Monday, February 16, 2015

Florida Cross State Permanent and Reverse

The Florida Cracker Trail was originally a cattle trail traversing the state from Gulf Coast to Atlantic.  Despite the little remaining physical evidence of the original trail the historical significance is not forgotten.
  While winter rages in the northeast I manage a breakaway to warmer climates for the purpose of riding as many kilometers as possible.  Considerable time was spent plotting and planning how and where to get some of this riding done.  First on the agenda is the Cracker Trail Permanent.  This 225k, point to point, route crosses the state from coast to coast.  One chooses to ride East to West or, the opposite direction.  My plan is to start the ride in Bradenton, Florida on the Gulf Coast. Then ride the 140 miles to Fort Pierce on the Atlantic Coast.  After an overnight stay in a hotel I reverse direction back to Bradenton accumulating 450k in the process. 

It's a cool 45 degrees at 7:30am on Saturday morning which is the warmest start I've enjoyed in at least two months.  I'm looking at a cue sheet with about eight total lines on it for 139 miles of navigation.  The entire route is on numbered roads.  The first 43.6 miles are spent on Florida Route 64.  A dedicated bike lane leads me out of the congested area of Bradenton. Then the road narrows to a two-lane with shoulder.  The traffic is light, though vehicles do pass by quickly with a posted speed limit of 60 miles per hour.  The road shoulder is smooth and the local drivers appear courteous.  It doesn't take long before the area takes on a very rural, everglades, kind of look.

As advertised Florida is sunny.  The temperature rises twenty degrees in just a few hours.  Along with it the wind picks up to the foretasted 10 to 15 mph from the NNW.  The westerly component gives the wind a friendly, helpful feel.  I pedal easily on the fixed-gear at 19 miles per hour while enjoying the view of ranches, farms and orchards.  With the help of the wind the first turn arrives quickly.  The Garmin having been silent for hours happily chirps off the two turns which is a quick zig-zag onto Florida 66.  The device then goes silent awaiting the 54.8 miles to the next change of direction.
A selfie on The Cracker Trail
There is little difference between SR 64 and SR 66.  They both travel the same direction, have similar road surface and scenery.  What is required is the mental capacity to ride for several hours without change.  There is a part of the brain dedicated to just this purpose.  The body becomes robotic performing it's monotonous task while the brain is free to solve all the problems of the world.  With the mind engaged I barely notice that I pass the Sebring International Speedway or that an air boat crosses under the highway with the wind from its propeller whipping the marsh reeds into a frenzy.  Fortunately I do notice the Circle K convenience store control and the intersection of US27.  This marks the half-way point to the ride and is the only intermediate control.

After a brief pause to refresh fluids I continue on the same road, which changes name to US 98.  There are 69 miles behind and the same ahead.  The next planned stop is a General Store in 44 miles, although it is not a control.  The miles tick-off methodically and the quaint store appropriately named The Cracker Trail Country Store approaches on the left side of the highway.  I stop to re-fill fluids.  Without lingering I continue the easterly trek having ridden 97 miles.    

In just a few miles there is a turn off from the highway onto a county road.  CR-68 is narrower with no useable shoulder, but is almost totally void of traffic.  The ten mile stretch on this lonely road is enjoyed.  This is followed by a four mile stretch to the north on US 441.  I now get to feel the effect of the wind as it hits me head on.  Funny how it doesn't feel like much when it's whisking you down the road. Pushing into it is a whole other matter.  The four miles seems to take forever.  At its end I make the final turn towards my destination and a return to favorable winds.  The final 25 miles are quickly covered on a county road.  I arrive at the Flying J Travel Plaza in under 10 hours and in full daylight,  There is even time enough to enjoy dinner and ride to the motel before sun-down.  It was a good day.

After a pleasant nights rest the trip is resumed in the opposite direction, beginning with the ride to the Travel Plaza.  Again it is chilly and windy, although the wind will not be my friend today.  At the early morning hour it is already brisk and predicted to reach 25mph from the northwest.  Most of my journey will be to the west.

Everything on the return trip is the same as the day before only slower.  My only goal is to be at the finish before the sun sets.  It's quite the grind compared to just one day before, but I'm determined to keep at it with minimal time off the bike.

After riding non-stop for 42 miles I accidentally pass by the country store without stopping.  While mentally zoning out I didn't notice it.  I'm several miles past before I realize it.  I only have a little fluids left in one bottle.  Just a few sips.  It's twenty miles to the mid-way control and quite remote in between.  To make things worse it's gotten pretty warm.  I'm not used to temperatures over 40 degrees.  I plan to ration the little I have left by taking a sip every five miles. This will consist of three swigs starting from this point.  After eight miles I've used up two of the three sips when unexpectedly I come upon a gas station on the left side of the road.  It has a small store attached which appears to be open.  After topping up one bottle I cover the remaining miles to the control.  When I get off the bike I feel wobbly in the legs from the heat, lack of fluids,  and the exertion of riding into the wind.  I typically make a practice of getting in and out of controls quickly.  However, this time I feel a different approach is called for.  I spend about 20 minutes inside at a table drinking and eating salty snacks.  I resume the ride feeling better.  I still have a chance at beating the sunset with half the distance still to cover.

As the day moves into late afternoon the wind dies down to a lesser degree.  I'm able to maintain a little better pace.  The earlier fatigue appears to have dissipated as well.  One quick stop at mile 95 is needed to top up fluids.  Besides that there is zero planned off the bike.  The path of the sun as it lowers in the sky is directly in front of me.  I can see it's height above the horizon and gauge the pace needed to beat it to the finish.  When it begins to blind me I need to be close to the end.  The final few miles have the busiest traffic of the day coming into Bradenton.  I ride in the dedicated bike lane with the sun shining into my eyes.  The control can be seen off to the right and I make it in before the last sliver of sun is gone. It took 1 hour and 20 minutes longer than the trip out.  None the less I have no complaints.  It was a great way to spend a weekend.

The Cracker Trail is a road Florida's pioneers used during the early 1800's to move cattle to ports along the Gulf Coast the Atlantic Coast. Today, the Cracker Trail spans parts of State Road 66, State Road 64 and U.S. Highway 98.
Thanks to Permanent owner John Preston for making all the arrangements for me to ride this route on short notice.  And, for taking extra care to make sure the cue sheet was up to date.

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