Daytona Florida sits smack in the middle of some of Florida’s worst urban sprawl and at first blush there isn’t much to recommend it to the touring minded motorcycle traveler. However, there are a couple good rides which will take you away from Bike Week, and into the countryside for where the traffic is somewhat lighter and the food beats traditional Bike Week fare. If you’ve never heard of these spots, don’t feel bad, I’d been attending Daytona’s Bike Week for most of a decade before I decided to leave the madness, and explore, and I’m glad I did!
Once I hit the road, it wasn’t long before I discovered Palatka Florida. www.co.putnam.fl.us/palatka/ The “gem” of the St. Johns River, Palatka makes for a short daytrip from Daytona. If you’re looking for something longer, I’ve put together a couple routes that take you through Palatka and into a few other charming central Florida towns.
Overflowing with charm appeal is Sanford Florida, which we visit on our Florida Mountain tour. Yes, there are “mountains” in Florida and I’ll take you to three of them. Actually two of them are just names of towns, Mt. Dora and Mt. Plymouth but the third is an actual mountain on the highway maps of the state. Sugarloaf Mountain and the Green Mountain Scenic Byway is relatively unspoiled by urban growth but I’ve a feeling that won’t last very long. After you pass through Monteverde, you’ll have a nice view of Lake Apoka on your left. If the oranges are ripe you might swipe a few from the orange groves lining the highway, just don’t fill up your saddlebags. If you want more than a couple you can buy them at the roadside stands very cheap.
Another route out of Bike Week we take is west toward the town of Barberville and the Pioneer Settlement. The best time to visit the Settlement is during the Fall Jamboree. Held on the first weekend in November the Jamboree brings Florida’s folk history and culture alive through demonstrations of turn of the century backwoods life, folk and domestic arts, and the cultural mix of people who have lived and settled the region. The Settlement is open other times throughout the year.
Probably my favorite “Get our of Bikeweek Tour, which I call “Hunting the Ma Barker Gang” will take most of a day but for me its well worth it. The route takes you through Crescent City Florida where you might hear tales of a local pirate who plied the waters of Dunns Creek and Lake Crescent. Local legend has it that Jack the Ugly stashed his pirate booty in these parts but I’ve never stumbled over it.
But it’s the legend of the Ma Barker Gang that first got me out of Bikeweek and over to the town of Ocklawaha. This town, on the shores of Lake Weir, lays claim as being the site of the FBI’s largest gun battle in history when close to 4000 rounds of gunfire were exchanged between the G-Men and that infamous criminal Barker Gang.
The irony of the whole thing is how an alligator was the unwitting accomplice of the Feds and helped them uncover their hideout.
For food, you’ll want to stop in Palatka at Angels Diner, where you’ll swear you stepped back half a century.
In Crescent City you must try The Three Bananas on the shores of Lake Crescent.
West of Barberville is The Blackwater Inn which overlooks the St. John’s River and in Ocklawaha, on the shores of Lake Weir, is Gator Joe’s. Gator Joe’s is an obvious tourist type eatery but it does have good food and you can learn all about how Gator Joe helped the Feds bring down Ma Barker and her gang.
So, the next time someone tries to tell you that Florida is flat and boring; you can dispute that with the confidence that comes from having ridden the Mountains of Florida, hunted the Ma Barker Gang and dug for pirates’ gold, all during one trip to Bike Week.
That’s got to be more fun that duck walking down Main Street right?
Excerpted from Motorcycle Journeys Through the American South....all these rides listed are highlighted in a separate chapter. Get your copy here!