November 15, Ichitucknee Springs to Suwannee River State Park.
If you can read and listen to music(I can’t), listen to this while you read. The title of the song, along with the song Swannee River by Old Folks at Home, is spelled wrong deliberately to avoid pronunciation confusion. The Suwannee River flows South from the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. Crossing the Suwannee and leaving it behind felt like the first milestone on this trip.
In the morning, I drank a free cup of microwaved coffee at the campground office and went to check out Ichitucknee Springs. They looked a lot like Manatee Springs – clear blue water with surrounded by big live oak and cypress trees. In the swampy areas, the cypress trees had roots that went straight up like a wooden stalagmite. They’re called knees, and some scientists think they help the tree get oxygen but there’s no actual evidence for this.
On the way out of Ichitucknee, I had the roads to myself. After a long crooked road leading away from the campground, I had to retrace the five miles that I had pedaled when I was lost the day before. I didn’t mind it because the wind was at my back and it looked different in the morning light. Mornings, for me, come with a sense of great possibility. The amount of new experiences and new terrain I covered every day amplified the feeling.
I was starting to notice that my mood fluctuated in one slow swing that hit it’s low spot in the afternoon. Afternoons are the antithesis of mornings. The day is waning instead of waxing and if nothing spectacular has happened yet, it probably won’t. By afternoon I was often a little bored. Sometimes I got stressed about finding a place to sleep or, when I had a destination, making it there before dark.
I was coming up to the intersection where I met John the Pastor when I spotted another guy on a bike. I could tell from the silhouette that it was a touring cyclist with panniers. He pulled over to my side of the road and yelled “What are you on, day two? Three?” or something along those lines. He was from White rock, B.C., and at the end of a trip that started in San Diego. Evidently, he wasn’t impressed with my pace. I explained that I had taken a two day detour from the Adventure Cycling route, but he had been riding 90 miles a day and still wasn’t impressed.
Not only were we from the same part of the world but we had similar bicycles. He told me about the road ahead and I told him about Manatee Springs. He told me all about how good he had gotten at finding water. Several times in Texas he had drank the contents of his 12 separate water bottles twice in a day. He had ridden stretches with no water for 40 or 50 miles. Once, while out of water and sweating in 100 degree heat, he pulled up to a gated driveway because he saw some succulent cactuses. He knew they had to be watered and after some digging he found the drip irrigation, which he unscrewed and used to fill his bottles very slowly.
He enjoyed telling me his war stories, but I cut him off after a half-hour or so because I really had to pee. Also, it was almost noon and I had only gone about 10 miles. I told the Canadian biker that I was hoping to go to Suwannee State Park for the night and he said I’d probably make it. He pedaled off towards St. Augustine. The old Canadian guy hadn’t decided whether he would take the train home from St. Augustine or hang a right and go South until Florida petered out at Key West. He was leaning on going home from St. Augustine, though I can’t imagine why he’d want to skip the keys. He was bearded, sunburnt and he looked like he’d been on a bike for more than two months (which he had) so maybe that had something to do with it.
Today was warm and the roads were trafficless. The route wound through small towns and ranches. There was a big deer hunting farm on the way too. I saw a couple other deer farms in the South and I could never get used to seeing so many deer grazing behind 12-foot-high fences. They had plenty of room to run and graze and they looked happy enough, but they’re built for running fast and jumping high. They looked wrong behind tall fences.
I met a couple other touring cyclists on the way to Suwannee River State Park. At first, I didn’t realize they were touring because they didn’t have anything with them. Apparently, they were on a tour guided by the Adventure Cycling Association. Every night they met their support vehicles at campsites or hotels. If they were lucky, the support crew already had dinner cooked. They gave me some apple tarts and a quiche in zip-loc bags.
The last 10 miles to the state park was on a straight road with rolling hills. I was really starting to get tired. It had been a long day and now I was riding into the wind. I guess I looked tired too because I guy in a pickup truck pulled over and offered me a ride. I asked him how far it was to the state park. He said about five miles and I said I thought I could make it.
He replied “Ok, you look tired and usually when I see you guys you’re all together.” He was used to seeing touring bicyclists no this stretch of road. And apparently they usually look stronger than me.
I did eventually make it to the campground. I noticed a sign with a picture of a golf cart on it. It was a reminder that people drive around in golf carts in Florida State Parks. Florida has the oldest population in the country and it shows. I had noticed that one out of every four SUVs and trucks had a big folding rack on the back. I thought maybe they were for carrying coolers full of beer. By the third day I had seen one or two of them with little electric carts on the back and I finally put it together. If you’re driving to the store, you can load your retirement cart on the back of your truck so you don’t have to actually walk from the beer aisle to the pork rind aisle.
There were other people at this campground, but I was the only one without an RV. The State Park was really nice. I went straight to the bank of the Suwannee River where I laid down and finished the quiche and apple tarts, and admired the Suwanne River. The river is the color of dark tea, and it flows over a sandy white bank. Like the springs, the river is lined with a think jungle of mossy oak and cypress trees. I enjoyed seeing a river bank that’s not choked with Himalayan Blackberry and Japanese Knotweed, as they often are in the Pacific Northwest.
Sometime after sunset I got up from the white sand and went to my campsite. After a quick dinner I went to bed.