Spring comes to Florida: Thoughts from a long Saturday ride.

We finally got a significant break in the heat and I took advantage of it this weekend! Saturday I did a long recreational ride with two other women. Sunday I ran errands around town.


The day after a cold front is always windy. I didn’t care. Saturday, we planned a destination and route to ride into the wind — 65 miles round trip to Clermont — then get the big tailwind push coming home. It worked like a charm!

Route-planning through sprawlsville

I enjoy recreational riding, but I don’t enjoy driving to a ride start. Over the years, I’ve studied maps to find good routes in and out of this sprawling metro just to get to more scenic riding areas. It’s no easy task.

While I’m comfortable (safety-wise) riding on the big arterial roads, they are not very enjoyable once they’re full of noisy, stinky auto traffic. In the interest of time and distance, I’ll use them on the way out of town because they have very little traffic at 8 AM on a weekend morning.

Red roads are very busy and intimidating for most cyclists. Orange is moderately busy. The blue and green are the only low volume neignborhoods with entrances on more than one road. All the white ones are single-entrance subdvisions.

This is a better-than-average cross-section of sprawlsville (in any direction outside Orlando). Red roads can be very busy and intimidating for most cyclists. Orange and yellow are moderately busy. The blue and green are through the only neighborhoods with entrances on more than one road. All the white ones are offshoots, loops or single-entrance subdivisions.

Coming back into town, I try to find roads with less traffic… and more shade. This is where route planning becomes a challenge. Very few quiet roads in sprawlsville are connected to more than a single arterial road. Even when you do manage to find a good connection to traverse a section of town, it still may dump you onto an undesirable road, which you’ll have to use to get to the next network of pleasant streets.

One can gain an advantage with local knowledge of connector sidewalks and trails. We found two in our exploration, they’re noted on the route map. The connector from Lake Orlando to Mercy Dr. (#2) was a surprise. I had planned to turn there onto Mercy, having no idea there was a gate across the road at that intersection. Fortunately one of my riding buddies spotted the sidewalk under the palmettos. The alternative to that little cut-thru would have been to dump out onto one of two unpleasant roads.

Stringing together neighborhood streets typically increases trip mileage by 10-20%. For utilitarian purposes, this can be impractical for a long commute, which is why most serious transportation cyclists learn to ride assertively on busy roads. For a recreational ride, enjoying the journey matters more than the distance. But a sustainable commute requires some level of enjoyment as well, for most people.

Another challenge is knowing the traffic volumes on a particular road. It can be quite unpleasant to find yourself on a narrow 2-lane road with steady traffic in both directions. It looked fine on the map, but… there you are. In general, I’ve discovered that if there are very few parallel thru streets in a semi-dense area, 2-lane thru-roads are likely to have uncomfortably high traffic volumes. This is the case with most of the non-arterial roads that lead out of town: Clarcona-Ocoee west of Apopka-Vineland, Silverstar where it goes around Starke Lake, and to a lesser extent, A D Mims (which we ended up using). Sometimes it’s better to find a 4-lane road, if possible. Sometimes you have no choice. West of Ocoee, the roads take on a more pleasant rural character and auto traffic is sparse.

Along the way

One of my favorite things is the first view of Lake Apopka from Fuller’s Cross Rd. There’s some special significance to that view when you’ve ridden there from downtown. It’s rewarding. I’m sorry I didn’t take a camera. (The other photos in this post were taken at other times.)

Winter GardenOnce past Winter Garden, the West Orange Trail offers a pleasant 10-mile bicycle route to Clermont. We made use of that, along with thousands of other cyclists enjoying a beautiful Saturday. Because we weren’t hammering, we found no difficulty from the volume of trail traffic (hammering definitely belongs on the road).

wgfountainThe trail goes through the town of Winter Garden and has been a huge catalyst for revitalizing its cute downtown. The downtown has not been very kind to the trail itself, hacking it up into a weird and hard-to-navigate sidewalk that jumps to a median between two narrow, brick lanes. When passing through town, many of us use side streets to bypass that madness. Winter Garden is a great place to stop for lunch, though, so we did go into town on our way back.

wgfmWe stopped at the farmer’s market, too, but good Florida produce (such as it is) is still a few weeks away. My favorite tomato grower at Lake Eola Sunday market is in Winter Garden on Saturdays. I can’t wait for his tomatoes to come back in season… a few weeks more, I think.

West of Winter Garden, the West Orange Trail runs past the Oakland Nature Preserve. We didn’t stop this trip, but it’s been years since I’ve been out there, so a visit is in order one of these days.

I really like the new extension past Killarney station, connecting the West Orange Trail to the Minneola Trail. It immediately heads off into the woods with some fun little hills and curves. This section is built to generous new standards — looks to be about 12ft wide. There’s one section where it parallels CR455 and Old 50 that it gets kind of narrow and annoying. We chose to use the road there and were pleasantly surprised not to be harassed for it (that’s hit-or-miss, harassment was pretty common on Old 50 even before the trail was built).

Our main mission in Clermont was to tackle a couple steep hills. Once each was enough for me. Skyridge Rd is barely old enough to be on Goggle maps. It looks like something you might find in San Fransisco, thus it always has cyclists on it—testing their mettle… or gear ratios. (Don’t believe the grade percentages on mapmyride, they’re worthless. I discovered that in Pennsylvania!) The big reward is at the top — a view looking east to Lake Apopka. Scenic views in a flat state are few and far between, so they’re quite special to us, even if they’d be unspectacular to anyone not-so-topography-deprived.

Something in the air

Riding through the west part of town has the potential to be unpleasant. It’s one of those pockets of hostility I (and others) have discovered over the years, so I typically approach it with a little bit of hesitation. It’s the part of town where you find an abundance of the stereotypical vehicle-types cyclists love to hate—lifted pick-up trucks and jacked-up, pimped-out muscle cars. To be sure, we saw plenty of both.

And every single driver treated us courteously.

In 65 miles (less the 18 or so on the trail), we heard not a honk or yell (directed at us), we experienced not a single pass under 4ft (most were over 8ft and the few that were closer actually slowed down). There were no stupid motorist tricks, no uncomfortable situations.

What’s normal? Close passing is pretty rare for me, but other cyclists complain about it all the time. I’ll let you decide why that is. Probably a little bit of honking and yelling would be typical in my experience — with that number of miles through that part of town. There were even several cases on 2-lane roads where motorists waited behind us patiently for close to a minute (not sure what that is in dog-years, but it’s pretty significant in motorist-years). When they passed, they did so with lots of clearance and no sign of bother. They all received a friendly wave from us in return.

We’ve all suffered the long summer and the brutal reprise, after 2 tantalizingly nice days a couple weeks ago. I sensed a vibe of collective happiness all over town. It was the same yesterday as I rode closer to home.

Kindness leaves an impression, too

Audible harassment is something many of us try to tune out. If you let it get to you, you become bitter or quit riding. While it’s not a huge problem in my daily travels, I was still struck by my emotional state in the complete absence of it. Or more importantly, what felt like the presence of peaceful coexistence.

It felt like a higher level of freedom. I have freedom in my confidence and skill to ride on any road, but I don’t always feel welcome wherever I choose to ride. No matter what kind of positive energy I use to counter it, feeling unwelcome due to the hostility of others pulls against the joy of cycling. It’s so unnecessary. When I encounter nasty spurts of pointless incivility, it makes me feel bad about my community.

This weekend’s riding was like being introduced to an alternate universe where things are as they should be. I thought, what if everyone felt this way all the time? Safety—actual, subjective and social safety—on all the roads of our city. How would this change our culture? How would it enhance our community? That’s the ultimate goal of the Civility Initiative, and it’s a worthy goal. A weekend like this makes it feel attainable. I bet nearly everyone would want that, if it occurred to them… if it felt real and possible.

2 replies

Comments are closed.