Bicycling through south Florida, page 2

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.

Thursday, January 5

Distance: 0 miles

Another couple arrived on bicycles last night and set up camp near us. We didn't notice them until after dark when they walked out of the woods with firewood, but I gathered from the man's loud cell phone conversation that they were bike touring and that he talks a lot about various environmental and social issues (mountain top removal coal mining, toxic ground water pollution near schools, poor disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, etc.) This morning they told us that they began touring in Jacksonville the day after Christmas, but they have taken breaks in a few places, most recently in Miami. They have very flexible employers that allow them to be away for any length of time (I assume without pay), so their tour is very open-ended. They don't seem to get along well, so I wonder how much longer their tour will last. She thought it was "so cool" that Kathy and I are touring even though we have a baby. We found out later from our campground host that they snuck into the campground and didn't pay - I guess they need to save money on such a long tour.

Our campsite at John Pennekamp State Park.

Kathy and I didn't bike anywhere today, choosing instead to rest and go snorkeling. The concession at the park sells snorkel tours and rents snorkels, masks, wet suits and flippers. The tour boat took us east about 5 miles to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, part of the only living barrier coral reef in the U.S. The water was very clear and the reef below was covered with huge fan corals, brain corals, spiny corals and other plants in shades of purple, red and yellow. Brightly colored fish were everywhere, often in schools of 50 or more. We didn't have a waterproof camera so we had to settle for postcards with pictures of the reef, but no picture can really capture the snorkeling experience anyway.

Unfortunately, we had to pay full price for Daniel to come with us even though he wasn't going to swim, and Kathy and I had to split our time between snorkeling and holding Daniel. It was worth it, and Daniel enjoyed the ride, but at more than $100 for the tour I know that we're going to feel the cost of this vacation. The money will keep flowing for a while - during peak season state parks in the Keys are $31/night and private campgrounds near Key West range from $41 to $71 per night. At least we won't have to pay $10 to park downtown in Key West - I hope (our bike is rather large.)

Riding out to the coral reef.

Michael swimming out to the reef.

Postcards from the gift shop - we didn't have a waterproof camera to take snorkeling.

Relaxing at the end of our snorkel trip.

Friday, January 6

Distance: 68.8 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 21 minutes
Average speed: 12.8 mph
Maximum speed: 21.6 mph

I expected us to ride about 51 miles today to Bahia Honda State Park, considered one of the nicest parks in Florida and containing the best sandy beaches in the Keys. Instead the ride was 68 miles and we arrived just half an hour before sunset. That might be for the best because today was cold and windy compared to previous days (66F high temperature and 23 mph winds, we were told) and the best use of the day may have been to travel. A crosswind and headwind slowed us way down and was especially fierce on the long bridges. The longest of the bridges we crossed was 7 miles long. We didn't like the wind but several windsurfers who were out today loved it - they sailed back and forth with what looked like the speed of a big motorboat, though it's hard to judge speed from a distance.

Daniel chews on an improvised toy (a toothpaste tube) while Kathy pulls out breakfast.

A windsurfer flying by in the strong wind.

When it was time for lunch we almost stopped at a roadside picnic area in Islamorada, but kept going because a group of transvestite men had already occupied the pavilion. One of them was a black guy wearing a pink tutu. As we rode past one of them took our picture - I guess he thought that we were an unusual sight on this island. We've been photographed at least 3 times so far on this tour.

We saw plenty of water today because the road crossed both bridges and narrow strips of land created with rock fill to connect the Keys through the shallow water. Our campsite is right on the beach and we arrived in time to see the sunset over the ocean.

A beach on Marathon Key.

Seven mile bridge. The second picture was taken from the historic bridge that used to carry the railroad, but is now a pedestrian bridge to Pigeon Key.

Pigeon Key is now a historic site. Construction workers lived on this 5-acre island during final construction of the railroad that connected mainland Florida to Key West.

The ocean beside our campsite in Bahia Honda State Park.

Sunset at Bahia Honda.

Saturday, January 7

Distance: 45.4 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 33 minutes
Average speed: 12.7 mph
Maximum speed: 21.4 mph

Since our next campsite near Key West was only 35 miles away, Kathy and I took our time at Bahia Honda this morning. Collecting shells is permitted here, so we walked along the beach picking up colorful shells. The beach is full of shells and new shells wash up constantly with the waves. We also walked out onto a section of the historic bridge that was built in 1912 to bring the railroad from mainland Florida down to the port at Key West. After it was damaged by a hurricane it was rebuilt as a road and carried auto traffic until 1982 when a new set of bridges were finished. Right now most of the historic bridges aren't used for anything, though there are plans to convert them to a bicycle/pedestrian path someday.

Looking for shells along the coast of Bahia Honda.

Sightseeing from the historic bridge on Bahia Honda.

The wind was not as strong as yesterday so we reached our campground without much trouble. We set up camp and rode to Mallory Square on the west end of the island to check out the Sunset Celebration. Since tourists naturally gather here to watch the sunset, street performers come here to perform tricks and ask for money. We caught only the tail end of the celebration, but we did see a couple juggling knives to each other while balancing on boards placed on top of rolling cylinders and playing a tune on their harmonicas. Most of the performers spent more time asking for money than performing. They reminded me of the acts in San Francisco.

It turns out that an organized bicycle ride raising money for AIDS awareness is riding from Miami to Key West this weekend, which explains why we saw drag queens at a roadside shelter yesterday - they were staffing a rest stop. The ride reaches Key West tomorrow, so we may see a lot of bicyclists.

A street performer juggles during the "sunset celebration" in Mallory Square on Key West.

A classic sailboat sailing past Mallory Square.

A cruise ship dwarfs the nearby sailboat as it pulls out of port in Key West.


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.