Completed The Parks Project in the Lower 48: Hat Trick + 1

Yesterday I visited my 46th US National Park – Dry Tortugas NP – roughly 70 miles west of Key West and with that completed the tour of the three NP’s located in Florida. The other two are Everglades, which I’d have to put in my top ten, and Biscayne, about which there is not a lot to say.

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The +1 was St John US Virgin Islands National Park. It’s not in the Lower 48 but I happened to be in the neighborhood. First trip to the West Indies – discovered I’m probably not an island sort.
The theory will soon be tested though. The next Hat Trick is Hawaii in May.

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Bug vs Vulture: V 1 – B 0

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Scooter Bob

Despite good intentions, I was not up and about very early this morning. Too much coffee the night before and still too left coasty time zoned. But after a light breakfast at the Inn I’m staying at I wandered downtown in search of a vehicle; specifically a motor scooter. The people at the Inn had told me there were ones to be found in Wharfside Village.

Downtown Cruz Bay

Downtown Cruz Bay

Sure enough it didn’t take me long to ferret out the rental place. There was not a lot else going on that time of morning and few people about save the two women in front of me turning their vehicles in.

Scooter Bob's Death Machines

Scooter Bob’s Death Machines

“Can I help you?” says Bob.

“I’d like to rent a scooter to tour around the island” I say.

He smiles and inquires if I have any experience with a scooter.

“Well, I’ve never actually driven a scooter but I have driven motorcycles, ah, one motorcycle, and I know how to ride a bike. Will that do?”

“I don’t know” says Bob. “How long ago was that?”

“Ummm” “Probably ten years or so.” (Why am I lying? Try thirty years ago, and then only for an afternoon on my roommates Suzuki. Ego! Egads!)

I get a very – well deserved – skeptical look.

“Don’t you think you’d be more comfortable in a something with four wheels? A Jeep?” says Bob. “We have those too.”

“Maybe” “But these look like a lot more fun than a Wrangler.”

“Ok” says Bob and hands me the forms to fill out. When I’m finished he displays a map of the three major roads and very carefully describes how steep, hilly, curvy, hair pinned and dangerous each of them is.

“Think that will be ok for you?” he says.

“No problemo” I respond with a distinctly hollow sense of confidence.

So he shows me how to start the thing, points out the front and rear brake handles and the throttle, hands me a helmet and wishes me a good day.

I got on. I got it started. I was feeling pretty good about the situation. Then I released the brake handle and turned the throttle. Whoa! Scoot left. Scoot right. Buck a little. Both legs spread to the side to ward off, well, everything.

I’m thinking to myself: This is the dumbest fucking thing you’ve attempted since Angels Landing in Zion NP. In fact every additional foot I made it down this otherwise quiet street, the more idyllic Angels Landing was looking as a memory.

I made it to the end of the street, which fortunately was one way in the direction I was heading.

A stop sign. Thank God! Time for a break. That first hundred yards or so was, ah, exhilarating. Needed to catch my breath.

I’m now faced with a few (possibly grim) realities: I have to leave this spot in a matter of seconds. It says stop, not rest. I have to figure out – and fast –  why my two hands and two feet are having such a hard time communicating with one another. I have to make a left turn on a two-way street subject to ridiculous British driving rules and I’m not entirely sure which side I need to be on. I have to quit feeling as ludicrous as I’m sure I look to the people standing on the corner waiting for me to make my move so they can get on with their day. I have to fight the urge to dump the scooter and run – before it dumps me. And last I have to face the fact that I’m probably about to die.

I made the turn. Unbelievable! Maybe this isn’t as terrifying after all as the first minute or so seemed. I even made the next turn. The next stop sign was at the major intersection downtown. I panicked and pulled to the curb – working on my next move: Brake? Throttle? Which way? What!?!

I see Bob running down the sidewalk waving his arms at me. He had circled round the block in the opposite direction. For a second I’m wondering why. But only a second.

Scooter Bob

Scooter Bob

“Mr Harrison” he says, “Maybe you ought to rethink this.” “You looked a little shaky when you headed out.”

“Really?” “Well, you know. I should get the hang of it soon, don’t you think?”

“I’m sure you can” he says.  “But you’re on vacation. Why stress out over a scooter? You can do scooters any day but you can’t do St John except now. Do yourself a favor. Let me get you one of my Jeeps. What say?”

Bob is good at this. He probably chases half his would be scooter customers down that street. He’s in good shape. I’m glad he’s practiced.

“Well, you talked me into it. Have you got a red one?”

“I do”,  he says. “I’ll take the scooter and go get it and meet you back at the stand, ok?”

“OK”

And that is how Scooter Bob saved my life after having been dumb enough to rent the damned scooter to me to begin with. True to his word he pulled up at the stand with a red Wrangler that had also been around the block a few times. But it sat steady on four wheels and had brakes and steering in the places God meant them to be. My feet and hands were back into themselves – as was I.

When I say Bob saved my life, he did. The roads on SJ are horrendous. Navigating them in the Jeep turned out to be quite a task. Hair-pinned switchbacks on 20 degree grades with no shoulders and on the wrong side! I would not have survived on that scooter.

Bob overcharged me for the Jeep by $20 or so and I knew it but I figured I owed him one. And I’ll certainly give him a good recommendation on Yelp! or whatever.

Thanks, Scooter Bob. You did well and I’m here to tell the tale.

And to show you one of the things I got to see:

Sir Frances Drake Channel between SJVI and Frenchman's Cay, BVI

Sir Frances Drake Channel between SJVI and Frenchman’s Cay, BVI

 

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