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

Sleeping Bear Dunes Park

July 25

According to legend, a mother bear and her two cubs swam from Wisconsin, across Lake Michigan to what is now Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan. In the indigenous telling of the story, the bears risked the journey in hopes of food, because they were starving. 

Tragically, after many days of swimming, the cubs grew weary and slipped beneath the waves. The distraught mother bear continued to the shore, pulled herself from the water, and lay exhausted on the beach gazing at the spot where her cubs perished. 

Sympathizing with her loss, the Great Spirit Manitou raised the two cubs from the depths of the lake and created North and South Manitou Islands. The mother bear became a great sand dune and even today, she keeps watch over her two cubs.

Sleeping Bear Dunes is now a long, narrow National Lakeshore Park in Michigan, along the shore of Lake Michigan, taking in Sleeping Bear Bay, and then Good Harbor Bay at the park’s north. The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center is a “must” to fully enjoy this extraordinary park. It’s a great launch to help you decide what to see and do in the park.

We left the campsite early with our bikes on the Honda, and got maps and advice from the nice folks at the VC, as well as purchasing a few gifties for ourselves and friends.

We set off on what would be quite an adventure, after every bit of an hour’s drive from Kalkaska Campground to Empire, where the VC is, along Rt. 72 all the way. Unfortunately this route takes you through Travers City, although that was not the problem at 10A that it was at 5P. So we parked at the Bar Lake parking area (off Voice Rd., south of the “Dune Climb” and about a mile from the VC) and began riding at about 11 AM.

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We’d been warned that there was some “serious climbing” to be done at the outset of the trail, before getting to the Dune Climb. The person at the VC said there were some 12% climbs. The signs we saw along the roller part of the trail indicated only one 11%, 2@10%, and the rest 8 and 7%. It wasn’t any kind of a big deal. I had to laugh at a couple of the signs that said “Steep Grade Ahead” and it was less than our driveway through the pasture. In other words, NOT steep.

But for some folks, families especially, that would be good info to know before you started. At the end of our ride, a fellow driving through the parking lot as we loaded our bikes back onto the truck asked how we did on the “steep parts.” He was a little younger than we, and he said his buddy who was older, was intimidated by the descriptions. We tried to ease his mind, because he obviously thought his buddy could manage the rolling part. So the folks at the VC aren’t doing a great favor to a lot of folks who are more serious riders.

In any case, the first leg to the actual Sleeping Bear Dunes, where there is a large parking lot and scads of folks enduring the very long and sandy hike up the steep hill to the top, was quite a fun ride. Shady and lovely, good pavement, not terribly many other riders or walkers, it was a great start to a long ride.

The dune hike was pretty awesome to see, however. We did NOT attempt it, but wondered what the view was like from up there. We saw one person who was actually on all fours trying to get up one of the hills.

After passing the Dune Climb, we enjoyed relatively flat cycling to Glen Haven. It says it’s an historic village, but other than the cannery and an old boat, we didn’t see much to get excited about. It used to be a fishing port, since it’s right on Sleeping Bear Bay.

We rode down to the maritime museum, but it was closed. En route, we passed a group of plain aire painters, and stopped to take a few pix. Only one of the painters had been there long enough to have some work on his easel.

There was parking and a pit stop available there, but we pushed on to our next “segment” goal, Glen Arbor, where we thought we’d catch a bite to eat.

When we got there, however, it was just 11:30A, and neither of us was hungry yet. Besides, the place was trammelled by tourists. Glen Arbor is also the site of a bike, canoe, rafting/tubing, and kayak livery, and a generous plenty of restaurants and gift shops. 

We had a bit of trouble finding the route through/around Glen Arbor, as our maps left us confused and flailing. Following some cycling route signs instead of the “heritage trail” signs, we pedaled along some backroads with less traffic than in town; a nice residential section with quiet roads, mostly.

EntrywayFlowers1560

Finally, we found not only the return of the dedicated bike route, but also the put-in for the canoe/kayak livery. It’s next to the parking area called the Crystal River Trailhead, and the livery put-in is Crystal River, called thus because you can see straight through the water to the bottom. The float from there to Glen Arbor looked like it would be a fun something to do next time we’re in the area.

Map2548
Our paper maps did not indicate anything like what we found at the END of our trek through the residential roads.

After the Port Oneida trailhead, we found a shady cemetery in the middle of farm country. It was a great place to pause for water, and a fellow who’d been riding a bike and dragging a burly trailer, apparently full of English Sheepdog, was resting in the shade and throwing sticks for the dog. 

Next along the path we found a wetland (possibly Narada Lake) with (maybe?) swans paddling around (if anyone can tell what kind of water birds they were from the pics below, please drop me a line). The bike path crossed the wetland via a wide, well-built boardwalk.

We thought we’d be riding all the way to the Good Harbor Bay endpoint (according to our paper map) but we had discovered at the cemetery, that part of the trail was blocked out with paint from the signage. We’d heard there was a part of the trail that was under construction or development, so we figured the Park Service didn’t want anyone to go up there—anyone who didn’t want to ride along Rt. 22 and Rt. 651 to get there, anyway. So we figured we’d continue until Bohemian Road, which dead-headed at the western-most beach of Good Harbor Bay, and call it a turn-around point. By that time, we had about 22 miles on our trip.

So we reversed our direction and re-traced our ride back toward the car.

AsterHillside1534
Back at the cemetery, the light was right to see a hillside covered in the pretty purple asters we’d been seeing everywhere along the ride, across Rt. 22 from us.

The swans were gone by the time we re-crossed the boardwalk, and we made it back to Glen Arbor for a spot of lunch at around 1:30, stupidly thinking that a lot of the lunch set would be done by then. But there were still lines out the doors of the most attractive places to eat.

There weren’t many folks at a country store type place where you could get a hot dog at the back and carry it out front to eat. On the side of this place was a Leinenkugel’s sign—I’ve no clue if it was old or not.

LeinnysSign1562

We found another place, however, with a shady terrace and there weren’t many folks there. Steeling ourselves for a bad meal or slow service (since few folks seemed to be eating there), we had a quite nice shrimp taco meal with restorative Pepsi and lots of cold water. It was actually quite fine. I wish we’d remembered the name of the place—someone’s bar and grill, we think. Anyway, it was a great meal stop and charged our batteries for the ride back to the car.

Not far out of Glen Arbor, my bike slipped its chain for the second time of the day (very unusual for my bike, but not a rough loss). When I got it back on, the derailleurs began going crazy. I was not trying to shift but the chain kept leaping from the different sprockets in the back and the two chain rings at the front.

I stopped to see what the problem was, and found one of my chain links to be seriously bent sideways, taking quite a few of the following links into its slant. This link and those following were hitting both derailleurs and forcing the chain to leap from gear to gear. It was the damndest thing and neither of us have a clue how it could have happened. Our best guess is that a stone had lodged itself in between the gear cassette in the back and when the chain hit it, somehow it bent. But that’s only a guess. 

These pix (above) were taken after Jack pried it back into alignment a little with the only tool he had with him.

This happened at mile 38, 3 riding hours into the trek. We had calculated that the endpoint of the ride would be 44-45 miles. So I limped along, keeping the rear cassette in the middle (around 4 or 5), although with Jack’s temporary “fix” (bending it back closer to straight) I was able to use the front gears, switching from the small ring to the larger one—but even then I was down from 20 gears to 2.

At every trail head, we thought about just leaving me behind with Jack heading to the car to come pick me up—the chain braking altogether was a real possibility, and that option was available to us, if that had happened. But it didn’t.

And I took things gently and did some “cross-training” (walking up hills) on the 11% grade, and one of the 10%, easing up all the other grades in gear 14.

BlueFlowers1555
Cross-training = time to stop and smell (photograph) the flowers.

Actually, I was surprised when we made it back to the car, because it didn’t seem all that far. I lost some “average speed” stats, but overall, the injury to my bike was pretty insignificant, if annoying. In fact, by the time I was circling the parking lot, most of the chain-slippage that I’d endured for most of the ride (sometimes it would slip out of 4 and then back in; sometimes it would slip from 4 to 5 and then back to 4) appeared to have abated.

We drove through rush hour Travers City (not recommended) and got back to the campsite by around 6, re-heated the poultry stew on the stovetop, and called it an excellent day.

Bike Stats:

  • Ride Time = 3:52
  • Stopped time = 2:30
  • Distance = 45.5 mi
  • Average speed = 11.75MPH