Before Thanksgiving break, students asked what my plans were. I didn’t really have plans for Thanksgiving day (still don’t). But I was going to bike to Hillsborough River State Park, camp for two nights, and then bike bike. Close to 100 miles round trip.
Well, I did it!!
Roundtrip it was 95 miles per the RunKeeper app. My gear included my 1980’s Schwinn Traveller, a Kelty TN2 tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, a sleeping bag liner and an inflatable pillow, some toiletry items, clothes, bike repair tools and a small tire pump, two water bottles, my journal and camera, a book. I think that’s it. Not sure what the total weight was. Maybe 50 pounds? The bike is around 32 pounds by itself…
I left my apartment at 8:30-ish on Monday. It was cool, in the low 60s. I ended up putting on my jacket for the first part of the ride.
I started slow. I hadn’t been on a long ride in awhile. I could feel it in my legs. But I wasn’t in a huge hurry. My deadline was before sundown, so I didn’t have to set up camp in the dark.
I kept heading north on 1st Street N. There are bike lanes there that turns into a trail. I cut across towards Weedon Island. All of this was familiar territory. Eight miles in, I felt Ok in my saddle, my arm position felt Ok.
I passed Weedon Island, maneuvered towards Gandy, and off I went into new-to-me biking territory.
I was intimidated by crossing the Gandy Bridge. There is heavy traffic going 60 mph before even getting to the bridge. Fortunately there’s a wide bike lane that goes all the way across the bridge to the other side. The only other thing to contend with was the incline.
I’ve discovered I’m a “slow and steady wins the race” sort of person when it comes to hills. I put my bike in a low gear, and I kept grinding. Reaching the top felt really good, and what a view!!
I took a mini-break there while the traffic whizzed by me. I drank water and enjoyed the view. I saw two rays swimming down below!
Going back down was way more fun than going up. One friend said she loved biking over the Gandy, because it felt like you were flying with the pelicans. It didn’t feel that way on the way up, but going back down you get a sense of flying. No pelicans joined me that time.
The bike lane ends soon after the bridge does on the Gandy. Which made me want to get off of that road ASAP. I turned left onto Westshore and then onto Euclid to cut over to Bayshore (because it’s pretty there).
I meandered north and thought about hijacking a rather large boat to continue. I decided on sticking with the bike, made my way to Channelside and took that up to Ybor.
I stopped for hot chocolate and crepes for lunch. It was still cool, but warm enough that I’d shed my jacket on the bridge. I was tired, because I was riding into head wind most of the way. That coupled with the lack of long bouts of physical activity and lack of a good breakfast.
Still from Ybor, about another 20 miles to go! More than halfway there.
After lunch I headed east and then jig-jagged northeast, meeting up with Harney Road. I was able to take that a long way. I stopped to make some friends though. They were a little snooty and weren’t really interested in hanging out.
I kept on pedaling. Harney Road was partially industrial, partially farm. It took me to Thonotosassa, which became more farmland. I took back ways that were parallel to Hwy 301, because I wanted to minimize my time on the highway.
One of the roads I was on caused me to pop out onto 301 before I wanted to. But I saw a sign for a trail that ran directly parallel to the highway. I decided to take that. It was paved, the trees grew over the trail, it was quiet. Lovely! Until I came to a bridge that was closed off. I explored a bit to see if I could pass it, but I decided to listen to the signs and I turned around.
That detour added 1.5 miles to my trip. So close to the end, yet so far.
I found the roads I meant to take in the first place and got back to work. I was still riding into the wind, and I was tired. The last road before the highway was McIntosh. I was so glad to see it when I arrived!
I turned left, north, down McIntosh and kept pedaling. I finally reached Hwy 301. I took a right. There’s no bike lane, and there’s not a lot of passage room. Still cars went around me without issue. I didn’t truly feel unsafe.
I pedaled and pedaled. I saw a sign for the National Birding Trail. False alarm.
Keep on pedaling.
1000 feet to the park entrance! Huzzah!!
I safely made it to the left turn lane and turned into the park.
I approached the ranger station and told him I was camping. He asked where I came from. “St. Pete!” “Oh, I’m sorry for you,” he responded. “Well, I did choose to travel this way. Though right now I’m second-guessing my choices.”
He gave me my camping package. He directed me to the camp site, still another mile away.
I got to pedaling. I got to my site around 4:00, still plenty of light left.
I rested for a few minutes and then got to work setting up camp. My tent is pretty easy to set up. Everything is color coded.
Soon after setting up camp, I got a fire going. I was having problems getting the smaller stuff to burn. My neighbors offered some starter wood, but I need small, easily lightable stuff to get the fire going. I declined their wood, but ultimately got it going. I ate granola bars and watched the fire until it died out at the late hour of 8:10 p.m.
I biked 48 miles that day. More than I’ve ever biked in one go. With more gear than I’ve ever taken.
Sitting there at that picnic table, it didn’t feel like much. I was too tired. That head wind wore me out. But I did it.
My bike made it, my gear made it, and so did I.