The sun had set, and a full moon hid behind clouds arranged in the cracked pattern of dry desert lakebed. With a single light to show the way, we three entered the rank maw of the Everglades, the paved miles of Shark Valley vanishing into the blackness before us. We feared alligators, but mosquitoes were the true threat. Within minutes, they lit upon our ankles with insatiable bloodlust. We pedaled faster, the cool tailwind soothing our wounds. Now and again the moon would peak through the clouds, a cell of brightness in the purple sky. Beneath it Miami glowed faintly orange in the distant east.
We rode alongside a still river. There were deadly things in there. There were things in there whose genetic makeup hadn’t changed for thousands of years. The fact that life might spring from that primordial soup seemed intuitive: it would seem the purpose of life to free oneself from such a habitat.
A swarm of red breaklights bobbed in the darkness in front of us. Behind us a constellation of white headlights framed the night. The landscape was peaceful and eerie. Despite the nearby Miccosukee Resort & Gaming, despite the strength of cellphone signal, despite the hundred-foot-tall fluorescent restaurant sign that refused to recede — it felt out “there” all the same. So still you imagined signs of movement. What was that?
At the halfway point we reached the observation tower, an alien structure — or so it seemed at night — with a dramatically curving rampway. From the crow’s nest we could see infinity in every direction except east, where Miami radiated low and level like a dome light. We trained our flashlights on the river below. Alligators loomed darkly at the surface of the water, their scales sharpened in the moonlight. A few hundred yards out, a flock of egrets perched whitely on the tree branches, as remote as a fleet of sailboats on the horizon. To the north a procession of even white lights pushed toward the tower.
After the tower the road curved back toward the entrance. The second seven miles or so were into the cool steady wind. Now the restaurant sign refused to arrive. The three of us road three across on the one-and-a-half lane road. We passed a lonesome bench, where one might wait for Godot or a bus that would never come. A bullfrog skipped across the road. Had to laugh at that.
Nearing the gate the stench of the public restrooms filled our noses. We pedaled past, loaded our bikes into the SUV, and headed east toward the orange glow.
Many thanks to Emerge Miami for organizing this memorable bike ride. For those who didn’t make it, mark your 2011 calendar.
Photos by Robby Campbell.