The two of us woke up and started Valentines day by conquering a coconut tree; Taylor brought home the prize, as you dedicated video-watchers know. I got my knife out and immediately began hacking and cutting the coconut’s outer shell in the hopes of reaching the center. It turns out, the knife was not the best approach. My next attempt was better, but not by much. I brought the coconut outside to where Taylor was using his phone, and I threw the coconut against the tar. It bounced like a football. Again, I tried, this time with all my effort. I got a decent sized crack and started to peel away a big chunk of outer layer. By the third time, there was an aggravated ‘CRACK,’ and the inside coconut started spewing coconut water like an overturned fire hydrant. I lost myself, and started running around like a chicken with his head cut off, the coconut quickly losing it’s precious water. Taylor ran over and told me we needed to drink it, so i managed to direct the flow over my head, and we passed it between each for a few turns, surprised there was so much still in it. I ran and got a cup so Sekajipo could enjoy his share.
Once the coconut was spent, we packed up a bit. Most of the day was soon lost to song playing and video recording, and the two of us rolled out at around 1:30. Plagued with hunger, we sped down the metro bike path and spotted a 5 guys burgers and fries, where we ate a few burgers. Taylor got Jalapeno, bacon, and onions, while I got mushroom, A1 sauce, and tomatoes. We got back on the road and hit what must be the most stop-light concentrated road in the world. Our progress was slow. Our goal was Key Largo, where we would bandit camp in the woods. As we finished the bike route and were about to join up with the main road, Taylor and I spotted a cyclist with back panniers, loaded for a decently long ride. We decided we wanted to talk to him, and thus started yelling like mad men and gaining stares from surrounding pedestrians. Yet, the one man we wanted to hear us was the one man who didn’t, and he waltzed inside a building. Looking up, we saw that it was a hostel, and we rode over to the entrance, waiting for him to return to his bike.
“We saw your bike, and wanted to know what ride you are doing!” I asked. He told me he was going to Key West from Naples, and I responded by telling him we were doing the same (from MA), and would be searching for a place to stop on Key Largo.
“Stop here,” he said. “You won’t find anywhere to camp on the road ahead. You don’t want to miss this place,” he ensured us, and we elected to think about it while he checked in and got the tour. Eventually, the two of us decided the drab day was beyond repair (our total mileage couldn’t have been more than 40), and we went to check in. Mark Wessels was the man who made this fated suggestion, and his involvement in our story is yet to fully bloom.
The decision to stay was indeed a smart one.
Our quick tour took us through the building and outside, where a jungle tree house atmosphere prevailed and happy conversation twirled about. The place had a full spices-equipped kitchen, 2 pianos, and countless lounging areas, one of which was a gazebo with a rooftop sitting area. A slackline was tied between two trees, and I immediately jumped on and did a few tricks. There was a rope canopy in the adjacent tree, so I climbed that as well.
Once our tents were set up out back, we kipped over the street to Rosita’s and got ourselves some burritos and other mexican dishes. It was well worth the 30 minute wait. Taylor went to bed early, and I stayed up and enjoyed some sorely missed social time. We started with a few fun games, and moved to the gazebo for a ‘slumber party’ on the sundry cushions and pillows. Dancing and music were prevalent, as were John’s more-than-amusing stories, and skittles and Valentines day chocolates were passed around. Soon, the night came to and end and I fell asleep.
Upon waking, I had pancakes and conversations with different people. I ventured to Robert Is Here, a great fruit stand, with Alexa and Amanda. I slacklined a bit more, and stayed up nearly as late as the night before.
It was the morning of the 16th, and all-you-can-eat pancakes brought Taylor and I to a moderate processing level, allowing us to formulate a few simple words and to start jumbling our gear back together. Taylor was the good one at this stay, and went to bed right early both nights at the Everglades Hostel. We said goodbye to a few of our new found friends, and headed out the door. Our goal for the day was to get halfway down between Florida City and Key West. We embraced the hot day and had our share of sights along the way. Islands were sprinkled like fresh cut grass on a puddle and we followed the seemingly endless route 1. My tire decided not to stay in it today, and we were often stopping off to pump it up again. As we got closer to the mid point, we decided to look up the campsite I had researched earlier, only to find that it was located on Sugarloaf Key, a ways from where we could get to within daylight. We decided to ignore the night, as well as my constant flat tire.
Night fell, and the stars rose. The water that displayed fish, jellyfish, sea turtles, and a beautiful turquoise color during the day was now a dark, empty plain. Taylor and I were still biking, and with a blinking light on my back, we flew over the 7 mile bridgeat around 20 MPH. That was the last stand of my tire, and it would no longer hold air at all after that. The way was slow, and a cop stopped at one point while we took a snack break to see if we were alright. We eventually got to the road of our campsight, a few miles past a KOA campsite. The road seemingly ended, and until we pulled up close enough, we could not see the small hole in the mangrove trees that revealed an abandoned and potholed path stretching into the night. The starlight grew brighter away from building and street lights, and the mangrove trees glowed green on either side. I felt like we were crawling through a tunnel to another world. Countless spider webs stretched the expanse across the road, and almost all of them ended up in our faces. The road was unrideable and seemingly endless, so we decided to set up camp right there on the path, confident that no one would be driving it any time soon. The stakes would not go into the ground, so we tied up our tents to our bikes and panniers, and settled down. Taylor mentioned to me that we were completely void of any traffic noise or artificial lighting at all. We were really isolated. Despite that, sleep was hard to come by in the continuously stifling heat and buggy sky.
We rose early, and I checked my phone to find that Mark Wessels (previously mentioned) had left a message and was staying at the very campground we had passed at the beginning of the road. I returned a call to no answer, and we packed up and got on the road. We were right at the 20 mile mark, got to mile 18 when Mark called back. I stopped, and we planned to meet up with him. I got to work on my tire, first attempting to patch the old tube. When that didn’t work yet again, I finally replaced the poor worn tube, and to my delight, it held air quite well. We moved on toward our final destination on the east coast. Mark was very courteous and covered our breakfasts, and we soon arrived at Smather’s Beach. I immediately jumped in the water, and cooled off in one of the southernmost beaches in the contiguous US. Mark left off, and I set up the slackline while Taylor traded a meal for some stories and poems with a guy he met.
Our next stop was the actual southernmost point in the Continental US. It was mobbed with other tourists (who took motorized transportation to get there), and we waited in line with a couple from Northborough, MA. Our pictures were taken and we sweated our way down the street to get some coconuts. It was well over 80 degrees and I was sweating incessantly. In fact, I reasoned that I was sweating continually since the morning of the day before, as I sweated through sleep as well. We soon met up again with Mark at the hostel he was staying at. Now, Mark has the distinction of being a major sculptor of the way my life will pan out. I have always believed in giving selflessly as the key to a peaceful world, but I had never seen it performed with such sincerity until now. Mark extended his care to the two of us, who were not far from strangers to him at the time. He took us out to lunch and dinner, supplied us with needed gear from the bike shop, and even provided our stay at the same hostel. The results are all clear as a bell; All three of us had a wonderful time getting to know each other and bonding over endless and great conversation and great food. We are endlessly thankful for Mark’s demonstration of how to live well, and when it comes our turn to pass on the kindness, you can bet we will be treating some young adventurers to the riches of kindness. Thank you, Mark, for everything, and I wish you the best of luck on your travels, as well as with your growing family. Also, I can assure you I am regaining my consciousness of healthy food choices!
So, with a fun filled day at our backs, we slept well in the hostel and woke up with only 2 plans that day. Plan 1 was to get key lime pie. This was a success, and we even got to take pictures with the chef himself. He shared a story of his world travels in a VW as a youngster. Plan 2 was to leave to Fort Meyers via ferry. Since Taylor had his hydrophobic tattoo, we could not do our most anticipated activity of snorkeling, and we decided it would be best to escape the temptation as soon as possible. Plus, Key West is plain expensive and full of drunk people. So, we meandered through the streets for the day until 5, when we needed to be at the port. We followed some tour trains and listened to pieces and parts of Key West’s history. At long last, we boarded the ferry via a farmers walk holding all our gear in a painfully slow boarding line. We plopped down at our seats, watched and episode of friends, and relaxed.
The sun was going down, so Taylor and I skipped up to the top of the ferry and joined the crowd to watch. I got myself a 4 dollar-4 inch circle pizza to bring up with me. It took about a minute for the sun to touch the horizon and completely disappear behind it, and it finished with a round of applause from the crowd. Taylor laughingly joined in. We laughed at the X-Men movie, followed by the Big Bang Theory all of which were punctuated by visits to the top deck to enjoy the stars, the wake of the speeding boat, and the isolation from other passengers.
The ride was done as quickly as it started, and we left the boat ready to gain our campsite. Sleep soon infested itself in me. We woke up and started the day, getting breakfast from Gwen’s Cafe (Hi Gwen!) and getting right on track. The day was destined to be our longest yet, and we knocked out the miles quickly on the way to Lake Wales. Route 31 is mostly vast farmland, and we did not see very much. I had no water, and soon had to ask to borrow some of Taylor’s, just so I didn’t die. He later shouted to me that we had about 5 miles to Arcadia (which meant food), and I was relieved. Even better, I spotted a gas station around the bend, and had to stop just to make sure it wasn’t an oasis. It turned out to be real, and I forewent one of my usual Arizona Ice Teas for 2 gatorades. I drank them all within about 15 minutes, and we soon stopped at Dominoes, consuming some pizza and bread. The road ahead held some nice lake views, some high speeds, and a peculiarly sandy road through an orange grove, which we enjoyed swerving about in.
(please excuse the writer for a moment; he is enjoying dinner with Taylor’s grandparents)
Soon, the sun fell. We caught it on its last legs, and it was one of the biggest sunsets I’ve ever seen. We had 20 miles to go. The pace was picked up, and 5 miles melted away quickly. despite being over a century, our riding was at 18 MPH. We were hauling. We shot through Lake Wales State Forest and Lake Walk-In-The-Water. At last, we took a few turns and showed up at the door of Taylor’s Grandparents. I read a book and went right to bed.
Here we are, having just finished lasagna for dinner, relaxing before we hit the Universal parks tomorrow. The theme parks will be our last major rest before crossing to the west. We are going all out and hitting all the parks; The grand finale of our childhood, if you will. All that lies ahead of that is the endless road, the elevation rise through western Texas, the Ironman, and our grand endpoint of California coast.
Until next time,