Biking Across Florida – The End Comes Early

[This is the last entry in a series about a bicycle ride across Florida with my wife Sarah. You can start the series here]

Are they Famous?

This is how cheap, I mean frugal, my wife and I can be.  Even though we had already ridden 61 stressful miles to reach the Minneola Inn, we decided to hop back on our bikes and pedal the four miles into the town of Clermont for dinner.  In our defense, a Lyft ride was $14 one way, there was a lake front bike path, and it was a beautiful, moonlit night. 

We had fun at dinner impressing (shocking?) our waiter by eating more food than I’m sure he was used to seeing two skinny old people consume.  “We are biking across Florida,” I finally revealed to him at one awkward point when Sarah and I were debating ordering an extra post-meal appetizer. 

After dinner we strolled around downtown Clermont, which we found quaint and walkable . . . until we wandered by the town’s lakefront park.  That’s when things got weird, in a Florida sort of way.  The park pavilion was roped off, there was music blaring through big speakers, and a security guard was taking tickets at a roped off entrance.  It felt like a music festival, and Sarah went up to ask the security guard what was up.  

What band is playing?” Sarah asked, over the bumping music.  “It’s midget wrestling,” he replied.  Sarah thinks this is the creative, and offensive, name of a band.  God bless her.  “Are they famous?” she asks, undaunted.  He looks at her askew for a moment, realizes she is serious and replies loudly and very slowly, “no, it is actual . . .  midgets . . .  wrestling.”   She makes a quick retreat.  

“Yep, we are definitely still in Florida,” I say, after we both stop laughing.  “Maybe I should see if they take challengers from the audience,” I add, “I’m sure this crowd would love to see a vegetarian bicyclist get his butt kicked in the ring tonight.” 

We decided to stay and watch a few bouts, standing with the freeloaders outside the fence, many of whom had lawn chairs and blankets spread out picnic-style.  It was not a good decision.  I’ll leave it at that.  

The Longest Day

Several years ago, we went with some friends on a week-long sailing trip.  One of the guys on the trip was seasick and had a pretty rough week.  As we stepped off the boat at the end of the trip, he kneeled down, kissed the ground, and then turned to us and said, “if my doctor ever gives me a week to live, I’m going to come back down here and spend another week on a sailboat, because this was the longest week of my life.”

That’s sort of how I feel about our day biking from Minneola to Lake Wales, Florida.  The trip log for the day read 76.69 miles covered in 6 hours and 21 minutes of moving time.  But we packed multiple weeks’ worth of unpleasantness, stress, fear, bad decisions, and laughter, into those hours and minutes and miles.  

It was the day that Florida chewed us up and spit us out. 

The morning started out warm and foggy, with the familiar optimism that comes from a good sleep and a new road to travel.  We were indeed the only people staying at the Inn, and I rambled around the place with my coffee in the early morning waiting for Sarah to wake up.  I envisioned all of the folks that have stayed here over the years, some of whom were traveling by horsepower or even human power like us.  An old stand up piano in the formal dining room was out of tune but still functional.  I wonder how many nights its music entertained travelers in this dining room?  

After retracing the bike path back into Clermont, we ate an extra breakfast outside of a McDonalds and then enjoyed a smooth sidewalk along busy Highway 27 for most of the morning.  Not bad.  Even though we were just outside of Orlando, the sidewalk kept us safe as we passed a lot of open, rolling ranch lands, many of which were being scraped clean by bulldozers. Signs along the highway announced new subdivisions on the way.  It was one of many spots we could see, and feel, rural Florida being consumed by the push of progress.  

And then, a cheesy roadside attraction appeared, announcing that we were perilously close to Disney World.  We stopped for a photo opp with a giant flag bearing Gorilla.  If that Gorilla could speak, I believe he would have warned us, “don’t turn east and bike towards Disney World you idiots.”  But alas, he was a mute statute, and we dutifully followed the Adventure Cycling route east into the belly of the beast, aka The Magic Kingdom megalopolis.

We learned a few things as we skirted around Disney’s congested gates.  Florida, and its real estate developers, hate through-streets as much as they love gates with posted security guards, both of which help to keep the riff-raff out of their neighborhoods.  And we also deduced that sidewalks must be more expensive than gold, as developments only plop them down them like sod lawn squares in front of their freshly built town homes.  Sidewalks are not meant for travel here.  They are strictly ornamental decorations that stop and start without warning in between developments named by marketing professionals.

Over and over again for the next few hours, the sidewalk we were riding on—actually clinging to for dear life because the roads were full throated highways with zero shoulders—would just dead-end stop without warning.  The first time it happened we laughed.  After that it started to suck.  Each sidewalk dead-end left us with the choice to either push/ride our loaded bikes along the sandy roadside or hop onto the road and pedal like hell until we could escape to a new section of sidewalk.  Both methods were exhausting.  We consulted Google Maps for alternative routes, even going so far as to bike through a golf course at one point to skip a sidewalk-free section of road.  A golf course worker in a cart passed us but said nothing.  It’s amazing what you can get away with if you look like you know what you are doing.  

Google Maps then started to let us down as well, teasing us with fake shortcuts that would dead-end in a maze of cul-de-sacs, or would lead us to a well-guarded security gate.  Their routes off the main highway were time-consuming mirages.  I even tried at one point to talk a guard into letting us pass through his neighborhood, telling him that we were just trying to avoid the highway buzzing in the background behind us.  No luck.  Move along you weirdos on bikes.  The four-lane divided Ronald Reagan parkway that that security guard forced us back to was so busy that we couldn’t cross it to get onto the right-hand side of the road.  Instead, we rode a few miles into oncoming traffic on the left side of the road, which had a small shoulder.  

That was terrifying going into traffic,” I said to Sarah after we finally turned off on a side road for a quick break.  But then I reflected for a moment and an even more terrifying thought popped into my head: That short ride on the wrong side of the highway was only more terrifying because we had a front row seat to our stupidity.  We could clearly see how close, face first, those cars and trucks were passing by us.  We’d been riding with our backs to that kind of traffic for a few days.  It felt safer, but ignorance was not bliss—it was actually far more dangerous to ride the right shoulder with the flow of traffic and not be able to react if some idiot was about to run you over.  It made me shudder.  

We pressed on, finally turning off the Ronald Reagan parkway for good and heading south again.  But even though we were putting Disney World and our game of sidewalk hopscotch behind us, we were now riding on a new, more dangerous road type: The 45mph to 60mph narrow, two-land road with no shoulder that was probably built to handle rural Florida traffic, but was now choked-full of impatient snowbirds and recent Florida transplants that have all moved into the Florida sprawl in the last 20 years.  And like us, the cars had to travel on these few primary highways, because every new subdivision dead-ended on itself.  

The roads we found ourselves on would have felt unsafe to drive in a car.  And we were biking on them. 

If I’m being honest, the 35+ mile section we biked that day from the town of Loughman, south of Orlando, to the outskirts of Lake Wales was the worst, most dangerous, most exhausting cycling Sarah and I have been foolhardy enough to take on.  I’m sort of embarrassed to reflect on it now.  But it’s hard to just randomly stop on a self-contained cycling trip.  You are committed.  Maybe we could have hidden our bikes in a ditch and called an Uber to take us someplace with a rental car agency, but that seems easier said than done.  The better answer—and lesson—is to do extensive research ahead of a trip to ensure you never find yourself in our situation.

We pressed on.  

School Buses and @#$holes

I’ll spare you a play by play description of every near miss or pissed off driver we met on our stubborn quest to reach Lake Wales that afternoon.  A few memories stand out, however, many of which involve school buses.  I’m not sure if Florida is scraping the bottom of the barrel to find school bus drivers, or if they screen and select applicants based on their hatred of bicyclists, but I would need two hands to count the number of scary run-ins we had with school buses on this day.  One bus, full of kids, approached us from behind as we were climbing a steep hill on a two-lane road.  Instead of slowing down, the driver put the gas pedal to the floor, swung into the left lane of oncoming traffic, and passed us at high speed just before cresting the hill—a gamble certainly worth risking the lives of dozens of kids to save 3 seconds of time, right?  Another, deliberately sped up as we were turning left across her lane of oncoming traffic, barely missing Sarah who had failed to appreciate that the driver was in fact aggressively speeding up and trying to run us down.  Sarah started calling out “school bus!” as a new special category of threat reflected in her rear-view mirror, an honor previously reserved exclusively for Dodge Chargers and Corvettes.  

As a public service announcement to readers with schoolkids—you may want to follow behind your kid’s bus for a day or two.  Just saying.  

In between the school buses and @#$holes there were a few moments of kindness, too.  They seem to pop up at unexpected times on a bike trip just when you most need them.  Like a break in the clouds that lets a shaft of sunlight cut through to reach you up on a cold stormy day.  

“Wher’er you folks headin?” a construction worker on the side of the road asked us and then chuckled and shook his head knowingly as we told him about the school buses. He was stationed with a stop sign on a section of road that was under construction and limited to one-way traffic.  He was letting traffic through on his end and then radio’ing a partner on the other end when he’d stopped traffic on his side.  We waited next to him and let cars pass so we could be the last people through before his partner opened the other side.  His face was completely wrapped in a sun shade face mask, but I could tell he was a lot older than us from his ancient, exposed hands. My guess is that he had been risking his life on the side of the road, and the wrath of angry drivers, for decades.  We were fighting traffic for a few days—this guy had been fending off traffic for a lifetime.    

Don’t worry,” he said as he finally stopped traffic and let us begin our ride through the one-way gap unmolested, “I’ll hold these cars off until y’all r over that hill and outta sight.”  And then he added as we pedaled by, “Bless you.” Bam.  Those two little words both hit us square in the chest in our frazzled state.  Like warm sunlight.    

And he wasn’t lying.  It was at least ten minutes before we saw another car in Sarah’s rear view mirror.  And boy were they all pissed off.  I only wish one of them would have been a school bus.  

You’re Winning!

The traffic reached a violent crescendo as we got closer and closer to Lake Wales.  At one point, Sarah got pushed off the road by an angry driver that buzzed within a whisper of our handlebars, horn blasting.  She couldn’t get her bikeshoes unclipped and almost crashed in the soft road shoulder.  We started to collect long backups of cars behind us, unable to pass us because of the steady oncoming traffic.  We would stop occasionally and pull into the ditch to let them pass, only to start immediately collecting more.  I felt like the pace car at the Indy 500, without a flag.  And worse than the backups behind us, occasionally a driver overtaking us would just refuse to slow down and would instead swerve at 60 mph into the stream of oncoming traffic, forcing more than one oncoming car into the ditch to avoid a head on collision.  It was madness.   

If we kept at this much longer, we were either going to be run over or feel responsible for causing a high-speed head-on collision that killed someone else.  I’m not sure which scenario would have been worse.

Never again.  Let me write that again so I don’t forget.  Never again.  Sarah and I are planning future bike trips, but never again will we put ourselves in, or remain like stubborn stupid goats, in those conditions.

Google Maps finally granted us a temporary reprieve from the madness just north of Lake Wales.  It found us a car-free sideroad that for once didn’t dead-end and allowed us to escape Highway 17A.  The only downside was we were now biking through a downtrodden neighborhood with ramshackle trailers and houses in need of major repair.  I immediately thought about grabbing another stick to ward off stray pit bulls.  At that point, we happened upon a group of several black men that were washing a car that was set inches off the ground and had huge, spinning rims.  One of the guys saw us coming and walked into the middle of the road to meet us.  “Oh boy,” I thought.  

I should have learned my lesson from our experience in a similar neighborhood in Jacksonville.  As we got close, a huge grin opened up on his face, he pretended to look behind us and then raised his hands up in triumph and yelled, “You’re winning! You’re winning!”  We were winning alright—the race to win the Darwin Awards.  We all laughed and he gave us high fives as we biked passed.  Another unexpected and undeserved shaft of sunlight.  Bless you, whoever you are.  I wish you knew how much that high five meant.    

Now It’s Google Map’s Turn to F’ Us Over

Our campground for the night was located on the south side of Lake Wales, a rough around the edges town of 20,000.  The town felt 1950’s old, with sidewalks, post WWII style homes, and a historic railroad line that hinted as its faded prosperity.  Because we had abandoned the Adventure Cycling route (thank God), we picked our way through town and stopped at a Publix grocery store for beer and cheese popcorn and then a Burger King for Impossible Whoppers, all of which we strapped to our bikes.  We were only a few miles away from the campground, and we figured those Whoppers would still be warm by the time we arrived.  

Silly bicyclists.  

I plugged the campground into Google maps, and although it was located on busy Highway 27, Google showed us a 3.7 mile route that snaked through Lake Wales neighborhoods on what looked like quiet streets.  I sent a text message to my Dad, “don’t worry, we can make it there without biking on hwy 27.  I’ll text when we arrive.”  Out of the blue, he had sent me a text a few minutes earlier pleading with me to avoid the highway.  I hadn’t talked to him all day, but he must have been tracking our location and doing some online research—something we should have done more of ahead of this day.  I didn’t ask him to elaborate on his warning.  

The sun was starting to set, it was still 80 degrees, and we had over 70 miles of tough miles on our odometer for the day.  We were both exhausted and thankful to have only a few easy miles remaining.  But easy was not on the agenda for any part of this day.    

I saw the gate first, and let out an exasperated “Ha!”  Google had quickly led us to another dead-end.  Only this dead-end was different—it was a steel cattle gate swung across the road at the edge of a huge orange grove.  There was a sand path on the other side.  Really Google?  Here we go again.  I dragged the map around on my phone screen and found two alternatives; turn around and retrace our ride back to town and out to Highway 27 or take our chances trying to snake our way through this weird neighborhood on the south edge of town hoping we could escape its clutches closer to the campground.  We took our chances in the neighborhood, as the prospect of turning around was out of the question.  

With Google Maps re-routing us in real time as we biked, we made it a half mile before we ran out of pavement again and the only option was to enter the same giant orange grove that had stopped us earlier.  Or turn around.  It was now almost dark.  

We pressed on.  

The orange grove path alternated between bumpy rocks and soft sand.  The Burger King bag almost fell off my bike and I resorted to holding it in my bouncing, rattling hand.  I started laughing, but Sarah still clung to her fighting spirit, not yet ready to concede and give in to the hilarious insanity of this day.  

Then she saw the car.  She stopped at the top of a hill in the orange grove and waited for me to catch up to her.  “Is that a car?”  I squinted in the gathering darkness, but could clearly see a car at the bottom of the hill with someone sitting in the driver’s seat with the door open.  “Yep, it sure is.”  “Should we keep going?” Sarah asked nervously.  I’m not sure I even answered her as I pressed on.  

As we approached, the woman sitting in the car saw us and stood up.  “Are you okay, do you need any help?” I asked.  

No, I’m just stuck.”  

We all stood there for a long moment, sizing each other up, each probably wondering what cosmic pile up of time and space had resulted in us meeting in this moment, in this orange grove in Lake Wales, Florida.  After a bit of awkward silence, she added, “I was following Google Maps and got stuck, but my boyfriend is coming to pull me out.”

Normally, I wouldn’t be so quick to leave someone alone like that, but we were exhausted and I could tell from the position of the car in the deep sand that there was no way we could move it.  Plus, Sarah and I were both trying our best not to burst out laughing and I’m not sure the driver would have shared our sense of humor.  

We waited to laugh until we got out of earshot over the next hill.  “She did a Michael Scott,” Sarah said, recalling the episode of The Office where Michael drives his car into a lake while blindly following his phone’s turn by turn directions.  “If she lives close enough to have her boyfriend meet her, don’t you think she would know not to follow her phone into an orange grove?” I add, but then I think about my own stupidity on this day, and find some empathy.  “I hope she doesn’t sit there much longer.”  

After several more minutes of pushing our bikes through the sand, we reach the end of the grove and join a red dirt agricultural road that is running parallel to the infamous Highway 27. It’s easy to spot by the car and truck headlights racing along it in both directions.  The dirt road is muddy and we turn on our headlights to avoid getting stuck, but we aren’t complaining, as every second this road continues is a second we don’t have to join the highway.  

Sadly, the dirt road quickly meets up with the Highway.  It’s four lanes and so busy we have to wait a few minutes for a long enough break to get across it.  We still have 1.4 miles to go.  “Are you f’ing kidding me?”  I say, mostly to myself.

We pressed on.  

Sarah wants to ride the small shoulder of the highway, but it’s now dark and I’m done risking my life for the day.  After a bit of cajoling, I convince her to push her bike up on the grass hillside next to the road.  After a few minutes of pushing, we realize that the hillside is firm enough that we can actually hop on and pedal.  

And that’s how we finished the last 1.4 miles of the worst 76.69 mile day of biking in my life—bouncing along in the dark along a roaring highway, trying not to let my Burger King bag break open or hit a patch of sand.  I looked up at one point and took the moment fully in.  Where we were.  What we were doing.  Never again.         

The campground sign at the highway entrance advertised an “Indoor Heated Pool.”  We made it.  “I hope they have a hot tub,” I offered optimistically.  The office was closed, and we had instructions to visit Ken in site #27.  After a couple of disapproving glances at our bike shorts and bikes loaded with Miller Lite and a giant bag of popcorn, Ken led us back to the brightly lit main office complex.  The campground was really a huge semi-permanent trailer park, full of snowbirds looking for a Florida winter spot that didn’t require membership in the top 1%.  He showed us the community bathrooms and laundry room, and then walked around the corner of the building to a small patch of grassy dirt where he proceeded to give us instructions on how to turn on a water hose and the location of an electrical outlet on the side of the building.  

Oh God, please don’t let this be our campsite,” I thought.  Sarah later confirmed the identical thought bubble popped into her head.  “Have a good night,” Ken offered as he turned and walked away.  Yep, this spot was our campsite.  

We both looked around.  The community bathrooms were on one side of our little patch of dirt and a run-down trailer with a “Let’s Go Brandon” flag was on the other side of us.  We leaned our bikes up against the rotten wood fence that formed the back of our campsite and both of us started laughing until we were crying.  We had officially given up any effort to fight the day, to try to scratch some sort of positive experience out of it.  Instead of setting up the tent and changing out of our smelly clothes, we grabbed a warm beer and a cold Whopper and plopped down on our REI camp chairs on the sidewalk leading to the bathrooms.  

What a day.   

We Can’t Do this Anymore 

After a swim in the cold pool, a shower, two more beers, and laundry, Sarah and I both lay awake staring at the roof of the tent.  A machine behind the fence turned on and off with a loud rattle every few minutes.  Headlights from cars and golf carts rounding our side of the sprawling campground illuminated our tent almost nonstop.    

“We can’t do this anymore,” Sarah said, finally breaking the silence.  There it was.  We were both thinking it, but Sarah had enough good sense to say it out loud.  We had at least more two days of biking to reach the gulf coast, and neither of us wanted to risk riding more Florida interior roads like we did today.  We had pressed our luck too far already.  “You are right, but how the hell do we get out of here?  It’s at least a 2-hour drive to Fort Myers, and I have no idea where we can even rent a car.” 

We were stuck. 

A quick search for rental cars confirmed it.  “Maybe we could pay one of the residents here with a pick-up truck to drive us out to the coast,” Sarah offered.  “That sounds like fun. ‘How much ya got?’” I replied in my bad southern accent, quoting from the movie Vacation when Clark asks an auto mechanic how much it was going to cost to fix his car that had broken down in the desert.  “I’m going to put T’s Travels to work,” I added, and texted my Dad, our voluntary, and very talented, travel agent. 

His answer came back in less than five minutes, and was brilliant: “Rent a U-Haul.”

Sold!

The next morning, we ate oatmeal, dried our sodden tent in the hot sun, and waited for the U-Haul dealerships to open at 9am.  There were 3 dealerships within 15 miles of us, but it was impossible to reserve a truck using their online system.  We debate where to go next.  Sarah is done, and ready to book a flight home.  I think the “Fuck You Biden” flag an older lady hung from her trailer earlier that morning might have pushed her over the edge.  Or perhaps it was when a woman cleaning the bathrooms told us she thought they got rid of tent camping here after the “homeless problems.” 

If Sarah headed home now, I’m not sure she would ever trust me to go on a bike trip again.  And I’m not sure I would blame her.  I needed a plan to end this trip on a high note.  And fast.

“I think I have one 26 foot truck available, let me check,” the woman who finally answered the phone said.  I held my breath.  This was our last chance to get a UHaul—the other two places had no inventory at all.  “Sold!” was all I said when she came back with good news.  I tried to pay her over the phone, but she promised me she would hold the truck for us. 

We still had not decided where we were going, but both of us were never so happy and disappointed at the same time as we strapped our bikes into the back of that cavernous truck and drove out of Lake Wales a few hours later.  The UHaul lady told me we were lucky to get anything, as she had been booked up for weeks.  “I think everyone decided to move to Florida this winter.”  And then she added, “I’m glad you are safe.  My Mom was hit by a car and killed two years ago as she was trying to walk my Grandma home from our house after she had had too much to drink.”  Sad, ominous and unsurprising, it felt like the appropriate way to depart Lake Wales. 

We headed west, towards the coast on busy highway 60.  Every few miles, we joined a section of highway that included a designated bike lane and fancy new bike signs that proudly proclaimed this as a bike friendly road.  But then, inexplicably, the bike lane would just randomly stop and the road would go back to no shoulder at all for several miles, only to start again in a new, nonsensical location.  It was akin to advertising a backpacking trail that led hikers off of multiple cliff faces.  Come on Florida.  What a joke.

Back in the safe confines of the UHaul, we continued our debate about where to go next.  After much discussion, I wore down Sarah’s rational desire to “just go home” and she agreed to my alternative plan to drop off the UHaul in Tarpon Springs north of Tampa and hop back on our bikes.  Over oatmeal that morning, I had discovered the Pinellas Trail, a 54-mile paved bike path that runs south from Tarpon Springs to St Petersburg along the gulf coast.  We could stretch that into 2 final days of biking, and end the ride camping at Fort Desoto Park on a beautiful, dead-end key that jutted into the Gulf.  

As a public service announcement to cyclists reading this, and to further highlight my poor judgment, I also discovered that the Pinellas Trail serves as the most western section of the Florida Coast to Coast trail, a new route of bike friendly paths being built to cross the middle of the state.  I knew about the trail before we planned our trip, but it is not yet 100% completed, and I opted for the Adventure Cycling route instead.  To make the existence of this trail more painful, I discovered that the Coast to Coast trail passed right through Clermont, the site of our wrestling match two nights earlier.  We could have easily pedaled to the Pinellas Trail on our bikes rather than bouncing down the road in this 26-foot truck.  If only I had done a bit more research that evening at the Minneola Inn.  

But, bless her, Sarah agreed to my plan even after these previous blunders, and she kicked into gear making reservations from the passenger seat.  UHaul dealer in Tarpon Springs.  Check.  Hotel for the evening on St Pete’s Beach.  Check.  Camping reservation at Fort Desoto the next night.  Check.  Rental car at Tampa International airport in two days that is large enough to fit our bikes.  Check.  With a credit card and iPhone, Sarah had us back on solid footing in twenty minutes.  Did I say earlier how thankful I am to be married to this woman?  I’ll say it again.  

Two hours later, we pulled into the rear parking lot of the UHaul dealer in Tarpon Springs, which felt more like a junk yard.  The dealership was closed.  We slipped back into our bike shorts, dropped the truck keys in the drop box, and biked away.  We were at the stage of the trip where on the fly planning like this felt normal and stress free.

The Present Moment

Two evenings later, the Pinellas Trail behind us, Sarah and I were sitting in our camp chairs on a small beach.  The final remnants of the sunset was fading fast, and we watched a half moon rising and listened to the lapping of tiny waves, interrupted every few minutes by a loud splash from the dark waters of the bay that signaled the dance of life and death.  Tree frogs were singing in the woods behind us where our tent was set up for the night.  We cracked a beer and took it in.  All of it.   

This is the magic of bicycle travel.  At home we spend most days on auto-pilot, our attention roaming from the past to the future with constant interruptions in between.  It’s hard to live fully in each present moment, and as a result life—hours, days, weeks—all blend together.  Do you remember what you did last Thursday?  Or the Thursday before that?  Me either.     

But on a bike trip, you reside completely in the present.  You have to. Moving across the landscape under your own power taps into something ancient and the sights, the sounds, the smells around you reverberate and come alive.  This is what humans were made to do.  

It reminds me of a book I read called The Meadow that chronicles the hundred-year history of a mountain ranch in the Rocky Mountains and its successive owners.  In the book we find the ranch’s current owner, Lyle, alone in the declining twilight of his life, but at peace because of a remarkable power he developed over 40+ years of experience in that remote mountain meadow.  The power to obliterate time.  As the author, James Galvin, writes: “Lyle learned to pay attention, to think things through and not get ahead of himself, not to lapse into inattention ever.  After a while he couldn’t not pay attention, shaking a stranger’s hand, tasting Mrs. So and So’s pickles, setting fenceposts.  It endowed all his actions with precision.  It gave him total recall.  It obliterated time.”    

That’s what I figured out on the beach in Fort Desota Park that last evening.  We had tapped into the power to obliterate time.  There was no baggage of the past or worry of the future.  There is only this incredible moment, the only thing any of us really have.  When you grasp that feeling, and capture that flow state, you want to return to it again and again.  Even if it takes you through places like Lake Wales, Florida on two wheels.

At this point, I turned to Sarah said something like the following, “I love you, thank you for sticking with me and ending our trip on such a high note.”  I thought about adding the bit about obliterating time, but decided against it, as I’m not sure Sarah even heard my first heart felt comment.  

She was too busy swatting mosquitoes.  

Post-Script

  • I’m currently drafting a strongly worded email to Adventure Cycling to encourage them to discontinue their “Florida Connector” bicycle route.  If you choose to bike across Florida, for the love of God please follow the Florida Coast to Coast Trail.
  • For those interested in self-contained bike logistics, the next morning I hopped on my bike and rode it to a bike shop in downtown St Petersburg to find a Lyft ride to the Tampa airport rental car desk.  There were no ride share options from our remote Fort Desoto campground.  The bike shop was closed for the day and I resorted to locking my bike to a tree since the shop had no outside bike racks.  A few hours of misadventures later, I collected my bike and then Sarah at the campground.  We drove the rental car south with our bikes in the back for a night at a hotel on Sanibel Island.  We then enjoyed a final two nights staying at our friends Tim and Jen Blacks’ house outside of Fort Myers, where our big roller suitcase was patiently waiting for us.  Before flying home, we dropped off our bikes at a bike shop in Punta Gorda that boxed them up for a shipment via Bikeflights.com back to our home in Minneapolis.  They arrived two weeks later, no worse for wear. Thankfully, just like the two of us.

11 thoughts on “Biking Across Florida – The End Comes Early

  1. I applaud your decision to ride into town to eat! I remember the greatest moments of loaded tours being after I set up camp and rode an unladen bike into town for groceries, feeling like I was flying! I am glad you are contacting Adventure Cycling about the map problems. Finally (and I think I said this in your last post), you have convinced me utterly (in case I was ever thinking it, which I wasn’t) to avoid riding in Florida.

    • Thanks Halffast! I love riding an unloaded bike like that too. Although it always takes me several minutes to readjust to having no weight on the bike and a front tire that feels wobbly and free. As to Florida, once the Coast to Coast trail is complete, I wouldn’t hesitate to ride it.

  2. Congratulations on your beautiful escape! Your way with words, and the power the two of you have together to overcome obstacles is magnificent. Look how much you’ve learned, and I’m awfully glad you survived❤️

  3. So glad you are safe. I am not sure how, but you made it.

    Please do more research before the next bike trip……..I love you and want you safe. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Biking Across Florida – The Middle | wander and wonder

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