Last summer, with my 60th birthday a scant 10 months away, I began contemplating how to celebrate. In the past, most holidays, including birthdays, were lumped into “just another day” categories, primarily due to my career choice and the fact that duty called, regardless of the day of the year. Mrs. Lawrence did make sure my 50th birthday was memorable when she arranged a surprise party with the men’s golf league crew on an otherwise routine day of play. But, then the birthdays again lapsed into cards, greetings and probably yard work. Internally, I justified a big bang 60th as possibly the last milestone, at least while ambulatory! So the quest began, and I felt it had to be something physically challenging, and enjoyable. A tough combination at my age, but I knew that a cowboy themed Howdy Doody party, complete with outfits and toy guns, wasn’t for me. (And yes, that was, in fact, someone’s 60th birthday celebration.)
My first thought was a hike. A long hike. An Appalachian Trail long hike. And after extensive research, maybe half of an Appalachian Trail hike. Then reality (and Mrs. Lawrence) stepped in and reminded me that given the condition of my ankles and feet, after extensive life-long injuries, I was a mere several paces short of needing a scooter to get around the grocery store. OK then plan B: Biking.
In spite of my lower extremities issues, (and upper extremity for even contemplating a 5 month Appalachian Trail hike), I’ve always been able to bike. Even though my time of downhill mountain bike racing has long since passed, the relatively flat Low Country here in South Carolina is still conducive to long rides, and I made the decision to go that route. I dropped my old faithful, 19-year-old custom built Trek mountain bike off for a professional tune up and began the planning stage. First step, how far? I was already regularly (kind of) doing 20, 25 and 30 mile round trips from home, primarily along existing bike paths. But I wanted this to be a lot more memorable. As it turns out, the second question of “where” helped determine the “how far”.
Like most men my age, rather than sleep on the floor, I readily admit loving my family and pets. But a certain geographic location also holds a special place in my heart: The Florida Keys. And with a portion of the aforementioned family living in Key West, a perfect place for a long bike ride culminating in a relaxing 60th birthday, right? So, in typical (for me, not Mrs. Lawrence) fashion, the planning, logistics, and bookings were completed a full 4 months prior to the big day.
Monday, May 15th, 10:00 PM – Jeep all packed and left for the Keys. No issues during the 14-hour drive to Key Largo, but did note that the same bridge in Jacksonville, under construction 5 years ago, is still under construction.
Tuesday, May 16th, 11:50 AM – arrive in Key Largo at the Pelican Key Largo Cottages and thankfully, able to check in early. (Beautiful setting, not big on amenities, but adequate for phase 1)
Wednesday, May 17th, 5:40 AM – Bike to Mile Marker 100, approx. 1 mile north of the cottage.
05:50 AM – ride to Marathon, Mile Marker 50 – Mostly able to stick to existing bike paths and lanes and frontage roads in order to avoid heavy Hwy. 1 traffic. At most, 3-4 miles of this 50-mile stretch required riding on the road. Most of the bridges have pedestrian paths alongside or underneath, however, the bridge on the north side of Long Key didn’t and was a struggle fighting the crosswinds. One humorous episode in Islamorada: I thought I was shooting onto a frontage road and then heard a voice over a loudspeaker….”YOU AREN’T GOING TO TRIP THAT!”. Turns out the “frontage road” was a truck weigh station. At least the guy didn’t announce that I was “overweight”.
11:30 AM – arrived in Marathon, Mile Marker 50. 1/2 hour break for 2 bananas and 2 quarts of Gatorade.
12:00 PM – ride back to Key Largo, Mile Marker 100.
6:45 PM – arrive back in Key Largo. One minor “over-the-bars” incident in Tavernier when a pop-up thunderstorm left a slippery gravel spot and I slid into a culvert. Minor road rash and a new scar above my right eyebrow!
Thursday, May 18th: Day of rest. Lots of Gatorade and wondering if they’ll ever get the smell of Icy Hot out of this room.
Friday, May 19th, 2:45 AM: Left Key Largo and drove to Key West (a little over 2 1/2 hours). Parked near Mile Marker 2 (Smathers Beach) and rode to Mile Marker 0.
5:15 AM: Northbound to Mile Marker 33. (Big Pine Key). Brief break there (more Gatorade) and back to Key West.
3:45 PM: Arrive back at Mile Marker 0. Mission accomplished! (Texted pic to Mrs. Lawrence and in typical fashion, got this response: “yay”.)
4:10 PM: Back to Jeep, load up and check into the Double Tree Grand Hilton, Key West. (Lots of amenities, but room 204 may smell like Icy Hot for a while)
Total distance, including extra riding, cutting in & out of frontage and some back roads, 183 miles. For those of you familiar with the Keys and Hwy. 1, you’ll note that there was no mention of the 7 Mile Bridge. My logistics purposely cut that out of the trip. My height, the height of my bike, and the lack of a suitable bike path would have required scuba gear for when I went over the railing.
May 21st: Lovely birthday breakfast with daughter and granddaughters. Then off to Southernmost Tattoo for ink to commemorate the trip.
And that’s it! A memorable 60th birthday. Already thinking about the 70th, but planning will be in conjunction with Mrs. Lawrence and one of these: (If only they made one that could traverse over 2,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail!)
Special shout out to Pink Floyd for keeping inspiration through my earbuds the entire way!