Martin VANdal Paddle Roof Rack

The Patron Saint of Diesel in Islamorada

After 4 months of physical therapy and a mandatory hiatus from paddling, it was time to get a paddle technique tune-up from the one and only Michael Metzger…So off to Coach Mike’s SUP training center in Islamorada we went.

We make a conscious effort to create the smallest possible carbon footprint, so it helps to be frugal. Upon tracking down the cheapest diesel gas station in South Florida, lo and behold, we discovered that the diesel pump was adorned with a religious deity we affectionately ordained as the Holy Patron Saint of Diesel. Many a weary traveler before us had left their offerings, so in order to ensure a better than average MPG we added our pennies to the growing pile. 

The Patron Saint of Diesel

This time of the year, the upper Keys are chock full of Canadians, Midwesterners, and Yankees all seeking refuge for spring break. Given the mass exodus of northerners, camping and parking spots are nonexistent. Luckily, our dear friend Tania Metzger owns Sea Dragon Exotic Island Décor in Islamorada and graciously allowed us the use of her outdoor display area.

Camp Tania
Camp Tania

The Sea Dragon holds treasures lovingly collected in Tania’s travels to the exotic, fragrant hills and valleys of Bali so we were grateful to be able to park VANdal in a gated, secure area surrounded by exotic Indonesian furniture and décor. Every night when we returned to our campsite we were magically transported to the lush, verdant landscape of Bali.

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On Saturday, we paddled mangrove channels and crystal blue aquarium-like water, seeing dozens of mullet, snook, mangrove snapper, and a pair of five-foot nurse sharks. At Coach Mike’s training center we shot video for paddle stroke analysis, and Bethany learned and practiced her pivot turns.

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Crystal waters & glass calm conditions at Coach Mike's training center
Crystal waters & glass calm conditions at Coach Mike’s training center

If you like to stand up paddle and either want to improve your stroke or move up in the race rankings, you can spend an inordinate amount of money on equipment with the HOPE that it will make you faster… OR you can spend a few hours with Coach Mike, which WILL make you more efficient, faster, and greatly increase your understanding and enjoyment of the sport.

Early Sunday morning we got on the road to Miami to try out the mountain bike trails at Virginia Key, but not before stopping at Café Moka at Mile Marker 92 to have a delightful French breakfast with Coach Mike.

Our kind of restaurant pet policy at the Lorelei.
Our kind of restaurant pet policy at the Lorelei.
Katie, soaking up the views and the breeze at our own private cabana at the Lorelei
Katie, soaking up the views and the breeze at our own private cabana at the Lorelei

Virginia Key State Park is Miami’s only mountain biking facility. Although the terms mountain biking and Florida seem completely juxtaposed, Florida does offer some exceptional trail riding. For those wishing to experience great trails in tropical locations, we would highly recommend Alafia State Park, Balm-Boyette Preserve, and the Ocala National Forest. Virginia Key? Not so much. It does offer about 10 miles worth of trails catering to all different abilities, and the park itself was a magnet for afternoon beach picnics & BBQ’s. Occasionally, while rounding a bend, you get spectacular views of Government Cut, Fisher Island, and the magically blue waters of Biscayne Bay. These views are overtaken, however, by the effluence of Miami… Yep, that’s right. The park shares space with the bleak architecture of Miami’s waste sewage plant and its malodorous, noxious fumes. The trails themselves are dusty, rocky, and sandy with some man-made obstacle features. Wonderful for those unable to travel a few hours north, but not our favorite Florida MTB spot by a long shot. In short, to quote Horace Greely, “Go North [West], young man.”

Virginia Key MTB
Virginia Key MTB

In spite of that, we had a fun ride and left Virginia Key Beach Park covered in dust, hungry for something truly delightful to capture the essence of South Beach before our trek home.

photo 3So we made a beeline for La Sandwicherie (read the review here) on 14th Street between Washington and Collins. La Sandwicherie is not only home of the best sandwich in Florida, but possibly the East Coast. The ambiance is perfect for South Beach. La Sandwicherie is located on an alley with barstool counter seating and outdoor air conditioning. It is open from 10am-5am and Martin’s been eating there for over 23 years. The perfectly crusty French baguette combined with a selection of French cheeses, delicious cold cuts and crisp vegetables  topped with their secret vinaigrette is a must-stop for anyone visiting South Beach.

VANdal's designated alley side parking spot at the world famous La Sandwicherie
VANdal’s designated alley side parking spot at the world famous La Sandwicherie

Next week’s adventure: Tampa for Pecha Kucha and mountain biking the Ocala National Forest with a mandatory stop for Florida’s finest burritos in Gainesville.

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