Bike Florida Spring Ride Pt. 1

It is now April 9, two weeks after we began our Florida cycling adventure, and our travels up from FL to Virginia again, and there to Janes Island State Park in MD. So, it’s catch up time (NOT ketchup time).

Our intermediary stop en route to Bike Florida’s spring ride was near Savannah, GA. After driving some 6 or 7 hours (a very long time towing) we hauled into Ft. McAlister State Park. This is a nice little park across a bay (don’t know the name) from Skidaway SP.

 

 

Our site, #44, was a drive-through, so we didn’t unhitch or do any set up at all, as our goal was to depart as early as reasonable the next day.

We had thought #44 was near the bathhouse, but as it turned out, there was a ton of construction going on, and enormous sections of the camping loops were closed. Long ditches crossed some of the paved driveways as they were laying new cable for electricity. And the worst part of it was that the target bathhouse was a total goner, with only stub-ups and piles of gravel to mark its renovation. 

So it turned out to be a long walk to the toilets, but it was pleasant enough.

Next day, we drove about 5 hours to our first Bike FL campiste, in “Camper’s Holiday” (site 27), and met up with Mark and Angela, with whom we were riding the tour. This was their first “organized” bike tour, so we went out directly after setting up to register and have dinner.

1910 rowing team

The next day (March 29) Was Day One of the Bike FL ride. Happily, they started us off gently, with a 22-miler, much of which was along the Suncoast Trail, which was paved and quite lovely.

Angela was having a leg issue, so she stayed back to rest and ice her leg. At that point, we discovered that the Camper’s Holiday was a prime vacation spot for a type of caterpillar that loves to eat live oak leaves. It was literally raining caterpillar poop, and the devils infested everywhere. Angela seemed to have a particular attraction for the devils, and she found herself plagued by (and completely creeped-out by) these nasty critters. 

By the time we left Camper’s Holiday, the beasties were cocooning and we found them in every imaginable crevice and nook, cranny and crack. Ugh. Big downside of Camper’s Holiday (at least at this time of year)—which, for the most part, was a nice, clean, friendly place. 

But the sites were chock-a-bloc next to one another, and ours was the smallest rig in any space anywhere. Half the place was permanent residents and the other half was transients—most of whom were snowbirds who spent their winters there in enormous homes on wheels.

Day Two of Bike Florida was somewhat different in that we discovered that the Brooksville area is the “hill country” of FL. We did a significant amount of climbing on this day, and man-o-man, was that difficult where the seat meets the rider. It was also quite a hot day, but we had decent rest stops and had coated ourselves with plenty of SPF, so in that respect, we were fine.

Happily, some of our ride was along a couple of other rail-trails, one called the Good Neighbor trail and one called the Withlacoochee trail. They were both quite nice, and moderately flat. The Withlacoochee was also nice and shady.

Along the Good Neighbor trail (more sunny because of the enormous long-leaf pines towering above) some wag had decided to take the time to use pinecones to mark his travels along the path. I took a series of pix of this “Pinecone Art” as we rode.

There were also many of these gnarly oaks deeper in the woods along the trail.

Off the path, however, we saw dead orange groves, wildflowers, and other scenes of which I did not have the time or energy to take pix, including: a black snake crossing the road, a dead armadillo, a gang of stork-like birds beside an impoundment, and more wicked hills.

If it hadn’t been for our fave instant-energy cycling snack of Honey Stingers, I might have had to call on the reinforcements (sag patrol). Part of the issue with this Day Two was our need to finish the ride by 1 PM, so there was no leisure involved at all. We had a date with a fraternity friend of Jack’s (and his wife) for dinner that night, and we had to get cleaned up and drive an hour or so away to meet up with them by 5-5:30 PM.

But we made it, and our arranged meetup spot was at a golf club of some fame as well as some history, that was beautiful. On this night, they were offering a seafood buffet, and the place was also famous for its food, so it was packed.

We enjoyed a completely lovely dinner, as well as a long conversation and catch-up with Ashby and Sharon. It’s rare that I have enjoyed meeting total strangers so very much. It was not only like the old saw, about Jack’s and Ashby’s separation for 50 years being like they had seen each other only yesterday—it was almost like that for me as well, who’d never met them before in my life! They were good friends by the end of the evening.

Our view from dinner.

Bike FL Day Three (Mar 31)

Angela had take yesterday off again (wise woman!) but she decided to try out her leg on our Day Three of the ride. Another beautiful day, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. By this time, the “points of contact” between us and our bikes were beginning to be “broken in” (which is a better situation than being not “broken in,” just to be clear).

While it was a rolling countryside day, including some lovely horse farms, we didn’t have to endure the steep grades we’d experienced on Day Two.

When we weren’t on the country roads around Brooksville, we were on the shady trail again, some of it on a different length of the trail.

The rest stops were well-provisioned and good stops, even though we had to see to it that Jack didn’t go into areas where horses were not allowed—often, a guy of his size on a bike is called “A Clydesdale.” So no Clydesdales in the photo below.

Among the folks also riding the spring tour were Craig, Linda, and Bruce, from our experiences with Bike Virginia and our Nova Scotia cycle tour back in 2015. Bruce and Craig were always ahead of us (most of the time) but we kept running into Linda along the path. On several occasions we chatted with her on Day Three; and we linked up with Bruce and Craig at tent city or at one or another of the rest stops and events.

Day Four was rainy and a transfer day, so we moved our camp from Brooksville to Inverness, a campground called Mutual Mines Wildlife Refuge, which offered exactly two RV camping sites, and a complicated gate lock that was closed all the time. 

So we took a break from riding, and I’ll tell more about Mutual Mines and our second FL camping adventure in the next blog.

Bike Stats

Day One

  • Ride time=1:40 hour
  • Stopped time=55 min
  • Distance=22 mi
  • Average speed=13.24mph
  • Fastest speed=36.97mph

Day Two

  • Ride time=4 hours
  • Stopped time=1 hour
  • Distance-47.75 mi
  • Average speed=12 mph
  • Fastest speed=30 mph

Day Three

  • Ride time=2:50 hours
  • Stopped time=1:30 hour
  • Distance=33 mi
  • Average speed=11.5 mph
  • Fastest speed=24 mph

Land of the Bays

Didn’t take many photos today because we spent most of it in the down-pouring rain. Went to a lovely national park fondly called The Land of the Bays. It is mostly forest along the coast.

Christina, our “handler” is a pixie-like ball of energy who speaks really good English. Our group is mixed Germans, British, French, and us yanks. The common language is English.

Christina is striking because she loves her job, loves her country, and is very proud of her city. We made two stops along the drive out to the national park: the first was the site of the Song Festival — not music festival, but song fest. She told us that the actual festival began about 200 years ago, near this same site, with choral groups, folk singers, composers, etc. In 1960 they built the enormous acoustic shell and audience park for the festival, and it is held every 5 years. Groups come from all around Eastonia and there is a parade of the talent through town to the site to kick everything off. 70,000 people come to listen throughout the event. It is also the site where Estonians “Sang their independence” in 1990 in their bloodless separation from the broken Soviet Union.

Our next stop was Eastonia’s highest waterfall, more attractive than the 1960s song shell area, so I got some pix. Nothing like what can be found elsewhere in the world, but Eastonians are quite proud of it.

When we began our bike trek, rain was threatened. We took a short detour (wrong turn) and it began raining as we turned around to return to the road. In another 10 km, it was thundering and pelting down. Toward the end, it stopped, and during our late lunch at a restaurant along the way, we began to actually dry out a little. Our pick-up point was along a rocky beach front, and since it was dry, I again got a photo or two. By the end of the day, we had cycled 52 km.

Saw lots of Saturday trekkers in the woods all along the way, and Christina told us they were locals out picking wild blueberries and mushrooms, as the assets if the citizens of Eastonia are available to all for their own use.

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