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.

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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

First Landing Days

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On our first full day at First Landing State Park, Jack and I lounged a lot. We took a lovely walk on the beach, although it was seriously windy and brisk. Even the birds were hunkered down on their “condo”and I took one pic of a pelican (we saw many) because our friend Annie, who will arrive here on Sunday, just adores pelicans. I sent the pic to her to let her know she’d be able to see some once she arrives.

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Saw some interesting stuff and picked up a nice shell, that reminded me of our Safari Condo Snail that John had made for us last year.

After our beachwalk and lunch, we got the bicycles down for a “shakeout” cruise around the campground and across the road to remind ourselves of the trails that are appropriate for bikes. It was a leisurely 7-mile effort without any pain.

We found a site (175) that has potential for future camping. It’s a drive-through, slightly sandy where the truck might park, but quite nice, with lots of potential for hammock-hanging and privacy.

John and Mary arrived around 5P, to a nice site (177) — in the photo you cannot see a really nice, shady area directly adjacent to their set-up, excellent for hammocks or chairs, or more working space or a screen house. Their setup is quite fine and works well in the site.

We four went out to dinner instead of cooking, as J n M were tired after their drive, so we had excellent seafood (fast service, good beer) and could have chosen to sit outside on the deck but the wind kept us inside. The place was called Dockside (along Shore Dr. northward, on the left and tucked back from a couple of other seafood restaurants nearer the road), and they also sell fresh seafood to purchase and cook yourself.

The next day, we did some more lounging as J n M settled in. We’d been eyeing a spot above Roomba, where some live oaks cling to a dune, as a potential hammock site. The path up to the trees was covered with live oak leaves, so it was incredibly slippery. I tried to clear them off a bit so we wouldn’t break our necks.

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We hung the hammocks and had a nice lounge in the wind and shade. Jack actually fell asleep after reading a bit.

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After lunch, we all four rode across the highway to the trail heads that actually go everywhere. We were looking for a woodsy trail that would take us toward Virginia Beach proper, and found it in the Cape Henry Trail. It’s quite a nice trail, although we had to watch closely for roots and pockets of deep sand so we wouldn’t go butt-over-teakettle. There were many other users also, on a sunny Friday. There is a break in the trail that you can take either toward 64th Street off Atlantic Ave, or you can go right toward an inlet and beach/picnic/boating area. We paused there to assess our timing.

Mary wanted to visit an elderly friend, so she and John turned back at that point, where Jack and I carried on along the Cape Henry Trail toward that same inlet to which one can drive. The trail along this stretch was quite narrow and the “footing” became increasingly sandy, the closer we got to the very pretty inlet.

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But this section of the trail was a raptor area, and we saw many flying osprey and I watched one settle into a high nest in a snag, in the middle of a tidal marsh. Its mate was circling and calling, possibly announcing a hatch, or just communicating with the parent that settled into the nest. By the time I got my camera out, all you could see of the nesting parent was its head.

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We ended up having to walk our bikes through deep, deep sand at the edge of the beach area that was being extensively used by mothers and young kids as we passed. Once I emptied the dune’s worth of sand from my shoes, we carried on to the parking and boat launch area, and rode back along the road to where Mary and John had turned back. We refilled our water bottles, and rode up to 64th St., turned left to head back to camp, and ended up with a nice 14-mile day, with a decent average speed of 9.5. I got “into a zone” as we tore up Shore Drive past the army base and back to camp, and really exercised my legs into the wind all the way to our turnoff. 

While she was out, Mary stopped by Dockside (totally mobbed on a Friday night) to pick up some shrimp. The “mediums” were enormous! We collaborated for dinner: Jack marinated the shrimp for a while in some Old Bay, and then we skewered them to cook on the grill; Mary made a salad; and I cooked up some rice. We had quite a lovely dinner together under the screen tent.