Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tamara Scharf – I walked The Florida Keys solo in October 2013

I am not really a human of The Keys so I feel honored to be here. Maybe walking The Keys qualifies? I’ve certainly done the legwork…
I had so many people ask me ‘why did you walk The Keys?’, raising an eyebrow and questioning my sanity. It may not be obvious to you, but it was pretty obvious to me:
The Keys are so beautiful and interesting, with each island so different from the others, all surrounded by these amazingly beautiful turquoise waters. I figured that walking makes it all go by much slower than driving, which would give me time to ‘stop and stare’ often and soak it all in.
Almost two years ago, in October 2013, the decision was made: I was going to walk The Florida Keys! Within two weeks and with as little preparation as possible (not recommended!), bar the purchase of a backpack, I arrived in Key Largo all by myself on a greyhound bus, suddenly questioning my sanity. I remember being extremely nervous the evening before the walk. I decided to grab some dinner and was hoping to calm my nerves. No sooner had I sat down, came an omen of what was to come in the next 6 days: before tasting the first bite of my dinner, I was already ‘dinner’ for a swarm of hungry mosquitoes.
The next morning, I had hardly walked a few miles, I lost half a toenail. However, it wasn’t all losses, there were also gains: I gained a lot of blisters and mosquito bites. I counted around 90 bites by the time I made it to Key West. Importantly, I also gained confidence in myself and my abilities. In the beginning, I was doubting whether I could even make it all the way. It was only when I had covered over half of the distance, I started to feel confident that I could make it to Key West.
It is interesting how much the mind wanders when you are alone with yourself and your thoughts, walking next to the amazing turquoise ocean. Being all by oneself in nature is very relaxing and almost spiritual. My feet might not have concurred with that assessment perhaps. By the time I had reached Key West, 105 miles later and covered in band-aids, they were ready to go on strike. In fact, I nearly had to give up three miles before Mile 0 – can you imagine? It was only the shame of giving up so close to my goal that spurred me on at the end. I literally limped the last couple of miles and they took me hours. I cried and cursed a few times on that last day – but I made it to Mile 0!
Although I walked the whole distance alone, I never really felt lonely. For one, I had lots of friends helping me with moral support on the internet, particularly on facebook. Also, I met so many wonderful people along the way - perhaps some of you remember me?
I was the short girl with the tall backpack! People would stop to chat to me, ask me what I was ‘training for’. Some cycled or walked a little while next to me. Some would stop to offer me a ride, looking slightly bewildered when I replied ‘no thanks, I am walking to Key West’. Some were so very kind to invite me - a complete stranger - to their house for dinner. I often wished I hadn’t been on such a tight schedule and could have accepted the kind invitations!
I also saw the famous Key deer and the infamous no-see-ums. I got chased down by swarms of hungry mosquitoes in the dawn and dusk hours. I saw fish, turtles, snakes, birds and all kinds of fauna and flora that you probably never see when you drive down to Key West. It was an incredible experience.
My favorite places and experiences? I loved Edgewater Lodge and the peaceful bay with its spectacular sunsets. I fell in love with Sugarloaf Key. Walking the 7 Mile Bridge, which I had feared so much, proved one of the most amazing and beautiful things I have ever done. I still get goose-bumps when I recall it. Although yes, there were trucks swerving towards me once or twice which was a little un-nerving, especially with only two feet and a little concrete barrier between you and the ocean, when the only way is down – a long way down..
Would I do it again? Most definitely! Do I have any advice for those who want to walk The Keys? Plenty! Take plenty of water, plenty of bug repellant, plenty of sunscreen, plenty of band-aids and mix with plenty of enjoyment, fun and appreciation of your surroundings and the locals you will meet!
Map out a route and decide how many miles you want to walk each day and whether you are going to be camping or staying at motels along the way. I did the latter, and I can’t tell you how good it felt to come back to a nice shower and clean bed at the end of the day. In hindsight, my schedule was a little too ambitious perhaps (6 days), and I would recommend to walk no more than 15 miles a day, leaving much more time for resting and enjoying. Oh and definitely plan in a whole day in Key West at the end because you will need some party and celebration time!! I ended up partying the night away with a bachelor party I met at Camille’s, but that’s a whole other story…
PS: I am always looking for interesting outdoor things to do in South Florida and beyond. If you are interested in ‘off the beaten track’ things to do, check out my blog and let me know what you think. I would love to connect with like-minded people. I have been toying with paddling from Key Largo to Key West in a kayak, maybe that will be my next (slightly) crazy adventure?

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