On Saturday morning the cyclists and I joined US Route 1, the final road of the trip. Route 1 runs from Key West right the way up to the Canadian border in Maine over 2,300 miles away, so this was not the first time we’d come across this particular highway. Before long, we had crossed the small channel between mainland USA and the first of the Florida Keys: Key Largo.
I arrived a few hours before the cyclists, so headed to a water-side park/marina to write postcards in the sun. When the cyclists joined me, we all headed to a local laundromat and properly washed our clothes (including the disgusting-smelling cycling lycra) for the first time since Atlantic City THREE WEEKS EARLIER.
Afterwards, we decided to figure out what Key Largo had on offer. From the highway, it looked disappointingly like the usual identikit strip of motels, restaurants and stores, so we turned off down a side-road in search of the sea. Immediately, we found ourselves among large swimming-pooled houses, private beaches and gated communities. Key Largo is not a place to go on holiday unless you are wealthy enough to either own or hire a beach.
We stopped briefly to look at a bird sanctuary by the sea, then headed to a Cuban restaurant opposite the motel. The customers were entertained while eating by Cuban musicians singing such cultural classics as Pretty Woman and Hot, Hot, Hot. I ordered my favourite Wetherspoon’s cuisine: surf and turf, but with the classy (and presumably more traditional) touch of replacing the scampi with lobster. My first impressions of lobster are that it is nice enough, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about.
The restaurant’s music (despite the choice of songs) was enough to give me a sudden urge to go to Cuba. After all, once we reach Key West we’ll only be 90 miles away – significantly closer to Cuba than to Miami – yet there are no ferries or even planes that would take us there. In fact, it is effectively illegal for a US citizen to even visit their little Communist neighbours thanks to the various embargos that have been imposed on Castro’s Cuba since the 1960s. Quite why the world’s only superpower is still afraid of a harmless island in the Caribbean nearly 20 years after the Cold War is beyond me.
Coincidentally, we woke this morning to find a film on the TV called Thirteen Days, which depicts JFK’s response to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. I had to check out of the motel before I could see its conclusion, but I assume it ends well because I was able to be born a couple of decades later.
The drive from Key Largo to Marathon was more pleasant than the previous day’s, and for the first time I was able to see the sea on both sides of the road. To my left was the Atlantic Ocean and to my right the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the proximity of two different bodies of water, Marathon is surprisingly sparse when it comes to swimwear shops where I might have been able to buy another set of replacement swimming shorts. As it’s a Sunday, the ones that did exist were closed or only catered for women, so I tried a K-Mart (which Bill Bryson’s Lost Continent had warned me about; it sounded like a large Kwik-Save).
K-Mart was as crappy a supermarket chain as it had been when the Lost Continent was written 20 years ago. When I finally found the swimming shorts on a randomly placed rack in the middle of the clothing department, I discovered that the only sizes they had left were XL and XL+3. I was so fed up of searching that I picked up the first minimally tasteful shorts, checked they had a draw string and took them to the counter.
Five minutes later, after struggling to try the shorts on behind the blacked-out rear windows of the monster truck, I returned them to K-Mart. The drawstring appeared to be for show and served virtually no useful purpose, though it wasn’t a wasted trip as I made a $2 profit from being refunded a tax that I hadn’t paid on the original purchase.
By this time, the cyclists had also arrived in Marathon, so we ate lunch and decided to come up with as many hilarious place names featuring the word ‘Key’ as possible. There are literally dozens of possibilities, and even hours later we were still coming up with new ones. My personal favourites were Key Pyupee and Hokeyko Key.
Tomorrow we reach Key West and the cyclists can finally hang up their clip-on shoes. It’s been a long journey down from Canada over the last five and half weeks. It’s difficult to imagine, but it’s actually four weeks since we arrived in New York City and three since Washington. Since picking up the car in Chicago, I have driven over 4,500 miles and the cyclists have pedalled further than I can comprehend, through searing heat and pouring rain, over the Appalachian mountains and across the flatlands of Florida. It’s been the trip of a lifetime for every one of us (not forgetting the contributions of the support car’s support passenger, Ed, who kept us insane through those early weeks), and we’ve got about a week left here in the Keys and the Everglades to relax once the hard work for the cyclists is over.
I’ll blog more in a few days time, but in the meantime I’m going to go all Bob Geldof on you. We haven’t cycled/written thousands of miles/words just for our own wellbeing. If you haven’t already sponsored one of our supported charities, please consider donating whatever you can afford to whichever charity you fancy by clicking here.