Thursday, June 4— Crawford, FL to Leesburg, FL
The end of the ride yesterday and beginning today followed the route of the Big Bend Scenic Byway. My new friend, Gary, who I met in Navarre, cautioned me about bear and black panther sightings in this area. Surely enough, soon after I passed the lighthouse in Point Saint Joe and the town of Apalachicola, I saw my first bear crossing sign. It seemed out of place for some reason. After thinking about it for a few more miles, it made sense. Given the tall evergreen trees and the high humidity, it’s a natural habitat for these and many other animals. The roads in this part of Florida and continuing east and south along highway 98 look like a giant John Deere tractor scratched them out of the forest/jungle. Except for a few clearings to the right or left, you can’t see anything. It’s more like your riding a chute towards a destination you can’t see for the trees. Another observation I made yesterday and today was that the frequent occurrence of hair salons and personal injury attorneys was being crowded out by an ever-increasing number of pawn & gun shops. People in this part of the country, even the most redneck looking, are very polite. Everywhere I went I was called “Sir.”
My destination today is Rick and Debbie Heckmann’s home in Leesburg. Debbie is one of my nieces—the oldest child of my oldest brother. She gave me a couple of great suggestions for this morning’s ride. First was a lunch stop in Cedar Key for Tony’s world champion clam chowder. First, yes, there are cedar trees in cedar key. Second, no, Tony’s is not in Boston. But there chowder is excellent. There were only two couples in the restaurant when I arrived. In five minutes the place was packed, apparently for the second time this afternoon. A single waitress took great care of all of us, especially me. When I rode off I could hear someone calling, and turned to see her running after me. I’d left my credit card on the table. She earned and received a big tip. Debbie’s second recommendation is the town of Homosassa. It’s a quaint little water town. I didn’t have enough time to explore it, but believe it to be a gem along the west coast of Florida. It is famous for manatees and sponges!
Route: 98E/S, 345S, 24W, 24E, 98S, 490AW, 490AE, 44E, Florida’s Turnpike S, 470W, 27S
Miles Today: 290
Time Today: 7:05
Total Trip Miles: 4,117
Weather: Overcast from high 80s to low 90s
Lunch: Tony’s, Cedar Key
Lodging: The Heckmann’s
Dinner: The Heckmann’s
Friday, June 5—Visiting in Leesburg, FL
Debbie Heckmann, as I mentioned yesterday, is the oldest child of my oldest brother, Bill, who died in August of 2010. I met Debbie when she was an infant and I was 5 years old…55 years ago. Her family lived near mine in Redding, CA until soon after my brother and his wife, Linda, divorced. Linda and their three children moved to the northeast, and, frankly, we didn’t have an opportunity to see each other for several decades. We met again at my brother’s funeral. One of the reasons I’m on this ride around the country is to get reacquainted with Debbie where she lives, without the distractions of a wedding or a funeral. (I’ll also be catching up with her sister, Pam, in a couple of weeks.)
We stayed up way too late last night comparing stories about our family, contrasting the perspective from the northeast where Debbie grew up to California where the majority of our family was raised. I think we both gained some insight into the Lewis clan that brings more clarity to who we are as a family.
Debbie had to work today, so Rick was given the challenge of taking care of me. He is a skilled carpenter, veteran of the Vietnam War, and all around good guy. He drove me around their community, The Plantation, in a golf cart, the preferred method of transportation inside the community. It’s a wonderful place to live with great facilities, lots of organized activities, and some really nice neighbors. The manager of the place went the extra mile by letting Rick move his beehives onto a secluded place in the community when he and Debbie moved here about a year ago.
I needed a day of rest, and so did my Harley. It was time for a 10K service and two new tires. Gator Harley-Davidson performed the service, and did an excellent job. Fred Rudat, the service writer who greeted me, is pictured here with my ride. He has about 55 chickens and brings fresh eggs into the shop almost daily. It’s no wonder many of the employees greeted him when they arrived. Lance Chestnut performed the service, but unfortunately missed the photo opportunity while on a test ride on another customer’s bike. I chatted with Mike Williams, the service manager, and learned a few important tips about my Harley and how it performs. I mention these people because the service they provided is vitally important to my success on the 8,000 miles I will cover before I get home. I left Gator H-D feeling confident, and that will help as I approach some rainy and otherwise challenging days ahead.
We had dinner at another living community that is a bit more open to the public, The Villages. This 55+ community is apparently very well known for providing an environment that encourages living to the fullest. We listened to 60s-70s music performed at Brownwood Paddock Square. It had the feel of Disneyland but was overtaken by seniors who arrived in their personalized golf carts. We went to dinner at one of the many restaurants on the property, and then headed back to the square to watch the young-at-heart dance to the music. I smiled at I observed one slightly overweight senior wearing a veterans cap mouthing the words to It Was Just My Imagination. It was heartwarming to see so many seniors having a really good time…together.
Debbie and her husband, Rick, are wonderful people. I am grateful for having had this opportunity to connect with them in a meaningful way.
Ride safe, Rick and Debbie!
Miles Today: 26.7
Total Trip Miles: 4,144
Weather: Sunny morning in high 80s, rain afternoon low 90s.
Lunch: Perkins, Leesburg
Lodging: Heckmann Residence
Dinner: Cody’s Original Roadhouse, The Villages, Brownwood, Wildwood