Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Thunder Beach Biker Rally

My summer vacation

This past weekend, and my first vacation in a long time, I rode my bike, along with Viking on his bike, down to Panama City Beach. We left on Thursday afternoon with plans to stay until Sunday. I was looking forward to no work, no worries, and lots of R&R. My friend, Jeanne, joined us on Friday night, and the three of us bummed around together all weekend.

However, my first attendance at the Thunder Beach Biker Rally left me with mixed opinions on whether I'd do it again or not. Perhaps a one-day trip, but certainly not a 4-day weekend.


The weather cooperated for the most part. I assured Viking that we would not be rained on during our ride down from Tallahassee. Each time I looked up at the clouds filling the sky, it sure looked to me like we were going to skate by and miss anything serious. Of course, I must have jinxed the ride by saying so, because about mid-trip, it started to rain. Not hard, but enough to make the road wet, and Viking passed me up to take the lead after deciding that I should "eat" his spray, instead of the other way around. After all, I did say we would not get rained on! Fortunately, it was one of those edge-of-the-clouds rain showers while the sun was still shining on our patch of the road, and it didn't last long enough to soak us. I wisely kept my mouth shut during the rest of the ride down to PCB, and we stayed dry the rest of the weekend, with clear skies, and hot but reasonable temperatures.


I had booked a hotel room at the Beach Break Hotel at the west end of Panama City Beach for three nights. It is a smaller, 4-story hotel with an adequate continental breakfast, and all beach-facing rooms with balconies. I'd stay there again. It was clean, comfortable, and not overpriced. The staff was courteous and accommodating. The best part was the view from the balcony, and we had close-in parking for the bikes, with 24/7 security. There were no mishaps or problems, and we even had no trouble finding good parking each time we returned at the end of the day. Nice.

Notice anything missing in this beach photo above (taken from my room balcony)? No people. Or very few. How I managed to find a hotel far enough from the main bars, yet close enough to everything to make it a short jaunt to find things, I'll never know. But it was quiet and relaxing.

Party Establishments

Not so quiet for those who booked rooms at nearby larger hotels whose larger bars were mostly populated until 4am with hundreds of loud, drunk bikers and locals. Besides the loud rock music (which was not really a problem for me), they served beer to those who wanted it well past the normal "last call". We saw numerous people staggering out to their bikes and riding away! To their credit, the local PD was on hand, but not to the point of being intrusive. Kudos to the PCB PD for that.

Usually when attending a large drinking establishment, the bathroom facilities are not too bad, for the women at least. But these were appalling. And I was even further disgusted by the lack of class by many of the women. I would have preferred a portable outhouse to what was available any day. At least I'd have privacy and not be subjected to the disgusting women the equally disgusting men were drooling over. Some people have no couth at all.

Navigating the area

Going anywhere, for the most part, was not bad, and the number of bikes in the vicinity was not too overwhelming (as it is every year at Daytona in March). However, the number of drunk and obnoxious bikers increased exponentially with the lateness of the night (or early morning hours). Navigating through local and visiting cagers was bad enough, but having to negotiate drunk or dangerous riders was even more annoying.

Once we were out on Beach Front drive, you could jump on the express route and get most anywhere without having to put up with the stop-and-go traffic down on the beach route. There were, however, a few moments when Viking mentioned "chestnuts roasting on an open fire....", while we were waiting for the light to change for the 3rd time before moving forward in a higher gear than 2nd. Gotta love them Harleys.

Sharing the road

I noticed that most of the riders on bigger "dresser" type bikes, who also were carrying passengers, were polite, careful and courteous. Not so for the many single riders on customized bikes and choppers in the area.

It seemed like every time we headed across the area on the express route that paralleled the beach, we were confronted with several of these solo riders, whose main mission was to prove to us their bikes were louder and faster than ours. I began calling these individuals "the little-dick riders" of the rally. I mean, really, when one must continually rev engines, and rip away from red lights at obnoxious speeds, only to slow down enough to pace just ahead of us, one has to wonder why the need for so much attention.

Sport bikes in large numbers were conspicuously absent. And though I have no problem with whatever type of bike you ride, I like to avoid those on sport bikes who cannot keep both wheels on the pavement, and maintain a reasonable speed, especially around me.

Interestingly enough, I did not see one woman rider, snazzy bike or not, doing this same type of rev-and-race thing. Apparently women riders don't have to prove their "balls" are big enough to handle a sizeable machine. My own bike is no slouch, and has after-market pipes that "can" be obnoxious, yet I don't feel this urge either. Well, maybe when I'm out on a rural road where I'm the only one soaking up the sound (and grinning like a fool), but I don't think that's the same thing.


The vendors were disappointing. The one vendor I wanted to find was not there; Kuryakyn. I found one retailer who carried this product, but had limited inventory. J&P was there, but had only one booth at Frank Brown Park. The rest were all low-grade leather dealers for high prices. We found rally T-shirts at a reasonable rate of 3/$20 in a number of very cool designs, and most came in regular T-shirts, and women's styles.

Several venues had indoor shopping, but those were limited (and very crowded). One venue had all of THREE vendors. On boy, makes me want to rush back there. NOT.


Food was adequate. Panama City Beach has some good eats. We all met up one of the nights at Captain Andersons for Steak & Seafood. They got our group of 8 seated quickly, in spite of being crowded, and the food was delicious. The atmosphere was nice also, as the restaurant is situated on a small harbor on the east end of the beach.

The ride home

The best part was our ride home. We took the long route back to Tallahassee, following Route 98 east and along the coast, then up through Wakulla County. It was an all-day ride, and we stopped in Mexico Beach for lunch. There was no traffic to speak of, and it was an easy cruise in the absolutely great weather. Around 9:00 PM, with wings from Outback restaurant safely stowed, we pulled into the garage, tired, grimy, but happy to be home.

We could do that ride from PCB along the coast any weekend, so would I go back to the Thunder Beach Rally? As I said, maybe for a day, but I think I'll find a nice beach front hotel on a different weekend for my next vacation, complete with white sand, no people, lots of good eating establishments, and local riding scenery. I think I'll leave the drinking in excess to the rallies, buy my Kuryakyn parts online, and enjoy my bike riding elsewhere. Perhaps I'll even design and print my own T-shirt: "My Vacation Biker Rally, group of two, [City, State, Date].

Ride safe, ride free.

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