Our luck finally ran out. We’d woken up to rain in Titusville, but it was sunny by the time we left for our first day on this year’s Week A Year Tour.. There was a torrential downpour in Palm Beach the day before we arrived, and more rain the day after. Sunshine, though, when we were there.
But today … it was raining when we woke up, and the weather radar that claimed it would be gone by 8:45 a.m. was dead wrong. We waited a bit longer, but at one point you just get impatient. Plus it was a warm rain, close to 80 degrees. How bad could it be?
So we swooped by Doc’s Diner (where you can get breakfast with a dozen scrambled eggs, sausage links, crispy bacon, thick ham steak, pancakes, French toast, homemade sausage gravy, freshly grilled hash browns, creamy grits, hot biscuits and fresh fruit for $36 — and it supposedly feeds just four to five people?) to pick up one rider, and off we went in the rain.
The rain got worse.
We were on a sidepath along U.S. 1 (really the only road in the Keys) and dodging puddles for a few miles, but it was about to run out and put us onto a bike lane on the road, with trucks and cars going by. Suddenly there, across the road, was the Key Lime Pie Factory (ok, really probably just a store, but factory sounds better in a name). We decided this was the place to seek shelter. Of course the air conditioning was freezing. So we stood outside under an overhang, sharing a slice of pie and staring at the sky. Finally it looked like it was lightening up, and we decided for the second time to just go for it.
This time it really did stop raining, at least for a while. By afternoon, though, we were being chased by this giant dark cloud on the Atlantic side. Every once in a while, we’d get rain again, though thankfully just for a few minutes. It was harder to escape the puddles, though, and my feet were sloshing in my bike shoes by the time we reached the hotel.
Beyond the rain, how was the East Coast Greenway route? We were on the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail (sidepath or even further from U.S. 1) for much of the time. Sometimes we’d have to wait for a break to cross the road — one lane in each direction, traffic going 55 mph — to take advantage of the trail, but often we’d just move to the bike lane. The breaks from traffic were always a welcome relief, and sometimes we’d even have a separate bridge for cyclists and those fishing (we didn’t see anyone walk across, though of course you could). One time we even spied barracuda and tarpon from a bridge.
Here, for example, we found the 2 1/2-mile Long Key Viaduct. It was once the single-track train line built in 1912 by Henry Flagler (a name you can’t escape in Florida), then a road bridge. It was finally made obsolete by a new, two-lane bridge in 1982, and that’s when we cyclists and pedestrians got it. It opened for us in 2001.
Figuring we shouldn’t just bike straight through, we stopped in the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park, home to a quarry where thick slabs of fossilized corals were cut and then polished for decorative walls. Walking through a hardwood forest gave us a look at fossilized fragments and plants like this thatch palm.
One thing that surprised me today is the amount of traffic on an overcast-to-rainy Thursday in the Keys. Given that this is a narrow strip of land, barely wide enough in most spots for a building on either side of the road, I’d go crazy with that much road noise in front of my house. Good thing I’m not in charge or I’d insist on tolls (to fund infrastructure repairs after hurricanes), frequent, quiet bus service that stops on demand to help get people off the roads, and of course sidewalks and bike lanes so people have safe alternatives. And when the trail/sidewalk crosses over, I’d signpost it and offer pedestrian signals so people can cross the road safely. If it saves a few lives, even better. Because we heard from a worried state parks employee that the death toll from traffic crashes this year could top last year’s.
Climate change? That same parks employee, who has been coming to the Keys since childhood, said the erosion caused by Hurricane Irma two years ago was the worst he’d ever seen. I figure we can all throw up our hands and say there’s nothing we can do, or we can start making small changes after small changes that add up to something bigger, even if it only prolongs the inevitable.
Of course there’s no shortage of kitch in the Keys. This caught my eye just before we reached the hotel. It pairs nicely with the swordfish a bit south of the Fort Lauderdale airport.