Two hundred and eighty miles. For most people, riding that distance over 3 days may not sound like a lot of fun, but for me it’s the best way I could spend a long weekend. Not only do I get to ride my bike and be around other bicycle enthusiasts for 3 days, but I get to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Florida Keys!
The 72 Hours to Key West Ride is a 3-day charity bike ride that spans 280 miles from Ft. Myers to Key West, Florida. In order to participate in the ride you must 1) Purchase a $300 ticket (helps to cover the costs of the amazing SAG support provided along the way) and 2)Raise a minimum of $300 that benefits 2 amazing Florida Charities. The first day of riding is the toughest at 120 miles from Ft Myers to Miami, followed by a 105-mile day from Miami to Marathon Key, and ending with a 55-mile day from Marathon Key to Key West where we stop and take pictures at the Southern-Most Point. This is definitely a ride that you will need to train for due to the heat and distance, but is so much fun and supports a great cause!
Day 1 started like any normal early morning bike ride: ate a bowl of oatmeal with a banana and bagel, checked tire pressure, loaded up on snacks and water, lathered on sunscreen, and headed out – except this time I was also mentally preparing myself to be on a bike for upwards of 6.5 hours over 120 miles! This was the longest distance I had ever ridden so I was more concerned about not being dropped or having a mechanical issue. We gathered in a small parking lot before sunrise and after the opening ceremony and pre-ride announcements took place, we were on our way! As a first time participant I didn’t know anybody so I had to make some friends fast if I was going to survive the next 3 days. Up until the first SAG stop I was able to make my way with a few different groups that had broken off but I knew once I left the SAG stop I needed to leave with a group and find a pace. Little did I know, the group I ended up joining would turn into a small family over the next few days, helping each other get through this cycling milestone together. Charles and Nicole (a tandem Canadian couple) and Tim and Geri (another fun couple!) both lived near our home in Tampa. Having such great company helped make the miles (and time) fly by. Pretty soon, we hit the 100-mile mark and were at our last SAG stop before our final destination: The Miccosukee Resort and Casino in Miami. At this point, we heard some not-so-great news. The last 20 miles of our route was under construction and Police were directing 2-way traffic through a single lane. The Police were kind enough to offer an escort only for those riders who could keep a 20-25 mph pace, while others would need to pack up their bikes and ride in a SAG vehicle. I was among the group that decided to use the Police escort, but a heavy headwind caused us to break up and speed to drop to 15mph. The last 10 miles were the toughest miles I have ever had to ride on my own. I was out of food, water, and energy at this point. On top of that, my bike computer battery died so I had no idea how much farther I had to go. Right when I was about to pull over and send an S.O.S. to Sarah, I heard a faint “…Hey Tony!” coming up from behind me. It was Charles and Nicole, my Canadian Saviors! With my last bit of energy, I was able to grab onto their wheel and get a much-needed break from the headwind. They really saved me during those last few miles and helped pull me into the parking lot of the Hotel where Sarah was very excited (and relieved) to see me. A cold shower, big meal, and comfy bed helped to close out my long first day.
Day 2 started with a great breakfast alongside my new-found friends. We chatted about our struggles and successes from the day before and tried to recruit a few more members before heading out. Keeping with the theme of the last 20 miles from Day 1, we had to initially fight our way through a construction zone but this time without the Police escort. Due to safety concerns, we left in waves of about 10-15 riders every 15 minutes to give some space between us and the drivers. Although there were a couple of close calls with large 18-wheelers and other (expletive) (expletive) drivers, our fearless leader kept us safe and pulled off the road every so often to check in on everybody and let a good amount of drivers pass by. After we got through the highway to hell, it didn’t take long before we were on Highway 1 and heading into the Florida Keys! Our next stop was Marathon Key, about 105 miles from our departure. Not much happened on this stretch of the ride except for some amazing sights of the beautiful blue water from atop the bridges between each Key. We took advantage of the photo opps at each SAG stop while other riders took part in local festivities feeding tarpon at a Robbies Marina, a well-known restaurant. Once we made it safely to our hotel, we had a quick dip in the pool before meeting everyone for dinner at a cafe nearby. It was nice to meet more of the riders and share stories and laughs from the last 225 miles. We were all in good spirits knowing tomorrow was the last 55 miles.
Day 3 started with an extra hour of sleep thanks to Daylight Savings time. The weather was perfect and the wind was in our favor. The goal of the last day was for everybody to roll into Key West as a group, so the ride organizers took the lead and led at a social pace. Soon after departing we crossed the famed 7-Mile Bridge and were able to pull into a small scenic stopping point. Sarah had quickly become the Ride Photographer and everybody loved getting their picture taken with the beautiful water and bridge in the background. Once everybody was accounted for, we headed out on the last leg of the ride. Pulling up to the Southern Most Point Mile Marker in Key West to cheering friends, family, and total strangers was a great way to end an amazing journey.
After filling up on photo opps with the Mile Marker we spent the remainder of the afternoon enjoying the hotel pool, walking around Key West, and spending
time with our new friends at a Cuban restaurant. By far this ride has been the most memorable cycling experience I have had and I cannot wait to continue participating every year!
Live to ride. Ride to live