After riding the 125 miles from Miami down to Key West and then 125 miles back, Debbie let me know that she had a blast and was eager to take a longer trip on the motorcycle. She also noted she really wanted to do the 330 mile ride to Panama City Beach, even though our Key West trip had been planned as a substitute for bike week in Panama City Beach.
Once we were back at home, and because our friends David & Deb had been SO VERY gracious to cover our hotel at Key West with David’s travel points (wow, that was huge!), I checked to see if we could still get a room at Sterling Reef, a nice condo complex right on the beach and centrally located on Front Beach Road for the four days we’d be in PCB. Well, actually I checked all of the hotels with beach front rooms first and quite frankly, they cost nearly the same or more than what we typically pay for a beach front room at Sterling Reef. So, after making sure Debbie and I could get the days off, I went ahead and booked a 2br/2ba condo. Once we had the accommodations, we also invited David & Deb to join us — our treat. However, as we suspected they had conflicts so we’d going it alone.
As with all bike trips — pedal powered and horse powered — the weather is always something I key a close eye on as the time to make the trip comes closer. Sadly, the closer our trip to the beach became the more moisture there was in the forecast, such that as we readied ourselves for the trip it looked like we’d have rain just about every day; doh! Oh well, that’s why we have rain gear, right????
THURSDAY: The Trip Down & Our First Day at the Beach
We were both very anxious to make this trip, so canceling due to weather was never a consideration. We had ourselves organized and packed Thursday night and the bike was also ready to go with the addition of the quick release windscreen and some air deflectors on the lowers that help deal with wind buffeting. Because the weather was looking so spotty we also had all of our rain gear — pants, jacket, boot gators & gloves — and we also decided we’d just go ahead and wear our Shoei full-face / modular helmets vs. the 3/4 and 1/2 helmets we used on our Key West trip. I must be getting old, because it was sure nice having the full-face helmet on for this trip!!
After getting up at about the normal time for a work day I put our things in the touring bag which consistent of drawing the air out of the 10 2.5 gallon Zip Lock storage bags that contained our clothes so that they’d (a) have no chance of getting wet if we got into a monsoon and (b) would also pack more tightly and with less wrinkling vs. simply rolling them.
With the bike’s touring bag packed to the gills and our rain gear in the saddle bags with our lightweight jacket liners we slipped into our leather pants & jackets (it was about 59°F when we left), donned our helmets and pointed the bike south!
What should have been an easy 40 minute ride to Palmetto via back roads ended up becoming nearly an 80 minute ordeal as the rain started 15 minutes out from the house and traffic was a mess. Given that it looked like the rain would be with us for a while I decided that we’d do well to put on our rain gear when we stopped to top off the gas tank in Powder Springs and Debbie finally realized why I never thought twice about riding to work in the rain: rain gear works well!!
It was after we’d suited up that things got worse from a traffic standpoint as there was a major road issue down at the Fulton Ind. & Camp Creek area that forced us to back-track about 5 miles and take the I20 to I285 route to I85. However, once we hit I285 it was smooth sailing all the way to Panama City Beach! We were even able to stuff the rain gear back in the saddlebags when we stopped for gas in Phonix, Alabama which made the rest of the ride a lot more comfortable. Rain gear does a great job of keeping you dry, but it also catches a lot of wind which makes piloting a non-touring, cruiser type motorcycle a bit more physically demanding…. so having just the leathers on was perfect given the temps in the 60’s and overcast skies.
We hit a few small patches of rain between Eufaula and Dothan and again between Chipley and Vernon, but after that we could see in the distance that the skies over Panama City Beach were less cloudy than anything else we’d seen during our journey. Sure enough, when we hit the intersection of 79 and 98 in Panama City Beach at 12:45 local time the sun finally hit us, blue skies appeared through holes in the clouds and the temps jumped up 10 degrees!
We decided lunch was the first order of business and after discovering that Harpoon Harry’s as well as Breakers were no longer going concerns, we doubled-back on Front Beach Rd. to Sharky’s for some yummy seafood gumbo, blacked fish tacos and some refreshing beverages to toast the start of our weekend.
Our condo was just a few minutes away and it didn’t take us long to get checked-in, unpacked, the bike washed and then be on our way to start exploring. Our first stop was going to be the local movie theater to see if we could get tickets for the opening night’s show of Iron Man 3. We figured the weather would be iffy on Friday so why not see the flick and then hit the town after things were “happening”. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Iron Man 3 was going to be showing on Thursday night, 1 day ahead of the advertised opening! So, our plans for Thursday began to shape up nicely. We’d have dinner somewhere at Pier Park, then take in the movie and then hit Pineapple Willy’s for some dancing to the music of Jacob & Brock.
Our next stop was Panama City Beach’s just-opened Harley-Dealer. It had been planned for some time as an extension of the main dealership in Tampa but they didn’t break ground until the Fall Bike Rally in Oct ’12 and just held their Grand Opening on April 16th. It was a nice-looking place; not overly huge but really well-done. Of course, the unmistakable odors coming from their neighbors at the Panama City Beach Sewage Dept made you really question someone’s choice of building sites; really… ??? I picked up the ubiquitous dealer T-shirt, after kicking myself for not getting one in Key West and we made the rounds. They had rain gear on sale for 20% off and I’m guessing they will have sold most of it by Sunday!!
As we got ready to leave we could see there was a large storm brewing to the east and to the west, but both looked to be headed north so I decided to press our luck and stop to pick up some groceries as planned on the way back to the condo where we’d wait out the weather OR get our rain gear. Yes, I’d left the two saddlebag totes with all of our rain gear in our condo so I’d have room for the groceries in our saddlebags, a decision I would regret as we came out of the grocery store: the storm came west from Panama City, it didn’t go north!
We were within sight of our condo when the wind kicked up and the pre-mist started hitting us in the face but then the bottom fell out and we had to take refuge under the portico of a hotel along Front Beach Road a mere 3/4 of a mile from our condo for about 1/2 hour. When the rain lightened up a bit we threw caution to the wind and make a dash for our condo, got a little more soaked but were finally back in the warmth and comfort of our condo where our clothes went into the spin cycle and dryer.
As dinner time rolled around the rain had not let up so we went ahead and suited up in our jacket liners, full rain gear and helmets for the ride back up to Pier Park. It was quite warm and toasty even though we didn’t look the part of the hard-core riders around us. We also drew some interest as we walked into Dick’s Last Resort and proceeded to strip down and stuff our gear back into the Saddlebag totes. But hey, we were warm and dry!!!
Pier Park was pretty much dead with perhaps 40 motorcycles sitting parked along the curbs. We had a pretty nice meal — Debbie had the blackened salmon and I went with a salad to get my greens — and then stashed our gear on the motorcycle and went for a walk with our umbrellas along Pier Park. We ended up at Rum Runners listening to their dueling piano’s for about an hour as we waited for Iron Man 3 to begin at 9:15 pm in the theater next door. I’ve got to tell you… we must be getting old! The guys on the piano and the ‘mature crowd’ made for a great time!
Iron Man 3 turned out to be a pretty interesting and complex story. I liked it, but as always it and Iron Man 2 never achieved the ‘wow’ effect of the original Iron Man movie. But, I will say they’ve done a great job of finding some really evil villains and putting light-hearted or humorous dialog in the midst of the violent scenes to take the edge off.
After Iron Man the plan was to go and see Jacob & Brock at Pineapple Willy’s. It was about 11:45 pm when the movie let out and after dealing with a light mist (while enjoying the warmth and comfort of our helmets) we arrived at Pineapple Willy’s to find the band and finished its set and were pretty much packing it up for the night. So, we did likewise. It had been a pretty long and full day by that point!