On the Lam in Miami
First, a story.
READER BEWARE: MANY CUSSES AHEAD
In a way, it was our fault for thinking we could camp next to ten college kids on spring break. We know they're going to party all night. But hell, when you've slept next to train yards and under overpasses you're pretty well equipped for noisy nights. My hammock and Jana's tent sit tucked back along some trees that border a dock. The kids' cars form a barrier between our tiny gravel lot campsites littered with lawn furniture. We've packed up everything so we can hit the road first thing in the morning, and already put in earplugs. Our campsite, we were not in it, is a great shortcut to a dilapidated dock that one of our neighbors has made it her mission to jump off of as many times as possible in one night. This dock is on a saltwater channel in the mangroves. That means crocodiles, if you're unfamiliar. It should be noted that crocodiles hunt at night.
Kay Kay, whose name I'll forever hate, loves jumping into this channel. At first they cheer her on, but the group slowly gets the feeling that maybe this is a bad idea, are now trying to keep her from her new hobby for which she was just championed. Youth, and alcohol, abhor a lack of drama (a drama-vacuum, if you will?) so it's only natural Kay Kay and her friends get into an argument- in the four feet of space between my hammock and Jana's tent. It's cool, it's fine, and from behind my mosquito net I ask the kids (nicely, because I'm nice) to go back to their campsite.
Maybe they're unaware that the hammock had a man in it. Maybe they're upset at me for barging into their conversation. Either way, my request causes them to pause. Now Kay Kay, she's a clever one. She sees the lull as the opportunity she needs to skirt her friends' attempt at authority to run back off the dock and jump into the incredibly dangerous channel once more. There's one small problem: my hammock is in her way. So, Kay Kay tries to crawl underneath me to get away from her mean friends. My hammock isn't high enough off the ground, so she collides into me and elbows into my lower back. I yell out. Her friends yell out. Kay Kay, yelling out as well, chants "just go back to sleep" as she wriggles through, now holding onto my hammock to pull herself through. I'm ripping down my mosquito netting as I hear her running across the dock and splashing into the water.
Jana, not sleeping in something tied to stationary trees, picks up her tent and drags it away to other side of the campground. Kay Kay's friends apologize, and my voice drops two octaves as I scold them for being so incredibly rude, tell them this is our campsite not their shortcut, and to take the fucking walkway out to the crocodile-filled river. Kay Kay splashes into the water again, with no audience to give her a reaction. Her friends walk away, heads down, and I start grabbing the lawn chairs littered around the edge of our campsite. In an effort to deter that situation from happening again, I place all the chairs on either side of my hammock, forming a ridiculous wall on both sides of me. It's 10pm.
They're back an hour later. Kay Kay, bless her, is back at again with the whole jumping into the death-channel thing. Her friends, they mean well, but they're again pulling her away from my hammock, yelling that "that man is trying to sleep." Kay Kay will not be denied. My wall of chairs are no obstacle for her athleticism, so she pulls away from her concerned friends and attempts to jump over me.
You can guess what happens. Kay Kay, of course, miscalculated her high-jump across me and falls on top of me, knocking the wind out of me and snapping plastic lawn chairs. So goal-oriented was she that, on the other side of that little obstacle, she sprints down the dock once again. I hear the splash as I'm getting out of my mesh prison. I see Kay Kay's friends pushing her back into their campsite as I walk over. There's fear in their eyes, and the rest of the group, seeing their expression, all look over at me. "You fucking children." The voice I'm using I've only used a couple times in my life. I don't like the voice. It's deep, it's weary, and it does not care about those to whom it is directed. It's the voice you hear abusive dog owners use when scolding their dog, right before they brandish a rolled up newspaper.
With just a few sentences that I can't totally remember due to blind rage, I totally kill the party vibe.
A few hours earlier, when we first arrived, we talked to the campground owner over the phone to find the place and let her know which site we'd be taking. We had agreed to wait for her to arrive the next morning at 8am, a few hours after sunrise, to pay for the site.
We did not wait
We watch first light turn the sky turn Hotline Bling colors on a quiet highway. The air is cool, and the slightest of breezes blows across us. It's nice. We need nice right now. The mangroves that line the highway are quiet, and a fog silhouettes the distant hammocks. It's unbearably beautiful, even if we're just on a highway. But the northbound traffic has been basically nonexistent since we left that awful place. Out here it is, and Im sure you're tired of seeing this word by now, chill.
The further we get into the mangroves that separate the keys from Florida City (the first town you hit on your way north back onto the mainland), the thicker the fog grows around us. Bridges that take us over channels make interesting breaks, where we climb out of the fog only to descend back in. It's eery, and beautiful, but I can't help but think it's hiding a resting crocodile that we'll see just a bit too late. The same could be said for the fog hiding us from cars on the highway, but the traffic behavior is a little reassuring. While our easy pace isn't impeded by low-visibility, the few cars that do pass by are taking due caution and driving noticeably, and gratefully, slow.
It Got Dewey
We stop at the first gas station we see. We left the campground so abruptly that there's no time for bathroom visits, but also we don't want to look like total wrecks back in glitzy Miami. The campground host, Suzan, sends a text to arrange meeting up to pay, which we won't be doing. I'm inclined to ghost on Suzan, but Jana would prefer we let her know what's up. So, we're hanging outside this gas station while I write a response explaining the disaster that was last night and how we left. In the middle of writing this, Suzan calls. Jana sees the number and tells me to pick up. A voice comes from behind us.
"Yeah, you better pick up."
It's Suzan. She's here.
If this seems crazy, it is. It kinda makes sense, once you take a step back. She doesn't live on the campground, so she probably lives on the mainland. There's only one highway between the first town on the mainland and the campground, and there's only one gas station. She knew we were on bikes. All she had to do was make a call and see if the two people on bikes she's looking for at the one gas station on the one highway get a call on their phone at the same time. Suzan is brilliant.
"Hey Suzan, listen, we didn't end up staying all night because of the c-"
"Yeah you did."
"No, we didn't. It was so bad because of all the p-"
"No, I know you stayed all night."
"Really, we didn't. We've been riding since before dawn. Those college kids were awful and going crazy partying all the over the entire campground. One of them jumped on m-"
Suzan gives a dismissing wave and walks away. Suzan isn't too stoked on what just went down. Nervous, given Florida's reputation for confrontations escalating in the worst possible ways, we get off the highway and take backroads north away from the coast.
Jana's phone gets one last message from Suzan.
"I'm going to the campground if you're telling the truth then no problem
but if people say you were there this morning then i will get the police involved.
Not paying for a campsite in florida is a felony"
Dead Or Better Yet Alive
For not paying $40 at a campsite, request for capture of
Last seen in a torn (from brute strength) floral-print dress shirt on a coral-colored, probably-stolen touring bike and looking at trees with an accomplice in little, green short shorts.
With this freedom and excitement of being outlaws, we throw out the planned route and enjoy this rural, lawless part of Florida. The only real plan is to get into Miami, knowing a deep ring of suburbs surrounds the southern edge of the city, and that this farmland will be but a brief stretch before we're pushed into traffic and malls. We find a couple miles of gravel roads cutting through farms and along irrigation ditches that eventually turn to a single track on the edge of a new-looking (well, technically everything down here in new-looking) suburb.
Back in suburbia, things calm down in many ways. The scenery loses excitement, and truth be told so does the story. A smaller, unnamed bike path connects us into the South Dade Trail, which heads northwest into southern Miami. We have the afternoon to eat, relax from the morning stress, and eventually meet up with a new friend who's offered us a place to sleep indoors and avoid another night of Party Teens at whatever hotel or hostel we can find.
For the most part we chill in downtown, enjoying the cool public, open spaces that exist between rows and rows of high rises. In the evening we leave downtown and head further into inland Miami, passing through small communities making their own space with the celebrations and hardships that come from being close, but away, from the extreme wealth downtown has garnered from tourism. We load our panniers back up with food for the long train ride home to Chicago, and eat an upsetting amount of cupcakes.
Later in the day we meet up with a group of bike punks and urban agriculture fans, who've set us up with an air mattress, a desperately-needed shower, and have offered to take us out to Key Biscayne so that we can check one last state park called Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.
We share beers while the sun goes down, telling our new, incredibly generous friends about the past twenty four hours of insanity. We talk about southern Florida a lot. We confront the uncomfortable realities of how economics and climate change are affecting so much of what makes this place unique and amazing. We talk, even more, about those unique, amazing things. That which are new experiences to us and old hat to them. Things they would have totally recommended for us to do, if they'd known ahead of time, that we never would have found on our own. All it's really doing is creating the impetus to go back. With buzzes settled in, jokes and stories get shared about all the Suzans in the world. Now dark, we head back to Little Haiti for dinner before calling it an early night so we can catch our early train home.
It's the chillest way ever to end the chillest tour ever.
Thank You For Reading
Sharing these stories is a lot of fun. You can keep 'em coming by picking up a couple trinkets from the store.
They're just little things, but they really do help keep everything around here going.