Or “Fighting the head-wind in style”It’s True. April 5TH marked the first day of Spring Break for the Alachua County School system. It was also the day long planned to be the first of three in series of fun and rewarding cycling days. The plans were simple… ride bicycles from Bikes and More to the Nature Coast Trail, stop at Fanning Springs for a swim, and continue on to the Gulf coastal town of Steinhatchee. That would have us doing 70 miles the first day, then would allow for a leisurely return with day two bringing 60miles and day 3 only 50miles. All the best laid plans in the world can’t account for a last minute wind change. That’s right, 40knots , head on! Suddenly our cycle trip became work. Not the fun work, but actual “should we just quit and go home?” work. Not ones to be deterred by cycling headfirst into the wind we did what any rational cyclists would do, we changed our plans. Now we decided, as the wind was NOT going away, we would reverse our route and hit the short days first, into the wind, and use the tailwind to help us get home on the 70 mile stretch.
Now is as good a time as any to introduce everyone to Lorin. He is the Gentleman riding the white Specialized touring hybrid. I am on the black Spooky Kittnepaste. He is a great cycle touring partner and one of the best friends a guy could have.Our journey started out with a quick ride to the town of Newberry. Just past Newberry is the Hitchin Post, home of Mud Truck Racin’. You know, where you would go if you had a mud truck and wanted to race it…As you can see from the cycle computer, the headwind slowed us down to a painful 8mph. At just 21 miles into the first day we really had to think hard on how much we were willing to put up with to make the trip successful.
Somewhere between mud truck racing and the Middle of Nowhere, we found a small gas station and stopped for soda and Peanuts. The locals were friendly and informed us that a journey of such proportion was “crazy”. Yup. So crazy it just might work. The next town on our list was Trenton, home of the Nature Coast Trailhead.
It’s always important to have the proper gear when traveling. With my trusty pineapple/watermelon knife at the ready, no mid-ride snacks would go unopened. (I didn’t end up using that knife even once, for anything at all, but it was nice having it there…) Ample food and drink supplies make any cycling adventure all the more successful. A bike that fits properly is the most important item one can take cycling. (For those curious that is a 1×8 internal gearing setup with a 44/16)
As day one progressed it became evident that the wind was taking it’s toll on us and the only resolve would be to end the day early and camp at Manatee Springs. Well… Spring Break being what it is, Manatee Springs was full. They couldn’t fit two cycle/campers in anywhere but the Rangers at Fanning Springs were amazing. They provided us a campsite, wood, and restrooms for $5each. The “campsite” was a bluff overlooking the flooded and swollen Suwannee River. We were told the spring was closed because of the river flooding, but the river worked just fine for an afternoon shower. The air got cool towards the evening and we spent the better part of the night hanging out around the tiny campfire. Refreshing.
Day2: Stienhatchee or bust.Wind again. This time it’s personal. Not really, but the wind was crazy. Seriously crazy wind. Sideways, fast, mind-numbing, soul-crushing wind. The day started with a detour and the promise of graded back roads… A kind Sheriff stopped us at the beginning of our 10 mile graded road to inform us that it was a suicide mission and although the map showed the roads as public, they were being leased by a Hunt Club and we were NOT WELCOME to use the roads. He did not stop us, but said that our chances of being shot at were exceedingly high and firmly implied that we should take another route. He then spent 10 minutes giving us “country” directions with right turns at cow fields and large trees and left turns at water towers and “the new road”. We thanked him kindly then looked at our map and did our own Reroute. We went with the safe bet and got back on the Nature Coast Trail. Lunch was at the Carriage Inn. The food was warm and good and the service was very friendly. The locals gave us dirty looks for wearing such fine looking attire, I’m sure they were just jealous of my fancy shoes and spandexey shorts. Or maybe we smelled bad…
We rode the NCT to it’s budget inspired, unceremonious end. Then we back tracked to the last paved road and continued west on US19. US19 is used by logging trucks. Lots of them.
Even into the wind we made great time. We took a few detours and found some really nice logging roads that went to nowhere. They were smooth but still a little difficult to manage with the B.O.B. We found our way to Steinhatchee with not trouble at all!
After a quick stop to grab some Cheerwine, we made our way to the Steinhatchee River. The Gulf Coast has a very unique and comfortable feel to it. It was the reason we decided on the Gulf as our destination, that and Oysters on the half shell. I got my one and only flat tire on the bridge over the river. I rode it flat all the way down the other side and changed it in a parking lot. It took less than 4 minutes even with the trailer and panniers. (Because we had the right tools and the proper know how, plus we are awesome)
We cheated a little and treated ourselves to a Motel. The sun was going to be setting soon and the idea of riding back out of town to “camp” was a little unappealing. Add to the equation “Record COLD temps” for the date and it was a no brain-er. It only got down to 30 degrees, but this is Florida in April!!! As I mentioned before, we were on an In-the -half-shell mission. We dropped the B.O.B. and all our bags, got showered up and into “normal people” clothes and hit the town. By ‘hit the town’ I mean we went to one of the two restaurants that was open. They didn’t have “half-shells” so we had appetizers and split. Across from the eatery was a bar. I went in first and checked it out. It had just the right amount of Southern-Honkeytonk-Smokey-Beenthereforeverishness that we were looking for. We tied up the horses and headed in to Crabby Dad’s bar for a cold one. One of the gentlemen that we Saddled up next to had seen us on our way in and was happy to talk to us. Another gentleman joined in on the conversation and before you know it we were talking books, movies, cycling, politics, and beer with half the bar. The other half of the bar was occupied by several local, vocal, “ladies” that had obviously not left the bar from the previous night and had been drinking the day away. Needless to say, we were a welcome change from the locals, as even the bartender planted herself in our corner of the bar and joined in on the conversation. As the beer flowed we watched the Gulf swallow the sun. We had a few more for good measure and headed off in search of Half-shells. When asked where we were off to, we shared our mission for Half-shells and were promptly informed that the town of Steinhatchee does not serve oysters that way.”that’s not right” is mumbled to myself as we rode our bikes back to our Motel. We went right past our motel, down the street, and right up to the front door off the other seafood joint in town. We locked our bikes and went out to the “dockside seating”. We ordered oysters anyways and blue crab fingers too. Both were missing the mark compared to the briny goodness that we had come for. Crappy seafood and several beers later we zig-zagged our way back to the Motel for some tv and sleep.
Day 3:It is a little know fact that I could subside solely on kippered fish snacks and Ramen Noodles, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The first tin of fish was gone by 8:30am, the second by 8:33, and the third, with Ramen Noodles instead of crackers was gone shortly there after.Fish tins emptied of their contents, Goodies powders washed down with Soda, and sunscreen on all the spots that got missed the previous two days, we were ready to roll out for our 70mile return trip. The wind would be at our back and the trip would be a breeze…. Where is the breeze??! Did the wind change overnight? Why is it not blowing with all it’s force right now, like it did the two days before?????. Yup the wind changed, but only slightly. We got a sideways tailwind that helped more than it hurt.
The route was easy, back the way we came minus the headwind. We got going at 20mph before we caught the tailwind. This was going to be great.And it was, kinda. The sideways-ness of the tailwind kept us pedaling at 15 to 20 mph rather than the 25 to 30mph that we had been daydreaming about the two days before.We made it back to the NCT in no time flat. Our side trip on the way out caused us to miss the old railroad bridge the first time through, but we found it going back.
Upon arrival back at the Trailhead, we were overpowered by the smell of Florida BBQ. We followed our noses around the corner to a BBQ restaurant and headed in for a well deserved lunch. The trek from start to lunch was just over 40 miles and we were hungry. The ribs were smoky and good. The sweet tea was ice cold and fresh.We put on more sunblock and pushed on towards home. Only 30miles to go. It’s as if we were already done.
On the outskirts of Gainesville we crossed over I75 on a very curious pedestrian bridge. It hangs off the side of the overpass like a cage and has a metal mesh grate that supports daring travelers. I spent the ride across the bridge looking down at passing trucks.
Riding through your hometown with bikes loaded down with enough gear for a trans-Continental is fun, but odd. We made it. Mission success. The ride up 6th to the shop turned into a field sprint. We both won. Good game. The trip sat in planning for a month, all the plans were shot from the word go, we towed camping gear on a 160 mile trip to use it once, we rode into the wind for most of the ride, and we would do it all over again at the drop of a hat. Just today we were sitting down watching traffic through the window of a Restaurant talking about where the next trip would be to and when we would have the time. I can’t wait. It’s going to be awesome. Just like us.