Bagger’s Banquet | Touring America's Other Left Coast

Victory in Florida. Yes, Florida.

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Colleen Tagle

Located at the mouth of the Steinhatchee River, Roy’s Restaurant is a must-eat landmark. We have the place to ourselves. When I joke with our waitress about how slow business is, she hands us off to the cook and doesn’t speak to us again. Wisecracks are not tolerated at Roy’s. Cookie brings us hush puppies, clam chowder and iced tea. I might have to pump a few more psi into that shock after all.

The primordial scenery ends all too quickly—this is Florida after all—and the coastal loop dumps Nessie back onto the main highway. Four lanes wide and lightly traveled, Highway 19 gives me a chance to play with the Victory’s cruise control. When you hit Resume there’s a split-second of panic as the throttle twists all by itself and the bike roars up to speed. After initially pooh-poohing the gadget, I come to rely on it. Slack-jawed and sloe-lidded, I willingly hand over riding decisions to my little electronic co-pilot. Turns out, cruise control is not so good at maintaining following distance. Colleen smacks me upside the head: Nessie’s tailgating again.

Sleepy Hernando Beach has but one place to lodge—a combination motel/beauty parlor where you phone the manager at his home to come let you in. We take a ride around town. There are a couple of really nice dry-stack marinas, several shuttered eateries. The foreclosure signs outnumber For Sale signs. This is the boom-bust Florida I love. Since she was such a trooper today I treat Colleen to a romantic sunset dinner of tortilla chips, salsa, Underwood deviled ham and sell-by cheese purchased from the Zippy-Mart next door. She nearly swoons in my arms. It might not be from gratitude: Zippy-Mart doesn’t have the freshest inventory.

The Cross Roads has so much storage capacity, our packing gets lax. What used to fit easily in the saddlebags now spills out into a stuff-pack strapped to the rack. Nessie shrugs off our slog through stop-and-go Tampa traffic, but long periods of idling stresses her cooling ability to the limit. The hotter she gets, the harder she shifts. The fuel injected engine runs perfectly no matter the temperature. Fences and detour arrows surround our destination: the Salvador Dali Museum. Turns out downtown Saint Pete is preparing for a Grand Prix. We are diverted to a parking area where busses shuttle museum visitors back and forth. The neighborhood looks kind of dicey. I don’t feel comfortable leaving Colleen behind guarding Nessie, so we ride back into traffic and head south.

After a night on Fort Myers beach, loading Nessie becomes a real challenge. Nothing fits anymore. I dig around the bag liners and unearth five new pairs of shoes. This is the first motorcycle I’ve ever had that my wife can hide things in. When did she buy shoes? I don’t recall stopping at a shoe store. She must have called in an air-drop from one of those C130 shoe tankers.

We ease out of the Beacon Motel’s sandy parking lot. Halfway onto Estero Boulevard Nessie emits a pifff-caff sound and the cold engine stalls, catching me off balance. A thousand pounds of wife, shoes and touring motorcycle suddenly lists 45 degrees to starboard. My right boot slams onto the sandy asphalt. Amazingly, the asphalt holds. I’m in full deadlift mode now, tendons popping, discs slipping, expecting the bones in my leg to explode at any moment. Nessie slowly rolls back to an even keel. Respect the bagger, man.

This embarrassing situation cries out for drama. I look accusingly at the big V-twin and dramatically fumble around in the engine compartment like there’s a mischievous shoe jammed between the cylinders that killed the bike. I realize I’m holding up traffic, but I don't care: I need people to know that it wasn't my fault!

After Fort Myers, we turn away from the Left Coast and head home through Everglades National Park. Respect to the bagger, man. Colleen has spent three days on the back and I’ve not heard any complaints, although I was too busy playing with the cruise control to pay much attention. She did seem to wiggle less than normal on this bike, though.

Now maybe Nessie can do something about that noisy refrigerator...

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