Thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts are participate in the Key West Poker Run, an annual ride down the Florida Keys Overseas Highway to Key West that serves as a fundraiser for various South Florida charities. (Bert J. Budde, Sr. / The Associated Press)
On a motorcycle trip down through the Florida Keys, the flat lanes seem to skim the blue-and-aquamarine, coral-lined sea before you're vaulted skyward up a causeway and on to another island.
The round trip made by turning west through the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail, then up the Gulf Coast and back east to Miami via Alligator Alley is about 600 miles — not a big challenge for the true wind-in-your-face aficionado.
The feel of escaping the mainland and entering the Keys on U.S. 1 is no less than exhilarating. The Overseas Highway runs 127 miles, connecting the island chain with a series of bridges and expansive, seemingly endless views of the ocean on either side.
U.S. 1 slows in the towns dotting the islands, but it's a good idea to keep alert for cross traffic that doesn't seem to notice bikes.
A turnoff from Big Pine Key takes riders off the beaten path to No Name Key, noted for a roadside pub by the same name.
A ride into Key West proper for a look-see circuit is fine, but it's a good idea to find lodgings and leave the two-wheelers parked before the sightseeing and partying begin.
The streets fill up at night and the drinks flow at Sloppy Joe's, Hog's Breath Saloon and the other noted haunts and honky-tonks.
Heading back and detouring through the Everglades, the Tamiami Trail is a delightful straightaway into the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve.
The starkness of the surroundings is refreshing after the heavy commercialization along the Keys. Miles go by before you see a store or gas station, so check your fuel gauge.
The ride gets more interesting, if eerie, as the sun sets en route to Naples on the Gulf Coast. Signs appear warning drivers to slow down for panther crossings. From Naples, the vistas give way to miles of strip malls and shopping areas.
The final leg turns back east toward I-75, across Big Cypress National Preserve, leading back to Fort Lauderdale and Miami. The ride is a motorcyclist's dream, but there are no tourist amenities, just the necessities.