Thursday, January 17, 2008

Starting North by Heading South

Our grand Florida-to-Maine bike trip has begun!

After a flurry of cleaning, organizing, packing and knitting, we said goodbye to our cozy Ithaca sublet and its snowy back yard and spent a night at Lisa and Ray's, where granddaughter Elise modelled two of Louise's Fall projects, a grey sweater with black mitten-shaped outside pockets, and a white bolero sweater that was finished the day before we left. Then we partially disassembled the tandem to fit it in the trunk of our rental car and drove to Syracuse, where we did another partial reassembly/disassembly for Amtrak, to pack it in those two bike boxes, telescoped together as one long tandem bike box. It all worked, and we and our trusty steed made it whole to sunny Florida.

And sunny it has been. As we rode the train down the Mohawk Valley, we caught this scene of a thin winter sun shining across the Mohawk River, which doubles as the Erie Canal. When we stepped off the train after a good night's rest in our sleeper car, we were in Palm Beach, basking in sunny warmth. An hour's worth of reassembly and off we rode to our hotel.

It's been a great first week, exploring this part of Florida. All along the East Coast, from south Florida right up to New Jersey, the land seems to be reluctant to give up to the sea, and extends itself with narrow islands and peninsulas parallel to the mainland. In this part of Florida, these are islands of great wealth. Anyone landing on these shores from the ocean will find himself on the private beach of a towering condo, a resort hotel, a mansion, or with great luck or effort, at one of a handful of state parks or public beaches.

From Palm Beach we rode north a day and a half to Jon Dickinson State Park, but went inland to take a boat trip on the Loxahatchee River, one of only two official Wild and Scenic Rivers in this state. We glided past cypress and mangrove swamps, past numerous osprey and herons, a few turtles, and our first wild alligator, this 3-footer lazing away on a log next to the river a few feet from us. The park also holds the highest point in the 150 southernmost miles of Florida, a sand dune that is all of 86 feet above sea level. A viewing platform rising another 40 feet gave us this view of the barrier island to the east, which we rode later in the day past hundreds of mansions (one reputedly belonging to Tiger Woods), almost none of which we could see because of the dense foliage and bending driveways that preserve the privacy of these quiet lodgings.

In Palm Beach we stopped in on Sharon and Don, two fellow-passengers on Amtrak's Silver Meteor, who were staying at the fabled Breakers Hotel. They showed us the view from their room two stories above the ocean, and got this nice shot of us in front of the hotel. As you can see in the third photo, it remains as glorious as it was when built in 1926.

In all, we've now done 200 miles in the first week, visiting fabled cities like Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Miami Beach, and some not so famous ones, such as the wonderfully-named Hypoluxo. The Greek scholars and medical types among you may already be grinning at the meaning -- for this town has styled itself "insufficiently wealthy."

Ft. Lauderdale need not call itself that. We saw watery "street" after "street" of boats parked in front of mansions when we took the Jungle Queeen boat tour and again on foot. Imagine the pain of having a boat so large that you lose the waterfront view from your multi-million-dollar mansion! The big white house doesn't have that problem at the moment -- it's vacant and for sale, for a mere $35 million.

The roads have been mostly OK for cycling. We did ride some 15 miles on Highway 1, with its fairly narrow shoulder and fast traffic on 2 or 3 lanes in each direction, as in this first photo. Other roads have been narrow but fairly traffic free or, as in the second and third photos, accompanied by a bike-friendly sidewalk. Roughly half the miles we've done have been on Highway A1A, and most have been quiet or accompanied by a good shoulder. One stretch had a number of mirrors at the end of driveways, which gave us a chance to take this self-portrait. The ride from Ft. Lauderdale into Miami Beach was fortunately on the first day we had a strong tailwind, as the last 20 miles were largely busy and shoulderless, meaning we had to take up one of the two or three lanes headed south, going 20 to 22 mph (with that tailwind assist) while cars passed us doing 30 to 35. It sounds more harrowing than it was, but it's not for the faint-hearted cyclist, that's for sure.

We ended our first week in Miami Beach, where we met up with our Seattle next-door-neighbors Judy and John Stipek, who also have a condo here. They brought us to a wonderful restaurant at the southern tip of South Beach, where we dined while two enormous cruise ships headed out of port bound for the Caribbean, then took us up to their 39th-floor unit to see the night view and again the next day for the daylight scenery. They even found a temporary home for our tandem in their daughter's garage in nearby Coral Gables, for we are now on to the next phase of our trip, a side-journey by air to the wedding of Jeff's daughter Becky to Sean Knight. That's coming up on January 20. More -- MUCH more -- about that next time!

No comments: