Keys to Freeze: Florida
Words by Megan Healy
Photos by George Ecklund
Arriving in Key West took every ounce of determination and energy I had saved up for Keys to Freeze. Being back home in New Hampshire for the weeks leading up to the trip, I watched as the overwhelming tour de blizzards covered the driveway with far too many feet of snow. I was luckily able to get my bike loaded into my car and slide out of the driveway with just enough time to get to the Midwest to pick up my adventure partner.
George and I arrived in Key West at 5:00am, a mere twenty-four hours after having left Cincinnati the day before where I had scooped him up along with his gear. Both already wiped out before even starting, I had done myself one better by not quite having set myself up for success in a couple different ways. Not only had I never been on my bike fully loaded, I had also not yet had a chance to properly pack. Once the gear was unloaded from the car and we had hydrating coconuts in hand and time to explore Key West on foot, I pulled myself together long enough to assemble my gear and bag setup. I still wouldn’t ride it ‘til the next morning when we were on our way to the southernmost point landmark at mile 0. This would be the moment I crumbled into a mess of giggles as I realized how strange it felt to be toting around this much weight on the bike. My packing was uneven and filled to the gills with less than essential items. I had nearly convinced myself to send half of my necessary belongings home. Instead, I saw it as an opportunity to use the ever-flat Florida as my training ride.
If you ever get the chance to bike from Miami to Key West, or the reverse, I highly recommend the ride. We took to the 100 mile stretch to find the bike path system extended nearly the entire way, only breaking up in a few spots. We danced our bikes north along the Keys and found plenty of adventure and entertainment along the way. Our first unplanned stop happened as we approached the seven mile bridge connecting Marathon, FL to the southern islands. Traffic was backed up for miles due to an automobile accident and we saw the opportunity to duck down under the start of the bridge for some ocean and shade treatments. This is also around the time I transitioned my snowflake white New Hampshire skin to that of a perfectly steamed lobster.
The chance to get off the bike and explore an unfamiliar place is a big part of my appeal to touring. After drinking some Argentine mate and wading in the crystal blue ocean for a bit, it was time to cross the seven mile bridge and seek out our first surprise camp spot. That’s right, with all the planning that went into this trip, we left out the details of where we’d rest our heads for the first night on the road. Luckily our group came across a kind gentleman who offered the back lot of the Disabled American Veteran’s hall for us to pitch our tents. Problem solved and our streak of hospitality began.
Before leaving the Keys we’d have world famous key lime pie, shake hands with dolphins, sleep on a houseboat in a marina, see a crisp moon ring, and do our fair share of stargazing. Then it was on to cross the Everglades where we found swamps, countless gators lining the Tamiami Trail, high temperatures, and even more starry skies. The amount of scenic change that had occurred just from escaping the Keys was surely noticeable, and it was about to change again.
As we headed north along the Gulf Coast we wove our way around country roads. Make that beautiful country roads. Farms, horses, homesteads, central and northern Florida have it all. With the terrain being predictably flat, our confidence grew with each passing sunny day, and we even combined ride days to have a 107 mile day into Gainesville, Florida. This was especially exciting for me because we were staying with friends who let us take over their kitchen and whip together a bangin’ sweet potato taco bar with fresh pico and guac, coconut oil sautéed lemon kale, and endless sriracha fountains. Access to real kitchens and the time to use them send me right over the moon when busy adventure cycling.
We cruised along the Spanish moss covered live oaks nearing the panhandle, and closed out our days in Florida by riding through our first real rain day en route to Pensacola. A day off awaited and a bit of rain and gritty road conditions weren’t about to slow us down. We survived the ride a bit soggier than when we began, but more importantly we reached the edge of Florida. We were sixteen miles from the Alabama border, had already covered just over 1,000 miles in two and a half weeks, and my Florida training ride was complete.