by Larry Friedman
8-16 February 2014 (Deane Blazie, Larry Friedman, Craig Miser, Sid Steelman)
After months of planning and preparations, we (Craig, Sid and Larry) were fortunate enough to have good weather for our flight into Ft. Lauderdale on February 8th. Our bikes were shipped in advance to a North Lauderdale storage facility awaiting assembly and final preparations for our Florida adventure. It was nice to break a sweat from the Florida heat while working on our bikes while lamenting all of our cycling friends back in Maryland suffering through the cold and snow. Bike assembly, subs and brew were followed by hot showers, relaxation and a delicious dinner. We were soon bedded down (Larry’s parents place) as the next day would begin our journey with a seventy mile leg.
We began Sunday early with another delicious meal to further fuel us for our trek. With that we were off to retrieve our bikes from storage and hit the open road. The first leg of our journey took east to the coast and then north to rendezvous with Deane. We snaked our way through the beautiful Boca Raton suburbs during the misty morning. It didn't take long to get off course as we missed a turn, but we found an acceptable alternate route that put us onto A1A north. Soon the mist yielded to the bright sunshine which unfortunately was accompanied by headwinds in excess of 20mph. The route took us through a Garlic Festival (whatever that was), over West Lake Lagoon and through scenic West Palm Beach. Our day was not to continue without issue, as Sid's rear went flat, twice, from an obscure shard of glass in his tire. But we were soon on our way and Deane escorted us to his house finishing the day with just over seventy miles under our belt.
It was a pleasure to meet Deane’s wife, Marty, as we enjoyed a few beers, all of us together in the kitchen. Deane and Marty were most kind and gracious extending to us indoor accommodations for the evening and making us really feel like family. Craig and Sid joined Deane in the pool and hot tub. We also met friends who were visiting Deane and Marty. They were from Maryland as well. We all had wine, cheese and crackers and later would enjoy a wonderful steak dinner. Sid was assigned grill duties which he executed with obvious expertise! After a night cap, we retired for the evening. It was a memorable one.
Monday morning came quickly and we were soon prepping for the next leg of our journey that would takes us 58 miles to Okeechobee. On the road by 9am, we continued our ride north passing homes of the rich and famous: Steve Bisciotti, Tiger Woods, the Woolworth family, Celine Deone and Greg Norman. Amazingly, none of them came racing out to get our autographs, so we continued our trek turning westward. We were soon leaving the population centers of the southeastern Florida coastline and buildings gave way to open spaces, groves of fruit trees and farmland. After a short rest stop to water and de-water, we finally came to Lake Okeechobee. While not on our official route, we did take time to detour onto the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail to take in the view. Unfortunately, the trail was not a good route option due to surface conditions and trail closures.
A few more miles put us in town and just a half mile more brought us to the Okeechobee KOA (campground). After setting up camp and a makeshift cooler for "refreshments," it was off to swimming for Deane, Craig and Sid, and nap time for Larry. Since we were on our own for dinner, we decided to rough it and eat out at a local Mexican Restaurant, Pueblo Viejo. It was three quarters of a mile walk from the campground. Although it was a longish walk, it was nice to be out of the saddle stretching our legs. It was dinner, drinks and back to camp for social hour and then into our tents for the night.
Ride day three (Tuesday) was more headwinds. We broke camp and headed out in search of breakfast when Sid's chain decided it needed a break, so it broke! Repair went quickly and we were soon back on the road in search of the ever elusive breakfast. The first place we came to advertised for a "breakfast chef wanted," so we took that as a sign to continue pedaling. Deane found a nice spot in short order (no pun intended) and we all had a nice breakfast before leaving town, once again heading into the wind. The day was filled with orchards, farmland, high speed traffic and crappy shoulders but it was the only route to get us to the Gulf coast within the allotted timeframe.
We opted to modify the route (foregoing Lake Placid, Fl), which cut seven miles of riding in a headwind. After finding and climbing what seemed to be the only hill in Florida, we stopped for lunch, snacks and drinks, then continued our ride into the abyss of windy route 70. Around mid-day, we happened upon a Sonic and stopped for a second lunch. We continued on with some stops along the way to buy food and drink for our overnight stay at Peace River Campground just east of Arcadia. We arrived around 4:30, set camp, showered and enjoyed a scrumptious dinner of cold cut wraps. We later also enjoyed the evening by the fire but were soon off to bed for another night on the ground.
Ride day four (Wednesday) was quickly upon us and we headed out for an interesting and more lively 77 mile route to East Venice. Mother Nature decided to take pity on us with somewhat more forgiving winds, along a few stretches actually enjoying some tailwind. This was the first time we opted for sidewalk riding in the name of safety. Sid became our early warning system for cars pulling out of parking lots and the like. We were soon entering Sarasota heading for Siesta Key when we happened upon a Trek bike shop where we took the opportunity to buy some maintenance supplies (to include a new spare chain for Sid). After a few more miles, we were on Siesta Key with 47 miles of our day completed. We were spared any decent views of the Gulf of Mexico thanks to all the high rises.
Leaving Siesta Key, navigation became a little tricky with some of the small side streets, but we were able to get to a planned bicycle oasis; 10.5 miles on the Legacy Trail (aka Sarasota to Venice Rail Trail). No traffic; just bicyclists, pedestrians and a lone meandering armadillo. This peaceful leg of the trip ended and we rolled through Venice looking for a place to buy food for the night to no avail. With the threat of rain in the forecast and the skies looking ominous, we headed toward the next campground. This was a white knuckled ride in rush hour traffic, in hopes that we could get food once in camp.
We were grateful to have arrived safely at the Rambling Rest Campground. From there it went downhill as it took forever to check-in, they had no food for sale and the bathhouse across from our campsite was not operational, affording us a 1/4 mile walk to the next closest one. Then there was the campsite; no picnic table, no fire ring, not a single luxury; like Robinson Crusoe, just as primitive as could be! It was then that brilliance set in; we found a sub shop that delivered and Deane called a taxi to buy beer and deliver it to us - very creative (gotta love smart phones).
And the rain came accompanied by a spectacular light show in the sky; a fairly strong storm which lasted for hours. Sid’s tent was pitched in what became a small lake and Deane’s tent became wet inside. Craig and Larry were both able to sleep in their tents. Most fortunately, Deane and Sid found sleeping accommodations in the campground sewing room.
In the morning (Thursday, ride day five), the wet gear was packed up and we said a "never-again" goodbye to Rambling Rest Campground. Traffic out was not nearly as stressful as the rush hour ride into the campground. In the routing was a three-mile, unpaved stretch through the Myakka State Forest. Unfortunately, it was a sandy trail which proved challenging with fully loaded bikes after the deluge the previous night. After leaving the park, we were greeted by quiet, rural roads which took us through the Englewood peninsula and over the Myakka River. Our mid-day destination was lunch with Craig's mother-in-law, Elna, who lived Port Charlotte. We arrived at her house in time for lunch and enjoyed a nice spread of fresh fruit, vegetables, breads, cheeses, meats and beverages. Time passed quickly and it was soon time to return to the open road for the next leg of our journey.
Our route had us parallel the Tamiami Trail and with a few construction detours we crossed the Peace River, eventually making our way to Cape Coral. After a not-so-successful night of camping, we were looking forward to staying with Sid’s uncle Buddha (yes, Buddha), and his wife, Frona. We got comfortable and were treated an amazing meal of crabs, Spanish mackerel and homemade cornbread washed down with some powerful Margaritas. The wet gear from the previous day, dried outside in the sunshine. Life was good as we enjoyed a relaxing evening and were soon bedded down in warm dry beds.
Friday morning (ride day six) was most pleasant as there were no wet tents to roll up and we were treated to a hot, homemade breakfast. We would need that hearty breakfast as we had seventy miles of pedaling to get to Clewiston. Once again, the unsafe conditions put us back up on the sidewalk for about six miles until we entered Fort Myers and continued into Labelle around mile forty. By this point, we were hungry. Sid spotted a BBQ restaurant and we enjoyed a most satisfying lunch there. Fat and happy, we resumed our eastward trek toward Clewiston, taking a more direct route then originally planned. Our trek along route 80 was highlighted by sugar cane fields, processing plants, and field burning. We arrived at the Clewiston KOA which proved to be much nicer than our last camping experience. After some beer and Chinese, we were ready for a campfire as the temps were dipping cooler than expected. Except for Larry, who slept in the TV room, the group bedded down in their tents for the night.
We were up early Saturday for our seventh and final ride day. Our intention was to get a jumpstart on a long 82 mile ride back to North Lauderdale. We rode the first 19 miles together into South Bay where we bade farewell to Deane, as he would proceed north to his home in Hobe Sound while the rest of us continued south. Heading south, the winds were brutal taking our progress down to 9mph until our route finally turned southeast giving us a bit of a tailwind. The combination of the tailwind, decent pavement and an infrequently used turn lane (defacto bike lane) made for a pleasant ride through the Everglades. It was also the one place we did not see an alligator. Leaving the Everglades soon has us back to some not-so bike friendly roads which forced us back to the sidewalk for part of our ride. We were soon rolling back into the storage facility where Craig Sid and Larry started the trek, completing a 493 mile loop. Deane would report that he arrived safely home completing 435 miles. Not bad!
So, it was time to breakdown the bikes for shipping, clean up and eat! We enjoyed our final dinner of the trip at a Hibachi-style Japanese steak house (with Larry’s parents). This was our last night in the warm Florida weather, facing the reality that we had to return to the arctic (Maryland). Our flight left early Sunday morning and returned us to the winter wonderland that awaited.
Come see the pictures of our tour by clicking here.