Bicycling through south Florida, page 4

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 12

Distance: 11.4 miles
Riding time: 47 minutes
Average speed: 14.6 mph
Maximum speed: 19.3 mph

We got a good look at the Everglades today from the Long Pine Key and Royal Palm areas. Long Pine Key is an elevated area that stays dry enough in the summer to sustain a pine forest. The pine trees are very tall and have no low branches, which I assume helps them survive forest fire. Because this area is dry we didn't see many birds - just some little toads. After hiking Long Pine Key for a while we biked over to Royal Palm, which is wetter.

Royal Palm is full of alligators, fish and birds, especially anhingas which are a relative of cormorants. Anhingas dive and swim to catch fish, then surface and spread their wings in the sun to dry their feathers. Anhingas don't have oily feathers like most waterfowl, which lets them dive more easily because they are less buoyant, but they cannot fly well with water-saturated feathers. We walked the Anhinga Boardwalk that goes through some wet areas, and we walked the Gumbo-Limbo Trail that goes through a hardwood hammock. Gumbo-limbo is a type of tree.

We took our time and rested, and Kathy cooked dinner outside for the first time of this trip. Every other dinner has been cooked in our tent after sunset because our days are busy, sunset is early, and mosquitoes come out at dusk. Tomorrow we hope to get up early and ride as far as Big Cypress.

One of the park rangers presented a slide show tonight, so I walked to the campground amphitheater and back after dark under a full moon. What nice weather the Everglades has at night, especially after a steamy-hot day! Insect repellant is essential, but walking through the pines after dark is a lot of fun.

A misty morning at our campsite in the Everglades.

Walking a trail on Long Pine Key.

Michael using his new binoculars at Royal Palm.

Cormorant. Like anhingas, cormorants swim underwater to catch fish.

This cormorant came running out of the water with his lunch and ate it right in front of us.

Common egret.

Anhinga drying its wings.

Great blue heron.

Sunset on Long Pine Key.

Friday, January 13

Distance: 73.1 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 12 minutes
Average speed: 14.0 mph
Maximum speed: 19.6 mph

We rode extra far today (our longest day of this trip) because we want to reach Naples by sunset tomorrow. That will let us drive back to Tampa to spend an evening with Karen and Dave and then have 3 days together with my parents in Lakeland. They drove down from Virginia a couple days ago to see close friends in Lakeland and are eager to see us also. We woke up at 5:30 a.m. so that we would get an early start, but preparing to leave takes so long - we cooked and ate breakfast in our tent to avoid mosquitoes, then we both fed Daniel his baby food (I held the baby and Kathy held the spoon,) then one of us had to stay close to Daniel while the other person packed. We didn't start riding until almost 9:30 a.m. It's hard to believe that it takes 4 hours to get moving, but it does. Fortunately Daniel was happy and cute all day, which made it easy to pass the time.

Leaving the Everglades we passed through major agricultural areas near Florida City and Homestead, where truck-mounted sprinklers were irrigating the fields. At a presentation last night an Everglades ranger said that the greatest threats to the survival of the Everglades are the lack of adequate clean water and unnatural timing of water flow. Beginning in the 1930's, Everglades water has been drained and diverted for irrigation and flood control through a series of canals and dikes, especially the massive levee that surrounds Lake Okeechobee. Humans now control most water flow through the Everglades, and what's left of the Everglades is only 1/5th of its original size. Cities and agriculture are now the main competitors for water. What many people don't realize is that the Everglades is a breeding ground for birds and fish throughout the eastern United States, including commercially important fish. The Everglades deserve more water.

Trucks irrigating a cornfield.

Riding across Big Cypress Preserve again today was fun because, heading west, we were on the north side of the road and closest to the Tamiami canal. It was late afternoon so we didn't see many alligators (just a couple dozen or so,) but we constantly saw birds. Most of the birds were in flight because although passing cars don't bother them, our bicycle really freaks them out. Many poor anhingas could barely stay above the water as they flew away from us with wet wings. The birds don't move much faster than our bicycle, so we got good views of them while they were flying.

Tonight we are camping at the Midway campground of Big Cypress, a beautiful, spacious campground. We arrived well before sunset and had a relaxing evening.

Kathy and Daniel after a lunch break.

South Florida sport utility vehicle.

The Midway campground in Big Cypress.

Saturday, January 14

Distance: 57.1 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 43 minutes
Average speed: 9.9 mph
Maximum speed: 15.4 mph

I thought that today would be a relatively easy ride with the prevailing southeast breeze at our backs, but a cool front moved in last night and gave us the strongest headwind of our trip. At times our speed fell below 8 m.p.h. because the gusts were so strong. Daniel was content and we didn't take any breaks to look at wildlife, so we biked pretty much all day until we arrived at the Naples airport at sunset. We put our bike and gear back on the car and 2 hours later we were relaxing at Karen and Dave's house, happy to have a soft bed and a chance to sleep in late. This bike tour covered 577 miles, which is farther than our last tour in southwest Colorado's mountains, but this trip was naturally much different.

Traveling with our baby required lots of time and lots of extra weight that made us travel more slowly, but Daniel entertained us every day. He is getting stronger and more dexterous and I think he will start crawling soon after we get home. We didn't take many toys for Daniel on this trip, but he found his own toys - water bottles, Nalgene bottles, shoes, spoons, tent zippers, etc. His favorite toys were the drinking tubes on our hydration packs.

The short winter days were another challenge and we learned to get up before sunrise to make the most of our daylight. Like other places, Florida can be windy in the winter, but at least the wind is warm. We had very little rain while riding (less than 30 minutes total) and we never had flat tires or mechanical problems, and that helped us stay on schedule.

The water and warm weather of the Keys made them fun to ride through, but camping there was challenging. Because the economy of the Keys depends heavily on tourism the only two choices for camping are state parks and private campgrounds - no camping for free on national forest or farmer's fields. During January many parks and campgrounds are full, and about half the campgrounds do not allow tents - RVs only. All camping is more expensive this time of year. Even so, we always found a place to camp and we loved snorkeling at Key Largo, walking the beach at Bahia Honda and looking at historic neighborhoods in Key West.

We passed this sign in Big Cypress National Preserve. Although it might seem dangerous to bicycle through panther habitat, there are only about 50 panthers left in Florida and we never saw one. They are classified as highly endangered animals.

Tuesday, January 17

For the last 3 days Kathy, Daniel and I have been in Lakeland, Florida with family and friends. My parents drove to Florida for the chance to visit us and friends at the same time. I've been eating like crazy and have probably gained back all the weight that I'm sure I lost during our ride - we didn't have much time for grocery shopping while we were traveling.

Daniel has been an amazing baby, happy throughout our vacation even though we keep moving him from place to place. Will he even remember his own house by the time we get home again? Strangers have complimented his cuteness throughout our trip, especially the hordes of senior citizens that spend their winters in Florida.

It may be a long time before we can take another trip like this one because we've reached the limit of weight that we can pull with our bicycle. The "family time" provided by this trip has been wonderful, especially for a working dad whose baby boy is growing up very quickly.

Visiting Bok Sanctuary with my parents and our friends the Coffmans.

Preparing for a picnic lunch.

The belltower at Bok Sanctuary. It sits on top of Iron Mountain, the highest point on the Florida peninsula, and plays concerts twice a day. The sanctuary was built in the 1920's by Edward Bok, who had retired as editor of The Ladies Home Journal. The sanctuary is now a national historic site.


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.