After I completed a ride up the length of the Florida Keys on the Overseas Heritage Trail, there was one more bit of research to do: making the mainland connection.
It was puzzling that when US 1 was widened between Key Largo and Florida City in the past decade, no accommodation was made to run a bike path for the East Coast Greenway along it.
Cyclists we knew who were following the East Coast Greenway would take less-busy Card Sound Road through northern Key Largo.
Hikers heading north from the Florida Keys did the exact opposite. They’d follow US 1.
It was less remote and offered the opportunity to stop at a campground or resort to top off on water.
The Overseas Heritage Trail is used by hikers who are following the length of the Eastern Seaboard on a route called the Eastern Continental Trail (ECT).
It was popularized more than twenty years ago by one of our friends, Nimblewill Nomad.
For the sake of guidebook accuracy, Sandy wanted me to ride beside the C-111 canal from Key Largo up to Everglades National Park.
It’s the diagonal that many ECT hikers follow to get off US 1 if they don’t want to walk up Krome Avenue through Florida City and Homestead.
She had found an old brochure online outlining it as the Southern Glades Trail, part of the Dade County Greenway system.
Since it is such a remote trail, she didn’t want me to go it alone. So we recruited our friend Bill Detzner, a lifelong cyclist who has bicycled around the world. Literally.
Bill is a road cyclist, and doesn’t own a mountain bike. So we let him borrow Sandy’s.
The ride got off to a shaky start when there was a locked gate at our planned starting point because of lock reconstruction. The normal crossing was blocked off.
Standing in a gravel parking lot covered with broken glass and sand spurs, we came up with an alternate plan.
Riding up and over US 1 to the other side, we found a ramp providing access for vehicles to work on and maintain the locks and levees.
The sign read “official use only,” but the ramp led right to the trail. Bill and I were feeling very “official” that day so we continued down to the levee.
The trail kiosk for Southern Glades WEA was just to the north. We followed a crushed rock path first on this side of the canal, then the other.
The ride took us across two locks before we reached CR 9336, the road into the main entrance of Everglades National Park.
For an experienced long distance rider like Bill, how difficult could a measly little 13 mile ride be?
I’d just finished the Overseas Heritage Trail the day before, so I was feeling confident too.
Well, we hadn’t been riding very long before the blackflies found us. Despite this being the end of November.
There was no stopping for even a drink of water without their relentless attacks.
Even worse, this would not be a quiet leisurely ride. If we slowed to less than 14 mph, the biting devils would land on the backside of our arms, legs and necks to avoid the wind.
14 mph was the magic number to avoid the terrible biting beasts. Yes they’re small but they’re mean!
On a road bike, on a paved path, 14 mph is a nice comfortable pace. Pedaling a heavy mountain bike with wide off road tires on a bumpy dirt and gravel road was tough.
Riding much faster than we had ever imagined we’d need to go, there was very little conversation.
Which if you know either Bill or I is a rare occurrence. I also took far fewer photos at that speed.
Our only breaks came while crossing the concrete locks. They offered a little bit of protection.
Stopped and standing in the middle of the canal on the lock, we were able to grab quick drinks from our water bottles before the blackflies again found us.
Arriving at the paved road to Everglades National Park there was a locked gate and a narrow space that we could squeeze through after lifting our bikes to the other side.
As we approached the road we were greeted by a large diamondback rattlesnake.
It had been hit by a vehicle and was dead, but was a reminder of the kinds of creatures that were out there where we we riding. This WEA is supposed to be home to pythons and worse.
After thirteen miles of a rough, bumpy road and biting insects we welcomed smooth pavement on the county road. Even if was only a narrow bike lane.
Our wives had driven to Everglades National Park to meet us. I texted Sandy and she said she and Ginny were at the Anhinga Trail.
They had our park passes, so as we were riding toward the park entrance, we prepared our sad story of how our wives were already inside and had our passes.
We were hoping to avoid paying an entrance fee.
As we arrived at the gate, the ranger called out “you must be the guys meeting your wives,” as he waved us through.
The park was busy. People come from around the world to get an up close look at an alligator.
Today they got an extra bonus, seeing two crazy guys dressed in bike clothes riding into the parking lot. “Look momma, there’s some alligator food!”