Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Space Shuttle Launch

I've always wanted to see a Space Shuttle launch in person, and I was able to do so on May 11! I was planning on riding down to St. Augustine, FL the weekend of May 16 for a vintage motorcycle show, and in reading up on the area, I learned that a Shuttle launch was planned for May 11 just a bit further south, and I lamented that the two were not closer in time so I could do both. But I then realized that I go to motorcycle events all the time and will have plenty more opportunities to go to more, but a Shuttle launch would be something new, and I may not have another chance to see one, so I decided pretty much spur-of-the-moment to ride down for it instead of the motorcycle show.

I left home on Sunday morning and made a straight shot down I-26 and I-95 to the Cape Canaveral area. It was a very toasty ride - my thermometer registered 97 degrees for most of it; I was really glad I'd decided at the last minute to take my Camelbak. The trip was around 450 miles and took around 7 hours. I had reserved a site at the Manatee Hammock campground in Titusville, just across the Indian River from the launch site, so I checked in and got my tent pitched and enjoyed a nice, relaxing afternoon. I strolled around the campground a bit and enjoyed some time on the river bank and out on the pier. There was a strong breeze blowing over the water, so it was much cooler there and a welcome respite from the hot ride down.

My campsite

Monday morning I awoke with a hankering for a big Cracker Barrel breakfast, so I set out in search of one. I had an enjoyable 60-mile ride and eventually found one ... just a couple of miles from the campground. :-) But, the ride was nice, and breakfast was even better.

I got back to the campground around 11:00 and gathered up my stuff (chair, binoculars, camera, book) and headed out to the river bank where everyone staying at the campground congregated to watch the launch. I enjoyed kicking back and getting in some reading and wandering around and visiting with folks. I chatted for a while with the guys who were camping next to me; they had just graduated from an arts college in New York City and had flown down primarily to see the launch.

As the 2:01 launch time approached, clouds started moving in, and we all started getting antsy about a delay, but everything went according to schedule. If I had to describe the event with one word, it would be bright. Photos and videos just do no justice to how bright the flame is. We were about 10 miles from the launch pad, so the craft was sufficiently into its journey before we heard anything, which was pretty wild. When we did hear it, though, it was a very loud, very low-pitched rumble. We probably had about one minute of viewing time before it was gone, but it was a very thrilling one minute, and one that I'll never forget.

The crowd quickly dispersed, somewhat akin to a sporting event or concert ending ... show over! It wasn't long after the launch that the rain started, so I lounged in my tent during that, reading and dozing a bit. Very relaxing.

By the end of the afternoon the rain was pretty much over, and I headed into town for dinner; I ate at El Leoncito, a Mexican & Cuban restaurant, where I had the classic Cuban dish Ropa Vieja, consisting of spiced shredded beef, black beans, and plantains. It was very tasty, especially the plantains; I could have eaten an entire plate of them.

Following dinner I rode down to Cocoa Beach, home of the Ron Jon Surf Shop; I spent some time exploring it and the Cocoa Beach Surf Shop, which featured a large aquarium stocked with several species of fish, including a pair of sharks.

Encountered the Cape Canaveral post office on my way back from Cocoa Beach

Made it back to camp around 10pm. Listened to some tunes and drifted off to sleep.

Tuesday morning I was packed and on the road by around 8:00. I stopped by McDonald's for a quick breakfast and chatted with a fellow rider who had his BMW touring bike parked outside; he turned out to be a NASA engineer who works on the International Space Station, so it was pretty cool talking to him. He got a big kick out of the fact that I'd ridden 450 miles to see the Shuttle launch.

On my way down I'd seen a sign for the Ponce de Leon Inlet lighthouse near Daytona, so on the way home I detoured and checked it out. Recalling how hot it was Sunday afternoon, visiting it Tuesday morning was a wise choice. It was built in 1887; at 175 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest masonry lighthouse in the nation. 200 steps lead to the top, and I ascended them and was treated to a terrific view. In addition to the lighthouse, there are some other buildings on the grounds, such as the keepers' houses, the oil house, and the pump house.

You can see my motorcycle down in the parking lot.

Looking down

Looking up

The ride home was much cooler than the ride down. Whereas it had been around 97 degrees on Sunday, it was only around 75 for most of the day on Tuesday. I drained my Camelbak on Sunday and barely touched it on Tuesday. Good journey home with a coffee and lunch break at Chick-Fil-A somewhere in Georgia. Made it home around 6:00; total mileage for the trip was around 1100 miles.


At Wednesday, May 27, 2009 3:02:00 AM, Blogger TicTac said...

I am so envious!

At Thursday, May 28, 2009 12:09:00 AM, Blogger chkuo said...

Great pictures from the lighthouse!

At Friday, May 29, 2009 4:35:00 AM, Blogger --Me said...

Cool trip Payne! I have always been enthralled with NASA. My Aunt and Uncle both work for them (PR dept) and live in C.B.

Ron Jon's is Awesome. Been years since I've been there though. I have a baby shark in a gladd jar in hermaldahide and cork somewhere around here.


At Monday, February 01, 2010 1:31:00 PM, Blogger motoroz said...

In all my trips to Orlando I have never visited the lighthouse. I will have to try to get by next time.

The shuttle launches are awesome!


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