Cardinal Greenway – October 30, 2018

Muncie Train Depot

I woke up early (4:30 AM) the next morning and began rethinking our schedule. Based on our average speed from the previous day, I did not believe that we could ride 63 miles and still have any time leftover to eat or enjoy the scenery. So, I plotted to convince Joyce to consider an alternate plan. I suggested that we take Uber back to our bikes, continue riding north to the end of the southern portion of the trail in Gaston and then bike back to Muncie to rent a truck. I’d already checked online and reserved a small pickup at Enterprise (just in case I could persuade her to accept my revised plan) 🙂 . After renting the truck, I planned to transport the bikes beyond the 15 mile stretch between Gaston and Gas City where the trail is not complete, and then resume our ride on the northern completed section to Marion. After two hours of planning and scheming, I finally decided to get up and take another shower. To my surprise, there was no hot water! I called the front desk, and they confirmed that the hot water was out in the whole building. Although they had a plumber working on it, they were not sure when it would be repaired. I woke up Joyce and told her the bad news, and she could not grasp the possibility of not being able to take a hot shower.

Bridge Adjacent to Trail

Since I was already dressed, I decided to go downstairs and purchase milk, orange juice, and a scone to eat with our leftover pizza for breakfast. While in the lobby, I inquired about the hot water and asked whether any monetary compensation would be offered for our inconvenience. The night attendant assured me that the manager would adjust our bill when he came into work so I went back upstairs. Joyce had accepted the fact that she wasn’t going to get a hot shower and had already dressed. We heated our leftover pizza in the microwave and ate breakfast. Afterward, we packed our gear and called Uber to take us to pick up our bikes.

By now, I had explained my revised plan to Joyce and she was pretty much onboard. Our Uber driver recommended that we call U-Haul because she thought we could get a better rate on a pickup truck. I called U-Haul; although their daily rate of $19 was better, the mileage charge of $0.59/mile would make the cost significantly more than Enterprise. So, with the plans set for the day, we embarked on our journey. Fortunately, our bikes were exactly where we had left them the night before. We unchained them and started biking northward through Muncie, which is a mid-sized town with a population of 70,000 and home to Ball State University. With the exception of one major intersection, we hardly realized that we were passing through a town. We stopped at the Visitor Center (converted railroad depot) at the Muncie trailhead and picked up a mileage chart. Although the map on the brochure included mile markers, it was much easier to read the mileage chart 🙂 . Normally, you can rent bikes at the Muncie depot; however, the rentals were closed for the season.

Spectacular Fall Leaves

With Muncie behind us, we biked another seven plus miles to Gaston, which is the current end of the southern portion of the Cardinal Greenway. We turned around and headed back south to McGalliard Road in Muncie where we biked one block west to the Chick-fil-A. While Joyce hurried into the restaurant to order our lunch to go, I called to check on the status of the Enterprise Car Rental driver who was supposed to pick us up at Chick-fil-A. Within minutes, the driver arrived and helped me load the bikes into the pickup truck. Joyce returned with our lunch and we rode in the truck with the driver about 2 miles west to the Enterprise rental office. I was relieved that Enterprise was willing to pick us up because most of McGalliard Rd was a 4-lane highway with no sidewalks. After completing the necessary paperwork and transferring the bikes to another truck, we ate our lunch while driving approximately 15 miles north to the trailhead in Gas City.

We estimated how much time we had to ride the 9-mile northern portion of the trail in order to allow sufficient time to drive 75 miles back to Richmond where we had to turn in the bikes before the store closed at 6 PM. Estimating that we could ride about an hour and fifteen minutes before turning around, we started biking. Immediately, we both noticed that the scenery was slightly different than the southern portion of the trail. There were more woods in full fall color and more cattle farms. With a slightly downhill slope, this nine-mile portion of the trail was pleasant, and we enjoyed the ride much more than our stressful ride on the previous day. When we reached the trailhead in Marion, I tried to convince Joyce that it was the end of the Cardinal Greenway; however, a man loading his recumbent bike explained that the trail continued for approximately three more miles to the Sweetser Connector. So, realizing that we had extra time, we decided to keep riding.

Bridge near Marion

Although we noticed that the trail was narrower and did not have the recognizable mile-marker rocks, we pedaled on for a couple of miles against a stiff headwind through an open corn field. When a friendly retired couple from Indianapolis approached us, we asked them about the trail. They were not sure whether the trail was a connector trail or part of the Cardinal Greenway; however, they were extremely complimentary about the little town of Sweetser. We rode a little further north until we realized that we must turn around in order to make it back in time to return our bikes in Richmond. After further research, it looks like we were riding on the Sweetser Trail which joins the 2-mile Converse Junction Trail to a segment of the Cardinal Greenway. This portion was still listed as “Future Cardinal Greenway” on the map posted at the Marion Trailhead. The ride back to the pickup truck was slightly uphill, but we made good time. When we reached the parking lot, we decided to ride the ½ mile down to the actual end of the northern portion of the trail. This was a good decision; the trail was tree-canopied and paralleled a small river.

Martha near Gas
City Trailhead

Returning to the rental truck, we loaded the bikes and headed south toward Richmond. We had allowed an hour and a half for the drive, but we hadn’t planned to get stuck behind a tow truck and an 18-wheeler. The road was rural with hardly any traffic, except in front of us 🙂 . Calling ahead to inform Danny that we were running a little late, he reminded us that he needed to leave promptly at 6 PM to pick up his grandson. Driving as fast as we could under the circumstances, we managed to pull into the Cycling & Fitness parking lot at 6:01 PM. Danny was waiting for us in the parking lot; he helped us unload the bikes and quickly closed up the shop. Needless to say, we owe him a debt of gratitude!

After dropping off the bikes, Joyce followed me in the rental car back to Muncie (approx. 45 miles) where we dropped off the pickup truck and grabbed fast food (again). Realizing that we were not going to make it to the Holiday Inn Express in Greenfield before my scheduled online help session for my math class, we changed our reservations to a Fairfield Inn & Suites in Anderson, which is located about 30 minutes west of Muncie. We checked into the hotel and I logged into my help session with a few minutes to spare. Fortunately, no one logged in for help, and I was able to unwind and get ready for bed.

The next morning, we ate an early breakfast in the hotel and drove to the airport in Indianapolis where we returned our rental car and caught our flight back to Atlanta. I took MARTA from the airport to the North Springs station where my husband, Ed, picked me up en route to our daughter’s house in Villa Rica where we planned to spend Halloween with our grandson. Although the trip was rushed, I enjoyed the ride! I’m thankful that we had good weather (no rain; not too hot and not too cold) and the leaves were magnificent!



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Cardinal Greenway – October 29, 2018

Cardinal Greenway

As soon as the 2018 inductee to the Rails-to-Trails Hall of Fame was announced, Joyce and I started planning a trip to Indiana to ride the Cardinal Greenway. We decided to squeeze it into our busy fall schedules instead of waiting until next spring. So, on Monday, November 29th, we flew from Atlanta to Indianapolis to embark on a two-day bike ride from Richmond to Marion.

When we arrived in Indianapolis, we rented a car and drove about an hour and a half east to the Cycling & Fitness Warehouse in Richmond. Prior to our trip, we had researched bike rentals in the area and discovered that most of them are closed on Mondays. Fortunately, Danny, the manager at the Cycling & Fitness Warehouse agreed to come into the store on his day off to rent us bikes. His generosity was definitely unexpected, but the next bit of news was even more surprising. The store had received a wellness grant from a local hospital, which meant that we would be able to use the bikes for two days with NO CHARGE! Apparently, the grant reimburses the bike store when customers “rent” the bikes so it’s a Win-Win situation for the customers and the retailer.

Indiana Farm along Trail

We arrived at the bike store in Richmond about 12:45 PM, and Danny greeted us in the parking lot. He helped us select bikes for our ride and agreed to loan us his personal rack so that we could carry a pannier containing our clothes & personal belongings for the two-day ride. After trying several seat posts, Danny thought he had finally found one that would support the rack on the hybrid bikes. We pushed our bikes into the parking lot and picked up our pre-ordered sandwiches at the Warehouse Café next door. After mounting the pannier to the rack, we realized that the load was too heavy, causing the rack to drag on the back tire. Although we each planned to carry a small backpack, we also needed the rack to hold some of our gear. Realizing that we only had five hours to ride before dark, we were forced to spend several precious minutes selecting items that we could leave behind and trying to fasten bungee cords from the rear of the rack to the front of the seat post in an attempt to lift the rack above the tire. Confidant that we had resolved the problem, we embarked on the trail at 2PM (45 minutes later than originally planned). Unfortunately, the bungee cords did not sustain the weight of the pannier, and the load began to create extra drag on the rear tire. Realizing that I could not sustain the extra strength needed to pedal against the drag, I stopped and tried to readjust the rack. Desperate to find a solution, I turned the rack about 30 degrees away from the back tire. Although the rack looked strange, protruding from the side of my bike, it worked 🙂 .

Williamsburg Trailhead

It was now 2:15 PM, and we had about 40 miles to ride before dark! Normally, on a paved trail, this would not have been a problem. However, we quickly discovered that the slight uphill grade from Richmond to Losantville, about half the distance to Muncie where we planned to spend the night, was steeper than expected. Instead of averaging 10 mph, we were averaging just under 8 mph. Although Joyce was confident that we could make it before dark, I was more skeptical and pedaled harder. In my mind, I decided that if it got dark before we reached our destination, we could always call Uber 🙂 . Pushing the time constraint out of my mind, I decided to enjoy the ride.

 

Fall on Cardinal Greenway

We stopped to eat our picnic lunch at the trailhead in Economy. Although there were park benches, the porta-potty had been removed due to vandalism. After a quick lunch, we resumed our slow ascent on the trail. The fall leaves, particularly the sugar maples, were breathtaking. Most of the trail was lined on both sides with cornfields and farms. Some of the fields had been plowed for winter; others had not. We passed a few cow pastures, but the predominant crop was corn. I love to gaze at old barns and silos; it’s almost like stepping back in time. Focusing on the scenery made the uphill climb more tolerable. Our steady, persistent riding with few breaks enabled us to make up for most of the time we had lost at the beginning of our ride. After reaching Losantville, we noticed that the trail had become mostly level, and beyond Blountsville, the trail continued slightly downhill on our northern journey toward Muncie.

Bridge on Trail

By 6:30 PM, dusk was approaching, and I was doubtful that we would be able to reach our hotel in Muncie, which was about 6-8 miles away. When I noticed darkness approaching, I pedaled faster; however, Joyce, confident in her pace, fell slightly behind. Typically, I use a rearview mirror to keep her in sight, but the poor light made it difficult. I stopped to talk to a local lady walking her dog and to inquire about how far we were from the outskirts of Muncie; meanwhile, Joyce passed by me without my knowledge. Thinking that she was still behind me, I waited for what seemed an inordinate amount of time before deciding to turn around and pedal back toward her. Just as I decided to call her, my phone rang and Joyce explained that she had passed me and was actually ahead of me. Pedaling as fast I could, I caught up to her, but I explained that I was really having a difficult time seeing the trail. My eyesight is not very good at night, but Joyce was not having any difficulty. She put on her neon bands, and I tried to pedal as close to her bike as possible. Finally, I resorted to turning on the light on my iPhone 🙂 . That worked pretty well until the battery died… Joyce turned on the light on her phone, but by then I was really struggling just to see the trail directly in front of me. I stopped and told Joyce that we needed to lock up the bikes someplace and call Uber to take us to the hotel. We had just passed a house where a man was working in his tool shed outside so I suggested that we ask him if we could secure our bikes on his property overnight. He agreed and got a flashlight to help us see as we pushed the bikes up to his porch. We chained the bikes to an outer post on his porch, and explained that we would return in the morning. Then, I called Uber. Fortunately, we were at an intersection which was only 2-3 miles from the hotel. It took about ten minutes for an Uber driver to arrive, and we enjoyed conversing with him on the short ride to the Courtyard Marriott in downtown Muncie.

Courtyard Marriott

After checking into the hotel, we walked to the Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Company (adjacent to the hotel) where we had planned to eat dinner. By then, it was 8 PM, and we were starving! Joyce had soup, and we both ate pizza AND bread sticks. We decided to take the leftovers back to the refrigerator in our room to heat up for breakfast. I was exhausted but really wanted to take a hot shower before I went to bed. By the time I finished my shower, Joyce was already asleep! I watched a few episodes of my favorite shows on Acorn TV and drifted off to sleep.




New River Trail State Park: Galax to Draper

After biking all of the Hall of Fame trails, Joyce and I started researching other rails-to-trails that we could ride.  I noticed that the New River Trail State Park is frequently listed among the top ten trails in the country, even though it is NOT a Hall of Fame trail. Joyce and I decided that this 57-mile crushed limestone trail in southwest Virginia would be ideal to combine with a trip to the Virginia Creeper. After biking from Abingdon to Damascus on the Creeper, we drove a couple of hours northeast to Fries – the southern terminus of a spur trail from the New River Trail.

Ed Kayaking on New River

Ed Kayaking on New River

Before embarking on the trail, we decided to take a brief float on the New River :-). Although I brought my kayak from home, we needed to rent a kayak for Ed and a canoe for Joyce & Ron. Prior to our trip, we made advance reservations with New River Outfitters to shuttle us to the dam in Fries where we put in above a short section of shoals. I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing paddle on the New River! Truthfully, you didn’t even need to paddle; you could just sit back and let the current carry you downstream (the New River flows from south to north). The calm river meanders through the valleys separating the adjoining Virginia hillside on its way north to West Virginia where its whitewater intensifies, making an extremely popular rafting destination. Truthfully, I prefer the gentle current, and I was disappointed when we approached our takeout point sooner than expected.

Picnic Area along River

Picnic Area along River

Following our refreshing float, Joyce and I decided to bike north from the New River Outfitters to the Fries Junction and back so that we would not have to bike this 6-mile portion of the trail the next morning. The evening air was cool, and we thoroughly enjoyed this short ride along the river. During our ride, we commented about the availability of trail amenities (restrooms, camping, and picnic tables) and the condition (hardpacked and debris free) of the trail. When we returned to our vehicles, we loaded the bikes and drove about 6 miles south to the New River Trail Cabins in Galax.

New River Cabin

New River Cabin

We unpacked, took quick showers, and drove to Creek Bottom Brewery in Galax for dinner. Our food was delicious, and Ed & Ron took advantage of the locally crafted beer. Returning to our creekside cabins, we adjusted our shuttle schedule for the next morning and got a good night’s sleep. I definitely recommend the New River Cabins; not only are they affordable and adjacent to the trail, they are also well maintained and equipped with everything you might want, including a refrigerator, microwave, TV, fireplace, Jacuzzi, and a porch overlooking the creek :-).

Galax Trailhead

Galax Trailhead

Waking to a beautiful summer morning, I could not resist jumping on my bike and pedaling across the bridge and down the creekside path leading to the trailhead. Returning to the cabin, I prepared my bike for the day (mounted my GPS & video camera, loaded and attached my panniers, and checked the air pressure in my tires). Anxious to get on the trail, Joyce and I left a few minutes after 8:30 AM. Our plan was to bike 26 miles north and meet Ed & Ron at Shot Tower (MM 25). In the meantime, Ed & Ron would drop off their bikes at Shot Tower, park the truck in Draper (MM 6), purchase sandwiches for lunch, and drive back to Shot Tower to meet Joyce and me about noon.

Waterfall along Trail

Waterfall along Trail

The first 12 miles of the trail paralleled Chestnut Creek. We had an unobstructed view of the water for most of the trail from Galax to the Fries Junction. With a birds-eye view of the tumbling shoals and small waterfalls, we pedaled north. Prior to the junction, we encountered a tunnel :-). Although the tunnel was not very long, its sharp curvature made it difficult to see the other end. Before entering, I dug out my headlamp, and Joyce followed my light and the illuminated reflectors lining the outer edges of the tunnel. Within a mile after the tunnel, we reached the iron trestle crossing the New River. On the other side of the bridge, we returned to Fries Junction – the spot where we turned around the previous evening.

Tunnel on Trail

Tunnel on Trail

Turning right to continue north along the New River, we pedaled toward Shot Tower. This portion of the trail was mostly tree canopied with frequent glimpses of the river. The trail crossed the river several times, and we took advantage of these opportunities to stretch our legs and take photos. We passed two dams and one short tunnel on the 16 mile stretch between Fries Junction and the Shot Tower. Although there were a few dirt roads leading to the river, this portion of the trail was extremely remote. Thankfully, there were nice restroom facilities about every 3-5 miles.

Shot Tower

Shot Tower

About 5 miles south of Shot Tower, we encountered a brief rain shower. After stopping and putting on our rain jackets, the rain slacked off leaving us steaming hot in our rain gear. Not trusting the gloomy skies, I decided to tie my jacket around my waist instead of packing it away in my panniers. After a few miles, the showers returned, and I was relieved to have quick access to my jacket. The rain was more a nuisance than anything; in fact, the drizzle cooled the air and transformed the surface of the trail from loose gravel to hard-packed dirt. Just as the intensity of the rain increased, we saw Ed standing ahead of us on the trail. We parked our bikes, and he led us up the stairs to the Shot Tower State Park where Ron waited in the car. They drove us a couple of miles east to Foster Falls where we ate a picnic lunch under a covered pavilion along the river.

Martha on Hiwassee River Bridge

Martha on Hiwassee River Bridge

After the rain subsided, we drove back to Shot Tower (site where lead shot was made for fire arms in the early 1800s) where Ron & Ed biked with us for the remaining 19 miles to Draper. This portion of the trail was higher above the river level than the southern section. Although the river was visible below, we were disappointed that it was not closer. Above Foster Falls, there were more homes along the water. We noticed numerous boat docks, particularly near the Hiwassee River Bridge. This bridge, marking the confluence of the Hiwassee River and the New River, was a highlight of our ride this afternoon.

Draper Mercantile

Draper Mercantile

The last four miles leading to Draper were somewhat uphill. When I spotted Ed’s truck parked at the Draper Mercantile, I was relieved! Since the store was closed, we decided to load the bikes in the truck and drive to Pulaski for ice cream :-). Although we skipped the last 4.2 miles from Draper to Dora Junction, we later found out that this section is not only the least scenic part of the trail but is also uphill – we made a good decision!

Virginia Creeper: Abingdon to Damascus (17 miles)

Although I have biked the lower half of the Virginia Creeper Trail from Whitetop Mountain to Damascus multiple times, I had never biked the upper half from Damascus to Abingdon. The lower portion is downhill and crosses numerous trestles and creeks through the Blue Ridge Mountains. It offers spectacular scenery in the fall, which attracted my husband and me to this trail over 20 years ago. On a later trip, we brought our two teenage daughters to experience this scenic, easy trail. Our most recent ride on the Whitetop portion was in 2004 with Joyce and Ron. Due to the steepness of the lower portion of the trail, most cyclists take a shuttle to the Whitetop trailhead and ride downhill. On all of our previous trips, we utilized the shuttle services provided by Mt Rogers Outfitters in Damascus; however, there are several more options now.

Joyce & Martha @ Abington Trailhead

Joyce & Martha @
Abingdon Trailhead

On this trip, my husband, Ed, dropped Joyce and me off at the Abingdon trailhead at 10:30 AM on a drizzly, surprisingly cool July morning. Unlike the southern portion of the trail, the ride from Damascus to Abingdon is almost flat. Although most of the trail is tree canopied, there are open sections through lush green pastures. We passed through many fenced cattle fields, which required dismounting our bikes to open and close the gates at each end. One of the highlights of the ride was a newly constructed trestle in an open field overlooking the surrounding hillside.

Trestle on Hillside

Trestle on Hillside

About one mile north of Alvarado, Joyce had a flat tire. Fortunately, we had tools and a spare tube. Since the flat was on the rear tire, it required a little more work to disconnect the brakes and to release the chain from the derailleur. Joyce has changed a tire before, but I have only watched :-). We worked together to remove the punctured tube from the tire. Based on advice from our local Trek mechanic, I suggested that we take the tire off the rim before inserting the new tube. Using the portable pump that I had mounted on my bike, I pumped a little air into the tube to give it enough shape to prevent it from slipping out of the tire while we remounted it on the rim. We finished pumping up the tire, placed it back on the bike, and reattached the chain. The trickiest part was the brakes; thankfully, Joyce remembered out how to reconnect them :-). Within 30 minutes, we were back on the trail.

Creek along Trail

Creek along Trail

Since cell service was spotty, we were not able to call our husbands to notify them that Joyce had a flat tire. We attempted to text them but weren’t certain that our texts were received. Hoping that they would not be too worried by our 30-minute delay, we proceeded to Damascus. The trail paralleled a beautiful creek on our left, and we repeatedly complemented each other on our teamwork and maintenance skills while riding slightly downhill toward our destination. We met Ed and Ron at the MoJo’s Trailside Cafe for a delicious lunch before driving on to Fries, Virginia where we plan to bike the New River Trail.

Caboose in Damascus

Caboose @ Damascus Trailhead

Joyce has been trying to persuade me to ride this portion of the Virginia Creeper for several years, and I’m glad that I finally had the opportunity – it was definitely worth a flat tire!

Overseas Heritage Trail – Day 3 (John Pennekamp SP to Channel 5: 31.3 miles)

Blonde Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory

Blonde Giraffe Key Lime
Pie Factory

This morning we ate breakfast at Mangrove Mike’s (a block south of La Jolla Resort) and then drove both trucks north to John Pennekamp State Park. Joyce and I biked south while Ed and Ron purchased glass bottom boat tickets and parked one of the trucks at the state park. After 10 miles, we met them at the Blonde Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory. Since the pie factory was not open yet, Joyce and I continued riding south while Ed and Ron waited for the store to open.

Giant Lobster

Giant Lobster

We stopped to take photos of the giant lobster in front of the Rain Barrel Sculpture Gallery. Our next stop was the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park (MM87.7). Ed & Ron met us in the parking lot, and we ate our key lime pie slices at a picnic table behind the visitor center.

Windley Coral Reef SP

Windley Coral Reef SP

Walking to both the Windley Quarry and the Flagler Quarry, we saw several hundred feet of exposed coral. The formations were very intricate; in some places, you could see outlines of fish and other ocean creatures carved in the coral.

Hurricane Monument

Hurricane Monument

We resumed our bike ride south toward Islamorada where we met Ed & Ron at the Hurricane Monument – a tribute to the 200+ individuals who lost their lives in the 1935 hurricane as they tried to escape the islands by train. This hurricane destroyed many of the railroad bridges through the Keys, and the haunting remains are a vivid reminder of this tragic storm.

Ron decided to join us on the last leg of our bike ride from Islamorada down to the Channel 5 bridge. This 10.1 mile portion of the trail remained bayside and crossed five bridges. Although four of the bridges required that we bike with the traffic, the scenery was so gorgeous that we did not mind. At the crest of the bridge over Lignumvitae Channel, we spotted Robbie’s Marina, which is a popular kayaking launching spot for those wanting to paddle out to either Lignumvitae Key or Indian Key state parks. Just beyond the marina, the trail turned away from US1 and passed beautifully gated homes with lavishly landscaped lawns.

Martha on Channel 2 Bridge

Martha on Channel 2 Bridge

Approaching the Channel 2 bridge, we caught a glimpse of kite surfers at Anne’s Beach. If I was younger, I would have loved to try this sport! The pedestrian bridge over Channel 2 was lined with fishermen, but I hardly noticed. This was our last bridge, and I decided to savor the moment. On the other side of the bridge, we biked about a mile to where Ed was parked. We loaded our bikes and drove back north to John Pennekamp State Park for a picnic lunch before our glass bottom boat tour.

Glass Bottom Boat

Glass Bottom Boat

We thoroughly enjoyed the two-hour ocean tour of the coral reef, located six miles offshore. We spotted a shark, stingray, and several other types of fish. I was amazed at how clear the water was, and I was sad when the captain turned the boat back toward the coast. The sun was setting as we pulled into the dock, and we saw a few majestic herons perched along the mangroves.

Anhinga in the Everglades

Anhinga in the Everglades

Joyce and Ron drove north to Miami for the night, and Ed and I returned to Islamorada. We ate dinner at the Lazy Days Restaurant (excellent) and spent one last night at the La Jolla Resort. The following morning, we stopped briefly at the Everglades National Park on our way to Clewiston where Ed and I met almost 40 years ago.

Alligator in the Everglades

Alligator in the Everglades

The town had changed dramatically, but we were still able to locate the church, our apartments, and the home where we lived for one short year prior to moving to south Georgia. We drove back to the Miami Airport, turned in our rental truck, and flew back to Atlanta. I enjoyed the Keys and understand why many folks, including several presidents, have made this a frequent vacation destination.

Overseas Heritage Trail – Day 2 (Channel 5 to Big Pine Key: 33.8 miles)

Biking over Bridge

Biking over Bridge

After a good night’s sleep at La Jolla Resort, we ate a filling breakfast at Bob’s Bunz where we also purchased a few cinnamon rolls to eat later on the trail :-). Joyce and Ron followed us in their truck to the south end of the 7-Mile Bridge (MM42) where we unloaded the bikes for the morning ride. Ed decided not to bike today, but we appreciated his willingness to provide shuttle service for us. Joyce, Ron, and I biked 10 miles south to Big Pine Key, crossing five bridges with traffic (no separate bike bridge). Although the noise and close proximity of the traffic was a bit unnerving, the bike lane was sufficiently wide enough to feel fairly safe.  However, it was much windier (15-20 mph) today; in fact, when we crossed Spanish Harbor, I felt my bike being blown toward the passing cars. I gripped my handle bars tightly and pedaled faster. Despite the swirling wind, we met Ed at the CVS in Big Pine Key in less than an hour.

View of Gulf

View of the Gulf

We picked up Ron’s truck, drove back across the 7-Mile Bridge, parked his truck at the Marathon Trailhead (MM73.2), and drove a couple of miles north to the Stuffed Pig for a barbecue lunch. Afterward, Ed transported us to the south side of the Channel 5 bridge at MM73.2 (just south of Islamorada) where we resumed our bike ride. Ed did some sightseeing while Joyce, Ron and I biked south toward the Marathon Trailhead. Fortunately, all four bridges had separate bike/pedestrian walkways, and we only had to cross US1 twice. Considering the wind, I was thankful for the barricade between us and the traffic.

Coconut Palm

Coconut Palm

Along the trail, we met Ed at Long Key State Park (MM69.8) where we took a 1.2 mile hike on the Golden Orb Nature Trail. Although we did not encounter any namesake spiders, we did pass several avid birdwatchers in pursuit of a rare dove which had been spotted the previous day. After the hike, Ron decided to quit biking and to ride with Ed to Duck Key where they watched fishing boats dock at the marina. Although our next stop was supposed to be Curry Hammock State Park, Ron & Ed met us near the entrance and discouraged us from taking time to visit the park. When a local couple concurred, we decided to skip the park and to take a brief break to eat our cinnamon rolls instead :-).

Poisonwood Tree

Poisonwood Tree

This portion of the trail through Grassy Key was separated from US1 by a tropical hammock. Joyce and I rode side by side and could actually carry on a conversation without the noise of cars drowning out our voices. Before we realized how far we’d ridden, the town of Marathon appeared on the horizon. This was one of my least favorite portions of the trail because we rode along the highway for six miles, passing numerous businesses and crossing several intersections. I was thankful that I had purchased a small rearview mirror prior to our trip, which helped me see approaching cars that might be turning directly in front of us.

La Jolla Resort

La Jolla Resort

After biking through Marathon, we met Ed and Ron at the north side of the 7-mile bridge. I decided to ride out on the old train bridge toward Pigeon Key, a restored work camp from the railroad days. Joyce and Ron followed on foot. With the sun setting directly in front of us, this was a perfect ending for the day. We loaded the bikes and returned to La Jolla Resort. After a quick shower, we drove to Morada Bay for dinner. Since there was a long waitlist, we decided to walk over to the Bass Pro Shop to see Hemingway’s fishing boat on display. Returning to the restaurant, we were seated at an outdoor table; however, the night air was too chilly, and we had to ask the waiter to move us inside to finish our delicious prime rib dinner :-). I collapsed into bed and almost slept until the alarm rang the following morning!

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.