Key Largo Report
(Key Largo to Key West)


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Report By:  admin    Date: 12/8/2008 
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This is our 2nd annual Paradise Pedalers ride from Key Largo to Key West. Where there is no trail, we rode on the shoulder of US 1 including the bridges!

My Report:

KL2KW 2007
November 2007

Helmets and safety vests strongly recommended. Riding bicycles from Key Largo to Key West isn’t for everybody but soon it will be. Right now this 100-mile route is only about halfway on completed bike path. The other half must be ridden on the shoulder of US 1, often across bridges that are several miles long.


This was only my second week of work as a Park Specialist for the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. I had planned this second annual ride for the club I started called Paradise Pedalers, an offshoot of our paddling club called, what else? Paradise Paddlers!

Five of us made up our small group. Besides myself there was club James Hessler from Fort Myers. He was our team bike mechanic. His friend Tom Nelson, a 70 plus year old former New Jersey State Trooper, normally a tennis player and sea kayaker also joined us as well as my friend, kayak and canoe instructor Karen Knight, from Maine. Lastly was Bob Redell from Chicago who had emailed me about advice on biking from Florida City to Key West. The first thing I told him was to skip the leg between the mainland and the Keys (too dangerous). The second thing I told him was about our upcoming trip. Several months later he was dismounting from the bus, James had a bicycle ready for him and off we went!

The weather was perfect: temperature in the 70’s, wind at our backs and only 23 miles to go (we actually started at Mile Marker 90 on Plantation Key since parts of the bike path in Key Largo were torn up due to a pipe laying project). Last year we did the trip in 2 days and on Day 1 the wind was against us, making it a painful ride. So this year I planned it for three days using the State Parks for campsites along the way.

We used the Old Highway (county Road 905A) on Plantation Key which has a marked bike lane. There is a path on the southbound side of US 1 that can also be used. At MM 87 where the Pelican Plaza is we crossed over to this path so we would be on the right side for crossing our first bridge. Just as we approached, the drawbridge was going up. Terrific timing for us so we could have a few moments to enjoy looking into the water below. Normally it is not advised to stop midway across a bridge so it was nice to have an excuse!

You need to ride on the shoulder through tiny Windley Key, which is good, if you plan to visit Windley Key Fossil Quarry State Geological Site. We did not but the gates are at MM 85 Bayside.

Once you cross Whale Harbor Channel onto Upper Matecumbe Key you can utilize the Old Highway again but actually there are three options. There are bike paths on both sides of US 1 but we chose to take the Old Highway and enter Midway Café at MM 80 from the rear. A funky, artfully restored historic building houses one of the best coffee houses along the Keys. They have a beautiful bathroom too!

It’s a good idea to cross US 1 to get to Lower Matecumbe Key but actually there are bike paths on both sides of Indian Key Fill, the causeway that joins the two major islands of Islamorada. But being on the bayside prepares you for catching the Old Highway, which is on the bayside through Lower Matecumbe. Our second stop of the day was at Robbie’s Marina to feed the tarpon. This is an old tourist attraction. A $2 bucket of fish buys a lot of enjoyment watching the humongous tarpon roll over and snap up the bait. Other players include hungry pelicans, a school of jacks, and the occasional heron or egret.

We stopped a few miles down the road at Angelo’s Country Store and gas station to get some snacks for a picnic on Anne’s Beach at MM 79 oceanside, the south end of Lower Matecumbe Key. There aren’t many beaches in the Keys so this is one of the nicer ones set up for day use with a boardwalk, picnic tables and restrooms. We enjoyed one of the covered picnic tables but no one went for a swim.

It was only 2 o’clock and we only had about eight miles and two bridges left to go. We crossed the highway to bike across the first of the historic Flagler bridges at Channel 2. I explained to the group about how locals and tourists have always fished from this bridge and the dual missions of dealing with discarded fishing line and educating the fishermen about sharing the bridge with cyclists. We all did our part picking up some fishing line and only encountered a few people fishing on this Tuesday.

My bicycle even got entangled in some fishing line I was removing off the bridge. At least I had a knife. Think of what it does to helpless birds and other wildlife that accidentally get entangled in it. It will be a big part of my job to educate the fishing people to try to recover all their excess or spooled off line.

We got to Long Key State Park around 4 and decided to go for an early dinner at Little Italy at 6:00. We spent time setting up our tents and relaxing. The no-see-ums were a minor annoyance but the primitive campsites are in a beautiful setting so it was hard to complain.

We woke up the next day and James had fresh-brewed coffee going. We enjoyed it with granola bars then packed up our camping gear. We were cycling by 8 a.m. and looking forward to breakfast in 10 miles at Manatee Bay Café on Grassy Key. We were the only ones there and the waitress seemed genuinely interested in our trip. Not that she would ever do it, but she wished us safe pedaling.

After breakfast was our first official FKOHT stretch of bikepath. It’s a pleasant 4-mile stretch behind a vegetation buffer. It’s amazing how much you relax when physically removed from traffic. There is a nice rest stop with an interpretive map, benches and bike rack. For those not up to road riding, this would be an enjoyable stretch to ride out and back for eight miles and combine a trip to Curry Hammock State Park at MM 56 oceanside.

The Grassy Key section of the trail connects to the City of Marathon bike path without a break. This part of the Keys has many nice side trips. The first one we did was to turn left on Sombrero Beach Boulevard to Sombrero Beach less than 2 miles off US 1. This is probably the second nicest beach in the Keys (next to Bahia Honda State Park). We enjoyed a walk on the beach, resting under a covered picnic area and nice bathrooms.

We had lunch at Keys Fisheries, a popular outdoor eatery that asks you to name your favorite movie star when placing your order! After that, we took a second side trip out on the historic Pigeon Key Bridge – no fishing or vehicles (except Flaglers Express, a tram for tourists) allowed. That gives you the freedom to stop and look into the water for stingrays and sharks. We saw dozens of stingrays and one 10-foot nurse shark. On totally calm days, it is better than an aquarium. Through the clear shallow water you can often spot smaller species like barracuda and cushion stars.

Our last hurrah would be crossing the Seven Mile Bridge, a bit scary but the shoulder is nice and wide. I told everyone to stay together and “don’t do any sightseeing.” Of course I broke my own rule and from the very top of the bridge I pointed down and yelled “sea turtle!” It must’ve heard me because it immediately took a dive. James who was behind me saw it in mid-dive and no one else heard me anyway.

There is a small park on the south side of the bridge called Veteran’s Park, a beach similar to Anne’s Beach in Islamorada with water access, covered pavilions and bathrooms. We opted to continue to Bahia Honda State Park since we were almost there.

We got to our next campsite with ample daylight to spare. Some of us went for a swim, others to the bath house for showers. We agreed to meet on top of the trestle bridge, the only one of it’s kind on Flagler’s route, for the sunset. This is a popular sunset spot high above the channel with a perfect view west.

For dinner we shuttled by vehicle to No Name Pub on Big Pine Key for some famous pizza. While we were gone, it rained and someone neglected to put her fly on her tent. It wasn’t a disaster since the temperature was balmy so I simply flipped my sleeping bag over and slept on top of it instead of inside.

Since we had seen key deer the night before on our way to the restaurant, we decided not to do a side trip through the Key Deer Refuge. If you do, make sure you stop at the refuge headquarters to pick up some info. We stopped there to say hi to my friend Kathy who works there and then had breakfast at Coco’s Cantina with Kathy’s retired husband Wayne. (Another good breakfast stop, Bagel Island in the same plaza, is closed on Wednesdays).

In Big Pine Key there is a mile of improved path through “downtown Big Pine,” then it is several miles of riding on the shoulder of US 1.

Our only side trip on Day 3 was to Perky’s bat tower on Sugarloaf Key, a mere half mile off the trail. Take a right after Sugarloaf Lodge and ride past the air strip to the end to find this interesting attempt at mosquito control. We enjoyed a rest in the shade but bring your own snacks.

At MM 15 we crossed the highway to visit Baby’s Coffee and also catch the beginning of the second stretch of official FKOHT bike path. After purchasing coffee, other unique beverages and snacks we again enjoyed riding off the highway along a nicely landscaped route. The Saddlebunch stretch of trail is 4 miles long and crosses several historic, non-fishing bridges. Nothing against fishing, but it is definitley cleaner (sadly) when there is no fishing!

We only had 10 more miles to go and we get our first flat. It happened after a 20 minute rest at a boat ramp at MM 11. James was right on it and in less than 10 minutes, Karen was back on her bike. Wow, it sure was nice having a travelling bike repair shop in our group!

The trail officially ends (or begins) at Higg’s Beach in Key West. There you can pose in front of both the FKOHT and East Coast Greenway signs. The ECG is a multi-user trail that will connect urban communities all along the east coast from Maine to Florida. But there are a couple of other ending points for this trip. We met Cristina Lindley, another Office of Greenways & Trails employee who lives in Key West at the Southernmost Point where she congratulated us and took our pictures.

As I was thinking about our trip and how we camped in the State Parks, I thought another fitting place to end would be Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. So when we do the trip next year, I think that is where we will officially end! Besides, it’s the nicest beach in Key West.

For more information, or to join us next year, contact me at monica.woll@dep.state.fl.us or go to the Office of Greenways and Trails website where I will be posting updated trail conditions: http://www.floridadep.org/gwt/state/keystrail/default.htm

Get Map & Directions for this trip

Location Data:

Distance (miles): 90
Fees/Costs $: n/a


Photos from Key Largo to Key West:    (Click image to view full size)

KL2KW 07 group shot No Comm
KL2KW 07 group shot

Tom Nelson, James Hessler, Karen Knight, Monica Woll and Bob Redell

Islamorada Monumt No Comm
Islamorada Monumt

Hurricane Monument in Islamorada

monofilament trash No Comm
monofilament trash

discarded monofilament fishing line on Channel 2 bridge

Grassy Key trail No Comm
Grassy Key trail

Karen, Bob & Tom on the Grassy Key segment of the FKOHT

Pigeon Key Bridge No Comm
Pigeon Key Bridge

Tom looking for stingrays off the Pigeon Key bridge

Big Pine Key trail No Comm
Big Pine Key trail

safety trail crossing on Big Pine Key

Perky Bat Tower No Comm
Perky Bat Tower

Perky bat tower on Sugarloaf Key

Saddlebunch Trail No Comm
Saddlebunch Trail

Saddlebunch Trail rest area

group shot - end No Comm
group shot - end

Southernmost Point Key West group photo

 


Post Date: 12/8/2008

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