Florida Keys Trip Log
(Click on the links for photos and info)
On May 12th, 2012, Rob Hickman got a call from Vera Vasek, Executive Director of Sculpture Key West. She was interested in his proposal to unicycle the Florida Keys to commemorate the centennial of the Overseas Railroad. Hickman called Keith Nelson and told him to clear his December calendar. The Unicycle Bridge Tour was going on a road trip.
Training began in late September, and other preparations soon followed. Nelson asked Michael Samuel to design a logo, which was loved by all- two seagulls unicycling over a historic Henry Flagler arched viaduct. Arguments ensued over whether the ride could have a corsair theme. Maps were printed. Wooden nickels were minted. The pirate angle was sunk. Morada Way Arts & Cultural District co-founder and Keys native Daniela Woody was named project manager, and an itinerary soon evolved. Unicycle.com and Postcard Inn got on board as sponsors.
Because Rob is a sculptor, and because the project was being created for Sculpture Key West, Rob decided to drag a 13 ounce rock behind him the entire length of the tour. The rock would be sculpted as Rob pedaled toward Key West, where he would present his finished sculpture at Fort Zachary Taylor, the final destination. Additionally, a little bit of the rock would ever so slightly trace the route. Rob enjoys a little bit of rock with his roll. He found the potato sized granite stone on a Cape Cod beach Memorial Day weekend. Brooklyn based sculptor Rob de Mar built the cable system and advised Hickman on how to attach a hook.
Mon, Dec 3
The tour pretty much began the way it ended, with Keith Nelson on stage. Keith is a clown, and has performed in circus acts all over the world. Keith balances complex arrangements in ridiculous fashion. He meticulously times out multiple twirling spinning things in mid air. And he thrusts sharp, latex, and flaming objects into his various orifices. The night before flying down to Florida, Keith was where he is the first Monday of every month- at Dixon Place, on New York's Lower East Side. Dressed in a flamboyant suit Keith led the Bindlestiff Open Stage Variety Show. Rob was there to support him. Keith managed to get 6 bowls spinning atop gyrating poles while flipping numerous pieces of silverware into tin cans. It was a late night, replete with single malt scotch and plenty of beer. Neither Rob nor Keith got a lot of sleep that night.
Tues, Dec 4
mm 106.5 - 103.1
The day began early. Upon arrival at LaGuardia Rob was extensively searched by TSA officials. Because of their professions, both Hickman and Nelson are accustomed to airport security difficulties. The authorities at LaGuardia were specifically interested in the tour's official maps. It's possible their extraordinary detail (and the Key's proximity to Cuba) posed a national security threat. On board the plane the boys got a bit of shut eye during their flight to Florida. The Miami airport labyrinth seemed to extend all the way to Key West. As their project manager reminded them many times, they should have flown through Fort Lauderdale. Laden with luggage, equipment, unicycles, and a chest full of wooden nickels, they patiently navigated their way to the rental car pick-up. They shed their winter clothes and lathered up the sun screen.
A proper chemical balance was required, so their first stop was a Starbucks alongside a Mexican taco stand. They then headed to a gas station air filling station, where they used only about 5¢ of the dollar they spent on air. With the tires inflated and the unicycles assembled, the team was ready to roll.
The next stop was the Coral Castle. Since his first pilgrimage many years ago, Keith has been a devotee of the Castle. He had originally wanted the tour to start from here, which makes sense, being that it is one of the world's foremost roadside attractions. A carving at the entrance reads, "You will be seeing an unusual accomplishment", which resonated with the mission at hand. Inside they saw enormous rocks that had been transported great distances and carved to create a spectacular castle and garden complex. The Coral Castle visit unfortunately led to a no-show for the pre-schoolers at St. Justin the Martyr, who were supposed to launch the tour.
The route to the start of the keys, known as the '18 mile stretch' lacks a roadside shoulder and is not cycle friendly. The Keys officially begin at the Monroe County line. The Jew Fish Creek drawbridge was replaced several years ago by an enormous concrete overpass. Hickman and Nelson began the tour at the Key Largo visitor information center located at mile marker 106.5. They were met by Project Manager Daniela Woody and Jody Troupe from Sculpture Key West. Daniela had a small red unicycle sitting in the back of her convertible, along with a case of coconut water for the boys. The cyclists were photographed in front of the Key Largo welcome sign alongside the Unicycle Bridge Tour banner. The team chalked and documented the starting point, mile marker, and date on the pavement. The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail Unicycle Tour had begun.
The tour's first bridge crossing was a short modern span over Marvin Adams Waterway (mm103.4), aka the Cut, a canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean to Florida Bay. It should be noted that the Overseas Highway is also known as U.S. Route 1 (US 1), and Florida State Road 5 (SR 5). It was designated as a National Scenic Highway and All-American Road in 2009. The highway bridges are owned and operated by the Florida Department of Transportation. Rob and Keith relished riding in warm weather. It was hot and humid and they were sporting bright tech fiber. With Camelback hydration packs on their backs, they would be consuming several liters of water a day. A GoPro camera, lent by Key Largo Bicycle Tours, was fastened atop Rob's helmet to capture the ride.
A little way down the road, the duo turned into Island Dolphin Care, a non-for-profit organization where dolphin therapy brings children with special needs, children at risk, wounded veterans and their families joy and the discovery of new abilities and reclaimed hope. The trainers choreographed five dolphins to flip in the air behind Hickman and Nelson as they posed for camera crews. They visited the touching pond to kiss the sea cucumbers for good luck, as is customary in the Keys. For additional good fortune Rob was traveling with two amulets- a conch train squished penny mounted to the front of his unicycle and a small Jolly Roger patch, attached to the aft side of his helmet. Keith rode with a small rubber chicken dangling from the rear of his saddle. During their visit with the dolphins, the team waited out a rain burst under cover. Prior to their departure, two small canal bridges, Ocean Bay Drive Canal Bridge and Canal Footbridge linking Island Dolphin care and Dolphin Plus, were crossed and documented.
At Island Dolphin Care Hickman and Nelson were introduced to Cris Sandifer, a well-know local painter and arts organizer. Rob was excited to learn about the existence of two remaining cement Flagler mileposts, one of which Cris had depicted in a painting. The current mile marker system commences at 0 in Key West with the miles progressing upwards as one travels northeast to Miami. Flagler's original system commenced at Jacksonville and terminated with the 522 mile post in Key West. The local milepost that Cris described now stood on the beach behind the historic Caribbean Club bar (mm104). In 1938 Carl Graham Fisher developed the Caribbean Club as a fishing club for men of modest means, "a poor man's retreat." The Caribbean Club became renowned as the "on location" filming site for the 1947 film ‘Key Largo’ with Humphrey Board and Lauren Bacall. With the sun setting, the group make a beeline to the bar for research, documentation, and drinks. It had been a meager 3.4 mile day, but the tour had begun.
From the Caribbean Club they rushed to the Green Turtle Inn, a notable eatery with a history going back to the '40s. Part of the original structure survived the 1935 Hurricane. Here they were interviewed on a local radio program, hosted by two chatty ladies. Afterwards they headed to Ma's, an amazing local eatery where they met Daniela's friend Ray Kooser. After a mouth watering seafood dinner they were treated to Ma's famous Key Lime Pie, which was pretty much unrivaled until they got to Key West.
They settled in for two nights at the Post Card Inn, a tour sponsor which features 4 bars in its sprawling complex. Keith practiced his juggling routine, while Rob did some yoga. Keith then glued himself to the Victoria Secret television special, and Rob noticed a flat tire on his wheel- the tour's first. The flat was blamed on TSA's handling of the cycle, and needed to be repaired before going to bed. In the midst of repairs, preparations for the following day, and bare skinned pop culture, the team was stood up by NY radio host Tom Scharpling, who had promised an interview.
Wed, Dec 5
mm 103.1 - 80.5
The morning began in the hotel parking lot, with coffee and a radio interview with Bill Becker, US1 Radio, 104.1 FM. The pedaling began around 9:30 am. Rob and Keith were looking at 10 miles before breakfast. Then it would be another 10-15 miles to dinner. They chalked the second day's starting mark and began rolling down the highway, rock in tow. At mile marker 102.2 they passed the enormous Key Largo bat tower, a unique failed experiment from the 1920’s. They then made a quick stop at the Key Largo Chocolate Factory for some early morning rum balls, a legal speedball of confection and liquor. They met roadside with Mark from Key Largo Bicycle Tours who gave them T-shirts and offered support if they needed it. Keith's cranks needed some tightening so he stopped at an auto garage to borrow a wrench. The mechanic on duty had heard about the project in the news.
An hour or so later they rode into Harriette's (mm95) where they posed for pictures with the muffin man before a seafood breakfast accompanied by Harriette's famous biscuits. Afterwards they met back up with Cris Sandifer to pose for pictures in front of her recently commissioned large public mural (mm94) commemorating Henry Flagler and the centennial of the Overseas Railroad. The railroad had been billed as the eighth wonder of the world in its day. At mile marker 91 they crossed the Tavernier Creek Bridge.
Pedaling down the road towards Snake Creek, the boys encountered a weigh station (mm86). For fear of the rock's additional weight they rolled on past. The Snake Creek Drawbridge (mm85.5) to Plantation Key was the only draw bridge on the tour. Fortunately it was closed when they arrived. Rob's rock made beautiful steel drum sounding music on the expanded metal bridge decking.
20-25 miles a day was just the right amount of pedaling following the ten week training regimen. On the approach to Islamorada, 2 sets of groupies ran out to the highway, iPads in hand, shouting, "We're following you on Facebook!".
Getting on and off their 29" wheels took time and effort. Aside from bridge documentation, the team generally preferred to keep rolling. But there were exceptions. The first was a 30-foot-tall, 40-foot-long lobster that greets visitors to Rain Barrel Artisan Village (mm86) in Islamorada. Known as Betsy, she’s a replica of a Florida Keys spiny lobster. The 12-legged crustacean was crafted in the '80s by local artist Richard Blaze. Rob and Keith couldn't resist posing with their unicycles. A little further down the road they wheeled over the Whale Harbor Bridge (mm84).
At Mile Marker 83, the team stopped to visit the Hurricane monument. Standing where Islamorada's post office once stood, is a simple monument designed by the Florida Division of the Federal Art Project and constructed using Keys limestone ("keystone") by the Works Progress Administration. The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane was one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the United States. The category 5 storm ended the 23-year run of the Overseas Railway. The damaged tracks were never rebuilt, and the Overseas Highway (U.S. Highway 1) eventually replaced the railroad as the main transportation route from Miami to Key West. More than 400 people were killed, though some estimates place the number of deaths at more than 600. It was a somber moment for Hickman and Nelson as they paid their respects. They met a local historian, who told them about the Labor Day hurricane. The memorial features a frieze with swept palm trees amid curling waves. A ceramic-tile mural of the Keys covers a stone crypt that holds victims' ashes.
The Islamorada business district began around mile marker 82. Rob and Keith were immediately drawn to the giant roadside mermaid sign for Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar. They couldn't resist positioning their unicycles beneath the legendary aquatic creature for photos. Down the road, Rob realized that his rock was no longer in tow. He was forced to backtrack until he found it. A carabineer had wriggled itself open. It became necessary to keep a sharp ear out for the rock’s familiar tumbling sound. Rob would frequently ask Keith if it was still back there. Towards the end of the day, there was another rock dilemma. The hook had shimmied it's way out. Once again, Rob had to backtrack until he found it, sitting on the road's shoulder. That evening he was taken to Home Depot for Gorilla Glue.
The team was psyched by their surroundings. They had been training in wool sweaters and Baklava hoods. They now found themselves in shorts enjoying the cycle path surrounded by mangroves, mermaids and manatees. There had been a concern about head winds, but so far there had been none.
Day two's 23 mile ride ended at Siesta Marina (mm80), where they met back up with Daniela and her friend Ray, who is the dockmaster. Ray generously offered to take the team out on his boat to survey the Channel Five bridge from sea. The boys would be working with a film crew the following day to document the bridge's crossing. The Channel Five bridge is the fourth longest active bridge in the Florida Keys. It is the first of two large fixed spans that allow sailboat passage between the Atlantic and the Gulf. The second large span would be part of the Seven Mile bridge. Locals were impressed that Hickman and Nelson would be crossing an arc that rises 65 feet above the water. The expectations had created a Mt. Everest image. The bridge arch, however, did not compare to any of the training grounds - NYC bridges or the hills of Columbia County, NY. Rob was delighted to glimpse the historic Channel Five bridge up close. It was now severed and closed to motorized, pedestrian, and unicycle traffic. Hickman marveled at the arches before him. The marine cement had been imported from Germany. The structure had stood there for more than a century.
Back at the Marina, the boys were treated to cold beer and a hot tub to soak their sore muscles. There was a small wooden footbridge leading from the dock to the hot tub, which they dubbed Footbridge at LaSiesta Marina. They cycled across it and documented it, bringing the day's tally to 4. They joined Ray and Daniela for dinner at Shula Burger at Postcard Inn, before heading over to the Holiday Isle “world famous” tiki bar for a radio interview on a local station. Daniela plied the boys with Rum Runners before they went on the air. Rob won a raffle contest receiving a t-shirt and sticker fun pack. It was their final night at the PostCard Inn.
Thurs, Dec 6
mm 80.5 - 61
With the hook firmly glued back into Rob's rock, the team was ready for their third day of pedaling. Rob needed apple cider vinegar for his daily curing tonic for joint inflammation, so they went to the local grocery in Islamorada. When the clerk noticed Rob's official T-shirt, she asked if he knew anything about a particular red unicycle that had been left at the store the night before. The person seen leaving it had apparently been too tipsy to ride. For several weeks leading up to the tour, Daniela had been going around town with a red unicycle in hand. This couldn't be a coincidence. Questions would later need to be asked.
With the official starting mark chalked, the one wheeling began from Siesta Marina, where they had ended the evening before. They rode across the Lower Matecumbe Key, an important source of fresh water for Native Americans, the Spanish, and the builders of the Overseas Railroad. Rob and Keith crossed the Tea Table Relief Bridge (mm79.8) and the Tea Table Channel Bridge (mm79.1). The Gorilla Glue was holding. Onward, they crossed the Indian Key Channel Bridge (mm78) and the Lignumvitae Channel Bridge (mm77.1).
At Mile marker 77 the team convened at Robbie’s Marina (gulfside) for breakfast. Rob and Keith arrived before Daniela, so they checked out the local souvenir vendors and art stalls. Rob and Keith were delighted to find a stand selling sunglasses. To Rob's surprise, they also sold reading glasses. He had misplaced and broken several pairs since the trip began. With vision and sun glare now under control, they ordered breakfast and headed out to the wharf to feed the tarpon, which is what one does at Robbie's. A bucket of bait fish sells for $5. A man with a long poll stands out on the dock and coaches the feeding technique. Tarpon are big and they quickly take the fish out of your hand. It can be frightening! Not to mention the sneaky pelicans who steal the bait with their long beaks through slats in the dock. Fortunately, neither rider lost a finger or an iPhone.
After breakfast there was business at hand. Daniela had procured a golf cart for the day's video shoot. They would be working with Bob Care, a cameraman hired by Florida Keys Tourism and shooting for national/international coverage on the AP wire. A gentleman at the golf cart rental knew how to ride a unicycle, so he took Keith's wheel for a spin in the parking lot.
They filmed on some of the most picturesque trail to date, groomed with flowers and plantings. Tree roots had buckled some of the asphalt, which in places made it tricky to ride. Daniela drove the golf cart, and Bob filmed from the rear. Rob and Keith pedaled behind with a lot of roll and do it again action. Rob asked that the GPS be turned off, since they weren't really covering any distance. Keith was accustomed to the hurry-up-and-wait aspect of television.
Officials would be closing down the Channel Five Bridge that afternoon for the video shoot, and the team was running ahead of schedule. Daniela suggested they swing by the Safari Bar, aka Dead Animal Bar for a beer. The interior walls and bar were lined with extinct and exotic African animal trophies, all donning Santa hats for the holidays. If PETA ever gets wind of this place, there's gonna to be trouble! Afterwards, the two crossed the tour's first Henry Flagler historic segmental arched bridge, the Channel Two Historic Bridge (mm73).
Two police escort vehicles were waiting at the base of the Channel Five Bridge (mm72) when the team arrived. Rob and Keith met Andy Newman from Florida Keys & Key West Tourism Council, who would be directing the media coverage and conducting the interview. The officials noted that no one had ever successfully unicycled the entire length of the Florida Keys. They couldn’t believe that Rob and Keith were about to cross the immense Channel Five span on single wheels. Folks were reminded that it's generally more difficult to unicycle down a ramp than up one. Unlike bicycles, unicycles lack freewheels. Instead of coasting and enjoying the ride down, it's necessary to pedal and resist the urge to accelerate. The bridge would only briefly be shut down to traffic, and there was only enough time for one attempt. In the end, the sole difficulty was maintaining a close distance behind the slowly moving golf cart. The Channel Five Bridge had been successfully crossed. It should be noted that the unsafe riding practices documented in images and video from this crossing were directed by Andy and made possible by the police. Keith and Rob are major proponents of cycle safety, and apologize that the media and police are promoting dangerous activity at the expense of the unicycle.
The younger and friendlier of the two police officers, offered an escort through to Layton, the next town down the road. He demonstrated his fancy new police car outfitted with colorful lights and a subsonic siren. After bidding him farewell, the riders spotted what they believed to be his old cruiser. Parked along Highway 1, oceanside, sits a decoy to deter speeding. Unicyclists too urge motorists to slow down and obey the speed limit- especially in areas where there isn't a cycling trail.
In a year or so, the Overseas Heritage Trail in Layton is going to be amazing. Road crews are busy putting things in place. Many parts of the cycling path are being built directly over the original Overseas Highway. The path aligns itself with all the historic bridges that have been converted to pedestrian use. Rob and Keith often chose to ride on the dirt where the cycling trail was in progress. Sometimes they would ride in the grass or the chunky remains of the original highway. They enjoyed the off road challenge, as opposed to the narrow shoulder alongside motorized traffic at 55 miles an hour.
Long Key Historic Bridge (mm65) is 2.2 miles in length, and was the first long crossing bridged by Flagler's railroad. This segmented arch bridge was Flagler's favorite and became the symbol for the Overseas Railroad. It was a perfectly straight ride about 10 feet above the sea. The occasional fisherman did a double take as the one wheelers rolled past placing wooden nickels in their hands. By the time the duo made it to Conch Key they were saddle sore. The riders welcomed the opportunity to dismount and enjoy the lengthy bridge documentation process. The Long Key Historic Bridge was good preparation for the Seven Mile Bridge, which lay ahead.
Throughout the journey, there were GoPro issues. It seemed at times that a continuous beeping noise was emanating from Rob's head. The GoPro needed attention- sometimes running out of batteries, other times it was the memory card filling up. There were times when no one knew what went wrong. Rob bragged about the rock's superior technology. It was capturing every moment of the ride, and never beeped once.
As twilight approached, they rode on the shoulder oceanside against traffic for optimum visibility. Rob turned on his helmet lights. It was important to make up for the time lost that morning. The team crossed Tom's Harbor Cut Historic Bridge (mm65) and rolled until they came to an intersection. They took a left pedaling across a small span to Duck Key. Duck Key Bridge is currently being reconstructed. A flagman directed the cyclists around the active construction equipment, and exclaimed to Rob, "You're a better man than me!". Rob and Keith seem to always feel the love from road crews.
On Duck Key, the boys met Daniela and called it a day. Daniela had begun sporting the official orange tour T-shirt. They headed back across the Tom's Harbor Cut Historic Bridge to the Edgewater Lodge (mm65.5), gulfside. The team enjoyed a couple beers and a swim before proceeding to the Wreck (mm59) for dinner.
Friday, Dec 7
mm 61 - 40
After a good night's sleep Rob enjoyed a sunrise yoga on the dock against the receding Long Key Bridge. Keith did a bit of beachfront juggling and made coffee. The warm weather and 20+ mile days were beginning to take a toll, thus the cyclists began applying chamois butter to the tender areas between their thighs. The bike pants worn underneath their shorts, were no longer providing enough protection. The unicycling athletes were adapting to life in the Keys and start times were commencing a little later each day. Photos were taken at the Edgewater. At around 10:30, lodge owner Melinda rode the boys back over to the intersection for Duck key. Day #4's official starting mark was chalked, and the pair rode on.
After the two instances with the rock, Rob would often want to ride out in front. He could usually hear the tumbling sound, but would frequently ask Keith if it was still there. The pair was riding gulfside on the road's narrow shoulder. There was road work oceanside. As they approached the Historic Tom's Harbor Channel Bridge (mm60) Keith cut across the road. Rob looked over his left shoulder to check if traffic was clear. He was going too fast, and had turned his body too far. He lost control of his wheel and tumbled, skidding across the pavement. His elbow was badly skinned, and blood was gushing out. His body certainly couldn't stand up to the road surface like his sturdy rock. Rob brushed off the injury and crossed the bridge, calling Daniela en route to ask for a first aid kit. Despite Rob's obsessive nature and Keith's Eagle Scout training, neither had packed a first aid kit. Daniela would have to find a pharmacy and meet them further down the road.
The duo documented the bridge on the far side at Grassy Key, where they met a friendly couple. The riders asked for their picture to be taken in front of the famous arches. The gentleman obliged, but was leery of iguanas and snakes in the brush. Rob detected the man's accent and asked where he was from. He was from Bologna, but the two of them lived in Manhattan. Bologna is known for its portico colonnades. In Italian, Rob asked what he thought about the historic Flagler bridges. Rob compared them to Roman aqueducts and complained that, despite having been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, there were no plaques. The gentleman's wife noticed Rob's injury and offered first aid. Penicillin powder and bandages were administered. The 4 New Yorkers shared stories roadside. More photos were taken. And the one-wheelers rolled down the road.
Experiencing many occasions in which abrupt endings in the cycle path forced the team to cross the busy highway for a safer riding path, the trek came to a most delightful stretch of riding. The team travelled on a cycle path cutting through mangroves, and passed numerous cast cement manatee mailboxes. A storm the night before had left a number expansive puddles to traverse, adding to the beauty and thrill of the mangrove surrounded ride. Eventually they made their way into Marathon. Much of the design and feel of the Overseas Highway celebrates the romance of 1950's car culture, family vacations, roadside attractions, and a better America that is defiant to hurricanes and oppressive laws. Marathon however, is a reminder that urban sprawl and box stores can make things ugly, even in paradise.
The holiday season in the Keys provides many familiar, though out of place, displays - inflatable snow people, wire reindeer, and cardboard Santas. The season is also outfitted with Christmas decorations unique to the Keys, such as the silver and blue dolphins displayed along the Marathon roadway. The Spanish originally called Marathon Vaca Key, after the local sea cattle. The change in names came about by railroad workers, toiling night and day to complete the Overseas Railroad. Due to the unrelenting pace and struggle to complete the project, many workers complained that it was like running a Marathon. The local railroad station was subsequently given that name. The one-wheeled marathoners met up for lunch at Island Fish Company (mm54) with Daniela and Vera Vasek. The folks in Key West were getting excited. The cyclists had ridden almost half the distance. Following their meal, they crossed the Vaca Cut Bridge (mm53.1). The trail ended abruptly and they found themselves back on the highway.
There was increased traffic in Marathon, so Rob pulled out his red whistle and rode with it in his mouth to alert cars to their presence. As they passed the airport, it began to mist. Rob turned on his helmet lights. The riders had promised their Brooklyn neighbor Dara a visit to the Turtle Hospital (mm48.5). They stopped for a tour, and once again kissed the sea cucumbers in the touching pond. The sea turtles were not asked to perform flips. The folks at the turtle hospital informed the cyclists that the Seven Mile Bridge was just a half mile down the road. This would be the big moment they had waited for.
They met Daniela in a parking area before the bridge. She had tried to get their police officer friend back for an escort, but he had official business elsewhere. Daniela scanned her WeatherBug app to ascertain the neighboring storm cells. She assured the boys that the ominous storm clouds above them were moving away from the area, and that the crossing would not be affected. There was one storm out in front and a second behind. As long as they were moving at 6+ mph, they would not be affected. About a mile onto the bridge it began to rain. Apparently there was a third weather cell that formed once they had set out. The breeze kicked up as the duo rode a narrow 3' wide strip between the white line and the low bridge railing. Inches to the left, trucks, RV's and cars zoomed past at 60+ mph. Inches to the right, lay a 19 foot plunge into the gulf. The railing height was well below the riders' saddles. Rob's helmet lights were lit, as were both cyclists' rear lights. Their tech fiber shirts were bright, although the hydration packs on their backs were less-reflective. It was a harrowing experience, as they focused on getting to the other side. Having been hit just a few weeks before the tour, Rob was riding hair pinned trigger ready for the dive should a vehicle touch the line. Keith later swore that the rain let up for a moment, but Rob didn't recall it. Rob kept flipping on and off his sunglasses, which blurred his visibility. Without them, his eyes were pelted with rain. The low railing crept into Keith's head atop the 65' high arc over Moser Channel, slowing him down. Afraid to look over his shoulder or stop, Rob rode on ahead, unaware of the dangerous gap being created between them. The riders should have been wearing headsets. Their clothes and boots were completely soaked by the time they reached Little Duck Key, where Daniela was waiting with a cooler of ice cold beer. Despite the rain, the Gorilla Glue held strong, and Rob's rock was still in tow. They had successfully crossed the Seven Mile Bridge.
The New Seven Mile Bridge is actually 6.79 miles in length. Before the Florida Keys tour, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge had stood as the pair's longest crossing. Until the Unicycle Bridge Tour makes its way to China, Thailand, or Louisiana the Seven Mile will hold the record.
With 19 miles pedaled, the rain clear, and another hour of daylight, the boys decided to take a more relaxing pedal, across the Old Seven Mile Bridge, which is now severed beyond Pigeon Key. Because this was a side trip, there were no official chalk marks and a separate set of GPS statistics was recorded. The rock was carried- not dragged. Old Seven Mile Bridge is now pedestrian, bike, and unicycle only. It is exactly the way the Overseas Highway had been left including the rails from the Overseas Railway serving as side railings. It's a nice place to take a stroll or fish. Rob and Keith enjoyed handing out wooden nickels, which were now warped from rain and perspiration adding sweat equity value. They met a gentleman who is trying to save the walkway to Pigeon Key. friendsofoldseven.org Unlike most of the Flagler historic bridges, the Old Seven Mile Bridge is largely composed of steel deck girders spans. Steel girders were more economical, due to a deeper channel that makes longer spans more efficient. At the time of its completion, it was the longest bridge in the world and an engineering marvel. It was the most costly of all the Overseas Railway bridges. The old bridge was famously blown up in the 1994 film ‛True Lies’ with Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The explosion was done on an 80-foot model.
Pigeon Key Bridge was a hearty wooden bridge full of splintery character. Rob and Keith weren't sure if it actually qualified as a bridge. It's really more of a ramp. But Daniela insisted that it was a bridge, and by this point in the trip the boys had been trained to know that Daniela was always right. On the way back to Knight's Key the boys spotted a double rainbow in the sky. They visited the train car souvenir shop. Daniela bought Rob and Keith matching Historic Pigeon Key Foundation ‘Flagler’s Overseas Railway Centennial Celebration’ beer cozies. Then it was time for sunset margaritas at the Tiki Bar, against the receding span of the Seven Mile bridge.
That evening they spent the night at the home of a local sculptor. Lois Giffen welds metal sculpture and studies with Sculpture Key West founder, Jim Racchi. She lives with her son Mark. Rob and Keith flipped a wooden nickel for the bedroom versus the futon, and Rob won the toss. To celebrate the first day of Hanukkah, they headed to Keys Fisheries (mm48) for lobster Rubens and Snow Crabs. Afterwards Rob and Keith swung by the Brass Monkey lounge (mm52) for a final round.
Saturday, Dec 8
mm 40 - 17
The next morning Rob was able to sneak in a yoga while Keith entertained Mark and Lois. They had some coffee, toast, and marmalade, before taking pictures in Lois's garden. Following a late start, they made a wrong turn out of Lois's, where they discovered and crossed the Copa D'Oro bridge. Translated as 'cup of gold', it must have had something to do with the double rainbow from the day before. Every bridge crossing is like a cup of gold to Rob and Keith.
The boys were now two thirds of the way to Key West, yet they had only crossed 22 of the planned 42 bridges. That was about to change. They were now edging toward the Lower Keys and a bevy of bridges lay before them. Following the chalk mark, the day's first three crossings were historic Flagler bridges- the Little Duck/Missouri Channel Historic Bridge (mm40), the Missouri/Ohio Historic Bridge (mm39), and the Ohio Bahia Honda Channel Historic Bridge (mm38).
The Bahia Honda Bridge (mm36) over Big Spanish Channel was the team's third longest crossing. From it the riders could admire the Historic Old Bahia Honda Bridge (oceanside) which is now severed to prevent access. In 1938, after the demise of the Overseas Railway, a roadway deck was added to top the top of the thru-truss. The thru-truss would have been too narrow to allow two-way vehicular traffic. This odd configuration atop a center Parker span creates a vertically curved roadway in the middle of the bridge. The roller coaster looking highway was a site to behold for the bridge obsessed unicyclists, who knew that someday they would be back to cross it.
They traversed the modern Spanish Harbor Channel Bridge (mm33) alongside the severed historic bridge (gulfside). They were now in Big Pine Key, home of the adorable miniature key deer. Riding across the roadway deer grates, Rob's rock once again chimed beautiful music. They crossed an unnamed concrete span over a Key Deer under-passage. It didn't cross water, but nonetheless qualified as a span. From here they traveled over the North Pine Channel Bridge (mm29.3). It was on the road somewhere after this point that the hook attached to Rob's rock snapped. Daniela's later assessment was correct. Rob should have used a stainless steel hook. The rock had been dragged over 76 miles. The cable/hook system and rock had withstood an extraordinary amount of stress and abuse.
At mile marker 30 they met up with Keith's Hudson New York friends Brian Branigan and Allison Culbertson, who run Tortillaville taco truck up north in the summer months, and live in Big Pine key during the winter. It was fun to see familiar faces who had been following the tour. A snowball effect was beginning to take place. Motorists had been passing the riders and hearing about them for days on the radio and in the press. Folks were stopping to greet the riders and receive wooden nickels and maps. It was here that the duo was able to see the second of only two remaining original Flagler mile posts.
The boys stopped for a meal at Big Pine Restaurant (mm29), where Rob duct taped the rock back to the cable, enveloping the rock and subsequently shortening the cable length. He was determined to continue dragging the rock at all cost. Keith taunted him saying that next tour he would be dragging a lawn chair. As they departed the restaurant Rob could feel that the cable system was different. It seemed like it was coming dangerously close to his pedal cranks and rubbing against his tire. The rock no longer slid smoothly behind the wheel. The duct tape was snagging the ground, tossing and tumbling the rock in a chaotic nature. Against his better judgment, he continued on rock in tow.
The next crossing was the modern South Pine Channel Bridge (mm26.6). The historic Flagler crossing running parallel (oceanside) is severed. From here they crossed Torch Key Channel Bridge (mm28), and then Torch-Ramrod Channel Bridge (mm27.7). They traversed the modern Niles Channel Bridge (mm26) and the modern Kemp Channel Bridge (mm23.5). The historic spans for both of these crossings are severed and yet to be integrated into the Overseas Heritage Trail system. Down the road they stopped to visit an outdoor artist market, where they handed out maps and coins, and posed for pictures with local artists and arts aficionados. They were introduced to Bob and Susann D'Antonnio, who would be their hosts for the night on Big Pine Key.
Following the market, and just before the Bow Channel Historic Bridge (mm20.2), Rob's tire exploded. Pop goes the wheeler! The rock towing cable had been rubbing against the tire sidewall, causing it to wear through and overheat. The sidewall had completely blown out. Rob would need a replacement. Fortunately, tour sponsor Unicycle.com had provided spare inner tubes and tires. The team was now down to one reserve tire. The remaining reserve inner tube had patches. Daniela's shopping spree at the artist market was cut short, as she rushed to the scene for support. She managed to finagle a large bicycle pump, which greatly expedited the repair.
At the repair site, the team noticed an abandoned bicycle trailer sitting on the side of the road. Soon after Rob's new tire was installed, inflated, and ready to roll, a bicycle appeared on the scene carrying a man who appeared to be intoxicated. He stopped next to the bicycle trailer, inspected it, and hooked it back up to his bike. He told Keith that he had ridden several miles down the road, thinking he had discovered new and improved strength before he realized he wasn't towing anything.
It was no longer safe for Rob to drag his rock. He wound up the cable and placed the rock in a draw string bag that Daniela had given him. He would be carrying it on his back the remaining distance to Key West. The cycling conditions through much of Big Pine Key were undesirable. The roadside shoulder was narrow. At least they didn't hit any key deer.
From here, the riders crossed the Park Channel Historic Bridge (mm18.8) and then the North Harris Channel Bridge (mm17.8). Here they met up with Bill Becker from US1 Radio. Bill had been covering the ride from day one, checking in with the riders over the phone. They conducted a brief roadside interview, before continuing down the road. Their last crossing of the day was the Harris Gap Channel Bridge (mm17.6). It was twilight. The cyclists were riding oceanside against traffic for greater visibility. They were now 17 miles from their destination and it was getting dark. They decided to call it quits for the day. Their stopping point was out in front of the Sugarloaf Inn (mm17). They met the innkeeper, who happened to be a member of the one-wheeled sisterhood. She asked to take a wheel for a spin, and Daniela’s red unicycle was spun into action. Photos were taken. Coins and maps were dispersed.
Keith and Rob then headed over to Susann and Bob's place. Aside from the dog-sized pine deer prancing alongside the road, the first thing they noticed was a giant pair of glittery shoes in front of the house. Both Susann and Bob are artists with a frame shop business and beautiful studio set-ups in the middle of paradise. In addition, they organize Key West's annual Fantasy Fest. The giant shoes were floats from last year's festivities. It was too dark to take pictures. That would have to be taken care of the following morning.
After 5 days of pedaling, the New York riders found themselves in the middle of nowhere. Rob and Keith headed over to the No-Name bar, which stands next to the No-Name Bridge which leads to No-Name Key. One really has to appreciate the variety of names given to the more than 1700 islands that comprise the Florida Keys. Rob and Keith have both traveled extensively, and have visited countless watering holes along the way. The concept of pinning one's final dollar bill to the bar was familiar. There are plenty of such places in Key West. There are more in Alaska. But it is a physical impossibility to staple more dollars to the inside of a bar, than what one finds at the No-Name. This begs a few questions. Why are there not armed guards protecting the hoards of cash inside? Why do customers bother to bring money, when they can easily sneak a couple bills off the densely packed walls, ceiling, or counter for their next round? Is the value of the dollar bills inside the No-Name greater than the land and property value of the bar itself? With all that cash on hand, there was no point pulling out the wooden nickels.
That night Rob got the blow-up mattress and Keith got the bed. Bobby D' and the No Slack Band rocked Big Pine Key all through the night, but the boys were too tired to participate.
Sunday, Dec 9
mm 17 - 0
With only 17 miles to go, the boys took their time the last morning. They enjoyed their hosts' generous company- hanging out in the beautiful courtyard drinking coffee, petting their dog Bruno, and waiting for the key deer to nibble leaves from the garden. Bob hails from Perugina Italy, home of the famous chocolate factory. Their beautiful house and garden are a glorious reflection of his heritage.
They began the day by retracing their steps back to the No-Name Bridge. It had been too dark the night before, and the riders had surpassed their 3 pint beer limit. With the No-Name crossed and documented, they returned to Highway 1 and their chalk mark in front of the Sugarloaf Inn.
The next span was the Harris Channel Bridge (mm16.3), a modern rather short crossing. From this point they hit a spate of historic Flagler bridges linked by a new asphalt cycling lane groomed with gorgeous flowers and plantings. Somewhere between the Lower Sugarloaf Channel Historic Bridge (mm15.8) and the Saddlebunch #2 Historic Bridge (mm14.6) about 20 or so large iguanas quickly scurried across the bike trail in front of Keith. The riders kept their eyes peeled as they continued on, crossing the Saddlebunch #3 Historic Bridge (mm14.3), the Saddlebunch #4 Historic Bridge (mm13.1), the Saddlebunch #5 Historic Bridge (mm12.8), the Shark Channel Historic Bridge (mm11.4), and the Rockland Channel Historic Bridge (mm10). This was perhaps the most awesome cycling of the tour.
Rob and Keith were supposed to join Daniela and Vera for lunch at Geiger Key Marina on Geiger Key. Unfortunately, they rode past the turn-off and Vera had to go fetch them in her pick-up truck. She was sporting an official orange tour T-shirt. Vera gave the team their official Sculpture Key West exhibition passes. Daniel's badge read 'Project Manager'. Rob' s read 'Sculptor'. And Keith's read 'Clown". The team had a wonderful meal, which included unlimited lemonade and ice tea refills. The tableside view was sublime. Afterwards the two crossed and documented the Geiger Key Bridge. Back on Highway 1 the beautiful cycle lane abruptly came to an end. The duo hung to the road's narrow shoulder. They crossed the modern concrete NAS Boca Chica Overpass (mm8), which constitutes as a bridge span despite not crossing water. As they approached Key West, the highway expanded to four lanes with increased traffic. They crossed the Boca Chica Channel Bridge (mm5) and the Cow Key Bridge (mm4.1), finally bringing them into Key West.
They snaked their way around the oceanside of Key West, being photographed at every turn by Marathon runner, Chester H Kalb II, who, with his wife, had been following them for the past couple of days. They crossed the Riviera Canal Bridge and rode along the ocean's edge past the airport, Martello Towers, and Higgs Beach. Their first stop was the Southernmost Point in the Continental USA, where they were greeted by crowds of supporters and tourists. The large ring of people opened up to allow the cyclists to ride 'round the buoy in front of the press. After the photos and documents had been taken, the duo continued around the island to Fort Zachory Taylor, where a large bouquet of balloons awaited them. Rob had first exhibited here in 2004, and then again in 2008. He remembered the route well. The US Park Service gate attendant at the historic fort accepted their wooden nickels for admission. A crowd of supporters and champagne awaited the riders beachside at the Tiki hut to welcome and congratulate the first two individuals to unicycle the Florida Keys.
Photos were taken in front of the Unicycle Bridge Tour banner. Photographers would tell the posed people to say "Keys," and the picture was snapped. MileZerokw.com was on hand to document the celebration. Keith took a unicycle roll around the fort with dreams of producing a circus show behind the walls of the moat surrounded Civil war era fort. Rob surveyed the sculpture show with Sculpture Key West Board Member, Emily Sorkin. With little daylight remaining, the duo pedaled to Mile Marker 0 to chalk the official tour finish line. Located at 490 Whitehead St., it is the official terminus of the Overseas Highway, U.S. Route 1 (US 1), and Florida State Road 5 (SR 5). Photographs were taken, and then they continued to Mallory Square in search of the Cat Man, Keith's favorite street performer of all. People asked if Keith and Rob were brothers. As far as anyone knows, there is no biological connection. With drinks in hand they crossed a small span linking Mallory Square to the cruise ship dock, which they dubbed Mallory Square Bridge. They grabbed another drink at Sloppy Joe's before heading to the Marriott Courtyard, where they would be spending the night.
The weaving through Key West had added more than 5 unexpected miles to the day. So following another 20+ mile day, it was now time for Keith to go to work. A gig had been booked for him at the Smoking Tuna. Keith dazzled the crowd with his spinning diablo and his twirling top. Afterwards he stuck a giant pair of sheers down his throat, and slid long clown balloons up his nose. Upon a stick protruding from his mouth, he built and balanced an inverted pyramid of wine glasses that he had borrowed from the bar. Daniela assisted him on stage. Keith brought down the house.
After dinner, they headed to Bobby's Monkey Bar for karaoke with the Hanukkah DJ, who was sporting a menorah headdress. To the tune of Journey's "Wheel in the Sky" Rob rocked the bar with "Wheel on the Bridge Keeps on Turning". The tour had been a complete success. They had pedaled over 120 miles to make it to Key West. They had made history. Hickman and Nelson were the first people to ever unicycle the Florida Keys.
Monday, Dec 10
It was strange waking up not having to hit the road. Rob and Keith spent the morning running errands. They shipped the reserve unicycle back to Unicycle.com, and picked up copies of the Key Citizen. They were yesterday's news and today's front page. They were all over the Keys media and had even made the AP wire. They met and talked to motorists who had seen them along the road.
With their business out of the way, they headed over to Martello to see the rest of the Sculpture Key West exhibition. On the way, they couldn't help but cross and document the Salt Run Channel Bridge. When the nice folks at the West Martello Garden Club were asked if some maps could be left on the counter, everyone piped up and congratulated the cyclists. Everybody in Key West had apparently heard about the crossing. Hickman and Nelson were celebrities. They learned that the garden Club was involved with the beautification of the cycle path. After their walk through the garden, they look forward to seeing the Overseas Heritage Trail in its full glory.
They met Daniela at the Blue Heaven for breakfast. After healthy portions of lobster benedict they ordered slices of key lime pie that rivaled Ma's, and are considered by many to be the best key lime pie in the Florida Keys. Daniela convinced them to cross the Garrison Bight Bridge before heading out of town, bringing the total Keys bridge count to 55. After a later review, the team realized they had actually crossed 56 bridges. The first deer crossing which they had not been sure about, is officially recognized as a bridge by the State Highway Agency. Unfortunately, the riders didn’t document this crossing. Goodbyes were said in Key West, and talk of a larger 2014 tour began. Unicycling the Florida Keys makes a lot of sense. It's the right distance. It's a nice speed to see and visit all the roadside attractions. The eccentric mode of travel corresponds to the quirky string of communities. December and January are good months for a ride. When fully completed, the Overseas Heritage Trail is going to be extraordinary!
What had taken 6 days to pedal, took 3 hours driving back to Miami. They exited the Keys via the Card Sound Bridge, which has no shoulder or bike lane, and whose toll attendant refuses wooden nickels. They broke down their unicycles in a gas station parking lot in Miami, and caught their flight back to New York.