May 4, 2018
We were so innocent and naive Friday morning in Key West as we sipped our Cuban coffee (delicious) and walked our bikes down to the buoy marking the southernmost point of the U.S. Sally snapped a few photos and we were off — after so many months of planning this trip.
The weather was pretty at 9 am: summery and bright. Once we left the busy streets of Key West the sights were fun: teal green sea, iguanas big and small scurrying away from us, visits of upcoming keys off in the distance. We had some separated bike paths in the morning but many of the bike/pedestrian bridges are closed due to hurricane damage from last fall.
At mile 25, halfway through our day’s ride, we stopped for a little lunch and more delicious Cuban coffee at Island Coffee inSummerland Key. I asked the shopkeepers for intelligence about the infamous 7-Mile Bridge that I knew was ahead of us. They gave ample warning but you always take it with a grain of salt from non-cyclists and non-runners.
Lordy. I never want to see that bridge again! It was mile 40 to 47 on Route 1 and we were riding dead into the easterly headwind blowing 18 to 22 mph. The protected bridge for bikes and pedestrians is closed with major storm dam age so there we were riding the shoulder, a nonstop stream of cars and trucks loudly rushing by us.
Have I mentioned that in the last 20 years, really since having kids, I’ve developed a strong discomfort with high bridges and edges of all sorts?? So Dee rode ahead, helpfully blocking out some of my view, and we ride slowly for a good hour on a smallish shoulder. We averaged 6 mph — as Dee said, that’s about our running pace these days.
I kept my head down and sang to myself the old folk song, “inch by inch, row by row, I’m going to make this garden grow” — on repeat because that’s all I could remember. At mile 43 you climb a little bump up on the bridge — fun! It devastated Dee that we couldn’t even coast down the other side because the wind was too strong.
I realized by then that I was going to make it without having to walk. I offered to switch places with Dee to block some of the wind for her. But I was feeling stranger and stranger. Hot, dehydrated, exhausted from not being able to change position for fear of swerving into a truck. I began to see a chained link fence that wasn’t there above the jersey barriers, as if I could lean against it.
With maybe a be a mile to go on the bridge (it was like a mirage, we never seemed to make progress) I finally had to stop. Dee pulled up behind me and we were both shaking. Distraught, exhausted, we took some swings of water, then — Bob will hate this part — we crouched and peed against the Jersey barrier, while the trucks roared by.
About a a mile after we hit solid ground in Marathon, we pulled off to a roadside open air bar offering thatched-roof shade. We slumped ourselves onto two bar stools and ordered ice cold cokes: heaven. A couple beside us, celebrating their first anniversary, asked us a bit about what we were doing (“riding to Canada!) and then asked to take our photo. “You’re the most interesting people we have met all week,” the woman told us.
Fifteen minutes later (after free Cokes, the bartender said they were on him) we were revived enough to make it a few miles to our motel. It made me think of our iPhones, both of which are losing battery power too quickly, but also recharge quickly. I was definitely I in low-power mode but one coke took me back to about 69 percent in 15 minutes.
I havent mentioned that I got a flat tire a few miles before that scary bridge. I haven’t had a flat on my bike for maybe 20 years, but there was plenty of debris on the road shoulders. Dee kept me calm and helped me change it pretty efficiently in the shade of a gas station that was working to reopen after storm damage.
Day two offers more bridges as we make our way out of the Keys. It’s ok, I’ll keep my head down. “Inch by inch...”
Dee on the road in the morning, before the headwind and bridges got hairy.
Our lunch stop. Best iced coffee ever.