A few other consideration before cycling the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.
Head Winds. In the Keys, the wind is generally from the northeast. While this is will provide a nice tail wind on the way to Key West, but it becomes a head on the way back. Be prepared for headwinds, this can make it feel line like you are cycling uphill all day. So, plan your daily mileage goals accordingly.
Cross Winds. On the bridges a cross wind can be particularly dangerous. Especially with large truck whipping along side of you. Be prepared to make alternate arrangements if this becomes a problem.
Tropical Climate. The Keys have a hot humid tropical climate with little shade. Be sure to carry plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. While services are available along the way, you may have to cycle a significant distance between services.
Lodging. If you can’t sleep in the heat, don’t consider tent camping.
Flats. There is a lot of debris along the trail. Be prepared incase of flats. Bring a spare tube, patch kit and pump or CO2 cartridges.
Uneven surfaces. In the group I was cycling with a ride went down due to an uneven trail surface and had to airlifted to Miami for medical treatment. Be prepare for uneven surfaces and ride an appropriate tire.
With winter approaching and freezing temperatures at home it seemed like the ideal time to cycle the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail. This 106.5 mile Rail-Trail offers a scenic tropical bicycling adventure without leaving the continental United States. See TrailLink.com for a trail description and map.
The trail runs on Henry Flagler’s old railroad from mile marker 106 in Key Largo to mile marker 0 in Key West, Florida parallel to US Route 1. While more than 75 miles of the rail-trail were paved, several large sections of the trail and bridges were recently damaged by hurricane Irma. Unfortunately, much of the damage has not been repaired yet. As a result, cyclists are forced on to the roadway on bike lanes or narrow shoulders with the usual road debris and hazards. I was riding a new bike and hadn’t bullet proofed my tires yet and I did experience a flat. See my post on “How I Eliminated Flats Forever!” for more details on how to avoid getting flats.
So, riders beware! Although this trail is classified as a rail trail, it is not for the faint of heart when it comes to riding on the road. Expect a lot of road cycling on a busy highway with cars and large trucks speeding by along side of you. In addition, the trail continually changes from side to side along US Route 1 forcing cyclists to cross the highway.
I was lucky to find a Rhode Gear Quick Release Cycle Mirror, “New in Box”, on Ebay for the Disc Trucker. This vintage, made in the USA, mirror was in very high demand when Rhode Gear replaced it with a plastic model. So much so, that it used to sell for far more than its original retail price. Now it is almost impossible to find at any price, so you can’t image how happy I was to find it for about its original retail price.
Although the Disc Trucker’s first thousand miles have been on rail trails, it still gets a mirror. You might wonder why a mirror would be needed for a bicycle used for riding rail trails. The answer is simple, to see what going on behind me. Unfortunately, there are a few riders that don’t practice good trail etiquette by giving a friendly heads up when overtaking walkers and slower riders.
In addition, when riding with friends on a rail trail, it is easier to keep track of everyone with a mirror. I find whether on the road or on the trail, a mirror is a good addition to a bike.
Tai Chi is a gentle Chinese exercise that combines slow movements and deep breathing. It’s been said to be like meditating while you move. In many ways cycling is my Tai Chi. I find the rhythmic pedaling and deep breathing a form of meditation, especially while cycling a relatively level rail trail through wooded areas. Without the worry of automobiles around me, my sense of the environment comes alive. I start to smell the fragrance in the air. I hear the running water in the stream nearby. I see the movement of small creatures in the brush. But most of all, my mind lets go of the daily stress and is free to wander to any subject. Cycling helps me solve some of the most complex problems in my life in the simplest way.
If relieving stress wasn’t enough, cycling has also improved my balance, strengthened muscles, and lessened arthritis pain. I guess you can think of it as Bicycle Tai Chi.
Today while riding my local Rail Trail I passed another cyclist riding on a flat tire. As you may know, many cyclists believe that it is bad karma to not help another cyclist who needs it. So, to get a sense of his dilemma, I rode up beside him and mentioned that I noticed his flat tire. In return, he simply replied “yup, I got a flat” and nothing more. Since he was very close to a parking area, I assumed he was simply riding a short distance on the flat to get back to his vehicle.
Later, while taking a short break a few miles further down the trail the rider with the flat passed by. I jumped on my bike and caught up with him. This time I asked if he needed help, something I should have done when I first saw him. To my surprise he refused my help. So, I asked him how much further he had to go. He said that he had seven miles more to go and that he had already ridden about eight miles on the flat tire. Being more persistent, I explained to him that I was carrying everything needed to fix his flat and that it would only take a few minutes to repair. Yet, again he refused help.
I’ve found myself many times in situations where I’ve needed help while touring. And I’ve always been amazed how friendly, helpful and kind people have been to me on my journeys. There is nothing wrong with accepting help when you need it. Simply return the kindness to another cyclist when you can help. That is good bicycle karma!
I am fortunate to live near the C&O Canal National Park and l sometimes like to get out and ride the towpath without the hassle of racks, panniers and camping gear. Basically, carrying nothing more than my credit card while eating out and sleeping in motels (aka Credit Card Touring). However, it is never that easy. I always have to carry something. Whether it’s a change of clothes, rain gear, tools or a spare tube and tire, there is always something I feel I need to take with me.
In the past I’d always used a rear rack with a trunk bag. However, recently I’ve switched to using a Revelate Designs Viscacha Seat Bag. While it seemed a bit pricey for a seat bag, it’s eliminated the need for a rack, trunk bag and even a rear fender. This large saddle bag has a 6-14 L capacity, only weights 13.8 oz and can carry everything I need while credit card touring.
Like Dorothy traveling down the yellow brick road, you don’t have to worry about being eating by lions, tigers or bears on the C&O towpath. However, there is a very real danger of insects feasting on you if you don’t take proper precautions. In addition, the West Nile Virus has been found along the C&O Canal.
To protect yourself make applying insect repellent part of your daily routine. When touring in areas where insect repellent is necessary, I like to use a combined insect repellant and sunscreen and make applying it my very first activity of the day.
Unfortunately, on my last trip along the towpath it was raining in the morning and I forgot to apply my combined sunscreen and insect repellent. As a result, I ended up with over 100 chigger bites. Riding the towpath or trails is not the only time to take precautions against hungry insects. While bicycling the Adventure Cycling Adirondack Loop road route in early June without an insect bite for days, I got over 60 black fly bites when I had to stop to fix a flat tire. It pays to know about the insects in the area and how to protect yourself against them beforehand.
The C&O and GAP ride didn’t go as planned. I knew that things were starting to get bad when my bike computer, a Garmin 810, kept displaying warnings about areal flooding. Our fears were confirmed when we arrived at White’s Ferry and found that the ferry boat had been taken out of the water and the luncheonette had been completely emptied in anticipation of flooding.
When we checked the C&O website, we learned that many sections of the towpath had already been closed and that a bridge had been washed out, and there was a detour at mile marker 51 through 54. In addition, the National Parks department was asking everyone to avoid mile marker 42 through 70.
The section at Harpers Ferry was forecast to be underwater today and there was already heavy damage at mile marker 58 through 63. And there were warnings that trees were starting to fall. The muddy conditions made it hard to control our loaded bikes and the trail just became too dangerous, so we had to abandoned the ride.
Remember, you are responsible for your own safety.
While the previously posted C&O and GAP itinerary didn’t go as planned, I did learn a few valuable lessons. In our case, it was raining the day we started our trip and there had been severe thunderstorms from Ohio to the Virginia Tidewater prior to our start. All the rain had increased the amount of water in area rivers, including the Potomac River. As a result, the storm water was damaging roads and bridges in the park. While the park remained open, we learned of closures and detours from park employees and riders traveling in the opposite direction.
In selecting our campsites, it became important to evaluate the safety of the campsite ourselves. While camping along the C&O is only permitted in designated sites, that does not automatically mean the campsite is safe. Many of the designated campsites are in low lying areas and prone to flooding. In fact, several of the sites were already flooded when we arrived and others had a high risk of flooding.
In addition to the potential flooding danger, there was another danger looming above us. While perhaps not as obvious as flooding, there was a very real danger of falling limbs and trees, so tent placement became critical under these conditions. In the middle of the night I was awakened by a tree falling near my tent. In the morning I also observed another tree falling near our campsite. This is a very real danger and it pays to be aware of dead trees and branches when making camp.