Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bahia Honda State Park, Florida (July 1, 2010)

Bahia Honda State Park is breathtaking. The park has beaches, several campgrounds, concessions, a marina, kayaking, bicycle trails, and many more activities if you're interested. I arrived, checked in, and headed to my campsite...number 79 on the bayside. My friend, George, had left work earlier in the day from Tampa and was heading down to meet me for the last day of riding. He would arrive well after dark, so I decided to wait to set up the campsite until he arrived. He was bringing the air mattress after all, and I was pretty excited to sleep on something a little softer.

So I decided to go exploring. I stashed some of my gear in the mangroves next to the site and rode to the far beach, called Sandspur Beach. It is the most secluded in the park and the most beautiful beach to visit. I was also on a mission to find the two (#1 and #2) national champion silver palms (Coccothrinax argentata) in the park. I felt I was on the right track when I happened upon the Silver Palm Trail. The Florida Silver Palm is, in fact, a Florida threatened plant species. Perfect, I thought, finding a threatened species should be no sweat. How many individuals could there possibly be in this small area if it is threatened. Boy was I wrong again! As it turns out, Bahia Honda is the proud home of one of the largest remaining populations of the silver palm. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by a forest of hundreds of gorgeous silver palms all waving their shiny fronds at me in the wind. How glorious! To have such a beautiful and rare tree growing all around me. The champions are 22 inches in circumference and 33 feet tall at their biggest, so finding them was not an easy task. And I doubt I succeeded. I did hug a few of these trees, hoping at least one of them was a national champ. Then again, they all need love, not just the biggest ones, right?

The Silver Palm Trail dumped me out about 1/4 mile north of the parking lot and pavilion on the beach. The sun was just setting, the water was the perfect warm temperature and I was hot, so I eagerly plopped my gear on the beach, stripped down to my bikini and waded into the water. I would have dove in, but this gorgeous beach stays very shallow for about 1/4 mile out. Although you wouldn't think so, it is actually quite rare to find a beautiful sandy beach in the Keys. Most of the beaches have sharp coral fragments and seaweed piled onto the shores. This beach, however, had sugar sand dunes and the coral reef started about 300 feet out, making for some fun finds. After a short period of splashing and playing, I suddenly realized that this was the first time in my entire life that I had been to the beach alone. No, I don't mean that I had come alone, I've done that many times (working near lots of beaches is awesome!). I mean that I've never been at the beach completely alone. There were no people in sight, no silent sunbathers, no screaming kids, no whistling lifeguards. At first, I wondered if I should be concerned, but there were no imminent dangers in this paradise. So I laid back, floated on the salty waves, and reflected on my situation. I was in heaven. Everything felt so right. I was relaxed, calm, and away from all the stresses in my life that I could control. I had no technology, no place to be, and all the time in the world. For a moment, I came back to reality, and reminded myself that I should stay on task and think about what else I needed to do before the sun went down. I pulled up my mental "to-do" list and found it completely blank. I thought a little longer, thinking that there must be something I needed to do that I was forgetting. After a few more seconds of pondering, it occurred to me that I truly had NOTHING to do. I should have been happy, right? But my first reaction was confusion. I always had something to do. Even if it was little or tedious, there is always something to do. But not this time. Another first. For the first time in my grown life, I had absolutely nothing to do, and it was marvelous. I enjoyed every minute of my to-do list prison break.

Later in the evening, once George had arrived and we had set up camp, we did some night exploring. We jumped on our bikes and zoomed through the camp areas like bandits. We ended up at Calusa Beach, a protected beach along the bay/channel side, between the old and the new bridge (see pictures above). Considering it was still pretty sweltering hot and very very humid at this point in the evening, we decided to go for another swim. In the beautiful moonlight, we swam through the seagrasses in the water here. Within a few minutes, we realized that the water had bioluminescence!! If you've never seen this before, it's basically many thousands of tiny living organisms that glow when you disturb the water. So every time you swish your arm through the water, it leaves behind a slowly fading glow on the surface of the water. In Calusa Beach, on this evening, the combination of the bioluminescence and the moon were magical. We even discovered that if you swam underwater with your eyes open (the salt burned a little, but it was worth it), these tiny glowing organisms would stick to your eyeballs and create lingering bright spots on your eyes. Luckily, they also washed off again very easily.

Upon returning to our campsite, the wind had picked up and it had started to rain. After retrieving our tent (no, we didn't tie it down) from the mangroves where it had been blown, we sought shelter within its dry confines and settled in for the night. What a perfect evening. I was relaxed and happy. George was still unwinding from a hard work week and buzzing with excitement to begin his ride on the trip. As much as I enjoy my alone-time, George is one of the best travel partners I have ever had and probably one of the most laid-back, adventurous people I know. His company was welcome, as always. Plus it was nice to have someone to unload all of my random stories and memories on. I was bursting with the traveling fever and I was very happy to be sharing it with someone.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Coming soon...

Sunset from St. Joseph, Michigan over Lake Michigan. Breathtaking! A million thanks to Andy Sawyer.

Hello all! I just wanted to let you know that I made it to Sioux Falls, South Dakota today, July 28 around 5pm. I'm safe and worries.

I've been having such an amazing time, meeting inspiring people, seeing magnificent trees, and visiting parts of the country I've only dreamed of. Because of all the fun I've been having, I haven't been able to keep up with the blog. Tonight, from the confines of my tent in the Badlands National Park, I will be working on writing some updates that I will be able to upload when I get some internet access again. Sorry for the delay and thanks for all of your support! Hopefully, the next blog posts will come in rapid succession, so keep up when you can!

Much Love,

Monday, July 19, 2010

Treehugger Tour

Simpson's grasspink in Big Cypress National Preserve (Calopogon tuberosus)

As you know, I have embarked on a two month long road trip across the United States. If you didn't know that, come catch up with these links:

Treehugger Tour Video
Tour Logistics
Approximate Budget
Map of Approximate Route
Potential Trees to See along the way (ever evolving map)

I just wanted to let you know that I recently made some edits to the Treehugger Tour Route Map to accommodate a trip to the Badlands in South Dakota and a slight dip into Colorado to pick up my traveling buddy, Rudy.

Thank you all for your support! The outpouring of interest in my trip has been amazing!

I am excited to announce that American Forests has agreed to partner with me on this tour to help me to contact the big tree coordinators, find the most interesting trees along the route, and help me to coordinate tree plantings to offset my carbon emissions. If you haven't already, I encourage you to take a look at their website for information about all the amazing things they do. I visited their office in Washington, DC this past week and I was very impressed with the organization. The National Register of Big Trees is only a glimpse of their efforts to "grow a healthier world with trees".

If you'd like to support my trip with care packages, a couch to crash on, or a financial donation, I'd be absolutely delighted! Drop me an email at heartkh at gmail dot com.

Also, if you'd like to be on the postcard list, send me your name and address in an email.

See you all soon!

Marathon Key, Florida

After leaving Long Key State Park on Thursday morning, I was delighted to find that almost all of the bridges crossing channels from Long Key to Marathon Key had beautiful fishing bridges built parallel to the ones for vehicles. It's so convenient and safe. The fishing bridges are built completely separate from the vehicular bridges. If you turn your back to the vehicular bridges and gaze at the water, you almost feel free of the urban life. Although many, many people had warned me of the dangers of riding my bicycle through the Keys, in general, I had found the route to be extremely accommodating to bicyclists and pedestrians and sometimes even luxurious. The fishing bridges were my favorite sections of the path.
Fishing bridge on the right, vehicular bridge on the left.

Here you are, crossing the bluest water you've ever experienced, the sun is beaming down on your back, and you can stop anywhere you wish, peer over the edge of the bridge, see straight to the bottom of the clear blue water to the coral rock below, and dream of jumping in. The water there is just beckoning to you. The colors and clarity of the water in the Keys is so surreal that I wouldn't have been shocked to see a mermaid slowly flow by, cruising the strong current.
And the color and clarity in the sky isn't much different then that of the water. Thursday was another very clear, hot, sweaty, sweltering day. The magnificent frigatebirds were floating high in the sky. My saltwater fishing experience tells me to look for dauphin and other great sportfish when I see these birds. I did not see any big fish, but I'm sure they were hiding in the sparkling water ripping below me.
As I was saying, the bike routes were fantastic so far! Look at the great markings and the beautiful paths. (By the way, since I've ridden on this bike route, I now notice these same bike route signs in all states. It's amazing how many nice bike routes exist. If you start looking for them, you'll notice this too!)
And then, this happened. If you can't see it clearly, click on the photo and you can see a larger version.
Seriously? This amazing bike route suddenly came to an abrupt stop. And I mean ABRUPT. They warn you with a small sign, then before you know it, you're dumped off the pavement, onto a small hill without even a foot path to get you back up to the road. Now, I'm not a bike diva, but if you're going to tease my senses with a posh bike path, can you at least ease me down off extravagance gently? Is it completely unreasonable to suggest that there be a crosswalk to get me back to the right shoulder of the road?

I laughed at this great example of engineering design fail, dragged my bike up the hill to the road, looked both ways before hustling across, and hopped right back on.
I had made it to Marathon Key!

View Florida Keys Bike in a larger map

At this point I had sucked down the last of my water. The hydration bag in my camelbak had created a vacuum and was making sad slurping sounds. I stopped at the first convenience store I found. At least, it was the Keys version of a convenience store. The store/house/marina boasted an extensive inventory of bait, a deli, key lime pie, gas, and fresh fish.
It was painted bright Key West colors and looked to be a great stopping point. I needed water and possibly a little something for breakfast. The sweet dog out front looked at me as if to say "you're crazy. Why would you want to be riding around in the midday sun? Even I know that the shade is the place to be right now."
Upon entering it became clear that this store was by no means a one-stop-shop. There was no key lime pie, barely a fishing hook on the barren walls, a deli which looked like it hadn't seen a sandwich in a decade, and no one inside. But, to my excitement, there was everything I needed in this little oasis. I found a large cold water and even a snickers ice cream bar! Score! I hung out for a few minutes waiting for the shop clerk to come in and take my money. After about 5 minutes, I realized that no one was around and my ice cream was melting. I put the snickers back in the freezer and wandered out back to find someone. After a few inquiring hello yells and no response, I went back in, grabbed my ice cream and water, put a $5 bill on the table and wrote this note:
As I was leaving, a man I presumed was the owner came into the store and we agreed that $5 would cover my purchases.
I soon entered Curry Hammock State Park lands and found another fantastic bike path! This one was isolated from the main road by a wide swath of native vegetation that managed to block much of the sound from the road. This was heaven on wheels! I rode for miles, completely alone and silent in the bright sun, surrounded by beautiful native shrubs, serene open swamps, and the sound of birds and insects. While I peddled along the smooth path, I would occasionally hear small animals jumping back into hiding or rustling the leaves beside the path. Although most of these sounds were most likely the skiddish green and brown anoles, I actually saw three bright green iguanas along this stretch. Although beautiful and exotic, the iguanas and the brown anoles are both invasive species to Florida.
Poisonwood (if you're allergic to poison ivy, this plant is a tree in the same family that will cause a similar, if not worse, skin reaction. And yes, I learned the hard way!)
Back bay swamp in Curry Hammock State Park
With a little more time, this is certainly a park I would love to explore some more. There were several marsh trails that jutted off the bike path that looked interesting. I completely missed the visitor's center as it was on the south side of the road, and I was riding on the north side, hidden from all road signage. But I did find this great little rest stop. There was even a creatively designed bike rack here.
I propped up the camera and got this hot and sweaty shot. This smile doesn't even begin to communicate the joy that I was feeling during this trip! It was seriously the ride of a lifetime!
Once I reached the town of Marathon on Marathon Key, I was ready for a little in-town adventuring. I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce Visitor's Center of Greater Marathon Key and inquired about the best local spots in town. After a little prodding, the sweet lady behind the desk slowly started sharing the best kept secrets in town. Somewhat hesitantly, she marked all of the best tiki bars on the island on my paper map. Score #2 of the day!

As it turns out, Marathon Key is a very interesting, happening town. I could easily spend a full weekend exploring the area. There is a large airport on the island...and look, biplane rides are only $55 for 2 people!

This giant Angelfish was just outside a dive shop.

I recommend Herbie's for a quick, cheap lunch (thanks for the original recommendation George!). It's nothing fancy, but it supports a local business and the food is pretty tasty. I had a simple yummy blackened chicken sandwich. The waitress wore skinny bleached jeans and sported a t-shirt that disclosed that she was "a little bit sneaky!" It made me smile.

One of my favorite, local secrets on the island is the drawbridge to Boot Key (symbolized by a sailboat on my google map):

View Florida Keys Bike in a larger map

According to the lady at the Visitor's Center, this drawbridge was put out of commission several years back. Because the island of Boot Key is only owned by two people and has no permanent homes, funding for the drawbridge was difficult to justify. There is only one building on the island and it is a radio station (the employees now have to take a boat to the island). Since the bridge has been out of working order, the city has tried several ways to get it back up and running. They even tried to sell it on eBay. Can you believe that no one bought it? With the economy in it's current state, you would think there are some trolls out of work that really need a good bridge to terrorize.
The local legend of the bridge was intriguing enough to attract me, and I was eager to check out the unwanted gate to paradise. I dropped my bike at the road closed signs and headed up to see the view of Boot Key Harbor, anchorage point for many beautiful sailboats and houseboats.
The drawbridge now appears to be the home for a small homeless, vagabond community.

Next, I began a short tiki-tour of Marathon Key. Having already passed and explored a few superb looking tiki bars on the island, I was ready to have a cold beverage at one. My first tiki bar was by far the best tiki bar I had seen in the Keys and one of my favorite secrets. You can bet I will always stop here if I'm heading to Key West! It's a great tikibar/restaurant/marina/marina gas station combo called Burdine's in viewing distance of the prettiest abandoned drawbridge.
The road to the tikibar, 15th St., runs through an old Keys-style trailer park and past stacks of lobster traps, back to a marina on the ocean side on the protected harbor.
Here's how I enjoyed Burdine's and how I recommend you do as well if you ever get the opportunity:
  1. prop your bike up on the dock
  2. head up to the second floor tikibar
  3. grab a stool at the bar, sit down, and exhale any lasting stress
  4. observe the local fishermen and discuss the fishing conditions
  5. order a cold domestic beer (they come in a coozie!)
  6. enjoy the awesome breeze that blows through this level
  7. read all the license plates hanging on the walls
  8. marvel at the big boats and yachts that pull up for gas
  9. chat up the great ladies who tend bar
  10. tip as if this will be your last beer in paradise

View from Burdine's across the harbor

Tiki bar #2 on the mini tiki-tour was Sunset Grille and Raw Bar, just before the Seven Mile Bridge. Of all the advice that I was given before my trip, the most urgent warnings were concerning the Seven Mile Bridge. This is because it is the longest bridge (yes, seven miles, captain obvious!) in the Keys, there is no bike route around it, and traffic can be relatively bad at this point. So I was a tad nervous. The Sunset Grille and Raw Bar helped to boost my courage.
Not only does this bar have a great view of the Seven Mile Bridge, but it also has a pool that its patrons can use! Although it feels nothing like an authentic tiki bar, the pool more than made up for that! I cooled off in the water, sipped a beer, and reflected on my seven mile destiny. I drank my second beer and got on the road again quickly after the kids in the pool started splashing and yelling...I'm too old for those shenanigans and plus, I had seven miles before my next home.
See the tiny bump after the electric poles end? That's the elevated part of the bridge and the halfway point.

As it turned out, the Seven Mile Bridge was no problem. I kicked it in gear and made it across in 20 minutes!! That's 21 mph...faster than I've ever ridden on this bike. This was for several reasons:
  1. I had timed it right, and started over the bridge at about 4pm when most of the traffic is heading north rather than south.
  2. There was actually a good size (approx 5 ft) shoulder on the bridge to ride on, so the cars and trucks that passed had lots of clearance
  3. There was no debris on the shoulder to dodge around
  4. There is only approximately 1 mile of the bridge that is elevated, the rest is completely flat
  5. The wind was at my back
That was a satisfying bridge. I took some pictures from the southern end of the bridge.

Then I rode the last three miles to Bahia Honda State Park at my typical 10mph pace. I felt accomplished and empowered.

Advice on Long Key, Florida

During the planning stages of my 100 mile bike ride from Key Largo to Key West, I got a lot of mixed reviews and unsolicited advice. I am open to all forms of advice. I take warnings seriously, but usually they don't keep me from pursuing my goals. I take recommendations to heart. And I appreciate all forms of encouragement or inspiration.

Here are some things that people said to me about the trip:
  1. "Be careful" - Sail Inn patrons, Delray Beach, FL
  2. "How do your parents feel about this?" -mother of four on the snorkeling trip
  3. "I'm so excited for you! I am living vicariously through you!" -my awesomely supportive Mom
  4. "You're crazy" -lots of people
  5. "It's too dangerous" -lots of Floridians
  6. "Where did you COME from?" -Fernando, another camper at Long Key State Park. He exclaimed this while I was setting up my tent. It came out sounding like he was asking me which planet I was from, but he was just asking how I got there without a car.
  7. "Awesome! I've always wanted to do that! Are you writing a blog?" - Fernando, same conversation, after I explained that I hadn't arrived via spaceship. I hope you're reading this Fernando! Thanks for being a great neighbor!
And the best quote of the entire trip:

"You watch your butt!" -a word of advice from camping neighbor John at Long Key State Park after I said to him "be careful, take care of yourself" as he drove away in his truck without a driver's side door. It took me a minute to realize that he probably meant to say "watch your back." I think I like his version better.

So if you're out there adventuring too, please watch your butt!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Long Key State Park, Florida

After an amazing afternoon of snorkeling in Lower Matecumbe Key, I was ready to peddle quickly to Long Key State Park to get to the ranger station before the park closed.
I consistently had at least 5 feet of shoulder at all points on the road through the Keys, sometimes even 10 feet. And to top it all off, there was virtually no debris along this shoulder. Within 100 miles, I went around 1 piece of tire. That's it!! I assume they do road shoulder cleaning, because this was amazing! Many thanks to the road workers who made this possible!Ten miles later, I had made it to the park, checked in, and started setting up my tent on campsite #6. All campsites within this park are located directly on the ocean! Amazing! As I struggled to set up my tent in the great wind that was coming off the ocean (chasing after it at least once as it rolled across the camping street), I assessed my neighbors.
This campsite was also quite public, which I appreciate as a solo traveler, but less so than the one at John Pennekamp State Park. My neighbors were both tent campers, which I really appreciate since they are much quieter than RVs. As I struggled to stake in the tent, neighbor John came to introduce himself and offer me his hammer, which I gladly borrowed.
He was a sweet older man from Lantana (near where I lived in Delray Beach), whose tent had collapsed in the night, leaving him with his truck to sleep in. He confessed to me that his truck door had fallen off in the evening as well! Yikes! Despite his hard times, he seemed pretty content with his situation. Granted, we're at the beach, with the wind dispelling the bugs and the heat, the sun is setting in gorgeous pinks and blues, and we're on island time...what's not to like? I offered him part of my last juicy mango to thank him for his generosity.
As the colors of the sunset graced the sky, I sat at the picnic table listening to the small ocean waves lapping on the beach just 30 feet from my campsite and the coconut palm fronds tinkling in the wind like rain.
Highway US-1 is located parallel to the beach on Long Key State Park, so there were also the sounds of a few cars passing. Luckily, traffic on the islands basically ceases around 10pm, so I was left with the sounds of nature to lull me to sleep.

After a lovely evening in the tent, I woke to my alarm at 6am. I watched the sunrise from my tent and promptly went back to sleep for a little more shut-eye. Around 9am, I quickly woke up and extracted myself from the tent that had now become a sauna. I packed up and hit the trails in the park to explore. I found a great trail called the Golden Orb Trail which twisted through the mangroves.

Along the beginning of the trail, I explored the wooden plank bridges, the outlook tower, and the pavilion-like cabins the park has for more secluded camping (I didn't know these even existed, but look how great they are!).
One of the cabins had a camper who looked like he'd made it his home for quite a while...beautiful!
I decided to head on down the keys soon after my short exploration to make the most of the sunny, clear day. As I was heading out I saw this sea turtle that had washed up to shore and died. I'm not sure why it hadn't made it, but based on the orange spray paint X on it's back, I assumed that it had been reported and recorded by local naturalists.
I tried to grab a water from the vending machine to fill up my hydration pack. I had to ask some other campers for change for a $5 bill, and I was again surprised by the friendly folks when they gave me an ice cold water from their cooler. Thanks!

Here's a fun shot I got on my ride into Long Key State Park. Yeah, I couldn't help myself at this mile marker! Also, check out my crate. The wet towels dried using this method and so did my shoes, but it make me look like a hobo. Let's just say, that the hobo look combined with lots of sweatiness made me less conspicuous as a blonde riding alone through the Keys!
Now, on to Bahia Honda State Park for the next adventure-filled day!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Funny sight at John Pennekamp State Park, Florida

Before leaving John Pennekamp State Park, I captured this picture.

Yes, I am a 16 year old boy trapped in the body of a 27 year old woman. What can I say? I find these things humorous.