ride on one of the many airboat tours in the area. Speedy Johnson’s was highly recommended by one of the patrons the night before, so we checked out of the hotel and headed to Speedy’s.
Luck was with us as we found room on one of the 8 a.m. tours. Depending on the size of boat, they usually hold four to eight passengers. Ours held six. The best part of this adventure was the pilot - a dead ringer for Larry the Cable Guy... dang near as funny too. Just the word airboat conjures up impressions that you will be gently gliding across the waters enjoying nature, listening to the birds chirp. Holy crap, that isn’t the case at all! These things are loud - I mean real loud. You have to know sign language if you want to communicate with each other when that engine is at full-stick.
The ride was fun, though, and we would do it again. The boats are very fast and turn on a dime. You basically navigate your way through a maze of canals and grasslands, many times under a tunnel of mangrove branches. Don’t expect to see any animal life - unless they are deaf or running for cover. Captain Larry stopped several times and turned off the motor to provide a brief history of the area. He would continuously remind us how easy it is to get lost in the swamps. We believed him - I could even hear the banjos playing in the background.
We got back on the Spyders and headed towards the Keys: Riding east again, this time on Hwy 41. Another long straight road dividing the swamps with tons of road-kill - far more than we even saw on I-75. By now both of us had become proficient at straddling the dead critters between our front and rear tires.
We turned south on Hwy 997 through Homestead and Florida City. The area is home to all types of agriculture. Strawberry, sugarcane, and cornfields abound. Florida City is known as the Gateway to the Everglade National Parks and the Keys. With a population of about 10,000 there really isn’t a lot there other than signs pointing to other destinations.
Twenty-two miles down Hwy 1 and we were in Key Largo. It is the first and largest of the upper Keys, stretching about 30 miles from end to end. It was made famous by the Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall film of the same name. Some say the flick was actually filmed entirely on a Hollywood film set but it’s the thought that counts. Recording artist Bernie Higgins brought more fame to the island with his 1981 hit named, of course, Key Largo. “Just like Bogie and Bacall, starring in our own late, late show...” Yeah, whatever. Here’s lookin’ at you, kid!
We settled in at the Manatee Bay Resort - a reasonably priced place with a great beach bar. After numerous rum-runners we dodged the cars on foot, crossing Hwy 1 to the famous Fish House. I say famous because Bobby Flay has been known to frequent the place. Obviously a popular choice as we waited outside for an open table. Once inside, the service was excellent and so was the grouper.
The Dolphin Research Center offers visitors the opportunity to swim with dolphins.
It’s 126 miles from Key Largo to Key West crossing over 42 bridges along the way, one of them seven miles in length. There are so many Keys between the top and bottom you would need a locksmith to see them all. We first stopped at Plantation Key and pulled into Craig’s Restaurant’s parking lot. The coconut hotline told us this was the ultimate spot for our beloved fish sandwiches. I would have to agree... but we never had a bad one the entire trip. Craig’s is at mile marker 90.5 - try it for yourself. Ten miles further south was Islamorada, one of the more popular Keys known for its sport fishing... and rum-runners.
As you continue south each Key starts looking just like the others... until you hit Key West. If you are into partying, this is where you want to hang out.
Pulling the Spyders into town about 5 p.m., we didn’t think we’d find a hotel as the place was packed. Key West, especially Duval Street, is a living, breathing freak show full of street performers and revelers. Funny though... more people were looking at us on our Spyders than they were the entertainers. The last hotel on the tip of the Key is the Pier House, a high-end resort right on the waterfront with elegant restaurants and both hot and cold running maids. We had no desire to head back north so, after circling the block a couple times, we pulled into the Pier House parking lot to check availability. Just our luck they had one room left, if you call $365 a night lucky.
Plop a circus in the middle of a spring break mecca and you would end up with a scene similar to Duval Street on any given night.
After making friends with the parking attendants we checked into our room, which was accidently a suite - like a $600 a night suite. Cindy called down to the front desk to check on the price. They confirmed the lower fee and we were good to stay there.
There’s so much to do in Key West it’s difficult to decide where to begin. We learned through the years that a great bar is a good place to start, so we walked down Front Street to the Hog’s Breath Saloon. Originally established in 1976 in Ft. Walthon Beach, Florida, owner Jerry Dorminy opened the Key West location in 1988. This is a “must see - must drink” establishment that just about every Key West visitor should include on their to-do list. It is a good place to find out what is happening in the town, where to be and what to see. They’ve got great T-shirts also.
Walking Duval Street is the best way to see the street performers. There are guys painted like statues, old-timers dressed as gypsy fortune tellers, freaks on stilts, women juggling swords, guys breathing fire, dogs jumping through hoops, midgets playing basketball... nah, I made that last one up. Anyhow, you get the point, there is plenty to see and do.
Weather permitting, the best attractions are free to all.
Right before sunset all the performers move to Mallory Square. This is where all the cruise ships drop off their passengers for a day of shopping and dining. There really is some amazing talent, and if you’re looking for a temporary henna tattoo, this is where you get it. The sunset is always spectacular and the square is loaded with tourists. Taking a moment to watch the giant orb disappear into the ocean is another “must see - must do” affair when visiting here.
Dining in Key West presents a lot of options. There are plenty of raucous eating joints like Sloppy Joe’s and Ballyhoos. There are also upscale dinner houses like La Trattoria or Santiago’s Bodega. There’s even a restaurant where you can dine in the buff at the Naked Lunch Bar. Only in Key West!
Sloppy Joe's was Ernest Hemmingway's favorite Key West hangout when it opened on the day prohibition ended. With a simple, rugged character it is easy to see why.
No matter what or where you eat, make sure to stop off at the Blond Giraffe afterwards for a piece of Key Lime pie. No trip to the Keys is complete without a slice of this local delicacy. You can even watch the pies being made. The little limes they use made quite a journey to find its way to the Keys. It originated in Southeast Asia and was introduced to Haiti by Columbus in 1493. It eventually showed up in Florida via Bahamian settlers. Once you try some, you’re not really gonna care how it got there.
We spent two nights in Key West, which is barely enough time to see it all. You need more like a week - if your liver can handle it. But all good things must come to an end so we headed back up Hwy 1, making as many stops as possible before spending another night in Key Largo. More rum-runners and one last grouper dinner at the Fish House. It was now time to continue north and return the Spyders to our pals at Seminole Powersports.
Florida proved to be a lot warmer and more fun than staying home in Oregon, but seeing it on a Can-Am Spyder made it that much better. Now if I can just get that damn Key Largo song out of my head.
My Impression of the Can-Am Spyders - Cindy Clark
It's worth a visit to check out this landmark at the east end of Duval Street. Key West is the southernmost city in the 48 contiguous states.
My background in street riding is fairly limited with most experiences coming from my Vespa 200, which I ride quite frequently, weather permitting. As most of my riding experience has been off-road on both motorcycles and quads, I guess that’s why I took to the Spyder right away. As it turns out, riding one is similar to riding a quad, yet totally different.
We had two models, one with a manual clutch and the other with the SE5 (Sequential Electronic) transmission. You shift the SE5 via your thumb and forefinger, and if you forget to downshift, the Spyder will automatically do it for you. I rode both versions and it’s tough to say which one I prefer. The manual clutch is hydraulic operated, so it’s very easy to use, but the SE5 shift paddle is even easier.
This bike, or roadster, stops on a dime. There were a couple instances where I really had to jump on the brakes and the Spyder slowed down perfectly - no waver or unnecessary skidding. It just stops! The engine is definitely faster than any other bike I have ridden. There is plenty of power off the line and once you put it in fifth, it continues to pull - easily reaching 100-plus mph. The Spyder is very forgiving and stable. If you come into a turn too hot, the stability system immediately takes over, bringing things back into complete control. I also thought the saddle was very comfortable. After 10 days and almost 1400 miles of riding I felt great.
Is the Spyder for everyone? That’s hard to say, but it certainly bridges the gap between a motorcycle and a convertible car. It’s easy to ride, the reverse gear makes it even easier, and they simply draw a lot of attention. Everywhere we stopped people would flock to see what type of contraptions we were riding. We spent a lot of the trip talking to strangers about the Spyders. If I was single and looking for a date... forget the health clubs and Internet dating sites, I would go buy a Can-Am Spyder.