By Csongor Daniel; photography by Sondra Allison and Csongor Daniel
U.S. 129 between North Carolina and Tennessee is a two-wheel paradise with an amazing 318 curves in 11 miles. Nicknamed the Tail of the Dragon, anyone who has ridden it will appreciate why I dream about it. Poof! But now I am awake in Florida and far from my yearly pilgrimage to the sacred hills. What to do when you live in opposite worlds? We have 11 curves in 318 miles! My solution is to look for more twisties in the Sunshine State, hoping to scratch at least a little bit of my footpegs before waking up in the mountains once again.
One Sunday in April the conditions were perfect for such an expedition. My girlfriend and I had no kids for the weekend; the Multistrada was ready to roll on a new set of Pirelli Scorpions; and we had perfect weather. Today’s destination was going to be Solomon’s Castle, a magical place about an hour inland from the southwest coast of Florida. We had been there before, so this time we would check out some additional roads in the area.
Starting out in Port Charlotte at the beginning of U.S. 769, aka King’s Highway, felt like being in a pinball machine—we had to dodge a lot of traffic. However, a few miles away from Interstate 75, the scenery changed and we didn’t encounter any traffic until we returned. The road is perfect with some mild curves. Ten miles of tranquil tire-warming later we turned right onto S.R. 760 and found the real Florida inland: Cow pastures, horses and the mandatory orange trees. Just a mile or so later to the left, C.R. 661 opened the gates of heaven.
There was absolutely no traffic on the best curves in the area. Although fewer than a dozen, they are super smooth, and even the 90-degree ones are fast enough for anybody’s taste. We whizzed by some gently munching cows and glowing orange groves. A lonely private airport suggested civilization, but still there were no real people around.
“Let’s go again” I heard Sondra yelling from behind.
It was easy to talk me into another pass. I felt her leaning even farther than me this time!
C.R. 661 ran into U.S. 72, which ended at U.S. 70 just east of Arcadia, a beautiful historic town. This time however, we turned away from it and continued west on a road that is also called 661 (they must have run out of numbers!). Stacked up canoes ready for the Peace River were on the right, and a minimum security prison is on the left, which was full of visitors mingling in the April sun.
The orange trees seemed to be ready to swallow the unsuspecting rider, they were so close to the road. Even this late in the year they were full of blossoms. The sweet fragrance was like a drug sneaking in through the open visor. The blossoms looked like snow on some of the trees, while on others the oranges still awaited harvesting. Passing fast turned them all into a Van Gogh-like blur.
The curves are cut in half by railroad tracks that nobody uses. This gives a little bump for additional excitement, though not enough for a big adrenaline spike. The Multistrada enjoyed such surprises.
The first new road we wanted to try came up on our right and it isn’t even called a road: NW Brownsville Street. Its first straight, desolate mile is dull, but we quickly reached two 90-degree curves that barely allow second gear. By the time the next few gentler bends boiled our blood, we found ourselves on a bridge over the Peace River.
The view was incredible: giant heritage oak trees gently waving in the spring breeze, the sun at its best, the birds still singing their love songs. You could even count the fish in the water, it was so clear. From a bird’s-eye view on the bridge, it was an earthly paradise.
After a quick break, we continued north back on 661 to a tiny community called Limestone. There was another switchback railroad crossing on the way, breaking the monotony. Then the GPS flashed BINGO and we turned onto a dirt road with plenty of curves. Watching Long Way Down the night before must have fueled our curiosity, and the Multistrada did like the packed dirt. Aside from a few sandy patches, the only chilling moment came when a huge eagle—the size of the mythological griffin—flew just yards above our heads. He was as big as the Ducati! After a few miles the sand became too thick even for Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Beemer, so we headed back to 661.
A couple of miles and a few second-gear turns later County Road 665 led us to the empty parking lot at Solomon’s Castle. Darn! It was just a few minutes after four, castle closing time. Nevertheless, we took the short walk on the yellow brick road past the castle onto the Boat-in-the-Moat restaurant—which is exactly what it says it is.
They were nice enough to make a fresh pot just for us. It was peaceful in the shade of the oak trees in the garden area without the usual weekend crowd. Even the moat monsters—a couple of alligators—were gone. The coffee alone was worth the trip, but if you are planning a day ride in southwest Florida, you should definitely consider this place. Howard Solomon realized his dream of building his own castle, which is covered with silvery discarded printer sheets and filled with his art, made mostly of scrap metal. The giant lion is made from an oil drum, while Cleopatra’s hair is made of old bicycle chains. The “fish that got away” is actually cut out of the frame and is placed ahead of it. The “plane wall” is a wall covered with wood planes. Get it? Your first tour is likely to be hilarious.
As we waved good-bye to the white and black knights guarding the main entrance (they are named “Day” and “Knight”), we stumbled upon a cage resting on a dead tree. After a closer look, we realized this was the castle’s dragon, an old giant iguana. “Hey,” said Sondra, “there is your Dragon’s Tail!” Yay, we found all 2 feet of it!
Now on U.S. 70 heading to Arcadia, right after the Canoe Outpost on the left we turned right onto 72, which bent to the left as 661—the curvy road. At Sondra’s suggestion we repeated the good part once more. Gosh, I love that woman!
Back on 769 I was wondering how we made it without many dead bugs on the helmet; this time of the year there would normally be plenty of them. The Ducati proved to be a perfect day rider. It had delivered a solid 39 mpg, so no fill-up was necessary. The 120 miles we covered don’t seem much, but with four of those on dirt and some beautiful new scenery along the way—and of course, the right company—it was enough for a perfect day. Moreover, we found the dragon, too!
www.solomonscastle.org (closed all Mondays and closed July, August and September)