Southern Florida Ride

Fort Lauderdale to the Keys

Day 1: Thursday May 5, 2022

I woke up exhausted.  Yesterday I gave my final lecture of the semester.  This Spring I taught about 550 MBA students and the last lectured ended last night at 10 pm.  There is no time to go back to sleep since I have not packed.

I spent the morning putting all the gear out and trying to figure out what I might have forgotten.  The goal is to go as light as possible since every extra pound has to be carried on my back, but not to forget something crucial.

By the time I was finished packing the morning was done and I fast walked to the trolley to start my trip to the airport.  I was eager to start and left the house a bit early for the flight.  You know what that means when there is no time pressure!  Right, everything ran exceptionally smoothly and on time.

The trolley (the Green line’s C train) showed up just as I got to the platform.  It went straight to Government Center.  At Government Center I normally switch to the Blue line, but the Blue line was under construction.  We were guided upstairs where the MBTA was running shuttle buses.  The shuttle bus stop was a zoo, but I got on a bus that said airport and that bus went express to East Boston.  I made it door-to-door in less than one hour!  TSA, which is the security people at the airport, pulled my bag aside as suspicious, but once the man saw it was only wrenches and bike tools I was waved through.

The plane flight to Fort Lauderdale was just as uninteresting as the MBTA ride to the airport.  I am sure I watched a movie, but for the life of me I don’t remember a thing about it.  The plane even landed a few minutes early.  Then I went outside to wait for the hotel shuttle.  I booked a room at a hotel called the 4-Points by Sheraton.  Hotels in America are now super specialized.  I am not sure exactly who the 4-Points brand is targeting, but the bed was relatively comfortable, so I didn’t care.

I ended the night by walking across the street to a Whole Foods Supermarket and picking up a light dinner of fish and rice, plus some food for breakfast before going to sleep.

Day 2: Friday May 6, 2022 — Fort Lauderdale to Florida City (~75 miles)

I woke up feeling quite refreshed.  The trip had been weighing on me quite a bit and before it started I did not sleep well.  I mean what could go wrong pedaling in blazing heat, besides ending back in the hospital again?

I had made a reservation at “Downtown Bicycles” on East Sunrise Boulevard for the largest bike they had (a 61 cm Specialized Roubaix Road Bike).  The bike store opened at 10 am.  This meant I was getting a late start to the day, but there was not much I could do without a bike.  The hotel was next to a bus stop on a route called the #40 that went directly to the bike shop.  Supposedly there were two to three busses an hour on this route.  I waited over forty minutes and no bus showed up.

So I called for a ride with Uber.  Of course the moment I got into the Uber car the bus did show up.  This didn’t matter at that point since the Uber ride got me to the store a few minutes before they opened, while the bus is probably still wandering around Fort Lauderdale stopping every block.

The Uber driver was interesting.  He was “retired” even though he was spending many hours driving people around.  The driver clearly did not understand U.S. labor force definitions, since to be retired you cannot be working for money.  I let this all go; today I was not an economist, and tried to stay friendly.  He then complained about young people paying him to drive them a few blocks.  I told him what I was going to do.  The driver thought that a 200 mile bike ride was just as crazy as people demanding a ride for 200 yards.

I showed up at the bike shop a few minutes before they opened and they had both the bike I requested and the paperwork done.  I spent time pedaling around the parking lot and trying to get the seat adjusted to the right height and the right angle.  Then it was time to be off starting the adventure.

Before I left the shop they asked me if I knew the route.  Well, I had printed out 8 pages of instructions just to get through Fort Lauderdale.  Derek, the man behind the desk, thought my route was terrible.  He said a much better way was to go down the beach until I got to the 17th street bridge, cross that, take a left on 4th street and when it dead ends you are at the airport.  At the airport go either left or right onto Perimeter Road and make a circle around the airport until you come out near route 1 and then take that south.

Derek’s directions were simple and much easier to follow than my eight pages of twists and turns so I used his local knowledge.  Leaving his shop I had to immediately cross the Intracoastal Waterway on my first of many drawbridges.  There were no cars around as I skittered over the grates, and I made it without crashing.  One bridge down!

The first few miles along the beach in Fort Lauderdale were quite pleasant.  There was a painted bike lane for me and cars respected it.  The speed limit in most places was only 30 mph so the traffic going by me was not hair-raising.  The 17th Street Bridge back over the Intracoastal had a wide sidewalk so I took that instead so I didn’t have to do open grates a second time.  4th street was relatively calm and didn’t have a lot of traffic.  This was all good.  It soothed my nerves and helped me remember that I could pedal long distances.

Perimeter road around the Fort Lauderdale airport was another story.  There wasn’t a bike lane or a breakdown lane.  Plus it had two huge tunnels, which appeared to go under the runways and highways.  The tunnels were quite dark and the cars behind me were not expecting a bicyclist.  Plus, I still had my lights inside my bag where they were useless for showing vehicles that I existed.  Luckily the tunnels were not that long and soon I ended up on Route 1.

Derek cautioned me about Route 1, said it was a death trap, and warned me to be on it as little as possible.  I took it for about a mile to Sheridan Street.  It wasn’t as bad as Derek led me to believe, but I think the main reason it was better than advertised was the traffic was so heavy at Friday lunchtime that cars couldn’t go fast.  I spent much of that part of the ride passing cars, instead of them passing me.

Sheridan took me to another Intracoastal bridge crossing, where I would be able to cycle down the coast from Dania, Florida to South Beach, a famous part of Miami.  The strip of beach front I pedaled along alternated between fine and horrific.  The road changes name a couple of times, but a major and well known part is called Collins Ave.

Sometimes there was a dedicated bicycle lane and sometimes the authorities put up a “Share the Road” sign.  Putting up share the road and painting bike symbols on the pavement is meaningless for protecting cyclists.  It gives the cyclist legal protection in case a vehicle hits them, but does nothing to slow down traffic or make the road any safer.  Plus this beach road was filled with high-end expensive cars driven by people who didn’t care much about bicyclists.  That stretch felt more like a fight for survival and dominance than a pleasant ride.

Making matters worse, by the time I hit this stretch of road the temperature was close to 90, the humidity was in a similar range and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  I felt like melting into the pavement.  Plus, partway down the beach road I realized I had forgotten to put on sunblock and my face felt like it was starting to burn.  The trip was not starting off well.  After a few hours of pedaling, I pulled into a Publix’s Supermarket and purchased a turkey wrap from the deli counter.  Eating the sandwich made me feel a bit better.  Sitting on a shady bench in front of the supermarket’s entrance also helped.

Then it was back on the road again to bike through South Beach.  Posts on the Internet raved about the South Beach ride.  Unfortunately, I could not find the right trail that people raved about.  I ended up on a neighborhood street that was marked as a bike route and had lots of speed bumps to slow traffic down.  That part of South Beach was okay, but nothing special.

South Beach ended and it was time to cross over the Intercostal and back to the mainland.  I was dreading the MacArthur Causeway.  It looked scary on the map; a six lane divided roadway with a 45 mph speed limit.  Bikes get to ride in the breakdown lane.  It turned out, because it was the beginning of Friday rush hour, to not be scary at all.  For most of the Causeway, the traffic was so heavy I was flying by the stopped cars.  The scenery was interesting.  On the left side of the Causeway is the Port of Miami and there were a couple of giant cruise ships anchored while I rode past.

Then it was into the madness of Friday afternoon rush hour in downtown Miami.  Let’s just say it was not fun.  I didn’t really know where I was going.  While Fort Lauderdale is a grid making it difficult to get lost, Miami is not.  There are lots of curving streets that go over and around the river that intersects the city.  Plus, not all of the streets are two ways.  Southern hospitality did not reign on the roadway that afternoon!

I finally made it through the worst of downtown and managed to get to the M-Trail.  Miami built a Metrorail, which is an elevated train system.  Under the tracks is a ten mile long protected bike route.  I pedaled a few blocks on this trail and it was heaven.  Then suddenly the trail stopped with a “road under construction sign.”  The beautiful trail disappeared into mounds of construction dirt.  I tried to take side streets that ran parallel to the trail but gave up after a few miles when even the side streets were being ripped up by the construction crews.

By now it was getting late in the day.  I was hot, tired, hungry, and starting to hurt.  I remembered there was another bike path going south called “Old Cutler Road.”  It turned out it was more an extra wide sidewalk, with bike images painted on the ground, but it was headed south and no one else was on it so I rode it for about 30 minutes to my last trail of the day, the “South Miami-Dade Busway.”

The busway is about 10 miles long and ends in Florida City, my stop for the night.  As the name implies the busway is designed as a special lane just for buses.  No cars, trucks or bicycles.  On the side of the busway the state of Florida spent a lot of money building a wide, smooth bike path.

Sounds perfect, right?  Wrong!  While the busway is clean, the bike path is littered with glass and trash.  The bikeway goes through some extremely poor neighborhoods and some people sleep in tents next to the path.  There was even one man sleeping or passed out on the path that I had to swerve around.  Yes, I checked he was breathing and he did not look like he needed medical care.  The ride on that path was stressful since I did not want to puncture a tire.  Finally, I just gave up and rode in the busway, which was free of glass and other garbage.  The bus drivers seemed to expect this since they would give short beeps of their horns before passing me.

The day was exhausting but I finally made it to the end of the busway.  Then I looked around.  I had gone too far.  I had pedaled about 1.5 miles past the motel.  Now an extra 3 miles doesn’t sound like much, but at the end of this day I was totally exhausted and didn’t want to pedal even one more foot.  There was not much I could do about it.  It was already 7:15 pm and the sun was just starting to set so I turned around and pedaled slowly back to the motel.  When I pulled in I had been in the saddle almost eight hours.  It was a long, hot first day.

I picked the Super 8 in Florida City to stay.  There were nicer motels and hotels available in the neighborhood, but the Super 8 had the shortest distance walk to places to eat.  I didn’t want to walk or pedal any more than I had to at the end of the first, or any other day.  Directly across the street from the motel was a place serving Italian food named the Capri Restaurant.  I asked the motel desk clerk if the place was any good and she looked at me and said, “I have never eaten there.”  It always amazes me how little people travel in this world.  Even walking across the street is something some people just don’t do.

The Super 8 room was fine.  It was quiet and the bed was not too lumpy.  I called the Capri and ordered dinner (soup and pasta) to go.  Then I got in the shower to clean up.

I put on non-bike clothes, walked across to the restaurant and picked up my food to eat back in the room.  The Conch chowder was tasty and the Fettucine Alfredo was also good.  That said, after pedaling all day I think even garbage probably would have tasted great.  I called home and got into bed.

I didn’t sleep much.  After many hours of not pedaling I still could not feel parts of my body.  Did I need to go to the hospital?  Plus, I was worried about the next morning’s ride, which was marked on the cycling map as “dangerous.”  Finally, around 2 AM I began to doze off.

Economist Biking Around America