The day dawned with visions of grandeur, a couple hundred mile loop through St. Augustine, Palatka and the Ocala National Forest before landing back in Daytona Beach. The sun was a striking yellow, the blue of the sky broken by a few wisps of white, temperatures creeping toward idyllic.
Our excitement was only magnified by our ride for the day, a 2014 Indian Chief Classic. We’ve longed to climb in the saddle of the classic cruiser since our brief stint together in Sturgis for the Legends Ride
. We do recall its combination of power and grace, a thundering engine in a capable chassis wrapped in elegant bodywork. The Thunder Stroke 111 is a pearl of an engine, chrome clam-shelled cylinder covers and thick pushrod tubes, arm-stretching torque supplied by pistons measuring a fraction under four inches.
While the 2014 Indian Chief Classic is full of modern amenities like dual disc brakes, keyless start, cruise control, and that captivating engine, the motorcycle still pays homage to its ancestry. The Indian script logo on the tank dates back to 1910. Its Indian Motorcycle Red paint harks back to1912, while the illuminated War Bonnet keeping watch over the road from its perch on the front fender made its first appearance in 1947. Then there are its deeply valanced fenders, cues that hail from 1940. Current yet classic, the 2014 Indian Chief melds the best of both worlds.
The original plan was a quick scouting mission in St. Augustine, just long enough to see a few landmarks for photo ops, then to hit the road to put some miles on the Chief Classic. We heard the azaleas might be in bloom at Palatka’s Ravine
Garden State Park, so were thinking about shooting there before rumbling down FL -19 along the waterways of Ocala National Forest.
But even the best laid plans are subject to change. Hearing we’re heading to St. Augustine, my wife tells me that her grandparents once ran a French bakery there. Elaine and Pierre Boissiere are an American success story. They came over from France along with my wife’s mom Francoise and her sister Michele on the Queen Mary. Pierre turned his passion for baking and his traditional French training into a lucrative business, opening up bakeries in St. Augustine and New Orleans before heading west to make a name for himself as proprietor of Patisserie Bossiere in Carmel, California. Unfortunately, they died in a tragic car accident before I could meet them, and my wife was hoping I could find their old bakery for her. Thing is, info was scarce. Seeing how her grandparents sold it back in the ‘60s, we didn’t even know if it was still open. Her aunt who lived there couldn’t remember its name, and gave vague geographical clues like “near the wax museum” and “next to the Ponce de Leon Bridge” to go by. But the seeds of curiosity had been sown, and finding the old French bakery became a priority, both for the treasure hunt it promised and to track down a piece of my wife’s family history.
Wanting to make time, we charted a course on the fastest route to Saint A, a blast up I-95 to where it intersects with Dixie Highway which would deposit us right into town. But riding the 2014 Indian Chief Classic is like riding a magnet. We weren’t even out of town before the questions started flying. “Is that the new Indian?” the most popular query. “How powerful is that engine?” was a close second. We quickly learned that you can’t be in a hurry to get anywhere on the new Chief Classic because it becomes a conversational centerpiece at gas stations, rest areas, and even stoplights.
The ride on I-95 allowed us to open up the Indian Chief’s engine, leaving sonic waves from its monster V-Twin and split dual exhausts in our wake. It conjures gobs of power with a little twist of throttle, will push you back in the seat if you’re heavy handed, and settles into a comfortable trot by highway speeds in sixth gear. Roadside signs along the way promised “the best pecan rolls around,” with others reminding passers-by to grab some gator jerky while they’re at it. Before long we passed the exit for Destination Daytona, pressed on past Palm Coast, blankets of velvety green and palm trees lining both sides of the road. The drumming of the Indian’s exhaust provided a hypnotic beat, our turn-off creeping up long before our desire to stop riding.
Dixie Highway runs through rural areas before yielding to strip malls and urban sprawl. A pair of Harley riders caught up to me at a red light, gave the Indian Chief Classic a fender-to-fender look-over before giving head nods of agreement. We finally passed a “Welcome St. Augustine – Founded 1565” sign, the first hints at its storied history in an otherwise modern perimeter. We followed the signs to the “Visitor’s Center” hoping to pick up a map and see if they might help us decipher our ambiguous directions and find a French bakery.
The Visitor’s Center sat on the edge of the city’s historic district. Climbing off the Indian Chief Classic, a peek at my phone revealed a text from my wife. “It’s the shop. Denoel 212 Charlotte St. Auntie Meme (Michele) says the owners now were the ones that bought the shop from my grandparents in the ‘60s.” After spending a couple hours sleuthing on the internet, my wife Angelyne had tracked down its name and address. Picking up a colorful St. Augustine “Sightseeing Map & Guide” in the Visitor’s Center, we believed we’d found it on a small side street. To be sure, we confirmed its location from one of the helpers at the center who points us in the proper direction, but warned us to get there early because the owner “is getting up in age.”
Our path would take us smack down the middle of St. George Street, the experience like turning back the hands of time a couple hundred years to a small village in Spain. “The Oldest Wood School House in the USA” is one of the first buildings we encountered, a 200-year-old house made from red cedar and cypress and held together with wooden pegs and handmade nails. The street cuts through a series of Spanish colonial-era buildings, tan storefronts with open courtyards and overlooking balconies. Walkways are a patchwork of bricks, and many of the buildings are constructed of coquina, a native stone material that have withstood the tests of time to this day. Though we could have navigated many of the cross streets via motorcycle, we left the Chief Classic parked at the Visitor’s Center in order to take in the full ambience of the city.
Our quest to find the French bakery founded by my wife’s grandparents led us to a sleepy street just down from the Old Market and statue of Ponce de Leon. About mid-block we discovered a blue sign hanging on the corner of a building – “Denoel French Pastry – Sandwiches, Soups, French Pastries. All Pastries Made on Premises – Since 1966.” We had found it! The building’s façade hasn’t changed, big multi-paneled windows under small awnings, the storefront painted a fading pastel pink. We snapped a picture outside, quickly sent it off to my wife, and prepared to go inside only to be met by a locked door. A sign in the door read – “Closed Monday and Tuesdays.” To our dismay, it was Tuesday. We pressed our grubby faces against its windows, saw the glass display case and counter inside, family pictures on its walls, the establishment’s chairs on tables as a young worker swept floors while an older lady talked on the phone.
Knowing my wife would be elated just in the fact that we found it, I gave her a call to see if she had received the photo I sent. She answered, hadn’t seen the photo yet, but was excited about our discovery. Mid-conversation, the gentleman we saw sweeping the floors stepped out, daring to encounter the two creepers he had seen peeking into its windows minutes ago. I shared my story with him, letting him know I was there on my wife’s behalf, and how this place is intertwined with her family history. He knows
We went on a quest to connect with family history in St. Augustine that led us to the French bakery called Denoel where we shared stories with long-time owner, Guy Denoel.
St. Augustine is rich in architecture, with a history that dates back to 1565.
the story all too well, hearing it recounted numerous times by the current owner. I thought to myself how ecstatic my wife will be to know the spirit of her grandparents lives on.
I’m still standing outside its doors with my friend Eric, Motorcycle USA’s videographer and photographer, who is taking high quality photos of the shop for me on his Canon 7D. Before long, the door opened again, and this time a quaint silver-haired man stepped out to greet us. It was the owner of the pastry shop, Guy Denoel, who heard of our exploits and came out to greet us. We shared stories of the Boissieres, and hear how he’s owned the bakery since they sold it. He regaled us with stories of how the area has changed, as what was once a parking lot across from the bakery is now a building complex. One constant is the fine pastries he creates, from profiteroles to fresh breads, the accomplished pastry chef carrying on the traditions started by Pierre. He laughs when we ask why he’s closed, says he’s not as young as he used to be, and likes to close on Mondays and Tuesdays after the busy weekends. Guy mistakes me for Aunt Meme’s husband Joe, recalling that he does air conditioning from their visit years ago. He even let us step inside to take a few pictures for my wife, adding to the depth of stories I have to share with her. We thank him immensely for sharing a little time with us, appearing as entertained by our story as we were of his.
While our intentions were to make a quick pit-stop for photos of the Indian Chief Classic in St. Augustine, its old world charm held us captive. Before our trip to St. Augustine, we were told that a visit to the old Spanish fort was a must, and that we should also take a trip up the stairs of the lighthouse nearby for unparalleled views. The Castillo de San Marcos sat just across the street from the historic district, its walls still standing after battling the elements for over 300 years, diamond-shaped bastions rising above its central square. We couldn’t resist a tour, learned that its seen Spanish, British, and American rule, was used as a prison during the Seminole War, and once housed Confederate troops during the Civil War. It houses an intriguing collection of cannons, some capable of hurling heavy shot more than a mile. Closer inspection reveals the fort is made of millions of tiny seashells, the primary material in the mixture they call coquina. Apparently it was used for its ability to absorb the impact of cannonballs, preferred over solid rock that fractured and broke. The walls of its inner corridors were filled with drawings from past inhabitants, soldiers to prisoners. Like the district it protects, the fort was steeped in history.
Though the enchanting town beckons us to explore further, the sun was fading fast and the light was primed for photography. We returned to the Indian Chief Classic, climbed back into its wonderfully padded saddle, gave its two-stage starter button a couple of thumbs to fire life into it once again. Car alarms chirped in the parking garage as the bass of its exhaust note bounced off walls, threatening to set them off.
People walking by in the street shout “Nice ride!” as we circle the square, and even a horse-drawn carriage carrying a group of school-age girls clad in blue, yellow and pink Disney dresses waved as we rolled by, undeterred by the big bad biker and the scary reptilian teeth of my Icon Manic Helmet. So much for stereotypes. We lined up next to the horse-drawn carriage at a cross walk, a showdown between horse power and horsepower, the thick-muscled carriage horse unimpressed by our presence on his street. Rolling down the cobblestoned surfaces and broken roads, the Indian Chief Classic’s suspension smoothed out what would otherwise have been a bumpy ride.
We spend the next hour shooting the fiery red Chief around town, in front of the withered wooden walls of the Authentic Old Drugstore, outside the tall tower of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, and around many of the small side streets off the Plaza de la Constitucion. We shoot until the buildings of the downtown district casted heavy shadows.
Knowing we’ve spent too much time exploring the marvels of St. Augustine, we charted an alternate route home down the A1A along the coastline. We traded our inland route through swamp lands for a sunset ride along the sandy beaches of central Florida. Heading out of town, we missed the turn for a bridge, ended up in a residential neighborhood before realizing our gaffe, correcting our course with a U-turn. An old timer who had seen us passing by came walked out of his house and into the street, waving his hand in the air for us to stop. With no traffic behind us, we parked the Indian Chief Classic momentarily in the middle of the street.
“Is that the new Indian?” is the first thing he says, followed by “I used to have a big red Indian just like that!” Over the next couple of minutes, he shared with us how he’s owned several Indian motorcycles over the years, but that the first big red Chief was his favorite. Though he’s slowed down a bit with age, he assured us that he still rides and is currently the proud owner of a 50th anniversary edition Sportster 1200. But the sight and sound of us passing by on the current Indian Chief compelled him to come out of his house in hopes of getting a closer look, and to share a story or two.
Cruising back to Daytona Beach along the coastline, the sun was quickly descending on our right while rays lit up the crests of blue-green waves to our left. With speeds fluctuating between 45 – 55 mph, we seldom needed anything above third gear, the Thunder Stroke 111 barely exerting any effort. Based on the reactions to the 2014 Indian Chief Classic throughout the day, we’ve determined that Polaris has done the brand justice. The Indian Motorcycle Company has a deep connection to American motorcycling lore, feelings that are tattooed in the American psyche to this day. Polaris has done a bang-up job of paying tribute to the company’s past while bringing it into the 21st century. With a deep-rooted history in racing with smaller, nimbler models like the Scout, the future is wide open with potential for the marque.
Before taking the motorcycle back to Indian, I send a picture of me and Guy standing in front of Denoel, then shared the story of our meeting with my wife over the phone. For her, it brought back a flood of memories of her grandparents, of French pastries, of the streets her mother played on as a child. In connecting to the past, she was able to shove the realities of their untimely death in a car accident and the pain of the passing of her mother Franny to cancer aside, if but for a brief moments. To hear that Denoel and the Patisserie Boissiere in Carmel are both open and still carry on the traditions established by her hard-working grandfather offered her fleeting solace, and to be able to give that to her fills me with the warmth of accomplishment. It isn’t every day you get to ride a motorcycle with a 113-year-old history through streets of a town with 459 years of American history and get an opportunity to sense the touch of my wife’s ancestral ghosts. It’s easy to get swept up in the charms of St. Augustine and I can’t wait until I’m under the city’s spell once again.