Because nearly an entire continent separates me from my adventure toys, I loaded up a borrowed car with a borrowed bicycle, borrowed helmet, borrowed backpack, and not borrowed lunch (garlicky lima bean hummus sandwiches*) and set out. To buy water. Because even my Camelbak and sturdy refillable water bottles are in Arizona, and I had no faith in the flip top plastic water bottle at my disposal. Anyone who has lived in Arizona (or any desert) for more than, say, five minutes, develops a keen Desert Water Sense which is, really, a controlled form of paranoia. This is why I paid a mighty premium for Fiji brand water, because its cap and bottle look the least penetrable by any foreign object that might be bouncing around with it in my pack. And I bought approximately twice the amount I’d need. It’s not possible to simply disengage one’s Desert Water Sense just because one happens to be in Florida.
The road was full of enormous colorful grasshoppers. Either they stick to tires, or Darwin has done great work in adapting them, because I didn’t see a single squished one.
If you are, like me, not equipped to drink water on the fly, Nine Mile Pond is a good place to stop to pull your water bottle out of your backpack. There’s no long access road that adds miles to your journey (I quickly came to understand the importance of this when rolling sans engine), and you can sit and contemplate the interesting signage.
|Should I cover my bicycle with one of the provided “vulture tarps?”|
West Lake is even better. Because it has shade. And ducks instead of vandalous vultures.
Be prepared to do a bit of hill climbing.
|Sweet victory at the summit!|
Arriving at the Florida Bay is unexpectedly similar to arriving at the Grand Canyon. After miles of arguably unremarkable flat and scrubby (or grassy, in this case) landscape - BAM! There it is. Sparkling turquoise waters speckled with green island jewels.
I really wanted this to be an amazing photo that captured what I saw and how I felt upon seeing the bay for the first time. It isn’t. And doesn't. At all. I’m convinced an aerial photo is the way to go. Which is not out of the realm of possibility, as you may know.
I have actually been to this spot once before, on the back of a red motorcycle, even. It was a Very Long Time Ago, decades before the age of my own motorcycle enlightenment. Oh, how little did I know then!
Score one point for Desert Water Sense. I told you so.
|Precautionary Water Boil Notice for the Flamingo Visitor Center area.|
The entire round trip from the Coe Visitor Center, at the park entrance, to the Flamingo Visitor Center on the Florida Bay is 76 miles. If you, like me, are only masquerading as a bicyclist for the day, you may decide that a one way trip is plenty. If only the park had a return shuttle for us weary amateur bicyclists with our heavy bikes and packs! It does not. So park your car at Mahogany Hammock and pedal your way to Flamingo Visitor and back. With the Mahogany Hammock access road, your round trip will be about 40 miles. It doesn’t quite have the glory as the 38 mile one way trip to Florida Bay, but at this point in my bicycling career it seemed prudent.
I walked the short boardwalk at Mahogany Hammock when I arrived, victorious, back at my car. It seemed like a good way to keep my legs from seizing up on the way home. I have to say, those first few steps weren’t pretty. But the trees in the hammock were gorgeous!
|No idea what kind of tree this is. Anyone?|
If you can manage to stumble along just a little bit longer, please do not miss the short but lively Anhinga Trail on the way out of the park. This is the place to view wildlife, even if you do not have the energy left to photograph it. And in the early evening, there’s plenty of action. I saw an*** anhinga juggle a too-big fish for a surprising amount of time before ultimately losing hold of it. Plunk! Alligators were slowly cruising across the water, occasionally slipping under the surface like sinister submarines. An adorable baby alligator, 18 inches in length at best, was wiggling about in the dark mud, obviously up to something (what?), and I heaved a wistful sigh. Why can’t they stay cute? A big one stealthily cranked open his (her?) jaws, and – POW! It got itself some dinner. I couldn’t see who was the dinner.
Speaking of eating, I did have a few food finds on the way back to Miami.
It’s a shame these folks were closed by the time I was done pedaling. It’s not often I can combine some modest wine tasting with two-wheeled touring****. I have no idea if wine made from tropical fruit is any good, but I’d be happy to evaluate it! Add one item to the “Next Time” list.
I was just contemplating turning around after carelessly driving past a sign reading “You’ve Seen the Gators, Now Taste ‘Em!”, when I found the “Robert is Here” fruit stand. Of all the unusual fruits I could have chosen, I’m not sure why I got a mango. I guess all my brain glucose had gone to my legs by that point. Add another item to the “Next Time” list. Still, it was exquisitely flavorful, juicy, and ripe – deliciously quenching after my day of pedaling in the tropical heat.
|Now I know where to go for Mamey Sapote, as called for in my Charlie Trotter’s Desserts cookbook*****. Tastes like pumpkin cheesecake, I’m told. I’m in.|
*Because good cooks aren’t necessarily good, they just know what do to with their mistakes. My recent inattention in the kitchen resulted in overcooked and undersalted lima beans. Blech. Mash ‘em up with olive oil, lots of raw garlic, something spicy, and some lemon, (no tahini or even peanut butter on hand), and call yourself creative for making hummus out of dried lima beans.
**Come to think of it, I was once hit by a vulture when riding. Yes, it hit me. Ouch.
***An anhinga? A anhinga? I dare you to say it aloud. Have a drink or two, first.
****Alcohol does not pass my lips when mounted upon a motorcycle. Ever.
*****May he Rest In Peace. He died suddenly in his home last November. A stroke, they say. The cookbook, incidentally, is not for the faint of heart. The desserts are all you would expect, but you’ll put in a good day’s work to make them. Totally Worth It.