Sunday, December 25, 2016

Florida Keys

Originally, Rebecca and I had hoped to visit the Dry Tortugas National Park, but were surprised to find that reservations for camping onsite must be made approximately 11 months in advance.

We decided to change the scope of our trip instead of scrapping it altogether and quickly booked some hotel rooms in The Keys.

For this trip, I would be riding my motorcycle south while Rebecca flew to Orlando. After three days of riding, I would meet her at the airport and we would continue on our trip together.

On the way down I camped at Lumber River State Park in North Carolina. I had the park to myself, so I chose from all available sites to set my hammock and start a fire. Although the temperature was unseasonably high when I left Richmond, the overnight temperatures dropped and I was woken on day two by the cold. I emerged from my hammock to find my bike had toppled onto its side overnight when the kickstand sunk a bit further in the soft ground. Once I'd righted it, I quickly struck camp and headed on my way down 95 South.

The next day I was planning on improvising a campsite in the Ocala National Forest, but after several hours on the bike I opted for a roadside motel with the promise of a hot shower and electrical outlets to charge all of my waining electronics. I was especially grateful for that decision the next morning when I woke fully rested and prepared to finish the drive.

Since I had some time to waste before Rebecca's flight arrived, I detoured through the sandy trails of Ocala National Forest around Blue Sink. It was quite the challenge, as my fully loaded V-Strom (with 80/20 tires) struggled to stay in the ruts left by larger, 4WD vehicles.

Later that night I checked into the hotel, unloaded some gear, then drove to the Orlando Airport to pickup Rebecca. The next morning we loaded the bike to full capacity, with bags strapped onto the exterior of the fully loaded boxes. Since Rebecca's sister lives in Vero Beach, we arranged a rendezvous with her to unload my camping and riding gear. After that, we continued our drive south along the A1A to our final destination of Hotel Biba in West Palm Beach.

The following day we continued along the A1A on our way to Hollywood Beach. Our friend Mambo was visiting family in/near Miami, so we met him there for lunch, before continuing to our hotel in Sunny Isles.

At this point in our trip, it was time to leave the "mainland" and begin our journey along The Keys! As we approached Key Largo, traffic began to slow. By the time we reached Islamorada it was time for a break, so we pulled into the The Island Grill for lunch. The remainder of the drive was relatively smooth and eventually we pulled into our accommodations for the night in Marathon, where we kicked up our feet on the balcony, sipping black strap rum cocktails while we watched the sun set.

In the morning, I headed towards the uninhabited Boot Key to get some shots of the harbor and the lush, green key. The bridge leading to the key was disabled, allowing it to return to nature.

While I was flying over the harbor, Rebecca ran to Sombrero Beach. Once I'd packed up the Phantom, I met her there and we sat by the beach for awhile before packing up and continuing on our drive south.

Our destination that day was Key West. Along the way we stopped at Cuba Coffee in Big Pine Key, followed by a walk along the bay in Summerland Key.

All during our trip, we'd pull over at a whim. Nearly every bridge had something to explore at either end. Usually, we tried keeping the cameras/phones off. Every so often, you'd be accompanied by others at these "attractions" - instantly reminded of the benefits of simply taking it in :-)

That afternoon we reached Key West. Just before sunset, we headed to Fort Zachary Taylor to attempt, unsuccessfully, to snorkel from the beach. Luckily, Rebecca did capture a great photo before we left the park to watch the WV/Miami game at Charlie Mac's.

On the ride North, Rebecca and I tried to hit all of the stops we'd missed on our way towards Key West. We pulled over to enjoy a roadside beach on Missouri Key, then explored Blue Hole within the Key Deer Refuge.

A cold front moved in on the final day, which was relatively convenient since we decided to visit the Everglades National Park on our way out. We chose the less traveled route along Card Sound Road, pulling over at Alabama Jack's for breakfast.

The next morning I took Rebecca to the Ft. Lauderdale airport before making my way north, riding nearly 1,000 miles over the next two days.

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