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.
- 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
- 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.
- Ride time=1:40
- Stopped time=1:50
- Distance-22 mi
- Average speed=13 mph
- Fastest speed=19 mph
- Ride time=3:30
- Stopped time=1:30
- Average speed=13 mph
- Fastest speed=26 mph