Monday, November 28, 2011

Wellington to Naples (Florida) Loop

In Florida, when people talk about The West Coast, we mean the western Gulf coast of Florida. Since I live on the east coast, a coast-to-coast trip makes for a fun theme and Naples lies directly west and it's a popular tourist destination, so let's check it out. 
Throughout the 1870s and '80's, magazine and newspaper stories telling of the area's mild climate and abundant fish and game likened it to the sunny Italian peninsula. The name Naples caught on when promoters described the bay as "surpassing the bay in Naples, Italy".  
We'll take some highways on the leg out and return through the back, rural roads stopping to see small towns and smaller local airports (even on a bike, the pilot in me can't pass up an airport visit).

Coast-to-coast; Wellington to Naples Florida

Trip Prep

Using the Harley Davidson website again for ride planning. I marked this route with numbered locations and saved the GPS data. If you have a Garmin GPS you can read the file directly, but with my TomTom I need an intermediate step. The free POI Manager imports the data and writes it all in my TomTom as Points of Interest. You can't store a complete route in the TomTom, so I just navigate to any of the locations (POIs).   To make the POIs quick to find, just tell the POI manager to write everything in a specific folder, in this case Naples

Things to See

OK, I already reported on a short tour we did through the cane fields to Clewiston. We repeat that part on the way to Naples. But what else is there to see along the way???

At Belle Glade, Rt 80 turns into a big 4-lane that follows the dike along the south end of the lake. We stopped at the John Stretch Park to see the lake from above the dike. On the trip to Texas, I stopped at the east side of the lake where a lock raises boats onto Lake Okeechobee. The boats can then sail along the canal (see below) to a 2nd lock just a bit west of this point. You then can continue on waterways to the west coast of Florida.
Atop the dike at John Stretch park east of Clewiston.
The park also features a neat static display of the old engines used to pump water for flood control. In front was a 6-cylinder 1240 HP engine, but behind it is the more interesting and huge 11-cylinder radial engine that produced 1655 HP to turn the pumps at 128 rpm.
Huge pumps were used to manage water in S. Florida
Further west, Rt 80 becomes a rural 2-lane road and the riding gets more interesting. Cane fields give way to citrus groves and then, as if you flipped a light switch, you hit the densely populated Fort Meyers. Try to avoid traveling the congested Rt 41 if you can, but it's worth it once you get to scenic Naples. Although it seems some locals take their majestic image with a bit of whimsey.

Exquisite Store-Front-Art on 5th Ave in Naples
View West along 5th Ave in Naples

We toured all the interesting streets that back up to the water. Beautifully designed and impeccably-maintained multi-million dollar homes stand side-by-side like so many M&M candies in a bag. Found an empty lot for sale on Cutlass Lane.
Empty lot on the waterway to the Gulf of Mexico
Bird of Prey dining on a Fish Lunch
Time to head back (327 miles round trip - 526 km)

The long, late-afternoon shadows reminded us it was time to head back. No more choking traffic on route 41 for me! I headed for the 2-lane rural roads that only run north-south and east-west. Immokalee Road runs south of the Corkscrew Watershed and it was interesting to see cattle grazing in foot-deep water. Few  live here it seems, save for cows and orange trees. Here and there an airport with crop dusters and a town for farm workers. It's a pretty landscape that not many vacationers on the tourist-laden coasts care to investigate. Roads are smooth, we pass only the occasional car or farm tractor under that deep, porcelain-blue sky of the sub-tropics. The 3-cylinder, water-cooled BMW engine hums like a sewing machine as the ride comes to a successful end. 327 miles was a bit long, but incalculable fun.