In the fall of 2019 I had often joined a group ride leaving Juno Beach at 7am up to Stuart and back, about 50 miles (80km) round trip. The ride was referred to as the Mr. Bread ride in honor of the little bakery in Stuart where we would stop for a quick coffee, pastry and chat with friends. Despite working full time I was able to fit this ride in twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, back home around 9:30am and back to work from the home office by 10am.
The weather was generally dry and sunny, and I rode twice a week nearly every week. These group rides gave me solid training miles and rekindled my joy for longer bike rides. My wife had also bought me an Apple Watch so I had some additional metrics to play with. And I joined the online Strava community which adds to the fun of seeing where your friends are riding.
By late January I started a couple of longer rides, including a 170km loop on Jan-26 from home Ocean to Lake Okeechobee and a 145km loop on Feb-2 (Superbowl Sunday) including the leg along the NE shores of Lake Okeechobee, which is quite spectacular in the late afternoon sun. I noticed that I prefer loop rides over just going out and back, as you get to see more new scenery instead of retracing the same route. This also typically leads more towards the interior of South Florida, generally between the Coast and Lake Okeechobee. A1A is lovely to ride, for example on Jupiter Island, but in terms of scenery there is so much more out there than just the road along the beach.
Biker friend John Bauer had started logging a lot of 100 mile rides, that seemed to be his thing. At one point he surprised us all by declaring that he was going to ride one hundred 100 milers this year! That's 10,000+ miles in one year, plus any other shorter rides he would certainly do as well. No way to compete in that league, at least not while in regular employment! So I later came up with my own idea for a year-long challenge: How about riding twenty 200km rides in twenty twenty? So the 20x 200km in 2020 challenge was born!
On Feb-17 I did my first 200km loop ride. I drove by car to the I95 exit near Stuart and parked there early morning. The bike route roughly follows a rectangular route from Stuart going North along the Ocean to Fort Pierce, then West-South-West to Okeechobee town, then South along the Lake up on the levee to the big bridge in Port Mayaca, then East-North-East back to Stuart.
It was a fairly fast ride as I drafted behind another rider going North along the Ocean and then had tailwind on the next two legs. It's always nice riding on the levee of Lake Okeechobee in the afternoon due to the sun reflecting off the water to the SW. And from the bridge at Port Mayaca you have the best view of the area.
Except in the SW, there is a town in each corner, making for natural rest and refueling stops along the way. As I started in the SE corner, counter-clockwise, I got to the SW corner after 3/4 of the ride and couldn't refuel, so I ran out of fluids on the last leg and battled cramps. Next time I'm planning to start in the SW corner to avoid that issue.
A month later, Jill and I started the Sunday with a nice 40km ride on the tandem. It was a beautiful day and I wasn't done riding for that day. So I changed bikes at home and headed North, following the Ocean up via Stuart to the Fort Pierce Inlet and back for a total of ~ 210km.
At this point in the year I hadn't yet come up with the 20x 200km in 2020 plan yet. Instead I had this growing desire to do a really long ride again, perhaps like the Jacksonville 2 Juno ride from 2 years earlier (Mar-2018). March through May is typically the best time in South Florida for long rides, with dry and cool air, reliably sunny weather and lengthening daylight hours. I was planning routes for a long loop. Perhaps similar to the 300km Lake Okeechobee circum-navigation from home as I did three years earlier (Mar-2017). I came up with an even more ambitious plan, and the following weekend the perfect weather was forecast.
The route I had planned was to ride down South to Fort Lauderdale, then West and join Highway 27 which runs North-South in the center of Florida.
A really long ride will include some night-time riding. Just like in the Upper Mid-West states of Minnesota and the Dakotas, I was planning with starting a ride at mid-night. For most loop rides, you would consider starting and ending at home to minimize driving logistics. In this case, I had other factors, including likely wind and which stretches would be best to ride during the night. As the day had moderate SE winds in the forecast, I wanted to do most of the riding into the wind at night, as then winds are usually stronger during the daytime. And if I started the loop at home, I would have the last 100km into the wind, not something you want to plan for. So I decided to start the loop in Port Mayaca at midnight. This had two additional benefits: First, I would be able to stop at home in the early morning hours around 2:30am for a short rest and to eat - at a time when most stores, gas-stations and restaurants are closed. And second, the last hours of daylight in the evening would be spent on the levee on the NE side of the Lake, which should make for a beautiful finale.
See my detailed Blog post on how this midnight loop ride went on Sun, Mar-29. Noticeably, there was very little traffic due to the Coronavirus induced lock-down measures just having gone into effect.
Another aspect I really got to enjoy was riding at nighttime with full moon. While the previous week's midnight ride was 1 week too early for full moon and hence pitch black after the moon had set by midnight, this ride was just after full-moon and I enjoyed moon-lit and eerily empty roads during nighttime.
I started at 2am going North, riding in the middle of US-1 highway, with just 1 car passing me between Juno Beach and the Stuart bridge out to Hutchinson Island. I reached the turn-around point of the bridge over the Sebastian Inlet a little after 7am, just when the moon set and the sun rose.
I was lucky with the wind, too, as I had slight S tailwind heading North, with winds shifting to W for crosswind on the way back. This was a repeat of an earlier ride I had done back in Feb-2013 and documented in this post.
Among the biggest geographically defined challenges for long-distance riding in South Florida is to ride from Coast to Coast - and back! - all in a single day (or in 24 hours). I had done a similar coast to coast and back ride over 2 days back in Apr-2009 as training for my upcoming Panamerican Peaks adventure with my recumbent bike.
This spring early May the weather was just exceptionally good for long-distance riding. Emboldened by my success with the 400+km midnight loop around Lake Okeechobee a few weeks ago I made big plans: A "Figure 8" route starting in the middle of the peninsula at Moore Haven, looping East around Lake O back home to the East Coast and back, then looping West to the Gulf Coast at Fort Myers and Punta Gorda and back to the car at Moore Haven.
The first quarter went well, riding into the night back home. I left for leg 2 in great spirits around 4am, but unfortunately had a technical defect before dawn around 5am with the bolts holding my handle bar snapping. It took me some 3 hours to get this fixed without asking my wife or someone to come pick me up in the pre-dawn morning hours on a Sunday.
Making things worse, I had a flat tire just 1/2 hour later, further adding to my delay. Given that I was 4 hours late and didn't want to find myself riding the last quarter of the loop in unknown terrain getting back in the dark, I aborted this ride back in Moore Haven. I ended up doing almost the exact same ride as in Mar-2017 when rounding Lake O from home - at the time my longest loop ride at 300 km.
Shortly after the above weekend ride I read about consistent N winds on the weather report. For a long time I had this idea in my head to ride back home from the FL-GA border. This would extend the 440 km Jacksonville 2 Juno ride I had done some 2 years earlier in Mar-2018. Same kind of prep, taking the Amtrak train up North to Jacksonville, the last stretch by Uber.
It turned out to be very successful ride, with preparations and planning paying off.
The entire ride is documented in detail with many photos here. It is really an incredible adventure, unassisted 24 hour riding. Only twice have I been riding farther in a single day: Fargo to Sioux City and Iowa to Canada back in 2004. That I can still do such rides some 16 years later is a sign that long-distance cycling is not just a physical, but mental challenge.
Even at this point early May I had not formulated the 20x 200km in 2020 challenge. For now, I thought the long-distance riding is pretty much over for the season. But there were more rides to come...
Last year I had explored a couple of loop rides of increasing length from home, going West to the interior, then North, then East and back South along the Coast. I described three of these loops in a Blog post about Riding Florida Loops.
I'm inclined to say this has become my favorite loop in this year's collection: It features so many diverse impressions, from pine forests in the Jones Hungryland Wilderness area in SW, to bypassing the sprawling city of Port St. Lucie on the Western end parallel to I-95, to Hutchinson Island and then Jupiter Island on the way back down South.
In mid-June there is the most daylight on the Northern hemisphere, so on this occasion I could start very late (1pm in the afternoon) and still finish the ride in the fading daylight at dusk. As it turns out, I would do this loop a few more times, the next time just about 2 weeks later.
About 2 weeks later I decided to ride this same loop again, this time leaving very early to not be pressed for time at the end to arrive in daylight.
So early in fact, that I arrived back at noon! Interesting how the same distance led almost to the same ride time and other metrics. Today the air was very hazy, very high humidity, and not the best light for photography. But it always feels good to have plenty of daylight remaining. Another nice aspect about today was to have met John Bauer - whose rides indirectly inspired this entire project - and ride the last 1.5 hours together home from Stuart.
Another very early start at 4am. Near Home Sound I almost rode over a dead alligator in the bike lane. Not what you'd expect! And one reason why it's not safe to ride without headlight, even with moonlight, as you tend to see obstacles too late.
Very similar to previous ride on this same route. Very hot day, slow coming back into cross-headwind. But I'm really liking this loop, it has so much different scenery and a little bit of everything.
We're now in mid-August and only now did I commit to the goal of twenty 200km rides this year. This was the 4th time in a row for this loop. Doesn't get old just yet...
Although A1A is quite scenic there are some stretches in Riviera Beach (Palm Beach port) and then South of the Hillsboro Inlet (last ~10 miles) which have more traffic.
The Fort Lauderdale port and convention center area is a natural end-point, as going further South requires circumnavigating that area past the airport on roads with heavy traffic. One advantage on this route is the parallel TriRail which allows for retrieval, for example in case of a defect on the bike. It is also my preferred route for tailwind rides when there is a strong N or S wind (with TriRail doing the upwind leg).
August 31, 2020, start time 23:45. This was perhaps the most unusual 200 km ride this year. At the end of a workday (Monday) I decided to ride through the night - with full moon - and get back for breakfast and the next workday (Tuesday).
Lots of critters at night on the levee, and tall grasses with lots of spiderwebs getting caught in the handlebar and arms. Coffee stop on the way back around 5:30am in Indiantown. All in all very unusual.
Unusual in that I had not particular route in mind at the start, just wanted to ride around a bit, Went up to the Northern tip of Palm beach Island, a beautiful area I hadn't visited in years. Then had the idea in Lake Worth to go out West to Wellington where I had lived from 1998-2005. Still know the area well, with quiet roads through the equestrian areas in Wellington. Connected North near Lion Country Safari. Then building storm clouds, forcing me to zig-zag to the NE, eventually catching me in full-on rain the last few miles. Got home in afternoon with about 100miles done; took a hot shower, had some coffee, but then went out for the remaining 40km.
Same route as first 200km loop this year on Feb-17, but started in SW corner, with some night riding. 1 hour slower ride due to adverse wind and rain conditions on the Northern leg.
This time I drove to Port Mayaca in the the SW corner. Starting there has two advantages: You avoid having to ride two legs without refueling stops as all other corners have towns with convenience stores. And coming back along the levee in the afternoon is always a treat. I think I started this early to avoid storms in the afternoon. It meant to ride the first half in the dark. Riding up Hutchinson Island the day broke and at the half-way point at the Fort Pierce Inlet I was treated to some spectacular morning light with a cloud front coming in from the North.
The next stretch from Ft. Pierce to Okeechobee town was rainy and unpleasant. I didn't expect the rain to come this early. At one point the satellite image looked like the only rain band was exactly along this stretch of Highway 70. I waited over some coffee for the initial rain to subside before starting out from Fort Pierce. Along the stretch the rain was on and off, with heavy rain in Okeechobee town just as I got there. Thankfully just a bit South towards the lake the sun came out and allowed to stop for another breakfast and drying up again in the mid day sun. Always nice to finish a long ride with the leg along the levee on the NE shore of Lake Okeechobee.
Date: Sep-27. Almost identical route to #13 on Aug-23 one month earlier. This route is perhaps the most familiar to me as I have been riding this stretch of A1A since back in 1996 when I first moved to Florida, lived in Delray Beach and frequently rode with local bike groups between Deerfield and Palm Beach.
This time visited my daughter and son-in-law in downtown FTL, with brunch on the rooftop. Fairly fast ride with initial flat tire at Palm Beach inlet, group ride assist heading South and wind assist heading back North.
The fifth time I did this loop, clearly my favorite due to the variety of scenery. The only bad stretch is a few (3-4) miles in the NW diagonally leading into Ft. Pierce. And today was a workday afternoon on that, with more traffic and lots of trucks, no shoulder, bumpy concrete road, terrible.
Today the air was very clear and somewhat drier compared to the recent summer months. Always nice to have the Northerly wind push crisp air down to South Florida in the fall. Also great to have NE wind gently push me on the way back, makes the second century of the ride a lot easier. Evening mood on Hutchinson Island is wonderful, although it comes at the cost of riding the last hour on Jupiter Island in the dark. Making things worse, I had to fix a flat in Home Sound. Very happy when reaching home at 8:45pm.
Same ride as 2.5 years ago (Mar-2018) and subset of ride in May-2020.
Initially heavy rain on Sunday during train ride North to Jacksonville. But front coming through and being pushed South with clearing sky behind, then beautiful weather, full moon, temperature dropping but still mild, N wind initially light, drying up wet roads just in time, next day great N wind (20+mph).
This is the third time I'm riding this route - for details see the trip report from the first time in Mar-2018. Most of the impressions are very similar, full moon and scenic, quiet road along the Ocean. Knowing the route somehow makes it a bit easier to pace oneself, knowing what to expect. First time I started at midnight, second time in May-2020 at 10pm, this time at 9pm. Riding at night is hard, this will be my longest night ride (10 hours elapsed, 8.5 hours ride time.) It's always good to get to sunrise and then have the entire day ahead with warm sun and nice tailwind.
This time I'm taking a more scenic route around Melbourne: Instead of going all the way down on US-1, I cross over to Merritt Island on Highway 520 and then head South towards Dragon Point. Narrow road, but much less traffic and much more scenic along the Indian River and beautiful homes. I do see some early voting for the upcoming US Presidential Election and lots of Trump flags, which makes me (correctly) feel that FL is going to remain a Republican state. This time is faster than on previous two occasions, as the N wind is really blowing hard in Brevard county. On the Sebastian Inlet bridge it's almost blowing my iPhone out of my hand with gusts > 30mph and I have to hold on to the bike while taking photos. My butt hurts, and I frequently have to get out of the saddle to stand up and coast - but cruising downwind with 40+ km/h is always a thrill.
I didn't start with this goal in mind. Only with the 12th ride did I commit to this goal.
Many routes were repeat routes:
Three rides were over 400km, thus counting double (2x 200km):
Two other rides were over 250 km:
Except for the two long tailwind rides back home from Jacksonville all rides were either out and back or loop rides. All routes except the Ocean 2 Lake loop either started & ended at home in Juno Beach or at least passed through home.
Some six rides included many hours of night-riding, which made me look for full moon phases to do those long rides. One full-moon ride (Aug-31) was exclusively over night, between two regular workdays! From the following summary stats, I learned that 1/3 of this riding was at night time - somehow I wouldn't have guessed that high; must be those full moon rides changing the perception of time...
Parting shot: Elated to have made it back home after riding from the Georgia border in under 24 hours!
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