Florida Panhandle Tour

by Laura & Duncan McCabe

bicycle chain

OK, we’re flatlanders – we admit it.  That’s why we selected the Florida Panhandle (Tallahassee to Pensacola and back) for a one-week, unsupported credit card tour, February 13-19, 2000. 

Our route was from Tallahassee south via a rails-to-trails bike path, then west on Hwy 98, staying as much as possible on the beach road up the coast to Pensacola.  We then headed north from Pensacola, then east to Tallahassee, approximately following Hwy 90/10, though via back roads as much as possible.  The trip route was planned using the Delorme Florida atlas.  In general this worked pretty well, except the atlas does not distinguish between paved and unpaved roads!

Day 1: Tallahassee to Appalachicola (90 miles)
Day 2: Appalachicola to Panama City (82 miles)
Day 3: Panama City to Pensacola (108 miles – great tailwind!)
Day 4: Pensacola to Milton (82 miles)
Day 5: Milton to DeFuniak Springs (72 miles)
Day 6: DeFuniak Springs to Marianna (69 miles)
Day 7: Marianna to Tallahassee (91 miles)

Total mileage:  594 miles

Equipment: 1990 Burley Duet tandem, with front and rear panniers and rack bag.  Avocet Cross tires (32’s in front, 38’s in back).  Weight:  bike, gear, & riders:  400+ pounds.

Road conditions and drivers: Generally OK. Rails-to-trails bike path from Tallahassee south to Hwy 98 is excellent.  Many roads were recently paved, and several had decent shoulders.  Most bridges had wide shoulders, but with some broken glass and other debris to watch out for.  Bridge into Panama City was horrific – no shoulder and highway speed traffic (it didn’t help that we arrived at rush hour!)  We encountered very few rude drivers.  Bike paths along Hwy 98 between Panama City and Pensacola were not well marked or maintained, so we stayed on the road.  90/10 was not as bad as we expected.  Except as we approached towns (where it would have been most appreciated!), the shoulder was adequate and traffic was not too heavy.  But for some reason, the shoulder often disappeared as we reached each town, just as the traffic density was picking up! 

The terrain:  Flat, flat, flat, as expected, along the coast.  But we had some climbs out of several of the river valleys on the northerly return route.  And the approach into Tallahassee from the north on Day 7 was HILLY! 

Mechanicals:  one split tire (Day 1), one flat (Day 2). 

Weather:  Perfect!  Low 60’s each morning, mid to high 70’s each afternoon.  We did encounter some fog on Days 1 and 2.  And we arrived at our inn on Day 1 in Appalachicola to discover a tornado warning and torrential rains predicted for that night!  Fortunately, we had no tornadoes to worry about, and the rain came in the middle of the night.  By the time we had replaced the split rear tire on the morning of Day 2, the roads were clear and dry. 

Accommodations:  We stayed in B&Bs, small inns, and some budget motels. We used a book of off-season discount lodging coupons picked up at the Florida Visitor’s Center for the budget motels. Our cheapest night ($32) was at a Super 8 in Panama City (the same room is $165 - plus a $200 damage deposit - during Spring Break! We got most of the B&B/inn information off the Internet.  We made no reservations ahead of time except for our last night of lodging in Tallahassee.  Both the first and last nights were at the Calhoun Street B&B.  Gail, the proprietor, allowed us to keep our van in her parking lot for the time we were on tour.   

Best dinners:  Kool Beans (Tallahassee), and Boss Oyster (Appalachicola)

Worst dinner:  Microwaved canned beans (Day 4).  Our room in a converted schoolhouse at Adventures Unlimited was beautiful and secluded.  Unfortunately it was also 10-15 miles north of Milton, the only significant town, and we were too tired to ride into town for dinner or groceries.  The only alternative was canned beans from small convenience store 3 miles from our accommodations. 


·         On Day 2 we met a touring (camping) cyclist coming the other way.  He was 15,000 miles into a 20,000-mile tour of all the “real” national parks (his words) in the lower 48 states.  He’d been traveling since May and seemed to be having a blast.

·         Also on Day 2, we discovered a 4-5’ long alligator sunning himself in a drainage ditch beside the road.

·         Also on Day 2, we crossed into the Central Time Zone at a county line (road dogs, think of the county line sprint possibilities – the sprint winner arrives an hour before everyone else!).  

·         The scenery was great all along the way.  Our route provided a nice contrast, from the miles of white beaches and turquoise water during the first half of the trip, to the wooded countryside and rural farmland of the latter half. 

·         Gail, the proprietor of Calhoun Street B&B in Tallahassee, who agreed to let us keep our van in her small lot for the week. 

Learnings for future tours:

·         For navigating through large cities, pick up a detailed city map (e.g. at a convenience mart several miles before reaching the city limits).  Use this to plan your approach and departure by staying off main roads as much as possible.  Totally ignore any advice on best routes through town that you receive from “helpful” drivers or non-cycling personnel at visitor information centers. We used this technique very successfully to get through Pensacola, and wish we’d done it in Panama City.  One risk is you may select roads through “not nice” sections of town.

·         Even for a credit card tour, always pack a set of eating utensils for each rider (knife, fork, and spoon).  Though we did just fine fashioning spoons out of a section of a Gatorade bottle (ala Ed Downing) to eat our yogurt one morning. 

·         We are sold on “Spinskins” for preventing flats during touring.  These are Kevlar liners installed between the tire and the tube.  At the end of Day 1 we discovered the rear tire had started to split (probably from broken glass), but it never went flat.  No telling how many miles we had ridden with it that way.

·         What to do about saddle sores?  Despite padded shorts, padded seat, compression seat post, liberal applications of petroleum jelly each morning, and similarly liberal applications of aloe each evening, the Rear Admiral’s rear was not admirable.  

Would we do this particular trip again?  No, probably not – too many other great places to explore!  Will we do other unsupported credit card tours?  Definitely yes! 

Team Daisy (Captain Duncan, Rear Admiral Laura)

Page maintained by Tom Sheffield and last revised on Tuesday, March 07, 2000.
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