Saturday, April 2, 2011
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.