Friday, December 10, 2010

Key West! We made it!

Guess where we are!!  We made it!  We got here on Thursday 12/9. We're enjoying a few well-deserved days off and will have a full post of what else we've been up to soon. Stay tuned!

Almost there!

Although we didn't plan to stay in a hotel, we weren't really complaining too much, because it was better than being outside freezing our butts of in a tent!  We rode the next day right into the start of the Florida Keys, not before stopping at Alabama Jack's for some delicious conch salad and a beer or two. We were sitting outside at a table on the deck, and we had fun trying to fend off the local seagulls, hungry for whatever they could get. Chunks of ice launched in the gulls' general direction seemed to work well!

Another picture from Miami, with Isabella and Sofia, our beautiful hostesses.

Lunch before we got into the Keys. Luckily there weren't any seagulls trying to steal our lunch at the moment.

We rode through the beginning of the keys and camped on Key Largo, pretty close to a shopping center with a 24-hour Kmart, which happened to be playing 24-hours of Christmas songs. It's quaint at first, but at 3am when all you want to do is sleep, it gets old.

Entering the keys!

The next day, we got a late start, then we stopped for coffee.  We were hoping to make it further than we did, but we had an epic bout of flat tires, brought on by Key Largo's copious amounts of careless drivers throwing glass bottles out the windows. I even got a 2 inch nail in one of my tires!  Even though we didn't get as far as we'd have liked, we found a really nice campsite near Layton on Long Key on a hiking trail.  Our neighbors, however, were noisy, obnoxious, and bigtime night owls. They were vultures, actually (literally), and they were flapping their huge wings, and landing and taking off all night, squawking, and trying pretty hard to keep us up.

One of the bike-only bridges through the keys. I could get used to this!

The next day, we hopped on our bikes, set on making the 70 miles remaining to Key West!!

I can't go to Miami without thinking of that Will Smith song.

In our last episode, your dashing heroes rode beachfront roadway past the houses of the rich and famous.

The houses along route A1A in the Ft. Lauderdale beach area are unlike anything I've ever seen. None of them looked like people actually lived there, and all of them looked like monuments enshrining their owner's monetary success. Regardless of my thoughts on domestic excess, the rows of beachfront mansions made that day's long ride seem rather short. We gawked. We stared. We had trouble keeping our eyes on the road.

Riding through banyan tree tunnel.

At some point later in the day, I got a flat tire on my trailer (one of many, many flat tires to come). As I changed the flat, a jovial old man rode up to us on a folding bike. He stopped in the parking lot to tell us that he is an author, and that his latest work revolved around some touring cyclists. He said that it was a pleasant coincidence that he saw us pedaling down the road. As the old man told us this, a car entered the parking lot, and pulled within a few inches of the old man. The driver proceeded to lay on his horn. The driver's strategy was effective in doing two things: 1) causing the old man to remove himself from the parking lot; 2) demonstrating that Miami drivers are rude. Miami drivers are, without a doubt, the rudest drivers we have come across in the past few months. They honk more than geese, ignore red lights, and have a misanthropic attitude towards everything else on the road. We never intended this blog to be a forum for negativity, so I'll end my description of Miami's roadways.

96 miles later, we were relieved from having to brave Miami traffic. My uncle met us for a beer, and then we piled our stuff inside and on top of his car for a ride to his house. We took two days off in Miami, and spent some great time with my uncle, aunt, and my two little cousins. That Saturday, we had a real breakfast, played the Nintendo Wii, burned some burgers and chorizo on the grill, and had a generally pleasant day. My cousins are learning to play guitar, so we played a couple of songs together. Isabella is going to be the next Eric Clapton!

After a much needed two day break, we hit the road again for our final leg of the trip. We crawled through Miami at a snail's pace because we hit almost every red light Miami had to offer. The stop-and-go feel of the ride was annoying, so we stopped for a lunch break on the beach. The beach was absolutely beautiful: snowy white sand, crystal clear waters, and gentle waves. There weren't many people on the beach, either. The reason for the beach's sparse population became evident a few moments later. Vanessa spotted an older gentleman walking down the beach, displaying himself in stark nudity. A ways further down the beach, a few more entirely naked (and older) beachgoers were laying out. Upon these observations, I concluded that we were walking on a nude beach. We quickly made our exit so as to avoid the remaining nudists and their very unflattering physiques.

Lunch break beach, sans nudity.

I wish we would have seen this sign earlier!

After our inadvertent visit to the nude beach, we looked forward to some 15 miles of bike paths. Unfortunately, Miami failure to properly sign and maintain these paths forced us to ride on the road, and ultimately to find a new route to Florida City. Fortunately, our new route involved some 20 miles of dedicated bike lanes that ran alongside a bus-only road. Unfortunately, the bike paths were littered with broken glass. Unfortunately, a piece of glass ripped through my tire just as the sun was setting, and we had no spare inner tubes. Most fortunately, we were a half mile from a hotel, and only a quarter mile from a bike shop. Fortunately, we would end up sleeping in a warm bed on what became a record breakingly cold night for the Miami area. Talk about luck!

Wind Blows.

After leaving our rental car behind, we got back on the road. It would have maybe been nice to have the car for the next day or two, considering we hit some pretty gnarly crosswind and headwind the next couple of days. It's amazing how much it affects you when you're biking vs. when you're in a car.  We had a hard couple of days into Daytona Beach, a town full of big hotels and condos.  Every year in Daytona, they have National Bike Week, although these particular bikers are clad in leather, and their bikes have a lot more chrome (and horsepower) than ours.  We wondered how many of these hotels have sprung up over the years solely for the Bike Week. The Bike Week wasn't happening while we were there, though, so things were pretty calm around town.

Ed's uncle had some extra Hilton points and generously put us up in the Hilton in Daytona. (Thanks Uncle Chris!) We felt a little out of place walking into their lobby sweaty and smelly in our spandex, but the friendly front desk folks didn't even flinch.  The guys outside even offered to valet our bikes! We laughed a little, then took our bikes up the elevator and into the room instead. We may or may not have been seen riding through the hallways! The room was great, and gave us a really nice view of the city as well.

View from the balcony. Not bad!!
We had some delicious barbecue for dinner, which didn't even register on the Hilton's in-room scale, which may or may not have been totally accurate.

According to the Hilton, I weigh 100 lbs. I may actually weigh slightly more than 100 lbs. Also, I'm not sure why the picture ended up sideways. Sorry.

Clean and well-fed, we got on the road the next day, and had a big day into Melbourne, FL (even with Ed's flat tires). We stayed at a state park that was planning to open up a trail of Christmas lights that evening. We rode our bikes through the beautiful lights (the best way to see them!) and we even ran into Santa Claus himself as we checked in!


Ed riding through the tunnel of lights.

It was cold, but not that cold (thankfully)

The next couple days we had a change of fate in terms of wind - we actually had a tailwind! A cold front had blown in (yes, we had a few nights into the low 40s, even though we're in south Florida. Come on, weatherman! Help us out here!), and the wind was a great help in getting us through West Palm Beach (the houses there were ridiculous!) into the Miami area, where Ed's uncle, Tio Fede, lives. We met him for a couple of drinks and some delicious food near Fort Lauderdale. We stayed in Miami for a great couple of days - filled with food, beer, music, and video games. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Have car, will travel.

In our last episode, your mobile heroes indulged the deadly sin of gluttony and found themselves cruising at the breakneck speed of 70 a car.

After spending two months traveling at 15mph, car travel is almost surreal. Bestowed upon us was the power to actually pass other cars, to ignore hills, and to actually enjoy a slight breeze. Cycling forces an acute awareness of traffic, hills, wind, visibility, and debris on the shoulder of the road. As our trip has progressed, the acuity of that awareness has gradually slipped into a subconscious resignation of our powerlessness in the face of those elements. A car removes the need for that subconscious resignation, which leaves a strange void in our daily modus operandi. All philosophical waxing aside, exchanging the bicycle pedal for a gas pedal makes life happen at a faster and more convenient pace. However, I am sure that our dear reader doesn't need to be told that cars are convenient machines. This is just a long winded way of saying that I like driving.

We used the rental car to carry us to the movies, where we vegetated in front of the silver screen for nearly 6 hours. We saw Due Date and The Next Three Days, which were thoroughly entertaining even if they weren't Oscar winners. We emerged from the theater after dark, which would normally be a bad thing on a bike. Don't ride at night, kids. Unlike our bikes, our rental car had some blazing headlights, so night travel was no problem. We cruised to a campsite near Jacksonville Beach, where we were greeted by the sounds of dozens of (possibly drunk) neighbors trying to sing a campfire song.

The next day, the rental car took us to St. Augustine. We spent some time crawling around the oldest city in the U.S. St. Augustine is home to a fort made entirely of coquina shells and populated by men dressed in 17th century costumes, which was, for lack of a better word, pretty cool. The fort has stood in its present condition for more than 400 years, despite periods of inclement weather and mortar shells. After touring the fort, we returned to the campsite and made s'mores (a great recovery food).

In an antique shop in St. Augustine

Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine

Sentinel's tower

Sentinel's tower. Again.

One of the cannons in the fort, from the 1750s.

That night, we accidentally left the marshmallows out. A raccoon discovered our marshmallows, ate a few, and slobbered all over the rest. The raccoon also carried Vanessa's bag into the woods, which was impressive because the bag weighed almost 10 pounds. The coon couldn't get inside the bag, though, so the rest of our food was free from the raccoon drool, but he left a few chomp marks.

Unfortunately, our time with the rental car came to an end. We shared our farewells, parted ways with the rental, and began pedaling once again.

In our next episode, your heroes discover headwind, and land at the Hilton on Daytona Beach! Stay tuned!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thanksgiving break!

After crossing into Florida, we had a nice ride into a state park near Jacksonville.  Florida has a pretty nice set of state parks; we've been impressed with what we've seen so far.  This particular state park, Huguenot Memorial Park, was situated right across a bay from a naval air station, which made for some interesting sights (ships and helicopters), but also for unpleasant and early morning wake-up calls (cannon exercises?).

Sunset over the naval air station, complete with a helicopter.

We rode an easy 20 or so miles into Jacksonville to pick up a rental car to drive to Tampa for Thanksgiving with Ed's mom and stepdad.  We had a nice bike lane on the way there; Florida seems to be adding a lot of bike lanes to their roads, which is great to see!

We had a great week in Tampa - maybe a little more time than we would have liked to take off - just in the interest of finishing the trip - but it was well-needed rest. We ate tons of food, drank lots of beer, and visited with lots of friends and family.  Ed's stepdad promptly enlisted Ed's help in deep-frying 5 turkeys (yes, five!).

Ed, telling an epic story while injecting 'flavor' into a turkey (To my former co-workers: this thing was a cheap version of a cannula. Seriously!)

This is how we fry a turkey

Ed's mom brought us to visit one of her hospice patients (she's a volunteer at a nursing home), a wonderful woman named Twyla, who gave Ed some good advice on military life and Army bases. She said that you'll have a ball wherever you go, which goes along with some other advice we've heard, which was that the service is what you make of it. Hello Twyla! We'll send you a postcard from Key West when we get there.

We also got to see Ed's sister's new house, complete with a big-screen tv, a kegerator, and a gator in the lake in the back! (it's Florida) No really... they're getting  a fence soon. Despite the lack of fence, we discovered that the kitchen works quite well, and stuffed ourselves with a delicious chicken dinner.

We went out the day after Thanksgiving to visit with some family friends and celebrate Ed's passing the bar exam. We went to the Hard Rock Cafe and Casino, and had a few drinks and a delicious dinner at their fancy steakhouse. I had escargot for the first time (yum!) and we were also impressed with the lobster bisque, steak tartare, the lobster mac and cheese, and the long-bone steaks. Tasty!

We headed back to Jacksonville to return the rental, but unfortunately got back about 10 minutes after the rental car place closed for the weekend. We were left with a nice little dilemma - an extra 2 days off and a car at our disposal!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

In our last episode, your intrepid heroes were being chased by dogs through an otherwise boring Georgia ride. Due to time constraints, your heroes were unable to enjoy Savannah, GA, opting instead to ride through the parts of Georgia inhabited only by stretches of lonely road.

US 301 in southern Georgia is long, straight, and unremarkable. So went our day for about 6 hours. Then, our day became more exciting when we stopped at a gas station to refuel with coffee and hot dogs. We were loitering outside by our bikes when a couple of camouflaged hunters approached us to inquire just what in God's name we were doing clad in spandex with funny lookin' bikes. We told them about the trip, and they broke out into laughter. "That's just plum crazy. Say, y'all have a place to cook meat?" We were a bit confused by their question, but then one of the camouflaged gentlemen explained that they had some fresh ground venison. We told them that we have a camp stove, so the hunters made us a gift of the venison.

An hour later, we were crossing the border into Florida. The moment was rather poignant, because it meant that the trip was definitely coming to an end. We had no more state border crossings to anticipate. We had officially ridden bicycles from Maine to Florida. So, we took some pictures and videos, and stopped for a minute to reminisce. Our reminiscence was interrupted by two gentlemen who were walking two horses across the road.

The two gentlemen looked like a cross between gypsies and rednecks. They had a manner about them similar to that of carnival folk. They asked us what we were up to, so we told them. In turn, we asked them what they were up to, and they told us that they were riding their horses from Florida to Pennsylvania. We chatted for a while, and the gentlemen turned out to be some of the nicest folks we had met along the way. They made a point of telling us that they hoped we would arrive in Key West safely.

As we parted ways with the men on horseback, we proceeded on to a great campsite. A few states have public hunting land euphemistically labelled "wildlife management areas." Normally, these wildlife management areas are just fenced off pieces of land without any amenities. Fortunately for us, the WMA that we found had a free campsite with showers, leftover firewood, and fire pits. Vanessa used one of the trailers to collect firewood and then played as a pyromaniac to make a huge fire. Soon thereafter, we had 4 venison burger sizzling away on a makeshift griddle. It was definitely a tasty and nutritious way to end the first day of the rest of our trip.