Bicycling through south Florida, 2006

Page 1: Naples to Key Largo
Page 2: Key Largo to Key West
Page 3: Key West to the Everglades
Page 4: Everglades to Naples.

Sunday, January 1

Over the next 2 weeks Kathy and I will attempt an unsupported bicycle tour with our baby in south Florida. We will be biking with a heavy load (babies require lots of supplies), which is why we're touring one of the flattest areas in the United States - the Everglades and the Florida Keys.

Tonight we are visiting our friends Karen and Dave near Tampa, and in the morning we will be begin our tour in Naples. We hope to ride as far as Key West before returning. The winter in Colorado has been dark, cold and icy, leaving us no chance to practice for this trip. We're out of shape and unprepared, but the warm afternoon here in Florida feels wonderful and we're eager to start riding tomorrow.

Dave, Karen, Kathy, Daniel and Michael.

Monday, January 2

Distance: 38.2 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 13 minutes
Average speed: 11.8 mph
Maximum speed: 16.3 mph

We started our ride in Naples today after a 2-hour drive south from Tampa. Our car is parked for free in the long-term parking area of Naples Municipal Airport - the Naples Chamber of Commerce suggested that parking spot to me when I called them last week. As I expected, packing our gear on the bike and in Daniel's trailer took a long time, and we didn't start riding until noon. Without a doubt, this is the heaviest load that we've ever taken on a bicycle tour. Daniel's food, clothes, diapers, bed, toys and other things add up to a lot of weight, not to mention the weight of Daniel himself. We pedaled in low gears and were thankful that this part of Florida has no hills. I hope that our new tires can handle the heavy load.

Kathy feeding Daniel in the airport parking lot (while I pack the bicycle.)

We rode south on highway 41, which is a busy highway in Naples but thankfully has bike lanes. There are palm trees everywhere, both in urban landscaping and in the undeveloped wild areas south of town. South of Naples the land turns into a swamp-like area that is underwater during the summer and dry during winter. The land is mostly covered with grass but on slightly elevated areas called "hammocks" large trees grow. South of Naples the traffic tapered off and we entered Big Cypress National Preserve. We passed by a hiking opportunity in our rush to reach a campground, but we hope that we can hike there on our return trip. We saw a lot of birds today including great blue herons, which we often see near Fort Collins in the summer.

So far, winter in south Florida feels as hot as summer back home. It was 82F at 12:30 p.m. Kathy and I pulled into a campground near Ochobee at sunset (around 5 p.m.) after fighting a headwind all day, and tonight we've left the rain fly off our tent in an attempt to stay cool. Friends have warned us that this area can cool down to 30F in the winter, but I don't think that will happen tonight.

Daniel has been an incredibly cooperative and happy baby. His trailer is so full that he doesn't have much space left for himself, but he doesn't seem to mind.

A hotel with palm trees near Naples, one of many in this popular tourist area.

Daniel sleeping in his trailer.

Taking a break at a golf course.

A cluster of palm trees in Big Cypress National Preserve. This is a "hardwood hammock" - a slightly elevated patch of land that is dry enough for trees to grow.

Michael checking the mailbox at the smallest post office in the United States. It was once a pipe shed, but it's been a post office since 1953.

Our campsite in Ochopee, just before sunset.

Daniel lying in the portable crib that I built for this trip. It's a cardboard box held together with shoelaces.

Tuesday, January 3

Distance: 51.8 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 37 minutes
Average speed: 14.2 mph
Maximum speed: 19.0 mph

We rode through Big Cypress National Preserve today and saw a huge amount of wildlife. In this area there are tall trees on both sides of the road and a canal follows the road on the north side. We hadn't traveled far when Kathy said, "Hey, we just passed an alligator!" We went back and photographed it and after that it seemed like we could see an alligator about every 20 yards for the next 20 miles, most sunning themselves on the banks of the canal. A huge number and variety of large birds were wading in the canal or perched in the trees. Wildlife concentrates around the canal during the dry winter season when most other surface water drains away.

At the Big Cypress visitor's center we saw some huge alligators and read about some protected animals, like Florida panthers and tree snails. The snails produce beautiful multi-color shells (several were on display) and for that reason were captured for decades. The snails are protected now and their shells cannot be collected. We fed Daniel at the visitor's center and we could not have asked for a better-behaved baby. In his trailer he plays quietly or sleeps while we ride, and when we stop he naturally wakes up so that we can feed him or carry him with us.

A turtle crawling near our campsite in the morning.

A blurry picture of a little blue heron. Most of our pictures of birds came out like this because our camera doesn't have a good zoom lens, but the birds all looked great through our binoculars.

Alligators sunning themselves by the canal.

Daniel at the Big Cypress visitors' center playing with a newly discovered toy - the zipper on Dad's shirt.

Cormorants in a tree high above the canal.

An anhinga drying his feathers in sun. Anhingas must dry their feathers after diving for fish because their feathers have no oil to keep out water.

After leaving Big Cypress we came to the Shark Valley entrance of Everglades National Park. We didn't have much time to visit, but we did ride about 1 mile of a 17-mile paved trail into the Everglades. We were somewhat surprised that many alligators were sunning themselves on the edge of the trail within a few feet of unconcerned pedestrians.

After Shark Valley we rode on looking for a campsite. We had a tailwind that helped us travel faster, but we still felt rushed to find a campsite before the early wintertime sunset. The campground that we thought we would use does not allow tent camping, so we continued riding on past sunset. Eventually a man working at an airboat tour company told us to cross a small footbridge to the other side of the canal and camp on public land there. Apparently campers sleep there frequently and the alligators and snakes are rarely a problem (there are 5 kinds of poisonous snake in the Everglades.) With no other option, we set up our tent quickly at dusk while being attacked by swarms of mosquitoes. I was outside the tent longer than Kathy or Daniel, and by the time I climbed in I had around 100 mosquito bites on my back and shoulders. While eating dinner in our tent I dropped the bagel that I was about to bite into because a giant centipede crawled around to the front side of it just before I put it in my mouth. I like free camping, but I'm not entirely comfortable sleeping amongst south Florida's wildlife yet.

Kathy watching a alligator from a safe distance at Shark Valley.

Wednesday, January 4

Distance: 59.9 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 23 minutes
Average speed: 13.6 mph
Maximum speed: 27.1 mph

Since we were camped across the road from an airboat tour company, we started our day with an airboat tour of the Everglades. Airboats are shallow draft boats propelled by a giant fan and air rudders, avoiding underwater propellers and rudders that could tangle in the grass. It's fun to travel fast in an airboat but we traveled fast for only a few minutes, spending the rest of the tour cruising slowly past alligators, turtles, egrets and several other birds.

Zooming through the Everglades on an airboat.

This view shows why the Everglades is frequently called a "river of grass."

Two of the birds that we saw from the airboat - a common egret and a purple gallinule.

After the tour we rode east past the Everglades and turned south on highway 997 towards the Florida Keys. This is mostly an agricultural area with fruit and vegetable farms and tree nurseries. We rode all the way to Key Largo, but arrived after sunset to find that the best place to camp, John Pennekamp State Park, was still several miles away. We arrived after dark and saw that the park closes it's gate at sunset, but we snuck in anyway and found a campground host. He found us a place to camp even though the campground is technically full. We're told that all the state parks in the Keys are full and virtually impossible to use without a reservation. Hurricanes last year damaged and closed several state parks, putting more pressure on those still open.

Daniel playing during a gas station lunch break.

Our toll was just $1, despite the additional axle on Daniel's trailer.

Crossing Florida Bay on our way to Key Largo.


Page 1: Naples to Key Largo
Page 2: Key Largo to Key West
Page 3: Key West to the Everglades
Page 4: Everglades to Naples.