(Click images to enlarge–but you knew that.)
Three friends (John Lehnert, Bill Mize, Bill Reid — fellow MSing Links), and I just completed this year’s Bike Florida tour, which called itself “Springs Fever ‘04” in honor of the many spectacular natural springs along the route. We left North Carolina on the chilly morning of Friday, April 3rd with a van loaded to capacity with bikes, luggage, gear, snacks and the excited anticipation of having a great tour. This year’s tour was from April 3rd through 9th, beginning and ending in Gainesville, and would bring us along many scenic rural roads and give us a chance to visit some of Florida’s world-class parks. The luxury of having a vehicle at our disposal allowed us great freedom and independence throughout the ride, and we opted to stay in hotels rather than camping (just to make life just a bit more comfortable!)
On Saturday, April 3rd we rode to tour headquarters, then started out on mostly greenway trails within the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail. The paved trails and rural roads covered an extensive area with the opportunity to see Gainesville’s Boulware Springs Park, Paynes Prairie State Preserve, the Lockloosa Wildlife Management Area, and the town of Micanopy. This town had a lot of charm with its streets lined with the lush branches of century-old Live Oak trees supporting gently flowing drapes of moss. The film “Doc Hollywood” was shot here. We managed to do about 70 miles this first day with nice, sunny weather; however, the 15 mph winds were challenging at times, especially when they hit us head-on.
On Sunday, we left Gainesville and rode to High Springs, passing state parks and more natural springs of the Sante Fe River. Some of the noteworthy sites along the way were Devil’s Millhopper State Geological Site and the San Felasco Hammock Preserve. The Devil’s Millhopper site is a huge sinkhole formed when an underground cavern roof collapsed creating a bowl-shaped cavity 120 feet deep. The sinkhole was observed via a boardwalk and stairways or a nature trail along the rim. The San Felasco Preserve consists of 6500 acres of natural beauty with sinkholes, creeks, rare plants and wildlife. In the evening we met up with some former cycling friends from New Jersey (Bob & Lillian Munsky and Bobbie Serpico) and shared a fabulous dinner & lots of laughs at Floyd’s Diner.
Monday we decided to cycle to Ichetucknee Springs State Park and tour the river by way of canoe and kayak. Along the Ichetucknee river we passed moss-laden hardwoods, limestone outcrops, turtles, snakes, fish and very interesting birds. After our shuttle ride back to the starting point, we cycled back with a nice tail wind and the resultant quick pace. We enjoyed another great meal that evening with our friends and even more laughs.
Tuesday we headed out from High Springs to Branford. We had a rest stop at Ichetucknee Springs where we were served a great lunch and were entertained by a superb fiddler: Alan Stowell. He performed some great Blue Grass and folk tunes during our meal. Our group really got engrossed in the music, and John performed a memorable dance that was recorded on the Bike Florida video and by the photographer. Toward the end of the ride, we headed to an optional Scenic stop at Little River Springs. The day was warm and the cool water of the Spring lured me to wade for awhile. I slowly made my way along the rocky bottom when I suddenly slipped down a sharp drop-off and became almost totally immersed in the cool water. I then decided to go for a swim and enjoy the moment. I was told that this spring was fairly deep and continued for miles. Divers from all parts of the world come to explore this spring and other springs of the area.
Wednesday our next destination was Chiefland. We crossed the Suwannee River and came to a rest stop at Hart Springs. The water looked inviting, but I didn’t go for a swim this time. We arrived at Chiefland and attended a show by Tom Snyder “The Bicycle Comedian”. Tom had cycled over 50,000 miles across the country and he had a hilarious collection of road signs on a slide show along with his witty commentary. He has authored a book (soon to be released) with the people from National Lampoon about all about these unique and often interesting road signs throughout the country.
Thursday the weather was predicted to be stormy, so Bill Mize and I decided to stay close to the hotel and possibly ride to some of the local attractions. John & Bill Reid decided to do a 70 mile ride that went to Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast. The weather did turn ugly with very high winds, severe rain & hail. After the weather cleared and when John & Bill returned, we all went to (yes you guessed it) another Spring: Manatee Springs State Park. However, we didn’t manage to see a Manatee during the visit. Later, we visited Dakotah Winery and tasted & purchased some of the local wines.
Friday we made the final trip back to Gainesville with much better weather and enjoyed the “End of the Ride” lunch. We also had the opportunity to view the photos taken by the event’s photographer, and reflect upon the week’s adventure. This was the eleventh year for Bike Florida, and this year’s event lived up to everyone’s expectations. I highly recommend the tour, and you can visit the Bike Florida website for information on next year’s event.
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