< PART II
South Florida Odyssey
Part III: Across the Ocean, Marco Island to the Ft Lauderdale Airport
In Part I, the author described a route from the Ft Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport through the glitz of Miami and along back roads to Florida City, gateway to the Keys.
Part II takes you along the Florida Keys to the southernmost point in the continental US.
Part III brings you back to the mainland by ferry and provides a study in contrasts: the populous southern Gulf Coast and, south of Lake Okeechobee, some of the loneliest territory in the state.
IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS, riders to Key West counted on retracing US 1 back to the Miami area. But that was then.
Since 1995, ferries have provided a regular service between Key West and Florida's southwest coast from December to May.
The MS Captain Redd out of Marco Island and the MS Whale Watcher out of Ft. Myers—if they have the space on the stern—will transport bicycles.
However, that space is limited. If your group contains more than four bikes count on splitting departure dates. An alternative is for one group to take one ferry to Ft. Myers and the rest to take the other ferry to Marco island.
You figure out how to rendezvous.
The MS Whale Watcher departs for the Key West Bight from Salty Sam's Marina, 2500 Main St, Ft. Myers Beach, every morning at 7:45, weather permitting. The return trip departs Key West at 5 p.m.
The MS Captain Red departs for Key West every morning at 8:30 a.m. from the Marco River Marina at 951 Bald Eagle Drive on Marco Island and returns at 5:30 p.m.
Both vessels require four hours per run and return at their respective home ports around 9 p.m. The after dark arrivals pose problems for cyclists. For reservations (absolutely recommended!) and directions to the ferries call 888 KEY BOAT.
About that ferry ride...
If there is bad weather the ferries will not operate. Provide for a couple of extra days layover in Key West, particularly in January.
The crews on both ferries have proven themselves to be truly bike friendly and helpful in getting bikes on board and stowed on the stern. That can be somewhat of a challenge with heavily laden bikes.
Once on board the accommodations on both ferries are rather Spartan. If hard seats save money then they saved a lot.
Furthermore, if the boat is full forget about finding a nice quiet corner to grab a few Z's. Bring a book, some cards or be ready to yak with the other passengers to pass the time. You also might want to bring some ear plugs since the noise level is horrendous.
The high speed, wind across the deck and chilly ocean spray call for a jacket and long pants if you venture out on deck.
However, there is a snack bar and full galley on board. If all goes well the ferry trip is a great adventure and only costs about $60 and beats the uphill ride back to Miami.
Marco Island to Ft. Myers
On Marco Island the nearest reasonably priced accommodations are at the Lakeside Inn about a mile away at the intersection of Marco Lake and 1st Ave.
Either have sufficient lighting or call a van taxi to tote you and your bike to the inn.
Getting off Marco during daylight hours is a piece of cake. The main road, Collier Blvd, has a side path to the bridge where a great paved shoulder will take you the 8-plus miles to US 41.
Turning left onto northbound US 41 can be a bit of a hassle, since there is neither a paved shoulder nor side path for about 2.5 miles.
After that, however, the route follows paved shoulder/bike lanes/side streets all the way through Naples, Bonita Springs and into Ft. Myers.
Ft. Myers to Ft. Lauderdale
An arrival at Ft. Myers Beach simplifies getting accommodations. There are several campgrounds within one mile of the ferry dock and a wide side path helps you stay off the streets.
There is also a very nice, bike friendly B&B in Ft. Myers, the Li Inn Sleep B&B (see Useful Addresses, below). However, from the ferry landing to the B&B is about 20 miles—a long pull after dark. Better to hire a van taxi to shuttle rider, bike and gear to the inn.
Continuing on toward Ft. Lauderdale from the inn is rather simple. Cycle south on McGregor Blvd for five miles to Colonial Drive (SR 884). Turn Left onto eastbound Colonial and, after another five miles, it will intersect with the route just west of I 75. Continue eastbound on Colonial Drive for another 15 miles to Williams Ave in Lehigh Acres.
If departing from a campground in Ft. Myers Beach, head north along San Carlos Blvd. to the intersection of Summerlin Rd. & San Carlos Blvd. In addition to a big shopping center and a great breakfast restaurant, you will also encounter a bike path that enables you to completely avoid Ft. Myers. In fact, the first 30 miles, all the way to Williams Ave. in Lehigh Acres, are entirely on bike paths or enhanced sidewalks.
After turning north on Williams Ave, prepare yourself for miles of nothing but scrub trees and nearly empty roads. Williams is part of a subdivision that never got beyond paving the roads. So, after about half a mile north of Colonial, you will encounter many paved roads, few houses and little traffic.
Eventually the route comes out on Joel Road (SR 884) via the Greenbriar Parkway. Once on Joel, the route weaves along more backroads (Tuckehoe Rd and Packinghouse Rd.) to the bridge across the Chattahoochie River at tiny Alva. There the route resumes an easterly track along CR 78 to recross the Chattahoochie via the Ft. Denaud bridge. At the south end of the bridge, turn left and glide into LaBelle along quiet and scenic SR 78A.
LaBelle is known for being a blue collar town, where folks work hard and get by with less. And less is what you get for accommodations. Skip everything and head straight for the LaBelle Motel right on SR 80. It's not the Ritz, but it's clean, the folks are genuinely friendly—and the price is right.
And it’s the only real place to stay in LaBelle.
The only campground, east of LaBelle on SR 80, is unreachable by bike due to horrendous truck traffic.
For contact info on the LaBelle Motel refer to the Useful Addresses (below).
LaBelle to Clewiston
Between LaBelle and Clewiston, AVOID SR 80 east of LaBelle. With a very high level of traffic, most of it big trucks, it is one of the most bicycle unfriendly roads ever. Thankfully, the Keri Rd.—CR 832—is an alternate route south of LaBelle.
From LaBelle the only one way to get to the Keri Road is southbound SR 29. In contrast to SR 80, SR 29 is heaven on earth for bikes.
A new, 3 to 4 foot paved shoulder extends south for the 12 miles to CR 832. Upon turning left onto eastbound CR 832 you’re heading into the heart of what is reverently called the Devil's Garden. You will see all sorts of critters—walking, crawling, slithering and flying. You will not see (at least from the road) several airplanes that drug smugglers crashed into the swamps years ago.
Though the drug smugglers are (allegedly) long gone, the walking, crawling, slithering and flying creatures never left.
As a matter of fact, due to the number of bird species, the area has a great reputation among bird watchers. When cycling the Keri Rd., be prepared for 20-plus miles of extremely abandoned desolation.
Nevertheless, stay alert for the occasional citrus truck that comes barreling along with nary a thought that cyclists might be on their road. At the end of CR 832, a turn left onto northbound CR 833 puts you onto a busy hauling road.
The drivers here appear to be just as oblivious to bicycle traffic as on CR 832.
Fortunately, the CR 833 segment is only about a mile. I’ve developed a simple routine for dealing with that short segment.
Upon arrival at the intersection of 832 & 833, I pause and carefully scan the road to the south. When no vehicles are in sight, I pop out onto 833 and sprint like mad for one mile before turning right onto eastbound Hunting Club Road.
Montura Ranch Estates to Clewiston
Turning right onto Hunting Club puts you into the Montura Ranch Estates, famous as a training ground for exile groups.
Regardless of its political bent, this erstwhile subdivision is a bit more populated than that along Williams Ave. in Lehigh Acres.
However, the population includes many dogs, so be prepared.
There is a nice restaurant on CR 833. If cycling northbound on Hacienda, turn left onto westbound Avenida de Club for about one half mile to the junction with CR 833. At that intersection you will find a convenience store. The L&L Restaurant is just around the corner to the north on CR 833.
After one mile on eastbound Hunting Club, turn left onto northbound Hacienda for about three miles to Bald Cypress Ave. Turn right onto eastbound Bald Cypress for three miles to Cabbage Palm. Then it's left onto northbound Cabbage Palm for less than one half mile and then right onto Pine Cone Lane.
Once on eastbound Pine Cone Lane, just stay on the twisting and turning pavement to Flaghole Rd. Turn onto northbound Flaghole and after seven miles you will encounter US 27 with its fantastic paved shoulder.
Take a right onto southbound US 27 and about nine miles later you will reach Clewiston, which calls itself something like "the sweetest town in Florida." Clewiston is surrounded by sugar cane fields and headquarters of the American Sugar Corporation. Clewiston is also the location of another very nice Bed & Breakfast, the Kettl House. (See the Useful Addresses below)
South of Clewiston—the end of the civilized world
South of Clewiston, US 27 continues plodding ever southward towards Miami. Between Clewiston and South Bay, there is a bit of civilization in the form of two convenient campgrounds.
The Crooked Hook, a commercial outfit, is located on US 27 just a couple of miles south of Clewiston. A few miles farther on is a very nice and very clean Palm Beach County campground on the left just north of South Bay. (See Useful Addresses below)
Unfortunately, good restaurants can be counted on one hand (or less) so it is best to stop off in Clewiston for dinner supplies or at one of their numerous restaurants for dinner. (For a pig out dinner at the end of a day's ride, my favorite is Sonny's BBQ at the south end of Clewiston.)
Riding through Clewiston on US 27 can be a bit of a white knuckle experience. There are streets paralleling US 27 that provide somewhat of a haven from the truck traffic.
About 12 miles south of Clewiston is South Bay, the last civilized bastion for 40 miles. South of South Bay, the desolation begins anew.
Between the junction of US 27/SR 80, there are absolutely no services whatsoever until the I-595 interchange.
So if you want water or something to eat, take it with you. I’ve seen a vendor's truck selling snacks about 20 miles south of South Bay, but that was during the week.
What US 27 lacks in services, however, it more than makes up in the form of good visibility and a three- to four-foot paved shoulder all the way to I-595 and beyond. From that interchange, follow the signs to eastbound SR 84. The directions will put you on I-595 for just a few yards—all perfectly legal according to the Broward County Bicycle Coordinator.
I-595 to the Ft. Lauderdale Airport
Follow SR 84 for about four miles to Weston Rd. At Weston jog left, pass under the interstate and turn right onto the bike path that parallels the highway along SR 84.
At the junction of SR 84 & Weston Rd is the entrance to Broward County's Markham Park, which offers camping as well as numerous mountain bike trails.
After four miles on the eastbound bike path, turn right onto the southbound side path along Pine Island Rd for three miles to Orange Rd. Turn Left onto eastbound Orange Drive bike path for four miles to US 441. At 441 turn right (southbound) for less than one half mile to Griffin Rd. Turn Left onto eastbound Griffin for less than four miles.
With rather heavy traffic most of the time, Griffin is somewhat of a bear for cyclists. One may ride with pride the sidewalk for about four miles to the NW 10th St Access Rd.
There, jog right and then left to the intersection of Perimeter Rd and NW 10th St, where this whole adventure started.
I’ve made this trip four times since 1999, once alone and the remainder in the company of other riders. Due to the remoteness of various route segments and a total lack of cycling infrastructure, I recommend you ride with at least one companion.
The entire trip usually lasts at least 9 days via Marco Island (375+ miles) or eight days via Ft. Myers (325+ miles).
Following is the recommended schedule:
Day 1 Ft. Lauderdale to Florida City (70 mi)
Day 2 Florida City to Long Key SP (50 mi)
Day 3 Long Key to Key West (70 mi)
Days 4 & 5 Key West
Day 6 Ft. Myers to LaBelle (55 mi)
Day 7 LaBelle to South Bay (60 mi)
Day 8 South Bay to Ft. Lauderdale (60 mi)
For the Marco Island extension add 1 day and 50 miles.
Since there are no known campgrounds between Ft. Myers and Clewiston, motel accommodations are required in LaBelle.
< PART II
The Kettl House B&B, 402 East Pasadena, Clewiston FL 33440,
Li-Inn Sleep B&B, 2135 McGregor Blvd,
Ft. Myers FL 33901, 239-332-2651
LaBelle Motel, 198 Hickpochee Ave (SR 80), La Belle FL 33935, 863-675-2971
Lakeside Inn, 155 1st Ave, Marco Island, FL, 239-394-1161
Bonita Beach Bike, 4892 Bonita Beach Rd, Bonita Springs FL 34134
Ft. Myers Cyclery, 3451 Fowler, Ft. Myers FL 33901, 941-936-1851
Island Bike Shop, 845 Bald Eagle Dr Marco Island FL 34145, 239-394-8400
Naples Cyclery, 813 Vanderbilt Beach Rd, Naples, FL 34108, 239-566-0600
The Crooked Hook RV Resort Crooked Hook RV Resort, 51700 US 27 Clewiston FL 33440-9789
Ft. Myers Beach
Red Coconut RV Park, 3001 Estero Blvd Fort Myers Beach, FL, 239-463-7200
San Carlos RV Trailer Park
18701 San Carlos Blvd, Fort Myers Beach, FL, 239-466-3133
Palm Beach County South Bay RV Campground, 100 Levee Rd, South Bay FL 33493, 561-992-9045