GO-KARTS, MEXICAN FOOD, &

AN EVENING WITH GLADYS

By Kyle Doyle - 03/21/07

Florida. The name conjures up many different thoughts and images in people’s minds, but for a fellow like me who has spent his entire life living in Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming, and Illinois, it means one thing: Warm weather. And of course, warm weather = no snow. No snow. What a fantastic thought that is! After the blistering, face-destroying, finger-numbing, equipment-not-working-right kind of winter that our neck of the Midwest has suffered through this year, the prospect of spending nearly a week in Florida in early March was certainly an appealing one.


By the end of the Sioux City Monster Nationals, I was certainly ready for a warm-up. And not the kind of warm-up where the waitress ruins your perfectly sugared cup of coffee with a dose of black; I’m talking about the complete, total body warm up. At that point in February, sunglasses, shorts, and sunburn seemed like an all-to distant memory, a figment of my overactive imagination. But, as if by some divine providence, the skies parted and it was to be that Dale, Travis, Darrell, and I would head to Florida and Georgia to make some Dodge dealer appearances. Okay….so the skies didn’t really part or anything like that…in all actuality, this gig was booked well in advance. But it didn’t come a minute too soon in this author’s opinion.
Our intrepid crew, including myself, departed the frozen climes of east-central Illinois on a frigid (typical) Wednesday morning with dreams of palm trees and warm sunsets on our mind. I had no idea at the time how fantastic of a trip this would be for my Nikon and I. The road sign leaving Champaign might as well have read: “Photographic Bliss – 1072mi”.


Taking a quick break in Kentucky en route to Florida.
 

Though we did make it out of the shop in the morning, it was a few hours later than we had hoped to leave, the reason being a severe lack of consideration on the part of the Florida DOT. Florida had recently enacted an over-length law for combination vehicles traveling in their state, seemingly geared to affect race transporters. Ironic that this law came into effect just two weeks before the NHRA race in Gainesville. The law specifies that a special permit must be purchased before entering Florida to operate a vehicle that is over a certain length with a trailer, or has a distance greater than so many feet from trailer king pin to the center of the rear axle. If it sounds kind of fuzzy and complicated, that’s because it is. Even the people at the F-DOT office were a bit confused. So, on short notice we purchased two of these permits (one for Dale and Travis’ rig, and one for the merchandise trailer) and had them shipped overnight to IL. Or so we thought. Apparently the crack staff at the F-DOT offices were too busy to drop an envelope in their stack of outgoing mail, so the permits left nearly a day late. But, after all was said and done, two of the three rigs leaving for Florida had their permits (the third rig, the R/T’s Great Dane hauler, was exempt) and we were on I-74 heading east by 10:30am CST.


Famous Bubble Mirror Photos, Part IV.
 

Down the road we went, around the bottom of Indianapolis, down I-65 into Kentucky, where we would eventually pick up I-75, which would carry us directly through Tennessee, Georgia, and on into Florida. In fact, I-75 would deposit us less than an hour from our intended destination of Clermont, FL. How convenient is that? I had decided to start off the trip behind the wheel of the R/T hauler, and I must say if felt good to finally be on the road again. Being the music geek that I am, I always try to start off the mornings that I drive with the Rush song “The Spirit of Radio.” A line from the song reads “up on the way, hit the open road…” Indeed.


The sun called it quits sometime after 6pm CST, but we continued into the night a ways to make up for our late start. Driving through the hills of Tennessee at dusk left quite an impression on me, as we snaked our way up and down the rolling forested hills as the sun left streaks of purple and blue pastel colors on the sky. At one higher point, the foliage on the side of the road cleared and I saw what would have been a breathtaking photo; the sun setting behind the dark hills with a valley in the foreground already lit up for the night, a thousand little lights sparkling. I feel bad for the millions of people who don’t get to travel and see stuff like this. Although my view of this scene was enjoyed for only a brief time, and through the window of a moving truck at that, it was still something special.


After calling it a night in Central TN, we awoke early the next morning with visions of beaches and bikini-clad girls fading from our heads. Right. Darrell took over driving duties for the day so that I could man my camera, in case something photo-worthy should arise over the remaining 500 or so miles of our trip. Aside from another famous bubble mirror picture and a Charger cop car busting an erratic driver, there really wasn’t that much to see, not even in Florida. I was beginning to wonder if the tales I had heard about Florida being “a bunch of lakes with a little land” and “alligators crossing the roads everywhere” were nothing but hooey. I must admit that a 500lb reptilian speed bump in the middle of I-75 would put a whole new meaning to the trucker phrase “Gator on the road!”


Clearly this Georgia law enforcement department has good taste in cop cars.
 

We jumped off I-75 just before it intersected with a toll-road highway. We had opted to take some smaller state routes to get to Clermont, and that choice paid off well. To me, when in a semi, a “back road” is pretty much anything other than a major interstate, so I guess you could say we took the back roads to Clermont, though they were hardly small roads. In fact, it was quite the leisurely drive as we ticked away the final miles of our journey, windows down and breeze blowing on our faces. I clicked the temperature readout on the dash of the semi, and it read 82 degrees at 6pm EST. Not bad considering a day ago in IL that same gauge had read something like 23 degrees at 9am CST. In case you were wondering, I had changed into shorts at a rest area in Georgia. Amazing what a long, cold winter can do to a person.


This fascinating insect was sitting on the hood of our tractor when we awoke Friday morning in Clermont.
 

We spent Thursday evening getting the water tanks in our rigs filled up and resting up a bit, in preparation for the busy days ahead of us. Friday morning we started off early, tiring the trucks up and washing all three rigs (man!). It sure was nice to not have to be all bundled up while washing the rigs. It is not uncommon during the winter months in IL to have the water freeze when it hits the side of the rigs while you are trying to wash the road salt off of them. But 72 degrees at 8am? I can make that work. Dale and Travis sat on display and ran the merchandise trailer (June and the rest of the gang were in Battle Creek that same weekend at a Monster Nationals race) while Darrell and I ran the R/T in what was essentially a field of sand. Bryan Wagner of the Monkey’n Around team stopped by Friday while we were washing and moving rigs around, and was kind enough to invite us to a show they were doing about an hour and a half down the road from Clermont on Saturday night. Unfortunately were didn’t get done with the rides and Dale’s car crush until about that time Saturday night, but hopefully we can run into them again the next time we are in the neighborhood.


Dale’s car crush in Clermont.

 

In a break from our normal routine of tiring down and loading up right at the end of the event and hitting the road, we instead parked in monsters on big tires in the dealership’s service department, and called it a night. Both trucks needed a good washing and detailing before we could head to Baldwin, GA for our next gig, so we opted to spend our Sunday doing just that. The dealership had a skeleton crew on hand on Sundays, so we greatly appreciated them letting us use the service department to get the trucks detailed (in air-conditioned comfort) after washing them with our new portable Hotsy power washer. DW and I even tired the R/T down inside with the help of the dealerships shop air. Sometime shortly after midday, Travis took a phone call, and then asked us “Hey, you guys want to have pizza at my grandma’s house tonight?” I made a mental note that Travis has relatives in Florida (in addition to 17 other states), then enthusiastically replied “yes” along with the other guys. We finished our “chores” as quickly as we could, then cleaned up and climbed into our 2007 Dodge Durango SLT that the dealership had been kind enough to loan us.


The view from Dottie’s house near Lake Eustis.


Dale showing us why he’s not a professional fisherman.

 

Travis’ grandma, Dottie, has a winter home in Tavares, FL (though like Travis, she too is from Columbus, OH). Her house in Tavares is about 30mins or so from Clermont, and sits on a canal that feeds into Lake Eustis. Arguably one of the most relaxing Sunday nights I’ve had in recent memory, we hung out on her deck eating pizza and fishing into the night, telling old war stories and getting acquainted with Dottie, and Travis’ aunt Kathy (who also has a home in Florida). Dale and Travis mentioned to us that when they had come to Clermont a couple of years ago, Kathy had taken them out onto Lake Eustis on her boat. Of course I instantly became enamored with the idea of being able to take my camera out on a lake to shoot some killer sunset pictures, or to do some bird watching. As a young child growing up in Missouri, I spent many summers at my grandpa’s lake house at the Lake of the Ozarks in central MO. I spent countless evenings with my grandparents and cousins on the lake, trolling around remote coves and watching for all manner of birds that inhabited the area. So naturally, when Kathy offered the use of her boat to us, I was an enthusiastic supporter of the idea (as was Dale).


We formed a loose game plan for the week that night on the way back to Clermont from Tavares. With the weather being as good as it was, we had come prepared to polish up our rigs to show-quality condition in light of the nasty winter we had been dealing with up to that point. So, we decided the most prudent way to deal with that task would be to polish early in the morning and late at night when the sun had retired to avoid the heat and humidity that would surely bear down on our backs and necks as we worked. That plan worked out well, and by the time the wheels were finished, it looked like we where having a Pride And Polish convention at Clermont (if I may brag on our work a little bit.).


Bigfoot and Race Rock, as seen from across the highway at approx. 47mph.

The famous (and now familiar) front room interior at the Race Rock.
 

With that task being handled, we spent the first half of Monday cruising around Orlando’s famed International Drive, soaking up the tourist trap that is I-Drive. I cannot imagine how much money a family could spend over the course of a week on vacation in Orlando, considering the phenomenal admission fees for pretty much everything. But, being the thrifty travelers that we are, we found some neat things to see without spending a ton of cash. That Priceline.com gnome hasn’t got anything on us! I had visited the Race Rock Café in December of 06 when some of us had flown down to Orlando for the PRI show, but it was a new experience for the rest of the gang so we thought it would be cool to swing by there. Although the place hasn’t been updated with any new vehicles or memorabilia since its opening in the mid-90’s, it is still neat to visit. I figured I’d shoot a few pictures with my new camera to add to the already vast collection of shots I’ve accumulated this year.
 

 


 

After Race Rock, we scouted out some prospective go-kart tracks and miniature golf courses, and then moved on to what I like to refer to as “drive-by touristing”. That’s where you drive past the main gate of a major tourist attraction, usually one that charges an exorbitant entry fee, and take a picture of their big sign out front. This is all done while riding in a moving vehicle, hence the term “drive-by”. You then tell your friends that “Hey man, we saw Sea-World and Universal Studios!” However, you fail to mention to them that you skipped out on paying $85 per person to actually see the good stuff.


Hey, we went to Sea World(‘s sign).
 

The single-most important place I wanted to visit in Orlando was the Hard Rock Café, which is the largest of its kind in the world. It sits on Universal Studios property, part of a large outdoor tourist area called CityWalk. We were informed by a gate attendant at the Hard Rock Hotel (located adjacent to Universal) that it was $11 per person to get into the CityWalk area. “What?!?” I rumbled out loud. That couldn’t be right. $11 just to get into an area where all you can do is spend more money? A disappointing blow, to say the least. As we drove away to head back to Clermont, I was convinced that I wasn’t going to be able to see Pete Townsend’s ’73 Gibson Les Paul that he had smashed up during the hey-day of The Who. Damn.
But nevertheless, the adventures would continue, but first we had to stop for some lunch. In our hurry to get back to Tavares and Lake Eustis, we settled for a Mexican food chain restaurant. Surprisingly, the food and sweet tea were decent, though the service was mediocre. Mexican Place #1 – 6 / 10.


Good times require a good vehicle, and our ’07 Flex-Fuel Durango did just fine.
 

We then stopped by the haulers at the dealership to check on things, and to round up some tools to help us get Travis’ aunt Kathy’s boat running again. We grabbed an empty bucket and filled it with some basic hand tools, a battery charger, and perhaps the single most important device man has ever created to help get an old, stubborn engine running: a can of ether. Being monster mechanics and all, we figured that with a basic assortment of tools, a trusty Schumacher battery charger, and a can of napalm, we could get pretty much anything to run. We also filled up an empty fuel jug with gas incase Kathy’s boat was low on go-go juice. With the Durango loaded with tools, my camera armed with two lenses and three empty memory cards, and four adventurous dudes, we headed for Lake Eustis.


Aunt Kathy laying down some driving rules for ‘ole Travy.

Uncovering the boat that would provide us with our nautical adventure.

 

We arrived at Kathy’s place in the mid-afternoon, about three hours before sunset. After parking the Durango we made our way out on to the dock to survey the situation. And there she sat; perhaps the single-most important seafaring vessel in the world (at least to us, at that point). We removed the canvas cover from the boat and lowered it down until it was just touching the water, so that we could make it a bit easier to work on. Powered by a 4cyl GM, this little boat could comfortably hold five or six people, and seemed to be in pretty decent shape for an ’88 model. Only one problem though…it didn’t want to crank over…period. So we topped off the fuel cell, cleaned the plugs and checked for compression, charged the heck out of the battery, and beat on the starter some with a hammer. Eventually, after about an hour and change of tinkering (and one trip to the local auto parts store for some battery terminals), the boat finally roared (sputtered) to life. Triumph! And then it died a minute or two later. So we tinkered a bit more, and it roared (sputtered, but not as bad) back to life. Triumph again! We packed our tools and gear into the boat, grabbed some sunflower seeds and drinks, and away we were. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the name of Kathy’s sterling steed of the lake: Gladys.


Travis pondering his next mechanical move.

After some creative maritime mechanical work, Gladys finally came to life. And there was much rejoicing.

Arrrrr! We be on the high seas now boys! (Arr, or at least a reasonably sized lake, arr.)
 

As Travis guided the machine out of its dock (which it had not been out of for over a year), I said a silent thank-you to the fine folks who had invented the ½” and 9/16” wrenches; the dead-blow hammer; the battery charger; the flat-blade screw driver; vice grips; and of course, ether. We cruised around Lake Eustis for a while, wringing out Gladys 4cyl mill and testing our controls. Travis then guided us to one of the absolute coolest places I’ve ever been in a boat (and maybe period), the Dora Canal. With its jungle/swamp-esque foliage, this narrow waterway connects Lake Eustis and Lake Dora. According to local sources, parts of this canal were used back in the day during the filming of the Tarzan shows/movies, among other things. Personally, I was hoping to maybe see the Creature From the Black Lagoon or something cool like that. Disappointed I was not, however, as the bird watching was phenomenal. Hawks, falcons, blue herons, several types of ducks, and a variety of small birds of prey could be found swimming, flying, and stalking all along the canal. At this point in the day the canal was too cool for any gators or crocs to be lounging around, so my only real chance to see the bit reptiles in a natural setting was a wash, but it was pretty much impossible to not have a good time with Gladys.


The sign says it all.

Passing under one of the local roads as we enter the Dora Canal.

At this point, I was waiting for the narrator to say “Welcome…to Jurassic Park…”
 

And then, Travis reported that the boat was beginning to get hot, as we had been idling up the canal for the better part of 30mins. Darrell opened up the access panels to the motor, only to be confronted by a spewing cooling system that was apparently over-full and borderline over-heating. The fresh air and a little bit of throttle was apparently adequate to cool Gladys off sufficiently enough to get us to the open stretches of Lake Dora. Once there, we ran around the lake for about 15 minutes or so, letting the little mill breathe and take on some cool water and air. The water was much choppier on Dora than it had been on Eustis, and the wind was blowing much harder. I capped off my camera lens and held on for the ride as Gladys’ bow was sprayed with lake water. To be honest, I think we might have gotten air a couple of times, judging from the loud, flat “THUNK!” that the hull of the boat kept making.


 

 

 

 


Leaving the Dora Canal as it feeds into Lake Dora…


…and leaving the Dora Canal as it enters Lake Eustis.

 

About halfway back through the Dora canal, Gladys once again began giving us fits, but this time she shut off completely. DIW, Darrell and I got out the oars in an effort to keep the boat away from the rocks and logs that lined the shore while Travis and Dale attempted to get the boat to start again. Travis later confided to us that Kathy had warned him about the boat’s starter: “It still has that messed up starter on it. We had to get towed last time it quit.” Fabulous. After hearing “ree-eee-eee-eee-reee-eee-eee-ee-reeeeeeeeeeee” more than enough times, the tired little four-popper finally came back to life. Despite the posted signs, we cruised through the rest of the canal at a bit more than idle speed, knowing that it was about time we took Gladys back to port. The sun was beginning to set, and in spite of our spirited sprint back to the dock, I managed to peel off some decent free-hand sunset shots, though the really good stuff would come later when I could set my tripod up on the dock.


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