160 km bike down the Florida Keys

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Back in March our brother in law Andy, who lives in southern Florida, shared that one of his bucket list items was to bike the Keys from end to end. Being adventurers, we thought “why not”… without really doing much thinking about the actual details. Fast forward nine months and we found ourselves driving from Fort Lauderdale down to Marathon to get set up for our 3 day biking extravaganza.

DSCN1907We had 8 adventurers on board with ages ranging from 12 to 73. We based ourselves out of Knights Key Campground which is just south of the town of Marathon and about 2/3 of the way down the length of the keys. The plan was to ride 60km day one, 48 km day two and 70 km day three. The night before these distances finally started sinking in to our heads – Ack!

To avoid the heat of the day, day one started really really early – we were up at 6:15 and in the truck shortly after 7:00 to drive back up to Key Largo and start the biking. Andy’s brother Peter joined us as rider and shuttle driver and this was invaluable. Peter rode short distances out and back from the truck and then drove the truck towards our final distance, picking up anyone that wanted to opt out along the way.

The original goal for Hunter was to make it to Dairy Queen, which was about 20km from the start. With such an early start we arrived before DQ actually opened (11:00) and since he was riding so well we pushed onwards. At the 30km mark he was definitely done due to a sore butt. Hunter and I called Peter for a ride and then took a small detour back to DQ for his promised blizzard before continuing on to the finish point for the day to pick up Bob, Andy and Tim.

The first 30km of the ride was mostly side walk or bike paths as we made our way through Key Largo and down into the keys. The second 30km of day one started to see things open up and the last 10km of it was now along the water. The boys took a pit stop at the IslaMorada Fish Company, which is a restaurant and a Bass Pro Shop location with a Tarpon pool out front – neat to see these large fish.

DSCN1987The weather was unseasonably warm (in the high 20’s celcius, 85-88f) and I was craving a swim in the ocean, especially with water temps in the high 70’s. Unfortunately Knight’s Key is more about boats on the water than people in the water so there wasn’t a great place to swim. First Hunter and I tried walking out into the water at a small opening we found in the mangroves. We made it about 8 steps before our feet were so sucked down into the muck that it took a team effort to make it back to shore. Attempt number two was to take the SUP out to get us far enough from shore to be able to jump off and swim. This was hampered by fairly strong winds and the fact that the depths stayed shallow for quite a distance. It was fun but unsuccessful and I was left craving some water time.

Day two was another early morning start – up and in the truck for 7am. It was a shorter drive to the start so we were on our bikes and riding by 8am. Grandma Liz joined us for this leg so Hunter, Grandpa and Tim rode in the back of the truck to make room for her in the truck. Day two was mostly oceanside riding with a few stretches of great bike path in the mangroves. About 15% was along the side of the road. With a sore butt Hunter made it 20km and then had fun touring with Peter in the shuttle truck.

Grandma Liz rode with the group for another 10km and was happy to catch a ride with the shuttle gang while Tim, Bob, Andy and Lee continued on for the remaining 18km.

The last stretch of day two was through the town of Marathon and then over 7 mile bridge. The winds were in our favour which made crossing the bridge much easier than anticipated. I was concerned about any strong cross winds and what it would take to blow me off my bike and over the rather low guard rails into the water. The old rail bridge travels beside the new bridge for about 5 miles on one side and then 2 miles on the other side with a small gap for boat traffic in between. Hopefully they will soon finish refurbishing the bridge so that you can bike on it rather than with all the traffic on 7 mile bridge.

I was still jonesing for some time in/on the water so Bob and I took off in the canoe after some lunch and a rest. We paddled out from the campground and over to check out the bridge and surrounding area. The winds were still decent so we had some bouncy water in sections which made things interesting since we were in his marathon race boat (sleek = tippy). We circumnavigated a few islands, checked out the real-estate and saw lots of birds. Thankfully no swim while in the canoe so I finally gave in and headed to the local swimming hole for a quick dip. It sits right on the edge of the marina and I wasn’t all that excited about the idea of swimming in boat engine water so while it was refreshing it was also quick.

Day three had a slightly later start – 8am vs 7am which was nice. Hunter had set himself a goal of 40km, which would be 4km higher than his personal best from our epic ride in Columbus.We set a slower pace with the goal of getting him to his target. Around the 30km mark we came across a fire station that had their pumper truck sitting out – a perfect place to rest. One of the firemen noticed us lingering and came out to spend time with Hunter… one happy kid!

Once you make it to the 40 km mark the next goal of 65km seems pretty doable so Hunter pushed on. We had an ice-cream pit stop at a gas station at about the 48km mark and that helped provide energy to push on. Hunter did amazingly well and the first tears and strain only showed up around the 60 km mark. We pushed and cajoled and made it to the almost final stop – meeting up with the rest of the gang at Publix/Wendy’s in Key West. The idea was for Peter and Liz to join us for the final 5km ride through Key West to reach the Mile 0 buoy.

It turns out that this is quite the tourist stop and people were lined up around the block to get their photos taken with it. Definitely the end of our peaceful ride… people, tour buses and cars everywhere!

DSCN2176One more DQ stop as the reward for Hunter riding 70km – what an awesome new personal best! While some people went for lunch, a few of us drove around in the air conditioned car and checked out Key West – it was the perfect compromise for Hunter who was not going to move another foot on his bike for a few hours. We finished the day with a short ride back through town to the shuttle truck and headed back to the campground for a big sleep!

About 75 miles of the keys is now accessible via the Overseas Heritage Trail, which is the paved bike trail. They are working on completing the last bits and when that happens this will be a great family adventure. Until that point there are a number of places where you have to ride on the side of the road, which is not great for cyclists under 10. We just rode with someone in front and behind Hunter and felt fairly safe.



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