On Thanksgiving Day I had turkey and all the fixings, excellently prepared by my husband (he always says I help, but really I push microwave buttons.) Then I put my bicycle in a truck and drove 22 hours to Key Largo, Florida. I spent 8 days riding to Key West and back (with a little South Beach Miami thrown in) with two awesome dudes.
We crossed 40 bridges (including the famous Seven Mile Bridge), rode at least 300 miles, had two flat tires, stayed in four campgrounds and two hotels, visited Ernest Hemingway’s house, the Southernmost Point of the United States, and the historic Key West Cemetery, drank gallons of water and coffee (and adult beverages), watched the sun rise and set every day in a most spectacular fashion, and formed a serious love/hate relationship with mile markers (at least I did.)
The Good (besides all of it)
- I’m a good camper! My tent came out of the box for the first time on this trip. Now I can put up a tent in heavy wind in the dark on gravel while fighting off fire ants.
- I learned exactly how much stuff I need. And it’s not a lot. Next trip: less clothes and toiletries, more fluffy stuff to sleep on top of.
- Getting to know my two traveling buddies. We were together (more or less) 24/7 for 10 days. This included over 40 hours of sitting in a truck cab and riding 5 to 6 hours a day together, plus every meal. We really got to know each other and it was a fantastic experience.
- The ADVENTURE. For most of the trip, we had only a vague idea of where we were going to stay each night. We saw giant lizards, endangered Key Deer, all variety of sea birds, and miles of open water. We rode on beautiful fresh pavement and gravel and sand. We met people who offered us camping space in their yard (“If I’m not home, just throw your sh*t in my yard and go have a beer.”) and lots of fellow travelers. In case there was ever any doubt, Pittsburghers are everywhere.
The Bad (as bad as being in paradise can be)
- Did you know you can get sunburn on your elbows? How about the crook of your arm? Behind your ears? I assure you, you can and it is exquisitely painful. Use sunscreen, lots of it, and make sure you get ALL THE PARTS.
- It’s winter. Things close early and you end up eating dinner at Walgreen’s. Due to poor planning, several times we missed the dinner boat. We did learn, however, that you can get Chinese food delivered to a state park. And to always have snacks on hand.
- You’re going to have a day you don’t want to ride. And you’ll have to do it anyway. And every single mile marker will be a punch in your teeth. And you’ll have a headwind. And you’ll be happy that you did it.
- Coming home to the cold was traumatic. I hate fixing my hair and wearing grown-up clothes again.
Read about far more epic trips than mine!
The Lost Cyclist, David V. Herlihy
Pittsburgh dude! In 1892, Pittsburgh accountant Frank Lenz quit his job to cycle around the world, ostensibly as a correspondent for Outing magazine. After two years and nearly 20,000 miles, he disappeared in eastern Turkey. In what seems like a supremely stupid move, Outing magazine sends another correspondent (William Sachtleben) to find out what happened to the first one. Luckily, he doesn’t disappear and actually finds the people responsible. Herlihy documents not only the investigation, but (more interesting) Lenz’s epic bike ride around the world.
Off the Map: Bicycling Across Siberia, Mark Jenkins
Despite my love of all things Russian, this is NOT a trip I will be taking. Seven people (three Americans and four Soviets) rode 7,000 miles from the Sea of Japan to Leningrad in Soviet Russia, much of it through swamps on dirt roads. They encountered angry KGB agents and extraordinary Russians and lived on a diet of potatoes, bread and milk with nary a Walgreen’s in sight. Bag of nopes.
Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die, Chris Santella
We are already talking about 2014’s trip to Key West. This time we want to be there for the full moon. But this book has inspired me to think bigger! Why not RAGBRAI or the Tour de Tuli? Although I’ll pass on the Washington State Challenge (320 miles in 24 hours, with 32 miles up hill!).
Miles From Nowhere, Barbara Savage
For two years, Barbara and Larry Savage traveled around the world on their bikes. Covering 25 countries and 23,000 miles, it was the trip of a lifetime, planned on a whim over dinner. And they did it on bikes way less fancy than mine. The book is a little dated (1983) and their description of riding in the Florida Keys is the polar opposite of mine: the Seven Mile Bridge was described as a “nightmare.” In my case, it was one of the most beautiful, exhilarating parts of the ride! SPOILER ALERT: Barbara Savage died in a bicycle wreck right before this book was published!
Tons more pictures if you’re so inclined!