Imagine riding across a US state, chasing the clock to cross before time runs out and you’re stuck on the wrong side of 30-foot tall steel lock doors. You see, on the ride there are locks and they close at a certain time. So if you don’t make it through the last one, well you’re staring at the before mentioned steel doors. Sounds crazy? Sounds exciting? If the latter applies to you, the Five Locks Ride awaits you where you cross the state of Florida through 5 of those locking systems. Oh, forgot to mention you’ll be crossing the 7th largest lake in the US? Lake Okeechobee waits with its fair share of gators too in your race against time, weather, and whatever potential pitfalls may try and foil your dinner plans. It’s a near full day in the saddle, but what an absolute rush! Don’t forget you got to do it again on the way back! For those still saying, “Bring it on”, here’s how we did it on Five Locks Take 2.
It’s not often that things are better the second time around. So when fellow riders started asking about that ride a few years back where we crossed the state of Florida, from east to west and back again on the Okeechobee waterway and across Lake Okeechobee in doing so, there was a little apprehension. You see, there are 5 locks each way that you must pass through. A waterway lock is a system used to raise or lower vessels between 2 bodies of water with different elevations. It either lets water in or out. The Okeechobee lock system was built between 1935 to 1977 with the St. Lucie Lock at the eastern most lock point. There is Port Mayaca at the eastern mouth of Lake Okeechobee and the Moore Haven lock at the western lake entrance. West of that you have the Ortona Lock and the most western is W.P. Franklin lock on the Caloosahatchee River end of the waterway. That’s the specifics of it, but what you must see to appreciate is the natural beauty of seeing Florida from a point of view that many may not have the chance to see.
A little over two years ago, a few riders with high hopes from the Jacksonville Jet Riders and Central Florida Jet Riders decided it would be a great idea to cross the state of Florida on jet skis. After 300 miles of riding in two days, crossing an angry Lake Okeechobee, and a few choice words, the ride was shelved. There is a saying that time heals all wounds and in our cases, our backs from the Okeechobee beating! With a few fond strolls down memory lane and a few more “remember when…”s, the ride was back on the list! We weren’t totally hypnotized by the hype, so changes were made for it to be more enjoyable by maximizing time. More of the riders went down the day prior and got in to some shenanigans! When you get to Stuart Florida, definitely check out Flanigans! Everything we tried was in massive portions and tasted great! The ribs were amazing and a must try! Great food and heaping portions are must haves for a pre-ride meal! It was also a great time for both groups to slap backs, kick the ole leg up and chat it up with friends we hadn’t seen in a while. Side note; be careful of the Tipsy Parrot! Just saying nothing productive happens at said Tipsy Parrot at 2am with an early AM launch! A rider lost their voice and we’re still waiting on the story, just saying, you’re warned!
Early Saturday morning, it was time to push off and head west. There are a few manatee and wake zones on the St. Lucie River side that must be observed. We rode to the first lock of the day, which was the St. Lucie lock with its 15-foot raise. After clearing it, we were all systems go down the Okeechobee waterway to the Port Mayaca lock at the eastern mouth of Lake Okeechobee. The Port Mayaca lock was open to the level of Lake Okeechobee. Some riders dubbed it Hells Gate from the last time, but JJR factored the rim route in their ride plan while CFJR took the lake-crossing route. Lake O posed less resistance this time around to the seasoned riders, but was still a contender to a few of the newer riders. Clewiston and Roland Martin Marina provided a dual stop for fuel and food! Try the club or cheeseburger, as you really can’t go wrong either way. The outside bar is always happening too! Captain Sam was an absolute riot and made fueling quick and easy. He takes great pics also by the way! The guy has lots of stories that made for some unique entertainment while we’re sitting on the fuel dock. His card says all around cool guy for carrying out loud!
So with 70 miles under our belt and the first pit stop over with, it’s time to push on up to the Moore Haven Lock. It wasn’t open like Port Mayaca, but it was only a 2-foot difference and made for a quick lock. After the city of Moore Haven, nature takes over. Lake Hicpochee picks up a few miles west and runs west down the Caloosahatchee section of the waterway. It’s miles and miles of countryside and random wildlife. The locals say fishing is good there, but as that wasn’t on our schedule, it’s to the Ortona lock we go. It was another minimal lock thanks to all the rain we got over the past few months.
The lockmaster reminded us about the last lock time just in case we planned to go back through. The last lockage through is 30 minutes before close just in case you’re contemplating it. When we told him we came from Stuart and was headed to Ft. Meyers, he shook his head in amazement and basically said good luck with that! With only one lock separating us from a shower, pool time and some festivities, we made great time down the 27 miles to the Franklin Lock. We checked the time and it was only 3pm! That was almost an hour and a half better, even with a lunch, than 2 years ago. Back then we barely made the last lock with around 15 minutes to spare! Yikes! Now it’s go time to Ft. Meyers, but we were getting low on fuel so the group had to take it easy down the Caloosahatchee River to Ft. Meyers and the end point of the day.
We got in with hours to waste before dinner, so after check in it was pool time! Nothing better than a heated salt water pool to soak the day away before dinner! Speaking of dinner, it was bumped up because stomachs were rumbling. Many who had ride jitters, the nervous feeling where you can’t eat on a ride until it’s over, couldn’t wait and had to hit the bar and smash appetizers and beverages and Joe’s Crab Shack! Oh man, it was a great restaurant and great food! When it’s served in buckets and comes with a bib, you know it’s about go down. Both groups sat at a long table and we were thankful to have crossed the state and to have done so with friends. If you’re thinking the night ended there seeing that we have to ride back across again, you’re wrong! We pride ourselves with never being quitters, so it was time for some festivities! CFJR organized a great evening event with raffle prizes for some and Fireball shots for others that shall remain unnamed.
Sunday morning brought even more great weather and the water was glass! We left a little earlier to help some of the riders with the longer drives home. The first day we ran a consistent pace to conserve fuel, but with glass it was ride time! We made great time up the Caloosahatchee to the Franklin lock. That stretch of water has lots of waterfront homes and we got a few strange stares from the fellow early birds. We were the first to and through the Franklin lock and we rode the glass to Ortona. The lock master must have heard we were coming through from the Saturday shift as he got us in and out knowing that we had to make it back across to Stuart. The quick pace took its toll on a few supercharged skis as we were burning through some gas and with a few calculations realized if we turned it down a bit, we could make good time the remaining way to lunch without dumping auxiliary fuel. We were still an hour early to Roland Martin with a few on the buzzers. Captain Sam was Johnny on the spot and got us fueled up while the group rotated between fuel dock and brunch!
At this point we lounged a bit longer as the miles we’re racking up and the riders were realizing their ski weekend was wrapping up. Part of the joys of life is enjoying it with people who just get it. Riding across Florida and back while making those memories is what’s it all about. A few more farewell pics and it was time to cover the last 70 miles to home ramp. What happened next was some of the best riding I’ve ever experienced in group riding. Everything was just perfect. The water was perfect, the riders rode perfectly, the weather was perfect and it made for great memories. Port Mayaca was open again but some rich guy in an 80-foot yacht came barreling through so we got out his way. This time gave us supercharged guys pause to think things over a bit. We were getting handled by non-supercharged skis since Saturday and it was time out for that. We were tired of hearing them ramble on about still being on half tanks and we had enough! We dumped the auxiliary fuel, said Stuart’s that way and that was how it went from Port Mayaca to the St. Lucie lock! Wide open and loving it!
As the doors open for the St. Lucie lock it was almost second nature at this point with riders lining up and roping down. It was also the last lock of the day and the ride was almost over. What a time though with new nicknames and all! We were chattering over the radio cracking jokes, one guy playing music through the radio, someone grabbing a drink out a cooler while still holding the rope and others fooling with bumpers, we were a solid group of many and wouldn’t have changed it for the world. With the lock door opening it was get to the ramp time. We cleared the wake and manatee zones and after some pay back from the non-supercharged guys, the ramp was in view. This is where some guys scamper out the water and head home as fast as possible, but not that day. Everyone was quick to lend a hand and no one left until the last rider was out the water. We beat our Saturday time by just over an hour. That was over 2 hours from the first time 2 years ago. With hundreds of miles under our belts and crossing Florida checked off some rider’s bucket list, we were the better for it. If you have a group and want to make great memories, give Five Locks a try. You won’t regret it.