Total so far this tour: 524.6
A little nibble of free breakfast at the Super 8, and we then saddled up to go. I was happily leaving Florida City.
We jumped onto the shoulder of US1. A big green sign declared “Key West 122” and it made me smile. There is something cool about seeing the first sign that declares your destination, well, on a trip like this anyway.
Within a mile we encountered a major traffic backup. When we reached the front of it, flashing signs indicated a wreck ahead. All southbound traffic was being diverted onto Card Sound Road, which emerges onto Key Largo but adds about 8 miles to the route. We surveyed the scene for while, then approached a policeman sitting in an FHP car at the detour.
“OK if we take US1 anyway? It will be much safer for bicycles.” The patrolman considered the question, then asked, “How fast do you go?” “Oh, maybe average 10 or 12 mph.” He laughed out loud and said, “Sure, go ahead. The wreck will be long cleared by the time you get there. It is 20 miles down.”
SWEET! I actually had not expected such reasonableness. More than that: We had the whole divided highway down through the Everglades to ourselves!
It started raining and I loved it. The terrain seemed prime for alligators but I didn’t see any. All flat and marshy and full of mangroves. There was a nice wide shoulder, but we didn’t even need it. We could ride right out in the lane in peace and quiet. If only all roads were like this.
Alas, FHP let the traffic through after 20 minutes or so. Back onto the shoulder.
I passed three hats. The third one had some bright orange trim, so I slowed and turned around to examine it. When I turned it over, I grinned and read “BIKE WEEK” in big letter. From some 2012 rally in Daytona Beach. I could just imagine it blowing off the head a Harley chick out here. Definitely a keeper, so I stowed it in my trunk.
Jack had a flat out here, so we stopped in the light rain while he fixed it. We attributed his flats to the pronounced age of his tires, which hadn’t been changed since the end of the RA2011 tour (I think), and were quite smooth.
I passed a lump of electronics, and again turned around. This time it was a cell phone, a large screen smart phone. It was upside down with its back cover off and battery missing. Completely soaking wet. It looked fairly new and the screen looked intact, with only a few dings to the outer frame. I threw it into my trunk. A hundred yards later I found the battery pack, so in it went too. [Note: There is an interesting follow-up to this particular incident.]
The rains stopped and we finally reached the last bridge in to Key Largo – yay! Reaching the keys felt like entering the home stretch of the tour.
We rolled about 2 more miles to the All Keys bike shop in Key Largo, where Jack needed to restock tire tubes. Another few hundred yards took us to Evelyn’s for a well deserved breakfast. Jack and I sat at a fine outside table and revelled at the morning’s ride and how we’d finally reached the keys. Jack had never been down here, and we had 2 more wonderful days of riding and camping planned.
We worked our way down US1, called the Overseas Highway down here, through Tavernier and Islamorada. A shoulder existed on most of the highway, but beside it a paved bikeway came and went, often switching from one side of the road to the other. We tried both the shoulder and path and found both satisfactory.
In Islamorada we found milkshakes and then hit a grocery store. Tonight was a camping night so we both wanted to pack in some food.
Another flat for Jack. In paradise, at least.
Afternoon winds increased from the south, and we headed southwest into them. Still, they were usually blocked by structures or trees. Really noticeable was the humidity, seemingly much higher here in the keys. When standing in the sunlight, it felt like a sauna.
We hopscotched across the Matecombe Keys. The bridges started to look like classic “key” bridges. The very finest part of crossing them on a bicycle is the ability to stop and observe. No one else can legally do this. I stopped all the time. For birds. For pretty colored water. For interesting surface currents. Just to look down at the pilings or out at the horizon.
Below Lower Matecombe, we stopped for along time to gaze across the water. The bike path routed us down to a dedicated side bridge and we rolled out onto it. About 100 yards out, though, the bridge abruptly ended, barricaded. We joked around about tossing our bikes over to the other side, but couldn’t figure out how to get ourselves over there.
On Long Key we stopped in at the Zane Grey Marina, where I scored 2 cold Corona beers to take to camp. (I understand that Mr. Grey spent portions of his career living and fishing in these upper keys.) The clerk there described that a motorcycle event had just passed through this past weekend. I think he was glad to see them leave.
We checked in at Long Key State Park and found our campsite #10. Idyllic. Right on the beach looking at the waters of the Atlantic. Breeze in the face. Perfect. It just doesn’t get better. Jack and I sat for a long time at the picnic table just gazing out over the water. After my 2 Coronas (Jack doesn’t care for beer usually), I almost felt as in a dream. Pinch me.
The tents went up fine. Before leaving, I had been a little concerned that my tent stakes would be a problem in the sand, but that was unfounded. The sand is packed plenty well to hold them. A hammer (while handy) is not really needed either. A bike shoe works OK.
We again meditated a long time, watching lightening out over the water and wondering if it was headed our way. While we ate dinner, a few other campers ventured out into the water. After dinner I did the same, shuffling 60 yards out to find the water only 6 inches deep with a decidedly gushy bottom.
Waning light finally drove us into our tents. Once settled, we both heard rustlings of some nearby creature in the adjacent mangroves – identity unknown.
And then, winds. A great rush of high speed winds hit, as strong as anything I’ve ever experienced in a tent. My tent was buffeting wildly and a corner stake got uprooted. I quickly threw a half-loaded pannier into that corner as an anchor.
And then, rains. A good shower, over inside 30 minutes. As I’ve always said, I just love the sound of rains against the sides of a tent – it is very soothing to me. Once the rains and winds stopped, the conditions became fairly sweltering. My tent fan helped but not very much.
Today’s ride and experiences were probably the best yet for this tour, capped off by camping at this idyllic site. 64 interesting miles today. Only 68 miles to Key West, but we’ll do that in 2 easy days, with a mind to savour.