Category Archives: Cycling Florida

Parting thoughts…

There are always random thoughts and observations that can’t be squeezed into other posts, so these are my parting thoughts as I pack my bike and head for home:

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Might you be a little nervous staying on a campsite with this warning? My tent was less than a hundred metres from this picturesque lake

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where alligators have taken up home 3 or 4 times in the past. Thanks for the warning!

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My blogging friend, Chris Yardin (whom I met in Melbourne, Australia) asked for a ‘full frontal’ of the new loaded machine. So here it is….total luggage weight (including camping kit, tools and spares): 9 kilos (less than 20 pounds, for Americans).

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Outside of alligators, this was the other big danger on the campsite!

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Glad I was only a spectator at this scene…..

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Schools out……!

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I thought about calling in for a consultation about future mechanicals with the bike……nothing like being forewarned!

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Now, what exactly is being advertised here?

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So it’s not just at McDonald’s where you can do a quick grab and run!

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…and when you get fed up with the bike, you can join the masses busy developing the awesome tan that will be the envy of all their friends when they get home…..

Goodbye Florida. Adios, hasta otro dia. It’s been good knowing you…..

The end is nigh…

As this two-wheeled assault on Florida draws to a close, the bottom line currently stands at 11 full riding days, 720 miles (1150kms) covered, at an average of 65 miles (105kms) per day. Before landing in Miami, I had decided this would be a moderate intensity ride, just hard enough to keep my interest, but nothing too challenging. The reality has been somewhat different, though not entirely unexpected. Flat terrain anywhere in the world will have spells of relentless wind, and Florida provided some of that in abundance, and not always to my advantage.
The weather patterns of the north provided ideal temperatures during the day, but close to freezing at night. The south, on the contrary, was hot and humid during the day, and warm enough at night to dispense with the sleeping bag.

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If your cycling dream is to ride across landscapes unsullied by human presence and traffic, Florida is definitely not for you. You will become skilled at the art of urban cycling, perforce (or give up in the attempt). In fact, I have become such an adept user of sidewalks, residents of my home community better beware…..you may see me whizzing down the High St pavement (“sidewalk” to Americans) and you may have to gently remind me that this is not the USA!

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As a cycle-camper, you will find the infrastructure for tent-camping less than ideal. The market is entirely oriented towards the retired ‘snowbird’, in other words, the annual surge of refugees from the northern weather war zone, who come with their million dollar motorhomes and enormous RVs (recreational vehicles) that require the space and amenities that a house-on-wheels needs.

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So there’s little room for, and profit in, the humble ‘tenter’ like me.

Where there is space, you will be charged exactly the same rate as your three-bedroomed/two bathroomed neighbour. What can be more disconcerting is that you don’t meet other ‘birds of the same feather’ (ie. other cycle campers like yourself) to share tales of the road with, and even link up with for an hour/day or two along the road.

From another perspective, riding over 700 miles in Florida has given me a unique insight into life in this southern state. It has, in fact, been a bombardment of the senses: the unique fragrance of orange blossom and the saltiness of the air along the Keys;

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the tremendous visual impact of the huge sea and landscapes; the star-domed skies from the darkness of un-illuminated campgrounds; not to mention the warmth and friendliness of the American people. If you judge a nation by any single factor, it should be the common touch of the person in the street that counts. Americans are exceptional in their ability to proffer the welcoming hand.

Would I come back to Florida with the bike? Probably not. I say that primarily because I seldom go back to any old hunting grounds, always looking for the new territory to explore, and fresh challenges to embrace.

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These last two weeks, Florida has provided me with an intriguing new cycling environment to put in some serious winter mileage. And for that reason I will fly out from Miami feeling well satisfied…..a job well done, and time well spent.

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And to finish the job, a wheel (and the feet) had to be dipped into the Atlantic……..

Hot, hot, hot…..

South Florida has a decidedly tropical feel, compared to the north of the state. To be riding a bike in these parts, you have to like the heat….and it gets even hotter in the summer….greater humidity and a greater incidence of tropical storms and hurricanes.
I teamed up with Charlie Martin for 15-20 miles, as he was out on his Sunday morning ride. A keen club (or team) cyclist, he has completed the southern route across America with his son, a distance just short of 3000 miles. He told me of the 1992 hurricane that swept through the area, causing huge devastation. His market gardening business survived and his house had fortunately been built to survive hurricanes.

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The campground I stayed in that night had its interesting moments. It wasn’t a private resort site (like so many of them) but a simple city municipal site in Florida City, but it came with security warnings. Some of the long-term residents warned of thieves coming at dead of night, targeting bikes in particular. One said:”Not only will your bike be gone, but they’ll take your tent too….with or without you in it”. He told me he always had a couple of guns at the ready…… Oh, my, oh my……dire warnings indeed. So I took the exceptional measure of chaining my bike to the tent (at least I’d be woken by the thieves)…..and had my little mini-pump loaded and ready to fire…..

Of course, nothing exciting happened……so this post goes downhill immediately! Sorry to disappoint you.

My route yesterday took me through the wealthy suburbs of Miami

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following the Old Cutler Trail

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then across the Venetian Causeway to Miami Beach

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with distant views of the 15 mile line of development

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along the long narrow peninsula. I began to enquire about campgrounds, but had no luck in locating any along the route. An hour before dark, I entered the only campground I had seen all day but……..yes, you’ve guessed, they were full. The young attendant gave me Google directions to a sister campground 13 miles away, so I made a hasty booking for 2 nights and set off to try and beat the dusk.

I think you guess that this story might not have a happy ending……well, that is partly true. 5 miles into the ride, I realised he had given me directions for a car driver, and his route was taking me on to the Interstate Freeway (equivalent to a motorway in the UK) where, of course, bicycles are forbidden (probably with a pending sentence of death……but at least they do it “humanely” in Florida by lethal injection).
In a quandary of what to do and where to turn, I spied a lone pedestrian who made simply the best suggestion…..if I cycled another 3 miles, I could catch a train, go two stations and it will drop me within a couple of miles of the campground. So off I went, with 30 minutes of daylight remaining….
I found the campground, it was now dark, checked in and pitched my tent in the dark (with the help of my mini Petzl head torch)…..showered, ate something accompanied by a couple of Buds, and climbed onto my air matress to sleep the sleep of the exhausted, interrupted only occasionally by foraging raccoons outside my tent.
When I woke up this morning, I discovered the beautiful woodland setting of the campground

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As with any story that has a potential negative ending, you have to always remember that….worse things happen at sea.

“My kingdom for a bolt”….

The cable on my cycle computer snapped a week ago, but on US1 (the overseas highway) you have no need for a computer/gps or similar. Why? There’s only one road and two directions (north or south), and the entire100 mile length from Key Largo to Key West is furnished with mile markers, like this one

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so when I found a campground with space for my tent, I knew I’d covered 70 miles, because 70MM was in its postal address.
Amongst the campgrounds I’ve stayed at so far, this was one of the best. Plenty of space allocated for tents, a swimming pool and a marina-side location, with beautiful seascapes with the setting and rising of the sun on both sides of the Key.
The conditions are undeniably hot and humid….such that there are times (believe it or not) when my mind wanders, and I find myself half-longing for a little winter chill……but the only way to get it here is to get off the bike and seek refuge in the air-conditioned chill of a McD’s, or some such establishment…..which is where I am now, finger-tapping this post on my phone.

Before I come to the title of this post, here are a few random images of the astounding views and seascapes I encountered along the Keys:

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…and you might see the heron here in the distance…

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Either these fishermen had been on an all nighter, or they were just having time out in the early morning (taken at 7.30am)

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This is a hurricane monument erected to the memory of hundreds of veterans and civilians working on the construction of US1 in 1935, who died in the most severe hurricane ever recorded in history (winds of 200mph), which also destroyed the recently built railroad to Key West

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But now to the title if this post……yes, I have lost a vital bolt…..2 miles up the road my front change-shifter simply fell from its mounting.

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Is this a major calamity….? Absolutely not. Nothing more than a minor irritation and delay. Instead of accessing 30 gears (25 of which have been largely unused here in Florida) I can now only access 10 (which is still probably 7 more than I need). Key Largo is only 10 miles up the road (the end of the overseas highway). No doubt there will be a very friendly LBS……(local bike shop)……….;o)

Riding the Keys

The road over the Keys, back to the mainland, is over 100 miles long……and there is no other road…..the US1 is known as the Overseas Highway because a large percentage of its length is suspended above water. Some 45 bridges link one Key to the next, sometimes running alongside the remains of the old railway line

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that was built by Flagler early in the 20th century. As I write this, I am cooling down from the unforgettable experience of crossing the iconic 7 mile bridge

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that stretches out before you to infinty

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The doom mongers warned me of the dangers of riding this route through the Keys but, as someone who is well used to always sharing the same lanes as traffic in the UK, to ride a highway on a segregated cycle lane is a luxury

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Even though US roads are always awash with traffic, the cycle lane on the shoulder makes cycling over here a relatively safe experience (and I know many will not agree with me). And when the lane disappears, usually in urban areas, you simply use the sidewalk.

On a separate topic, my daughter, Rachael, who is a personal trainer, sings the praises of coconut water as a natural rehydrating drink.

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I’m now a convert. Here in the US, it is available in most stores and, better than all the chemically enhanced sports drinks, this replaces essential minerals and elements…..and it is delicious! Cheers!

Key West

An iconic destination for many Americans, it’s even worth spending $140 on a 7 hour return ferry crossing from Ft Myers, to have just 4 hours on this southernmost point of the continent

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Linked with famous personalities such as Harry Truman, Audubon and Hemingway

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the crowds come for the tropical climate, the beaches, and to raise a glass or two to the memory of Hemingway in his favourite bar

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I raised a glass of Budweiser…..
His image is everywhere, on T-shirts, porcelain and glassware, is almost as recognizable as the image of Che Guevara, and has spawned an association of Hemingway look-a-likes.

The journey out was a high speed catamaran ride, averaging 40mph (gps confirmed) over 3.5 hours

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and this was the turbulence left in its wake

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with mine, a lone bike, strapped up alongside the luggage

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As I stepped off the boat, it was like stepping into a sauna. Heavy humidity, easily in the mid-30s C, that opened the sweat pores immediately.
When I eventually found a campground, 5 miles out of Key West (at Mile Marker 5 to be precise), it didn’t surprise me that my square metre of space would set me back $72. As a camping neighbour pointed out: the prices of camping are governed by the cost of hotel rooms on the Keys, which are generally $400-500 per night for a very ordinary room. Relatively, then, camping is cheap.
A major entertainment each day are the sunset celebrations on Mallory Square, where you will be kept amused by acrobats

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tarot card readers

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piglet trainers

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and the occasional performer who cracks his whip to summon his audience

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when, really, the most effective ploy would have been……to perform!
For those who would like to see the mapping of the final few days of my journey, apologies for the crude picture of my map, but the broken orange line on the left marks today’s ferry crossing from Ft Myers, and the continuous line marks my 120 mile journey through the Keys,

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crossing over 40 bridges, including 7 mile bridge, to Florida City, then onwards through Miami to Ft Lauderdale, where I started my journey 10 days ago.
The whole experience has been an adventure, with surprises round every corner.

Down time?

Happily, my ferry booking (early tomorrow morning) has enforced a 2 night stopover in Ft Myers Beach, but unhappily, it’s costing me $52 per night for my little tent…..but it’s  the cheapest in the area. The high cost is a combination of high season (yes, winter is high season), location, and no proper provision for tent camping. Camping for the majority in Florida (mainly retired snowbirds) means spending 6 months on an RV and Motorhome resort, with all the comforts of home.
Eavesdropping on a conversation at breakfast this morning, I learned that motorhomes are now coming equipped with built-in TV screens on the outside, as well as two on the inside! Must see about an upgrade of my tent……

Talking about breakfast, I treated myself to a leisurely all-American breakfast at the exceedingly popular Perkins Bakery (it was packed at 8am) this morning. Now I hope my American friends will not take offence at the following observations, but the American people have a serious problem controlling weight. Florida is probably atypical amongst the 50 states, it’s population currently swelled by the over-fed,over-weight retirees, that spend the winter lounging by pools or on the beach busy doing nothing, and still fuelling all that inactivity with three meals a day.
At 8am the restaurant was full of retirees, all ordering “the works” for breakfast, washed down with sodas and coffee, the tables groaning with sauces, ketchup and maple syrups of every hue. Some were so overweight, they struggled to walk from car to table. But once ensconced on a chair that barely contained them, they proceeded to pack away the food……as if there was no tomorrow.

Before I saw the size of their appetites, I felt guilty about ordering my modest portion of “over hard” eggs with genuine American hash brown (not the measly potato cakes we eat in the UK), followed by a dish of pancakes topped with cream, and drowned in (sugar-free) maple syrup. I tell you, that lot put a kick into the start of my day!

When I stepped out of the restaurant, I walked into this amazing assemblage of American classic cars, all beautifully pristine in their original livery:

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I had seen the owners in a private room, having a breakfast meeting…..and interestingly, I don’t think even one of them was overweight…..there’s a hidden message there somewhere.

Great buddies…

A long day in the saddle to get me to Fort Myers Beach, where I hope to catch the ferry to Key West, the most southerly point of the US mainland.
But passing through Fort Myers itself, I discovered why it’s called “palm city”

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but it’s even more famous for having been the winter hideaway of both Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. In fact, they were such close buddies, they had their houses built next door to each other

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This was Edison’s house

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and not many metres away is Ford’s

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Amazing to think that two of the greatest inventors in history should be next door neighbours.
Fort Myers city has a delightful tropical feel about it, with this dramatic approach crossing the Caloosahatchez River

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(and try saying that after a few drinks!).
But Ft Myers Beach (17 miles away) is another kettle of fish. Packed with beach holidaymakers, it had the feel of Benidorm on the Gulf, but the views from the bridge promised much

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and it’s popularity meant I had to cycle 5 miles out of town to find a place to pitch my little tent….and part with $50 for the privilege!

Anyway, the holiday weekend celebrating President’s Day is finally over, kids are back at school, so tomorrow should see a return to some kind of normality.

Wild camping…..

Last night’s campground was the nearest thing to wild camping. It had over 100 acres of wilderness, people cooking on campfires, and quad bikes and scramblers whizzing around on tracks, some ridden by young kids under 10……no comment.
It was certainly warmer last night, instead of 7 layers, I only wore three (a 60% improvement?) but it was chilly in the morning as I was packing up

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but the site had been devastated by a hurricane back in 2004

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and since then they had installed a pool..
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..the very best welcome I could have at the end of 65 hot, sticky miles to Arcadia.
These two oranges just happened to fall off a tree, and they were deliciously sweet and juicy

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Now I have an issue with house numbers in the US…..they go into the tens of thousands….

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Now imagine in the UK, your sat nav takes you to a postcode and says you have reached your destination. You look up to see you are outside number 1, and the number you want is 12569…..OMG, you’re going to think this place is way up in Scotland! How can a street have so many numbers? The campground I stayed in last night was15898!

After 7 continuous days of riding, my bike needed a bit of TLC…..Answer? Call by a motor mechanics workshop with cap in hand…

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They were very gracious and obliging. They even invited me to use their bathroom to wash my hands……. Americans invariably show me an open and generous spirit…..(but the English accent may also help from time to time!).

The scent of orange blossom…

Where would travelling bloggers in the Land of the Free be without MaCD’s? But you may have to make sacrifices ….

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…this is their version of Powerade. Just don’t look for the ingredients!
OK, this morning’s route has been one of the most interesting stages so far, across open country through orange groves filled with the scent of new blossom

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and as I was preparing to take this next photo,

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a fire engine and ambulance raced past, and when I caught up with the scene of the incident (in a private house), one of the fire fighters by the roadside greeted me and informed me that the sandhill crane is an endangered species. “You’re lucky to see one” he said.

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He wouldn’t have said the same about this bunch of scavenging vultures, who were completely undeterred by my presence. Further on I saw about 30 devouring a wild boar. No chance, then, of me taking a siesta by the roadside! I may wake up missing some vital parts….

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Believe it or not, February is strawberry harvest here in Florida, and I couldn’t detect a single white Caucasian amongst these pickers…..and I wondered how many were illegals.
I stood in the shade having a cold drink, watching this guy fill his tank, with the engine noisily ticking over

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asking myself, is he illiterate? Well, at least he wasn’t smoking, I suppose….
But riding across open country can spell some dangers. I was chased several times by loose dogs, all yapping/snarling at my ankles….they simply saw me as fresh meat. And as I stopped to take a closer look at a raptor’s nest at the top of a telegraph post, the raptor (a big bird) swooped down in my direction. I was out of there!
I leave  you with this view from the saddle….

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Southerly migration

Now I know why birds fly south….the wind is seldom against them! My destination was Lake Wales, but why in Florida (of all places) a town should be named Frostproof?

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Sounds more like a roof insulation company.Then a mile or so further on, I chanced upon this little ‘critter’

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….but don’t be impressed by my courage….he had recently gone to snake heaven (and not dispatched by me!).
I am now riding down central Florida, and I was shocked to find I had to climb a hill or two (that was not a bridge)

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…..now what you see may not seem very impressive, especially if you live in the Rockies or the French Alps, but for Florida, these are impressive, and for once, I enjoyed some views

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and quickly discovered I was in citrus growing country

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When I got to Lake Wales, I approached a police car to ask directions to the campground. I’d been wandering a bit in search, but the first thing he said (gently but firmly) was that I should leave the neighbourhood I was in. The reason he was parked up there was to check a few things out.
Tonight, I’m in another RV park, again surrounded by elderly snowbirds who have little to do but sit around and talk…..some seem comfortably ensconced in the waiting room for eternity….

A merciless westerly..

After two days of a northerly in my face, I decided to head west to Kissimmee (nr Orlando) and guess what……..? You know the answer….65 miles into a 20 mph wind….it was relentless.
To compound it, there were no services for 35 miles, so I dropped by a rough looking dashboard wooden cabin to refill my bottles, and I was greeted by  a true backwoodsman, who spoke with an incomprehensible southern drawl, but I gathered that his drinking water came from a deep well and was perfectly drinkable. The fact that he also disparaged his neighbour’s water quality, made me suspicious. “Yoooo frum Ingerland then? Weeel I got an English guy in ma hawse….my oh my…..”. With that he offered me a handful of Hersheys chocolate (yuk!) and I made my escape.
The first thing I did when I got to a gas station, was to pour the suspect water onto a flowerbed.

Anyway, I started the day with company. Tanner declined the offer, but Leslie was up for it.

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We rode together for five miles and then she turned for home as the black rain clouds gathered on the horizon, so I prepared the bike for a dowsing (note the careful colour coordination!)

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It turned out to be a short lived shower, leaving the strong westerly in its wake.
When you are passing through 65 miles of flat featureless countryside, you get inexplicably excited by little things….like this notice

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What do they mean…..? The nearest house is probably 10 miles away…..who is going to come to cut the verge side grass. But nice to know I’m heading in the right direction should a hurricane or tsunami hit

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and there were at least a dozen of these memorial crosses

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I don’t understand how people get killed on this road: it’s a very wide dual carriageway with little traffic, all going at a moderate pace. I never once felt threatened.

And would you buy petrol at this service station?

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(For the benefit of non-British readers, learner drivers nearly always have kangaroo petrol in their tanks……it’s what causes poor clutch control……!).

In Kissimmee, I got into a nice RV park for only $20, pitched my tent in a tree-shaded spot and “enjoyed” another cooler than expected night…..but no worries, the sun is guaranteed to rise in the morning…..that’s why this park is full of snowbirds, all delighted not to be suffering what their northern co-patriots have at the moment.

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So like a snowbird myself, my trajectory will now take me south, towards Ft Myers. Roll on warmer nights!

Is this really the US?

I set off yesterday morning from Fort Pierce, destination Melbourne……I mean, how confusing is that? This time last year I was actually cycling into Melbourne downunder in 38 degrees of blistering heat….but that’s another story.
Today, I rode 55 miles on one road, mostly straight, into a head breeze, following a narrow strip of barrier islands that is mostly lined with hotels, private properties and golf courses. You actually seldom get to see the sea. It forever lies tantalizingly close on both sides of the road, but nearly always behind property with its own private beach. I tell you, there’s serious money in these parts.
But just occasionally you get a glimpse of the pounding surf

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This is to show Adam Hirst, of Rutland Cycling, that their shirts can get to some exotic places. (This could be the beginning of a series….).
Now, here is an annoying “did you know?” question: did you know that Florida was the first place in the US to be colonized? In fact, I rode right past the beach

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where the Spaniard, Juan Ponce de Leon, set foot in the early 16th century.

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But I do really wonder if he did jump from his ship brandishing a crucifix, expecting all the natives to rush imploringly to his feet, and ask to be converted?

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Well, I’ll leave you to surmise that issue.
But what I was really looking forward to at the end of the day’s ride

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(no, not taking a photo of my helmet on the beach), but meeting, and staying with, Tanner and Leslie, at their house in Melbourne beach. Leslie is a fellow blogger, and had been following my exploits Downunder last year. She hosts a blog primarily about the paleo diet (http://paleovoyage.wordpress.com), but is also a recent convert from spinning classes to road cycling. Her husband, Tanner, has been a big animal carer in zoos (rhinos, elephants….), and is an enthusiastic and experienced skydiver. In fact, shortly after I arrived, he appeared with his skydiving kit, having just completed three more jumps.
Hearing that, on one of his early solo jumps, he had to resort to his emergency chute to save the day, it confirmed me in my belief that cycling really is a safe sport…..and, indeed, I can sincerely say from experience so far on this trip, none safer than here in the US. (This last comment is going to elicit a storm of reaction from some of my US friends….but I’ll do my best to weather that storm)…..;o)
Sharing conversation over a delicious prawn curry was a delight. Thank you to them both.

So this morning, I will head off in the general direction of Orlando (towards Kissimmee in fact)…and it would seem that both Leslie and Tanner would like to join me for a few miles…..watch this space for the photographic evidence.
(But I am bracing myself for a few more cool nights under canvas…..the cold front from the north is still with us….at least in N Florida. Key West beckons, me thinks….)

A tent amongst RVs

“It costs how much? $30 for a little tent?”. She pointed outside, and all I could see were serried ranks of humungous RVs,

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most of them bigger than our house in the UK. I was amongst the ‘snowbirds’…..mostly rich retirees from the north, who migrate for the winter.

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Seeing what they are currently getting further north, even in the neighbouring state of Georgia, I’m not surprised Florida’s average age profile rockets in the winter.

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So I pitched my “little RV” and parked my ‘humungous bike’ next to it, and prepared for the sleepover. But there was a dire warning…….
Last night there was a dramatic drop in temperature, to 40 F (5c?), Florida’s whiplash from the weather in the north. Oh dear…….and my sleeping bag is only summer weight (guaranteed down to 15 degrees C). So now I’ve survived the night, this is what you do if you are similarly caught out: 1. Wear everything in your luggage (I put on 3 shorts, leg and arm warmers, 6 tops including my waterproof, 2 prs socks, and a buff used as a balaclava). 2. You must lie on an air mattress, great insulation. 3. Zip up your bag, mummifying yourself, leaving a small hole for ventilation. 4. And finally, adopt the foetal position.
Result?……..I was toasty warm throughout the night.
So now, you have no excuse for carrying that bulky 4 seasons sleeping bag and those just-in-case thick woolies.

Oh and by the way, today being Feb 14th, an 80 year old supermarket cashier wished me a ‘happy Valentine’….I was quite touched. So this prompted me to email this to my sweet Valentine back at home:

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Whoever you are with, have a happy day….;o)

Blasted by a northerly…

I took this together shot of Claus and Cindy before I headed out of Ft Lauderdale

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…by their pool …..
This is my first post using one finger on my phone, so you’ll be glad it’ll be short on words.
Today has been payback day: a northerly head wind after the SE tailwind of yesterday.

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It has been ‘redemptive’…….I hope….;o). The senses are bombarded by visuals along US highways

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…and many of them are directed at me, a cyclist. It’s nice to know that State authorities have my welfare at heart, but I have made a note of the finger-wagging.
Part of my journey to Ft Pierce included a stretch along a barrier island road that was populated with grand houses like this

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…and you know you’ve made in life when your property has its own service road

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I believe I passed Tiger Woods place, and I’m disappointed he didn’t invite me in for refreshment….nothing like promoting UK/US entente cordial.
This post is uploaded courtesy of MaCD’s free wifi……so now full of burger and fries, I head out once again to do battle with the wind, and find a campground.
(Postscript to yesterday: the tube mended sufficiently to get me to a cycle shop, and then gave up the ghost 20 miles later).

A night on Jupiter!

There’s nothing like a ten hour flight for getting to meet people, not only from across the world, but from a wide variety of backgrounds: from a Croatian cancer surgeon going out to a convention in Miami, to an Indian businessman setting up a new office in Florida; from a retired couple taking a cruise out of Miami, to Mum and Dad off to visit their son who works as a deck hand on a luxury yacht. All absolutely fascinating, and welcome relief from boredom.

After a ten hour flight, however, no-one should ever want to end up in Miami airport, where the queue through immigration seemed to zig-zag for more than a mile. In other words, you walked a mile to move forward by 3 metres! And then later, to ask ten different people how to get to the Tri-Rail station, and get ten different answers, causing me to backtrack, get lost, and then miss the train I wanted to catch…….The very last person was an hispanic from Cuba, who spoke little English. But when he realized I understood him perfectly in his native tongue, he turned out to be the one who knew the correct answer to my question. I have to say, though, that despite all the misinformation I received, everyone I met earnestly wanted to help me.

And that continued for the next 24 hours. When I got to Claus and Cindy’s house in Fort Lauderdale, they welcomed me warmly, gave me a bed for the night, and have stored my bike box until I return in 2 weeks time. My stay in Florida had started with a note of generosity, and it wasn’t to be the last on my first day.

So, when the bike was assembled, with no detectable damage from the baggage handlers, I headed north up the east coast, following the A1A highway which, for most of the way, had a generous shoulder for cyclists. With a tailwind and the sun behind, the pace was brisk….but that was counterbalanced by the excessive heat. My body was struggling to adjust to the climate change……30 Degrees C is warm by any standards. Hydration was to be a key issue throughout the day.

But so was finding the campsite at the end of the day, with only 30 minutes to go before darkness descended. I knew it was somewhere in the Jonathan Dickinson Natural Park, but I could not find my way into the park. I stopped to ask a couple directions, as they were out on an evening walk. They said they would happily go back for their truck and take me there, so I cycled back to a pick-up point….but they had a 25 minute walk to get back to their house.

En route, I picked up a massive puncture (ie. the tyre deflated instantly), and as I was beginning to attend to the bike, a truck pulled up, and I was asked if I was the English guy who needed a lift. They had been phoned by the previous couple, and Steve and Deborah had generously offered to stand in for them. So, I hoisted my bike on the back of their truck and we set off for the campsite (known as ‘campgrounds’ here), saw threatening clouds and lightening in the distance, and decided that a hotel room would be a much wiser choice, so they ferried me around a few places, only to discover that everywhere was fully booked because of President’s weekend. I must have got the very last room, not only at a Best Western, but in all hotels for miles around. But what could have been a $10 tenting night turned into a $140 rooming night…..gulp! (Please don’t tell Jenny….).

Which now, of course, meant that I could mend my puncture in relative luxury….or so I thought. The tube had been wrecked by a shard of glass. But, no worry, I had two spares……. or so I thought…….the spares were ones I had from my old Raleigh, which I had wrecked in NZ. Same tyre size, yes, but but but but…….different width! In fact they turned out to be too chunky and fat to fit in the new thinner tyres I was sporting on the new bike…..for those who don’t know about these things, tyres and tubes come a bewildering array of different sizes. So, unless I can mend the wrecked tube, sufficiently to get me to a bike shop about 5 miles away, I may have a very long walk tomorrow morning!

Go on, I know the depth of your sympathy will know no bounds…….

Oh, and by the way……..a night on Jupiter? Well, not exactly….but the hotel I’m staying in is in the town of Jupiter…..which is just up the road from Juno. Wonder if there’s a Mercury and Venus up the road?

Florida loop…

“As of 2012, bicyclists are no longer required to keep at least one hand on the handlebars”.

Right, this is my chance to set a new world record……..do the whole of the Florida Loop (850 miles) with no hands on the handlebars! I may lack a certain level of security regarding other traffic, but I will certainly bask in the secure knowledge that I won’t be fined by a traffic cop, or used as target practice by any bored law enforcement agents.

Florida Loop 850 miles

Florida Loop 850 miles

This will be my route. A total of 850 cycling miles, with a 3.5 hour ferry crossing from Fort Myers to Key West, where I will pay homage to the memory of Ernest Hemingwayhemingway_lg_0 by sampling his favourite drink, vermouth (not  mojito as many believe) in his favourite bar, Sloppy Joes.Sloppy Joes

The route will take me up the largely urbanized east coast of south Florida, to the old colonial city of St Augustine, then across the peninsula through national parks and swampland, to finish with a 120 mile stretch along the Florida Keys. In terms of terrain, there are no real hills to speak of, apart from gentle inclines, but there will be long stretches of remote countryside as I bid to cross the hinterland.

With only 36 hours before departure from Heathrow Airport, this is the sum total of the kit I will be taking CIMG9798

and this is the boxed bikeCIMG9799 which, the Virgin Atlantic website assures me, will travel free of charge in the hold. I will go armed with a copy of the airlines regulations, in case the check-in staff are a little unclear.

Joining the ‘snowbirds’ in Florida

“No person shall operate a bicycle unless it is equipped with a bell or device capable of giving a signal audible for a distance of at least 100 feet, but no bicycle shall be equipped with, nor shall any person use upon a bicycle, any siren or whistle”…….

This extract from the Miami highway code is a clear warning to this unwary British cyclist, who is about to descend onto the land where Beckham is king of soccer, and where “It is illegal for men to be seen publicly in any kind of strapless gown”.

I booked my passage with Virgin Atlantic about three weeks ago, not only because it operates a direct flight to Miami, but it will also carry my bike free of charge (the only restriction being weight: it must be under 23 kgs). VA are definitely the most cyclist-friendly airline crossing the pond. They not only transport your bike free, but you can also have another 23 kgs of check-in baggage as part of your allowance.

At the time of booking the flight, I happened to be back in touch with my American friend, Bob, whom I had met in New Zealand, on a world trip with his wife, Cristine and 10 year old daughter, Anna.

Anna, Bob and Cristine

Anna, Bob and Cristine

Anna, Bob and Cristine had introduced themselves as the ABC family, and I was to share a few very pleasant days in their company as we made our way down South Island.

Hearing of my plans, Bob jumped at the chance of joining me for two weeks in Florida. He booked his flight from California and arranged for his bike to be shipped overland. He ordered maps from the American Cycling Association and did his research on the recommended circuit of the peninsula.

Working as a team against and unforgiving wind.

Working as a team against and unforgiving wind.

But then……(the best laid schemes o’ mice and men) little more than a week from departure, a prolonged dry winter in California suddenly changed, and the snows began with a vengeance. Bob and his family live at an elevation of 6000 feet near Lake Tahoe, and when the snows come at that height, it is serious business. Quite rightly, Bob had to reassess the situation. Flying down to Florida meant leaving Cristine and Anna to their own devices, coping with the routines of daily life midst the worsening weather conditions. So Bob has had to abandon his plans. He was profusely apologetic……..but he didn’t need to be. Though I will sorely miss his company, I did point out to him that it now leaves me in very familiar territory………riding solo and unsupported.

So, in a nutshell, my plan is to do a circular route of some 800 miles, carrying my little tent, and staying at the simplest and cheapest campsites I can find. I have been warned by many to beware not only of the traffic (which can be very heavy in the south), but also of the crocodiles, which can lurk motionless by the roadside. If you appear to be a tasty morsel at the time, they can achieve bursts of speed in excess of 30 mph. That’s when the 100″ gear will come in very handy!

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