There has been a group of guys that have been heading down to Florida early in the year in one form or another for a very long time. I have made the a few times over the last several years. For the longest time the group headed to Clear Water Beach, but this has recently made a change to Jacksonville Beach. This was the 3rd year to ride in this area. I made the trip the first year, but it didn't work out for me the second. I really didn't think it was going to work out this year either, but somehow it ended up working out for me.
The plan has changed a little over the times that I have gone, but mainly the plan is to ride 100 miles each day. This year there was a group of 10 guys staying at the condo. Several of them had never made this trip before. We left on Tuesday night and drove through the evening to arrive early on Wednesday morning. We got in to town and made a stop for some breakfast. After unloading the trailer it was time to head out for our first ride.
We headed north across the Mayport ferry and toward Fort Clinch. The weather was 80+ degrees and exactly why I wanted to ride in Florida. There are very little hills and not much for elevation to be had, but the temps make up for it. We stopped for a quick bite on the way back and continued south. The trip north is not quite long enough to get the 100 miles in on its own, so when we got back toward the condo the group split up. Some stopped at the house and the rest continued south for what ever mileage was needed. I ended up with just over 100 miles for the day.
The second day we headed south toward St. Augustine. The weather was a little cooler, but still plenty warm. The only negative was that the wind had picked up. We went into a head wind the whole way out and had gusts that would about blow you over. There was a storm that was getting blown in for later that night. The head wind was brutal and little by little, parts of the group would turn back north. Eventually 7 of us made it to our Subway stop near Palm Coast.
This is our 50ish mile turn around point with the option to continue south for even more miles. With all the wind, there were only 2 people crazy enough to keep going south. They rode all the way down to Daytona Beach before turning back. This netted them a 160 mile day and rolled up to the house with it being almost dark. The rest of us turned back toward the house. The tail wind was such a relief that we were cruising between 24-28 mph for the next 30 miles. It was still not an easy ride, but it was so nice to not be riding in to the wind. I ended up with 103 miles for the day. This was also one of the guy's first ever century.
The next day we headed more inland to ride along the river. The wind was still blowing strong, but it seemed like the gusts were less than the day before. It was a little bit of an adventure heading west, but eventually we found our way to the river. We rode south along the river heading toward a trip staple of stopping at Molasses Junction. I am not as big of a fan of some of the roads in this area, but riding next to the river with all the moss hanging from the trees makes it all worth it.
The group was a little bigger on this day for getting the full 100 miler in. The places to turn around are few and far between. I mean, there are places to cut back, but you would have ended up going just about as far so you might as well stick around. I think a couple of the guys were getting a little hangry since our lunch stop was a little farther than the other days. It took about 60 miles to get there. I think everyone also felt a little better once we headed back east and had a little tail wind.
We finally made it and we all got some of the least healthy food on the trip. The store was under new ownership and has had some upgrades, but I'm still not sure the grease in the fryer has been changed. My chicken tenders and fries were fast and easy. I thought they tasted pretty good too. Actually, my fries were very good, but I don't think my stomach liked it very much. I was in pain for the rest of today's route. The road back to Saint Augustine was not too bad, but had some busier sections. There was also a ghost bike leaning next to a sign on this section. That kind of hit me pretty hard and the feeling of security was not as strong from there. I know that getting hit is a reality, but I try not to think about it. I do what I can to be as safe as possible on the road. It really doesn't take much of a distraction to keep me from making it back home.
Once we made it back to the A1A we once again were getting hit by wind. A quick bathroom stop had the group split up. Everyone was hurting and ready to get back home. Once we got rolling again we tried to push the pace and catch the other group. We were exchanging pulls pretty well and as I finished a pull and started backward the group had split. A couple of us kept going and could see the other group. As we rolled up on them I kind of just kept going. I really thought I would blow by them and sit up, but with another rider on my wheel, we just kept going and digging our self deeper and deeper in to the hole. This ride had more riders getting 100 miles than any other day. We had a rider get his second ever century after yesterday's first. We also had another rider get his first century. I ended up with 103 miles again and overall it was a great day on the bike.
I was feeling pretty rough the next morning. The number of riders willing to go for the 100 mile ride was dwindling. We headed north again and across the ferry. It was painful on the trip out and as I looked at the other bike paths and nature areas I was fully contempt to turn back early and make it a shorter day. The one rider already said he was not going all the way and I kind of assumed he would turn around at the subway. Well, that didn't happen. With him continuing north, how could I turn back. I'm here for training, so it was time to htfu and keep going. All the previous days riding and wind had me pretty tanked. We made it to the end of the line and headed back south. Most of us were really hurting and as we got closer to the condo I really thought we would stop. We actually made a quick stop at the house for a bathroom break and to get more water then headed farther south to get our miles in. I had moments where I felt better than others, but after we turned around I was in complete survival mode heading toward the barn.
Eventually we made it back to the house and completed our fourth 100 mile day in a row with just over 101 miles. I was sure glad that I kept going, but even more glad that it was over. We kicked back and cut a little loose that night. I think everyone was having a good time or at least most of us. It all ended up a little blurry with only 2 of us left awake. Not really sure what time I finally crashed, but it was after 1:00. 6:30 that next morning came around very quickly. Sleeping on the couch did not condone sleeping in once other people started waking up and hanging out in the kitchen. I was exhausted, but eventually started moving.
I had to get ready and head out the door. The weather said it was 47 degrees, but it felt a lot warmer than that. It didn't take long before I was really sweating and was feeling way over dressed. I am sure it was a combination of the temps and the alcohol, but either way I was way too warm. I was not alone in this feeling, so I'm sure it felt warmer than 47. We headed south for an hour and turned around. I was hurting, but still moving well enough. That was until we turned around and I figured out that we had a little tail wind. So, our casual pace had help, great! The trip back north might have hurt more than the end of the ride the day before. We could not get back soon enough for me. I ended up with just over 27 miles and that was a wrap for the trip. Time to pack up everything and get back in a car for 12+ hours home.
There are a lot of good things and bad things with this trip. It is not always roses, but overall the warmer weather and long days on the bike are why all of us are there. Not ideal training, but also not terrible. There is not much climbing to be had, but hours upon hours of turning the pedals over with very little coasting has to count for something. I just hope to find some climbing legs in the next couple weeks before my first race of the season. I don't normally go in to this race expecting to be in top shape, but does feel good if I ride strong. I will have to see just how it goes. Lots of plans this year that I really hope to have some legs for. Just got to keep moving forward.