450 miles down, 4000 to go!
We are nearly 10% complete with our tour! Here is where we have gone and what we have seen in the last 11 days. We took a redeye flight from Portland to Jacksonville, FL and then a Lyft to St. Augustine, which is a quaint city on the coast. It is actually the oldest city in the US and host to historic areas with museums and cobblestone streets, but we did not see any of that. Instead, we picked up our bikes from Sprockets bike shop and prepared to begin our ride.
On day one, and all our cycling days, we got started bright and early at sunrise.
We didn’t get a good look at St. Augustine, but we aren’t too concerned with destinations.
We much rather enjoy the subtle beauty we find on country roads.
We knew that we would be catching some rain so on the second day of our tour, so we put on our sandals and let the warm rain soak us through and through. Thankfully we were on a protected bicycle path during the torrential downpour.
Numerous towns we have cycled through so far have historic districts, which gave us a taste of their original southern flavor.
Although we are overjoyed by cycling on this flat topography, we make sure to stop and see the sights when we can. And meet the locals.
This photo is for our friend from China, Erin, who is currently working in the Washington D.C. area as an au-pair. In China, calling someone “2” is synonymous with calling them stupid, so we of course turned this into our running joke and use it incessantly. 2222222!
On day two, we cycled 44 miles from Carraway to Gainesville, where we stayed with a lovely couchsurfer named Evan. We cooked him dinner to say thank you for opening his home to us and spent the evening eating outside and enjoying deep conversations about everything from eastern religions to animals to traveling. Evan, who is a Hindu philosopher, has spent a few years living in India and we thoroughly enjoyed our discussions and his company. Thanks, Evan!
We have had great luck with everything on this trip. However, cycling isn’t without its challenges.
Kelly’s chain snapped and our progress came to a halt. Thankfully, a couple of kind men loaded our bikes into their truck and drove us to the next town, ten miles down the road, where there was a bike shop. We arrived at the shop before it was scheduled to open so we sat in the shade beside a sweet mural to wait for its owner to arrive. Being the only bike shop in a small town and a one-man operation, we waited and waited for the owner to arrive. Once he did, he fixed Kelly’s chain and we were back on the road in no time.
That day, we made sure to make our destination Ichetucknee Springs State Park after Evan’s recommendation. We were not disappointed.
Since setting foot in Florida, Milo has been hell-bent to see a gater, so seeing the below sign was very exciting.
Despite the signs, we couldn’t resist taking a dip in the cool springs on such a hot day. There were lots of fish in the water and other swimmers so we felt like we would make an unlikely dinner for a gater.
There was lots to explore around the springs so we dropped our bags off at the campground and hit the trails unencumbered.
Milo has carefully scanned every body of water we have seen so far in the hopes of seeing Florida’s most famous reptile. So far, we have seen lots of turtles and fish and innumerable varieties of beautiful birds, but no scaly friends yet.
After traversing the trails to our hearts’ content, we headed back to camp for dinner and were in bed by sundown.
Sundown may seem like a ridiculous time to go to sleep for our dear readers, but we must hit the hay early in order to be up and packed by the time the sun is shining its first rays. That way, we are on the road in time to take advantage of the morning coolness. Cycling this early also allows us to enjoy Kelly’s favorite time of day, a time reserved for the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
As we were taking a break in the shade outside a convenience store, we were joined by four other cyclists who are heading coast to coast in the opposite direction as us. Below are Julian and Poppy, cyclists from England who also have a blog (you can check it out at http://www.USAcycle2018.com). Not pictured are Kathy and Dave, who are from Seattle and are 67 and 68 years old. They are averaging 60 miles a day and we hope to be like them when we grow up!
In addition to the wonderful people we meet along the way, we are also touched by the places we see. Fairly frequently we see someplace so breathtaking that we seriously consider selling everything we own and moving there. But after snapping a few photos and putting stars on our maps, we cycle on.
Our destination on day 4 (175 miles into our trip) was the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Camp, which is a sprawling place with acres of camping and more. Music festivals are held there throughout the year and we were told they can comfortably host crowds up to 30,000 people. Fortunately for us, the country music festival was scheduled for the following weekend, so we had the virtually the whole place to ourselves. After setting up our tent, we hit the pool to cool off.
Then we hopped back on our unloaded bikes to explore the grounds. We found these awesome giant wooden art installations that had been installed in the past two years.
After exploring, we headed back to camp to wind down for the evening. Part of our routine is to wash out our socks and underwear and hang them to dry. When you are carrying everything you need with you, weight is at a premium, so we must wash our limited clothing often. We have a clothesline that we use when we are camping but when items are not dry by the time we have to leave in the morning, we attach them to our bikes with bungee cords to let the sun and breeze do their thing.
The next morning, on our way to Greenville, we were greeted by swaths of wildflowers in the fields and beside the road. Plaques along the way indicated that these were wildflower planting areas and we were delighted.
One of the small towns we passed through on our fifth cycling day was Madison, a quaint little place with a beautiful courthouse and many other historic buildings.
In the center of town there is a little park. Look, there’s a time capsule! It is a vault marked by a plaque that says it was sealed in 1976 and is to be opened in 2076. Wonder what is in there?
When we reached Greenville, we decided to make that our destination for the day.
We rested in a park beside a lake and learned that Ray Charles was raised in Greenville.
The next day, day 6 of our journey, we headed from Greenville toward Tallahassee. On the way, we stopped in Monticello, another small community with heritage streets steeped in history.
We swooned at the archetypal southern architecture.
This is another gorgeous courthouse, a bastion of the subject that Kelly will be studying for the next 3 years. Interestingly, this structure was situated at the center of a traffic circle.
Another stop on our journey was the Avenue of Oaks, where we stopped to reapply sunscreen. Got to protect our bodies’ biggest organ!
A detour took us off the road and onto the train tracks for a mile. We could have gone over 5 miles off route and up hill, but a construction worker told us that other cyclists had simply walked their bikes alongside the tracks. This was easier said than done with the rocks and the loose ground but it was a nice change of pace from the asphalt road.
We had our lunch break at the end of the detour at a spot that reminded Kelly of one of her favorite childhood movies, Fried Green Tomatoes.
In Tallahassee, we checked into a hotel for a much-needed break. For dinner, we headed over to a Tex-Mex restaurant called Chuy’s. There was a shrine to the King, so Milo approved and worshipped accordingly.
Back at the hotel, we pulled everything out of our bags and re-assessed all of our gear. As you will remember from our post detailing our equipment, we started our trip with four pannier bags each. After a week on the road, we decided that we were carrying a bunch of unnecessary stuff. We debated each item again and were able to reduce down to just our two back panniers each.
The next day we were able to head to the nearest post office to send our excess equipment home. Word to the wise, don’t overpack or you will be forced to overpay for shipping!
We also took advantage of the hotel bathtub to do our laundry. We treated all of our clothes before we left with insect repellant so we have been washing our outer layers sparingly in order to maintain its effectiveness. Washing them this way is also very effective because we scrub each item individually multiple times – even cleaner than in a washing machine!
The next day, we headed toward the amusingly named Chatahoochie, which was a 48 mile ride. We passed through Gretna, where we saw this incredible old school house.
In Chatahoochie, we stayed with another couchsurfer. This time, we shared the living room with a giant spider and all manner of “construction” materials. Below is a small assortment of what had been collected there.
From Chatahoochie, we headed to Ponce de Leon to stay at the Vortex Springs campground.
We met more cyclists along the way, two from Australia (left and center on the tandem) and one from Vermont. A great proportion of the cyclists we meet on the road who are also touring long distance are retired and from other countries.
Vortex Spring is the largest dive facility in Florida and has underwater caves for scuba divers to explore. There are also ponds for swimmers and an ample camping area.
Needless to say, we decided that this was a good place to take a rest day.
The MSR Dragonfly stove that we brought had been malfunctioning from day one and we broke a cardinal rule that every self-sustained adventurer should abide by: always test your stove before your trip. So, we spent a couple hours of our rest morning working through the trouble-shooting guide, repeating the steps as necessary. Unfortunately we are still without a functioning stove. Kelly is still hauling it around because it is valuable in the hands of someone more handy than us.
We also did some relaxing.
The next day, we woke up an hour before sunrise and packed up camp. We quickly and easily cycled the last 11 miles into DeFuniak Springs, FL. This is the last destination on the first of the 11 Adventure Cycling Association maps we will follow for this tour.
What kind of duck is that?
DeFuniak Library, built in 1886, sits beside DeFuniak Spring and is the oldest library in a building built specifically to be a library.
On day 11, it finally happened, we spotted a gater!! While cycling over the Blackwater River, Milo saw a telltale dark shape and when it poked its nose out of the water to breathe, it was obvious that it was indeed a gater. It was about 3 feet long and impossible to capture with our camera (it’s that dark shape just above Milo’s handlebars to the left of the log). We are so glad to finally have seen Florida’s mascot because this was our last map in the state.
We were on a protected bike path for about 5 miles on the Blackwater trail before arriving in Milton. We saw 15 other cyclists on this short stretch of trail- not bad for 8am on a Wednesday!
In Milton, we found this incredible amenity for cyclists who may need to fix a flat or pump their tires. So cool!
Much of our map so far has been on HWY 90, which is a bicycle highway that goes across the country.
Pace is a suburb of Pensacola.
Today, day 11, we arrived in Pensacola, the last Floridian city we will sleep in before heading into Alabama. Like Tallahassee, Kelly also visited Pensacola in her first bicycle tour, which took her from New Orleans to New York, but each time she has seen different parts of those cities. On a bicycle, which is a small mode of travel, it is easy to traverse opposite sides of a big city without intersecting routes.
Once we reached Pensacola, we headed to the library to work on our blog for a couple of hours before cycling the last few minutes to our couch surfer’s apartment. Like our other couch surfers, Cassie has been extremely generous and was kind enough to let us shower, do laundry, and take us grocery shopping. She even let us borrow her computer for a few hours to re-write this entire blog entry because even though we pressed “save draft” multiple times at the library, the blog engine we use, WordPress, is very finicky and often malfunctions, so it failed to update and all of our work was lost. Even still, we must wait for several hours (hopefully no more) before we can update this entry to include a picture of Cassie and her pup StevieTo express our gratitude to Cassie, we made dinner for us all.
We also had some much-needed dog cuddles from Stevie.
Tomorrow, we cycle into Alabama! One state down, 15 to go.
P.S. Thank you to everyone who has read and commented on our blog recently. We intend to reply to those comments upon the completion of our tour, so stay tuned!