(Originally published in BMW Owners News Magazine – May 2016.)
I awoke early that morning in March, and after a few blinks to get my eyes open and focused, I spent a few moments easing my brain into consciousness via a quick peek at my social media accounts. I didn’t sleep much the night before out of pure excitement for my first ride of the 2016 season, a ride that had a very mystical quest involved. With my brain sputtering, I proceeded straight for the coffee pot, and after savoring several cups of my favorite dark brew, continued with the preparations of getting my two-wheeled steed road-ready.
Pulling out of the driveway that morning, with a fresh sun peeking above the horizon, my playlist shuffled up a song that gave me chills and made me smile – Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” It was the essence of this trip, and I sang out the line “let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.” You see, I was heading for the 75th Annual Daytona Bike Week.
You may ask, “why?” Well, because I am a true adventurer. I decided to take this trip to experience the unknown, to submerge myself into this pool of diverse culture that was 75 years old, and from what I have heard and read is loud, rogue and scraggly around the edges. I ask you – “why not?” Just once, I wanted to wade through this vast sea of loud pipes and come away with an understanding of how another motorcycle culture enjoys their two-wheeled gatherings. So, I twisted that throttle and set sail on my voyage.
It was a “slab” kind of day with the mission of arriving early into my homebase for the long weekend. I was staying with friends who reside in Ormond Beach, just up the coast from Daytona…close enough to the action, but far enough away to sleep peacefully at night. (These particular friends also ride a Harley Davidson Tri Glide and were going to be my guides through the weekend expedition.) As I coasted down Interstate 95, I passed trailer after trailer after trailer full of bikes. I also received several “thumbs-up” from the drivers pulling those trailers. It made me giggle wondering if they knew there was a Fashionista under all of that gear…one with an Iron Butt, no less. At one stop, I was little perplexed when I overhead a couple discussing the fact that they didn’t know BMW made motorcycles. Yikes…
Following a safe arrival to my friends’ home, a fun happy hour and a delicious meal, it was off for some rest for the big weekend ahead. The next morning, after a casual start with good coffee and even better conversation, we departed from the harbor for our sightseeing cruise with a plan of starting the day with a ride on the Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail (Old Dixie Highway). It was spectacular! We rode down a gorgeous two-lane road covered in an ancient canopy of live oak trees and native Florida palms and greenery with not much traffic at all. We stopped midway through to view the Dummett Sugar Mill Ruins, a sugar and rum distillery, which dates back to the early 1800s. Following that stop, we rode through more canopied roads and peaceful saltwater marshes full of statuesque birds fishing for their meals. So far, this Bike Week wasn’t feeling too rogue and scraggly at all.
As we made our way south that afternoon towards a much-needed lunch stop and closer to the mighty mothership of Bike Week, a low hum could be heard in the distance which grew to a loud rumble as we drew near. We made it…we were finally entering the sea of loud pipes. Of course, large schools of Harleys were bountiful, but there were many other fish in that sea as well – Indian, Victory, Buell, Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Triumph, and the list went on. I squealed with delight when I saw a rare sight – a fellow BMW rider or two. Much like sea urchins, we were just “there” clinging to the walls while the dizzying masses swam by.
Our lunch destination was the Brickyard Lounge and Grill. Clearly it was a locals’ biker bar, but I must say they serve THE best cheeseburger I have ever come across, by far. (It was so good, I stopped in the next day for another!) With my body full of hearty protein, I was ready to experience the true biker scene – Main Street, Daytona. It was an intentional plan to visit Bike Week during the first weekend of this 10-day event, as the crowds were fairly light, and traffic wasn’t too terribly clogged. Otherwise, a trip down Main Street would have certainly meant an hour or more of fender to fender traffic and a definite overheat of my ’94 R1100 RS. I quickly learned that a ride down Main Street automatically enters you into the “parade,” like it or not.
Main Street, Daytona, is the true center of the sea of loud pipes. It’s lined with smoky, mischievous biker bars; big chrome-covered bikes parked curiously close to each other; and tight crowds dressed in denim, black accoutrements, leather, big boots, tattoos, piercings, bandannas and really badass expressions on their faces. Above all, I found myself wondering why the angry faces. I can certainly handle personal choices of fashion, but I truly pondered the rough demeanors on seemingly very nice people.
After taking a couple of parade loops myself and then parking the bike, I stood in the crowd to watch the other two-wheeled machines making their way down the line. The sights were incredible…there were so many motorcycles that were astonishing, very impeccable rides. But then there were the sights that really got your attention: giant Boss Hogs that seemed incredulous to me; stretched out “Big Wheels,” as I called them; a large pack of young, super silly guys riding mopeds; a biker chick in a neck-to-boot neon pink netted bodysuit, with not much underneath; some strange rolling cheeseburger on three wheels; and an old dude wearing a crusty, ancient helmet riding an antique BMW who made three passes in my short time there…I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. At some point while watching the tide of riders on display, I found two of my fellow campadres in the crowd – Iron Butt Association members. I approached them with a huge smile and a hug. They were a little taken aback by my approach, but smiled big when they realized we were teammates in the long-distance world. Very cool. We were kindred souls in the waves of that vast sea.
I enjoyed a great dose of the biker culture that evening and decided to head for safe harbor, with my captains leading the way on their pretty little 3-wheeled Harley. I was quickly beginning to realize that although all of us motorcyclists share the love of riding, our particular pools where we gather and bob around together are quite different. And that’s okay!
The next day was the most exciting to me, personally. I drove my sweet “Henrietta” on the beaches of Daytona. There I was, riding seaside with nothing but sand and tidal pools between me and the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Very surreal, indeed, and a highlight in my motorcycling history. Later that day was an exciting visit to a Supercross race with my buddies where I enjoyed a long evening watching dirt bike races at the famous Daytona International Speedway. As I made my way home that evening, feeling like a jellyfish bobbing amongst the vast sea of loud pipes who continue cruising late into the night, I realized that although I had ultimate respect for this culture of bikers, it just wasn’t for me. The lifestyle of cruising, stopping, cruising, stopping, cruising, stopping – not my deal. I’m definitely a long-distance style girl!
The following morning, I pointed my bow towards home and set sail…swimming quietly and gracefully upstream on my trusty Beemer as the mass of loud pipes were fin to fin streaming downstream. I spent much of the ride homeward reflecting on my voyage and the experiences. And suddenly, there it was again…a random shuffle of my iTunes playlist, and Van Morrison’s voice was again piping out the line “let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic…” Chills and my smile immediately followed, and somehow I knew it was a sign. I, indeed, had traveled to the mystical sea of loud pipes with soul and spirit flying…and my soul and spirit drifted away with much more than I had ever imagined…an amazing experience that taught me that I am just fine being a Fashionista with an Iron Butt riding her BMW. 💋