Thursday, April 7, 2011

Last day of riding

Oleta River State Park to Fort Lauderdale
20 Miles

We made good time getting out of our nice little cabin this morning. We were able to dry out clothes and other gear in the air conditioning which helped us pack up quickly. Oleta river is actually really close to our final destination, so we stopped on our way to get some coffee and tie up some loose ends on shipping our bikes and so on. Traffic was very mellow once we got back into Broward county, and we enjoyed our ride along A1A.

We found our way back to Bicycle Evolution, a great little bike shop in Fort Lauderdale. The owner stored our bike boxes and some extra stuff for us, and gave us a great space to unpack our bikes and package up our gear. We will be having him pack our bikes for us, and I will determine how to deal with my damaged frame when we get home. It sounds like the shipping company, Bike Flights, will just send me a new frame, and I will send my old one in to them so they can take a look at it.

Packing up our gear was surprisingly simple. After we squared away our bikes at the shop, we caught the bus just down the road to our hotel for the night.

Overall, a pretty uneventful and enjoyable last day of our trip. We will be hanging out at our hotel and going to bed early tonight as we have to catch a taxi to the airport at 5 am.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ride across Miami

Miami Spring to North Miami (Oleta River State Park)
35 miles

After a long day of riding yesterday, and entering the stressful (for cyclists) urban jungle that is Miami, we were a bit apprehensive for today. We spent a good while on Google maps last night carefully mapping out routes through the city. Amazingly, even though Miami is a large metropolitan area with year-round good weather, there are no organized bike maps, or bicycle travel routes in the city. Save for a few bike paths, and haphazardly placed bike lanes, the city is completely void of bike friendly infrastructure.

The 35 mile long route that we ended up mapping out avoided as many busy roads as possible and veered circuitously around the notorious bad neighborhoods. As the crow (or pigeon or flamingo, or what have you) flies, our destination was only 15 miles from our hotel. So, as you can see, we made considerable effort to make our route today as safe as possible.

We hung out at our hotel for awhile to avoid as much of the morning rush as possible, and then hit the streets around 10 am. Traffic was pretty mild compared to the evening rush yesterday, so far, so good. Our route had about 90 different cues, so we were constantly making turns and searching for the next road. This can actually make the time seem to go by faster as we have to be much more alert to not miss a turn.

After getting away from the airport, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our route was working out very well. The neighborhoods seemed very safe, and small children were even playing at the playgrounds. Well manicured lawns, plentiful shade trees, and expensive cars parked in front of each house gave us a feeling of comfort. Call us elitist, but we have found the well-to-do neighborhoods have safer drivers and less people yelling at us from the house or the lawn than the projects. We were looking to get through Miami without people drawing knives or guns on us, and we succeeded. We eventually connected up to the Metro-path, which is a decent multi-use path in Miami that is completely separated from cars. It was a nice change of pace, but the crossings at the major roads were not set up very well for path users. Miami has some work to do.

Eventually after riding across this large conglomeration of suburbs, towns and cities, we found our way to Biscayne bay and then Oleta River State Park. We had rented a cabin ahead of time, and we are glad we did. The cabin was totally adequate, and for just over $50 gave us a roof over our heads and air conditioning! A bargain down here. We cooked up a decent supper of macaroni and cheese and even had a little ice cream from the nearest corner store.

We will be glad to get completely out of Miami, but sad to see our trip end. Our time down here has really flown by.


Nice neighborhood roads with full tree canopy coverage. Pretty cool!

We saw the Goodyear Blimp from Oleta River

Boat parking Florida style. Floridians sure do like their watercraft

Nice park to have a snack at

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wild Florida to the Jungle of Miami

Monument Lake Campground, Big Cypress to Miami Springs, Miami
65 Miles

Today was quite a day for the team. It started out great with the two of us getting out of camp at a decent time and pointed our bikes east. We even got to enjoy a beautiful sunrise.

We had just one stop to make in Big Cypress before we left for good. Greg and I are earning our second Junior Ranger Badges of the trip at Big Cypress. Right before we reached the visitor center we spotted a large and colorful snake on the side of the road. All I know is that I saw red and black, and that coral snakes also have those colors. Greg got a better look at it and when we got to the visitor center he positively identified the snake as a king snake, not a coral snake. But not to worry, even if it had been a coral snake, one person told us that you “practically have to beg them to bite you.” So we aren't too worried about this docile, but extremely venomous snake. By the way, where we are right now in Florida there are at least six venomous snakes, three species of rattlesnakes (pygmy, eastern diamondback, and one other) water moccasin, coral snake and cottonmouth.

After we got our badges we walked around the visitor center and talked to the rangers. Big Cypress is one amazing place. It is the core habitat of the rare Florida panther (which is a subspecies of mountain lion, felis concolor). The panthers here mostly feed on small mammals and particularly enjoy eating feral pigs. They are basically on the brink of extinction and have suffered greatly from inbreeding because of how few of these animals are left. Habitat destruction in the leading cause of the decline of this species.

The mediocre shoulder continued on today and at some points on bridges, completely disappeared. The most exciting part of the ride before we got to Miami was going through about three miles of construction where there was no shoulder. A big state owned truck followed us as we pedaling around 18 mph the whole distance. We ended up creating a line of traffic, but it was the only way we could get through this section. Thankfully that patient state vehicle followed us. Along our route today we came across many sings simply indicating “Indian Village,” which were areas with several houses and occupied by members of the Miccosukkee or Seminole Tribes (both live here.) We rode into Shark Valley at Everglades only long enough to fill our water bottles. We had just too much riding ahead of us today to stop and see the sights here. Our plan was to ride into Miami so that we could be closer to our cabin booked in North Miami the next day. Winds were in our favor and we flew down the road averaging more than 15 mph.

We reached the first street intersecting the Tamiami Trail around 2:30 and pulled up to the stop sign. We saw huge dark storm clouds gathering and all of a sudden heard a high voltage zap. Greg thinks it sounded like a thousand “screaming chicken” fireworks. We thought it was fireworks at first when we looked above us about 100 yards away and saw huge blue sparks arcing down from the power line. We immediately bee lined it for the gas station ahead and got ourselves inside. The gas station subsequently lost power on and off while the storm passed. Further north this storm brewed tornadoes. We have been missing terrible weather by minutes and miles. Now Key West is getting hammered by storms.

When the storm cleared we kept on going and came upon the most challenging part of our ride. We had to navigate through west Miami and past the airport to get to our hotel. Camping tonight was unfortunately out of the question as there are no campgrounds that could get us as close as we need to be to stay on track. The traffic in Miami was awful and we ended up sticking to sidewalks as much as we could. Sidewalks are no easy place to ride when busy traffic surrounds you from every direction. We had to be at 100% and aware of all directions traffic may come into contact with us. It took a lot on energy mentally and physically but we eventually made it to the hotel around 6:30PM. Many people here are not accustomed to seeing bicycles on the road and that is a recipe for an accident, so we rode with utmost care. I was amazed by our repeated conversations with local people when they were dumbfounded that we rode our bikes through the state where we did and that we have made it safely. One fellow cyclist we met today said, “I wish I could have told you before you left home not to ride your bikes down here.”

We were unbelievably relieved to get to our hotel, get off our bikes, and calm down. Riding through this busy city traffic has been stressful for both of us and we aren't looking forward to riding through more of this tomorrow. Now we will work on planning our route for tomorrow through Miami and ultimately to Oleta River State Park.


Sunrise at Monument Lake Campground, Big Cypress National Park

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Napping gator at the Big Cypress VC

Gators catching some rays

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Real Florida

Collier Seminole State Park to Monument Lake, Big Cypress National Park

This morning we woke up to a humid but lovely hardwood hammock full of life and sounding the arrival of the morning. We heard a variety of bird songs along with insects and the sounds of squirrels and other creatures running through the palmettos and treetops. We ate oatmeal for breakfast and packed up, headed out to Big Cypress National Park and Preserve. We didn't have far to go today so we set a leisurely pace. The Tamiami Trail on this section had a small but adequate shoulder without too much traffic. We followed a canal the whole way and saw an immense number of wading birds and alligators. I even ran over a dead alligator on accident and left a tire mark on his back! Oops! That's a first for me.

We pulled into the Monument Lake Campground in the late afternoon and found a very pleasant tent camping area with shade trees and no other campers. When we were standing at the check in kiosk I looked down the road and saw a large alligator summing himself next to a picnic table. He then proceeded to stand up and walk across that roadway right in front of us. It was really cool (probably how Yellowstone visitors feel when they see a bison walk next to their car for the first time)! I can't get over the thrill of seeing these ancient reptilians, who, as a species, are actually older than Florida itself. What I mean by that is alligators existed when most of Florida was still submerged under a shallow sea. They are masters of survival.

We were the only tent campers staying in the campground that evening and there were only four groups camping there that night. It was such a peaceful campground and definitely one of our favorites so far. Our night was filled with insects. As we ate our tasty burrito dinner, large clumsy junebugs collided with our headlamps. When we turned them off we looked out into the night and saw the lights of the fireflies. Its been so long since I've seen fireflies, it reminded me of being a little kid and catching them in jars to see their flickering, concentrated lights. After dinner I went to the bathroom to wash the dishes and centipedes were gathered around the lights from the building. Above me in the rain gutter it sounded like a raccoon was trapped and trying to tear the whole thing down (never did figure out what that was.) After washing the dishes I watched geckos catching bugs buzzing around the lights. I even caught a baby gecko and found they do have an amazing ability to stick to surfaces, like hands or walls. Then below me on the ground scuttled a huge roach-like insect with very large front legs. This creature was a solid four inches long by 1.5 inches wide. I think he could have eaten the baby gecko I was holding. After the food was all put away and raccoon-proofed we settled into our insect free tent and fell asleep in no time at all.


Campsite at Monument Lake

Palm hardwood hammock at Collier Seminole State Park

Looking up a palm tree

Smallest post office in use in the United States, it was converted from an irrigation pipe shed

alligator sunning himself at the picnic area

He decided to cross the road

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fort Myers to Seminole Collier State Park

Fort Myers to Collier Seminole State Park
April 3, 2011
20 miles without touring gear

After not nearly enough sleep last night, we woke to a beautiful sunrise and screeching gulls at the San Carlos Campground in Fort Myers. We dragged ourselves out of the tent and walked around like zombies for awhile until our bodies caught up with us. After stuffing the tent away, we paid for our campsite that we had only been at for five hours, and then found some breakfast. We still had our rental car until this evening, and wanted to use it while we had it. We decided to make a grocery run to as nicer grocery store than we might have found along our route.

Then we made a good decision based on our overall energy level today. We drove our rental car out to Seminole-Collier State Park where we would spend the night and dropped off our gear and set up camp. This allowed us to drop off our rental car at the Naples airport, and ride our bikes back to the campground without the weight of our gear. We took the Tamiami trail (the name comes from the fact that the road connects Tampa and Miami) , also called highway 41, and were surprised to find nice bike paths through Naples until we reached the more rural country with less traffic outside the city.

Our ride back to Seminole-Collier was quite pleasant. The forest here is amazing. The vegetation is extremely thick, and it consists of a variety hardwood trees mixed with wild palm trees and tall slash pines. It looks like the jungle, and I am surprised we don't hear or see monkeys swinging around even though I know they don't exist. This habitat is called the hardwood hammock.

The state park was very peaceful and beautiful. Royal Palms, maybe the most beautiful palm tree, grows wild here. We spotted a raccoon right before sunset and watched as it chased anoles (little lizzards) up trees and then snatched them and ate them. Maybe it wouldn't bother our food if it was filling up on wild fare right? Wrong. We left the campsite for a few minutes, and in that time it pulled bagels out of a shopping bag from under the BOB trailer and ate one of them. So much for having bagels now.

We are excited to get some good sleep at this quiet campground tonight. The air feels like it might actually cool off and allow us to be comfortable in our tent.


A view of the canopy in the hardwood hammocks of Seminole-Collier

A nice shady campsite at Seminole-Coillier

A monument to Mr. Collier, a wealthy guy who donated the park land

A nice road through the park

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mile Marker 0 = Key West

Sugarloaf Key to Key West
April 1, 2011
20 miles

We both slept well last night probably due to swimming right before bed, and the two Benadryls we both popped. Our heat rash and bug bites had us trying to scratch our skin off, so we tried anti-histamine and some hydro-cortisone cream. It worked, but only for awhile. I woke up feeling extremely groggy, almost hung over. I don't know if this was because of the Benadryl or not, but I didn't have much motivation.

Luckily getting out of camp was easy, and so was the ride into Key West. We stopped around the half way mark in a little coffee shop called Baby's Coffee to get some cold drinks and some a/c. We had a strong headwind today, but it didn't matter. Having any breeze to relieve the oppressive heat makes riding much more bearable. We ambled along just enjoying ourselves and the short ride. The water down here is just like it looks in the commercials, so emerald and clear.

We rolled into key west after noon and took our time finding our hotel. When we did find it, we were able to check in early, and took the opportunity to take some nice showers and enjoy more a/c. Once we were all cleaned up, we decided we had better take the chance to enjoy Key West. This is a happening little island, obviously tourist driven, but unique none the less. We heard bike theft is a big problem here, and didn't want the burden of worrying about our bikes while trying to explore old town Key West, Mallory Square, and Duval street. The trolleys were pretty expensive, so we decided that for the same price we would rent a moped. Our hotel had a rental operation, so we went for it.

The two of us cruising around on a tiny little moped was a real hoot! It felt totally ridiculous to be riding one after pedaling our bikes the whole way, but it was also a nice break to have a breeze in our faces with no effort on our part. We buzzed around town to see the sights like: the southern most point in the continental US, the marina boardwalk, Duval street (the main downtown street with all of the vendors, little shops, and bars), and Mallory Square where we watched the sunset (a tradition here) during the Fool's Day celebration. It was a great time! There is a lot going on in this little town, and there is a real laid back atmosphere. Mopeds, pedicabs, cruiser bikes, and all the cars sort of share the roads together, and people chat with you while you are cruising down the road.

After the sun set, we buzzed around town more on our little scooter (we named it scoot scoot) and found a nice Chinese restaurant for supper. After supper, we rode around some more, mostly because we were lost, but that didn't really matter. On an island we couldn't be lost for too long. We made our way back to Duval street and decided to have some margaritas at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. The place wasn't bad, and the drinks were good, but the live band playing (it wasn't Jimmy Buffet) was either way too loud, or we are way too old, because we couldn't wait to leave. With our bellies full of liquor slushies we went back out on Duval and checked out some art galleries before we called it a night and headed back to our hotel. Key West is a friendly and fun place, but just like most tourist traps, if you are not careful, money will just start flying out of your bank account. We lived it up without breaking the bank, but just barely. But hey, when will we be in Key West again?


Key West has wild chickens everywhere

Greg's dream body

Boardwalk with fancy boats and fancy restaurants

Pelican going for some fish scraps

The real one man band. This guy was amazing

Sunset from Mallory square

Our scoot scoot

Stranded like Gilligan, but Our Boat Did Not Wreck.

Key West to Fort Myers, Florida
April 2, 2011
Way too many miles, and very few of them by bike

We got in late from being out on the town last night. Once we were back in our room, we realized this might be our only chance to do laundry before the second half of our trip. By the time we were finished with laundry it was nearly 2:00 am. It was worth staying out late though, Key West is a fun place. We ate at the continental breakfast at our hotel this morning, which is usually not noteworthy, but this one was. This was the biggest continental breakfast I have ever seen, more like a buffet line than anything else.

We hung out at our hotel as long as possible. Believe me for the price of a hotel room in Key West, we wanted to use every second of time in our air conditioned room before check out time. Once we headed out from the hotel, we had no real plan in mind other than to wander aimlessly around the town and look around. We didn't need to arrive at the ferry station until 5:00 pm. We stopped at a few cafes and coffee shops to stay hydrated, sit in the shade, and eat some snacks.

Once the time came we headed to the ferry station for the Key West Express, the boat that would take us up the West coast of Florida to Fort Myers. I went into the office to get our reserved tickets and to ask how the crew would like us to board our bikes. In a short time, I realized that this outfit is simply not accommodating or friendly. I called ahead before we even left Montana and asked about bringing touring bikes on board, and the ticket sales person assured me there would be an extra charge for bikes, but it wouldn't be a problem to take them on. When I explained our situation in person, the attendant called the captain of the ship over so that he could talk to me. He was a total jerk. They informed me that their policy had recently changed and that they no longer accept bike trailers on the boat. He wouldn't even hear my plea for reconsideration, and that we were willing to pay extra to bring it on board. Then I asked him what my options were at that point, and he told me it wasn't his problem, he already gave me my options. He said I could “leave the trailer behind” after I explained that it contained everything we needed to live. His best guess was to mail it overnight which would have been exorbitantly expensive.

At this point I wasn't sure what to do. I walked to the waiting area and told Dani the bad news. She was very upset by the whole situation, especially that the captain was such a jerk. I went back into the office to talk to the captain one more time (the captain was like a mobster dressed as a sailor, unbuttoned shirt, pot belly, gold chain, and New Jersey-Italian accent with a faced that turned red at any conflict) and asked him about bringing knives, a stove, or our fuel bottle on board. He said that none of those things were allowed on the boat. Unfortunately for us, we need all of those things to live, so I made sure my credit card would not be charged, and told them I didn't want to ride on their damn boat. By the way, none of this information was readily available on their website, so it was all news to us.

There we were, on a Sunday afternoon, stranded on an island in the Florida Keys. It was sort of like a dream, and a curse. We did not want to spend another night on Key West, it is too expensive. We called the Chamber of Commerce, but they were closing soon, we called a few other places, but to no avail. We didn't know what to do. We thought of renting a car, but we called every rental car company phone number we could find, and they were all out of cars. A little defeated, we got on the bikes and rode around until we found some wireless internet. We got on line and I found a car rental company at the Key West airport that had big enough vehicles available to fit our bikes. We jumped back on the bikes and pedaled around the island to the airport. By the time I filled out the paper work and we disassembled the bikes enough to fit in our Ford Edge (they consider this thing a large SUV? Whatever) it was 8:00 pm. A pretty trying afternoon after a laid back morning.
At this point, we had almost six hours of driving in front of us to reach our reserved campsite in Fort Myers. We were both very sleepy, and navigating through the turnpikes and tollways taxed our brains more than it usually would have. After driving across the whole state from East to West (just so we could turn around and ride our bikes back, on a different route albeit, but it seemed odd) we arrived at our campground and set up our tent in time to fall asleep by 3:00 am. What a day.

For anyone else out there who is planning a similar trip on bikes, please stay away from the Key West Express ferry. Their service is terrible, and it ended up that renting a car was actually substantially cheaper. If we would have only known, we could have rented a car earlier in the day, and the experience might have actually been a pleasure.


This was definitely not our ferry. This cruise ship docked in Key West over night. We were shocked to see it towering over the Key West sky line. This thing was HUGE. It is a Norwegian Cruise Line ship. We couldn't even begin to imagine what it takes just to keep all the lights lit on this ship.