Day 2: Long Key State Park to Key Largo, FL - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

April 14, 2011

Day 2: Long Key State Park to Key Largo, FL

I get up and out of the tent to take pictures of the amazing campsite and immediately the no-see-ums are all over me. Each time one lands on my sun burned skin I feel a tiny pin prick and reach over to swat it away. Soon my arms and legs are a mess of little black dots and the faint red smears of bug blood and guts. The sun burns kill. Whenever I grab something, bend down, or twist to one side I feel an intense, searing shot of pain. It's sunny all day, every day in Florida. These things are only going to get worse.

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The Florida Keys don't line up with the pictures I had floating through my head all winter. I imagined mile after mile of yellow or white sandy beaches, palm trees lightly moving in a cool afternoon breeze, and riding along bays and coves and inlets of turquoise and blue. Now I realize that it's much more like riding through a suburb where it's always hot. There are some beautiful views from the bridges and along short sections of road, but mostly I ride on the highway or right next to it, past restaurants and mini-malls and gas stations as traffic hauls ass to points north. Given the chance to ride the Keys again I'd probably pass. When I find a quiet back road, away from the noise and speed of Highway 1, it's a great experience—but I've only had about five miles of that.

A waterfront mansion, on its own peninsula, left uncompleted. I see this type of thing everywhere around here.
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God bless America, but screw your civil liberties.
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The weather works against me, with the sunshine and heat sending my sun burns farther into skin cancer territory. I get a few short breaks when the road or trail dives into patches of shade alongside the trees, but that doesn't happen often enough. I know early on that I need to keep the day short. I'm dehydrated, hungry, tired, and think about all of the air conditioned places I could spend the afternoon instead. It's a battle of wills and after two days Florida is winning.

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What the hell?
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Just before noon I pull into a sprawling campground and try not to act too shocked when they tell me that the little patch of gravel over there will cost $38. For one night. Plus tax. Somehow the fact that the old women behind the counter call me hun and sweetie while explaining the layout of the place makes the crazy price seem not so bad.

Maybe it was worth it. I take a long shower and immediately feel better about the world. I spend a few hours writing at the library, make some adjustments to the bike, and stock up one day too late on aloe and high-powered sun block. When I get back to camp I share a rum and Coke with Kieu and Sarah, who are set up in the site next to mine and came to the Keys to go diving and escape Los Angeles for the week. And in the evening I order a pepperoni pizza that runs reddish-orange with grease, with slices that droop down toward the floor when I try to pick them up. It's perfect. I almost completely forget about the awful day of riding and couldn't be happier that I'm right here, right now.

Cheers!
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The hand sun burn is out of control.
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Don't be offended, Desiree, but tonight my heart belongs to a bottle of aloe.

Today's ride: 39 miles (63 km)
Total: 112 miles (180 km)

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