Driving northeast from Key West along the Overseas Highway with blue/green seas to our right and left as far as the eye can see, we are looking for a Dan and Hannah Vacation Day of biking and chilling in Marathon, Florida on the Keys.
As in Key West, Marathon has never had a snow, a frost, or a freeze. Like much of the south Florida and the Florida Keys, Marathon has two seasons; a hot, wet season from May through October, and a warm, dry season from November through April.
On the Keys, we bike to explore, not to elevate our heart rates to unsafe levels as I am want to do at our local gym. At home, I seem to be on some sort of macho head-trip determined to bust a gut and squeeze out every last bit of body sweat. Athletic counseling has had no effect on this condition. In fact, as a grad student working in the Human Performance Lab in the Department of Physical Education at Arizona State University, I found nothing better than to be hooked up to sensors as I ran on the treadmill and had lab technicians raise the speed and incline to see how much I could endure. Exhausted and spent, I loved it. Lifelong exercising has been a Godsend for Dan and Hannah.
Many bike rentals on the Keys are for one speed cruisers. These one gear jobs typically are nicely suited for leisurely pedaling on the very flat terrain of the Keys or, indeed, most of Florida. We will soon learn how fortunate we are to have bikes with gears today.
Saddled up, we head west to the Seven Mile Bridge on a bike path that parallels the Overseas Highway. It’s a fine highway but has no charm as it fronts wall-to-wall local businesses. It’s not relaxing, but it’s not dangerous either. Let’s be clear, the Overseas Highways from Key Largo to Key West is a commercial highway with semis and construction vehicles vying with touristos coming and going from Key West. Most of the highway is two lane and, as a driver, I just settled into a nice rhythm of going a mellow 45 to 55, in vacation mode.
Climbing the man-made incline to the old railroad bridge we are greeted by a three lane divider. The building of the Overseas Railroad began in 1905; a railroad that operated from the Florida peninsula to Key West from 1912 to 1935. Dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” unfortunately the railroad had 40 miles of track and bridges washed away in a 1935 hurricane.
Prevailing winds from east to west have been fiercely blowing every day of our vacation on the Keys. The bike shop owner tells us these strong winds are common in the winter and will get stronger in the weeks ahead. He adds that we’d be begging for such winds come June and July when the doldrums settle in and there is not a wisp of a breeze.
Today we are sailing along with the wind; in fact, it’s very warm on this January day of 80 degrees in the shade with unlimited sunshine (Those of you living in the winter north must be thinking, Cry me a river). We are exercising and we are grooving. Life is Good. After two miles of mellow biking and talking we reach the wire fencing at the end of the railroad bridge that keeps us from going any further.
At this point at Pigeon Key, which costs $12 to look at some old, abandoned buildings (which is a not-so-subtle way to say “keep out,”), we turn 360 degrees and check out the blue/green water of the Florida Keys.
As we turn for home, we are slammed by the “in your face” monster winds. In less than a minute we are in first gear and conversation is no longer possible. We just grind our way back down the bridge for two miles and then the three plus miles to the Sea Dell Motel, where Hannah tans by the pool while I write a first draft of this blog, then nap.
With two hours left on our bike rental we pedal to Sombrero Beach not three miles away. It’s delightful. The Keys water is warm and enjoyable for wading. Holding hands, we regale in our penultimate day on vacation.
Not succumbing to the siren song of corporate Papa John’s Pizza, we pick up a mushroom pizza from a local ristorante, Upper Crust Pizza, a mile down on the Overseas Highway. Alone at the Sea Dell Motel pool, we dine on our pizza and toast our good fortune and blessings.