Overseas Heritage Trail – Day 1 (Niles Channel to Key West: approx. 29 miles)

Although the Overseas Heritage Trail (OHT) is not a Hall of Fame trail, it possesses a few traits that appealed to us. It is a long (106.5 miles), scenic trail located in a warm spot (Florida Keys) for a winter bike ride :-). Joyce and I invited our husbands to come along on this trip, and we plan to integrate sightseeing activities as we bike from Key Largo to Key West.

 

Cigar Store on Duval

Cigar Store on Duval

We flew from Atlanta to Miami yesterday, rented two Ford F150 trucks from Royal Rent-a-Car, and drove to Key West. The drive to the southernmost point in the United States took longer than expected due to traffic and slower speed limits. After we arrived in Key West, we checked into the Sunrise Suites and drove to Duval Street for dinner at Abbondanza (Italian restaurant constructed from three cigar maker houses). After dinner, we strolled up Duval Street before returning to our condo for the night.

 

Sunrise @ Higgs Beach

Sunrise @ Higgs Beach

This morning, we decided to set the alarm early so that we could watch the sunrise at Higgs Beach. We drove both trucks to the beach and walked out on the pier to soak in the sunrise. Leaving one truck parked at the beach, we drove the other truck to the Southernmost Beach Cafe for breakfast.

 

Southernmost Beach Cafe

Southernmost Beach Cafe

The food was excellent and the scenery from the outdoor cafe, located just a few feet from the ocean, was spectacular. After breakfast, we drove north to the National Key Deer Refuge in Big Pine Key where we took a brief hike to the Blue Hole Observation Platform. We spotted one alligator but no deer. Since the refuge visitor center is located in the Winn Dixie parking lot, we stocked up on a few drinks and snacks.

 

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Ed & Martha on Bridge

Originally, we planned to park our truck at the visitor center and bike back to Key West (32.4 miles); however, since a portion of the trail and two bridges below Big Pine Key were not complete, we decided to park the truck at the south end of Niles Channel (MM27.2) and start biking from there. This portion of the Overseas Heritage Trail weaves back and forth from oceanside to bayside, which meant we had to cross the busy US1 highway numerous times. Portions of the trail were separated from the highway by a barrier of trees, and we enjoyed these brief respites from the cars and trucks whizzing by us. Fortunately, all seven of the major bridges below Niles Channel have a separate bike bridge. Personally, I enjoyed riding across these bridges because I felt safer and because we got a closer glimpse of the breathtaking water on both sides. Several fishermen had staked out their favorite spots along the pedestrian bridges, and it was fun to occasionally see them reel in a fish :-).

 

Baby's Coffee

Baby’s Coffee

At MM15.7, we stopped at Baby’s Coffee located in the Saddlebunch Keys. We purchased sandwiches and ate our lunch on one of the picnic tables located behind the coffee shop and the Baypoint Market. After lunch, we resumed our bike ride oceanside, crossing several short channels before returning to bayside as we approached Key West. The OHT splits as you enter Key West, but we chose to turn right onto North Roosevelt and follow the trail along the bay. Prior to our trip, I printed the Google Map bike directions from the end of the OHT to the various sightseeing attractions in Old Town. These directions helped us navigate the streets to our first destination, the Harry Truman Little White House.

 

Little White House

Little White House

We parked our bikes and purchased tickets for the 45-minute tour of the Little White House. Ed realized that the naval base where his Mom & Dad were stationed was the same location where President Truman and five other presidents stayed while visiting Key West. I enjoyed the historical tour through the two-story naval officer housing building that had been remodeled for President Truman and his wife in the 1940s. Apparently, Truman much preferred the Little White House to the ostentatious White House in Washington, D.C.

 

Hemingway's Home

Hemingway’s Home

After our tour, we pedaled our bikes a few blocks to the Ernest Hemingway house. Although we expected a self-guided walking tour, we were fortunate to arrive at just the right time to join a tour guide who made the home come alive with stories and historical facts about Hemingway and his four wives. We spotted several six-toed, polydactyl cats roaming and sleeping quite luxuriously on the furniture throughout the home. Supposedly, these cats are all descendants of a white, polydactyl cat that Hemingway received as a gift from a ship captain. At the conclusion of the tour, we were allowed to take the stairs up to Hemingway’s writing studio. Although I wrote a research paper on Hemingway in high school, I don’t think I realized how many of his novels and short stories were actually written in Key West.

 

Flamingo Crossing

Flamingo Crossing

Next, we biked a few more blocks to Flamingo Crossing, an ice cream shop located on Duval Street. I treated myself to a double scoop of mango and key lime :-). We ate our ice cream outside on a patio table and rested for a few minutes before proceeding to the official southernmost point of the continental U.S. Remarkably, there was a line of tourists patiently waiting in line to have their pictures taken in front of the buoy, which designates this geographically significant location.

 

Southernmost Point

Southernmost Point

We pedaled about a half mile back to the truck we had parked at Higgs Beach this morning. We loaded our bikes, drove to Niles Channel to pick up the other truck, and drove north to Islamorada where we had reservations at La Jolla Resort. After unpacking, we drove to the Islamorada Fish Company (owned by Bass Pro Shops) where we ate dinner outside along the bay. It was kinda chilly, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fried shrimp that I ordered. Finishing dinner after 9 PM, we drove back to La Jolla and I fell asleep within minutes after my head hit the pillow.

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