Living the Life Part II: A Cycling Experiment

It’s an experiment. I’m hoping to break the record for the most days riding on the Overseas Highway without getting hit from behind or while darting across the highway to go the other direction. In the Keys, there is only one road to ride, only two directions to head. Trying to keep my rides to under an hour, I ride into the wind for 30 minutes, cross the highway and ride back to the resort where I am staying. But there is more to it than that.

The bike path is more of a walking path. It is on one side of Highway 1 and perfectly paved until it is not. Cyclists can ride for nearly ¼ mile sometimes on pavement before finding themselves at a barricade, in gravel, or looking at a no-outlet sign. The path is often too narrow for cyclists to pass without one riding into the grass, and too rough for skinny road bike tires.

The highway, on the other hand, offers crushed glass, tire chunks, car bumpers and headlights, and plenty of tire-puncturing threatening bottle caps. In addition, riders get the width of handlebars on the side of the road in which motorists do not slow down or move over, according to the nonverbal agreement motorists have amongst each other. Because there is a bike path along 30% of the stretch between Key Largo and Key West, motorists believe cyclists should not be riding on their road. The bridges, and yes, there are many of them, are worse. Gravel and debris fill the space between the wall and the white line, leaving cyclists with mere inches to ride next to the traffic.

The joints in the bridges resemble shark’s teeth with an overbite; they pose a puncture risk to any tire attempting to cross. The teeth would cause a puncture at any speed if hit precisely at the sharpest point of the triangle, yet I’m compelled to cross the bridges at a much slower pace for fear of the teeth tearing into my tires and causing not just a blowout, but a subsequent crash because of the tire explosion. If I lose control of my bike as my tire explodes, it seems it would be a softer landing if I’m pedaling at 10 mph rather than 30 mph. No matter the speed, though, I would certainly be squashed by a trash truck, so the injuries caused by the fall would be inconsequential.

On either the bike path or the highway, I frequently brake for iguanas like I would brake for squirrels on a trail in Michigan. Some, I note, are as big as squirrels, and when motivated by fast moving wheels, most can zip across the highway almost as fast. Yet, the highway is busy with nary a long enough break for the fellas to scurry across safely. Unfortunate geckos, lizards, and iguanas litter the pavement like opossums, squirrels, and racoons on northern roads.

Every few miles, I am confronted with the decision to ride the highway or the path. The bridges require the most thought. Do I ride the road and risk getting hit, or obtaining a flat from broken glass or crushed car parts? Or do I take the pathway, which sometimes requires crossing the highway, and then dodge fishing hooks, fish heads, beer cans, and trash in addition to the fishermen lining the wall on either side?

Fishermen are a story of their own. Some wear sun-protective clothing from head to toe, including their faces, and some have burns on their calves so red it makes my eyes bloodshot to look at them. The amateurs will certainly not be sleeping tonight or fishing again tomorrow.

I’ve digressed. What I am trying to say is that while I am living the dream of riding my bike in the Florida Keys, I didn’t expect it to be such a challenge with so many decisions. Before I arrived, I dreamed of riding along a clean, paved path, looking at the crystal-clear water on either side. Instead, I ride with my head down, eyes wide open, hoping to survive another day of cycling in the Keys. Again, there is no need to send your sympathy my way. I know I am living the life! If I don’t break the record, though, at least you will know I died happy.