Day 53: Milton to Fort Walton Beach, FL (42 miles); May 6, 2021
We woke up to coffee and the most delicious eggs cooked by Dave. We gobbled them up and enjoyed a nice morning conversation with Dave and Stacey. When we were set to leave, Stacey gave us about 15 pounds of snacks each. She has an eBay business where she sells bulk items for cheap. Since she literally just graduated nursing school (at 63 years old – so inspiring!) she hasn’t been getting rid of inventory, so she’s pawning them off on bike tourers. Which we were happy about because now we don’t have to go shopping for a few more days!
With fully loaded bikes, we pedaled off. We lucked out with tailwinds today and our short day was even easier with the encouraging push. Though the uphills were few, they felt gargantuan to the point where I thought I had a flat. I did not, I just had a really heavy bike loaded with snacky goodness.
We got into Fort Walton Beach early and decided to do some planning before heading to our warm showers. With only 300 some odd miles left, we’ll be in St. Augustine in a week! That’s unbelievable to me. The end of this trip really snuck up on me. But at least I’ll see Addie soon!
We met Christina and Tyler, a young couple who are awesome property investors. We talked with them, had dinner, played cards, and saw firsthand the troubles of being a short-term landlord. Apparently frogs sound just like a dying generator liable to blow up the surrounding area, requiring a cop to tell the tenant, “no ma’am, they are amphibians”. Cannot wait to read that review.
Day 54: Fort Walton Beach to Panama City Beach (54 miles) May 8, 2021
We left Christina and Tyler’s home early, excited to have a rest day in Panama City Beach with my longtime friend Ryan. We rode through many beach towns, including the gorgeous Destin, Seaside, and Rosemary Beach. We rode about 15 miles on the well known 30A, a scenic highway I rode on a few times last year during my month hiatus to PCB. With a busy bike path, I would definitely recommend riding it if you find yourself in the area and in search of a leisurely bike ride. There are a ton of restaurants, shoppes, and beaches along the way to discover. But we were not in search of a leisurely ride. We were on a mission. So the Northeast came out of us a few times to get around some folks, startling them in the process I’m sure.
Riding 30A brought back so many memories! But not as many as when when we rolled onto Front Beach Rd in PCB. Given I spent a month there running and biking that street daily, it felt like I never left! Plus the aqua colored water and white sand felt like home. This is truly the Emerald Coast.
With tailwinds pushing us strongly, we made it to Ryan’s with gusto! And there she was waiting. I’ve known Ryan since 2004 and because she travels for work, I am only able to see her a few times a year. So I’m really excited I get to see her on this trip, if only briefly, and stay in her gorgeous condo. She’s even starting a new job the end of this month and will be traveling less. I’m so happy for her and excited I’ll be able to see her more.
After catching up and some beach time, we got dinner and came home. We’re all pretty sleepy. We have off tomorrow, so we’re going to enjoy the beach and food before powering off towards our last day!
Rest Day: Panama City Beach (May 8, 2021)
Spending the day in PCB was great. Got to see some old friends I met last year, eat some good food, and of course spend some time at the beautiful white sand beach with the gals. People were staring either in awe or confusion at our tan lines. One outspoken little girl exclaimed, “Mom! Look at her tan lines…. no wait look at HER tan lines!” Leave it to kids to be brutally honest.
While I still love the beauty of the beaches and the great nostalgia I experienced at PCB, there were huge crowds and horrible traffic. Getting a table at a restaurant was nearly impossible and forget getting a taxi – so was everyone else. I missed the days of last year where COVID kept the crowds at bay. But that’s selfish – the restaurants and businesses are finally back on track after a year of loss, no doubt. I just don’t see myself coming back during the busy season anytime soon.
Day 55: Panama City Beach to Bristol, FL (67 miles) May 9, 2021
We said our goodbyes to Ryan and Amy early (Ryan even got out of bed to send us off!) and were on the road by 8am. I’ve noticed getting started after a day off is really difficult physically and mentally. Today was the first day where I actually felt ready to be done and go back home. After over 2 months riding, I’m feeling a little burnt out. While it’s been an amazing trip, I’m ready to see Addie again and hold The Cat. Which is great cause we only have 4 days left until I can do just that!
We’re following google maps to get to St. Augustine, which provided a bit of a hiccup. It directed us to make a turn to get off the highway, which is fine. But after a few miles that paved road turned into sand. Deep sand. For 3 miles we pushed those darn bikes through that sand, cursing the dumb Lady in the phone. After we succeeded in pushing our steeds through the fickle sand, she directed us to another sandy road that was fenced off. I was beyond irritated and frustrated by why google thinks these roads are rideable on a bike. After doing our own navigating with an old fashioned map, we came up with a new route that would add 6 miles to today’s ride. At this point, what’s another 6 miles? We’re in the homestretch and the light at the end of the tunnel is shining brightly. As long as we don’t get hit by a car, we’ll take all the hiccups the universe will throw at us and try to embrace them.
Luckily the winds were on our side and to our backs. We breezed through the miles today which is great because the views weren’t exactly breathtaking, but nor were they ugly. Just feels like the pine barrens of Jersey.
Right before our destination, we crossed into the Eastern Time Zone! I’m in the same time zone as little Addie, finally! It’s the last major milestone before ending in a couple days.
Bristol is a small town and we’re staying in a motel. Unfortunately, we didn’t make a reservation and the only room left was the “honeymoon suite”, making it the most expensive room here. But it’s roomy and has a nice kitchen, so there are worse places to spend the night.
In order to make the Thursday deadline for St Augustine, we have a long day tomorrow. So we’re going to relax and turn in early in preparation. I also inspected all the roads we’re taking tomorrow – so at least we won’t have any surprise sandy roads in our future!
Day 56: Bristol to Hampton Springs, FL (88 miles) May 10, 2021
We rolled out of the motel an hour earlier than usual in preparation for our longest day yet. It was foggy and dreary with high humidity. I really and truly don’t remember much from the morning. It was overcast and flat with very little to look at. Knowing a very boring day was forecasted, I listened intently to a podcast (Dirty John – fascinating true crime story) to help the miles go by. And it helped immensely. I listened to all the episodes and before I knew it, we were halfway done!
At around 1:30pm, Sheena’s stomach started rumbling so we stopped for second lunch at the only gas station for 20 miles. Sheena’s stomach must’ve felt something in the air, cause barely 5 minutes into our stop a severe thunder storm rolled in. Had we not stopped, I’m not sure where we would have went to to get out of harm’s way. It would have been way too dangerous to ride in. We sought shelter in a nice roofed porch the gas station’s neighbor offered us. We made friends with the chickens and roosters inhabiting it and soon found ourselves drifting to sleep from the lull of the pouring rain and booming thunder. The storm lasted for 2.5 hours. Thankfully we were making really good time, so we weren’t too worried to still have 20 miles to go at 4pm. And the roads were smooth and freshly paved – no sand to be found!
The next 20 miles were fast and monotonous. We got into Rocky’s campground at 5:30pm and ate a delicious pizza with chips. We are the picture of health. It’s supposed to rain the next 3 days, so our plans are a little up in the air as to whether or not we’re going to stick to the original plan of camping or splurge on motels. The weather has been unpredictable, so really who knows. We’ll wing it!
Day 57: Hampton Springs to Newberry, FL (83 miles) May 11, 2021
We have not had luck camping. From raccoons to storms to what happened last night, I think we’ve had our fill of sleeping in a tent. Allow me to explain. It’s 12:30am and Sheena goes to the bathroom, waking me up from a light sleep. As she returns to her tent, she calmly claps. Why the heck is she doing that? Wait – WHAT THE HECK JUST RAN INTO THE WOODS?! Huge creatures fled from near Sheena’s tent, scared of her ginger claps. They were too big to be raccoons, too awkward to be dogs. Whatever they were they looked straight up demonic.
“Sheena. What were those..?” I asked, uncertain if I wanted to know the answer. “Pigs,” she answered quickly, the annoyance obvious in her tone, “they’ve been snorting around my tent for the last hour.” Well, shoot. I was not prepared for feral pigs. Raccoons and bears, sure I can handle that. But what do you do if a feral pig attacks you?! Knowing they can be aggressive and some of the most dangerous animals a human can encounter, my pulse quickened and I was prepared for not having a good night sleep.
I kept a lookout and sure enough, 10 minutes after the initial encounter, they were back. I was astounded. There were close to 30 wild pigs, half of which were piglets. Double shoot. Those mamas are going to be super protective over their youngins, and no tent will protect me from their wrath should they feel threatened. Based on my observation, they were benign and just digging for grubs. They weren’t actively seeking our food or showing even the least bit interest in us. So I decided to just let them be. Every half hour I was wakened by snorting or squealing, but they were still very amicable. Sheena must have set her tent over the best grubs, cause they were not moving from her tent. So just imagine the sleep Sheena got. Hint – she didn’t. But the sun came up and they went back to their nests, or is it dens? Either way they left and we broke down camp, a little disoriented- did that really happen?! Pigs?!?
We decided at breakfast that after last night, we are done with camping. We were going to ride another long day and get a motel. Pigs can’t possibly break into a motel room, right?
The ride again was unremarkable and boring. We found good timing by getting a sheltered lunch right as a thunderstorm rolled in. We talked to a guy who knew about Rocky’s Campground. “Well do you know they have a feral pig problem?!” I inquired. He just so happened to know all about their problem, as with all of Florida’s problem. He’s a pig hunter and trapper and he’s not short on business. Where was he last night?! Well, that’s not his jurisdiction. He told us the pigs are a real nuisance and he’s been mauled/slashed by many a ruthless pig. Thank God the ones last night were “friendly”.
The storm rolled out as did we. We spent a decent amount of time on a great bike path as the rain poured down briefly. We were surrounded by gorgeous trees tinseled with Spanish moss. The last 11 miles into Newberry annoyed me for some reason, so I put on my angry music and cranked out those miles at a fast pace. We got into town at 5pm and checked into Sunny South Motel. I won’t even put in a picture because it is horrifying. It has a hot shower, clean bed, is pig free, and four walls with a roof, so it gets the job done, but wow it needs a deep cleaning and upgraded furniture. That’s all I’ll say about that.
The pizza in town is amazing, though. We decided on Villaggios pizza right next door. Of the four pizza options we had in a block radius, we chose correctly. They were so nice and the service was not lacking. Plus the food was so tasty! We got salad, garlic knots, meatball parm, and a slice. Needless to say, we were more than full and satisfied.
Apparently there is a gas shortage from a Russian hack. Colored me surprised and caught unawares. I was wondering why there was a huge line for gas yesterday, why a cop was asking a gas clerk if people were “panicking”, and why the clerk tonight answered the phone with, “we are out of gas”. When I asked, she explained everything to me. A lot of stations around here, as with the whole eastern seaboard, are out of gas. Well nuts. I had just reassured my dad that stations around here were fine. I may have been wrong. I really hope this doesn’t affect my parent’s ability to come down here with Addie! It would be such a disappointment to not see them in St. Augustine.
Day 57: Newberry to Palatka, FL (67 miles); May 12, 2021
Despite being a filthy room, we slept soundly in a comfortable bed. We woke up late and rolled out late, getting breakfast in Gainesville. Unfortunately the clouds retreated today and we were subject to a humid, hot, sunny day. The sweat was just pouring out. Towards the end of the day, I was feeling sluggish and ready to be done. I think the heat had a lot to do with it. It zapped my energy – but got through it, even if just barely.
Most of the ride today was on a bike trail lined with beautiful trees draped with Spanish moss. We have been attacked by kanikazzee bugs left and right all during Florida, provoking odd sounds of terror from us multiple times an hour. I’m sure motorists find it humorous. Speaking of motorists, we had the most aggressive encounters today in Gainesville. We experienced rolling coal 3x within a 5 minute period with close passes. Luckily it didn’t last long and we were out of the city in no time.
We got into the hotel around 5pm. It’s our last night of this trip and it’s definitely bittersweet. I’m ready to be done physically and mentally, but I’ll definitely miss the unpredictability of everyday and the general sense of adventure. But I’m ready to see Addie and the cat. In fact, I’ll see her tomorrow! Even though a lot of the stations we passed today were out of gas (even saw a few hoarders), my parents lucked out and were able to find enough gas on their way from Jersey to make it to Florida! I’ll see them tomorrow!! Makes the last day of this trip all the more exciting!
Day 58: Palatka to St. Augustine, FL (30 miles) May 13, 2021
Well, we did it! We rode our bikes across the country, again. And little Addie (as well as my parents) were there to greet us, making it all the sweeter! The 30 miles into St. Augustine were more of the normal boring roads we’ve been encountering, only today it was rainy and cold, a stark difference from yesterday’s ride. But a difference I honestly preferred. Yesterday was way too hot and muggy for even me.
While riding, one car in particular was really happy to see us. Beeping the horn and cheering, I thought it was odd that someone out there knew what we were doing. Sheena thought they were angry honks and nearly flipped them off. Then a few minutes later they were back right next to us cheering and holding out a sign. “Wow, that’s even weirder,” I thought, “they have a ‘you made it’ sign and they’re filming us!” I thought they were either with The Guys (who also finished today) or just bike tour hunters/cheerers. I turned to Sheena to see if she was just as confused. She wasn’t. It was Steve (her boyfriend) and his parents! It all made sense!
We met everyone at Crescent Beach Park and dipped our front wheels into the Atlantic Ocean, officially signaling the end of another tour. And what a tour it has been, which you know if you’ve been following along.
There are way too many people to thank for making this trip possible. First and foremost, Sheena is the best touring partner I could ask for. She helped make all this possible by just agreeing to do these crazy adventures and being the ying to my yang when things get tough. We make a great team – hear that Amazing Race?! Huge thanks to my parents for not only being the best pet sitters to my furry babies, but also for making the trip even more special by driving down during a gas crisis to see us roll in. We met so many kind people on this trip, particularly through Warm Showers, who made this trip truly stand out. The kindness of strangers was humbling and overwhelming. Thank you to everyone who contributed to support us be it with a meal or just encouraging messages. It helped get through some of the tough days knowing people were cheering us on.
We are going to explore St. Augustine and make it home this weekend. It will be tough to adjust to life off a bike, but I have a feeling I might be living out of a backpack in the not too distant future…
3 thoughts on “Southern Tier Bike Route: Florida”
Hi Emilie! I just finished reading your STBR journal. Wow…not only are you a great rider, you are also a great writer! I loved your accounts of the raccoon attack and the feral pig encounter! I am looking forward to reading your PCHT journal. I am thinking the PCHT might make a good 2022 project! Have a great Memorial Day weekend with your family and Addie!
David of “The Guys”
Hey David!! Hope you’re adjusting to life off the bike – but also glad to hear you’re already planning your next tour!! Thanks for reading, hope you are doing well!
I did an online journal on trailjournals.com you are welcome to check out when you run out of quality reading material! The easiest way to get there is to Google “David Hester Southern Tier”. I agree with you, the ride in was bittersweet…glad to be done but sad it was over. I loved every mile, well except maybe walking up the Twisted Sisters near Leakey, TX!