Key West – Miami – Sanford – Lorton
Leaving the Florida Keys for destinations north, we stopped at Baby’s Coffee for cafes con leche, at Curry Hammock State Park for our customary nature trail leg stretch, and at Denny’s Latin Café in Key Largo for another con leche and lunch. Goodbye, Cuban coffee, rice and beans. You served us well.
We took Card Sound Road out of the islands, as we always do, and at the zenith of the bridge, with all the Keys behind us – the osprey, ibis, egrets and pelicans and spoonbills, the incredible family snorkeling and kayaking expeditions, our friends and all the little things we love about the Keys – the White Street Pier, Blue Heaven, Sandy’s and Salute, El Siboney, Bahia Honda, Fort Zach and our house, our garden – to the south, I thought about the character from that Carl Hiaasen book who strapped himself to the top of this bridge as a hurricane bore down, to experience the full force of it. We took some storms in the face, too. Hurricane Wilma destroyed our Pathfinder, pushed saltwater over the top of our three-foot-high porch and into the house, made the walls buck and blew water through the window seams, even with the shutters down. That vulnerability, that way-out edginess combined with extreme weather, contributes to the vitality of the islands, I think. I know Tahra will miss the big tropical storms, too.
On to Miami, to the home of Josh, Karla and Xavier, for one night. Josh is related to Tahra through Tahra’s mom’s mom. We discovered this several years ago, and have been having fun with this amazing family ever since. Josh spent time in Mali with the Peace Corps after UVA, where my brother went to school, Karla -- who wrote a book about the Maroons in Jamaica -- went to Yale, and their son, Xavier, is brilliant and sweet, a champion chess player who can also do perfect flips on the trampoline. We got in a little late but enjoyed a spaghetti and meatballs dinner cooked by Josh, with really good tomato sauce made by a Saudi college exchange student staying at the house. We’ve met college kids from all over the world during our visits to Josh and Karla, who seem somehow involved in everything good going on in Miami. We also have Josh and Karla to thank for introducing us a few years ago to sustainability idol Mario Yanez, founder of Earth Learning and The Farm at Verde Gardens down in Homestead. Mario introduced me to Florida-made avocado wine, which surprisingly, isn't as bad as it sounds.
From Miami we drove up toward Orlando, where we excitedly boarded the Amtrak Auto-Train in Sanford, pre-Trayvon Martin. The Auto-Train is THE longest passenger train in the world and was a thrill for all of us; we splurged for our own deluxe sleeping cabin, with four fold-out bunk beds, little fold-out tables, and windows looking out from both sides of our narrow t-shaped cabin. The Volvo would ride in style behind us somewhere on the double-decker train with approximately 250 other vehicles stacked inside enclosed car carriers. This may have been the only day in history that Gryffyn and Ursula actually looked forward to bed time. After climbing a short ladder and tucking themselves into individual, tray-like bunks suspended from the ceiling, the girls looked like weary but happy rock climbers hanging from bivy sacks on the edge of vibrating cliffs. The only down side to riding the Auto-Train: there are some puzzling policies, including one well-posted rule that forbids humping. (See photo, below.) Possibly to prevent derailment, or maybe because Amtrak gets federal subsidies, I surmised.
Seventeen hours, 900 miles and four states later, the train deposited us in Lorton, Virginia. When I stepped outside into near-freezing blustery weather, I had my first second thoughts about our planned move north, and flashed back to the day when I was a kid waiting for the school bus on a frigid day in Springfield, and suddenly realized my nose hairs had frozen together.