As our regular readers know, most of our nights on our cross-country tour will likely be spent …
in a tent, …
next to, a ‘bent (or two).
To prepare, we are looking for camping opportunities so we may simulate the camp, ride, camp, ride, camp, ride experience. Our first trip was close to home – detailed in Happy Campers, Part One. Our second trip was a bit farther afield, or maybe a bit farther “aforest”, since our campground was in the Ocala National Forest at Alexander Springs.
Alexander Springs is a first magnitude spring (over 100 cubic feet/second) and has really easy access with a gentle slope down to the water’s edge. The water in the springs is a constant 72F/22C, resulting in year-round swimmers – but not us! When we arrived, the sun was setting while the temps were on their way to the low 40s/5-6C – brrr! FYI – Florida has 27 first magnitude springs that bubble up from the massive Floridan aquifer, which covers some 100,000 square miles and portions of five states (all of Florida, BTW).
Because Alexander Springs is so popular, campsites can be hard to come by. Some of the 67 campsites are available by reservation, with the rest on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations have to be made months in advance, so we were out of luck in that department, but the ranger Lucia spoke with thought we would either get one of the remaining sites, or we could camp “across the street” from the campground area and just come into the park to use their showers/bath, etc.
So our goal was set. Do most of our packing the night before departure, get up early on Friday, February 12th (Lucia’s birthday) and ride approximately 26 miles to Alexander Springs to secure a campsite.
I was still waiting for my ICE trike to arrive from the UK, so once again, Lucia was tasked with carrying most of the gear for our excursion.
This also affected our riding decision on Saturday. Lucia has been so amazing in carrying the full load on her trike; she has routinely carried this great attitude along with all the gear – “It will make me a stronger rider,” along with – “When your trike comes in, my load and the packing will be so much easier.”
The ride to Alexander Springs
I planned our route to avoid the congested highway (US 19) that runs through Eustis and Umatilla, but eventually, because of the large area of the Ocala National Forest, we were forced onto the highway at the very northern end of Umatilla. For me, one of the nice things about this first part of the ride along the secondary roads is going past the Umatilla Airport. For some reason, I can’t seem to fix the location of the airport in my mind, so it’s always a surprise when it suddenly shows up “out of nowhere” on our trips. I think it must be because Umatilla is such a tiny little town, seemingly surrounded by agriculture and two lane country roads, and suddenly there’s an airport!
Once we started riding on US 19 along with the 18-wheelers, RVs, and other vehicles, it was a pretty straight shot to a right on County Road 445 and then just over 5 miles to the entrance to Alexander Springs. Since we were now away from the city congestion, it was easy to enjoy the scenery. Of course, we rode right past the park entrance – surprisingly, there wasn’t a large neon sign with our names in lights saying:
“Mike & Lucia! Turn here!”
Backtracking a bit, we arrived at the entrance and received the usual ‘what are you riding?’ double-take from the rangers and park staff. We were then informed, “No more campsites are available!” and our hearts sank a bit. Of course, while we were riding the last stretch of road and an RV would pass, I was mentally saying, “there goes our campsite competition!” I then mentioned that we weren’t arriving in an RV, we just needed a spot to pitch our tents. There was a brief discussion inside the gatehouse and they determined there was a site without a fire ring or electrical hook-up. We could have it for the standard $22/night fee. My response? “SOLD! Two nights, please!”
In short order, we had the tent up, the sleeping pads inflated, the down sleeping bags laid out, the clothesline rigged and the food bag hung up. The sandy soil in Florida makes the job of staking the tent a pretty easy one, but I know we will have some staking challenges when we get out west.
The springs were just a short distance away, so with the sun dropping along with the temperature, we put our (rain) shell jackets on and explored a bit. In short order, we realized that sightseeing was over for the day. We had to get back to our campsite for our dinner, a shower and bed.
Dinner consisted of two pre-packaged meals where you pour hot, steamy, boiled water into a foil-lined pouch, seal it up for a few minutes and then you can eat right out of the pouch. Our verdict so far? “M’eh!” They are good in a pinch, but we are going to have to work on some fresh(er) food items that we can pick up along the way and actually try and cook in small pots ‘n’ pans.
The bathhouse was a treat in that the shower required a bit of a dance. Push the faucet handle into the wall, wait for hot water to sprinkle out, if not, then push the handle into the wall for another 30 seconds of water, then push the handle into the wall, get wet and start soaping, then push the handle into the wall, then wash your hair, then grope for the handle because you can no longer see and have soap in your eyes and where’s the handle(?), well … you get the picture.
We woke up to some pretty chilly conditions, but our sleeping bags kept us warm all night. Lucia worked on lighting our alcohol burner and making some hot drinks for us to start the day. It took quite some time to get the water up to the boiling point, so it looks like we might ditch the Trangia stove set-up, or perhaps we might carry two different types of stoves?
Our ride for this day was from Alexander Springs to DeLeon Springs … and back(!) – 67 miles. Because I didn’t have my touring trike yet, we elected to have a pannier-free ride. It was cold and a bit breezy, so we started out with our hi-vis vests on. With our legs churning in circles, we were pretty comfortable temperature-wise, but we paid close attention to traffic. Regardless of bike type, one of the biggest dangers is negotiating an intersection with heavy traffic. Drivers have a lot to contend with and having a trike/bike occupy a chunk of the road is something they may not be ready to handle. Lucia had two encounters while on this ride.
Her first close call was in DeLand while we were trying to find a lunch spot. Approaching an intersection with only one narrow lane in each direction, a car initially gave her a wide pass, but suddenly came back into her lane as they approached the red light with traffic coming in the other direction. Lucia was at the driver’s rear right corner with no where to go (can you say blind spot?). Fortunately, the driver had to completely stop before completing the squeeze play, due to the line of cars ahead waiting for the red light.
Her second close call actually resulted in damage to her trike, “Ruby”. (For you wanna be editors out there, this part is called “burying the lede”). We were riding single file near Paisley, FL. Lucia was in the lead and I was right behind her. We each heard a truck loudly, if not rapidly, coming down a driveway just ahead on our right. My attention was diverted to the sound when Lucia judiciously decided that stopping was the best plan of action. Then I stopped too …
… and it wasn’t because I used my brakes! Lucia’s rear mudguard/fender suddenly looked very rakish as it was folded up like the back page of a 1960’s Mad Magazine and now ended at the top of her rear wheel instead of the 3 o’clock position. Fortunately, no one was hurt and after removing the mudguard, I was able to unfold the damaged part and bend the stays to the point that it could all be reattached and we were able to continue. Sadly for you readers, I was too engaged in making the repair to snap any photos. I was also really, really upset with myself for causing this calamity. My focus was entirely on how to fix the problem, not on how to report it on the blog. This crash was a valuable lesson in riding single file, maintaining a proper gap, and paying attention to the rider in front. We were fortunate that the only damage was to the fender and stays. The fender was relatively easy to replace.
The horns sing!
Next on the day’s adventure was an opportunity to use our AirZound horns. We often encounter dogs when riding our low to the ground ‘bents, and my absurd view of dog psychology comes into play here. Most dogs will defend their territory and they are bred to chase down intruders/rabbits/moose/mice/frisbees/whatever. However, many dogs, especially small ones, know that they aren’t going to take down a large upright road bike. They might alert and bark, but small dogs generally give tall bikes a pass. Not so with trikes! Small dogs can’t process that our long, low trikes are anything but something to chase down. Our first small dog encounter was such a tiny, gray chihuahua that we both thought it was a rat (sorry, chihuahua owners!). It was racing across the yard toward us, yapping and yipping. Fortunately, the owner gave a verbal command and the teeny little thing stopped running on its collision course. My hand was on the AirZound button though, ready to fire an ear-splitting blast. Laughter ensued. We also encountered many dogs in fenced in yards who spied us and gave chase along with throaty woofs until corralled (once again!) by the fence.
So here I was, pedaling along after the crash, still replaying the scene in my unsettled mind and trying to get back into the zen of pedaling. Suddenly, I realized that the sound of large pounding paws behind me belonged to last dog we encountered. He was not only unencumbered by a fence, or an owner, or lack of size/speed, but was rapidly gaining on the Two Traveling Trikes as we were spinning up a small hill – ACK! I shouted to Lucia – “Pedal faster!”, while already doing so on my own trike. My hand dropped to my horn. Lucia spied the large, brown canine out of the corner of her eye. We each hit our horns at the same time – the air was doubly pierced with a high pitched wail, and the dog never stopped running as he rapidly turned and made a beeline toward his home. WHEW!
As our adrenaline returned to normal, we discussed how to handle emergency situations like this. Lucia kindly pointed out that “Pedal faster!” wasn’t very helpful when she was already pedaling as fast as she could. Hmmm …
Pedaling home – but first …
Sunday morning found us waking to even colder conditions than the previous morning. Again, our down bags got us comfortably through the night, but once awake and out of the bags, we were putting every stitch of clothing available on our bodies. The alcohol stove was fired up frequently as we transferred the heat inside our bodies using hot drinks, oatmeal with bananas, and more hot drinks. We also spent considerable time wrapping our hands around the cups and bowls in an effort to feel the warmth. BRRR!!!
Since we had a short ride home, we delayed taking off early, and took the opportunity to pedal around the various campsites. We had met a really nice couple from Vermont when we first arrived, and we wanted to talk a bit more before heading out. We found them out walking their dog and they gave us some good tips on storing items in our panniers along with a caution that the Arkel “waterproof” pannier covers weren’t very waterproof. Of course, by design the covers are open on one side, but we appreciated the advice. Our down sleeping bags are a treated down that can handle some moisture, but not a deluge. Looks like a dry bag for each is in order. They also told us of another couple in the park who were touring on bikes, so we went to see if we could meet them. Sure enough, we found them after seeing their tent suspended in the air. They were hanging the assembled tent from a tree branch in order to dry it from the morning dew, while the tent fly and footprint were hanging over a clothesline. Great ideas! They were a French-Canadian couple, so I used a bit of my unpracticed grade school French to help the conversation along. Their winter camping trip in Florida was in preparation for a summer trip out to Montana. Cool!
Of course, meeting people is one of the things we are looking forward to on this cross-continental trip, so it was nice to meet these folks and see how open people are to new experiences. It always reinforces my belief that people are inherently good, friendly and welcoming. Yes, there are bad folks out there, but they are far outnumbered by the good, even though it only takes one bad person to ruin a day/week/trip, etc.
We were now ready for our ride home.
So that’s what we did!
Keep on rolling!