Day 3. Sunday, April 23 – Tampa to North Sarasota, Florida

Sunday 23 April 2017

The morning was thick with humidity, so 72° seemed much warmer than our previous mornings.  We took a roundabout tour of the city,  past (the backside of) Ybor City and several industrial neighborhoods before making it out of Downtown Tampa.  But the city was (almost) void of traffic, so the pace was easy and unhurried.

We traveled south on a very well used and abused industrial road, slowly pedaling up bridges and past the Port of Tampa.  Aside from the waterways we climbed and a couple of very nice neighborhoods, there was little to see, but traffic was light and the morning quiet.

Two and a half hours in, we stopped for breakfast reinforcement from the meager offering we had earlier.  Refreshed again, we continued in the quickly warming day through Palmetto and over (another) bridge into Bradenton.But the road was now busy and our shoulder gone, so we were whisked along with the traffic.  Also, a waffling breeze would occasionally come from behind and take some strain off our constant pedaling.  When it happened, the swirling breeze and sometime cloudy sky was a relief.as the direct sun was brutal.

Thankfully, with a little wind assist, we made it to our hotel, shade and air conditioning a little after 1:00.  With the day being pretty boring for sites, our facilities flowers were a welcome smile to end the day’s ride.

We spent the next couple hours trying to secure rooms for the next several days.  Once done, all that is left is Dinner……Ah, what a glorious time of the day!  After checking out a couple of the choices that looked good on the web, we ended up at a very local joint.  Truth be told, thanks to our travel companion, Bobby, he’d seen it earlier and suggested it when we came up without a place to eat.  The seven layer Lasagna was amazing, as was the Stromboli and pizza.  Pretty sure dinner was more than our 54 miles burned off, but it was So worth it!!

Day 4. Monday, April 24 – North Sarasota to Punta Gorda, Florida

Monday 24 April 2017

An overcast, muggy morning greeted us as we pushed away from our hotel.  A light breeze on our shoulder and the steady roll of rush hour traffic whisked us past the beautiful campus of the University of South Florida and into downtown Sarasota.  Beautiful condos along the waterfront and shiny office buildings nestled among lush landscaping left no guess work to the amount of money in the area.  We did not linger, as we had visited this area years ago, but a picture stop was a Must!

 We realized we were on the southside of town, when the traffic congestion reversed it’s flow.  Landscaped berms, fancy gates and tall walls were all we could see of the homes nestled on both sides of the road.

Over the bridge from Nokomis, we decided to take a tour of Historic Venice,the Fishing Pier and beach.  We enjoyed a short rest at Sharky’s right on the beach and at the bottom of the pier.  It looked like a lively place for food, fun and drinks, but our morning arrival precluded a party.

Back out on our southern route, we had a short stretch of road, yet untouched by development.A light sprinkle followed us into lunch, but after our thirty minute break the sun was out and the wind had picked up.  With not much to see along the way and a brisk tail wind, our remaining 18 miles flew by.  We were thankful we were not facing this wind, today.

It was a good, albeit a bit long, ride today.  Thankfully, the weatherman delivered on the promise of a tale wind, so the extra miles were not as stressful.  That does not mean we did not use the 61+ mile day as an excuse for Cajun Jambalaya and Smoked Gouda Chicken Mac and Cheese.  Also, with the extra miles, we were able to find a place on the water and enjoy our first Florida sunset.

Short day tomorrow…..Nite!

Day 5. Tuesday, April 25 – Punta Gorda to Cape Coral, Florida

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Yesterday’s humidity was gone, so 73° felt cool and crisp.  The wind was still strong, but now from the west, so directly to our side.  We caught a glimpse of the darling town of Punta Gorda as we left.  “Savanah Style” homes (for lack of the correct architectural term) lined the streets and the shopping centers were lined with trees, very charming.

Today we had the option to take a different road south, so we jumped at the chance to get off the busy highway of yesterday. As we rode by the Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park, we enjoyed the trees, decent roads and a brief sighting of our first alligators.  As soon as we entered Lee County, though, the shoulder disappeared and we balanced our bikes on the narrow white line as cars, trailers and dump trucks navigated the two lane road past us.  We were happy when we reached the turnoff to Pine Island and could get off this road, even though the westerly trek had us facing directly into the wind.  We decided not to go all the way to Pine Island, but did stop on the causeway for lunch with a view.

After lunch, we found a fabulous bike lane just off the road and were once again able to enjoy the sights and hundreds of canals.  The trail led us through neighborhoods, affording us a chance to see the area homes.  Somewhere in our sightseeing we missed a turn, but we did meet Ziggy from West Virginia; now retired and living the dream in Florida.

Our neighborhood excursion actually got us closer to our hotel than we thought.  A short ride through the pretty town (with wide bike lanes) of Cape Coral and we were checked in by two o’clock and at their lively Tiki Bar by three!We found a local place around the corner, short on atmosphere, but big on food and flavor. With a weeks worth of pasta already consumed, a delicious choice of blackened Salmon with Asparagus sauce and a Seafood Platter was the perfect choice after a short 40 mile ride!  A slow stroll around town finished off the evening.  Tomorrow we drive (yes, in a car) to Key West; details later.

Day 6. Wednesday, April 26 – Cape Coral to Key West, Florida

Thursday 27 April 2017

So Bobby, our biking companion, talked his wife into joining us in Key West and then reasoned with her that as long as she was driving past Cape Coral, why not just pick us up.

It was tough to leave our comfortable room and the nice surroundings of our hotel, but we had a long drive ahead of us, so Mryt and the Three Amigos piled in the truck and  hunkered down for the very long ride.

We made it to Key West (and possibly the smallest room we’ve ever stayed in) just in time for happy hour.  A three block stroll to the water, at least one picture of the charming homes that create the unique character of this island and then necessary refreshment, with a view.  The drinks and atmosphere, we the perfect stress reliever for the long day in the truck.  For dinner, we found a good little pizza place with outdoor seating, a relaxing entry into our day off tomorrow.

Day 7. Thursday, April 27 – Day Off Key West, Florida

Friday 28 April 2017

There is nothing quite like Key West, the homes,the sense of humor, the shops and the saloons,this picture is at 10:00 in the morning, note the people at the bar ……truly unique!

Though we promised ourselves rest, we spent the entire morning walking from end to endof Duval Street and back, playing tourist and taking in the sites.  The Southernmost House in the Continental U.S., the Casa Cayo Hueso,St. Paul’s Episcopal Churchand more bars….…Oops, actually this picture is where we had breakfast!  Except for the cruise ship crowd we managed to avoid, we were surprised to see how few tourists were here.

By noon, we took refuge in the shady courtyard of our little motel and actually did put our feet up.

Late afternoon, we were rested and ready for one last glimpse at the beautiful sea and a bit more of Key West.The restaurant we choose offered beautiful orchids, but not much in the way of good food; but all was redeemed by ice cream, afterwards.  On our stroll back to the room, we ran into the parade (complete with candy and beads) celebrating the liberation of the Conch Republic.  Though the camera gave out before the parade actually started, we did manage a few shots of the gathering of characters, quite the show.

So now that we have gotten a few days of riding under our belt, feel a little more comfortable with being able to do it for longer than a week and are at the southern most point of the east coast…..time to ride home!  If you are somewhere along the east coast, give a shout out and maybe we can connect on our ride through.

Day 8. Friday, April 28 – Key West to Marathon Key, Florida

Friday 28 April 2017

Even starting before sunrise, the temperature was 77° and the heat index was 90°; this is going to be a hot one!

We pedaled down for our obligatory picture with our bikes of our Key West start.  The photo is fuzzy because of the humidity on the lens.

And a slow start it was; within an hour I managed two flat tires; we had not even clocked eight miles once we finished the tire changing. Once past the Key West mayhem and out on the open road, we felt the breeze the weatherman had predicted.  Thankfully, it kept us cooler in the thick humid morning.  We passed mangroves,a million boat related shops and finally the gorgeous sea.  By ten, we’d only pedaled 27 miles, but we were tired and hungry.  Though we stopped at the first place we came to, it was absolutely delicious (and the a.c., wonderful).  But we inhaled our meal so quickly, we did not manage a photo.

Refreshed and back out on the road the wind had picked up several notches (as in 15 mph) and was blowing directly in our face.  We took refuge on the bike path, when available, but every bridge was a challenge.  However the water color was amazing, every possible shade of beautiful surrounded us.

Hot and already beaten up by the wind, we knew Seven Mile Bridge would be a challenge.  We stopped a few times on the bridge, just for a break from pedaling into the wind (and to take a picture) but  never imagined it would take us nearly an hour to get over the bridge.  Even the amazing water was beginning to loose it’s appeal.  Another mile after crossing the bridge, we collapsed into the first place with cold refreshment.  Though only two and a half miles from our hotel, we took a long stop, pedaled another mile for lunch and an hour later checked in.

Across from our little motel is the Cracked Conch Cafe, no website, no menu posted, but if you ever go through Marathon Key, we highly recommend stopping.  The New England Conch Chowder is amazing, as is the Seafood Platter (not your ordinary platter) and Conch Stuffed Chicken.  And don’t forget dessert; Key Lime Pie is on the menu, but we could not resist the Death by Chocolate!  It was a hard fought 54 miles today, but dinner made it worth it.

Day 9. Saturday, April 29 – Marathon Key to Key Largo, Florida

Saturday 29 April 2017

The wind was HOWLING as we stepped out into the dark morning.  A few blocks pedal for breakfast and on the road before 6:30, barely noticing the warm humid morning for the 20 mph wind.  The full frontal wind assault was especially brutal on the bridges, where we fought for every pedal stroke just to maintain 6 mph and that is on a flat bridge.  Needless to say, we stopped often and took advantage of every bike path and the shade it offered.  We were surprised by how little traffic we encountered on the highway beside us, but by 11:00 a.m. it was bumper to bumper heading south.

Only one high rise bridge today, but it was exceptionally difficult; we had to pedal hard on the downhill and still could not get into double digits on the odometer.  Fortunately, it was only one mile long, though it still took us 15 minutes to pedal.  But the views, amazing.  Once off the bridges, the sea grapes and mangroves along the bike trail did offer some protection from the wind.  By ten, we had managed 32 miles, so stopped for an early lunch and a break from the wind.  The marina beside the restaurant had a lot of locals hanging around. Once again the water was spectacular and the local scenery colorful.  So was this little guy that we found along the road.

It was a hard fought 54 miles in almost five and a half hours today, so we found it only fitting to gorge on pasta.  A perfect find was two blocks down the road; a huge bowl of meat sauce and Chicken, Artichokes and Spinach in a Gorgonzola Sauce…..OMG!  We waddled back to the room and fell asleep listening to Jimmy Buffet.