Hugging the coast, week 1: Key West to Amelia Island, FL

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Lisa Watts and Deirdre Bird set off from mile 0 in Key West, the southernmost point in the U.S., on May 4 to bike to Calais, Maine.

Yesterday Dee and I finished our eighth day of biking, 594 miles from Key West up the coast of Florida to Amelia Island to launch our East Coast Greenway trip. Today we are soaking up all the luxuries of our first day off: Sleeping in, not checking the weather before we put clothes on, sitting over a second cup of coffee, and more.

Reflecting on our week up the coast, the first adjustment we had to make was more about weather than biking. It's been hot, with temps often in the 90s, plenty of humidity, and frequent headwinds out of the east (as we headed east in the Keys) and the north (as we turned north). We've been slathered in SPF 30 sunscreen and still fried our skin; shade is at a premium. We've crossed too many bridges to count — often presenting the only hills we had to climb but also challenging this slightly bridge phobic cyclist. At one point we were calling this the Too Much Tour: too much sun, too much wind, too many bridges, too much stuff in our panniers.

But the joys of Florida have been plentiful, too. We have hugged the coast, truly, from long rides up quiet streets along the rivers of the Intracoastal Waterway to long stretches beside the beach and Atlantic Ocean. Here are a few of our favorite places.

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Dee on our first day of riding in the Keys.

Biking in Florida's Keys will be a challenge to anyone who is uncomfortable on bridges. But the bridges aren't all bad: the flat ones offer spectacular views of teal green water, islands, and the upcoming key. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irma damage has closed many of the separate pedestrian/bike bridges. Flat and protected, those bridges make for very comfortable cycling.

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Lisa on the M Path heading into Miami, enjoying the shade of the overhead train tracks. The East Coast Greenway follows the M Path for 30 miles through Miami-Dade County.

Riding into Miami was a blast on the M Path, a protected greenway in a large median between busy traffic. Similarly we enjoyed coming into many of Florida's smaller cities, where greenways or bike lanes made it easy to navigate.

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Lisa meets Gary Norman on the greenway he rides often in Titusville, FL.

Titusville, FL, is embracing trails. We enjoyed miles of protected paths beginning in town and heading out into Volusia County — and some even offered shade! It was fun to run into Gary Norman, better known on Instagram as @the1beardedgents, where he posts about his rides and celebrates the Greenway. He gave us the valuable heads-up that about 10 miles up the trail from where we met, we'd find a tent set up with a cooler of cold water and Gatorade and snacks, offered on the honor system — a brilliant and welcome bit of small-scale greenway economic development.

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Greenway and park in downtown Daytona, with the International Speedway bridge in distance.
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Rest stop at Flagler Beach
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Thanking a trail champion: On their rest day, Lisa and Dee and their biking pal Virginia Deroy met with Phil Scanlan and his fiancée Judy. Phil has been a tireless advocate for greenways and trails on Amelia Island. The East Coast Greenway runs along six miles of Amelia Island trails under the cover of oak trees draped in Spanish moss.

We're enjoying this rest day, but we're excited to start riding tomorrow, entering our second and third states and experiencing some changing landscapes. We're grateful for all the kindness we've been shown already, from ice water for our water bottles to wishes to stay safe and — from a park ranger on Little Talbot Island — a wistful "I wish I could ride with you."

— Lisa Watts, communications manager, East Coast Greenway Alliance

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