Leg; 1,266 miles / 2,037 km
Total; 9,225 miles / 14,846 km
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The ride from Newport continued along the fairly mundane highway 98. At Cross City we got barked at by an elderly man in an oversized pickup who told us to ‘get on the bikepath’. Here’s the thing with bike paths and the US of A; they’re incredible if you can find them! You will rarely see one until it’s too late and your eyeing them up as you cycle along the shoulder-less highway being cursed by drivers, while you’re cursing the local officials who neglected to include signage in their placemaking budget.
Anyway, we found the bikepath and rarely had to touch the road for the next 150 miles. The bike paths took us through state parks and state forests, past numerous tortoises and countless birds. The highlight was undoubtedly the Jay B Starkey Wilderness Park, which is like a tamed jungle with a beautifully paved path running right through it. For us, the added bonus was our wonderful Warm Showers hosts Craig and Dianne who lived in an incredible house at the end of the trail. Craig has mastered the art of work-life balance and jumped at the opportunity to take us kayaking down the Chassahowitzka River. This was a truly unique experience and we were lucky to see manatees, as well as prehistoric looking anhingas, vultures, osprey and white pelicans.
The next two days were mostly about avoiding Tampa. The urban sprawl on Google Maps, and the warnings from local cyclists, motivated us to cycle an exaggerated bypass of the city. Unfortunately Google Maps let us down and a promised shortcut down a country road turned out to be a slog down a private hunting preserve ‘road’, in three inches of energy-sapping sand. After two miles we were overtaken by a rusty pickup. The stocky driver stepped out and closed the gate in front of us, then quickly jumped back in his pickup. After a brief Mexican standoff (that seemed like hours) we plucked up the courage to ask him if we could ride down the clearly private road; firm NO! Turns out the driver worked for the landowner and the only reason we didn’t get an asswhooping when he passed us is because he knows the landowners daughter is a cycle-tourer and he assumed we were her friend. Phew! After explaining our situation he agreed to give us a lift back down the sandy path and pointed us in the direction we needed to go. The bad news was this added an additional 34 miles to the 50 we’d already cycled. The good news was it was paved and we wouldn’t be trespassing in a hunting preserve!!
The next day we arrived in Fort Myers where we stayed with an incredible couple Beverley and Alistair. We took a day trip to Sanibel Island where we visited the amazing Ding Darling wildlife reserve. There’s an incredible road that you can drive your car around and see a huge variety of birds – including night herons and spoonbills – and funny little mangrove tree crabs. The next day Beverley and Alistair took us out on their boat and treated us to an awesome seafood platter. We spent that night at the scenic Collier-Seminole State Park where we interviewed by the local CBS channel WINK News.
After our 15 minutes of fame we cycled through the Big Cypress National Preserve, where we saw our first alligators. We couldn’t believe who dinosaur like they are, and how little they move! We spent their night with Fletcher, a wildland firefighter, his two roommates Brian and Terence (both park rangers) and Alice, a fellow cycle tourer from Quebec. We learned so much about the local wildlife, including the recent insurgence of monster pythons! The next morning Alice joined us for a ride to Shark Valley; a 15 mile paved loop off the Tamiami Trail that you can cycle round and see literally hundreds of alligators. This was a real highlight of the whole trip; we saw baby alligators swimming, monster 10ft alligators from the viewing tower and one outrageous alligator doing its business right in front of us!
We were sad to leave the Everglades, especially as the ride to the Florida Keys took us along busy roadside with little or no shoulder. The Keys is a funny place. The first 40 miles is an urban sprawl with no sight or access to the beach at all. We spent our first night camping in the car park of a Medicare office. That’s the other thing about the Keys; its brutally expensive. If you can find a campground that even has space, it’ll set you back anywhere between $80-120. To sleep in a tent!!
All this made us very excited to see the tiny Anne’s Beach on Lower Matecumbe Key. We relaxed on the beach, took a dip in the ocean and even had a shower. It took us a long time to get back on the backs but thankfully it was a short ride to our hosts in Marathon. We met Rupert and Martina through a Warm Showers host. Rupert and Martina spoils us rotten, providing us with our own suite, delicious food and drinks and a tour of Key West. They understood that we wouldn’t be able to find accommodation in Key West so they drove us over the spectacular seven mile bridge, stopping off at the amazing Bahia Honda State Park and Big Pine Key en route. They even took us to a Super Bowl party; a unique experience you can only find in the States!
The contrast between the Keys and Miami couldn’t be more different! We stayed with Chris’ friend Harriet in her breathtaking apartment with a view over to Miami Beach. We rode around the famous South Beach Art Deco area, where we met up with another cycle tourer – Marcus – who we met a week into our trip in Ontario! We had a great meal at a Wynwood restaurant filled with ever-changing street art, and experienced the highlife at a rooftop bar with a view of the whole city.
We left Miami on the oceanfront A1A road, and religiously stuck to it for the next 400 miles. It’s a spectacular road with a bike lane or shoulder along almost all of it. You have to have time though, as your constantly riding over drawbridges onto and off the islands that line Florida’s east coast. We highly recommend it!
We stopped off in Cape Canaveral to stay with Jocelyn and her family. Jocelyn recently completed an incredible world cycle tour with her dad. They visited 33 countries and cycled 28,000 miles! Puts us to shame, but Jocelyn is an incredible inspiration and we had a great night trading stories with her family and enjoying an awesome burger at the local pub.
Valentine’s Day seemed like a good excuse to cycle to the Kennedy Space Center and get a cheap motel in nearby Titusville. The Space Center is positioned in an understandably remote area, and we saw more alligators as well as a live racoon; the first since we were robbed of our food by these bandits in California!
We made a slight detour to see our friends Lynn and Hank in New Smyrna Beach. Since our west coast Google Maps experience we’ve become very cautious about the bike route functionality and questioned the suggested route along the Canaveral National Seashore. Our instincts proved right as we eventually found out it’s nothing more than a sandy hiking trail! We arrived at New Smyrna Beach just in time to enjoy a swim – our first dip in the ocean of the whole trip – before a stormy front came in and confined us to Lynn and Hank’s incredible condo where we could safely watch the madness unfold.
We found it difficult to find somewhere to camp on our last two nights in Florida. Our penultimate night was eventually spent in a horrible smoking room of a St Augustine Beach motel. While our last night was spent camping next to a petrol station on Fort George Island! We left early the next morning and Florida sent us off as it greeted us; with spectacular bike paths and amazing scenery. We joined the Greenway – a project to link Florida to Maine by bike paths – for the first time, and crossed the border into Georgia. The border crossing sign said ‘Welcome, We’re glad Georgia’s on your mind’, but we were still very much in a Florida state of mind. Missing all those wonderful bike paths, as we jinxed the dreadful highway 17…..