So I get to the airport and there’s almost no seats left on the plane. I’m not worried. People miss the Miami flight all the time. I want to know where they go.
At the gate I get a boarding pass in Main Cabin Extra and we’re airborne on time. It’s a short hop down to Miami and the flight passes in sleep. I’m happy when the blinds are rolled up and we get a blast of warm sunshine into the cabin.
The last time I was in Miami was three years ago for business, that went 50/50 so I’m glad to be back on neutral terms with exploring the city by bike this time. Arriving at Miami I’m feeling pretty groggy (try and walk into the ladies toilet, oops) and a bit hot already despite the a/c blasting in the airport.
I change into my one decent pair of street shorts (with bibs under of course) and t-shirt and head for the People Mover and the Metro which takes me downtown. It’s easy to get around the airport but it is huge. Be prepared – a lot of time is needed to get from one end to the other.
At the metro I talk to a nice lady working there who asks me a whole bunch of questions about how long I’ll be in town and how many days I need a ticket for , which I’m happy to answer. It ends with the sagely advice and accepted decision to buy a one-way ticket. At this point she turns to another lady who is part of a small group standing close by who I hadn’t noticed and says he’ll buy your ticket, pointing at me. So I guess I’m the straight man, the do-gooder, the barter bait, but who cares, I’m happy to help.
The only snag is the money. More change digging in my pocket ensues, then in my backpack. I can’t find my US change, I can only get my hands on a couple of single bills. I offer, she accepts. She is happy for it, and I save 25 cents and off we all go on our respective journeys, slightly the better off for the encounter.
I’m a pretty big Metro geek, I enjoy travelling this way, and have done so all over the world. The Miami metro is fairly new judging from the stations, but the train that arrives looks like a left-over from New York City’s retro collection. 80’s retro collection.
Regardless, it is fun to see Miami from the rails, and it’s a quick trip downtown.
I decided a couple days before leaving that I wasn’t down with the hostel option on the Beach so I found a great deal for a decent hotel right downtown. All in for less than eighty bucks Canadian including breakfast I figured I’d use as a base to rent the bike, visit Miami Beach one day then do Key Biscayne the next.
So it is that I arrive downtown, hop off and promptly start sweating harder than ever. Walking through the streets, past the Dade County courthouse, through the old streets checking out the graffiti, the murals, the left-overs that smell pretty good already. I take my photos, take in the sights. Getting hungry under the hot sun I end up walking in a sort of funny loop to my hotel, but I find it and am happy for doing so.
The front desk is the expected Latina mayhem; people talking (mostly in super-fast Spanish), everyone ignoring each other’s answers and those not participating in the active crosswind conversations are standing around with an air of well-worn patience for endless lineups.
Being British, I have a nagging sense that I am generally clogging up the area and furthermore sensing no chance of a quick transaction I move over to a side room off the lobby and finish changing into my cycling gear. It’s a comedy of attempted organization, trying to remember all the bits and pieces I need for the day. Needless to say I forget one or two things.
Following this wardrobe session, I get an audience with reception, check in and leave my bag in the check luggage room with a Hail Mary. Proceed confidently back out to the street with my day bag full of assurances from the front desk lady on the correct way to reach my destination. I wait for the elevator and go back up to the highly elevated and lamely called “People Mover”.
It’s a cool system though – free, extensive through the downtown core and frequent. On the downside it’s very slow, stops for ages at stations and has nowhere inside to sit. The other thing I like about it is that it’s elevated, at once making very good use of vertical city space and looking vaguely Bladerunner-esque in the process.
The lady at the front desk who “helped” me has in fact directed me onto a loop which instead of going three stops to my destination goes in totally the opposite direction and heads north on a big loop of the downtown area. It’s a 20 minute penalty, somewhat assuaged by the cool sight of the city below, and the folks getting on and off the people mover.
Once I finally make it to Brickell, it’s a short walk to the bike store, through a neighbourhood that looks and feels a bit like Coal Harbour in Vancouver. A youthful, Lululemon, wanna-be hipster but actually cliquey vibe permeates the area. Close by is Little Havana, and the Latin presence permeates this neighbourhood as well. There’s a lot of Latina restaurants and I clock a good burrito joint for later.
I’ve connected with the owner at the bike store and he has a bike ready for me that he assures me is just like a single speed. In reality, much to my dismay it’s actually a clunky I don’t know what to call it even city bike, with a hideous gooseneck of a stem and a drive train built in China and left to rust in the salty air.
Don’t really mind, but it is a comedy that on top of this gaffe that I’m offered a bike that’s gonna fit a small child. Fortunately before things get out of hand, the owner intervenes and corrects the nice young lady helping me, who sings sweet and sour under her breath like an angel.
I spend some time getting the pedals installed, and having then fuffing Garmin set up. The Gopro doesn’t fit because the handlebar is super narrow and I didn’t bring my spacers. All told it’s half an hour to get the bike organized and on the road. The owner gives me a good price and offers to let me keep the bike a bit longer for free which is nice. On top of which, they are friendly in the store so I can’t complain too much. Well, maybe about the color lol.
I will also say to their credit that the bike comes with lights (front and back), a lock (and 2 keys), a water bottle carrier (yay) and despite my initial bike snob reaction, rides well enough for a casual/semi-casual ride.
Once the chores are done I hit the streets. The bike paths for the most part are just road lanes with painted cycle symbols on them. Not much to hold a 10 tonne truck back from smushering a biker, so biker beware. Eyes open in the back of your head.
The roads are pretty smooth and the lanes are wide, and it’s weirdly quiet in town even though it’s approaching lunchtime when I set off.
I meander towards the water and north towards the Venetian Causeway which is the main route for cyclists getting over to Miami Beach. It’s the only safe option – either other road would in fact be suicidal. There are some great parks downtown to explore (not on the grand scale of the Barcelona parks I visited a few weeks back) but nice enough, and not so many homeless people camping, so it’s pretty safe. Nothing against homeless people of course.
(and just round the back our friend Christopher, who would no doubt be very proud of this cultural progress.)
I get to check out the prime locations for Cigar Boat launching, Miami Vice film sets (the movie, not the TV show) and putz around past the art gallery checking out the amazing hanging planters.
The causeway is well marked and wide enough for a sidecar on my bike too. It’s a nice ride, but I’m feeling the effects of a 2:30am start as well as the cocktails on the plane. It’s also hot as hell, maximum humidity and I’m sweating pale English bullets already. Burning too probably. So all told this is not a stellar bike performance but I don’t care – the grin is genuine and wide and I’m enjoying the ride.
That’s it for now, more to come, it’s 11pm here in Montreal as I write this – time to go sling someone else’s bags 🙂
Thanks for reading.