2/12/16. …..or even, “Go west not-so-young man and woman”. St Augustine marked the end of our ride up the Atlantic coast of Florida and the eastern end point of the “Southern Tier” route of the Adventure Cycling Association.
But just to complete the story of our visit to the town which was half told in the previous post. After a lazy lunch we continued our wanderings around the place and continued to be impressed and surprised. Of particular note was a Greek Orthodox church museum (to commemorate a community of Greeks who came to Florida in the 16th or 17th century and suffered horrible deprivations from the climate, native Americans and the people who shipped them across the Atlantic) and the most un-Presbyterian looking Presbyterian church you will ever see (modeled on St Mark’s in Venice).
As darkness fell the Christmas lights came on and they were as spectacular as we had been told. Almost exclusively white lights, it was all very tasteful and understated, and reminded us of a Christmas we had in Italy when we enjoyed the lights in Sorrento.
On Wednesday morning we set off westwards and we were quickly in very different countryside. This is probably not surprising as it was the first time we had gone more than a couple of miles from the coast since arriving in Florida.
Once across the main interstate highway, the road became very quiet (and very straight) and passed through woodlands and farmland. The little traffic there was on the road did go past at a fair old lick but there was a narrow shoulder or pavement pretty much all of the way so we were not too affected.
In actual fact our path was more southwest than west because St Augustine does not lie on the most direct route. And, of course, the wind had changed so that it was now coming from a southerly direction which made for tough cycling at times.
There was a short stretch after lunch when we had to follow the County Road (CR) 207 which was a much more major route than it sounds – dual carriageway with a high proportion of big trucks – but the shoulder provided a measure of safety except for a couple of hundred yards of roadworks when the inside lane was coned off (just like being at home!). Thankfully we soon turned off onto back roads through Hastings to our destination of East Palatka where there was a campsite.
This had the merit of being cheap ($12 + tax compared to the more normal near $30 + tax) but there was, inevitably, a downside. The bathrooms looked as though they hadn’t been cleaned in weeks so neither of us could bring ourselves to shower (just a quick splash of water direct from the tap before it touched the basin and liberal use of wet wipes!). Hey ho. It’s all part of the experience!
We were anticipating a long ride on Thursday and so set off early (for us) but were diverted by the offer of wifi at McDonalds where we were relieved to get news from Eleri after she had spent 5 days incommunicado walking through a forest in New Zealand. Then we stopped at a bank to use the ATM and Stephen decided to try cashing some ancient (nearly 20 years old) travellers cheques which we had found these stashed away at the back of a cupboard when emptying the house back in March 2015. We had been carrying them around as “emergency funds” ever since and when we arrived in the US we had tried to cash them at a couple of other banks who refused because we didn’t have an account. However, this bank would take them but it was a bit of a palaver as travellers cheques are yesterday’s “technology”. Nonetheless we walked away with what felt like a “free” $400!
It was nearly 10.30 before we got under way properly crossing the St Johns River (a major one at over 1 km wide!) into Palatka (without the “East”) and onto CR100 – another long straight “racetrack” with a shoulder – for about 10 miles. Then we thankfully turned off onto a tarmaced old railtrack which paralleled the road for about 14 miles. The only traffic we saw on it was a pickup truck with a man trimming the overhanging branches. It was blissful.
Unfortunately the rail trail followed CR100 when it curved northwards and so we were onto another county road, fortunately a little less busy, all the way into Gainesville which is a largish city that is the site of the University of Florida and its college football team (the Gators). The first motel we tried did not allow bicycles to be taken into the room and only offered a very flimsy looking bike rack so we gave that a miss.
The place we eventually “fell into” did not have the same restriction. It is not cheap at $66 including tax (but this seems to be the going rate according to booking.com) and is far from the smartest place we have ever stayed but at least the bathroom is clean enough for us to contemplate using the shower and we were not in the mood for looking any further after a ride of 86km!