Toronto to Miami Beach on Bicycle
For this my 35th hub I go back in time 35 years: to 1977, the year I graduated from high school, and the summer that my friend Mark ‘the Rocket man’ and I rode our bikes from Toronto to Miami Beach.
It wasn’t our first long distance bike tour. The previous (Bicentennial) summer we had toured Appalachia, riding from our hometown Lexington, Kentucky south to Gatlinburg, Tennessee; then over the Smoky Mountains to Cherokee, North Carolina and on into the northwest corner of South Carolina, west into northern Georgia, and then back, through central Tennessee and Kentucky, to Lexington: a ~800 mile loop. Two summers before that (when I was 15 and he 14) we had had taken our first overnight bike tour by riding from Lexington to Natural Bridge State Park and back, a ~120 mile round trip.
I left Lexington that same year (1974, a few weeks after our Natural Bridge trip, and the very day that Nixon boarded a helicopter and left the White House), moving with my family to Switzerland for two years; and then in 1976, to Toronto, where I spent my senior year. Mark and I planned our next bike trip by letter and phone. After graduating, to finance the trip I spent the month of June building a terraced garden for my dad, accompanied by the latest hits blasting from rock radio: the Eagles’ ‘Life in the Fast Lane’, Foreigner’s ‘Feels Like the First Time’, and Jimmy Buffet’s ‘Margaritaville’. Star Wars premiered, and I rode my bike to the theater to see it, and like everyone else was blown away; riding home in the dark, I fantasized I was piloting a starfighter. During that month I trained by taking long-distance day rides on weekends.
Mark traveled by Greyhound bus from Lexington to Toronto right after the 4th of July weekend, arriving on the 7th, and spent the night at my house. We departed early the next morning. Both of us rode Azuki Gran Sport 10 speeds (mine white, his metallic blue) equipped with Bugger pannier and handlebar bags stuffed with our gear. We each had sleeping bags, and I an REI pup tent, bungied to our rear racks. For headgear I wore a golf cap—no helmets in those days!
The following chronicle is transcribed verbatim (with minimal censorship—so be forewarned of some blue language) from the journal I kept of our trip. For a glimpse into the mind of my 18 year old self, read on:
Bicycle Tour: Toronto to Florida
Day 1 – 7/8/77
- 80 miles to Niagra Falls
- 9 dead animals
- 9:00 p.m., on picnic table, in Whirlpool State Park, off Highway 104
After one good days ride we’re ready to hit the sack (under the stars) as soon as it turns dark. Today started at 6:30 a.m., on a cool, misty, wet morning. Rode through the city during rush hour, which was a mahthuh fahkuh. Met two cyclists from Macon, Georgia, on their way to the West coast, then south, then back east (circle). Mark’s been pretty tired today, so I hope we can keep up a good pace and make it to Miami. Weather is better now, so everything should be o.k. for a while. Until we hit Pennsylvania, mahthuh fahkah. No bike problems yet.
Day 2 – 7/9/77
- 80 miles to Pavilion, N.Y.
- 55 dead animals
- 12:05 p.m., the next day, outside a grocery store in Dansville, N.Y.
Hard days ride yesterday, in hot, dry weather. Met some folks from Va., and a nice guy in Pavilion, who gave us some beer. More in tonight’s entry.
Day 3 – 7/10/77
- 90 miles to Penn. Border
- 117 dead animals
- 9:20 p.m., in back of a school house, where we will stay
Today was the longest haul yet, a tiring drag over foothills and into a headwind. We’re feeling better about it though, and we’re ready for any motherf—kin mountains that come our way. Started at a good pace and continued on hard for 40 miles. With few stops we rode another 50. At one point a caravan (funeral?) of vans passed us by. That was neat. So far we feel we can still make it to Miami; no bike problems yet. Dinners have been pretty good—especially tonight, since (it being Sunday) we ate out at a Spaghetti House. First night we had Ravioli (canned) and fruit cocktail. Last night we had Mashed hamburger, bread, beans, and pineapple; Hawaiian Punch to drink. The bread and peanut butter is still servin’ us, though it could use some jelly. Muthuh F—kin’ mountains here we come! Damnation. Tent, sleepin’ bag, here I come!!
Day 4 – 7/11/77
- 15 miles to some little town in Penn. Mountains
- 28 dead animals so far
- 11:20 a.m., sitting drinking coffee in a little gas station-diner off Hway 15
It’s pouring down rain outside now, and a southerly wind is blowin’ at us at about 20 m.p.h. Riding in it is like swimming through tar. We’re stopped here, letting the worst of the storm pass. Today everything is against us. Headwind. Mountains. Rain. TRAFFIC, with mothuh f—kin trucks. Dad nabit. We both need a shower, like Really.
Day 4 – continued
- 77 miles to a little trailer park in the mountains, 15 miles beyond Williamsport on Hway 15
- Dead animals: 65
- 9:10 p.m., ready to hit the hay.
I just locked the bikes up and am getting ready to cover them. Today was great, for me at least. Mark’s got a cold. After the café we hit the mountains, and then rain hit us. After a while with rain jackets we decided we were getting just as wet from perspiration as we would from the rain, so we took them and our shirts off. The mountains weren’t bad at all—we’ve seen worse. We had the wind against us, which was kind of bad. Temptation got the best of us in Williamsport (60 mi.), and we ate at a MacDonald’s. Oh well. Tonight we both took showers and washed our clothes. Dammit I feel so CLEAN now.
Good night, the bugs are startin’ to bite.
Day 5/6 – 7/12/77 and 7/13/77
- 75 miles to Harrisburg
- 157 dead animals
- the afternoon after, sitting in a gas station; Mark just took 1½ hours to repair a flat; 6:00 p.m.
The past two days have really tired our souls. Yesterday started out fine, though a bit hot. First thing that went wrong: broken spoke on Mark’s bike. Wasn’t that bad, just delayed an hour. We were on the road again soon enough. The traffic on 15, outside Harrisburg was SHIT. So if traffic, heat, and broken spoke weren’t enough, at 5:00 we were caught in on helluva mothuh f—kin thunderstorm/cloudburst. We were forced to stop in a Ford dealer. Mark went ahead and took a shower in the rain, soap and all. Looked pretty funny. After about 1½ hours we were off again. Ate at MacDonald’s, found a schoolyard, and spent a wet night.
Today started (lately) at 8:00 much the same way. After making good time to Gettysburg, we decided to take a refreshing dip in a hotel pool. That was sure NASS!!
However, after leaving Gettysburg, getting into Maryland was hotter than a Muthuh F—kuh. Then another cloudburst. Than a flat tire for Mark. In two places. Cheap patches that didn’t stick. Delays, Delays. We’re going to eat dinner now, then haul asses. Well into the night Goddammit.
Today’s animal count so far: 63
[Inserted later:] That night continued bad, and we finally had the tube repaired in a Gas Station for $1.00. Dinner of cold sandwiches at store, camped in churchyard.
Day 7/8 – 7/14-15/77
- 100 Miles through Washington to Va. Border
- 25 dead animals
- on July 8 [sic], sitting behind a post office in Saluda, Va., where we just ate dinner (hot dogs, potato salad, apple sauce). 6:40 p.m.
Yesterday was fairly good all around. We got up early (6:00) and hit the road, Maryland highway 97, to Washington. We made fairly good time, considering (a) bad road, lots of hills, bumps, (b) 2 flat tires on my bike, both on front tire, (c) traffic outside Washington. Despite all of that, we arrived in Washington about 12:30 p.m. We took a look around there, and after getting lost in the center of the city, we were off again at 2:30. We got on U.S. Highway 301 and after 30 miles or so we were stopped by the police—for riding illegally on a fast (55 m.p.h.) road. We each received a warning (written), and then went ahead riding illegally. We weren’t caught and made the bridge over the Potomac around 7:30. There we had to put our bikes on a police truck to cross, as it was illegal for bikes to do so. So much for Maryland.
Camped in church yard, 5 miles across border in Va.
Today we’ve ridden about 70 miles on U.S. 17, and have had a pretty good day. Took a long dip in a campground pool, took showers, and I had another flat. Other than that the main event of the day was helping a fallen hawk off the road, where he was dying of the heat. But now I’ve got to go...
That day we rode another 15-20 miles after I had phoned Aunt Mary Lou, and we camped in the back of Gloucester High School, fearing the red-necks all night...
Day 9 – 7/16/77
- this is being written three days later, waiting for the ferry on Ocracoke, N.C.
We woke up about 7:30 and headed south on Hwy 17. We crossed the Jones River Bridge, which must have been 5 miles across. It got very hot that day. We had to take a police van through one tunnel outside Portsmouth (?), then we rode through the Norfolk area, hot, dirty, and tired, 15 miles to Glenn and Mary Lou’s place. When we arrived I had the most refreshing beer and the best lunch I’ve ever had.
Weekend of 7/16-7/17
Had a very enjoyable stay at Glenn and Mary Lou’s where we were fed well (must have gained back the 7 pounds I’d lost), had a good time at the beach and with the family (Mark had an especially good time with Jon Glenn). The weekend was just what we needed to give us our second major wind. (First real meals I’d had in 3 weeks)
Day 11 – 7/18/77
- writing this one day afterwards, 7/19, riding the ferry from Ocracoke to Cedar Island
Yesterday started out great. We woke up at 6:00 at Uncle Glenn’s place, where we packed up and ate a large refreshing breakfast. We started out in cool morning weather at about 7:30 a.m. and rode on south on Hwy 168 then U.S. Hwy 158. Around noon the heat started causing problems—with our problem infested tires. This time it was Mark’s front tire: Blow out. The tube was so ripped and it was so hot (making the glue run) that we had to employ the extra Sears Shit tube. We broke the valve in that, and we couldn’t pump it with our little shit lightweight hand-pumps, so we did the only thing possible—Mark took the tire and hitched a ride to a gas station ½ mile down the road. Once there he filled it up, but in vain, for by the time he had gotten back to me the tire was just about flat again. Well we messed with that tube for a f—king long time and finally, with 3 patches (2 new) and a new valve it was fixed and we were on our delayed way again.
We got out to the Outer Banks (Kitty Hawk) of Cape Hatteras about 6:00 p.m. where we swam in the Cold, Cold ocean with Big, Big waves; perfect end to a hot day. That’s when everything fell apart:
6:30 – ride down to Nags Head, stopping at Kill Devils Hill Wright Bros. Memorial.
7:00 – leave memorial for Nags Head, another 6 mi.
7:30 – eat dinner at grocery store in Nags Head = cold sandwiches.
8:00 – Leave Nags Head Grocery store.
8:15 – discover dunes outside Nags Head, play around there till 8:30
8:30 – full of sand, continue down now dark Hwy 12
9:00 – stop at fishing pier to hose off sand = stay for ½ hour.
9:30 – debate on where to stay the night: at the campground another 8 miles, or on the beach?
10:00 – try staying on the beach. Everything gets full of sand due to wind. Re-pack, head for campgrounds.
10:30 – riding on a f—king dangerous dark rd.
11:00 – arrive finally at campgrounds, only to find that they’re full. Attendants debate on what to do with us—finally tell us to sack out in parking lot. We do so, felling totally stupid, all the while we hear the attendants laughing at us in the background.
This day almost matched our stupid, off the road, under the stars night of last year....
Day 12 – 7/19/77
- 60+ miles to Ocracoke ferry at end of Cape Hatteras
- we’ve quit counting dead animals
- 5:00 p.m., sitting on the ferry going from Ocracoke to Cedar Island: 2½ hour trip.
We started from our parking lot-campsite this morning at 6:30 a.m. All day long we’ve had a heavy, 20-30 m.p.h. headwind (if not more). The remainder of Cape Hatteras has been a desert to some extent: large stretches of hot, dry, desolate lands, covered with sand, without a soul except for the occasional car. We got to Hatteras at 12:30, where we caught the free ferry, then we rode the 13 hardest miles so far on the trip on Ocracoke Island, to the ferry through hot, dry, windswept hell. In Ocracoke I drank about a quart of soda pop. I’m still thirsty. I think I’ll take a nap to ward off the temptation of the pop machine on board....
Day 13 – 7/20/77
- 100 miles from Cedar Island to 30 miles north of Wilmington, N.C.
- this is being written at Myrtle beach, in the campgrounds, two days later.
We started the morning after having spent the night in a Methodist Church yard, 2 miles south of Cedar Island. There was a pretty strong wind when we started, and it persisted for most of the day, although letting up at times. After eating breakfast we rode hard along Hwy 70 to Morehead City, a good 45-50 miles. Then in Morehead City Mark had an idea: to get our names in a local paper. We asked around for a paper office, found a handle in a bike shop (the owner knew the news editor) and then we rode into the office, where we were lucky enough to find someone who would interview us. Well that did give us a much needed boost and inspiration, so we continued to ride hard that day, defying the strong wind and making an eventual 100 miles. That night we stopped at the perfect camping spot: a small variety store with all our needs, next to which was a little yard where they let us stay.
Day 14 – 7/21/77
- 100 miles to Myrtle Beach
- This is being written on July 23, hanging in Mark’s hammock, getting ready to leave the beach. It’s 10:20 a.m.
After waking up at 6:30 a.m., we went next door to the variety store to get some breakfast. We then left and rode an amazingly fast 30 miles to Wilmington, arriving at 9:30 (we had left at 7:30). There we stopped and refreshed ourselves (me, coffee) at MacDonald’s. After another short stop at the U.S.S. N. Carolina, we rode on another fast 30 miles to Shalotte. There we had lunch at about 1:30 p.m. With 40 miles to Myrtle Beach, we left and rode hard, stopping briefly at the N.C/S.C. border then continuing, arriving here about 6:00 p.m. I swear, I have never been so hot, drained and tired as when we were riding through the city. That was HELL. But I made it without passing out, and 100 miles in 9 hours is DAMN GOOD. I hope we can continue to keep it up. Well, we found a campsite in South Myrtle Beach, a surprisingly inexpensive (3.64) campgrounds right on the ocean and close to the center of town (yet fairly secluded at that). We put up the tent that night and then, in one final burst of energy, ran over to the beach and into the surf.
Well we took long showers thereafter, then headed for town. We decided, since it was dark, that we’d hitch down—so that’s what we did. Some long-haired hippie in a jacked up car took us down to the center of town, where we ate at a Wiener King (Mark hated it)... The rest of the night was long and hazy, so I won’t go into detail—just this: we did end up walking the 5-6 miles home, arriving at the tent at about 1:30 a.m.
Day 15 – 7/22/77
- our stay at the Beach
Yesterday was very enjoyable—we swam in the ocean, rode go-carts, and just overall relaxed. The only problem was that the day was overcast... At any rate, last night we rode (our bikes) into town, ate at a Ponderosa Steak House, and wandered about the town till 10:00 p.m. One interesting event: we met Jan Vidas [a neighbor of mine from Lexington], her family and her friend, in town last night, and talked with them a while. Will coincidences never cease....
Day 16 – 7/23/77
- 100 miles to Charleston, S.C.
- This is being written on July 26, in St. Augustine, 8:40 p.m.
We didn’t start until 11:30 a.m., but everything was gong for us...flat terrain, no wind, and we were fresh and ready to go. We rode fast and hard, and by 6:30 we’d rode to Charleston: 95 miles. We were amazed. We ended up staying in a campground—but we didn’t pay, as it had an honor system. Instead Mark left a note telling them to bill him....
Day 17 – 7/24/77
- 100 miles to Savannah, Georgia
- the remainder of this log is being written after the trip has been finished—in Miami and thenceforth.
Boredom. Flat, unenjoyable terrain. Hard, but tired... No sleep the night before (4 hours at most) because of bugs. So we took a nap from 12:30 to 2:30. Then more boring riding... We met two cyclists 21 miles outsie of Savannah, going back to Ohio from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. They were nerds, even though their trip was twice as far as ours (3000 miles).
In Savannah, police moved us from schoolyard [where we had pitched our tent and crashed for the night] because some redneck didn’t want us there.
Day 18 – 7/25/77
- 115 miles to Kingsland, Ga.
Long, hard day, into the wind. Morning was good: made 70 miles by 2:30. There was some miscalculation as to distance, so afternoon was long and hard. Especially when I had one flat. Then we ate a quick dinner (cold sandwiches). Then, as I put 90 pounds in tire, another blowout. Fixed. Got dark. We rode 11 miles to Kingsland, another blowout. Taped hole in worn tire, then we camped (w/ police permission) in city park, 3 miles from the Fla. border.
Day 19 – 7/26/77
- 80 miles to St. Augustine Beach, Fla.
Another good morning, bad afternoon. Crossed the Florida border. Got to Jacksonville fairly early (10:30-11:00). My bike has been giving me problems: 10th gear doesn’t hold the chain properly. Ride in 8th gear most of the time. Rode out into open, windy, sandy country on the coast (A1A). It was hot and dry. We stopped for drinks at some bar out in the middle of nowhere. On the road: Mark breaks a spoke on back wheel—then 2 more trying to fix it. Total despair trying to get freewheel off. Then fixed. Ate and swam in St. Augustine Bch., 18 miles later.
Day 20 – 7/27/77
- 110 miles to Cocoa Beach, Fla.
Great day of riding, although hot. Started off, at 8:00 a.m., as fastest day yet: 50 miles to Daytona Beach by 10:45. Stayed there, schwimmed, until 1:30 p.m.: Hit Hwy 1 south, rode hard until about 15 miles south of Titusville, making the remaining mileage to go only 200 for two days riding. Stayed in tent in a schoolyard. (Dinner at Burger King)
(P.S. – Night before spent off beach in an old, abandoned campground, full of sharp cactus!)
Day 21 – 7/28/77
- 130 miles to West Palm Beach, Fla.
Longest, hardest day we’ve ever ridden. Started early, about 7:30 a.m. The day was hot early. Ate lunch at Burger King. Had a flat tire, due to a pin prick (still have the pin).
Then more riding to Stuart, with 40 miles to go. 30 miles later, dinner at very expensive pizza place. Then, to West Palm Beach, at 9:30 -> A&W. Stayed in open lot, under the stars, in the middle of a subdivision.
Day 22 – 7/29/77
- 70 miles to Miami Beach, Florida.
Rode all day along beautiful beaches and beautiful water—the best stretch of land this whole trip. Tropical. Arrived Miami at 4:00. Then Big, Juicy, Cold, Sweet, WATERMELON.
Stayed in a hotel because of no campsites. Didn’t regret it—it was only 8.00 a night for a double room. The End of a Great Trip.
Exact Route of Tour
Out of Toronto on Hwy 2 W
S. on Hwy 20
E. on Hwy 8 to Niagra Falls.
Out of Niagra Falls on Hwy 104 E.
S. on Hwy 78
E. on Hwy 20
S. on Hwy 63 to Pavilion, N.Y.
Out of Pavilion on Hwy 63
E. on Hwy 21
S. on Hwy 415
S. on Hwy 15 (U.S.) to Lawrenceville, Pa.
Out of Lawrenceville on Hwy 15, S. to 15 miles beyond Williamsport, Pa.
On south on 15 to Harrisburg, Pa.
Out of Harrisburg on 15 S.
East on Hwy 97 to Westminster, Md.
Out of Westminster on 97 E., to Washington
Out of Washington, at noon, on Hwy 5 S.
S. on Hwy 301 to Potomac River, Va. Border
South on 301 to 17 (U.S.)
S. on Hwy 17 to Va. Beach, Va.
Out of Va. Beach on 168 S.
E. on Hwy 34
E. on Hwy 158 (U.S.) to 8 miles past Nags Head, NC
Out of Manteo, N.C. on Hwy 12 S. to 2 miles south of Cedar Island Ferry
Out of Cedar Island on Hwy 70 (U.S.) South
W. on Hwy 24
W. on Hwy 172
S. on Hwy 17 (U.S.) to 30 miles N. of Wilmington
South on 17 to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
South on 17 to Charleston
South on 17 to Savannah, Ga.
Out of Savannah on U.S. 17
South to Jacksonville, Fla.
E. on Hwy 90 (U.S.)
S. on Hwy A1A to St. Augustine Bch., Fla.
Out of St. Augustine on Hwy A1A south to Daytona Beach
S. on Hwy 1 to 15 miles S. of Titusville.
Out of Cocoa on Hwy 15 to West Palm Beach.
Out of West Palm Beach on Hwy A1A south to Miami Beach, Fla.
After a full day and two nights at the beach we caught a Greyhound Bus back to Lexington. I hung out there for a couple days with Mark, before my grandpa picked me up and drove me to their place in Louisville. A few days later I was on a plane to Toronto, and not long after that, on my way to college in Minnesota.
It amazes me that after 35 years the memories of that trip are still so fresh in my mind.