I drove about a thousand miles down the east coast and ended up at a tourist campground in the Florida keys, at a marina, frazzled, late in the evening, By myself eating pistachios at a picnic table and washing them down with soup out of a can. The soup was the same temperature as the inside of the van.
I had driven this far, so I could get on my bike and pedal the rest of the way. This wasn’t a typical bike ride for me. Meeting my friend Matt to pedal from Key Largo to the end of Rt.1 in Key West to raise money for charity – a nice cruise for a good cause.
Come to find out, my Mother went into labor with me at a bar in Key Largo, so that’s where I would leave from, where it all started. My uncle had owned it, adjacent to another marina, and my father would fix small boats for extra money. Now I just had to find it, many years later.
I was walking around what appeared to be gravel parking lot at an inlet – storm torn parts of the coastline, A woman asked me what I was doing, I said I wanted to see the ocean, and asked if there was a bar nearby, she pointed to a dilapidated building not far off and said -’THIS IS PRIVATE’ , and that I couldn’t look out to the sea here. So there I was, looking around for the bar at Rock Harbor Marina where my Mom went into labor with me, it had been destroyed by one of the recent hurricanes and now it sat quietly amidst the more favorable areas being rebuilt. Seems as though someone bought and fenced off the coastline on both sides since I was last here.
Then I locked my keys in the car in the Florida Keys…
Not soon after we would start pedaling, mile 100 until it ended. Key Largo was busy, but had dedicated bicycle paths most of the time, where you would see Iguanas scurry into the foliage- we would see lots of animals- heron, bald eagles, cuban anoles, egrets, osprey, polydactyl cats, roosters, northern curly tailed lizards and even a guy who called himself – ‘˜Doug the Legend!’ – he then told us – ‘if you wanna be a legend, you gotta do legendary shit…’
Matt was pedaling the full distance, standing up on a BMX bike, my bike would serve as the mule, with a rack and luggage, until both my bags broke, AND the rack. The bumpy asphalt and the lack of preparation proved to be a bad combination. When my bag hit the ground and made a klunk sound, I first worried I would have a broken camera, until I remembered I was carrying my fathers ashes in a coffee mug. Luckily it was just the sound of a multi tool hitting the ground. Repairs and improvisation were on deck, and I would be slowly navigating the not so groomed surfaces from here on out.
Even with being ‘˜out of practice’, ill prepared and generally clueless, every pedal brought smiles out of us, and most people we passed when greeted with a wave and the ring of a bicycle bell. Although mostly mellow, and easy going, riding during the peak heat and humidity of southern Florida was not something I had really paid much attention to until I was in the thick of it. The sunblock i had applied had run into my eyes, and dripped in a greasy sweaty mess onto my eyeglasses, only to be worsened by my routine of trying to wipe them off with my shirt, which was also soaked. Moments like these or flat tires, or panniers breaking, could be kind of frustrating. Thankfully it would be tempered by the beautiful surroundings and the fenced off beaches, where you could hear vacationers jet skiing in the distance.
Pedaling south with sun burnt lips and knee caps, the best parts of the ride were through bike lane corridors in the mangroves, passing kapok trees, gumbo limbo, cabbage palms, royal poinciana, cuban royal palm, banana trees and even a burning yacht. In breaks on the greenery, I would look to either side and see shadows of clouds over clear water, with the Gulf Of Mexico on the right, white capped turquoise- The Atlantic Ocean to my left, with the rippled reflection of the sun, my father’s light.
Before it was said and done, we had crossed over 40 bridges between the start and where the road would end. Some of the bridges were mellow, or had bike lanes and plenty of shoulder. Some of the bridges were long, with sweeping arches over the waterways, with little room between fast moving trucks, and the three foot jersey barrier, the only thing between you and a fifty foot drop into the ocean. Some didn’t allow automobile traffic, just people fishing, those were my favorite bridges to cross.
By the time I got to Key West, at the end of line, I found a decommissioned Coast Guard cutter called the Ingham, the last active warship in the US fleet with a U-Boat kill, it’s now a museum.
My Father, a Navy veteran, retired from the service as a Chief Petty Officer from the USCG, it seemed like the right time and place to spread some of my Dad’s ashes. Journeys end at sunset. Serendipity and catharsis, it was emotional.
Over hundred miles pedaled, go as far as you can, take a look around, turn about face and keep going…