Monday, February 11, 2013

So I RoDe My BikE to ThE EveRGLaDes....Part 4 CleWisToN to the SaSqUaTch ReSeaRch CeNTer...

I made no schedule that day.  I knew that I wanted to be in Miami by Tuesday night, so when I got up that Sunday, it was hammer time.

BUT, I still didn't set an alarm.  I got up when I was done sleeping.  That night before I didn't only buy two pints of Ice Cream, I bought something to eat too, just cant remember now what it was.....

I ate, packed up, and checked out, heading towards the google map location that told me where I could get coffee...  I found the place.  It was nice, the people inside interesting and inquisitive about who I was and where I was going.  They told me I was heading into a place called the Devils Garden, and that I should watch out for the big trucks that run them roads.

I got an iced coffee.  The first Coffee that I got to taste in a few days.  Unfortunately she put sugar in it.  The lady was so nice and everyone was so nice that I just drank it anyways, even though I prefer my coffee in its most natural form.

I was heading into the unknown.  I would at some point traverse the panther habitat at Big Cypress preserve and I do not like heading into the unknown and the wilderness without a lighter.  It took me a Long time to find a lighter, but I did.

Finally got on the road, and it was pavement for a bit, with cars going by, and me going towards no where.  Eventually I got to a spot that turned off to dirt, but the area had some serious no trespassing signage so I kept on the pavement and did my best to navigate around the obstacle.

There were abandoned shrimp farms back there.  So weird to read all the signage and observe all the abandon.  Weird to see that even the locals call this place the Devils Garden.  It was blazing hot, and I was almost out of water with an expected 17 to go before a known restock.  I didn't like those numbers  but had resolved to deal with what may come.

As I pedaled along I saw a telephone repair man and I knew he had water so I begged, and restocked and kept moving on an additional bottle, still in trouble but not as bad as before.

Eventually I came up to an intersection, and in my mental state I made the wrong turn.  Only noticing when I was 7 miles down the road and heading straight into the Big Cypress Indian reservation.  Completely dry I stopped at the first store I saw. But it was closed, and all the taps outside, every single one had no water.  After realizing I had gone off course I used google to find that there were plenty of stores up the road, deeper into the reservation, so that is where I went.  Deeper into Miccosukee territory, in search of water and cold drink and maybe even food.

I rolled up to a place that was an ice cream place/everything else.  I parked my bike outside, went in and ordered 1 large cup of ice water and 1 large soda.  I sat there looking at the route suggestions that my google presented.  I could clearly see where I made my mistake.  BUT, do I backtrack or do I try and see if there is a dirty route across this reservation.

I thought about it for a long time.  Guess I wasn't in a huge rush to jump back into the frying pan.  I watched as the Natives drove around the reservation on ATVs, and after having a nice conversation with a family, and a gift of ICE cold water from them, I set off to find the local public works office and ask them if the route my Droid suggested was clear and legal.

Before I could find the office I found an police officer and he got on the horn and told me that it was not a good route do to the fences.  I backtracked got back on track and kept moving, finally back on route, 14+ miles later.  O well.  As I started getting closer to the other side where the dirty alternate I had asked the policeman about dumped out, I noticed there was a prison there and now I understand what they mean about not being able to navigate the area.

I was still about 10 miles away from my planned rest and restock when I noticed a storm rolling in.  The area is so flat, that I could see the black clouds coming for miles.  I had never seen a storm move so fast, so the only option I had was to hammer.  So I tucked into my Freddie aero bars and did just that.

8 miles to go, the air got noticeably cooler.
6 miles to go the wind was blowing hard.
4 miles to go the lightning and thunder were all around.
2 miles to go and all hell breaks loose.

Its storming so hard that I have zero visibility.  The rain is coming sideways and the wind is blowing so hard that I am being blown off the road, having to lean into the wind to stay up right

Working as hard as I could I finally made the gas station and my planned rest and restock before heading into The Big Cypress preserve.

I hung up my wet clothes.  I pulled my sleeveless base layer out my bag and put it on to warm myself up.  I went in and sat down and slowly, ate and drank and ate and stocked up, for about 3 hours.

My next destination was the Sasquatch research center.  I called ahead and got a campsite.  The guy seemed fairly concerned I wouldn't be interested, and he had agreed that me coming late was gonna be OK.

When I left the convenience store it was still drizzling.  After a little bit of pavement I entered the Big Cypress preserve through a pedestrian entrance on the far west side.  The roads were hard pack limestone and fast.  I saw huge pits full of gators, more gators then I have ever seen in one place at one time.

I never saw a panther, not a single one, but I was happy that there was plenty of traction and only a slight drizzle.  Before long I was on Turner Camp road which was 17 miles of dirt road thru the preserve ending on Alligator Alley.

As the sun set, and the rain let up, I got such a treat.  The moon was big in front.  The skies to the east were constantly sparking from a distant lightning storm, same with the skies to the west.  I was threading the gauntlet between two storms, with moonlight guiding the way and huge bats, bigger then any I have ever seen, gliding over head as they feasted on the mosquitoes.

Not far down that road, I pedaled the last few miles of pavement to the Sasquatch Research Center and found the camp host.  Got my spot, and went in the shower first.

The mosquitoes were horrendous.  It was another maddening evening, feeling the insane itch all over my legs, my spray worked, but if I missed anything they would be on me, blackening the skin, they were small and would mass on your flesh in a second.

I found some mosquito incense someone had left over, and took a break in there, under the smoke.  I organized my desire to set up my hennessey hammock, and then went outside to try and sleep.

I knew ahead of time that it would be a rough night, but lord did I underestimate what the night would truly have in store with me and the mosquitoes.


Monday, February 04, 2013

So I RoDe My BikE to ThE EveRGLaDes....Part 3 OkEeChoBeE to CLeWiStOn

Check out was 11 am.  So we were up and out of that room, JUST as it was 11am.  While Bob
was napping under a tree at River Ranch Resort, I had text messaged the Queen of Ultra Endurance, Lynne Daniels, and Asked her if she minded driving into Okee to get Bob.  At the time I had no Idea we would go on a HELL HIKE, but I could tell Bob, who had just come off a 3 month off the couch Hiatus, had perhaps bitten off more then he could chew.

When I gave Bob the news, he didn't complain, not even a little.  We soft pedaled a block or two to 5 guys, to have food, while we wait for the meet up with Paul and Lynne.  I had the bikes locked up but in sight, I never ever leave my bike out of it.  I ordered the biggest burger I could and the large bag of fries and ate forever, till Lynne and Paul arrived and I got a chance to give them snippets and bits of what I had experienced on the trail so far.

And so far the news was good.  The trail had really delivered with gorgeous terrain and adventure, except for that 12 mile hike.

Eventually after our food was done, we said our goodbyes and Bob left with them on his way to rest and catch a train and I continued on the route heading towards the Everglades.  The wind was bad and coming from the south.  That's the way it is in the summer ya know, the southern hot wind.

My perception at the time I left was that I was behind schedule so I skipped riding on the levy.  The sun was hot, and I was astounded about how tired I still felt from my late night ride, the wind wasn't helping and neither was the heat.  I stopped and took a break near a clearing and an entrance towards a picnic area up on the levy.  I Skype called Edith and told her about how bad my legs were cut up and how ridiculous the wind was, but after our talk, I got myself together and kept rolling.

After a short sixty mile wind blown day, I rolled into Clewiston, eye balling what would be the most logical start off point, to restock in the morning and get back on route.

Eventually I settled on this little hotel on the other side of town.  I paid Cash for the room, which I thought was strange.  She didn't ask me for ID and I could of very well used any name in the book, I guess I never thought paying cash for a hotel room was a possibility.

After cooling my heels I walked over in my clickity clackity cycling shoes to a little hole in the wall restaurant.  The music was so loud that it was inaudible. I have no Idea why they play the music at such a high and distorted volume.  There were a dozen people in the place and all of them except one, were MEN.  

So lets take a quick tally.  Ridiculous loud polka style Central American Spanish music, 11 men, one young woman and ME.  They stared at me, all the men did, like I had an elbow growing sideways out of my face.  But I sat down, had my beers and delicious plate of carnitas, whilst I got stared at, the entire time.

It was odd, for sure, but I don't ever venture anywhere without feeling like safe, and although I was the spectacle I felt safe enough.  After I left there I was still hungry and decided to hit the convenience store for two pints of ice cream.  Since I was in my camp clothes which consisted of a sleeveless base layer and camp/hike shorts, my cycling sculptured tan was obvious.  So obvious in fact that the clerk asked me if I was in some sort of gang.  OMFG will this trip get any stranger.  I ate my two pints of ice cream, talked to my loved ones and eventually fell asleep early, while on vacation on my bike in a comfy hotel room, because after all, the day before had been hell and the end of today, had a little slice of heaven.


Sunday, February 03, 2013

So I RoDe My BikE to ThE EveRGLaDes....Part 2: 3 LaKeS to OkEeeChOBee

It was a long night, but I got to sleep.  I could hear Bob over there shifting around and stuff, didn't seem like he was having a good time but Bob is tough as nails so it was no big deal.  We packed up.  Mission one was to find water.  I was low, but I also knew that there was a well in the area.  Had seen it somewhere or maybe Bob told me, either way we rode a little bit of distance to these beautiful campgrounds.

I kind of looked at Bob funny, if we  had only pedaled 2 more miles last night we could of camped by water and bathrooms in this beautiful spot....Noted, but we just chuckled about it.  I used the rest room, learned about how to use the well that was located on site.  The well required me to first pour some water into it to get it to function.  I had never seen such a thing, but it was good to have Bob there to guide me through it, I really don't know if I would of figured it out by myself.

I stocked up on water and when I went to use my Leatherman, I couldn't find it.  When I am in the backwoods I tend to keep it on me, so I can have it handy.  But it was nowhere.  I searched through my memories and found a picture in my head of me unpacking it into my helmet that I hung of my hammock.  I figure it must of fell out so I pedaled back to the campsite I stayed at and after a small search I found it.  YESSSSS.... I really didn't want anymore adversity on the trip.  In fact when I drove to work Friday morning I had packed everything I needed for the trip except my shoes.  Thankfully I had my spare shoes in the car, so I had to ride this trip with shoes that feel. fine, but the Velcro straps don't work for crap.  I had managed well so far, but like I said, I didn't want anymore adversity.

Bob met me up at the road, he had gone on a bit.  It was evident our pace was different on the trip and I had told him to go ahead, he had the route loaded on his GPS as well.  But when I rolled up he was at the intersection where we had turned off to go down the road to get water.  He told me there were construction guys up there and that we could not pass.

Great I thought.

I remember the Florida trail passed thru so we decided to try using it to get across.

After wondering around and seeing alot more forest we did a huge circle ending up right where we started still on the wrong side of the forest.  I cook up the plan that we just bushwhack to the other side and  deal with the water when we get to it.

We got to the water and Bob volunteers to try and get across so we can see how deep it is.  It was marshy looking stuff and I couldn't see the bottom, but like I said, Bobs a bad ass so no sweat across he went, it never got deeper then his waist, so I grabbed my bike and waded across and so did he.  Before we knew it we were back on pristine hard pack forest road.  The riding was great up here, it was wide open, bright and HOT.  Florida summers are no joke and even though it had been only 6 miles progress forward on the route I was almost out of water after wondering around on the wrong side of the river on the Florida Trail.

I got a ways ahead of Bob, told some jeepers that rolled up about the construction.  Then stopped at a game station and restocked on water, took off most my gear and called it an early break from the Sun while I waited for Bob. It was good I had gotten in chill mode, started eating one of my subs, drinking water, soaking my head and my face, Bob looked pretty cracked when he got to me and he basically jumped into the sink with the water, bathed head to toe and laid down for a bit.  He was roasted and I could tell.  I could tell he was in trouble and a break was the only solution.

We relaxed for a long while and then got moving again in the bright white sun.  Next section was unknown to me.  I thought it might be like a private community with a guard gate.  I had told Bob if there was a guard to let me do the talking.  But as we got closer to River Ranch, we discovered it was a resort.  The first building we saw had coke machines and we were both roasting and after wrestling with our damp dollar bills, Bob Amazingly got them to work, we had several cold drinks and sat out front of the closed store in the rocking chairs.

As we got closer we saw golf carts with tourist and buffalo and horses and more buildings and stores, restaurants and a post office, it was basically a small town in the middle of nowhere.

It was an Oasis in the blistering heat and we ate, cooled our heels and spent a good part of the afternoon sleeping under the shade of the oak tree by the river.  The weather had called for Clear skies, but I saw the storm coming, we barely missed it and hid out in a store.  The storm was intense and both Bob and I had a feeling it would pass quickly, so we stocked up.  The next 32 miles would be straight into the a wilderness area called Kicco WMA, terrain Unknown. 

What I did know about Kicco was that it ran along the kissimmee river.  The link you see above I found way after the fact.  So I know way more know then I did then, but the route was hard packed and fast as we navigated our way along the track.  Eventually we were in huge pastures full of cows and bulls.  I got nervous about the Bulls.  So I stood up and hammered through the area trying to look big fast and intimidating.   Most Bulls trotted toward the bush line along with the cows, but some stood there ground.

Once we cleared that area, we had to hang a hard right into grassy double track and before I know it, I am pedaling through a section of deep water, beyond Hub Deep, but I kept the paddle boat moving and emerged the on the other side, wet, but not bitten by snake or gator.

 A little further along, we came up on a fence, went thru it, and then hiked and pedaled along a fire break up and over a pyramid built to get you over the fence.  We crossed it, kept going on hard packed stuff to swampy double track, zigging and zagging eventually coming up on a bob cat, and then vehicles and the river as we made Fort Kissimmee cemetary.

Hindsight being 20/20 I now know that when we crossed on that pyramid we had entered the Avon Park WMA. But at the moment I was just following the track riding buff swamp hard pack swamp trail with few crossings, then some really cool shell rocky trail, good times.  Very little sand, really nice.

Eventually, it got darker, and before we knew it we were way in the middle of nowhere as the sun was setting.  We were up on a levy of sorts and we would drop down and cross water and then up and it would repeat, further and further back. AND then, the trail, the road, just ended into tall saw grass.  There was a monster fence on our right.  By far the oddest fence I had ever seen.  It was tall, then it had about a 5 foot gap in the middle, then it continued upward another 6 to 10 feet.  If I had to guess I would think the intention of the odd design was to keep deers out, since they would totally hit the top part.  Or maybe it was so they could get thru? Why else design such an odd fence.

We tried to follow the track, and were surrounded by saw grass.  Visibility was dismal, mosquito's were everywhere, to say things were getting tense, is an understatement.  When we got to the other side and looked back, the fence said, danger, Air Force base property do not trespass.  Seeing that sign and having crossed over from that side, it just added to our confusion.    After some bushwhack, Bob loses his spectacles.  Not good, we backtrack and find the actual track and discover that this was the section of the route that I had no choice but to follow the Florida trail to keep the true nature of the route intact, this was the mandatory hike section that was unavoidable.

So we muddled thru.  It was in some times what appeared to be abandoned farm land.  Then we would come up on sections where the swamp was trying to take the trail back.  Finding the blazes of Orange was complicated in the dark, and it took alot of deep breaths and team work to manage it all.  Eventually we would come up on bridges that had been built.  We were hiking in saw grass and water at times, and our legs were sliced to bits and the mosquito's were like blankets attacking from all sides, moving was the only solution.

I felt desperate at times.  I was getting impatient.  Even contemplated camping and waiting for daylight, we had enough food.  But we pushed, I figured it would only be 4 to 10 miles of this so push, push, push.  Hiking on bridges that now were off camber from the swamp destroying there flat design, taking them back into the water.

I have studied tense survival situations like this. And just stayed patient and persevered, eventually I saw a street light.  I told Bob, if there is a street light, there is a street and there is a way out.  The track even said to go in that direction so we go over the fence, discovering that we are in private property, some outdoor guide place.  We could hear dogs, we turn our lights off and haul ass.  I see dogs in pens, not worried, and I see kayaks and huge trucks and before we know it we exit the property thru an open gate and we see the trail head where we could have hiked out of eventually skipping this peace of the route.

Looking back, I will try and find away around this hike a bike.  Maybe the property owners will give us permission to pedal thru.  Or maybe we backtrack from fort kissimmee cemetery thru Avon Park WMA.  At this time I don't know.  Maybe hiking 8 to 10  miles is the way it should stay???

Regardless, once on pavement we had alot of miles left to Okeechobee and we were both, tired, cut up, bit up, and beaten by the ridiculous survival hike we just did.  My Droid did the math and according to map, we still had 35 more miles to ride to get to Okee....

I cant at this time, months later describe how disappointing that news was.  It had been a difficult and intense 4 hours in the swamp.  But we stopped at the intersection and I ate another sub, and I danced around being driven insane by the itch I could feel on my legs from the bites and the cuts.

As sad and as low as a moment that was, we both knew what we had to do and we saddled up and pedaled.  I was suddenly motivated, so I got deep into my Freddie's and hammered away.  Bob's light disappeared.  I ran out of water, and topped off.  I stopped to lay down for a minute, I was falling asleep on the bike.  The mosquito's wouldn't let me sleep, so I got up, got rolling stopping at a church, Bob and I reunited.  He got water and we kept going, eventually angry and fed up, I use the fuel to Hammer at 19+mph to town. Pulling  into a station I grab some cold drinks and sit outside and wait for Bob.

While I'm out there drinking my Dr. Pepper, I notice Okee is quite lively late at night.  Three trucks pull up, the guys are yelling at the other guys, playing around I suppose.  Young 20 something year old girls stare at me as they go inside the store.  I must be quite the sight, muddy, dirty, cut up and tired.

A guy ask me if them guys in the truck wanted to fight?
I told him, I think they are just joking around, they know each other....
He then ask me what I am doing here at 2 in the morning.
I tell him, I'm just on a ride, waiting on a friend, were gonna get a hotel....
then he tells me, O, I don't have any money...

In my head I was like WTF???

Just then the 20 something year old girls walk by and this time at least they say hi.

Bob shows up, we shop, we get our things and roll out, to the closest cheapest hotel.

I showered with my clothes on to clean them. and wring them up.  I put on my spare clothes and by the time I got out the shower Bob was sleeping.  It had been a hard and long day.  I stayed up watching TV and eating about 2000 calories worth of food, eventually falling asleep myself.

NK 2013

Saturday, February 02, 2013

So I RoDe My BikE to ThE EveRGLaDes....Part 1: BiKeWoRkS SoUtH to 3 LaKeS

Foreword.....I realize that I have been neglecting the sharing of my words and stories.  I also realize there maybe 14 of you out there that are missing my musings.  I apologize for being absent.... Ever since I left the Gila in 2011 I have been on a journey, but I am back and I want to share... So without further ado, part one of my Mountain bike ride to the everglades.

I imagine my boss at work is annoyed by me.  I spent what feels like HOURS looking at the map.  I don't know but at some point I realized, after making all the routes I have made that they all have a similar pattern. You travel via mountain bike from wilderness area to wilderness area.  In one side, out the other, on and on, all the way to whatever destination you choose.

I only know Florida.  So, I started seeing the connections when I looked at the map.  And then I started piecing altogether, and at some point I sat down and just started looking and clicking and mapping a mostly off road route, from where I was sitting at work, to and thru the Everglades and beyond.

I had hatched an elaborate plan.  7 days, 500 miles.  Ride whatever pace I want, hard or soft.  80% of the trip into wilderness area after a wilderness area, a chain of green space snaking along the Kissimee river to Lake Okeechobee.

Since I started working at Bikeworks south I immediately mapped a route exploring shingle creek.  Shingle Creek is known as the headwaters of the Everglades.  It seemed easy to try and find the other areas of green space along this waterway.

It actually took me about 20 minutes to map the entire route, including the return trip.  I then spent another 60 minutes confirming every piece of the route that I could see from street views.  Eventually before I put together my final product, I went thru it one more time with a fine tooth combed, making sure that the route was solid.  I picked my dates, bought my train ticket for the return trip home and set out on a 200$ budget no less.

I am really blessed to have Edith in my life who believes in me spiritually and mentally.  Encourages me to be my best and even more, she is that stoke to my fire and passion for what I do. I also find myself lucky to have friends to ride with and who will still join me when I get a wild hair to do something just a little crazy.

Bob Capers was the only one who stepped up to join me.  His plan was to ride with me to Okeechobee and then ride to Jupiter to meet up with The Queen of Florida Off Road Ultras, Lynne Daniels.  Again, I felt blessed to have someone along, even if it was only for 120 miles of the 500 mile voyage.

I didn't want to miss any work, or waste any vacation time so I decided to leave Friday after work and ride off into the dark heading towards Holopaw.  It was going to be a mostly pavement/bike path shred out of town.

The First part of the ride was fine, but Kissimmee, was like a different country.  We pedaled thru it with no issue, but the traffic was crazy and the drivers were aggressive, it was a wild ride.

Once we hit the bike path sections, I remembered why I had picked that route, very pretty and scenic stuff, we were riding in the dark by this point, but it was the middle of summer and riding at night is choice.  Bob, kept reminding me that my current route was technically taking us in the wrong direction and that we would be backtracking a bit, but that was the first time I shared my Number one rule when I am scouting a track that I have only known by drawing at home.... Always follow the track.... So we stayed on track and made our first stop, first at a seven eleven to shop, where I bought a pair of subs and a bag of chips for the first leg of our trip, and then we  stopped again, in Holopaw, before venturing deeper into the forest where there would be no supplies for an expected 80 miles.

I don't remember how long we had been on the bike at this point, but I ate dinner and got a super deal on skinned potato wedges and chicken crisp.  I took my time eating my chicken and potatoes and bought some chocolate for the road.  I prefer to eat chocolate or some sort of chocolate mix when I am pedaling, but that's the catch about a Florida summer, chocolate turns to hot liquid and its not appetizing at all.  In fact if you eat it, its cause you have no choice, not cause you would enjoy it.  Since it was dark, though, I stocked up and spent the rest of the night eating chocolate making sure by the time the sun came up, that it would be all gone.

After riding along pavement for awhile and being passed by huge semi trucks, we entered our first dirt section, ,.  It was pretty shitty.  But since I am used to riding shitty, I pedaled and drifted on top of the sand so quick that I disappeared from Bob.  Eventually we met up on this perfectly hard packed dirt road.  Once I got there I pulled out my phone and saw that had we stayed on the paved road just a little longer we could have rode hard packed pristine forest road instead of the sand trap I just spun thru.  Lesson learned and noted.....

Bob is such a good person to have along though that the first thing he said to me, was "Hey, I know this road, we could have taken pavement a little further and connected with...". He was right, but it was too late, onward we pushed.

The forest roads are hard packed and fast.  We even rode thru a tunnel under the Florida Turnpike and kept going until we crossed a big paved road and Bob Suggested we break camp.  Initially my plan had been to continue until the route crossed the location of Fort Kissimmee Cemetary, but Bob wanted to rest, and I was ok with it.  We set up our hammocks in the bug infested scrub and did our best to sleep with the mosquito's buzzing around and a random car driving the forest roads in the distance.