Withlacoochee to Starkey

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.

~ by GinaCico on March 20, 2022.

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