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

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

Cycling Tour Day Two

September 26 – 

We left Melnik and headed to Litomerice today. I’m sorry we did not have more time in Melnik—definitely a town to put on the “do-again-later” list. 

As a settlement above the confluence of the two rivers, Elbe (Labe in Czech) and the Vltava (Voltava or Vitava in English), Melnik has been a town for over 750 years. Tours of the castle are available, and beneath the grand structure are wine cellars where wine tastings can be enjoyed. The town square is pretty and surrounded by lovely buildings, many reflecting the gradual changes in taste through the centuries of architectural styles.

The tradition of wine-making in Melnik is long. Historians associate it with the birth of Christianity in Bohemia, when St. Ludmila had vineyards planted, which then supplied wine for church services. Her son, St. Wenceslaus (the patron saint of wine makers) is said to have trained here, and grape harvests were scheduled for his name day each year. Visitors from all over the Czech Republic come to Melnik each year for the new wine (called “burcak”) of the year.

Alas, we had to leave, so off we cycled.

Riding along the river, there are many markers of historic flood levels. We passed one along our way today, and waaaay up at the top is the indicator, almost invisible, of the flood of 2002. Huge.


As we move north along with the flow of the river, and away from the confluence of the two rivers (Labe & Vltava), the Elbe/Labe gets deeper and more significant to shipping traffic for all of Europe. The ride this day was quite level and easy (including our precipitous descent from the height of the Melnik castle) and we had better weather than the gray, drippy day of yesterday.

Early, we got to a town called Roudnice nad Labem and saw a pretty church and a castle, stopping for info from Milan.


Soon thereafter, we reached the massive Terezin Fortress, originally built at the turn of the 18th century. During WWII, it was turned into a “way station” for political prisoners and Jewish people before they were transferred to the “death camps” farther east. For the Nazis, Terezin was their “poster child” for how well they treated and housed the populations they were “dealing with” and they actually invited the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups to see the “happy Jews” in their care. They also made a very creepy film in which Jewish actors played the parts of the community members who regularly listened to beautiful concerts, grew their own food by working in their own gardens, enjoyed social time after the work day was over, etc. Two or Three months after the film was completed, 7/8 of those actors were dead—sent to Auschwitz or one of the more infamous death camps.

We saw some goats trimming up the grass on the heights of the ramparts when we rode past.


What the world was not allowed to see, however, were the terrible living conditions endured by the prisoners held at Terezin. Before the war, about 7,000 people lived in the town, including the members of the garrison/fortress. In September 1942, when the number of prisoners reached its peak, there were over 58,000 men, women and children crammed into the same space. The average lodging area for one prisoner had fallen to about 1.5 square meters (not quite 2 square yards).

The dormitories, apartment buildings/houses, newly-built barracks, and many “emergency” spaces (unfurnished attics, for example) were used to place the number of people who were imprisoned there. By 1942, 6,000+ people lived in attics.

Reconstruction of a women’s living area in an attic

Of course, this close accommodation resulted in disease, hygiene problems, and epidemics. The cramped circumstances in the “dormitories,” the total absence of privacy, and the unending struggle with parasites were a never-ending part of daily routine in the Terezin Ghetto.

Among the displays we visited to remind us of the Nazi horrors, was an art gallery. While the Nazis allowed Terezin creativity that carried their official “stamp of approval” there was also a sub-culture of art produced (including writings, theatre, music, and other “underground” depictions) to show the real life of the camp. Because of the threat of imminent deportation and certain death if caught, not to mention the scarcity of materials, most of the written forms were short — poetry, diary/epistolary works, skits, etc. We saw drawings of endless queues for food, the overcrowded living areas, suffering and death of prisoners, and masses of coffins piling up daily in the morgue. 


The underground artists tried to smuggle some of their works out of the camp when the “sanctioned” Red Cross visits happened, hoping to draw international attention to the reality of the Nazi genocide. On July 17, 1944, Bedrich Fritta, Otto Ungar, Leo Haas, Ferdinand Bloch, architect Norbert Troller, and collector Leo Strass of Nachod, all arrested for spreading the “propaganda of horror,” were deported with their families to a Gestapo prison in the Small Fortress. Most did not survive the suffering that followed. The works they had managed to hide in various places in the Ghetto was found only after Liberation.

After Terezin, we headed along the river ride and saw many lovely sights along the way, but it was a fast day and the photos are rather sparse along the way. There was one notable rest stop thanks to Hansa.

Carrying on from there, it was not long before we got to our destination, Litomerice, a lovely town first documented in 993. The famous Czech poet, Macha lived here. Most of us stayed at the compact but nice Hotel Apollon, with a lovely courtyard in which we could have sat outside if it had been warmer.

For dinner, we hit a Czech brewery whose name I cannot actually figure out. I think it’s Biskupsky Pivovar u sv. Stepana. Anyway, we had a nice tour of the brewing process at this very new production facility (only about a year old) and also a lovely meal.

Cycling Stats:

  • Ride time: 3 hours
  • Stopped time: 4:30 hours
  • Distance 36 mi.
  • Average speed: 12MPH
  • Fastest speed: 50MPH
  • Ascent: 225
  • Descent: 354

Countdown 2 The Big Trip

Now we begin the countdown to our Baltic Cycling Adventure.

Yesterday, I did laundry, etc., etc. All the details you have to mind when a trip is ended. We are also in the midst of a rebuilding project that is about a month behind schedule, due to the rains. We are replacing my hawk enclosures with new ones, plus attaching a building to them, where I can store all my falconry gear. Before the hawks were in one place and the gear was partly in our basement, and partly in the old farmhouse that is teetering toward the end of its lifetime.

When I left for WI, the house was in place and we had seeded the slopes of the fill used to level the site. Here’s what it looked like when I got home:

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My honey had erected most of one enclosure, and even had the wire and lattice up! Wonderful. So yesterday, we worked on getting the jump box installed, and I put on the last coat of paint, added the perches, etc.

Today, we took the “first in a long time” training bicycle ride – one of our short runs along the Blue Ridge Parkway heading south to Round Meadow (about a 12-mile round trip). Here are some of the sights along the way:

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