This is the third part of my ill planned trip to Key West. Part 1 is about the trip through Miami, and Part 2 details the ride through the Keys and my night in Key West. En route to Key West I realized that it was President’s Day weekend, and all the surrounding areas were completely booked. I hadn’t been able to find a place to stay and had ended up falling asleep on my bike, on the side of the road in Stock Key.
I awoke a few hours later groggy and sore from my position on my bike. I lay still, dissecting my current situation. The dog had stopped barking, and the only noise I could hear was the rustle of the palm fronds in the light breeze. It was still dark out, though the first rays of morning were beginning to lighten the sky. All I wanted was to keep sleeping, but my stomach was growling, and I needed to move before the sun truly came up and I was discovered sleeping in front of someone’s home.
I was nervous to start my bike up, afraid the noise would wake the people in the nearby houses, or the dog would get going again, so I turned myself around, and coasted down the street without firing up the bike. It wasn’t until I was at the end of the block near the firehouse that I hit the ignition, and rode back over the bridge into Key West.
As soon as I crossed the bridge I saw the beacon of glowing arches in the sky and knew even at this hour (~5:45AM) they’d be open. I pulled in, still feeling utterly exhausted, and upon walking in decided to use the restroom first. I was so tired I almost fell asleep right in the stall, but was very conscious of the fact that I was in a McDonalds bathroom, as well as the fact that all of my belongings were still strapped to my bike. I dragged myself up, washed my hands splashed my face with water and went to order food.
Most of the other customers in the place, though very few, were older men, likely fishermen. I received a few strange looks, likely because I was a women wandering around at 6 in the morning in my leathers and carrying my helmet. I ate my breakfast somewhat leisurely, and mostly in silence, only disturbed by a few people coming over and asking about my bike. I had found a table near a plug, and my phone was charging. I needed to keep it charged, as I was on my own and both my parents and my aunts were expecting periodic updates. I sat there trying to figure out what to do next. I was in need of sleep, but wouldn’t be safe until the sun came up and I could pass out on the beach.
I checked my phone for public beaches and only found two, both on the South Side. My phone still needed to charge, but the sun was just about to crack the horizon. I had decided to watch the sunrise since I had missed the sunset the night before. I began to clear my table and get my things together, leaving my phone plugged in until the very last minute. Finally when there was no stalling anymore, I grabbed my phone and headed off to watch the sunrise.
There isn’t much on the east side of the island, mostly just the barrier road that borders the airport, but there is a line of parking spaces that overlook some mangrove islands. I pulled off, parked my bike so I could lean on it and watch the sun come up. I also took a minute to appreciate the “moon set” in the western part of the sky. I stayed for quite a while enjoying the glory of the sun rise, with the knowledge that sleep and “safety” were right around the corner. It was a beautiful relaxing moment, I took some deep breathes and let the stress flow out of me. It was the moment that really welcomed to me Key West and allowed me to feel the true magic that is flows through the island.
It wasn’t long before the sun had risen and daylight had finally arrived. I took one final deep breath and headed toward the beaches. I had decided to check out South Beach since it seemed smaller and more remote. I didn’t want to to waste my phone battery on GPS, so I got lost where A1A ended. I thought about trying to navigate the side streets, but it was 7 in the morning and I didn’t want to wander aimlessly through neighborhoods on my motorcycle, so I turned around and headed back to Smather’s Beach
I had my choice of parking spaces, and I was nervous about leaving things on my bike so I pulled off near the concrete barrier where I could keep an eye on my bike while I walked around and took some pictures. There were all kinds of birds out, I had fun watching them all hunting for thier breakfast. The pelicans, and cormorants diving for thiers and the sandpipers scuttling around with their beaks scanning the ground. If you don’t know me, you may not know how much I love birds, but you’ll figure it out pretty quickly by looking at my photos.
Eventually I put the camera down and walked the bike towards the bathroom where I changed into my bathing suit. This was a bigger ordeal than it may seem, the bathroom was open air, with no roof and no stalls or doors. There are strategically placed walls for privacy, but there is nothing to close or lock. I felt extremely vulnerable due to my lack of sleep, and after the stories the locals had regaled me with the night prior. Apprehensive of wandering homeless and vagrants, I brought all my belongings into the bathroom with me and I took my time washing up before changing. I was finally ready to “relax” (i.e. sleep). I headed out to the freshly combed, completely empty beach, laid out my towel and took a few more pictures.
I finally laid down face down, strategically placing my bags so that I would (hopefully) notice if someone attempted to bother them. I slept for about another two hours, waking up due to the heat of the sun. I rolled onto my back and tried to fall back asleep but I couldn’t get comfortable. I was also aware that I had been joined by a few other people. One of whom was also utilizing the beach for a nap; I might have been wary of him except he reminded me of a friend back home. Still attempting to get some more sleep, I walked down to the water, trying to cool off, but it was way too cold. So I headed back to my towel, and tried again to go back to sleep.
I lay there a few minutes, not feeling remotely tired and then my wanderlust started to get the best of me. I had limited time here in Key West, was I really going to spend it sleeping on the beach? I hadn’t done very much reasearch on what there was to do in Key West short of the sunset celebration, the southern most point, and (of course)the beach, but I tend to do my best exploring when I’m flying by the seat of my pants. I knew I wanted to take a photo with the “End Route 1” sign, to match the patch I’d bought the night before, so I packed up and set out to find it. I had to use Google maps to find it, draining a bit of my precious battery life, but soon enough I found it. I pulled my bike through the intersection, parked and walked back towards the signs.
For the end of the longest road in the country, it’s pretty unceremonious, marked by just a sign on either side of the street, one that says “End”, the other saying “Begin”. It’s poetic and somewhat inspirational, noting that this is either the beginning or end depending on which direction you’re looking. The intersection is actually a bit desolate, but still I excitedly started taking photos, and like a true tourist asked someone to take my photo.
I took a few more minutes to appreciate where I was before wandering back to my bike. I hopped on and chose to do my favorite kind of travelling; letting the road guide me. I took the next right and headed down Eaton St. It was most residential, though different than where I’d been the night before, these seemed less like homes and more like rentals, and eventually I came upon the Galleon, a large resort that I knew a fair amount about from the time I spent working in timeshares. I turned left to ride by and check it out, but there really wasn’t much to see. There was a marina nearby and I rode around trying to figure out how to get to the shops. Finally after a few turns I found the somewhat crowded parking lot.
Soon, I was exploring the Key West Bight Marina. There were a few shops but I was more interested in finding the Tortugas Museum they were advertising. I walked out pretty far before reaching a small room, full of information regarding Tortugas National Parks and the available tours. All I wanted to do was go on one of these tours, but after much deliberation, I knew I didn’t have the time. I walked back towards the land analyzing when I could come back and experience all the amazing things there were to do just off the coast. I decided to try to drag my family back, so they could experience the it all as well.
As I walked back toward the shops I noticed a large group of pelicans all gathered in a relatively small space, facing the walkway. At first I was perplexed, until I realized the men at the railing were cleaning fish. The pelicans floated patiently, intently watching the fishermen. It wasn’t long before one of them obliged; throwing innards at the mass of birds. The leapt up out of the water, reminiscent of woman leaping to catch the bouquet at a wedding. Once the prize was caught there were a few attempts to steal the treat, but was overall fairly civil. The fervor dissapated as quickly as it had come, the flock moving in shocking unison. I watched this process a few more times, before tearing myself away.
My attention was drawn to an adorable juvenille Brown Pelican, floating all alone on the other side of the walkway. He was a beautiful light brown with the look of innocence and wonderment that all young beings have. I watched him lazily swim between the walkway and the first boat that was docked, until suddenly he was startled, and flew to a nearby railing. This sudden movement set me a back but I was intrigued by what had scared him. It took no more than a quick glance to find the culprit.
Casually gliding along was a Tarpon. If you’re not familliar, Tarpon are a long skinny fish, that typically range from 4-8 feet. I’d never seen one in person, and wasn’t entirely sure that’s what it was. I moved closer to the edge to get a better look. It was then I noticed many more of them hiding in the shadow of the walkway which was almost completely under the boardwalk at this point. I also noticed a number of small brightly colored tropical fish. As I stood there a more began to come out of the shadows presumably expecting me to feed them. The biology nerd in me loved spotting the symbiotic relationships, and the ecological roles of these animals, but once again I had to tear myself away. It was nearing 11:30, and I was getting pretty hungry.