Big Bend Scout March 2017
Keeping your pulse on the trends of Ultra Cycling is not easy. The increase in Road focused bikepack style events had me thinking that I wanted to host a ride from New Orleans to Key West. Of course, it wasnt going to be so straightforward. The plan was to have four checkpoints, and riders would not be able to know what the next checkpoint was, till they made it to the first one. Kind of like an enormous alley cat race. All that the challengers would be certain about, was the start, and the finish.
So in the interest of being a fair and reasonable person I decided it was important that I take a pedal and see what the conditions in the panhandle are like on the road.
So Ski Ji and I set out, to ride the Big Bend part of Florida, On road bikes.....
I am a "Two Birds with one stone" kind of guy and my friends needed a ride to the start of the Florida Divide in Alabama. So I hatched and organized a plan. We rent a van, we drop Stacy and Bob off, Edward (my step son) drops Ski Ji and myself off just north of Dauphin Island and he would return the van in Tallahassee.
This plan involved me getting picked up at SSP HQ at 330 in the morning. LIke a well oiled machine the plan went off without a hitch and I took the helm to drive the team. I wanted Bob and Stacy to focus on resting. After all, Ski and I were road touring and they were about to take on the Hardest Florida Off road route in existance.
7 hours later, we made it to the start, and after some fotos and some well wishes, Bob and Stacy started their attempt of the Alabama to Key west Bikepacking route, Aka the Florida Divide.
I was proud of these guys for stepping up to the challenge. But I knew damn well what awaited them and hoped they would have the resolve to finish this thing.
Before long, we were dropped off and rolling south toward the Ferry. The first 20 something miles was some of the most technical road riding that I have ever done. The shitty ass shoulder they left us was riddled with rumble strip and the only option was to ride a narrow ten inch strip just a hair away from the dirt. It was by far the safest option, but we pushed on, and before long, we stopped at a bridge to toast to our adventure and sip our first whiskey of the day.
Its cheap to get ferried across the bay. Not only is it cheap, but its rather beautiful and downright super cool fantastic. There is a lil shop to get brews and food from. We drank fine high gravity brews and ate food while we waited for the boat and to board the ferry. As if our Whiskey buzz wasnt enough, LOL.
After the cars where loaded, we were allowed to get on, and before long we were making our way across the bay on this enormous ferry boat. I look at maps plenty but failed to realize that part of the panhandle is on the Alabama side of things. Alabama also allows off shore drilling so seeing these things out in the ocean on a whiskey and brew buzz was quite the mild psychedelic journey.
The mood was magical. The sites amazing. We were HYPED. As soon as we exited the boat, we saw some ruins and went to checked them out. Quite interesting. We are zipping around inside the ruins when disaster struck.
You heard me right. Disaster. Ski Ji and I collided. Sending us crashing to the ground. Head on collision. The good news, aside from a sore ankle and a sore arm, we were ok. Things got twisted a bit in the cock pit, and my front wheel had an obvious wap. I was mad as hell, but I had to remember it was an accident. WE left the scene of the crime an continued on down the road.
Keep in mind this is all new to us. AND that is typical of the scout. Not a lot of info, thats why we are out there, and finally after riding for awhile, Ski Ji recommended we get a room for the night. At this point, I had been awake for over 24 hours straight and I was certainly ready to rest.
During the night, worried about my wheel, I attempted to true it with the multi tool I had, but had not luck. I was really worried that barely a half day into the ride, it would end. There was a bike shop about 50 miles away, so we pushed on. In the daylight we discovered that if we had only ridden thru town, we would of came upon a bike path, with covered shelters and a campground full of empty spots and fire wood. All of it sitting on a ridgeline where the pines grow right up the oceans edge. Bummer.
We spent the days fighting headwinds and drinking coffee and whiskey. We had yet to have a good meal. Although there were plenty of restaurants, I was on a limited time frame that dictated that we put in 100 miles a day. Turns out that was a fools goal as Ski was taking a proper beating from the wind. We would argue about our regroups, but we kept at it. And finally after long we made it to the shop.
Ski Ji felt bad about the accident. The mechanic didnt arrive till later, so Ski Ji asked if he could use the tools. She agreed and before long Ski Ji emerged with a WapLess Wheel, looking good as new, all hope had been immediately restored to the trip.
We pushed on thru the busy streets of pensacola. Onward thru Panama city. Beautiful sites abound. Compared to bikepacking on dirt, road touring is Micro. You feel so small when you can see what you will ride for miles and miles ahead. Bikepacking is more macro. You are constantly intently focused on the ten feet in front of you.
Before long we made our way away from the touristy segments of the bend area and deeper into the calmer areas. It wasnt long before we left the areas behind that had everything you could imagine to places that were more calm, darker and more serene.
This part of Florida is special. Forest growing up right to the beach. Beautiful, Unique and downright odd architechture. Just so much to see. We stayed in hotels every night we could till we got pass Mexico Beach. Near St Marks we made camp across the river from Outz. This part of the big bend was completely different then everything before and that was the theme for the rest of the trip.
After days of delayed time tables and abusive sun and winds, once we cleared the panhandle, I got a ride from Perry Florida as I had to go back to work to run the a Ladies clinic.
Ski Ji kept going and rode all the way back to his house in Orlando.
What did I learn????
Not once did I feel threatened during the ride, this part of the panhandle has amazing bicycle infrastructure and should be considered safe to travel by almost anyone.
- If you want to tour the big bend during spring, start from the east and go west. Sun rises in the east, so it will make your days a little cooler and the wind seems to blow out that same direction the entire time.
- Plenty of places to camp to keep the trip cheap, dont rush the camping, just wait till you come up on it.
- Road touring can be fun, you just have to make the philosophical shift.
After Mike Halls Death in Australia during a road ultra event, I gave up on my idea. So although the scout was fun and successful, I think Off road events are safer. I would be shattered if something happened to someone on a ride. So I chose to abandon the project for the time being. There is nothing saying it wont happen in the future. But.. as of now... Its a No