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Florida Keys 2013

 Florida Keys with PAW

                                                                                   Story by: Laurie & Jim Allshouse

    Our good friends and owners of PAW, Pedal across Wisconsin, planned a new bike ride from Key Largo to Key West on the Overseas Heritage trail in December of 2013.  Laurie wanted to do it because she had a grade school pen pal that lived in Key West.  We signed up and over time I googled how the route was, or so I thought.  I wasn’t thinking how busy the Overseas Highway 1 was going to be, seeing as it would be the ONLY road.

    The day before we left for the airport it snowed and got cold in Oklahoma City.  At 3:30 a.m. we drove to the airport on roads that were slick in spots.  It was 10 degrees for our flight leaving at 5:40 a.m.  In Houston it was 33 degrees and landing in Miami, it was 81.  The car we rented was like driving a phone booth from years back.  I don’t like little cars, I guess.

    Driving to Key Largo from the Miami airport was a chore with all the traffic, but as you can see we survived.

    We had some time before 65 rental bikes were being delivered to the hotel parking lot.  We drove south to Islamorada.  While at a Visitor’s Center, my brother, Wayne, called from northern Montana.  He asked where we were and I told him south Florida.  He asked the temperature.  I replied, “83 degrees”. 

    He answered, “I don’t want to hear it.  It is minus 30 degrees where I am.”  The rest of the nation was in a deep freeze for the week we spent in the Florida Keys.

    We stopped at Anne’s Beach for lunch and saw a bunch of wind surfers, so we stopped to take some pictures.  

    We had noticed that the bike route was on the side of the highway on either side at different times.   At this point we didn’t notice that the state of Florida had not put any signage saying what side of the road the cyclist should be on.  We saw a lot of area bikers riding along on different sides of the road. 

    Arriving back at the hotel we waited for our rental bikes to show up. Laurie’s was in the first load and mine was in the second load.  The bike store guys were really hustling to get everyone’s bike fitted to them.  We took our own pedals and our own seats.  I liked my Jamis bike better than my Bianche and discovered that the headset was too low on my bike at home.

    We walked next door for dinner to a sports bar called D’Hooker.  We enjoyed the BEST lobster bisque.

    We were told that the bike trail was 85% done but after our first day of riding, we thought it should be more like 50% done.  Getting through Key Largo was a bit dicey using the road, since the trail was under construction.  But once we turned left at the first stop light, we were on the trail.  Some bridges had dedicated bike/walking/fishing paths.  Some you had to ride on the highway shoulder because the railroad bridge was gone or deteriorated.  We lost the path, picked it up again and it came to an end.  We had to lift our bikes over 2 guard rails to get back on the road shoulder.

    We had a 50 mile ride to Marathon for an overnight stay. 

    Our room was not ready, so we went behind the hotel to the Tiki bar for lunch and drinks.  “Jim & Laurie?” a woman called.  Laurie thought our room was ready, but it was the manager wanting us to move our bikes because a corporate photographer was there to take pictures of the restaurant bar and didn’t want bikes in the picture.

    PAW provided a tasty buffet dinner across the street at Island Fish Company.

    The next morning our destination was Key West, 50 miles south.  The 7 mile bridge was HELL.  We tried the adjacent bike bridge but missed the sign that said it was NOT a through bridge.  We rode 3 ½ miles to Pigeon Key where the bridge ended abruptly and had to ride back against a headwind.  The 7 mile bridge had a 3 ½ ft. shoulder with 18 wheelers, dump trucks, and tour busses whizzing by at your shoulder.  Guide books say what a beautiful view, but who was looking at the scenery? We were worried about traffic whizzing by so closely with no escape, but to go in the water.

    I started not feeling good and sagged in the last 20 miles with Jerry in his pickup.  Laurie rode her bike into the Key West hotel with Walt, his son, Scott, and Jeanne. 

    The PAW group dinner was at our hotel on the outside veranda.  They brought Laurie pickles for her leg cramps.

     For the next two days we explored Key West and didn’t ride our bikes. We took the Conch train for a tour around the island with one of the most personable guides we’ve ever experienced.  Bob was a hoot!

    We visited the Hemingway House, the Butterfly Conservatory, rode by the Southernmost point of the United States and ate at Sloppy Joe’s (Hemingway’s hangout).  We had a couple’s massage in a cabana just off the pool area at our hotel and had fresh fish on the pier.  We had drinks at Margaritaville and searched for the best Key Lime pie.

    Friday, it was time to head back north for 50 miles to Marathon.  Unfortunately the wind came up overnight so we had a 20+ mph head wind.  The 7 mile bridge about killed us.  Our faces were totally exposed to the wind.  There was nowhere to hide.  Laurie had Muscle Milk about 20 miles out at a convenience store that didn’t have Gatorade.  She had an upset stomach for rest of day.  We stumbled into hotel at 3:30 p.m. and I mean stumbled.  I lay on the hotel bed for 45 minutes with my camelbak and helmet on.  I was too tired to take them off.

    Laurie could barely walk across the street for dinner at Island Fish Company.  They brought her pickles for the leg cramps she was experiencing.  We enjoyed an excellent buffet dinner with Bob (from Chicago) and girlfriend, Ilene (from Maine).  Bob loved the ride from hell, because it was challenging.  Laurie said she couldn’t ride the next day, even if there was a 20 mph tailwind.

    Gary & Diane offered us ride in their pickup with our bikes on the rack in the back.  When we got to Key Largo, we helped unload the baggage truck.  I called the bike store and the guys came right over to pick up our rental bikes.  They suggested a lunch spot called Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen.  Great food!  The waitress told us the Hot fish was good.  It was EXCELLENT!  It had a mild flavor similar to tilapia but thicker.  This was the best seafood of the week (except for the lobster bisque).

    We took pictures of the sunset and talked to other PAW participants.  It was a perfect end to the Florida Keys Ride.

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