We did it! Adventure Cycling’s Southern Tier, Van One group arrived in St. Augustine Florida right on schedule, around noon on Monday, May 4th, 2015. A great adventure for all, no doubt, and a great learning experience for me. For a first gig as a tour leader, I could not have asked for a better group. I’m certain we all have taken home wonderful memories, made terrific friends, and met some challenges that inspire us all for more. And on a personal note, I was especially thrilled that a long-time goal of mine was finally checked off … Old Blue, 38 years old now, finally got to get the sneakers wet on both ends.
After the tour, I had the extra duty of delivering the van and trailer to the next group who would use it … on the Trans-Am … starting on the east coast and heading out for Astoria Oregon. The rig took a pounding on our crossing, so some service work was in order. I found a dealer in Richmond Virginia, close to it’s drop point, who could take it in, so, a two day drive from St. Augustine to Richmond got it there and in for service, pronto! After the service was finished, and the rig dropped at it’s destination, I got to spend time with our buddy Linda, and happily reunited with Karen who drove down from Rochester. After a relaxing visit and a local century ride …
… the next stop was Ohiopyle Pennsylvania for a business matter before finally heading home.
I arrived home a week after the tour ended, and after a week of settling in, I’m finally getting around to writing the last chapter of my Southern Tier blog. Excuse my tardiness, but I’m finally breathing normally.
So … Tallahassee … that was nice! On our rest day there, the gang hopped in the van and cruised over to Wakulla Springs for a boat tour on the river … the river that flows from a huge natural spring. The SAME river that Karen and I visited years ago and got videos of (literally) tons of manatees swimming next to our canoe. On this trip, we only saw one manatee, but there was no shortage of birds, turtles, and gators to see.
A group of us wandered to a place across the road for dinner and I scored a great chocolate bomb!
Next stop … Monticello! Cool little town, and we stayed with Maria, a warm showers host with a beautiful and quiet piece of property outside town, and a heart of gold. The following morning, we were advised to visit a local coffee shop / bakery, and we complied.
Just down the road from Monticello is this quiet little town of Greenville. Maybe you’ve never heard of it. Or maybe you did, if you’re a fan of the late great Ray Charles. It was his home.
I suspect that when the Southern Tier route was developed, routing on quiet roads was only part of the requirement. A bit of music history MUST have been a part. We all enjoyed Mike finding songs based on the area we were riding through and playing them on his iPhone for us at map meetings. Here in the deep south, we were treated to “Ode to Billy Joe” and “Way Down upon the Suwannee River” among others. Always kept me laughing!
And a bonus! The last week of riding turned nice again! The rain stopped, the sun came out, the winds were gentle. I could feel the group’s pace ramping up … they could smell the barn (Literally, in some places.)
Gainesville was another big treat. After a pretty long day, we arrived at Martha and Tom’s place, another wonderful Warm Showers host home, and this too was buried deep in the woods. Tom and Martha treated us to a wonderful dinner and some of the nicest camping of the entire trip, complete with our first and only campfire of the trip. How did that sneak by us for so many nights out?
It was hard to leave the wonderful hospitality the following morning, but not hard to find our way. We followed a marked trail through the woods that deposited us right on the Gainesville – Hawthorne bike trail, which leads right into the Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park. I was the lucky guy to sweep that day, and I took advantage of it being MY last riding day before the coast. With Martha’s recommendation, I parked and locked my bike at the trailhead leading into the preserve and took nearly two hours to wander the preserve looking for action.
I found it. In one place, I almost jumped when I spotted a huge gator basking in the sun just ten feet off the trail. He was facing me and never stirred while I zoomed in (optically, of course) for a closeup.
The place was filled with birds and flowers … and gators, and I was hard pressed to get moving again. But the trail was beckoning, and it was a serene cruise for 15 miles before hitting the road again, and hitting yet another bike trail, complete with a trailside bike work stand and tools. Great timing too!
I wrapped up the day by pulling into the resort where we were enjoying our last “official” night of the tour. Everyone else was already in and showered and relaxing. Most of the afternoon snacks were gone too, I noticed. After a great celebration dinner, we gathered for a bit to share laughs and memories of the trip. I think we all started to feel “it” coming. That moment when we would start breaking up and heading home the next day after reaching the coast. That’s a moment that is priceless, but in ways, you don’t really want to do it. We’ve shared so much in the last two months. Shared challenges, shared beauty, and even some shared heartache.
So, we finally hit the road in the morning and headed for the coast. I was driving this day and got to the coast in time to chat with the park staff and assure an entrance fee waiver to the park and the beach. Even the state park staff “gets it” when we tell them what we just did. No charge gang … just cruise right in!
In no time at all, the entire group had met at the concession stand next to the beach, and like newborn turtles, we slowly tromped through the sand and across the wide beach to reach the Atlantic, after 58 days! Handshakes, high fives, fist bumps, hugs and tears all around. Photos from every angle, from a flurry of cameras … we must have looked like a bunch of kids on spring break to the onlookers around the beach.
Who cares. It was wonderful. STV1 … I’ll miss you all, but till another day …