Day 3: Key Largo, FL to Miami, FL - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

April 15, 2011

Day 3: Key Largo, FL to Miami, FL

It turns out, you have to get up pretty early in the morning to avoid the old man taking a noisy crap in the far-most stall of the men's bathroom at the Key Largo Kampground. I'm in there before 6:00 and I'm already too late. I pack up soon after and then head to the road once it's safe to do so, trying to avoid the sun and heat and keep the sun burn under control.

It's early, but rain clouds hang in the sky about ten miles to the north, so the humidity pushes even higher than the past two days. Within a few miles I lose Highway 1 and ride on a perfect strip of subtly rolling pavement between unbroken strings of trees in a cool breeze. There's some traffic out here, but everyone gives me a break. Every few minutes I hear a whump-whump-whump as a car moves over the center line and then another whump-whump-whump as they come back. When the sun starts rising, the branches and leaves of the trees protect me completely. It's great riding. I start talking out loud, reminding myself that I'm out here, actually doing this great big ride across America that I've been thinking about for the past four years. After all of those winter nights reading journals and figuring out which routes to take, now I'm here. And it's amazing. The first few days of the trip weren't easy, but there isn't anywhere I else I want to be at this moment.

Not the first wild rooster I've seen in the Keys.
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After crossing the toll bridge, I pull off to the shoulder and use my phone to look up information about the road ahead. I come across a Florida Bicycle Association article that is equal amounts helpful and terrifying. Helpful, because it tells me what the riding conditions will be like. Terrifying, because its "Wildlife" section says that the area next to Card Sound Road is sort of like a crocodile Disney World. That's a direct quote. Although the county put up chain-link fencing along the areas where the animals most often try to approach the highway, there are still a lot of open spots. I also learn that crocs can sprint at up to 30 miles an hour on land and that, unlike alligators, they aren't afraid of humans and will eat just about anything. Sweet.

A mile up the road I see a sign warning me to look out for panthers for the next seven miles. Panthers!

Morning in crocodile country.
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I'm riding along, thinking about doughnuts or hockey or something awesome, when I hear an engine roar and look up to see the sun reflecting off the chrome grill of a black Chrysler 300. It's pointed right at me. The driver could tap her brakes, pull back into her own lane, and then pass the other car 15 seconds later, but she won't. My heart races, my eyes open wide, and everything else tightens up in the second-and-a-half I have to make a decision. I guess it's not really a decision, because there's only one thing I can do: dive for the right side of the road, rumble over the rough bits with my racks and fenders and gear clanging everywhere, and keep things upright as the Chrysler blows by at better than 80 miles per hour. Which she does, probably without a second thought.

This happens two more times, a little less dramatically, before the road spits me out into Florida City. I spend the afternoon riding past things you won't see in Seattle: a 65,000-seat race track, palm tree farms, and fighter jets tearing across the sky after taking off from the nearby military base. The sun kills; my hands and arms burn and continue to turn deeper shades of red. I only get a break when the clouds pull in front of the sun. One of the times when this happens I look a few hundred yards ahead and see a distinct line running across the road. On my side of the line is the shade; on the other, the sun. As long as I keep my speed below 11 miles per hour I stay in the cool. It's a bizarro version of the movie Speed and I'm Sandra Bullock.

Riding behind the line.
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Palm tree orgy.
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I pass through Cutler Ridge, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, Coral Gables, and Coconut Grove as I make my way up from the south toward Miami. I've never seen so much wealth before. It's one house after another with gates and walls out front, brick driveways, grand columns, giant swimming pools, and thousands upon thousands of square feet of living space. I try to take pictures of some of the largest but they literally don't fit in the frame. And it isn't just the houses. I pass a superyacht used in a James Bond movie. A few Bentleys, a Rolls Royce, and hundreds of Porsches and BMWs roll by. Everyone under the age of 50 is impossibly tan and good-looking. I think about how people who live here wouldn't be much into bike touring, with its sleeping in a six-by-eight tent, the bugs, and not showering for days at a time. Also, it would get in the way of tennis lessons.

For all the property tax money these places generate, the walking and biking paths are terrible. It's more like riding single-track than cruising through the suburbs.

Through Palmetto Bay. This part of the ride into Miami was great, but everything after was a disaster.
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I hit Miami in the early evening and make my way to the house where I'm staying, which I set up through Airbnb over lunch. Pedro lives at the place but can't be there to let me in, so he leaves the key in the mailbox. I pull my stuff into the air-conditioned bedroom, take a shower, and instantly feel like a normal person again.

An oasis in the urban and suburban jungles.
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I spend the evening walking around the beautiful, modest, and mostly Cuban neighborhood before returning home to watch playoff hockey and eat a box of chicken wings from the Winn-Dixie down the street.

Today's ride: 69 miles (111 km)
Total: 181 miles (291 km)

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Ron SuchanekPeople like the asshole Chrysler driver deserve nothing but misery, pain and chronic explosive diarrhea every so go day of their miserable, meaningless lives. Is that too harsh?
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1 year ago
Jeff ArnimThat kind of thing has always bothered me. But then I started riding with Kristen and all of a sudden it stressed me out ten times more, because I was now putting someone else in harm's way. Now we spend a great deal of time seeking out low-traffic roads and our experiences have been a lot more positive as a result. It's not always easy to do that in the U.S. -- especially in Florida, for example -- but we've always found it worth the effort.
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1 year ago