Gemini Springs to West Orange

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.

~ by GinaCico on March 20, 2022.

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