Bicycling Naples to Key West – Part 2

(Part one can be found here)

The Ride

Day 3: Florida City to Marathon

Day 3 started with a rare bird chase.  We were after a new life bird for both of us – a La Sagra’s Flycatcher that had been seen near the eastern entrance to the Everglades.  We went there early but didn’t have luck finding our target bird.  However, I did find the nest of the Red-shouldered Hawks that were also being seen in the area and Shelley got the photo below of the pair “cuddling” in their nest.  As we were preparing to leave, a friend of Shelley’s showed up also searching for the flycatcher.  Angel helped us get some great views of the La Sagra’s and confirmed the calls that we heard.  It was a fun and relaxing morning, but I didn’t start riding until noon – back at the Mobil gas station where I ended the previous day.

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Red-Shouldered hawks in their nest.

There are two ways to get from Florida City to the Keys – US 1 or Card Sound Road.  That upper section of US 1 seemed less safe to me (and not very interesting) so I opted for Card Sound Road.  This option adds about 7 miles to getting from the mainland to the keys but I highly recommend it.

Card Sound Road (Highway 905A) is a rural road with no shoulder (left picture), a reputation for crocodiles on the side of the road (I didn’t get to see any), and far less traffic than US 1.  There is a toll booth just after Alabama Jack’s that I rode around as it was electronic pay only.  I was quite lucky that the bridge had no traffic for my entire crossing as there is NO shoulder on the bridge.  Card Sound Road ended at Highway 905 at Key Largo Hammock State Park where I turned southwest.  The pavement here was new with wide bicycle lanes on the shoulder (right picture).  Be careful if you are riding alone as Alabama Jack’s is the only place that I saw to stop for water during the first 27 miles after leaving Florida City.

As the route turned southwest, the winds were finally in my favor which lifted my spirits (and speed) so I wanted to ride as far as possible that day.  Once I merged onto the Overseas Highway (US 1) there were plenty of convenience stores and other stopping points throughout the upper keys.  I stopped at All Keys Bicycle shop where they gave me a refill on my water bottle and advice for my ride: if going fast, stay on the road because drivers don’t notice bikes on the trail where it crosses the many driveways.

One of the attractions I was most looking forward to was the giant lobster statue at the Rain Barrel Village – an artist community.

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“Betsy”, the giant lobster statue.

While I was energized by the weather, wind, and beauty, the day was still getting hot.  Periods of rain cooled me off, but by the time lunch came, I was again hot, tired, and hungry.  We found a Publix in Key Largo where I got a sandwich and water and then sat in the car cooling off.  

By 4 PM I was starting to fade from the heat of the day and made a decision that I would stop at 6 PM, Marathon, or 75 miles – whichever came first.  At 5 PM the temperatures were falling to very comfortable levels and gentle sea breezes buoyed my spirits again.  I passed the “Welcome to Marathon” sign and a few minutes later at 5:57 I met Shelley at a park in Fat Deer Key.  With a total of 78 miles for the day, we headed back to Florida City for the night.

Notable birds for the day were the Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring overhead during one of the rest stops.

Day 4: Marathon to Key West

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Reasonable shoulder for riding. The old bridge is now a fishing pier.

I was back on the bike at 10:15 AM after our drive from Florida City to Fat Deer Key, eager to make the final 57 miles to Key West.  Traffic was heavy at times but I never felt unsafe riding on the shoulders.  Many people are worried ask about riding over Seven Mile Bridge.  Yes, it is a long bridge with some fast cars around you but the shoulder was comfortably wide and the views over the guard rails were amazing.

The entrance to Seven Mile Bridge states that there is no stopping on the bridge so I was surprised to find a plaque honoring Peter C Fancher who lost his life in 1981 as a bridge tender on the original bridge – just a year before the new bridge opened.  I wonder how many motorists have driven past without getting a chance to learn about Peter?

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A memorial most motorists probably don’t know about.

The first stop of the day came shortly after crossing Seven Mile Bridge around mile 20 at Horseshoe Beach in West Summerland Key.  The sun and heat were wearing on me and I was really hoping that Shelley had pulled into this park, so I was happy when I saw the car there.  We had plenty of shade to enjoy while I refilled water bottles and had a snack.  Our next stop was at mile 41 in a private drive for a Navy base.  There was “Baby’s Coffee” shop across the street where I would rather have had my break, but we had agreed that all stops would be on the right side of the road so that I would not accidentally miss the parked car.  This stop had no shade so I sat in the car eating my lunch and cooling off as this would be my last rest stop before Key West.

Coming into Key West I had my only two real scares of the trip.  First, I lost my concentration and drifted off the shoulder and through the grass to the bike path.  Thankfully I kept the bike upright the entire time.  The other real scare was a 3-4 foot iguana standing in the shoulder, eating some road-kill.  I wanted to give him a wide berth so I waved to the cars speeding by me that I was moving left to avoid this and got a few honks.  I probably should have just stopped as soon as I noticed him and waited for traffic to slow down before I rode around him, but I was taken by surprise by his size and the big spikes on his back.

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The view along the southern side of Key West.

As I rolled into Key West I felt a surge of energy.  I was riding strong and fast along the southern route next to the ocean, smiling and chatting with other cyclists I passed.  Ok, “stood out of the saddle and sprinted past” as I was feeling QUITE frisky!  The waters were amazingly clear and the sea breeze was refreshing.

As I neared the Southernmost Point, I felt a mixture of satisfaction, pride, sadness, and excitement for the future.  This was something I had wanted to do for many years but didn’t REALLY believe I ever could/would do it.  But now that I completed this epic ride, I was a bit sad that I didn’t have THAT dream anymore.  While at the same time I was excited about feeling that I COULD do more rides like this.

There is always a line for pictures at the Southernmost Point.  Today, the line moved quickly and I was through in about 20 minutes.  That left less than a mile to the official “end of the road” – Mile Marker 0 – where I would turn off my Garmin and call the ride done.  250 miles in 17 hours 14 minutes of riding.

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Shelley had a hard time finding a parking spot in Key West, so she stayed with the car in the courthouse parking lot where she had found a wonderful shady spot.  I changed clothes in the parking lot – my seat cover also doubles as a “transition wrap” meant for athletes to change clothes without being arrested for exposure.  With dry clothes on, we searched for a legal parking spot and then walked towards Mallory Square.  The entire square was completely quiet when we arrived.  We were too early for the carnival atmosphere that accompanies sunset.  However, the view was amazing (once the cruise ship moved out of the way).

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Mallory Square and the cruise ship.

Shelley was busy taking pictures of the gulls so I took the chance to have a celebratory beer – my first of the trip.  There was only one other guy (Tony) sitting at the outdoor bar.  We started talking about my trip and he bought me (and later, Shelley) a beer for our accomplishment.  The bartender overheard us and joined in as he was a former bicycle racer himself.  Tony was retired and told me about the travel goal he and his wife have to visit all of the UN recognized countries.  So far they have seen 155 of the 193!  He also gave me the most interesting viewpoint of the trip.  When I told him we were driving back to the mainland that night to save money on hotels, he said, “Whenever you go on vacation, it’s going to be $50,000 so you might as well stay someplace nice.”  (The $50k is not a typo.  And, by the way, Tony was drinking a Bud Light.)

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View while having my celebratory beer.

I was still feeling full of energy from my accomplishment, but we knew that we had a long drive ahead and needed to get on the road.  Really too bad as Mallory Square was just starting to set up for the evening.  It WAS a long drive back, but my trip was not a $50K vacation and we looked forward to returning to our home for the last few days at the Florida City Quality Inn.

Bonus Day – Everglades National Park

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A bit of birdwatching before I started riding.

On Thursday the winds had shifted and I was happy that we were going to enjoy a pleasant day in the Everglades rather than riding into a headwind.  I had driven this beautiful road in the past and I was excited to get closer to nature on the bike.  The plan had been for me to ride the 42 miles from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center to Flamingo so that I could get an Everglades ride recorded in Strava, but the weather and road conditions didn’t cooperate.  The road for the first 20 miles was in very bad condition – not suitable for my skinny tire racing bike.  And, while I had ridden in the rain at some point every day so far, I didn’t want to start out in the rain on this bonus day so we kept driving and stopping at the pull-offs to look at birds.  The most amazing experience (to me) was watching a Great Egret bathing at the Pa-Hay-Oke Lookout Tower stop.  I just love seeing common birds “living their life.”

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This Great Egret seemed to know when we hit “record” on the video as he always quit moving.

Around 20 miles into the park the rain seemed like it had stopped so I changed into my riding clothes and headed off on the bike towards the Flamingo Visitor Center.  The road again had no shoulder but the traffic was low and only one motorist didn’t move over to pass me.

Loop Road Scenic Drive (car trip on the way home)

One of the potential routes that I had considered between Naples and Shark Valley included Loop Road Scenic Drive.  This sounded like an amazing 27 mile ride with 20 miles of gravel and seven miles of pavement.  In the end, I decided not to ride it on the bike but to drive it on our way back home.  I am so glad we took that drive. It was a very low traffic rural road through deep woods (though not nearly as deserted as some stories led me to believe).  It truly was amazing – and certainly NOT something for my lightweight racing bike.  Perhaps had I been doing this ride on a gravel bike, hybrid, or touring bike this could have been a nice route.  I saw several parked cars with empty bike racks at the Gator Hook Trailhead, so I assume there is mountain biking somewhere near there.  There were covered picnic tables and permanent outhouses but no running water.

The highlight of the drive was a stop at a bridge at Sweetwater Strand.  There were probably a dozen cars parked there with people looking at, and photographing, the birds and alligators.  But the evidence of man’s presence went well beyond a simple road.  There were several fishing bobbers caught in the trees and a very sad alligator that swam up to a floating beer can and crunched it a bit before deciding that it was not food.  We ended up with 13 species of birds in this one location though we felt it certainly could have been much “birdier” at other times.  The stars of the day for me were the Black-crowned Night-Heron and a Great Blue Heron.

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Great Blue Heron wading at Sweetwater Strand.  Photo by Shelley Rutkin

Lessons & Final Thoughts

This was a big goal for me and something I’ve been looking forward to for many years.  But what would I do again, and what would I skip?

  • The ride across US 41 was fun to say I had done it, but I don’t think I would ride it again.  It was just long, lonely and hot.
  • Krome Ave… Once they finish the construction a nice bike trail will parallel the road, but there is nothing to make me want to ride it again.  However, there is no other way to get from US 41 to Florida City that isn’t crazy.
  • Start wearing sunscreen early (and wear my hi-viz leg covers).  I didn’t apply sunscreen the first day and that sunburn was draining for the rest of the trip.  Don’t forget the lips as I had peeling on my lips from a sunburn there too.
  • I brought a brand new container of EFS electrolytes thinking that was more than enough but it was only 25 servings.  I went through the entire canister that week, along with several other electrolyte powders I had brought for variety.  I was drinking almost 3 gallons of water and other fluids each day.  (see earlier reference of me being a “big, salty sweater” 😀 )
  • Basing the ride from Florida City turned out to be a great idea.  It was a LOT of driving but still the best plan as we didn’t have to pack and unpack every day.  It gave me the freedom to move the “bonus” day to anywhere in the week.  It also saved a TON of money over staying anywhere in the Keys.
  • Plan for more time riding in North Key Largo along the boundaries of Key Largo Hammock State Park and Crocodile Lake NWR.  The roads were smooth, the traffic light, and the woods were beautiful.  Not a lot for water stops along this section though.
  • Plan a slower route so that there is time to stop at Alabama Jacks for lunch and enjoy other attractions along the way.

Read Shelley’s story about this part of the trip in her blog post, Bikes & Birds: Florida Version (Part 2 of 2).

Some of the “Funky Bike Pictures”

 

2 thoughts on “Bicycling Naples to Key West – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Bikes & Birds: Florida Version (Part 2 of 2) | Birding for Life

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