River-to-Sea Tour Epilogues
You’ve had eight days of me describing this ride, now I’m handing over this tour blog to my riding partners, giving them an opportunity to share their perspectives.
I wasn’t so sure about touring by bicycle in Florida in August, but Mighk seemed confident (as always) and eager to go, which assuaged my concerns. Also, if I had to be stuck enduring a miserable experience at least I knew the company would be excellent. And so I set out on this journey not being quite sure what to expect.
As it turned out, I had a blast.
Compared to other bicycle tours we’ve done, the cycling was easy because it’s mostly flat. Yes it was very hot around midday and into the afternoon, but several things mitigated the heat – shady roads, afternoon storms and getting an early start. Fortunately we did not ride through more sun (or rain) than we could bear!
Making up for the heat was extraordinary scenery, wildlife viewing, wonderful food, good company and simply the fun of riding a bike. We enjoyed the company of several cycling friends who joined us at various points along our route. Did I mention the food? The black drum at Dixie Crossroads in Titusville, the scallops at Goodrich Seafood Restaurant in Oak Hill, the grilled chicken with boursin cheese at Byte in DeLand were a few of the wonderful meals I enjoyed. And without a trace of guilt since I knew I had burned a few calories that day!
Adding to the enjoyment was the warm welcome and incredible hospitality we experienced in each community along our route. I don’t think I have ever been so enthusiastically received. It’s apparent that everyone — from the elected officials to the tourism development boards to the local restaurant and lodging owners — are very excited to receive bicycle tourists. I was impressed that Mayor Jim Tulley of Titusville rode with us the last few miles of our route into town – in the pouring rain no less!
We were treated like royalty at the inns where we stayed the night. We were provided safe places to store our bikes overnight. At Casa Coquina owner Ginny Fitzpatrick made me gluten free cookies and a gluten free blueberry pancake for breakfast. At St. Francis Inn in St. Augustine the staff provided food to accommodate our extra early start. Island Cottage Villas owners Toni and Mark Treworgy served us a special homemade dinner. Dixie Crossroads restaurant owner Laurilee Thompson called a cab to ferry the four of us the remaining miles through a heavy afternoon storm to our destination for the evening, then hosted us for dinner at her restaurant before driving us out to the bio-luminescent kayak tour that evening. Everyone went the extra mile to make us feel welcome and to make sure we enjoyed our visit.
And we did. We’ve traveled out of state to vacation for many years, but I will be taking a closer look at vacation opportunities right here in Florida. If I have any regrets about the trip it’s that we did not have more time to linger and to explore the areas we passed through. Florida has a lot to offer with much of it off the beaten path. Traveling by bicycle with good friends is a great way to “get away” and to experience some of Florida’s greatest gems.
When Mighk Wilson asked me in February if Robert and I would be interested in joining him and Carol for a week-long bike trip to “test ride” the not yet named Rail to Trail/St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop Tour, my first response was “of course we would.” Event grand-poobah Herb Hiller had recruited Mighk and Carol and they in turn invited us since we had the experience and life skills of traveling self-contained by bike.
The purpose of the event was to promote the new Central Florida SunRail commuter train and bicycle touring throughout a 5-county region. The travel dates were uncertain at the time other than it would be summertime. Our role would be to document the journey with words and pictures to show how you can enjoy traveling by train and bicycle along trails and scenic roads, as well as showcasing some of Florida’s attractions often unnoticed by car.
Some of my favorite vacations have been by bicycle and this tour was no exception. From the time we rode away from Mighk and Carol’s downtown Orlando home and boarded the train at a nearby SunRail station en route to DeBary, the next 8 days would be filled with memories to last a lifetime.
My hopeful expectations of good weather, few bicycle maintenance issues, staying healthy and hydrated, and getting along with my tandem partner (both couples traveled via tandems equipped with a trailer or panniers) were easily met. In fact, there were essentially no bicycle maintenance issues other than a bike shoe “blow-out” which resulted with a new pair purchased at Daytona Bicycle Center in Ormond Beach. I do love shopping and anytime I can create economic impact, I will gladly do so.
My “pearls” from the tour remained constant as the days flashed by:
Overwhelming hospitality by just about everyone we encountered from our accommodation hosts (mostly bed & breakfasts or inns), local dignitaries and restaurant personnel (who gladly refilled our water bottles with ice water).
Conscientious drivers on back roads and high-traffic corridors.
Delicious food at locally-owned restaurants (definitely more calories consumed than burned).
From DeBary to Titusville to New Smryna Beach to Flagler Beach to St. Augustine to Crescent City and back to DeLand and DeBary, plus all the wonderful, quaint places in between like Osteen, Oak Hill, Ponce Inlet, and Armstrong, it’s been a great ride … literally. I can’t wait to do it again.
And lastly, although Robert and I were already good friends with Mighk and Carol, our friendship has grown to a deeper level. That’s what can happen when you travel together by bike for eight days.
Four of us wandered Florida slowly by bicycle for a week carrying our belongings. We had only great experiences, hoped for cooling thunderstorms, and never felt threatened by traffic.
1995 was my last extended bicycle tour and a lot has changed since then. Thousands of miles of paved shoulders and multi-use trails now criss-cross our state. 50% of the drivers are new and 50% are gone but there is still plenty of traffic — even more — and lots of driving still.
Gone were the constant horn blaring and the drivers blasting vocal cords demanding the road to themselves. Gone were the constant close calls of cars squeezing by. But we were different too this time. If the roadway couldn’t support safe lane sharing we positioned ourselves fully in it where drivers had to cross the center-line to pass.
They did and didn’t complain. We were traffic just like the slow garbage truck or farm tractor. All users have rights to the road and laws supporting safe travel while using that road. We broke no laws and only made situations safer.
I have to theorize that the act and art of driving is evolving into something softer and more meaningful. In 1995 every kid was desperately waiting for that car at 16 and the freedom it provided. Today’s kids see freedom differently and it fits in their pockets and doesn’t need gas or expensive maintenance and more expensive insurance. It connects them and transports them and has no chains.
Around 40% of potential new drivers aren’t driving or getting licenses at their first chance. Some don’t care to drive, some can’t afford it, and some see driving and the addictive car culture as ruinous. This all carries waves of change and waves of opportunity for us, the people who love and trust cycling.
I had probably more than 100,000 miles riding those bad roads with bad drivers through my 20s, 30s and 40s but my 60s are different and it took this trip to feel it, see it, and imagine the opportunities available never before.
We older cyclists must become the ambassadors singing the benefits of the roadways, the places and the people that we meet and share our worlds with. From Mayor Jim Tulley of Titusville who met up with us on his bike and rode the last hour into his town in a drenching downpour smiling all the way, to Laurilee Thompson who dreams bigger and bigger each year and makes the impossible commonplace. Over and over we met with these people in each and every town. The bicycle and cycling was a cure, a panacea in new and different ways. People of all ages and all walks of life see it and want it as part of the places where they live and work. That, my friends, was rare in 1995 and now it is the way. The bicycle, the RV of the 21st century, bringing people and communities together to do good work.