Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Florida Panhandle Gulf Ride: November 2023

I’d been researching a ride to Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A for the past year.  It was supposed to be a stunning 24-mile stretch of road right on the Gulf between Inlet Beach and Destin.  That turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, but more on that in a second. 

This is Paul’s GPS!

My tank bag map.

Here we are before the ride.

Last month I met up with my three riding companions—Paul, Ralph and PGA Paul—and planned a 4-day ride to visit the Panhandle area and Scenic Highway 30A. We hammered out the logistics over lunch and PGA Paul mapped out a route for us.  

We left mid-morning this past Sunday and traveled 60 highway miles on I-75 to get to the cut-off where we’d head north and west via some nice country backroads.  The weather was perfect, maybe a bit brisk, which was a welcomed change from the usual hot and humid riding. We were on two Harley baggers and two BMWs.   

Our first night’s stay would be Steinhatchee in Florida’s Big Bend region, also referred to as the Nature Coast.  The Big Bend area—really the transition between the Panhandle and the peninsula—had been hit hard by Hurricane Ian in September of 2022 and signs of recovery could still be seen.  Downed trees, blue tarps on rooftops and FEMA disaster assistance centers were sprinkled along Highway 98.  

On the way to a lunch stop in Crystal River, we passed the Adventure Coast, the area between Brooksville and Inglis.  From Crystal River, it was less than 90 miles to our Lodging in Steinhatchee.  Our total riding for the day was an easy 200 miles.  We opted for a seafood restaurant a short way from the hotel so we walked through dark and quiet streets to what would be Steinhatchee’s restaurant row.  There weren’t many other people in the small town at all and we were told that the busy season was July to September.  

We left Steinhatchee by 9 the next morning en route to Destin along the Forgotten Coast.  The ride included some spectacular scenery as we rode mostly along the Gulf through coastal communities such as Sopchoppy (what a cool name), Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach, Apalachicola, Carrabelle and Lanark Village.  We also rode through Tyndall Air Force Base, a sprawling military complex on the water near Panama City.  The miles and miles of unobstructed Gulf views were just wonderful.  This part of the ride was definitely an unexpected bonus. 

We’d reached the Emerald Coast and I was excited to finally see Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A…but that’s where the excitement ended.  Entering 30A near Inlet Beach, we were immediately greeted with so many McMansions and vacation condos that we couldn’t see the water! 🤨 Riding through congested neighborhoods, we arrived at Rosemary Beach where detour signs notified us of route closures due to long-term bridge construction.  Grrrrrrr!!! 😠 

We got back on the highway and followed the detour signs until we were back on the 30A.  Expectations were high but we again found ourselves riding between large houses and condos…with no beach in sight.  After a couple miles of that, we got back on Highway 98 and rode a few short miles to the hotel, arriving by early afternoon after a 280-mile day.  Later, over drinks, we all agreed that we’d enjoyed the ride along the coast for most of the day so the disappointment at not seeing the no-longer scenic and very overbuilt 30A wasn’t too bad.  

The next day’s ride was a return to Steinhatchee so we took a different, more direct route via State Road 20 that was 50 miles shorter than the previous day’s ride.  After checking into the hotel and unpacking, we again walked 1/2 mile through deserted streets to a cool little pizza parlor where we had a great meal and discussed the day’s ride.  Later, we sat around a fire ring with cigars and drinks.  

On the morning of the 4th day, we started out before breakfast.  After an easy 120-mile ride, we stopped to eat at the famous Florida Cracker Kitchen in Brooksville.  We enjoyed a nice meal then said our goodbyes.  It was 85 miles home so we hit the I-75 south and made good time back.  

Paul later told me that his total trip mileage was 958 miles.  

If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you’ll agree that the best part about these rides is spending time with friends.  We had some drinks, ate some good meals and laughed around a campfire.  These guys are truly excellent riding companions.  

Another great ride in the books and we’re already planning our next ride …this time to the Everglades.  Thanks for following along!

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