Bike Florida Spring Cycling Tour Pt. 2

Day Five of the Bike Florida tour (April 2) was a fun cycle that we “interpreted” so we did not have to ride 60-odd miles to see the Gulf of Mexico. The main draw was the potential to see some Manatees, but it was nowhere near warm enough that day for the Manatees to be anywhere near where we met the water and turned around. But it was a great ride anyway. 

What we did to “interpret” the ride was to drive to the Crystal River rest stop and begin our ride from there, pretty much straight along a long causeway, past a marine science center and the “land’s end” picnic and boat launch area. Theoretically, we were also going to end our ride at the cars, but Mark and Jack rode all the way back, hoping the map indicated a long stretch of cycles-only trail (apparently not so). So Angela and I drove the vehicles back to headquarters so we could all have a shower before heading over to the “ride’s end celebration” at a pub in Inverness. But I get ahead of myself.

It was truly the best day of the ride to date. Riding along the causeway out of Crystal River was quite pleasant, and on the way, I noted a sign at a place called Shrimp Landing that indicated they were serving “take out” lunch from 11 to 2. That was on the outbound side of the roadway. Evidently, some cyclists need reminding to ride with the traffic.

We made it to the end of the road and saw the place where Crystal River meets the Gulf of Mexico. There was a sign way away in the water that noted it was a “Manatee Zone.” A friendly cormorant was sunning on the sign.

Jack dipped his tire into the Gulf, just for the symbolism of it all.

On the return ride, we stopped by the Shrimp Landing place and they did, indeed, offer take out lunch. We all ordered shrimp po-boy sandwiches, which came with fries or slaw. Fresh and delicious, although we had to wait for them to be fixed to order. There was even a picnic table out front for our use—a couple of older locals were eating their lunch there, but were done by the time we were ready to start. And as it happened, another couple who’d driven in as we were eating were ready to eat just as we finished. Karma or what?

Behind this old, tired-looking place was the most beautiful bougainvillea I think I’d ever seen. Jack’s yellow jacket contrasted nicely with the enormous vine.

As I said earlier, Angela and I drove the cars back while Mark and Jack rode to HQ. We’d finished our showers and were lounging in our camp chairs in the shade by the time they arrived and reported that we hadn’t missed a thing in skipping that part of the ride.

After their showers, we hung out a while, rather than driving back to camp, because this was the evening of the celebration party, held at The Cove Pub and Grub restaurant nearby. It was pay-as-you-go for beverages and food, and they offered airboat rides to the group as well. A live band as old as the audience demographic was set up in the trees, and they were surprisingly good, aside from being waaaay too loud. But their playlist was fun and there was even some dancing captured on film.

It was a very pretty setting, and a walk down to The Cove itself (for which the restaurant is named) ended at a dock with a couple of seats that I took advantage of to take some pix before it got too dark.

Along the walk back to the party, I noted another tree covered with ferns. Florida is an amazing place.

Day Six (April 3)

The 42 miles of our last day were mostly on the Withlacoochee Trail. Angela felt like her leg was going to begin acting up, and with the return miles, she elected to stop at the rest stop and wait for our return. As a spare body hanging around, the rest stop personnel put her to work, so Angela had her first experience as a bike tour volunteer.

We rode to the trail’s northern terminus in Dunnellen, where the Withlacoochee and Rainbow rivers meet. We were told it was a nice little town to visit, but we didn’t ride anything extra, except for the part where we got lost. By the time we got to the turn-around point, most of the signage had been removed already, so we got a bit disoriented.

In making our way back toward Angela and the first rest stop, we ran into these two famous fellas.

As before the Withlacoochee was a lovely, shady trail and we thoroughly enjoyed our final ride. A little while later, we picked up Angela at the rest stop.

After our showers, we returned to camp via the Publix market in Inverness where we picked up some essentials for dinner. We wanted to fix our final ride dinner together, so Mark and Angela sautéed the scallops, and Jack grilled the asparagus and I made the rice. Of course, we had a nice fire for the first time on this trip.

Overall, the bike tour was a good experience, made more fun with Mark and Angela to accompany us. But both of us agree that our experience would have been much improved (we would have felt more integrated into the “group tour” part of the ride) if we had known we could camp at both of the HQ sites. At the time of our registration, that was not an option.

Tour pros

  • Friendly people
  • Good registration process
  • Great weather
  • Beautiful trails
  • Brooksville & Inverness (ride “hubs”)
  • Being able to “interpret” each day’s rides
  • Police/monitor support in town

Tour cons

  • Having to port our bikes to the start each day (and back to camp at the end of each day)
  • Surprise hills of significance
  • No organized, on-route lunches, and no on-route lunch options (except for the shrimp shack) on any of the routes
  • Decent but not superior rest stop food
  • Not enough shore time
  • Hardly ever saw any SAG support vehicles
  • VERY busy downtowns to start & end the rides
  • Substantial amount of urban cycling

We liked the Brooksville area in particular and would return to that neighborhood again. But there would have to be compelling scenery or opportunities for us to choose another Bike Florida Spring Tour. One of our major objections was the lack of lunch opportunities, except for the odd rest stop’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, for a substantial midday meal. In summary, we feel the tour did not deliver the level of accommodation we might expect for the price.

Cycling stats

Day 5

  • Ride time=1:40
  • Stopped time=1:50
  • Distance-22 mi
  • Average speed=13 mph
  • Fastest speed=19 mph

Day 6

  • Ride time=3:30
  • Stopped time=1:30
  • Distance=45.5
  • Average speed=13 mph
  • Fastest speed=26 mph

Mutual Mines Wildlife Refuge Campground, Inverness, FL

I’m afraid I misspoke in my prior post (Pt. 1) about Mutual Mines Wildlife Refuge—there are plenty of sites there, although they are unserviced, boondocking sites (water available on the grounds, however). 

I was conflating our interim campground when we head north again (in South Carolina) and Mutual Mines—the interim one has two serviced sites with the remainder being tent/unserviced sites. My bad and apologies. 

Mutual Mines, just outside of Inverness, FL was a lovely spot—although it did, as previously recorded, have a tricky, always-locked gate to which we’d been given the numerical code to the padlock on a chain for April. Evidently, “bad behavior” forced the state to close public/walk-up access to the area with a padlocked gate. 

Maybe it was an April Fool’s joke on us, but the number we’d been given for the padlock had not been “engaged” by the time we arrived on April 1. With a phone call to the headquarters, however, we managed to get the March number and finally got through the gate. Later, a ranger came by to let us know that she’d changed the padlock to April’s number.

In any case, there’s some history to the Mutual Mines location and name, and it was really quite a lovely and quiet spot. For those who want to read more of the history part, I’ve placed that at the end of the blog.

Meanwhile, back at camp, Mark and Angela had an issue with a part of their awning structure and had to head to Orlando for a replacement, where Mark had called and the part was available. They had just enough time to make it there before closing time. 

After the rains quelled, I took quite a nice stroll around the quarry/mine that is today a lovely lake with walking paths here and there. Here are a few pix from my stroll.

If we ever return, it looks like Site #1 would be private & tucked away, it’s large, and would have more sunshine directed to our solar panels than site 5.

There were really neat old trees everywhere, near the water as well as right next to Mark and Angela’s site (#4). I called their the “fern tree” because it was fuzzy on all the top surfaces of the limbs because small ferns grew all along the bark. I’d never seen anything like it and found it to be a delightful anomaly.

Later, Mark called—they were at the Cycle Florida Headquarters site in Inverness, headed into the shower trucks. By the time we got there, they were showered and we headed to dinner. It was a seafood place, and I ate some super fried catfish. But the neat thing about the restaurant was all the artwork. Here’s a sample.

History of Mutual Mine Campground

This camp is located on the site of an abandoned phosphate mine. (When you see and walk on the well-packed, white, chalky roads in the area, that fact becomes obvious.)

Just before the turn of the twentieth century, freezing temperatures destroyed the citrus groves in this area. Fired with the loss of their income, the residents turned to phosphate mining. Dunnellon had already become a major producer of the mineral on the world market. Locals observed this success and soon had their own phosphate book in full swing. Named for the Mutual Mining Co. of Savannah, GA, the operation here was supervised by W. H. Dunn, who earned $65/month. 

Laborers were paid 50 cents a day and mined the ore with picks and shovels until huge steam shovels (on large platform barges) were developed. 

Quarrying phosphate, Platform Steam Shovel, Camp’s Globe Mine (Hernandez),

The ore was sent by train to the Florida gulf port of Yankeetown, in Levy County, for export to Europe. The remnants of the elevated trams that were created here in the forest for the tracks are still much in evidence, along Forest Road #9. 

With Germany and Belgium as the main buyers of phosphate, the mine closed in 1914 at the onset of World War I. Soon, other FL counties began yielding a higher grade of phosphate. Today, Polk County, as well as Hillsborough, Hardee, and Hamilton Counties produce 80% of the world’s phosphate.

How Phosphate Was Formed

Florida is blessed with a bountiful supply of phosphate that primeval seas deposited here millions of years ago. The phosphate comes from sediment that was deposited in layers on the seafloor. The phosphate-rich sediments are believed to have formed from the precipitation of phosphate from seawater along with skeletons and waste products of creatures living in the seas.

In the early 1800s, scientists discovered that phosphorus promotes growth in plants and animals. Before this discovery, bones, which contain the element phosphorus, were used as an agricultural fertilizer. Today, phosphate rock provides fertilizer’s phosphorus.

Phosphate rock was first mined in England in 1847. It was in 1881 that Captain J. Francis LeBaron, of the Army Corps of Engineers, discovered Florida’s treasure in black phosphate pebbles in the Peace River. A “hard rock” phosphate reserve in North Central Florida was discovered next. Thus began Florida’s phosphate mining industry, which now accounts for about 80% of the phosphate used in the US, as well as about 25% of that used around the world.

The FL we know today and the phosphate buried in its earth is a relatively recent product of geologic processes that have been at work for a long time. Most of what is now FL was once underwater. Marine creatures in the form of coral, shellfish, and marine skeletons deposited the limestone that makes up the sedimentary layers. As time passed, sea levels dropped and the limestone became exposed. In central FL, the Bone Valley Formation is found on top of the Hawthorn Formation and is under about 20-40 feet of sand.

Fossils from the sedimentary deposits of the Bone Valley Formation—the heart of FL’s phosphate mining industry—are often uncovered in the process of phosphate mining and give us a glimpse of Florida’s prehistoric past. Among the abundant fossils found are those from the sea creatures that lived in the shallow waters that covered FL in the distant past. These fossils include the teeth of giant sharks and the bones of huge whales. The remains of hundreds of species of land animals, birds, and plants are also found in the layers of rock beneath the present-day surface. These fossils include many species the came to FL to escape the advancing glaciers of the Great Ice Ages. Some of these animals migrated to North America from other parts of the world, some of them crossing the Bering Strait land bridge from Asia when sea levels were lower. Others traveled around the rim of the Gulf of Mexico when areas now submerged were exposed.

Other evidence tells us that FL supported this great variety of creatures with abundant food supplies made possible by a temperate climate. Fossilized remains dug from the Earth during phosphate mining tell us a great deal about the life of the past and about early geological developments in FL.

Overall, I feel there is much of Mutual Mines, and one wildlife refuge (part of the same system) closer to Inverness, that would be fun to explore and learn about. Maybe our next FL adventure?

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