More than 24 hours have passed since dipping my front tire in the ocean at Key West.
I turned 50 this morning.
Dawn and Freddy got married in a lovely sunrise ceremony next to the water.
Hung out in Key West most of the day after dropping mom at the airport, eating pie and square tacos.
Mom’s flight was canceled, it turns out, and she was at the Key West airport for 6+ hours waiting to find out what they would be doing to get her home. When we landed in Atlanta for our layover I received her text that she was on a 3+ hour bus to Miami, would spend the night in a hotel, and then get home tomorrow night.
With nothing we could do about it, we waited for our plane. It was delayed, but at least it left.
In the morning I will get up and head to work.
It feels like we have been gone for a month or more, and it feels like the landscape of where I’ve lived has changed entirely. Things look familiar, but like I left years ago, lived my life, and came back to find that everyone had also lived a lifetime in my absence.
The day dawned early, though not quite as early as the rest of the week. We left our Airbnb at 6:15 and drove to Big Pine Key. I didn’t see any deer – they mostly stay off the main road, I suspect.
The first 16.5 miles were seamless. Just a touch of headwind and perfectly overcast, cooler than hoped for, (perfect) and an easy 15 miles that I pulled down in under 80 minutes. Five super-short miles later Dawn and my mom met me at mile 10. Then again at every mile marker they could find. We clipped the chain each link along the way until mile 1, when the GPS took me down side streets instead of the main road, but apparently the mile marker there is right in front of a strip club, so… yeah.
Mile marker Zero came and went in a blur. One minute I was almost done, and the next I was all done. Mom was telling a bike tour group what I’ve just done and the tour guide said, “I’ve been cycling a long time and that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Rode to Fort Zachary Taylor beach and took off my shoes and helmet, and Randy took all the electronics and gear off the bike. We took a bunch of pictures with the group, and then walked out to the beach, where we put the front tire in the water and took a bunch more pictures.
Then I felt a little superhuman, and “had to” lift the bike over my head.
Randy took the bike when I was done with that fun pose and headed to the car, as I ran into the ocean. Probably not too good for the cycling chamois, but it felt like it needed to be done.
So I’m done. Many people have asked, “what’s next?” First, as soon as we get back to the room I’m taking a nap. Randy gets first right of refusal on any wild ideas I get into my head. So stand by on that one.
Mom got me some original art for my birthday that is poignant. One piece is from the perspective of looking at one side of the road Mile Marker Zero, and one piece is from the perspective of the other side of the road. One says, “END”, and the other says, “BEGIN”. Today I relish in the accomplishment of a pretty big thing. Tomorrow I begin a new journey, and I don’t know what that will be. I have no doubt it will have its bumps, but I also have no doubts that for me, at least, it will be like riding a bike.
The keys are a mixed bag of heat, humidity, incredible beauty, weather devastation (look up hurricane Irma – they’re not recovered and might not be for some time still), and more bridges and incredible views than imaginable.
The Seven Mile bridge was amazing. I’d been nervous about it, but I had no panic or anything. I just rode and kept riding. Toward the top of the bridge there were a couple of other cyclists who passed me and they may have said something but the wind was coming from every direction and I couldn’t hear them. When I got fully across they were waiting at the end, clapping and cheering. The cycling community recognizes that while it’s every person’s individual ride, it’s also important to recognize each other for the battle we each have overcome that we know nothing about.
Entering Big Pine Key (the one with the tiny endangered deer) and with 33 miles to go, I hit something with my rear tire and almost immediately had a flat tire. I’ve been riding tubeless for two years, and had forgotten what this was even like. It has been TWO YEARS since I had a flat tire. So I started walking and texted Randy to come get me. I tried just pumping it back up, as often if there is a minor puncture the tire can just lose pressure and then reseal, but it was obvious with the sealant loss that wasn’t going to work. I called the nearest bike shop that came up when I googled it, but they are just a bike rental shop. The guy on the phone recommended Island Bikes on Key West, and I called and asked if they could fix it. Upon arrival they put my bike up on the stand and tried again to inflate it. Sealant sprayed everywhere, as the whole sidewall had a puncture that would not seal. I’d come 3,767 miles without incident, the finish line in sight, and they’d need to replace the tire. Which they did quickly and efficiently. I cannot be more appreciative of the service they provided. They also asked what precipitated this whole thing, and I told them the abbreviated story while they worked. They gave me an Island Bikes tank top and said to let them know if I need anything in the morning when I got to the island.
Picked mom up at the airport after her delayed flight, and met Dawn and the crew to discuss the morning itenerary. Not kidding you guys, they literally drove all night from Leesburg, Geoegia to get here, in two cars. I have the coolest friends.
32 miles to go. We leave early in the morning, and I should be finishing at roughly 10 AM Eastern Daylight Time.
Who knew that Someday, when you reach out and grab it, tastes like Mango Key Lime pie?
Rode in the dark for not quite an hour from Homestead to the edge of the bridge leading to Key Largo. Randy followed close behind; the last time he will have to do that.
Before I move on I will elaborate on how amazingly supportive Randy is. He has driven nearly every mile of this journey. Taken weeks off work. Woken up earlier than I, driven while I slept in the car, made hundreds of sandwiches and bowls of oatmeal, filled countless water bottles, kept ice in the cooler and water, bought souvenirs, rubbed my feet and legs and back, been patient while I cried over the pain of injury and frustration, watched and listened to hundreds of iterations of the plan, and made sure I knew that if this was what I wanted to do, he was with me all the way. A “team” is vital in this kind of attempt. Choosing the ones who will be on that team years ahead of time is pretty crucial as well. I chose well, and I am grateful he chose me, too. No way any of this gets done without him.
So when the sun started coming up he forged ahead to the first stop and moments later I crossed my first bridge into The Keys.
I’m hoping my GoPro got the sunrise over the bridge. Will upload if I can get it later.
From the top of the bridge the vastness of the Gulf of Mexico spread below me and I was overcome with how incredibly far I’ve come to be here. 3,685 or so miles is a long way on a bicycle seat.
The islands are glorious. Key Largo is less populous than the others, as near I can tell, and being the largest, took a few hours to cross. Each bridge crossed is less scary than the last, and I find I’m looking forward to them. They seem to represent those things that are I’m the way of getting what I want, and though they’re often still challenging, they also represent a totally clear path to that destination.
Randy got some amazing drone footage across one of the bridges, so enjoy – until tomorrow! 75 miles left
57 miles of flat felt fairly simple. The days are shorter, for sure, but starting them early as we do has the afternoons feeling fairly long.
The majority of these miles were getting into the greater Miami area, though, and traffic is more intidimating than hills for the most part. I never know when some semi truck driver or teenager who was told to be on time 87 times is going to try and push past me in a construction zone, and close calls are frequently worse on my mind than the doubts that I’ll be physically able to complete the job at this point.
Despite the traffic and increased frequency of stop lights, was done in under 4 hours and before 10:30 AM.
We spent some time at the Biscayne National Park in the afternoon, an orchid farm with an incredible koi pond, and even saw Dumbo to kill a little time before dinner with Tom and Dee Berry. Tom is a friend from high school who lives down here and both gave us some advice on what to see in the Keys as well as listening to some of the stories from the road. It was a delightful evening.
138 miles to go. I am 96.5% done.
Up dark and early again. We got a good early start, but the cycling directions wanted me to take a completely dark trail that Randy couldnt scout, and I didn’t know for sure that it wouldn’t turn into dirt, so we took the highway and Randy followed me for the first 12 miles. I was already behind on my plan by almost an hour by the time we were back on track. When we started it was 58 degrees. But by the time I hit the first break it was 65 and climbing fast.
I was frustrated but kept going, of course. South through the Everglades is SO flat. Saw a few live coral snakes and turtles, rabbits and lizards. The miles were punctuated by what my new friend Ruth called June bugs, which don’t bite, but freaked me out when they would land on my hands, arms, and legs, as they are mating and at first glance look like hornets. I’m not allergic, but bee stings and the like during exercise can cause an allergic-type reaction due to the increased blood flow and adrenaline, and a hornet bite could be serious.
The interesting thing about these small and harmless distractions was they made the time (just under 5 hours) go by quickly. The trail I was meant to have taken was under construction, and I got into a little bit of trouble for riding on a portion of it – an officer was called and I had to promise that I would never ignore the signs in the area again. Which I accurately did. But it put me back on the highway. Cycling directions kept trying to make me turn around and go to the trail. The very last 3 miles (which take on average 13-15 minutes Google kept saying to turn around and get on the trail, which it estimated would take 90+ minutes.
Go home, Google. You’re drunk.
193 miles to go.
3:30 AM is dark. Betcha didn’t know that.
The initial mile felt slow and tired. But I settled in, knowing it was going to be a long day, and my last 70+ day on route.
Picked up speed a little on a slight downhill grade, and my legs got warmed up. The music was pumping and I just kept going.
Looking at the GPS I wanted to be at the first stop by 4:45 AM, shaving 4 minutes off the projected time. I made it with one minute to spare. Took a five minute break and got more fuel and was back at it.
Checked the GPS and projected time for 37 miles (the next stop) was 6:28. So I set another goal – 40 by 6:30. Which I didn’t make. It was 6:31. Grabbed some water and hard boiled eggs and was back on the road even quicker. Halfway done before sunrise is great, but once the sun gets up all bets are off as to how far I could get before I hit diminishing returns.
At 50 miles in I had been on the bike under 4 hours and still feeling strong. Not sure where the energy came from, but my legs were feeling pretty solid.
At the 56 mile break I told Randy I wanted to be done by 10 AM and jumped back on the bike with an ETA of 10:02 and restarted my watch.
At the 58 mile mark I looked at my watch and noticed that I was just over 4 hours and 30 minutes. Could I cut the 10 AM ETA even more by aiming for under six hours? No reason not to try, so I dug deep and pushed a hair harder.
The 60-65 mile split was exhilarating. Coming in under 20 minutes when you’ve been on a bike for five hours (for me) was unbelievable. It was evident that it might be close, but I would definitely be under six hours.
I wish I’d had a camera going when I got to the car. I’d told Randy I wanted to be done by 10, and it was 9:38. The final time on the bike was 5:48. My speed was not quite 14 miles per hour, sustained for almost six full hours.
In my ride postmortem I do in my head I tried to figure out what just happened, and the only thing I can figure is this: I got enough rest, I had a priesthood blessing, and I focused EARLY on staying hydrated and not allowing for dehydration to creep in.
Today’s ride is a game changer I think.
We’ll see tomorrow.
259 miles left.
No substantial riding today. We slept all morning and just hung out. My body aches – mostly my legs. It’s pretty hot again today, and I’m worried.
I went to lunch with a dear friend Sheridan in a nearby town, (thanks again, my dear!) and Randy had blocked out the rest of the afternoon for something he wouldn’t tell me about, and I didn’t ask.
So we went to Orlando, about an hour away, where unbeknownst to me, Randy’s brother and his wife and five kids were on spring break. Amanda’s brother and sister in law were there as well, with their 3. They opened the door and had noisemakers, hats, a banner, etc. What an amazing surprise! We had lasagna and hung out for the evening, chatting about the ride and birthdays and reminiscing. Just what the doctor ordered as far as my weary mind was concerned, but how can I better restore my body more than I have already tried?
We decided to beat the heat by waking at 2:30 and being on the road by 3:30. With 80 miles planned I want to be done my 11 AM, and at the pace my body has been cooperating I can’t really plan on faster than 10 mph. Sigh.
Man, it’s hot. Only got 60 of the 68 miles planned in, and it took much longer than expected. I fear I’ve bitten off more than I could chew, not planning for the heat. I finished the last 8 miles in the wee hours of Sunday when it had cooled down, but the plan will have to change to ride most of them in the dark if I’m going to finish the race against the sun.
349 miles to go.