Clearwater to St Petersburg

•March 20, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Day 8: Florida Coast-to-Coast bike tour

Start: Summerside Inn [1477 S Ft Harrison Avenue, Clearwater Beach FL 33756]

Finish: Ponce de Leon Hotel [95 Central Ave N, St Petersburg FL 33701]

Strava track: https://www.strava.com/activities/6830038834

RideWithGPS route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38699248

By day 8, which wasn’t really in our original plans, I was quite ready to finish the route and not ride my bike for awhile. We looked forward to seeing Rimas in the afternoon, but in the meantime we had to get to Gulfport. The Pinellas Trail is an amazing piece of infrastructure, providing an interurban highway for cyclists and pedestrians. In most places the trail separates walkers from riders, and both from vehicles. We detoured to Walsingham Park and the Florida Botanical Gardens, where turtles and birds and gators coexisted, and where I learned about the various kinds of palm trees. After passing the Madeira KOA (where I’d originally thought we’d stay, but in hindsight was glad we didn’t), we crossed the long bridge over the bayou and found Cafe Croissant for coffee and breakfast sandwiches.

We’d arrived at the meeting spot too early, so we made our way to Gulfport Beach. Luckily the Tuesday market was happening, so we wandered through the tents and waited by the casino. Rimas arrived on a Brompton and found us, then whisked us off to a local brewpub where he treated us to congratulatory beers and snacks. From there he escorted us back to the Pinellas Trail, pointing out interesting sights all the way to the St Pete Pier. After snapping pictures and arranging transport for the next day, Rimas rode back home. Peter and I made our way upstairs to the tiki bar called Teak. We were too weak for any more alcohol, and dawdled at a table sipping on lemonades, reveling in our accomplishment.

That night we stayed at the Ponce de Leon Hotel, which is conveniently close to the end of the C2C route and very reasonably priced. It’s historic, and has been visited by many famous athletes, politicians, and personalities. Our corner room on the 5th floor had huge windows on two sides, and was super comfortable. While in St Petersburg we walked around the waterfront and through the historic Old Northeast neighborhood. We skipped the Dali museum (because they required advance ticket purchase and was sold out for the day) and thoroughly enjoyed the Museum of the American Arts & Crafts Movement. For dinner we feasted on sushi at Sushi Inc, and walked to the local Publix to stock up on snacks for the train trip.

Rimas picked us up the next day to drive us and our bikes across to Tampa (we found no suitable way to cross Tampa Bay on bikes) and drop us off at the Amtrak station. After a long but uneventful overnight train ride, and a short bike ride, I arrived back home. Once again, we’d organized an interesting bike tour while our cars stayed in the driveway.

I would recommend the Florida Coast-to-Coast route to experienced bike tourists, with specific hints (based on our own mistakes) how to make the bad days better and truly enjoy the area. We made our own choices this trip, but there are MANY more opportunities than the ones we took. Parting tips:

  • Stop at the freshwater springs whenever possible, even if it’s a bit out of your way. They’re magical, and unique to Florida.
  • Get off the route long enough to see the numerous lakes you’ll pass, which are otherwise out of sight.
  • The “coast-to-coast” name should come with a caveat. If you want to see and enjoy the beaches on both ends of the route, you’ll have to work for it. Both east and west coasts have barrier islands that prevent you from seeing the Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico, unless you detour beyond the official route to explore.
  • Whether camping or staying indoors, explore ALL of your options thoroughly. Camping and lodging are sparse in some places. It’s possible (though it does incur some risks) to keep your itinerary loose rather than planned out and locked in.
  • Study “the gap” thoroughly. Save yourself stress and take the wise recommendations of locals like David Rose, who’s done it a bunch and shared this route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38803570?fbclid=IwAR3YUup-eVRpDpZF0J5n6RDbAbIgoWBLKKzwtHgbF1cQCKMlHYo3SOHJVsU
  • Think ahead for water and food stops. Though C2C uses lovely well-developed trails, some of them are missing vital amenities. Even in areas with lots of houses and car traffic, it might be difficult to find food and water refills.
  • Be prepared for some headwinds and wacky weather.

Starkey to Clearwater

•March 20, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Day 7: Florida Coast-to-Coast bike tour

Start: JB Starkey backcountry site #2

Finish: Summerside Inn [1477 S Ft Harrison Avenue, Clearwater Beach FL 33756]

Strava track (backcountry site to campground): https://www.strava.com/activities/6825371639

Strava track (campground to Clearwater): https://www.strava.com/activities/6825372475

RideWithGPS route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38699248

We woke up early but well rested in Starkey backcountry site #2. As we were almost out of water (one of the few negatives about primitive backcountry camping), we decided to cruise down to the Starkey campground and make our breakfast there. Peter navigated to a huge pavilion with several picnic tables, where we spread out tarps and clothes to dry. The bath house was next door, so we took turns using the facilities and cooked up some food for breakfast. We were in the campground awhile — I’d say well over an hour — and saw no one who appeared to work there. We noticed many empty sites as we walked through the loop. And after we’d done everything we wanted to do, we left.

Let me point out that we had 1. used backcountry site #2, 2. used the picnic pavilion, 3. used the bath house, 4. used electrical outlets, 5. refilled our containers with water, and overall thoroughly enjoyed our experience at JB Starkey. And we did it all for free. Not that we weren’t willing to pay, we absolutely were! I even had a person on the phone at one point, and was practically begging for them to offer me a site so I could give them my credit card number. But because they were so dismissive of same-day reservations or walk-ups, they lost out. We found what we needed and moved on, leaving no trace. My recommendation to C2C riders is, reserve in advance if that’s how you roll; otherwise, just show up and don’t sweat it. My advice to the managers of JB Starkey (Pasco County) is to think through your policies so they work better for everyone; you’re shooting yourselves in the foot.

We stopped at the Starkey Market for second breakfast including oranges, grapes, mangoes, muffins and coffee. Peter’s rear tire was developing a lump on the sidewall, so our priority was to get to Tarpon Springs where we’d find a bike shop. They didn’t have what he needed, so we gambled the deteriorating tire would last him til the end of the trip (it did). We strolled through the Sponge Docks during the hottest and most crowded time of day and, not wanting to fight for a table in the busy restaurants, rode another 10-ish miles into Dunedin for Mexican food at Casa Tina. Dunedin is quaint and worth a long pause to stroll the streets and look out at the water.

By this point we were both tired of being in the saddle and decided, now that we’d reached the Gulf coast, we’d like to linger awhile longer rather than push to St Petersburg. We had one buffer day in our schedule, so this was a doable option. The cheapest and most convenient lodging we could find was the Summerside Inn in Clearwater. Arriving at the roadside motel, it didn’t look like much, but the room itself was surprisingly spacious, clean, and well appointed. It even had a kitchenette with a sink, refrigerator, and microwave. The manager was gracious and curious about our trip. After we showered, we contacted our friend Rimas who spends a lot of his time at his mom’s place in Gulfport, and arranged a meetup with him the next day.

Withlacoochee to Starkey

•March 20, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Day 6: Florida Coast-to-Coast bike tour

Start: Crooked River Campground [Silver Lake Rd, Brooksville, FL 34602]

Finish: JB Starkey backcountry site #2

Strava track (ride): https://www.strava.com/activities/6820423833

Strava track (walk along Withlacoochee River): https://www.strava.com/activities/6818251496

RideWithGPS route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38696564

This day more than made up for the last two. We got up after a good night’s rest in our Crooked River campsite, made a hot breakfast, and went for a walk along the Withlacoochee River as the sun started to take the chill out of the air.

Having seen the intersection to the Good Neighbor Trail as we passed it the night before, we anticipated today’s ride would be easier. But when we rode up and took that left turn onto the trail, it’s hard to overstate how great it felt. Spinning easily on fresh pavement through the quiet woodlands of Withlacoochee, as the temperatures quickly rose and we kept peeling off layers — for me, this was the C2C at its best.

We got to Brooksville and walked around the old train depot, then followed Brooksville Rd into the center of town. The road was paved in brick, half of them stamped with Augusta Block. Not only does a brick road look nice and nod to its history, it probably prevents excessive speeding. We visited the water tower, the cute little Pik’d Market & Cafe (which was unfortunately closed), and the county courthouse where twisted Live Oaks dominated the grounds. Peter scouted until he found Mountaineer Coffee open, so we had a second breakfast at one of their picnic tables.

Our expectations of the Suncoast Trail were far exceeded, because the bike path is so well separated from the highway. We stopped noticing the noise of cars. We found a “wild life viewing” spot with a bench next to a small lake where we took a break, said hello to some cows who came up to the fence, waited out an afternoon shower, and otherwise forgot we were basically next to a busy road.

Eventually we made the right turn onto the Starkey Wilderness Bike Trail. As we rolled away from the highway, it was almost as glorious as the beginning of the Good Neighbor Trail.

Again I’ll indulge a little rant about camping on the C2C. I’ll happily praise JB Starkey as a true gem with beautiful camping facilities, cabins, bath houses, and shelters. It’s also extremely well located to act as a natural stopping point for C2C cyclists. But their policy, as was reiterated when I called, is not to take same-day reservations or walk-ins. The only way you can reserve a site is online (pretty difficult on a cell phone with limited internet access). And they were outright dismissive when I asked about vacant spots for the night. The outcome of their policy is, you can either plan and reserve days in advance or take the risk of having nowhere to stay. To me this isn’t just unreasonable, it’s dangerous. In a remote wilderness area (I noted the signs saying “If you are lost on the trails, call this phone number”), why leave people guessing whether they can find a safe haven? Gemini Springs has tent sites available and free to anyone who shows up on a bike, and so do some of the other campgrounds. Why isn’t this the norm on the C2C?

We rolled through the jaw-dropping beautiful Starkey wilderness, faced with a real dilemma about where we’d spend the night. We were aware of the backcountry sites, which are located 5-6 miles east of the developed campground. When we located site #2 (the one closest to the trail) and found it empty, we pulled over and debated staying there vs passing it up. Either way we were taking a chance. Someone might show up at #2, and if they weren’t willing to share (there was plenty of space for two tents) we’d have to leave. Alternatively, we could get to the campground and be turned away. Site #2 is gorgeous, nestled in the sawgrass which glowed in the golden light of the setting sun. Only one or two other cyclists rolled by, and we decided to stay. Peter scrounged for wood and built a fire in the large ring while I cooked some dinner. No one else appeared, and the campfire kept us toasty right up until we contained the embers and went to sleep.

West Orange to Silver Lake

•March 20, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Day 5: Florida Coast-to-Coast bike tour

Start: West Orange (commando camp)

Finish: Crooked River Campground [Silver Lake Rd, Brooksville, FL 34602]

Strava track (West Orange to Clermont): https://www.strava.com/activities/6817683752

Strava track (Clermont to Withlacoochee “the gap”): https://www.strava.com/activities/6817687095

RideWithGPS route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38695785

Day 5 in the saddle, after primitive camping with no running water, I was feeling very grimy and sore. And today we were going to ride “the gap”. To get to the next campgrounds with amenities in Withlacoochee State Forest and avoid the rumored nightmare of riding on SR 50 (Cortez Blvd), we had to somehow get through/around the no man’s land of Richloam WMA. The Florida C2C has “plans” for continuous paved multi-use trails here, but as of March 2022 a significant road gap still exists.

Our first move was to get someplace civilized and wait out the oncoming storm. A “bomb cyclone” was sweeping through the East coast, bringing thunderstorms (or even snow, in some places) and plummeting temperatures. We followed the route into Clermont, chatting with a few friendly runners along the way. They explained the town had cancelled a triathlon that day, but athletes still showed up to enjoy part of the course before the rain came. We found our way to town and into the Montrose Street Market. Just as the skies opened up, we got cozy with coffee and breakfast sandwiches while we watched the show outside. After 3-4 hours (the coffee shop was very tolerant of our loitering), the storm subsided enough that we walked around the block to Clermont Brewing Company for lunch and a beer, which fueled our resolve to face “the gap”.

The C2C Facebook group provided great suggestions for safe detours, but the best option adds about 20 miles to the trip. So of course we got creative and decided to try something else. Instead of heading to the recommended northern detour, we got through Groveland and navigated roads to the south of SR 50 hoping they’d lead west. Paved roads turned to sand (I dubbed it “Florida gravel”), which for the most part was packed solidly enough to ride. There were a couple of exceptions, where we had to clip out and walk over some loose patches.

Admiring the farmland, being entertained by frisky calves running along the fenceline in mock “stampedes,” and thinking we were making progress, the road suddenly came to and end at a gate. Someone in a pickup truck (presumably the land owner) approached the gate from the other side. Wanting to avoid a potential confrontation, we backtracked to where we’d left the pavement. Unfortunately, our only other option was to cross SR 50 and take the northern detour after all. Go ahead and say I told ya so, but we were enjoying our southern explorations until they turned out not to be fruitful.

After crossing SR 50 and heading north on CR 469 toward Center Hill, conditions got worse. The road is two lanes, and RideWithGPS heatmaps showed that the locals use it pretty often. But there is no shoulder, and we were passed by numerous cars and oversized pickup trucks. One idiot driver deliberately passed too close and “coal-rolled” us (stepped on the gas to produce black exhaust). We’re used to riding country roads, but this was the worst kind, and it was starting to feel dangerous and inhospitable.

As we turned west after Center Hill, we took a couple opportunities to leave the main road, which provided some relief. We pulled over in Bushnell to eat more ice cream. Sadly, the shop didn’t want to refill our bottles, saying they didn’t trust the water quality.

As our day had gotten much longer than planned, we wanted to get off the busy roads before dark and were pressed for time. Peter let me paceline behind him the rest of the way into Nobleton (again with the relentless headwinds, ugh). The glare of the setting sun meant we were far less visible to vehicles approaching us from behind, and yet another shoulderless road added the challenge of annoying rumble strips as we hugged the white line. Crossing the bridge and turning left to the Withlacoochee Trail, we finally got a break from a long and very stressful day of riding.

That last few miles we coasted down the trail in the dark. I could see stars through the opening in the tree canopy. Arriving where Silver Lake Rd leads to several campgrounds, we realized there’s no official connection to the bike trail. We found a dirt path that led around the end of the guardrail and up to the road, but it wasn’t until the next day we saw a sign (it’s called the “Snowbird path” or something like that). From the trail, this path is very hard to see in the dark. Really, considering the popularity of these campgrounds and their convenience to the C2C, how hard would it be to create a paved and signed connection there??

Earlier I had phoned in and reserved the last available campsite at Silver Lake. After groping around to find it (we were really grouchy and unfocused by this point), site #19 turned out to be smack up against the freeway and noisy with car traffic. Next door the RV campers and their yappy little dog watched us pull in, take one glance, and get on the phone immediately to plead for a better option.

Central reservations for the Silver Lake campgrounds could only tell us that there was one site left at Crooked River, further down the road. We agreed to check it out without officially changing our reservation (which would’ve cost double, since it was too late to cancel). The site at Crooked River was right next to the bath house, and more importantly it was peaceful, which suited us just fine.

In truth, there were plenty of vacant spots, and we could have chosen one of many. Two years into a pandemic, it seems everyone has gravitated to outdoor activities, but many aren’t hardy enough to show up when the weather is less than ideal. That night the temps dropped to almost freezing, though we were well prepared with clothes and a down sleeping bag. These days the public campgrounds rarely have staff on site. They prefer to handle all scheduling by phone or online, which is awkward for bike tourists. To me there is a big problem with developed campgrounds that have no policy for walk-ins and no accommodation for C2C cyclists touring without a preplanned itinerary. All we need is a patch of ground and perhaps bathroom facilities, and my belief is no one should be turned away. Where exactly do they expect people to go while riding bikes in the dark, an extra 20 miles to a $300 room at the Hilton?!? (More on that later…..)

My recommendation to C2C cyclists is, show up at the campgrounds and don’t fret about reservations (though by all means pay them the fee, if you can actually connect with a human who will take it). Skip Silver Lake campground entirely, and proceed down the road to Crooked River or Cypress Glen, where it’s quieter and friendlier to tent campers. Take a hot shower, pitch your tent, and relax. It’ll be fine.

Gemini Springs to West Orange

•March 20, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Day 4: Florida Coast-to-Coast bike tour

Start: Gemini Springs Park [Spring-To-Spring Trail, DeBary, FL 32713]

Finish: West Orange (commando camp)

Strava track (Gemini Springs to Ocoee): https://www.strava.com/activities/6892788229

Strava track (Ocoee to West Orange): https://www.strava.com/activities/6892728000

RideWithGPS route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38695549

It’s fair to say this was one of our least favorite segments of the Florida C2C route. We left Gemini Springs with some regret because it was so idyllic, and things deteriorated after that. The Cross Seminole Trail is mostly a separated path along busy roadways. The section south of Lake Monroe down Rinehart Rd and over Rt 4 is through busy suburbia, including some harrowing intersections with traffic lights, and most of the walk signals don’t seem to work. Still, we got to ride safely away from traffic.

There is a road gap from the Seminole-Wekiva Trail to Clarcona, and it was in that section that we really started to feel like we’d landed in suburban dystopia. The route went through miles and miles of neighborhoods with nondescript housing and almost no amenities. Of course, the roads were busy because people have little choice but to drive anywhere they need to go.

We had passed up the Clarcona Horse Camp because, even though we were both grateful for a low mileage day, we were willing to press on to someplace more appealing. Having had no breakfast, we were hungry and running low on energy. We finally flagged down a local cyclist, who pointed us in the direction of a strip mall where we could find lunch. A little diner called Breakfast Club of Ocoee was super busy, but gave us a booth. We charged up devices (my Polar watch had crashed by that point, so I didn’t accurately record the day’s ride) and both had a great meal for about $25.

Magnolia Park said they were booked solid and had no spare room for another tent. And we didn’t feel like backtracking to the horse camp. With dwindling options for where we’d stay that night, we figured we’d at least get to Winter Garden and hopefully see Lake Apopka close by. The day had been a slog and needed some enjoyment, somewhere.

Winter Garden is charming. The town has the beautiful and historic Edgewater Hotel, but an inquiry at the desk said they had no vacancies or cancellations. We ate ice cream cones and loitered by the fountain under Wisteria vines. And we stopped in Winter Garden Wheel Works to get their hot take on recommended routes to avoid Rt 50 between Groveland and Withlacoochee. Alas, with no reason to stay in town longer, we pressed on to find someplace to sleep.

It amazed us that the C2C route, if one follows it religiously, provides ZERO views of the massive Lake Apopka unless one goes out of their way to see it. So we did, coasting into the Oakland Nature Preserve and walking another 2/3 mile out the boardwalk to the lake. By that time it was near dusk. We watched Moorhens on the water and a parade of Egrets flying in formation to their night roost. Sitting in that pavilion by ourselves, we let go of the day’s stress and took in the lovely scene. But dark was coming fast, so we got back onto the South Lake Trail (false advertising, if you ask me).

We considered stopping at the West Orange Trail Killarney Station, but figured we might be challenged if we tried to stay there (even though it was clearly part of the trail infrastructure, there were locked doors and posted hours). The bathrooms were inaccessible anyway. Somewhere a mile or two past that, we found a nice patch of woods where, about 100 feet off the trail, we could pitch our tent on a soft bed of pine needles without being seen or bothering anyone. Peter said he enjoyed that spot more than anywhere else we stayed, for how isolated and quiet it was.

Sometimes commando camping is the right answer. And in this segment of the C2C, it might be the ONLY answer if you haven’t planned out and stuck to an itinerary, because the options for camping (or hotels, or even AirBnB or WarmShowers) are pretty sparse. Our rules are, we only stop on land that we’re pretty sure is public, and we leave no trace. Arrive late, get out early, and leave no evidence that we were there. A more typical choice is that campers resign themselves to staying in Clarcona, necessitating a short and a long day on both sides. In the end we were happy with our alternative.

Port Orange to Gemini Springs

•March 20, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Day 3: Florida Coast-to-Coast bike tour

Start: Nova Family Campground [1190 Herbert St, Port Orange, FL 32129]

Finish: Gemini Springs Park [Spring-To-Spring Trail, DeBary, FL 32713]

Strava track: https://www.strava.com/activities/6804676852

RideWithGPS route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38681709

The puurrrrrr of Harley Davidsons. Coming in late, starting out early, revving to troubleshoot issues, the Nova Family Campground was full of them. It wasn’t as though I could ignore the noise, but surprisingly it didn’t keep me awake or irritate me. I’d rather coexist with Harley riders than Florida pickup drivers any day; the people on those loud motorcycles were polite and neighborly.

The roads of Port Orange were no more fun the second day, but at least it wasn’t raining when we set out. Soon the roads gave way to the Central Florida Rail Trail, which took us to Maytown where we’d connect with the official Florida Coast-to-Coast route. The prior 120-ish mile tour of Florida’s east coast was Peter’s idea, to add miles and sights to our trip.

The Florida C2C makes the most of the state’s bike infrastructure, connecting numerous rail trails and separated bike paths all the way through central Florida. Often these paths are alongside a road, but at least riding bikes we weren’t forced to play in traffic. And most impressively, the trails go places. The route took us around the north side of Lake Monroe. The afternoon brought a drenching rain, and by that point I was soaked through and struggling to stay warm. But because we’d changed directions a few times, headwinds weren’t as persistent, and the ride was calm and scenic.

The Volusia County rail trails are relatively new, well paved and well signed. Benches are available frequently, although they could benefit from a few shelters and water fountains. Entering the more urban area of DeBary, we took the back entrance to Gemini Springs Park and meandered our way to a covered pavilion with a large wooden table (I think they call it the Smokehouse). With restrooms right there, we quickly got into dry clothes and hung up all the wet stuff, then cooked dinner using our camp stove.

I’ll say many good things about Gemini Springs. The first of which is, they have a tent site (campsite #1) available for anyone who arrives by bike. And it’s FREE. I called and they took my registration over the phone. The campground was almost empty, so we had hot showers and a peaceful place to stay at no cost, and with no prior reservation. (Point of note: Lake Monroe Park campground next door also has this arrangement.)

Gemini Springs is gorgeous and magical. It’s one of Florida’s unique “blue holes” where a freshwater aquifer pumps millions of gallons of clear water to the surface, creating a crystal blue pool teeming with fish, turtles, and greenery. They don’t allow swimming (due to high bacteria levels), but it’s a beautiful place to observe wildlife and nature. I LOLed reading some negative reviews, where people object that the campground is dark and quiet, and you have to leave your car outside the fence — pffft, that’s exactly what makes it so lovely! Definitely my kinda place.

St Augustine to Port Orange

•March 20, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Day 2: Florida Coast-to-Coast Bike Tour

Start: Agustin Inn [29 Cuna Street, St Augustine FL 32084]

Finish: Nova Family Campground [1190 Herbert St, Port Orange FL 32129]

Strava track: https://www.strava.com/activities/6800466498

RideWithGPS route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38681626

Two Harleys had been given prime parking inside the gated courtyard of the Agustin Inn. So nobody complained when we unlocked and packed our bikes on the porch, under a roof. Leaving St Augustine we paused along the waterfront promenade, watching dozens of sailboats swinging on their mooring balls. It was going to be another windy day, sadly not to our advantage.

A bridge took us over to Anastasia Island, where we detoured to see the St Augustine Lighthouse. Beyond that, the beach roads became rather monotonous. Seeing a sign for Fort Matanzas, a national park and monument, we stopped for a break. A sign said a boat tour was about to leave, so we asked about tickets and were told only one was available. Dejected to have missed that opportunity, we then realized Peter’s watch hadn’t reset to daylight savings time, and we would’ve had to wait an hour anyway.

Fighting the headwinds through miles and miles of nothingness, interrupted by only a few private RV resorts, we ached for a stop and some food. The road through the Beverly Beach area had a wide side path, and as we cruised along hoping for signs of civilization, we were halted by the enthusiastic greeting of a gray haired, bearded Harley dude. He wanted to know all about our analog bike tour, and claimed to be a member of the Adventure Cycling Association. He seemed fascinated by how little gear we carried, and how it was mounted on our bikes. He ran to grab a water bottle out of his saddlebags, and we had a moment of solidarity over our similar drink containers. I asked permission to take his picture, and he smiled for the camera. He encouraged us that not much further we would find restaurants, and we were relieved to stop at the Turtle Shack Cafe and eat tacos on the shady porch.

We rode through Daytona and saw masses of motorcycles gathered at some of the restaurants and bars. The whole day had been a bit like being part of Rolling Thunder, really. But far more concerning were the relentless headwinds, and rain that escalated to a full-on downpour about 15 miles before reaching our destination, forcing us to seek shelter in a gazebo and dig out our rain gear.

The final stretch on Big Tree Rd, S Nova Rd, and Herbert St kinda totally sucked. Separated bike paths had disappeared, and we rode through puddles in the dark. We took refuge from another downpour in a strip mall Mexican restaurant called Agave. Neither of us was particularly hungry, but treating ourselves to homemade mole and margaritas seemed like the right idea to calm our nerves.

I must have looked miserable as I tried to sit at our booth without dripping all over the place. A friendly voice from the table next to ours said, it’s okay, hang your wet jacket on the stool over here so you can dry off and warm up. She introduced herself as Linda, a local middle school teacher. Dining and drinking alone, she was soon sharing stories of middle school drama that made our complaints petty in comparison. Teenagers are awful, but she was clearly the winner in her classroom! By the end of our meal, her welcoming personality and great conversation had distressed and cheered us all up.

Our tent site at Nova Family Campground had vacant spots on both sides and was a short walk to the showers, so we were comfortable and slept well.

Jacksonville to St Augustine

•March 20, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Day 1: Florida Coast-to-Coast Bike Tour

Start: Jacksonville Amtrak station [3570 Clifford Lane, Jacksonville FL 32209]

Finish: Agustin Inn [29 Cuna Street, St Augustine FL 32084]

Strava track: https://www.strava.com/activities/6794927622

RideWithGPS route: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/38681157

In early March 2022, we rode 423+ miles in Florida, from the eastern Atlantic beaches to the Gulf coast on the western side of the state. We connected Adventure Cycling Association’s Atlantic Coast Route with the Florida Coast-to-Coast route. From the Washington DC area we took Amtrak’s Silver Star to Jacksonville, rode our bikes for the next 8 days, and got on Amtrak Silver Star again in Tampa to return home. Both legs of our train trip were overnighters, and we bought coach tickets (jumped on a two-for-one deal that made it really cheap). For this trip we took advantage of Amtrak’s bike service, which costs an extra $20 per bike, allowing us to check our bikes on the baggage car. We always feel accomplished when we can pull off a trip like this while leaving our cars at home parked in the driveway.

Our train arrived in JAX about two hours late. (Plus two days, given that a freight train derailment had mucked up the entire East corridor and forced us to reschedule. Also as we waited for our train, a truck got stuck in the underpass at the Amtrak station; we watched it happen. And don’t even ask about the loud and rude woman who made our overnight train trip pretty miserable! So many bad omens….) We didn’t have much time to waste to get out of Jacksonville and arrive at our destination before dark.

To navigate from the train station out to the beaches, there were few bike-friendly route options. We chose the one recommended by Adventure Cycling Association for JAX airport access, connecting to the regular Atlantic Coast route (Section 6). The ACA route took us north of the Saint Johns River and east through a semi-industrial area with light traffic, crossing the river again via the Mayport Ferry which runs every half hour and costs $2 for bicycles.

South of Mayport we made an impromptu stop at a little shop called Pie Heaven. As we enjoyed our slices, we had a lovely conversation with the women who own and run the place. They explained their mission to do good in the world by feeding people pie. Who can argue?!?

Passing through Ponta Vedra Beach, we stopped at a beach access where Juan Ponce de Leon purportedly first sighted the coastline of what is now Florida. It turned out to be the only time we walked on beach sand the entire trip.

Our tour along the Atlantic coast coincided with the annual Bike Week event. This fact was unbeknownst to us before overhearing a comment on the train, but became increasingly obvious as we saw more and more Harley Davidson motorcycles. All told, I’d rather share the road with these guys than cars and trucks. It’s not like they can sneak up on you, as loud as they are, and bikers tend to be very respectful of bicyclists. We pedaled by a few who’d stopped and I yelled “Hey, it’s Bike Week, right?!” which elicited laughs and cheers.

We arrived in St Augustine and navigated the last few miles to our B&B in the dark. The Agustin Inn was friendly, provided us a comfortable room, and gave us a great breakfast.

A More Typical Starbucks

•December 1, 2019 • Leave a Comment

2019 Coffeeneuring Ride 6

WHERE: Starbucks, inside Barnes & Noble [3651 Richmond Hwy, Alexandria, VA 22303]

The Wright Brothers, a great read!

www.starbucks.com

WHEN: Saturday, 23 November 2019

WHAT I DRANK: Toasted White Chocolate Mocha

WHY GO: Books, obviously

HOW FAR I RODE: 4.66 miles (Strava link)

My brother Paul’s birthday is on Nov 25th. Always too close to Thanksgiving, he hates it when we celebrate his birthday at our holiday family gathering. It’s like cheating. I don’t disagree.

So in trying to be a good sister, I arranged to take him out for lunch on his actual birthday. We’d take Dad too, because Dad’s always up for lunch outside his neighborhood (he lives in a retirement community and doesn’t drive). All I needed was a gift.

The day was cold; not exactly biting low temperatures, but the kind of damp chill that penetrates all insulation. I rode slowly, so as not to break a sweat under my layers of clothing. And without knowing for sure it was open, I turned off the trail to explore the new wetlands bridge on the south side of Four Mile Run. As I crossed, 4-5 other people were loitering on the new bridge and taking in a perspective we’d never had before. Kudos to Alexandria for this great addition to our public outdoor spaces!

It amazes me that Barnes & Noble bookstores, once thought of as the corporate killer to local privately owned book shops, seems to be one of the last soldiers standing against the giant known as Amazon. I now feel grateful that they still exist, and occasionally love to browse the aisles just to see what’s new.

I grabbed a drink first, choosing a decadent white chocolate mocha, and sipped as I perused the collection. I had been reading David McCullough’s “The Wright Brothers” and enjoying it immensely, but the library wanted it back before I’d finished. A staff member helped me find a paperback copy, but rather than buy it I judged I could cram in the last few chapters that night and return the book.

Finding a gift for my brother was not difficult either, and I went to the register before returning to my bike. It was a slow cruise home, with a little bag swinging from my left handlebar. I took the old route, determining the new wetlands bridge route saves no more than 0.1 mile, but offers a change of scenery.

 

Sense of Place Cafe

•December 1, 2019 • Leave a Comment

2019 Coffeeneuring Ride 5

WHERE: Sense of Place Cafe [4807 1st Street N, Arlington, VA 22203]

Sense of Place Cafe

www.senseofplacecafe.com

WHEN: Friday, 22 November 2019

WHAT I DRANK: Latte

WHY GO: Unusually great coffee

HOW FAR I RODE: 7.63 miles (Strava link)

I was lagging behind on the official Coffeeneuring challenge, because we’d taken time off and spent 10 days in Arizona. I’d never seen the southwest part of the U.S. and was determined to spend part of the oncoming winter being among the cactus, hiking and camping and soaking up the desert environment. The days were too short, but the trip and adventures were amazing.

Chris and Nevada, reliable as dry weather in the desert, set our roving Friday meetup for Sense of Place Cafe in the Arlington Forest neighborhood. The shop roasts their own coffee beans, branded as Enzymo Coffee, and they brew everything from pour-overs to espresso to regular drip. There are no bike racks near the store, but also little risk at that early hour. I got my usual latte, and we sat in the window seats.

My own “sense of place” got me there just fine, I even enjoyed the little climb up S Park Drive from the trail to the shopping center. But having flown from Tucson and crossed a few time zones, my sense of time was a little off, and I forgot it was Friday. Clearly I need another vacation!

This was the inaugural ride for my brand new, cozy wool and very stylish Coffeeneuring socks. At least my sense of fashion hasn’t given up.