Sunday, March 14, 2010

Biking the Florida Panhandle

This was my 5th year riding the Bike Florida week long tour. I was looking forward to this ride as it was going to a part of Florida that I enjoy – the rolling hills of the panhandle and the genteel laid back gulf coast. I was also going to some new places that I had always wanted to go to; Apalachicola and St Georges Island. It was to be a big loop ride starting and ending in the small town of Monticello; which is about 20 mile east of Tallahassee.


I got to Monticello on Saturday morning. I remembered it from 2 years prior when I had stopped there on a previous tour. It has the County Court house right is the middle of the small town rotary.

I camped in the ball field behind the high school. It was a nice warm sunny day with some slight humidity. I was able get into shorts and a tee shirt. It was a nice to jump into summertime weather. When I set my tent up I noticed that one of my tent poles was cracked at the joint. This set a slight panic in me as I needed to use my tent for the next week and it would not work with a broken pole. I tried to figure out what to do. I first thought I could join it with a nail, but that didn’t work. After about an hr of nervous panic, I had the idea for a sleeve. I went to find a hardware store and got a ½” piece of copper tubing about 6 inches long with electrician’s tape to act as a sleeve over the broken joint. A $2 fix and it worked perfectly all week! The panic subsided and I decided to go for a ride. I went on a 34 mile loop ride north of Monticello. It was the first outdoor riding I had done in several weeks. It felt good. I did the longest route to get my legs and butt used to riding. I rode for awhile with John from Tennessee. He was my age, a nice guy, and rode my pace. John had broken his hip last year on this ride when he fell from hitting a crack in the road. He had to call is wife in Tenn. to come get him. It was such a fleeting moment. I finally dropped him on a flat and cruised back into town. The ride was the most serious riding I had done since last fall but I felt good. I ended up meeting my friends Larry and Jack, from Alabama, as they were just pulling into the school at around 3:30 pm. Larry looked a little thinner. He had been sick and not riding much. He had also retired at age 53 and was enjoying his retirement. Before dinner I walked 2 blocks into town. They had a beer garten set up for the bikers in the court yard of the local theater. I had a cold draft beer while sitting in the sun. It was a nice start to my vacation.

I had an uneventful dinner of some pasta. We had the riders meeting in the auditorium, which was getting worse ever since TJ left as rider director. Afterwards, I went back to the beer garten with quite a few of the other bikers. They had a band playing for us. It was crowded so I stayed a few minutes and then walked back to my tent.


It was Sunday morning and I headed out alone. It was cool in the morning with partly sunny skies. I was a little late getting going. I had to lug my gear quite a ways to get it to the luggage trucks in the front of the school. We headed out west of town. I rode alone for most of the way. Saw and passed of cyclists along the way.

I was cruising pretty well at 17-18 mph. The route went thru several back roads and I saw some pretty country side. As I recall, it was about 65 miles to Quincy. I was a little fatigued when I got there at about 1:30 pm. We were camped in the Quincy High School. I chose a nice flat site near Bubba’s group. I set my tent up and went for a ride into town to get lunch. Quincy was quite large; something like the size of Westbrook, Maine. It was a Sunday and everything was closed except one little downtown restaurant. I saw my friend Larry sitting outside eating with two girls and another guy. This is when I first met Diane and Cathy from Charlestown, SC. They were both in their early 40’s. Diane was a dark brunette and Cathy was a dirty blond. Also met Rob (from Atlanta), who would “coon dog” Diane all week. Larry had just met them on the ride.  I ate inside as I didn’t want to interrupt the two guys and girls. I had an ok buffet lunch and sat with a couple from CT, who were on the ride for the first time. For dinner, I had to wait 90 minutes in line for a cheap pasta meal served by idiots. It was the worse meal experience ever. I had gas all night from the meat loaf from the lunch buffet. Earlier in the afternoon, when I was leaving the restaurant, Diane asked me what I had lunch and I told her, the meatloaf. She said, “you’re gonna have gas all night”. She was right.


I got up early to eat breakfast so I wouldn’t have to wait in another monster line. It was an uneventful ride to Blounstown. I think it was 40 miles. We stopped at Torreva State Park on the way. Torreva is a type of pine tree. It was a very rough road into the park. So rough that I thought I would break a spoke. The park had a nice rest stop and an old plantation house that was on the Apalachicola River. The house was down a long hill so it was a climb to get up. Because of this, not too many went down to the house.

After the state park, there was a hot stretch of desolate road. I rode alone. I passed a few lone riders and had a pace line blow by me. It was too hot to ride fast. I finally got off the lonely road and arrived into Blountstown. We were camped in at the middle school. I was one of the first to arrive. It took me a while to select a site as I didn’t want to be in the sun and not in a low spot. There were also lots of ant hills on the property. I ended up moving my test a couple of times until I found a good spot. I then rode into town to get lunch. I ate at a Burger King and sat with a guy from Daytona who worked at NASA. His name was Chris. He was Spanish and was tough to understand. I would see him on the ride over the next two days. I cleaned up and then walked into town later to get a beer. It was nice and hot. I wore shorts and sandals. Dinner was uneventful, served by the local school booster club. I recall that we had scalloped potatoes, which were good. I was anxious to do something that night and decided to go to Bubba’s Karaoke Night. Bubba, who ran a tent renting service, had rented a K of C hall outside of town and was having karaoke for his group of campers, but everyone was invited. It was to start at 7 pm and a bus was picking us up. There were about 25 of us waiting for the bus. I was surprised there was so few people. While waiting in line for the bus, I met Julie, Morgan, and Harold. Julie was from Orlando. She looked to be my age, slender with black hair pulled back in a bun. Morgan was from Kentucky. She had brown hair and a great personality. Harold was a young guy from Connecticut.  They were talking about last years ride and it came back to me that I had ridden with them last year to Cedar Key when we all got drenched in the hail storm. Morgan and Julie said they remembered me. Morgan said she had pictures of me with my clothes off while we were in a motel room drying off from the storm. It could have been true. I recall a group of us taking shelter at a motel and stripping out of wet bike cloths to dry off.

I ended up having a blast with them. The Karaoke machine didn’t have all the components, so Bubba started some dance music. I was first onto the floor with Julie, who was really good and had taken lessons. I ended up dancing till 11 pm with Julie and Morgan. Morgan had a blast as I showed her how to Two Step, Waltz, and Zydeco. The karaoke parts finally showed up at 11 pm and people got a chance to do some singing. It was hilarious. Bubba made just about everyone sing. Only about 8 of us stayed till the end. It was a very fun evening.


I left Blounstown at 7:30 am to ride the century (100 miles) with Larry. We had set it up the day before while I was waiting to go to Bubba’s party. Larry told me he couldn’t do an 18 mph pace like we did a few years ago in St Augustine. I told him that was ok and that I’d ride his pace. Larry said his friends (Cathy and Diane) were having breakfast in town and he’d like to catch up with them, if possible. We left Blounstown riding south at 18-19 mph. We rode a fast pace for the first 20 miles. It was warm, but cloudy. We rode through some nice rolling farmland. We picked up Chris who was riding alone. We were doing 18-20 mph and riding a good pace line. We cruised into the 1st rest stop (the century had its own loop / route at the start and would rejoin the main ride at mile 40). Larry asked if anyone had passed thru yet and they said two girls and a guy had just come thru. Larry figured that must have been Cathy, Diane, and Rob. So Larry says “let’s go and catch them”. So we headed out and started riding 20 mph. We got some pretty good tail winds and end up riding 24-26 mph. When we left the rest stop we picked up but 4-5 other riders, who were riding our wheels. It was still Larry, me, and Chris doing the pulling. Chris started to fade. I told Larry that I couldn’t hold this pace for 60 miles. I looked back and we had dropped every one. So much for a couple 50 yr old’s holding back. We did the next segment at this pace and then slowed a bit after mile 40. That’s when it started raining. It came down steady for a while just as we came into the third rest stop. I decided not to put on a rain coat. I was soaked but warm. The rain let up a bit and we just rode a more relaxed pace (16-17 mph) towards Sumatra. We had a slight head wind.

We got to Sumatra, which was just a stop in the road with 2-4 buildings. One of them was a restaurant that was our planned lunch stop. The restaurant was putting on a Fried Chicken dinner just for us. It was the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.

I tried not to eat too much because we had 40 miles to go. Cathy, Diane, and Rob were already there. They were just finishing up when we rode in. Cathy decided to stay with us and wait for Larry. I could tell that she had a real bad crush on Larry. She was holding onto and hugging him all thru lunch. We headed out after lunch and our route took us thru the Apalachicola National Forest. The road had a rough surface but it was a straight line for 30 miles. We rode a pace line with Larry, Cathy, and then me. We did 6 minute pulls. We each did 12 pulls. We had a very stiff headwind all the way. It was tough pulling into the head wind. Each pull was a chore. We were riding at 16 mph. Cathy was a strong rider, but only pulled for 3 minutes at a time (said her computer wasn’t working). It was boring riding – nothing but pine woods on both sides for 30 miles. The only highlight was staring at Cathy’s back side for 3 minutes when she did a pull.

Once we got to the coast we had 20 mph winds. It was really unsettled weather. It was first a cross wind for about 3-4 miles into Eastpoint. The route then headed due south across a 4.2 mile bridge to St. Georges Island. It turned sunny on the bridge but the wind was the worst I’ve ever experienced. We’re on the bridge cranking in the high gears and only doing 6-7 mph on the flat. Drafting was useless. It took 30 mins to cross the 4.2 miles. Then we turned around and had a great ride with the tail wind. We were averaging 30 mph with the wind at our backs. We made it back across in 5 min. We had to cross another bridge to get to Apalachicola. We had a very bad cross wind that kept buffeting us. I had to really hold onto the handle bar to keep from being blown over. We made it across but saw a biker down on the bridge just as we came into town. The rider had hit a sign and went down. He looked pretty cut up and bruised. I was glad the ride was over. It was my first century of the season and I felt pretty good. Just after that, they shut the ride down due to the high winds and loaded everyone in trucks and hauled the bikers into Apalachicola.

Apalachicola was a small sleepy little fishing town. It’s the oyster fishing capital of the world where 90% of the FL oysters come from here. It looked like something out of Forest Gump.

It had a small main street with nice small homes close by. We were camping in the city park near the water. It was still pretty windy with gray skies. I setup in a remote corner on a small knoll. Some locals came by and told us that they were expecting some heavy rain and thundershowers. They told us that parts of the park flood when it rains hard. I could see big storm drains in the middle of the park. It made we think about moving my tent. Some did. Then the police came by with bull horns telling us there was a tornado warning until 9 pm. They said there would be heavy thundershowers, rain, and high wind. Great. They suggested we all go to a shelter. This made me move my tent up to higher ground next to a group from Cycle Logistics. I then took my clothes, sleeping gear, and bike to the Catholic Church hall that was 2 blocks away.

I spent the night there sleeping on the floor with 50 other people. It was kind of fun. I told some people that this would make a good story to tell the folks back home. Over time, the story would probably grow to an epic storm of the century. One guy said, yeah it will be like the stories I told about Vietnam; “There I was, ankle deep in grenade pins. All I had was a Swiss army knife, dead bodies everywhere, and we all made it out alive!” Then one guy started in on all the meds he takes. He showed us his pill case which was extensive. It made one guy ask about Viagra. Another answered that he takes Cialis (the one with the 4 hr erection warning). Said his wife waits till it’s been 3:58 mins before she calls the Dr. Also, said if he goes over 4 hrs, then he advertises on Ebay!. It was a fun night. My tent was fine; no wind, just thunder and lighting and a little rain.

Apalachicola – Day 2

This was a lay over day with a ride out to St Georges Island, which is 4.2 miles off the mainland. It was a nice day, sunny and in the 70’s. The wind had subsided. I headed out with Matt from Maine at 8:30 am. The bridges were much easier than they had been the day before. There was lots of glass on the bridges so I rode more in the traffic.

Once we got over there and I decided to explore. The island was quaint with no high rises; just houses and 2-3 level condos. It was really undeveloped. I rode out to St Georges Island State Park at the far eastern end of the island. It was beautiful, reminding me of Cumberland Island; undeveloped, big sugar sand dunes, and desolate beaches. I spent 2 hours just hanging out in one of the pavilions by the beach. I took a little nap on one of the picnic tables. It was so nice. I strolled in the water and just vegged out.

I rode back to the center of the island and had a stiff headwind for 8 miles.  I saw Julie at the rest stop. She was decked out in a skin tight blue racing suit with a hood. It was the type you see Lance wear in a time trial. It looked good on her. I chatted with her for awhile and then went to get something to eat. I ate at the Blue Parrot overlooking the beach. It was so nice just sitting there looking at the beach. I had a fried grouper basket. It was there that I met Anne Boone from Atlanta. She was on the ride with her boyfriend. She was a real chatter box. She just came up to me and suggested I try the Key Lime pie. I introduced myself. Turned out we both new Larry. She had ridden RAGBRIA with him last year. This morphed into a discussion on dancing. I ended up giving her a quick dance lesson right in the middle of the restaurant. I would have liked to have a beer and just look out at the beach, but I knew if I did I would not want to get on the bike. I left after awhile to head back to Apalachicola.

I checked out the town and found a bar down by the waterfront to relax in (Boss Oyster). I came back to have dinner and it was quite busy. I sat at the bar and ate dinner. I had a fried oyster salad and a couple glasses of wine. I later strolled over to the armory where there was a folk artist performing. I saw Larry and my friend JP (Jean-Pierre from San Mateo) there. Both of them were turning in early. I went back to my tent and lay on my cot for awhile as the group from Cycle Logistics were up late partying, drinking, and chatting. Our tents were very close (within inches of each other) and I was close to the group who was sitting up drinking and chatting. I dozed off and woke up later realizing that I had been sleeping on my back and, with the wine, had probably been snoring in a big way. When I woke in the morning, I could hear people talking and saying things like; “did you hear that noise”, “where was it coming from?” One guy even said he had once slept next to a generator and it reminded him on that experience. I figured that were talking about my snoring. I waited awhile for them to get over it and then snuck out of my tent.


I rode out alone. I had broken another tent pole as I was getting out of my tent so I needed to get to a hardware store to buy another piece of pipe. I was going to ride with Larry and the girls but I left early to get to a hardware store. I rode along Route 98 (Gulf Coast Highway) to Carrabelle. It was a really nice ride next to the water. It was sunny with a slight on shore breeze.

I saw Larry and Cathy at the 1st rest stop, but I wanted to relax and enjoy Carrabelle Beach. I rode easy up to the next stop. It was a newly paved road right along the water. After the rest stop, the road turned inland to go to Sopchoppy. An optional loop was down to Ochlocknee State Park. Few of the riders went down into it and I was glad I did. What a nice State Park right by a beautiful river. While there I met up with Larry, Cathy, and Diane. We chatted about what we did the day before. I told Larry about meeting Anne Boone and the dance lesson. On hearing this, Cathy said she wanted a dance lesson so right there in the road at Ochlocknee State Park, I gave her a Zydeco lesson. She said it was the high point of her week. Figured she must not get out much. I stayed in the park a few minutes to enjoy the quiet and the scenery.

I then rode up Route 98 to get to Sopchoppy. It was kind of a lonely road. I rode into the center of town, which was not much; one block of stores and one stop sign. I ate lunch with some black ladies who were all dressed up in their best Sunday clothes (hats and dresses) and selling food to the bikers. They were all enthralled with meeting us and asking us questions. They all wanted to feel my bike seat and could not believe I would spend hours on such a narrow thing. It was nice sitting and chatting with these ladies.

I found my camp site about 2 miles out of town and set up under a nice shady pine tree. We had a nice meal of Jambalaya for dinner. We also had a worm grunting demo and had a rhythm and blues band play for us. It was a southern rock band and all of the songs sounded alike.

That night I was being careful not to snore. I had no alcohol and rested on my side. Then everyone else started in. All around me was loud snoring. It was a snoring concert. I guess I got my payback for the prior night. We had a terrific thunderstorm at 3 am. There was lots of thunder and sheet lighting. Some packed up and went for shelter. I figured that without wind and with no lightening bolts, it was ok. Later is poured. My tent stayed dry but some woke to find themselves in deep puddles. I awoke to a heavy mist / light drizzle in the morning.

Back to Monticello

I ate breakfast with Julie and Morgan. Morgan thanked me again for such a nice night of dancing at Bubba’s Karaoke party. I headed out alone in the mist / drizzle. I was supposed to ride with JP but I missed him. I rode a steady pace. I skipped the first rest stop as I was anxious to get the ride over. I made it to the next one, which was off the St Marks bike trail. I refueled and rested but I was soaked and really really dirty from the road spray. I didn’t want to cool down so I headed out again. It continued to drizzle. I rode hard for the next segment doing a 19-20 mph. After the third rest stop, I let up a little bit. I had 20 miles to go to get to Monticello. It also started to get hilly. It stopped raining and got sunny and muggy as I cruised into Monticello.

Just as I pulled into the school parking lot, I saw Cathy approaching me. She had got in early and had obviously just showered. She was dressed in a really nice white sleeveless blouse and khaki shorts. She was walking to her car when she saw me and said “Oh, there you are!” I felt exhilarated from just finishing the ride and impulsively reached out with one arm and gave her a hug and a kiss. I caught her a little by surprise. I also realized I had just wrapped my road grimed, sun screened, sweaty, rain soaked, chest, arm and hands on her clean white sleeveless blouse. I probably left a lot of marks and stains. Oh well. I met up with Larry to say goodbye. Cathy and Diane came by and wanted him to go out to lunch with them. He wasn’t that interested. Said he needed to find Jack. They said “Oh you can bring him along”. Diana said “Oh Jim, you’re invited too”. No thanks. I wanted to rest, get some food, and then get on the road. So didn’t Larry. Said goodbye and that we’d see each other next year. This was the 4th year I’d ridden with Larry. We both ride the same pace and enjoy each others company. I ate lunch in the school with Frenchy from Lewiston, ME. He said he hadn’t ridden all winter and just finished a 400 mile ride with the rest of us. Frenchy is 67 yrs old!

Any way it was a great week and a great ride!

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