Tuesday March 25, 2008

A zip through the Florida Keys


So, the plan was simple: bike down to the Keys over Thursday and Friday and back Saturday and Sunday. I wasn’t sure how far I’d get, but as the weather seemed to be agreeable I decided Friday afternoon to go all the way to Key West. Unfortunately the way back was marred by technical difficulties with the bike (part of the reason for doing this was just to work out these sorts of problems in preparation for the longer trip) resulting in total breakdown at MM(Mile Marker) 69, and rescue. So, here’s the long, heavily annotated slideshow.

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  1. alex    Tue Mar 25, 11:09 AM #  

    Is that red bag a real pannier or just something you fashioned? Bad distribution of weight could have been a cause of flats.

    Check out the panniers and bike bages by Ortlieb. Also, look into heavy duty tires and inner tubes. I’m 210 pounds and used to get lots of flats. A friend who owns a bike store fitted Schwalbe tires and no more flats. Expensive, but well worth it.

  2. alesh    Tue Mar 25, 11:30 AM #  

    It’s a Ortlieb knock-off called Axiom. They worked really well. For the longer trip, they’re going in the front, and a bigger version is going in the back. That’ll be the weight distribution. I’m mulling over the tire change, but I really like my 23C tires and I have some sort of aversion to making mods like this to the bike for touring. But maybe. In any case, you’re right — the problem tire was the crappy Bontranger that came with the bike, and very worn to boot. Idiot me for not having a spare (but now I know).

  3. Roger Monotract    Tue Mar 25, 11:34 AM #  


    Great pics and commentary. Brought back some old memories of going fishing off one of those alternate bridges around Islamorada with my dad back in the day.

  4. Chris    Tue Mar 25, 11:36 AM #  

    Harriette’s rocks! Did you get any of the bee pollen caps?

  5. Henry Gomez    Tue Mar 25, 11:57 AM #  

    Awesome pics

  6. Crumbs    Tue Mar 25, 12:02 PM #  

    What a great series of photos. The Keys are so slow that I imagine biking it is the best way to really get to know the place if you only have a few days. I used to live right by the random field you camped at in Key Largo. Nice you found it.

  7. Liz Donovan    Tue Mar 25, 12:11 PM #  

    Really nice photos, thanks for the reminder of what’s worth seeing in the Keys.

    FYI, the abandoned drawbridge is probably the Aerojet canal, built to haul the finished rockets — and/or fuel? — out from the plant in the ‘glades back in the ’60s or’70s.

    The blimp is ‘Fat Albert’, spying on Cuba. Or maybe transmitting TV Marti these days, who knows?

  8. Dave    Tue Mar 25, 02:14 PM #  

    Beautiful Pics! Next time try camping at Bahia Honda State Park, it has an awesome beach. They also have 4 cabins but they are reserved years in advance. Is the Green Turtle Inn still open? They used to have delicious turtle soup.

  9. kingofrance    Tue Mar 25, 02:59 PM #  

    Stick with the 23’s and get some Continental Gatorskins or Specialized Armadillo’s. Nice photos btw.

    Dave: Green Turtle Inn is closed. But yeah, Bahia Honda is great for camping.

  10. Guv    Tue Mar 25, 05:15 PM #  

    Bahia Honda is lovely. Thank you for the photos, they were also lovely.

    The super-secret Cuban spy blimp(s) is/are on Cudjoe Key. Drive down the to the secure gates locking them up… the signs warning against trespassing are quite stern.

  11. squathole    Tue Mar 25, 05:51 PM #  

    Great photos, great show. Problem with #25? All I saw was CM background, no photo of Boats Boats Boats Boats….

    Guido and I hit KW annually, usually in the hottest part of the summer like late August, when it’s marginally less crowded and a tad less pricey. We learned long ago to take the trip leisurely, not to be in a hurry. We pack a lot of food and drink now, but in the old days we always stopped at 7-Mile grill and got what you got: fish sandwich, fries, cuppla beers. (Sign: Free Beer Tomorrow. Sign: Better Guys Than You have Died Trying to Pick Up Our Wait Staff).

    Re: Pepe’s (photo #15). as I recall, Really Hot Sauce, Hot Sauce, and Not-So-Hot-Sauce.

    Good job. Bless Saint Susan of Rakesland who saved your rank ass.

  12. alesh    Tue Mar 25, 06:12 PM #  

    okok i fixed the picture and the roadkill title. Is it just me, or do all the pictures look like overcompressed crap?

    Thanks everyone for the info.

    BTW, idiot “funny” signs are a keys thing, they were everywhere, most of them I suspect put up when such things were considered knee-slappers, in the early 80s. The T-shirts have thankfully disintegrated but the signs live on.

    I also meant to say that while the seafood was obviously fresher then most of what you get in MIA (or anywhere else, let’s face it), it wasn’t necessarily cheaper. On the other hand, draft beer in the couple of places I had it WAS considerably cheaper. ($1.75 for a small mug was the most I paid, but that was for the Sam Adams seasonal stuff.)


    I get my pollen caps at Jimmy’s Eastside diner and Flashback in Hallandale :-)


    i’m hooked on the specialized Mondos (i don’t mind the occasional tube patch, so long as it’s not excessive). The thing that bugs me is that I have to go to bike shops to get them, where availability is sketchy and pricing occasionally gougy. I wish you could order them on the internet but apparently you can’t, same with Bontranger parts (i need extra spokes for the next trip!). Advice?

  13. srcohiba    Tue Mar 25, 07:34 PM #  

    impressive slide show but you didn’t indicate on how many miles you averaged per day?

    most impressive. you missed the wild bird sanctuary in key largo …. a nice stop on the way down ….

  14. Rick    Tue Mar 25, 08:10 PM #  

    This post beats the kick-ass Twitter stuff hands down.

    Really, a great post.

    I was thinking, hmmmmm, I wonder how Alesh rode down to the Keys…maybe Card Sound Road…..certainly not US 1. You rode along friggin’ US1!! Holy sh*t. Incredible. With the drivers that are out there and the wrecks that road has seen….there is no way you’ll see me riding a road like that. I realize it’s a lot better once you get to Key Largo, or should I say, if you get to the Key Largo, but still…

    Anyway, the pictures are cool as is the story they tell.

    My suggestion for a lunch place that a local recommended to me when I was down in Key West a couple weeks ago…Fish Tales at MM52.5. It’s a fish market and a small, maybe 10 table hole in the wall. Great fish sandwich.


  15. Josh    Tue Mar 25, 08:48 PM #  

    Great tour. I really enjoyed that and loved the boats, boats, boats. You’re pretty funny. Hope to see more of these posts.

  16. alex    Tue Mar 25, 09:42 PM #  

    The Armadillos are a good choice too, however, I tried them on the shop and noticed more rolling resistance than the Schwalbes. I almost never ride off road, so I’d trade the extra layer of Kevlar the Armadillos have for the lesser rigidity of my tires. The bike matters a lot as well. I have a very large Marin hybrid now, so every ounce counts. Try them on with the bike fully loaded.

  17. alesh    Tue Mar 25, 10:02 PM #  


    the mileage thing is a bit of a mystery, because it dawned on me at some point during the trip that it was exaggerating my mileage, reporting about one and two third miles for every mile I actually traveled. So this morning I rode my bike route to work in my car, and measured, and it agrees with what the computer always said: 18 miles. That suggests the computer went semi-firtzy during the trip, maybe the first night out in the elements (tho it didn’t rain).

    ANYWAY. Going strictly on Google Maps reported distances, which don’t take into account all my side-tracks and back-tracks, it’s something over 50 miles the first day, 100 miles the second day, and 70 miles the third day.


    Thanks! Card Sound Road, from what I remember, has NO shoulder. US-1 was a PItA for some of the way, but very nice for one big stretch where they’re re-doing it, and a whole new road is finished but not open to cars yet. I had my own private highway.

    Oh, another thing I forgot to say: They’re gradually converting lots of Flagler’s original bridges to bike lanes, with the eventual goal of having an uninterrupted bike highway through the entire island chain. I’m told. I wish they’d do the same for the stretch from Florida City to Key Largo.


    That’s just the problem — any and all anti-flat technology works by adding something to the outside of the wheel, increasing your weight and rolling resistance. So it’s a trade-off between pedaling effort and flat-resistance. Personally, I’d rather go farther and fix the occasional flat. And, again — i think the problem I had was a fluke to do with a crappy and worn out tire.

    Still, most of the fully loaded touring bicycles seem to have 28C and larger tires, so maybe I’ll get a pair for the long trip, of which the Armadillos may be a good choice.

    I guess I need spare spokes too, eh? Which is scary, because my old bike broke spokes, and they were always on the freewheel side of the back wheel, and required removing the freewheel to replace. The bikeshop did it, but i guess that’s something I need to learn before I set out, because a 24-spoke wheel is probably not ridable with one broken spoke?

  18. srcohiba    Tue Mar 25, 10:08 PM #  

    impressive you can log so many miles in a day.

    take a portable gps unit next time so your actual route and points will be logged…

    other must stops the fish house in key largo and whale harbor restaurant for all you can eat seafood buffet.

  19. FerfeLaBat    Tue Mar 25, 10:30 PM #  

    I am so bummed to hear that about Pigeon Key. It used to be free to just walk around. Donations were apreciated, of course and most everyone dropped a $5 or more in the kitty.

    Love the photos.

  20. alex    Tue Mar 25, 10:54 PM #  

    Well, there are Mr. Tuffy liners that go on the inside. My friend thinks they are crap but then again he’s in the business of selling expensive tires.

    The spokes: there’s a temporary fix called the Fiberfix. It’s a Kevlar wire, easier to carry than a spare spoke. I think you can ride without one spoke for a while but on a fully loaded bike you’ll ruin the wheel.

  21. R.    Tue Mar 25, 11:39 PM #  

    Great post alesh.

  22. Brickell    Wed Mar 26, 02:21 AM #  

    Great tour. It’s been too long since I’ve been down there. One correction though. The WFO office in Key West (the one pictured) is just that. The National Hurricane Center is part of the Miami WFO office out at FIU.

  23. Ms Calabaza    Wed Mar 26, 08:29 AM #  

    Great pictures and story!

  24. South Florida    Sat Mar 29, 03:31 PM #  

    The “Southern Glades abandoned drawbridge” has a crazy story behind it. Sometime in the 70s or 80s, Aerojet was trying to get a contract to build engines for the Saturn 1 rocket. They constructed an assembly and test facility out in the everglades and the state dug a canal from that site out to Biscayne Bay, so that the completed and tested engines could be shipped via barge to the cape.

    The entire thing was a boondoggle and no engine was ever shipped. The drawbridge, which spans the Aerojet canal, would have been opened whenever a barge carrying the Saturn 1 solid rocket booster was ready to pass underneath.


  25. elgarzon    Thu Apr 3, 06:29 PM #  

    Hey Alesh, I’m going camping to the Keys this weekend. Can you please send me more info about the camp site, where the Fireman sent you?