Archive for February, 2011

Motorcycles and the Auto Train

Monday, February 7th, 2011

In late November, I took a trek on one of the Harleys from Washington, DC that eventually took me into the Florida Keys.   This ride spanned a couple of weeks since I stopped for a few days in Charlotte, then spent five days in Orlando followed by a week in Miami.   Some interesting experiences.

First, riding on several days started at or below freezing.   That in itself was an experience on an older bike.   There simply isn’t an option to plug heated clothing into this ’89 Softtail.   The generator won’t handle it.   So, it was back to basics – a nice base layer followed by several additional layers.   Everything was important, but a full head covering followed by a full face helmet went a long way toward making the ride manageable.   I also had three pairs of gloves – cold weather gloves, cool weather gloves, and warm weather gloves for the keys.

Because part of this ride occured over the Thankgiving holidays, there were a few traffic snags.   The ride between DC and Charlotte took about 2 hours longer than normal.  The ride between Charlotte and Orlando took almost 3 hours longer than normal.   The biggest problem with getting stuck in the traffic is that it gets pretty old moving one car length at a time.   That occured a couple of times when accidents caused the traffic to come to a virtual standstill.   I never figured out a good way to deal with it – it was certainly the tiresome part of the trip.  

I used my Scala Rider, which I discussed on a previous entry.   It was nice to have the music to listen to and it made my wife more comfortable that she could call occasionally.   During my stays in Orlando and Miami, it was nice that both hotels allowed me to park at no cost – the hotel in Miami normally charged $36 a night for parking.   My wife flew down to Miami for the weekend.  Timing worked well.   I arrived from Orlando, dropped my bag off with the concierge and headed to the airport.   She arrived about 10 minutes later.   We strapped her bag on the back of the bike and headed back to check in at the hotel.   Spent the weekend exploring South Beach, Key Biscayne, Key Largo, and other areas.

The title of this entry refers to the Amtrak Auto train.  In case you are wondering how that fits into the picture, here’s the story.   I left DC in freezing, but dry weather and was going to be gone for over two weeks.  Based on the brutal snow storms we experienced last winter, the concern was that the roads could be extremenely hazardous by the time I was returning.  So, I looked into the Auto Train option.   This train runs non-stop from Lorton, Va to Sanford, FL (just outside of Orlando).   You can place cars, vans, and yes – motorcycles on it.   So, for less than $200 I was able to buy tickets back to Lorton for myself and the bike.  It was 22 degrees when I arrived in Lorton.  Fortunately, it was a short ride home from there.

The day of my departure meant that I was on a schedule to leave Miami.   Unfortunately, temperatures were about 40 degrees or less and it was raining.  I rode in the rain for about 100 miles towards Orlando before it cleared up and became more comfortable.   Arrived in Sanford, took about 5 minutes to get the bike on a “wheeled pallet” and then went in to the waiting area.   Everything went smoothly with the boarding and several times they announce the number of cars, vans and people on the train and pointed out that they also had one motorcycle.  

The train pulled out about 4:00 pm and arrived in Lorton the next morning at about 9:30 am.   Nice meal on board that evening and a continental breakfast the next morning.  They had a lounge car and showed a movie a couple of times.  They also kept coffee, cookies and few other offerings out all night.   I simply booked a seat, but they did have options for sleeper cars. 

Based on the experience, we are contemplating another trip to Florida for both of us.   We may do the train both ways and save the riding for the Sunshine State.   If you live in the Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia, I would certainly consider this as an option to get away from the winter and have a nice long weekend or week of riding in Floriday.