Day 49 St. Augustine, FL to Daytona Beach 53 miles 551 feet
The ground was still wet from some overnight rain but it was warm and sunny when I rolled out of my hotel this morning. A quick jaunt through the historic section of town brought me to the Bridge of Lions which I would use to cross over the Matanzas River, part of the ICW. On the other side of the river I encountered more tourist attractions including and Alligator Park and the Saint Augustine Light. The lighthouse, on the north end of Anastasia Island, was built around 1871 as a replacement. The original lighthouse, built in 1824, was Florida’s first lighthouse.
The outskirts of Saint Augustine reminded me of driving in South Florida, miles of retirement communities interrupted by strip malls. The strip malls contained fast food restaurants, auto supply shops, drugstores, doctors, dentists, lawyers, and even a preschool. Within a few miles I was on A1A which I would ride all the way to Daytona Beach. The homes along A1A varied from 1960’s beach shacks to elegant modern structures. Many clearly were meant to gleam the pages of Architectural Digest while others had me wondering, “what were they thinking?” As my dad always says, “their is no accounting for taste.” At about mile 16 we rode past the Fort Matanzas National Monument, which includes the remains of a fort built by the Spanish in 1742. The fort was built to gaurd the inlet to the Matanzas River which could be used to gain entrance to Saint Augustine.
The only real “town” on A1A, before Daytona, was Flagler Beach, named for Henry Flagler, who helped develop East Florida as a resort and vacation destination. Flagler, an old school robber baron, made his money in oil and Florida railroads. He is reputed to have used “hired” convicts on his workforce who were treated more like slaves than employees. His name adorns many buildings including the Flagler Hospital and Flagler College, as well as Miami’s main east-west street.
I arrived in Daytona way ahead of the gang and our van so I went to the Ocean Deck, 127 S. Ocean Ave, a Rasta themed restaurant directly on the ocean for a burger and a Blue Moon. I asked the waitress if you can surf on Daytona Beach, she laughed and told me that the locals call it Lake Daytona. I enjoyed lunch so much that I returned at dinner with the gang and went for a full rack of ribs.
Daytona Beach itself, looks to me like a scaled down, slightly less grimy version of Myrtle Beach. It has a few oceanfront hotels, a small amusement park with vomit rides, and Joes, a waterfront restaurant built on a pier out over the Atlantic Ocean. It does not have the myriad of low class tourist attractions that lined the street in Myrtle Beach. It also has a fraction of the traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, that I observed in Myrtle Beach.
The beach itself is quite unique, it is flat, level, and very heavily packed sand which you can actually drive on. It was this unique sand that attracted motorsports enthusiasts as far back as 1902 to Daytona. They arrived with cars and motorcycles of all sizes and shapes in attempts, several fatal, to break land speed records. In 1936 the first of many stock car races where held on the sand in what is now the town of Ponce Inlet, just south of downtown Daytona. In 1958 the Daytona International Speedway was built to replace the sand course.
I had the opportunity to experience the Daytona 500 with my son Simon when he was 16. Simon was attending a boarding school in Florida and when I came to visit on long weekends I would try to find things he enjoyed. As a 16 year old boy, that was generally anything to do with planes, trains, or automobiles. For his President’s Day weekend break I thought I might drive him up to the Daytona Speedway and see if we could take a spin together on the track. Not being a NASCAR fan, or for that matter any kind of sports fan, I had no idea that President’s Day weekend culminated the week long festivities leading up to the Daytona 500. Plan A was ruined but Plan B seemed even better, I would rent an RV and we would drive to Daytona to watch the race. Great idea, terrible execution, I could not find an RV to rent within 500 miles of Daytona. Even had I located an RV it would have been for naught as the Daytona 500 RV parking spots go on sale at the end of the race and are sold out within hours. Not willing to give up, I scoured the race website and found that you could still purchase tickets for a 10 foot by 20 foot “campsite” on the infield of the racetrack. You were not permitted to bring an RV onto your campsite but beyond that the sky was the limit to what you could do with your 200 square foot plot, something I would learn in spades when we arrived.
This took place about 15 years ago, but those who know me, will tell you that my camping days were long over at least 25 years before then. I decided to rent the largest SUV that I could find and my only absolute requirement was that all of its rear seats needed to be removable. Once I secured the SUV, I rented an 8 man tent and a pair of sleeping bags to be shipped to my hotel in Florida. I had no intention of sleeping in the tent but it seemed like the safest place to store the seats I was intending to rip out of the SUV, as I was planning on sleeping in the nice warm SUV, with DC outlets. The page long set of camping rules was very detailed and specifically prohibited any campfires, except for small self contained cooking fires. On the drive up to Daytona we stopped in a Dick’s and I purchased a half dozen instant logs and the largest metal fire pit I could find. I reasoned that I could say with a straight face that it was a “cooking fire.” We loaded a cooler with some snack food and a case of beer for the long weekend. We arrived the day before the big race but warmup races and the party had already been underway for nearly a week. I pulled up to what I believed was my campsite to find a couple of guys in a pickup truck, wasted on beer, pot or both. One of them looked at Simon, my SUV, and me, before beginning to apologize. They had arrived late at night earlier in the week, and in the dark had simply staked out the wrong site. His actual site was right next door and he asked if we would mind using his. I saw no difference between the two spots and no reason to make him move. We pulled into their spot, assembled our tent, ripped out the car seats, and threw them in the tent. I sat down on my cooler, opened a beer, scanned the surrounding campsites, then quickly reread the “rules.” It was obvious that they must have been written by lawyers for the racetrack to absolve the track from any liability.
The infield was a massive collection of stoned college kids and drunk rednecks, partying together side by side. Our next door neighbor had just finished digging a 4 foot by 4 foot hole, piled several dozen logs on top, doused it with kerosene, and started a pyre that was at least 10 feet in the air. Many attendees come year after year and bring elaborate viewing stands or build various theme based bars. To many, I believe the race was merely incidental to their coming. The infield must have held over 100,000 guests and was large enough for a 1 mile long canal for high speed powerboats to race in. Feeling somewhat silly with my 6 wimpy instant logs, I exchanged some of my excess beer for logs. I figured the exchange ratio should be about one for one, and guessed correctly. I made a proper fire and sat down and shared a beer with Simon, I believe it was his first, and even if not, it was his first with me.
After the race we drove down to visit my dad, we all needed shaves.
Fourteen states down, 1 more to go.
The Cumulative Totals
Feet Climbed 84,387
States Visited Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida
For more details on my route, see my Strava Link