After a fairly decent night of sleep I was up and ready to pack my tent by 7. It’s much easier to get out on the road early when you’re camping and especially when you aren’t in an official camping place. From waking up to getting on the road it took less than 30 minutes, an improvement of my usual time which is closer to an hour. Not quite as fast as in a motel, but up there.

The first goal for the day was to get to Marathon. There was a Warmshowers guy down there called Jeffrey and we’d been in contact by text. He didn’t have a place, he’s travelling himself, but he knew plenty about the Marathon area having been there for 2 weeks.

Even though it was only about 10 miles from where I started, I didn’t get down to Jeffrey until about 11:30. A quick stop at a petrol station to get water and eat breakfast turned into a 2 hour-long wait for a torrential rainstorm to pass. I waited part of it out at the Shell but noticed a Burger King half a mile down the road which meant not only a place to sit but also WiFi and so found my way there. There were a few other travellers inside hiding from the rain. It was funny listening to them talking about how the weather was getting cold over the next few days as it would drop down to the 70s. Considering it’s early February, there’s nothing cold about that.

I met Jeffrey at the Methodist church in town which gives away free lunches to those who ask. The bag I was given contained a Capri Sun, seltzer water, chocolate cake, a tin of hot dogs, orange in sugary water and a pack of peanuts. Some may criticise it for not being anything close to healthy, but it must be a very useful service for those in the community. I don’t know the numbers, but the Keys unsurprisingly seems to have a large homeless population. Given the choice of sleeping outside in New England or the Keys in winter, I know which I would choose and am choosing.

After grabbing lunch, Jeffrey took me back to where he’s staying to eat the coconuts he had got fresh from the trees that morning. He’d been camped at his location for two weeks and he spoke about how being by the water had re-invigorated his desire to sail. He’d been using his time learning how to and was hopeful that he would get his own boat and combine sailing with biking. After seeing the view he wakes up to, it didn’t surprise me. The day before, I’d seen some houses that are small but because you could see the Atlantic from them they cost $3.2m, which to me is a crazy amount of money, and I think he had a better view although his was of the Gulf.

Coming down through Tennessee, Jeffrey had crashed coming down a mountain road that was covered in snow. Something to do with skinny road tyres and a fully laden bike probably contributed. Anyway, it meant that his front rack was in imperfect condition. He had to put it back together as he had a date in Key West to get to. He had a roll of duct tape and after 20 minutes had it re-assembled to something resembling it’s original strength.

Getting back on the bike I was annoyed to be unable to find my sunglasses. I’d had them on when I arrived, but had no idea where they’d gone. I checked out Jeffrey’s place, but couldn’t find them. It leaves me in a place where I’m going to be having to pick up my 4th pair for the trip. The first pair got as far as Montana before falling apart, the second to New Mexico and this pair to Florida. I might have to carry a spare mirror or two with me when I leave the US as I doubt I can find them too easily in Central or South America.

Frustrated about my lack of sunglasses, we went off to get some water from a nearby restaurant. We filled up, and made it half a mile down 7 Mile Bridge before I realised I’d left my hat at the restaurant. We doubled back and thankfully it was still sat on the rock where I’d left it.

7 Mile Bridge joins the chain of islands that are called Marathon to those that make up Big Pine. It used to be part of the Overseas Railroad which took people from Miami to Key West where they could hop on a ferry to Havana. I wish that ferry still existed, as I’d love to go to Cuba, but obviously with the US embargo I’m going to have to wait until I get out of here for that to start to become an option. The old bridge still exists and runs parallel to US-1 and would make for spectacular riding but for 3 small sections where the bridge has been taken down. There’s an active campaign to save the bridge and I hope it works because riding down the debris-filled shoulder of 7 Mile Bridge, which had a beautiful vista, could have been much nicer without the traffic flying past.

After the bridge we made our way across several more keys (comes from the Spanish caye which means small island) before getting to the main part of Big Pine Key. It’s famous as it’s the home of Key Deer, a small breed of deer that roam around the island. It was also where my ride would end as Tom, who I had met over near Everglades City, has a son who lives there and had kindly given me permission to stay. I said my farewells to Jeffrey and a minute later met Tom and his wife Barbara who had been down doing work on the house. I’d thought they were going to leave town on Wednesday. If I’d known they were still in town I’d have tried to get there earlier, but as it was we only got to talk briefly as they had a dinner arrangement back at their home up near Fort Lauderdale.

Where I camped in Grassy Key

Part of 7 Mile Bridge