The following is a re-telling authored by our friend Bari Freeman, who, after 4 years of working with Bike to the Beach in Newport, RI, joined us for our annual Bike to the Beach Florida ride from Key Largo to Key West. As you will soon read, it was a tough ride with 25 mph headwinds and, as one rider put it, “every warm weather phenomenon that you can imagine”. Read on …
Awesomeness in a Tropical Storm – By Bari Freeman (Bike Newport)
The original idea was really quite brilliant – and the end result thoroughly satisfying.
After four years of partnership and budding friendships, it was time to ride with Bike to the Beach – an incredibly positive group of 30-something bike-happy lacrosse-happy DC buddies who raise upwards of a half million dollars annually to support people and families affected by autism. They do this with four annual bike rides – each 100 miles, all from cities to the shore. Manhattan to the Hamptons, DC to the Maryland shore, Boston to Newport, and then a winter ride from Key Largo to Key West.
Bike Newport has supported the Boston to Newport ride for the past four years, and Bike to the Beach has been very supportive of Bike Newport with a generous contribution to our programs every year.
In addition to the great cause and great people, we’ve become great friends. Time to ride with my buddies! 100 miles of seaside, 44 bridges, miles of aquamarine, paths winding through mangrove swamps, flying frolicking and slithering fauna, and a promised tailwind all the way. Works for me! I was in.
I’d been watching the weather back home, so I wasn’t wholly surprised when I arrived in Miami, but still the first question was “Where’s the sun?” Never mind the predictions of light rain. I like weather. Happiness was on its way. I hadn’t ridden 100 miles in a day before. Close, but not quite. In my usual way, I’d be happy to get there when I got there and enjoy the ride.
It was a little misty when we hit the road at 7am on Friday and the wind was now indeed out of the S/SW, rare for these parts. So the promised tail wind was now a headwind. Ok. A bit more work than expected, but no worries.
The light rain didn’t last long. It got harder pretty quickly. As did the winds, which picked up to a pretty steady 20-25mph headwind. Long story short, that headwind held on for 85 miles. Except when it became a 40 mph crosswind on the Seven Mile Bridge. The rain, there were some light moments, when it wasn’t blinding and mixed with hail. Oh, and then there were the tornado warnings.
We were a little spread out, but whenever we gathered, there was always a slight lull in the intensity of the storm and our group of 30 die-hard crazy people would plow on.
We were accompanied by pelicans, herons and hawks, who all came to the roadside to say hello. I passed a few snakes on the bike path that ran along the mangrove swamps, and wondered if I was being watched by manatees and gators. The cars were mostly very nice and careful. A few folks had choice words questioning our/my sanity. The rest stops were kind. And then there’s Bike to the Beach. I just love these guys. The support vehicles were always there, along with the opportunity to jump in at any time.
Seven Mile Bridge in 40mph crosswinds – THAT was crazy. The winds weren’t blowing us toward the cars, they were blowing us waterside. The hard part wasn’t the climb, it was holding the course and staying upright. I only came close to being blown over when the winds were bumped up by an 18-wheel Pepsi truck.
There were four of us on the bridge together – Rob and Lois Corder from Houston (celebrating their 25th anniversary in style), marvelous Mark of Key Largo Bicycle Tours, and me. Everyone else hopped a van when the reports came in from the first group across. Apparently it was my fault that the four of us nearly gave Mother Greg of Bike to the Beach a heart attack. I love wind – as my Newport Ocean Loop friends will attest – and I wanted to do this thing. Mark, our local guide and sweeper, was wholly up for it, and Lois and Rob took their bikes off the van when they heard our plan. It took us well over an hour, we probably averaged 4mph into the wind. There was much debris including broken glass on the bridge and I couldn’t even use my hand to warn Mark behind me. It took both hands to hold course. It was hard to tell when I reached the end, but when I caught the Seven Mile Bridge sign facing the oncoming traffic, I let out a whoop! The rest stop was right there waiting for us. The rest of the crowd was gone word was left for me of Greg’s fury, but the skies were clearing and I knew Greg would forgive me, so all was right with the world. I was pumped.
It was during the next leg, when the rain picked up to blinding, and the highway bike lane narrowed to four feet, and the hail started, that I found my thoughts drifting to my eulogy where all agreed “she died doing something she loves.” What better way to go. This was the leg that broke records even for well-seasoned Mark who rides the route twice a week with visitors.
In the end, our foursome pulled in to Southernmost Beach Cafe in Key West to a brilliant nearly clear sky sunset at 6:30pm. 11.5 hours including five stops. We were the last ones in – that bridge run set us back a spell from the pack. We were greeted with cheers, high fives, and plenty of tequila and rum.
Bottom line – Bike to the Beach rocks. I love this group. I had the time of my life. I never got grumpy, which made me feel even happier. No one was chewing in my ear telling me what to do. I felt awesome. Nothing hurt except my butt at the end. I’d do it again tomorrow. Maybe I will! I love that women like me kick ass on our own terms and our own timeline. I love to ride my bike. And I love that I’m writing this sitting in Key West at 7am at Café Moka after sleeping in a youth hostel dorm room with 11 other girls and not getting up to pee because I was afraid of waking someone. Ok, that part not so much. But the coffee at Café Moka is fantastic, and the chickens running loose on Duval Street are a kick.
Today? Maybe I’ll go snorkeling or finally try paddle boarding. Or maybe I’ll kick back on a lounge chair and catch up on some needed sleep. Maybe it’ll rain again and maybe it won’t. Whatever, I’m cool.
One last thing. This was after all a charity ride. I’d like to raise some money for Bike to the Beach and Autism Speaks. Please consider contributing. Great people, great cause. And I did bust my ass yesterday. ☺
Thanks for reading this – it’s fun to share.
PS — This story of bike ride awesomeness now ranks with my family’s former top two survival stories – tentless camping in a near-hurricane on Indian Lake and getting separated in a 3-mile high storm in the Venezuelan Andes. What’s life without adventure?!