Day 7: 53 miles from Marathon to Key West

Done!

We have made it to Key West and the end of the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway. It’s an especially happy moment for those who have now ridden the entire route, with its ups and downs (I’m envious; I still need to ride from Providence to New York). It’s also a sad moment because the end of the annual Week A Year rides means we won’t have an obvious reason to gather every year. Hopefully some of us will still ride together.

So, yes, we ended at the oversized buoy marking the southernmost point in the U.S. There’s a line of people all waiting to get their photo taken there, so it feels, well, like a tourist trap. Far cooler, I thought, and more suitable for us was the multi-colored arch of bike wheels the city of Key West created for us in a park a couple of blocks away.

We weren’t the only ones loving it. City officials said non-cyclists were taking photos there all day. It will get even more attention on Saturday, when the two-day, 165-mile Miami-to-Key-West Smart Ride wraps up, and I hope city officials then give it a permanent spot.

Actually, it’s a cool idea to borrow for the East Coast Greenway’s NYC-PHL ride next year.

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Day 6: 54 miles from Key Largo to Marathon

Our luck finally ran out. We’d woken up to rain in Titusville, but it was sunny by the time we left for our first day on this year’s Week A Year Tour.. There was a torrential downpour in Palm Beach the day before we arrived, and more rain the day after. Sunshine, though, when we were there.

But today … it was raining when we woke up, and the weather radar that claimed it would be gone by 8:45 a.m. was dead wrong. We waited a bit longer, but at one point you just get impatient. Plus it was a warm rain, close to 80 degrees. How bad could it be?

So we swooped by Doc’s Diner (where you can get breakfast with a dozen scrambled eggs, sausage links, crispy bacon, thick ham steak, pancakes, French toast, homemade sausage gravy, freshly grilled hash browns, creamy grits, hot biscuits and fresh fruit for $36 — and it supposedly feeds just four to five people?) to pick up one rider, and off we went in the rain.

The rain got worse.

We were on a sidepath along U.S. 1 (really the only road in the Keys) and dodging puddles for a few miles, but it was about to run out and put us onto a bike lane on the road, with trucks and cars going by. Suddenly there, across the road, was the Key Lime Pie Factory (ok, really probably just a store, but factory sounds better in a name). We decided this was the place to seek shelter. Of course the air conditioning was freezing. So we stood outside under an overhang, sharing a slice of pie and staring at the sky. Finally it looked like it was lightening up, and we decided for the second time to just go for it.

This time it really did stop raining, at least for a while. By afternoon, though, we were being chased by this giant dark cloud on the Atlantic side. Every once in a while, we’d get rain again, though thankfully just for a few minutes. It was harder to escape the puddles, though, and my feet were sloshing in my bike shoes by the time we reached the hotel.

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Day 5: 74 miles from Miami Beach to Key Largo

Sometimes Florida surprises you, and I mean that in a good way.

Today we had lots of trail. Not in the wooded, shady way but in the separated from three lanes of crazy traffic on U.S. 1 kind of way. First, though, we had to get out of Miami Beach and into Miami. We had more of that lovely beachfront trail in Miami Beach — the Atlantic Greenway — down to the tip of Miami Beach, past some of the amazing Art Deco buildings and then back north to the MacArthur Causeway Bridge.

Then came the bike lane on the bridge next to rush-hour traffic. All you can do is ride in a group and keep hoping that Florida traffic engineers actually get on a bike one day and think about ways to make this better.

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Day 4: 54 miles from Delray Beach to Miami Beach

Remember how I wrote a couple of days ago that the river has risen 8 inches in a decade because all the construction in Florida means there’s less space to handle water run-off so it all ends up in rivers that lead to the coast?

Today we saw what that means.

We were cycling along the Intracoastal Waterway south of Delray Beach and north of Boca Raton — perhaps Highland Beach. The road was flooded and the water was lapping at what’s essentially a curb along the water. It won’t take much more to create a permanent mess. Even the Harley rider whose T-shirt depicted a GOP elephant adorned with Trump’s hair admitted Florida will be under water. Too bad, he said, before gunning his engine as the drawbridge was still closing.

Today’s route was lots more of A1A (only a few truly crazy spots) and one town blending into another, often with walls of high rises and even more under construction. For people who escaped the big cities up north for lots of sunshine, I saw this as a less-appealing version and the same congested roads. And with little in the way of alternative transportation, what happens when you have to give up driving? It didn’t make me want to say oh yes, let’s move to Florida when we retire.

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Day 3: 71 miles from Jensen Beach to Delray Beach

Yup, more beach-to -each riding. And wow that Florida sun is strong! We keep lathering on the sun block (got to remember to put some on my nose tomorrow) and breathing a sigh of relief every time we get some extended shade.

But first, the day’s bike drama. This is my seventh Week-a-Year ride with the East Coast Greenway, and I’ve not had even one flat tire. Today, though, we were only 2, maybe 3 miles into the ride when I heard a loud boom. My bike struggled to move. Then it wouldn’t move at all. The tire was rubbing against the frame in spots.

Fortunately, this ride comes with a mechanic on speed dial. Alan the miracle worker showed up as soon as he finished fixing someone else’s bike. My problem was a broken spoke. On the rear wheel. And when a spoke breaks, the wheel no longer stays straight.

Off came the wheel. And the tire. And then the cassette (that’s the set of gears in the back).

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Day 2: 70 miles from Melbourne to Jensen Beach

Nearly 50 miles into today’s ride, we stopped at the Navy SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce. I learned a few things. Obviously these guys are very fit and far braver than me. But they also have a lot of cool gadgets; jet-propelled boots to go even faster under water, for one. And they never leave someone behind.

That was us today, traveling in a pack of six and not leaving anyone (very far) behind as we headed further south on the East Coast Greenway lathered in sun block and aided by a lovely tail wind. One of our first stops was this Ponce de Leon statue to mark where he came ashore in 1513 and called this land La Florida. You may remember him as the guy looking for the Fountain of Youth. Too bad he didn’t know about cycling; that’s the real magic elixir.

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Day 1: 45 miles from Titusville to Melbourne

Today’s directions were to pretty much follow U.S. 1 aside from the beginning and the end. But it’s never that simple.

On the positive side, Florida does put bike lanes on U.S. 1. On the other hand, it is a U.S. highway, so traffic is going right by you at 55 mph or more and there’s nothing pretty to see. Mostly it’s pawn shops, bail bonds and the odd CBD store. As for pedestrians — you want a sidewalk? Sorry, none of that. Use the bike lane next to all that traffic (as we saw a couple do with a stroller) or walk in the grass. This is why need the East Coast Greenway — for people on foot as well as people on bikes.

Immediately there’s talk of what happens if we go a bit further east, onto Merritt Island. Think toward Kennedy Space Center. And after many miles on U.S. 1 with all 40 of us, a big chunk finally do, going over one steep causeway bridge and onto this narrow strip of land sandwiched between Indian River and Banana River, not as far east as Cocoa Beach.

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