What a way to wake up in the morning! My rental
bike was waiting for me near the beach at Long
Key State Park during BubbaFest.
The sights can be rather interesting in the Keys.
From left, John Chester, Roger Kramer and Doug
Kaufman find one of the more interesting ones.
How appropriate. Roger at the Jolly Roger Travel
Park on the road toward Marathon, Fla.
(Photo by Doug Kaufman)
Marty Baird, owner of the Big Pine Bicycle Shop,
attempts to poke Roger's eyes. Marty and I share
an intense love of the Three Stooges.
(Photo by Doug Kaufman.)
BubbaFest participants wearing the flamingo hats
Bubba forced us to wear to get dinner in Key West..
A beautiful sunset also awaited us while waiting
for dinner in Key West.
A juggling unicyclist entertains the crowd
at Mallory Square in Key West.
Doug makes it to the top of the Seven Mile
Bridge on the fifth day of BubbaFest.
The remnants of the original Bahia Honda bridge
at Bahia Honda State Park.
SUMMARY: BubbaFest probably is the easiest weeklong tour you can ever do. The Florida Keys are almost flat, other than the bridges that link the islands. Headwinds can be a factor going from Key West to Key Largo, but the daily distances are so short that even novice bicycle tourists shouldn't have a problem.
RIDE WEB SITE:http://www.bubbafestbiketours.com/
I'll give my longtime cycling friend Bubba Barron credit: He speaks the truth about BubbaFest, a weeklong tour of the Florida Keys.
• If you want to just ride all day long with nothing to do, this is not the event for you. If you want to have fun with plenty of other activities besides staying on your bike seat all day long, this event is for you.
• If you hate beautiful scenery this event is not for you. If you want to see some of the most beautiful scenery of any biking event, this event is for you.
It's true. Many cross-state/cross-province rides that I've done are in rural areas, and there often isn't much to do along the route or in our destination town for the day.
• If you want long, hard, hilly days, this event is not for you. If want manageable mileage, between 30-35 miles a day, many of those miles on paved bike paths, this event is for you. If you want to climb all day, this event is not for you. If you want flat ground which will allow you the most magnificent view daily of both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, this event is for you.
The Overseas Highway (U.S. 1) and its parallel bicycle paths between Key Largo and Key West are practically flat. The only sizable hills on the highway are on the bridges that link the islands of the Florida Keys, such as the Seven Mile Bridge and the Bahia Honda Bridge.
In many ways, riding in the Keys reminded me of a ride closer to home, the Sam Vadalabene Bicycle Trail along the Mississippi River between Alton and Grafton, Ill.
The trails can be rough at times, and you have to keep your eyes open to see where they begin so you can hop off U.S. 1 and get on the trails. When you're not on the trail, the shoulder of U.S. 1 is wide enough that seasoned riders should have no problems with the heavy traffic.
The bad news is that, like the Vadalabene Trail, the trails and the road shoulders have lots of debris, especially on the long bridges such as the Seven Mile Bridge, the Long Key Bridge and the Bahia Honda Bridge. You have to be on the lookout for broken glass, sharp rocks and fishhooks left on the shoulders or the trail.
While the ride seems like it would be perfect for a road bike, you are much better off with a bike with a wider, thicker tire, such as a hybrid or a mountain bike, because of the debris. I rented a flat-bar road bike with wider tires than I normally ride, and that seemed to work well.
The road and trails took their toll on my rear tire. On the fifth day of the ride, I noticed a lump in the rear tire where the tire had worn out. Fortunately, I was able to get the tire replaced before I popped a tube. Other BubbaFest riders who took their road bikes with them reported lots of problems with flat tires during our six days of riding.
Fortunately, the minor glitch did not take away from my enjoyment of the ride. For one, I was among friends -- Bubba and Doug Kaufman -- and other familiar faces from other bicycle tours such as John Chester.
"I know you're wondering, 'How does he do it?'" Bubba said numerous times over the course of the week
Having been a leader of a large bicycling event myself -- the Tour de Stooges -- I know how he does it: A lot of hard work and and an active imagination.
Pink flamingos were evident everywhere on BubbaFest. One night, participants received flamingo sunglasses. Another night, we received flamingo headdresses.
But the highlight of the week came on our dinner in Key West. Before trolley buses took us from our campground to downtown Key West, Bubba issued us flamingo hats, complete with legs hanging down from our ears, and informed us we had to wear them to get our dinner that night.
I could tell many people didn't want to comply with Bubba's demand, but they soon changed their minds when they saw there's strength in numbers. The flamingo hats were such a hit in eccentric Key West that one rider sold his for $20.
"We were Key West that night," Bubba boasted.
Bubba also had a prize raffle and awards presentation Thursday. I won a giant pink and black sombrero in the raffle, but the best prize I received was the plaque that Bubba gave me for being the last person to register for the ride!
Bubba took that opportunity to acknowledge our long friendship. I met Bubba on his first-ever weeklong bicycle trip, the 1993 Cycle Across Missouri Parks ride. Even though he got sick of me and other cyclists saying "on your left," Bubba has been a big part of the bicycle touring scene ever since. I'm honored that I've been a part of his love affair with bicycle touring.
Of course, Bubba wasn't the only one with an active imagination that week. John, Doug and I decided to rate the Key Lime Pie we ate over the course of the week. John only rode the leg from Key Largo to Key West, but that gave him plenty of opportunities to sample Key Lime Pie.
John and I agreed The Fish House in Key Largo had the best Key Lime Pie of the restaurants we visited in the Keys, while The Fish House was Doug's second choice. Doug preferred the Key Lime Pie at the Seven Mile Grill in Marathon, located just before the east entrance to the Seven Mile Bridge. John and I agreed that would be our second choice.
I even got to feed my Three Stooges obsession on this ride. John needed to get a tire fixed during the course of the ride at the Big Pine Bicycle Center. It turns out that the owner, Marty Baird, may be a bigger Three Stooges nut than I am, if you can imagine that.
Not only does he own a Three Stooges jersey, he also has 146 Stooges episodes on tape and gobs of Stooges memorabilia. It was only appropriate Marty and I recreate a classic Stooges scene for the cameras. I told him about the Tour de Stooges, but he won't be able to make it up north for the ride because it's his busy season. I will try to make sure he gets a shirt for his collection.
We also had hoped that a restaurant called Knuckleheads in Bayport would be open. The bar has a sign with the likenesses of Moe, Larry and Curly on the front, so it looked promising. But it wasn't either time we passed it during BubbaFest, so we had to settle with something else.
Another restaurant that was a favorite for BubbaFest participants was the No Name Pub on Big Pine Key. The restaurant is best known for its pizza, cold beer and distinctive indoor decoration. The walls and ceilings of the pub are covered with dollar bills that visitors have left there over the years.
To close out this article -- and to prevent Doug from spreading this story himself -- I leave you with this story:
Doug and I stopped for a bite to eat at a small store just before the Long Key Viaduct. I was already checking out after having purchased from peanuts and a drink when Doug noticed a must-have treat -- a frozen slice of Key Lime Pie smothered in chocolate!
Doug urged me to get a slice, but since I was almost done checking out, I was hemming and hawing a bit. Doug asked again. I still hemmed and hawed.
"I'm buying," Doug said.
"OK!" I exclaimed without blinking an eye.
Well, there is more to the story. After the end of my ride in Tavernier, ride organizer Bubba Barron picked me up at the bicycle rental shop, and we stopped for Cuban sandwiches at the nearby Sunshine Cafe. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that the folks who work there know how to make a great sandwich, so I bought Doug a sandwich.