Florida Keys Best Free Experience
The 113 mile long Overseas Highway that links all those tiny islands known as the Florida Keys was originally built as a railway in 1912. In the 50s, a road was built over the railway. The rails from the original railway line were used in the construction. Because it was built as a railway originally, the road was very narrow and by the way, unlit at night. Today, a modern highway is in place, some of it built over the shallow waters parallel to the original. Sections of the old road are now open only to pedestrians and bicycles.
Recently, I rode a bike on a section called “The Old Seven Mile Bridge,” “Old 7” for short. It runs from Marathon to the tiny island known as Pigeon Key where it comes to an abrupt end where a section of the old bridge is missing. Now known as the Florida Overseas Heritage Trail, riding or biking it is one of the best free experiences in the Keys. It’s free if you walk or bring your own bike. I rented one from Bike Marathon Bike Rentals. From Old 7, I could see down into the shallows where I spotted sea turtles, sting rays and sharks.
There was also a bizarre moment when I witnessed the skills of a helicopter pilot as he plucked a utility worker when his work was completed on an electric pole rising from its platform in the ocean and place him on the next one. High winds and live electrical wires made the maneuver exciting. Many will think of the 1994 James Cameron film “True Lies” when they see the bridge and imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in the helicopter scene shot on the overseas highway.
Pigeon Key is a family friendly little spot with tons of history. It served as the isolated campsite for the original railway builders over a century ago. Original buildings, reconstructions and lots of artifacts — including a saltwater pool — tell a fascinating story. School groups from across the US and around the world visit to learn the history, snorkel and hang out during summer camps and day visits. A nesting pair of osprey raise their young at the edge of the island. All this human and wildlife activity makes for an event filled day on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway.