Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Driving to the Southernmost Point in the United States in One Day

Ahhh, Florida: A dash cam company's paradise purely because of everything that goes on over there on the roads. Earlier in the year, I went down to South Florida for a short trip -- no, not because I wanted to have my own Florida Man sighting. Instead, I was in Miami to attend a family wedding.

More importantly however (cousin, if you are reading this: your wedding was pretty good too), I was here in hopes of taking the famous drive from Miami to Key West -- a 4-hour drive over the Atlantic Ocean, featuring one of the best scenic views in North America as you head south straight for the southernmost point in the lower 48 states.

This should be a good one.

The car? After spending previous trips with the Dodge Challenger and a Ford Mustang, surely I would be accompanied this trip with a something comparable like a Camaro or... Oh, I am getting a Mazda 2? Great.

To be honest, there is method in this madness: Driving in south Florida is supposedly so bad that you might as well drive a smaller car in hopes that the raging motorists somehow miss you when they swerve off the Turnpike to make that Fort Lauderdale exit.

Also, the roads get quite narrow once you are in places like Key West and Miami Beach -- instead of getting stuck everywhere you go, you might as well go with an economical city car (and it's the cheapest available rental option, so there's that).

I have also brought my trusted F750 with my rear view camera (which I have previously brought to New Mexico for my Breaking Bad trip as well), so I should be well covered against the craziest of drivers and Tony Montana.

No matter, on with the trip.

Driving in Miami

"The world is yours."
March in Florida is like June everywhere else -- it is a balmy 95 degrees everyday at all hours, no matter if the sun is outside or if there is an reenactment of the Perfect Storm.

"I remember when rock was young
Me and Suzie had so much fun
Holding hands and skimming stones
Had an old gold Chevy and a place of my own" - Elton John
Driving in Miami was a little bit like driving in New York, except people drive faster here thanks to the wider and smoother roads. Much faster. So fast, to the point that you'd think they are hurrying home to defend their place against a squadron of alligators, except- dammit honey, there goes the Fort Lauderdale exit! Oh well, we will run over that little blue Mazda if that's what it takes to get off this highway! 

In all seriousness, it takes a special kind of reflex to survive on I-95 during rush hour. Once inside the city, it gets a little more civilized -- the roads are wide and it is generally quite easy to get around.

Cruising in and around Downtown Miami and Miami Beach, especially when you have Phil Colins on the radio, does make one feel quite like Don Johnson from Miami Vice. If only I had a slick sports coat and a Ferrari Testarossa...

That said, there is certainly no shortage of exotic sports cars on the road. Driving from Miami to Miami Beach is akin to driving through an interactive Ferrari / Lamborghini / Bentley dealership, driven by people who wears Wayfarers and Aviators with Omega watches.

Driving around Ocean Drive certainly takes you back to the old days as well. Here, you'd find an assortment of old Chevys and Fords being driven alongside brand-new Suburbans and Escalades. Oh, and a lot of scooters, too.

True to the Florida experience, my cousin also took me boating in hopes of catching some Kingfish. While it made me feel a little bit like Dexter Morgan, it ultimately turned into a 8-hour boat ride in which no fish was hooked and I got a little sea sick.

Onward to the Keys.

Florida Keys

I have been waiting for this for a while.

I grew up with movies like License to Kill and True Lies, which features the drive prominently. The drive itself is a long stretch of road -- appropriately called the Overseas Highway -- that stretches over a series of islands on the way to Key West. In other words, it is a 164-mile drive featuring sunny sky, neverending beaches, and spectacular bridges. To avoid traffic, I even picked a Monday to travel down in hopes of avoiding the weekend traffic. What could possibly go wrong?

It was Spring Break.

Half of Florida was on the road to Key West. To make matters worse, the sky was hardly cooperating either. 2 hours into the drive, it was becoming darker and darker as clouds started looming over the sky. Couple that with the sheer amount of holiday traffic, the drive was shaping up to be a bit of a disappointment.

That said, the trip was not a total waste. The iconic Seven Mile Bridge was just as advertised -- breathtakingly beautiful. The petite Mazda was surprisingly pleasant for this long journey as well, providing just enough comfort and power for me to forget that I was stuck in a traffic jam for almost two hours. The iPod-enabled factory stereo was also a much-needed option.

It took about 5 hours to get to Key West, about an hour and a half more than it should have.

Key West is a fascinating place -- one full of history and Cuban influence. Here you will find the Ernest Hemingway House, President Truman's old office, the fantastically wacky Key West Cemetery, an old Naval Station, as well as the Southernmost Point in the lower 48 states, represented by an odd-looking Buoy-shaped monument.

For some reason, the roads are also inundated with free-roaming chickens. Yes, you are reading that right. It seems that they have developed an excellent sense at dodging the giant wheels of death on the roads. I even managed to capture a whole family crossing the street while managing to avoid being roadkill. Quite impressive, really.

Why did the chicken cross the road?
Also in Key West: Fan-bloody-tastic seafood. The proximity to the Caribbean sea meant that there was plenty of good seafood around.

As it was getting uncharacteristically dark, I ditched the car and started walking around. The small southern town is also great for walking around thanks to its small size. The streets are very walk-able with many interesting boutique shops and cafes -- so long as you don't mind bumping into other tourists on the sidewalk.

I spent a little more time walking simply because I had to walk some of that seafood chowder off.

After a couple hours, it was time to head back to Miami. Leaving at around 9pm, it would still take a good 3 hours to head back to civilization. It was a short trip by my usual standards, sure -- the traffic and the weather weren't as perfect as I'd have hoped.

Still, was it worth it? I'd have to say yes. When the roads opened up -- even for a brief moment -- the Overseas Highway was a blast of a drive that everyone should experience at least once. 

Good thing I have family in Florida then, because I need another excuse to come back some time. 

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