It has been almost a week since we left Key West and set out on this trek. A first for both of us, we had no idea what to expect from our first cycling tour, and it has certainly not been free of challenges. However, since we started biking last Thursday, our lives have been full of surprises and blessings, often in the form of unexpected kindness and words of wisdom—usually from absolute strangers.
The ride from Key West to Key Largo was gorgeous, often with nothing between us and the glittering aquamarine sea than a few inches of steel and concrete. The islands which curve out to the west of Miami are connected by a series of bridges—some of them quite long. The Seven Mile Bridge, for instance, is exactly what it sounds like—an excruciatingly long bridge that connects Knight’s Key with Little Duck Key. The view from the bridge is beautiful, but cyclists best beware that it does not distract them from the whizz of passing traffic.
Before crossing the seven mile bridge, we talked with a fisherman who was feeding mangled fish heads to a pelican on the side of the bridge. “This is Charlie,” the man told us. “I can feed him out of my hand.” The pelican reached with its long beak and snapped up one of the fish heads. “He has to flip it around so it is facing nose first,” the man explained. “That way he can swallow it.” We watched Charlie gobble up three fish heads and then fly away. “People say I’m crazy, standing on bridges and talking to pelicans all day,” the man told us. “But I’m happy. What else is there to do in the keys?”
On Saturday, we felt energized, and inspired to bike the 45 miles to Key Largo—the final island, and our furthest distance yet. (Since it was snowing in New England until the day we left, neither of us had done much training for this trip.) We ended up in the middle of the island with an hour before sunset and no place to stay for the night.
We had heard encouraging stories from other travelers about knocking on strangers’ doors and asking to camp in their back yard for the night. So we did just that—picking a house with a car that had an Oregon license plate (not that we prefer Oregonians over Floridians, per se…the jury’s still out on that one).
“Well, come on in.” We were lucky. Rebecca, the woman who opened the door, did more than offer us a yard to camp in—she invited us in for dinner and a place to stay in her house. Her sister, Carolyn, was visiting, and the four of us whiled away the evening talking about bicycling (Rebecca, as it turns out, is a triathlete) and women’s health (Carolyn, a Nurse Practitioner, gave us some excellent advice on bicycling hygiene!). We left feeling inspired by the generosity and strength of these women, and appreciating the grassroots, person-to-person way that so much important information gets spread.
On Sunday we headed onto the mainland and into Homestead, FL, where we were staying with Gabriele at Paradise Farms. We were about three miles away, cruising down the bike path, when Heather ran over a glass shard and SPLAT—our first flat tire, in a less-than-ideal location. We changed the tube and had some help with the pump from a bus stop patron. These kinds of experiences—meeting kindness in unexpected places—have become more and more frequent.
When we finally did arrive at Paradise Farms, it turned out to be everything we could have imagined. We walked our bikes down an avenue of fruit trees and into the main grounds: a grand pavilion with a colorful outdoor kitchen, a mandala garden, composting toilet, and coals smoldering in the fire circle from a sweat lodge the previous evening. Our hosts were Ernest—the farm’s B&B coordinator who found his way to the farm during the course of seven years of biking around the world—and Gabriele, the farm’s owner, who shared with us her own stories of walking and biking through Europe.
We have been struck by how many fellow travelers we’ve met, sometimes in the most unexpected of places, and also by how many strong, vibrant women we are meeting who encourage and inspire us. We also receive lots of warnings to be careful as well as offers of theoretical help, should something come up. While the sentiment is perhaps well-intentioned, it is also frustrating, as it is based on and reinforces the idea that we (as young women) should be fearful and dependent on others. Does this serve to keep women trapped in this role? Does it function as a self-fulfilling prophecy?
We held our first workshop on menstruation and sustainable menstrual products in Miami on Monday, at the home of Deanna Alvarez, a birth coach and community leader. We had a deep and dynamic conversation with the group (which included some younger members around ages 3-16) about our history with and feelings surrounding menstruation, and how to bring up children with knowledge about, respect for, and appreciation of women’s cycles. Then we had a lively discussion on the benefits of reusable menstrual products (picture menstrual cups flying and colorful cloth pads being shown off). Some women were inspired to start using cups, others to try them again, and others to bring them home to their daughters and nieces. There was an intergenerational strength to the group which made for meaningful discussion and a realization that we’re working for change on a grand scale. We are working to break the cycles of shame, toxic products, and ‘disposable’ culture for generations to come.
Last night we stayed with Ilene and Brad, Warm Showers hosts and world travelers just north of Fort Lauderdale. Ilene does Iron Mans and other triathlons – another inspiring female athlete. Tonight we write to you from Shauna’s beautiful house in Lake Worth, where we have settled for the evening. More to come.