Ken seems to be starting a new tradition. Last year, on his birthday, he soloed 100+ miles on his road bike. It must have been painful because this year, on his birthday, I was lucky enough to get invited to his second annual “Birthday Party Century.”
There is nothing special about 100 miles on your road bike but neither of us has ridden 100 miles in over a year and the air temperature was going to be 96 degrees. We decided to minimize the potential trauma to our bodies by staying off the roads and doing the ride almost entirely on the Withlacoochee State Trail (A wonderful rails-to-trails project). 108 Miles on Withlacoochee State Trail
We met at the southern end of the trail at the Owensboro Junction Trailhead at 6:20 AM and were heading north by 6:35 AM. The air temperature actually seemed a bit chilly and we both commented on how nice it felt. Ken tried to work the pace to 20 MPH but I resisted and dragged back at 18. We had a long way to go.
It seemed that in no time at all we were at the end of the trail, 46 miles from our cars. At this point we needed to add a few miles in order to get 100+ for the day. So we did a ten mile loop through the Citrus Springs subdivision. Citrus Springs does not have any citrus or any springs but is the typical Florida real estate bubble neighborhood from the 70’s. There are more houses than trees and more abandoned roads than usable ones.
At mile 55 we ran out of water and asked a nice man for a fill up from his hose. At mile 60 we found a convenience store and stopped for a picnic. I bought a large bottle of gatorade, a gallon of water, a bag of Fritos, a Payday bar, and a granola bar. I consumed it all except the granola bar and half the water. Ken had a similar level of over consumption but we where starting to get hot and dehydrated and had to work hard to prevent it.
Uncle Don’s farm is only a mile from the corner of US41 and SR491 so we stopped by to say hello and got lucky enough to catch him just as he came out to get his mail. This saved us from having to navigate his sugar sand entrance road. I never felt great during the entire ride but by this time I was mentally preparing for some suffering and stopping at Don’s helped me to gain some mental strength.
After our socializing was complete we hit the road and tried to keep an 18-20 pace going. The heat was making me suffer even at this pace but luckily Ken did not seem affected. He pulled me, when I could even hold on to his wheel, for 80% of the ride.
We stopped in Floral City for a quick break and water bottle fill-up and then I girded sternly for war. With only 23 mile to go I should, even with this heat, be able to maintain 20 MPH for that long. But it did not work out that way. At mile 97 I broke. Soft pedaling at 16 MPH for the next 5 miles did not help much as we entered the dreaded hot zone of Croom’s Silver Lake. For some reason unknown to science or tired cyclists, the Withlacoochee Trail is hot, dry, and exposed in this area. Why can’t they plant a tree! At the Ridge Manor trail head I collapsed on a picnic table and Ken didn’t complain much when I forced him to stop. We stretched our backs, splashed water on our faces, and went out to finish this ride.
I tried again to go hard and finish strong but was denied with only a mile to go. Hot and tired we limped back to the Southern terminus and I welcomed my car’s cold air-conditioner. Ken looked strong all day and he had just finished whipping my ass at last weekend’s Urban Crit in Lakeland. I’m going to have to start riding if I plan to take him at the Trail-To-Trail or at Fool’s Gold.
The Withlacoochee Trail is a great ride if you do not wish to bother with the traffic and heat of normal roads. There are very few road crossings so even serious cyclists can hammer away without being annoyed. Approximately half of the trail is well shaded and there are several road crossings that provide bike service and refreshment opportunities. Don’t miss this trail; it is a must-ride location.
Next year I’ll be more prepared for Ken’s birthday party.
Here are some interesting facts The Withlacoochee State Trail is the longest (to date) paved rail trail in Florida. It occupies approximately 46 miles of an abandoned railroad right-of-way, passing through three counties (Citrus, Hernando and Pasco) en route from Citrus Springs in Citrus County to Trilby in Pasco County. The Withlacoochee Trail State Park starts just north of Dade City on U.S. 301, a mile south of Trilby and continues through the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest, runs close to the Withlacoochee River, past the Silver Lake Campground, then continues north through Nobleton, Istachatta, Floral City, Inverness, Hernando, Holder, Citrus Springs, and ends at Gulf Junction just south of Dunnellon. The rail bed traverses six distinct natural communities, and provides visitors access to the central Florida landscape in both developed and natural conditions. The most prominent natural feature within the Withlacoochee Trail corridor is the flood plain of the Withlacoochee River. The trail intersects this flood plain in several locations, allowing visitors to observe flood plain habitats and lakes. A unique natural vista occurs along the trail corridor, south of the Withlacoochee State Forest/Croom Tract. Other important natural features of the trail corridor include scenic Lake Henderson and the Tsala-Apopka chain of lakes.