Stealth Camping and 16 miles of Bike Path

November 12 2011. East Palatka to Gainesville

“In the first week you’re going to fall over at a red light with your feet stuck in the pedals once or twice.”

That’s what the guy at the bike store said when I bought my clipless shoes – the kind where your feet click in to the pedals. That sounded unpleasant and embarrassing, so I was determined not to let it happen to me. I rode around with them for three or four days before the trip so I could get used to them when my bike wasn’t loaded. At first, I did really well. It was hard to forget that my feet were clipped into the pedals because It felt much different than riding with flat pedals. I unclipped both feet well before every stop sign just to make sure I wouldn’t have an incident. I starting to think I was mentally superior to everyone who had problems adjusting to new pedals.

By the second day of the trip I had been using clipless pedals for more than a week and I still hadn’t crashed. I started to get cocky. In the middle of the morning I stopped for a snack on a quiet road east of Gainesville. I clicked my right foot out of the pedal and planted it on a patch of grass as I coasted to a stop. Then I dug through my handlebar bag for a Snickers bar that had burrowed under my book, maps, and camera.

Once I started to lose my balance, I caught myself quick and shifted my right foot and wiggled my left foot. That didn’t work. I couldn’t get my weight onto my right foot and it was too late to unclip my left foot. I slowly started falling to the left. A second later I was still mostly upright but I knew I was going down. I dropped my stuff into my handlebar bag and put my arms out to brace for the impact.

When I finally I hit the ground, my hip and back took most of the impact. It was relatively painless and no one was around to see, so I sprang up before any cars drove past. I felt a little less cocky after that, but I didn’t learn my lesson.

The same thing happened a few days later in Tallahassee. This time it was near the center of town and there were people everywhere. Halfway down the block there were 10 or 15 people hanging out at a car wash shining their rims and dancing to Lil’ Wayne. I was looking at my map on the corner of the street when a subtle weight shift caused me to lose my balance and begin a slow descent to the sidewalk.

Again, it didn’t hurt. But this time there were people all around. They all pretended not to notice as I got up and went back to consulting my map.

Eventually, I learned not to stop with one foot attached to the pedal, but it took until the very last week. There were five or six of these falls. A few times I stopped in places where I needed to scoot backwards to get back on the road. While I scooted back, the clipped in pedal had to pedal in a slow circle backwards to keep up with the chain wheel. I never succeeded at this one-footed backing up move, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

Morning in East Palatka

Last night was much colder than I expected. I went to bed early and woke up at seven, but the cold kept me in my warm sleeping bag until eight. I got out, had breakfast, and then met the second obstacle to my early start – packing.

I tend to start packing by standing and staring at my scattered pile of stuff while scratching my head. I like to work efficiently so I spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to get my tent, sleeping bag, food, etc. into my panniers. After a while of staring into space with my mouth open I began packing by stuffing things into my panniers one at a time. With all my reckoning and head scratching I deemed this the fastest way. The problem is, I have a six separate bags with a total of eight separate compartments. When I need to reach something during the day, I like to know where it is.

My panniers aren’t very big, so I can’t just shove everything in haphazardly. My stove has to fit inside my pan and my sleeping bag has to be oriented just right to leave enough room for the clothes that I strip off as the day warms up. Once I get everything in it’s rightful place my tent needs to be secured to my rack. Packing is a big part of any bike tour. This first time around I spent 45 minutes getting my bike ready to go.

At was a little after 9 a.m.when I wheeled out of the camp site and back across the bridge to Palatka. Florida is really flat so the bridge was by far the biggest climb of the trip so far. I even managed to shift into my biggest chainring for the descent.

After 20 miles or so I stopped and bought a sandwich at a gas station and some fruit at a farmers market in Florahome. The farmers market was a couple people selling fruit and bread and a couple other people selling cuckoo clocks and old furniture. I devoured a grapefruit and pedaled on through cow and horse country. The vegetation still looked tropical, but there were less palm trees and more saw palmettos, which are a ground cover with palm tree leaves. They look like a shrub version of palm trees. Tall scrap pines dominated the canopy.

Down the road in the town of Hawthorne, I used a bathroom at a public park. The toilet had a half wall that didn’t offer much privacy. This was common at public bathrooms in the South. A few blocks down the road I got onto the Hawthorne – Gainesville trail, a 16-mile paved bike path. The trail went mostly straight through thick woods. It was deserted except for a few walkers and a rollerblader who was on my tail for about 5 miles. I was humbled at not being able to shake a shirtless, middle-aged rollerblader.

A live oak at the beginning of the Hawthorne trail

part of the 16-mile trail

A hostel in Gainesville was my destination for the night but I didn’t make it. I stopped frequently on the Gainesville-Hawthorne trail to look at birds, plants, and armadillos. Near the end of the path I spotted some horse trails leading away from the pavement. It was already getting dark and I didn’t want to ride through Gainesville at night, so I set up camp on one of the horse trails.

It was a good camp and far from any people. I still didn’t have stove fuel so I ate another cold dinner. At night I walked the trail and stared up at the stars. The moon was bright and I could see my shadow.

Next, I ride through Gainesville in search of stove fuel and on to Manatee Springs State Park.

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One Response to Stealth Camping and 16 miles of Bike Path

  1. Christa Lazenby says:

    Thanks for posting. Love reading your stuff. Ch.

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