Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Florida Keys!

Odometer 29330 miles
Trip Meter 252 Miles

It's always a challenge for us to get packed up and ready to go early on a travel day, and most times it's just a game we play- because we really don't care that much.  This time however we had plans to escape the Fort Myers traffic jams and the urgency was real.  For a city this size, (metro area about 600,000 full time residents and many more thousand of us winter visitors) the traffic is really horrific most of the time.  Remember that we were shoe-horned into this space with our fellow RVers and we were a little concerned about how we would extract ourselves.  Luck would have it, several coaches left the day before, and we had a pretty easy time of it, with Joan circling around as I inched out, making sure that I didn't rub anything.  We had the toad hooked up and were pulling onto San Carlos Boulevard by 9:30 AM.  Not bad for us- not a record, but close.  

We decided to take I-75 south as far as the toll booth near Golden Gate, FL  to escape the constant stop-and-go traffic on 41 near the Fort Myers/ Napes/ Bonita Springs area.  By the time we reached Golden Gate we could exit the "free" part of I-75 and take 951 south to hook back up with State Route 41 which skirts across the top of the Everglades National Park, east towards Miami.

Highway 41 is a very pleasant 2 lane blacktop road, with light traffic which also gives access to State and National parks in, and around, the Everglades.

We stopped for lunch at a small boating access near Monroe Station, and had fajitas from last night's left-overs,  while we watched several groups launch airboats, and take off into the swamps.
The GPS was telling us that the total trip time was 5-6 hours, so we did not linger longer than it took to eat and wash the dishes.  We wondered how it could take this long to go a little over 150 miles, but "sue" (everyone names their GPS voice- don't they?) is rarely wrong about this stuff.  After passing through Monroe Station we came upon what we now know is 25 miles of road construction.  We hadn't thought to check before we left this morning and now we were caught up in it with no alternatives.  The original highway was built in the 1920's and much needed repairs were now underway.  There were four to five sections of one-way travel regulated by flaggers, but the traffic flowed reasonably well, and the delays were not long.  We chose this route over staying on I-75 and paying the toll, so we were not really upset by this.
We are adverse to taking toll roads for two reasons- well three reasons:  A) We are not especially in a big hurry.  B) We really want to see the countryside so we'd rather be on the "blue roads" anyway. and C) You can't just pay the toll and be done with it- Nooo, they take a picture of your license plate and mail you an invoice with a $2.50 handling fee tacked on.  That way a $3 toll becomes a $5.50 toll plus postage and handling to get it to them.  We know that before we get off the east coast, we'll rack up some tolls- but we will really try to avoid where possible. ( Locals get  E-Z passes which bill your credit card directly)
By 2:30 we were nearing Homestead, which is the starting place for Florida Route 1 which has the cool name "The Overseas Highway"!  The one, and only, route to the keys.  We decided to top off the fuel tank in the motorhome for a couple reasons.  We were certain it would be cheaper if we didn't have to buy fuel in the Keys, and we also wanted to have the tank near full while we were sitting, to avoid condensation (water in the fuel).  We paid $4.19 a gallon which is the highest we have ever paid, but we saw diesel prices as high as $4.29 as we were cruising through looking for a place we could get in and out of with the motorhome and car combo.
Now, here is where I explain why the GPS told us the elapsed time would be close to 6 hours.  Leaving  Homestead,  highway one is a two lane road with a concrete divider rail to prevent passing.  Yep, you read that correctly, one lane each direction, straight as a string road,  with a K-rail between the lanes!
The highway was like this for miles and miles.   45 mph posted speed, but no real chance of attaining that, because anyone wanting to go slower, backs up a line behind them that stretches miles.  Finally at Key Largo the divider rail goes away and the road gets a center turn lane, but the traffic is very heavy, bumper-to-bumper.  Traffic lights provide the only way for local traffic to cut across this "train"  of cars.
By the time we got past Islamorada, the traffic began to lighten up, and by Conch Key traffic was a breeze.  Much of Highway 1 from Key Largo to Islamorada is on land with only very short connecting bridges.  Houses and businesses line the road and the vegetation is heavy.  We could not even tell we were close to the water.  Past Islamorada, the islands are more sparsley populated and there are more short, and a few long bridges, that give you the feeling that you are  on an island in the ocean!

For a long time, I have had a dream of visiting the Keys, the dream was always bight blue skies, warm sun, sandy beaches with palm trees swaying in the on-shore breezes, and Caribbean clear waters.  The reality was that it has been overcast all day and a light drizzle has been falling since about 3 PM- humph!
We arrived at Sunshine Key at about 4:30 in the afternoon, and turned into the RV park that will be our home for the next month- Yeah!  The folks at the registration desk were very nice and even gave us a map of the available spaces and let us go look at each, and decide where we wanted to be.  We found a big wide site two rows from the beach and I un-hooked the car in a light drizzle while Joan finished the registration.  We got set up quickly and with our water-proof windbreakers on, we took a quick walking survey of the park before it got dark.
We'll share more on the set-up of the RV park in our next blog post.

Jeff and Joan


  1. Hey Joan and 'Gator
    Even here in the land of black gold (Texas tea) I'm paying $3.99/gal for diesel for my TDI

    Say hello to Jimmy and Ernest for me

  2. So glad I found your blog today. Have lots of catching up to do