Archive for the ‘Updates’ Category

It’s been a while, too long maybe, since I’ve either updated this blog, or gone for a bike ride. Well, I made the decision to remedy that on both counts. My friend Mat, creator of the Facebook page Tallahassee Bikepacking, proposed a two day trip riding around within the Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge, with an overnight stop outside the refuge at a local campground, then continuing the next day within the refuge again.

It seemed a simple enough plan. The proposed route was to total about 50 miles or so. Starting at the lighthouse, we’d head north, east, then west, then out of the park to the campground. Something like twenty miles the first day. With the follow up of about thirty miles the next, leaving the campground to reenter the refuge, making a loop east of the main road, southerly, back to the lighthouse where we were parked. It sounded easy enough, I hadn’t been riding in about two months, but how hard could that be?

I was, much to my dismay, about to find out. Mat, unlike myself, had been riding, throughout the heat of Florida’s summer, just about daily. His more robust appearance is merely a tool of deception, to lure any would be riders into a false sense of security that riding with him would be a leisurely activity.

While I did not prepare by the traditional methods, such as riding, or some other fitness plan, I did get the comforts of camp life ready. I had been researching camping hammock designs, and successfully assembled my own. As well as managing to build a couple “beer can stoves”. Both a penny stove design, as well as a double walled one. These run off alcohol. Many of the guys use a product called HEET, (only the stuff in the yellow bottle. I guess the red bottle stuff has additives that you don’t want near your food.) which can be found in the automotive section of your local Walmart.

The basic “penny stove”

A double walled variant that has a better design for self priming.

The day of the trip had arrived, and my bike was packed, and I was ready to go.

Two and a half hours of driving and I had arrived at the campground, soon to be followed by my arrival at the NWR. (A note of explanation, long drives tend to aggravate a back injury induced during a road bike accident a few years earlier… just a fore shadowing comment that will rear it’s ugly head later.)

I gave our planned accommodations for the night a once over while waiting for Mat to arrive.

The honor fee station for paying your park entry.

A tree across from the visitor center parking area.

After a short wait, Mat made his appearance. The red bull can in his hand, and the several empty ones on the floor of his car should have been a warning. The man was operating under the influence of an enhancement drug…

We made our way to the lighthouse parking area. Got our gear together, and headed out. We did have to stop for the “obligatory” lighthouse image or two.

Your’s truly, before I started hating both that backpack, and Mat. (Image shot by Mat)

The first of many alligators to be seen while pedaling. (Image shot by Mat)

We turned off the pavement, and started riding one of the service roads that were just the tops of the levees. I grew to hate these levees, almost as much as Mat and my over packed back pack. Finally we took a rest at a draw down gate.

A helmet at rest, tends to stay at rest…

Gator on low side of gate. (Image by Mat)

Posing Bikes (Image by Mat)

Eventually we decided that we had enough resting, and we made our way back to the dam levees. Why did I hate these levees so much? Well, I admitted to Mat, they “weren’t the trails I was expecting”. I liked my single track trails, tree lined, and shaded. Like a wheeled hike through the forest. This was open and exposed, and for me, less visually appealing. That, and the grass. The terrain was level, not too bumpy, but that darn grass. It sucked the life out of you. It was like riding into the wind, with your rear brake applied. That grass was nothing but rolling resistance.

Every once in a while, some double track would appear, where the crushed shell and stone base defeated the grasses attempts to completely cover the earthen mounds. These were a pleasure to ride on.

But the rest of the time was grass. I hated that grass, and I still do.

We made our way about another mile before crossing the asphalt road, and entering the western half of our trek. We rode along a while, when I noticed I was being pelted in the scalp by something like mini marshmallows. The biting flies were attacking. While this wasn’t something exactly new, I hadn’t experienced it on the top of my head before, since my helmet protected me from… MY HELMET!!! Remember it, sitting nice and pretty?

Yeah, well, now so did I. A mile back, along one of those dam dams, through the hateful grass. Mat waited patiently while I added two miles two my travels.

Image shot while waiting… (Image by Mat)

He at least documented my triumphant return. (Image by Mat)

We didn’t go far, before I had to take a stop to get this shot. It was our first spillway. I thought it was interesting.

We entered an area more to my “liking”. It had trees on either side, but it was one of those painful stretches where you can see what seems like miles of straight unending trail ahead of you. Finally we came to a stopping point, where we had to decide to push on, or turn around.

(Image by Mat)

The trail “ended” and an unkempt looking path led to our destination. Mat left it up to me to continue, or push on. At this point, I was starting to hurt. My lack of riding, as well as the 25+ pounds on my back, compounded by the aggravation of my back pain during the two and a half hour drive was really bothering me. The flies were trying to carry us away, and only being kept at bay with a dousing of DEET. Add to all of this, the sounds of what we were sure was a Sasquatch in the woods I hated to get this far, without seeing this Port Leon Mat wanted to show me. So we pushed on. I was surprised to see that what appeared to be unruly brush parted quickly to a nice little single track that went maybe a quarter mile to a point on the river. We passed the remains of some long lost structure. A single piece of proof that this area was once a lively port town. I regret I didn’t take a picture of it. Maybe (HA HA HA HA) next time.

An image by Mat from a previous trip, that explains about the town of Port Leon. (Image by Mat)

Mat at the point.

Another shot, looking north.

Mat’s camera made it look much darker than it actually was… (Image by Mat)

(Image by Mat)

We turned here, and started the seven mile trip towards the campground. This is where my lack of physical preparedness started to really wear on me. About three miles in, I had to stop and walk the bike several times. My back was burning so bad I couldn’t keep riding. A few curse words were used, especially when either my seat post slipped down some, or the seat post rack did. The rack started rubbing on the rear tire. Finally we broke free of the woods, now fully after dark. We exited at the honor fee station, and made our way the last three miles toward the campground, and hopefully a hot dinner at the restaurant across the river.

At this point, while relived that we had finally stopped, and was able to get something to eat, I still hated the man who talked me into this death ride. The eatery, OUZTS TOO Oyster Bar and Grill proved to be an interesting place.

Darn you, and your smug appearance! Oh look, salsa!

I on the other hand, had the appropriate look of despair and exhaustion.

After passing on both the coleslaw that Mat gave me, and the potato salad that came with my meal, both of which tasted like they had been left in a warm room all afternoon, and were only chilled to tempt out of towners into believing it was safe to eat, I managed to enjoy my cheeseburger, and we made our way back across the river, to the campground. We started our two hour ride around 6:30 pm, eastern time. It was now past 11:00 pm.

While technically at “site #34” morning showed that Mat attempted to avoid the saturated ground, by seeking some that was higher…

High ground by the playground. (Image by Mat)

I was quite pleased with my hammock. Although I was not terribly happy with my tarp. The hammock and bug net performed flawlessly. Mosquitos were abundant, but I had no bite marks when I woke up.

Hammock under tarp.

(Image by Mat)

The tarp was unfortunately a failed experiment in making my own SilNylon. The initial application didn’t work, so I tried smearing it on with both a putty knife, then a thinned down mixture with a brush. While certainly waterproof, it was about a pound heavier, and it tended to stick to itself after being carried all day inside a compressed bag. I got rid of this extra weight, in a way that gave me some satisfaction…

Goodbye bad tarp.

Get in that hole! (Image by Mat)

Oddly enough, there were no images of breakfast taken. I didn’t think to get any, being too busy enjoying a nice hot cup of coffee, and a hot bowl of oatmeal. Mat didn’t take any, because he was jealous, only having a cold crumbly pop tart to sustain him.

I did get a couple shots of my packed gear, and Mat getting his together.

We made a side trip down a boardwalk to the river, and got a couple foggy shots of the scene from the end of the dock.

The entrance to the boardwalk.

The view up the boardwalk from the dock to the campground.

A view north.

A view to the south, and the dock at OUZTS TOO.

A ride like this really let’s you know where the sore spots are. I took a moment to make some seat adjustments. It was too late to prevent pain, but it might help keep it from getting too much worse. These seats really give meaning to the term “saddle sore”.

I took a picture of this sign as we were leaving the campground. It seems like this area of Florida is littered with failed towns and townships.

We took back to the pavement down Lighthouse Road, aka Co Rd 59, and stopped to find my poor sunglasses. The night before, in a haze of pain and suffering, I had dropped my sunglasses, and managed to ride over them. I was surprised to find them in as good of condition as I did.

After picking up the pieces, we finished the three miles + to the ranger station, got permission to enter the park (Mat has an annual pass, well worth the money, which got us back in for “free”.) and we continued riding. Another mile or two down the asphalt we turned east onto another service road, and pushed on until seeing our first and only snake.

A little closer…

Mat’s view. (Image by Mat)

We picked up our bikes, and carried on. We passed the turn off to “Deep Creek” and headed off to find the Pinhook River Bridge, our main point of interest of the day. Only to be met with this sign, about a “mile and a half” (everything was a mile and a half, when you asked Mat how far.) from the bridge.

None shall pass!

The destination for this leg of the trip, as shown in an image from a previous ride by Mat. (Image by Mat)

Another from his previous trip. (Image by Mat)

After some discussion as to the ethical dilemma of not wasting this section of ride by turning back, versus my obligation, as a park ranger, to follow the rules as posted, we left my morals unbruised, much unlike my posterior, and we made our way back to the turn off.

We left the nice hard packed trail, for, you guessed it my mortal enemy, the grassy trail. After riding a few beautiful wooded miles, where we encountered what may have been the offspring of a bear mating with a hog, and several deer, including a herd that rode the trail in front of us for half a football field’s length, we ventured into this sort of scenic vista.

Where are the ROUS? (Princess Bride movie reference…)

“Hey Mat, how long until that bench you said we could rest at?” “What? Another mile and a half? Ok, I believe you.”

Finally, the bench! No, really, I’m having a great time…

Ok, I’m up, I feel great, almost ready to go again… It looks like I’m wincing just from opening a bottle of vitamin water. Thinking back, I probably was.

Yay, from the swamp, to the mixed marsh.


(Image by Mat)

And more grass covered levees. Yes, I love this terrain for riding, no, really, I do. It’s easy, fun, and entertaining. And just look at the diverse landscape. Water, grasses, water, earthen dams, water…

For some reason, I really got a kick out of the concrete spill ways. They were something I just had to photograph, and not just as an excuse to stop for a moment or two.

We rode along those darn levees for a couple more miles, until coming up to the Kayak No Impact Campsite. I noticed a couple “mystery bikes” hidden down in the marsh grasses. I tried to warn Mat, thinking there might be some less-than-fully clad people around, but he pushed on towards his goal, another bench.

Oddly enough, we never did see the owners of the bikes. There was no one else around, we didn’t pass a couple anywhere along the trail, and riding miles of levee like that, it’s not as if there were many places they could be we wouldn’t have seen them. I did later notify one of the federal Fish and Wildlife officers, just in case.

Matt found his bench!


Mat’s bike, against Mat’s bench.

Once again, into the fray! We saddled back up, and travelled across more levees. I was getting hot, the back pain was returning, my “winter” helmet was absorbing solar rays and converting it to brain baking heat. Mat would point things out, and I honestly couldn’t see them. I had been spending too much time indoors with air-conditioning. I was paying for that now. We crossed over at the same locations where I had left, then retrieved my helmet from.  We then took a new service road from there, to a split near the Lighthouse Road. At which point, I politely told Mat what he could do with the rest of his grass covered levees (which by now had become even harder to ride, since we had crossed to an area that hadn’t been mowed as recently.)

Goodbye Mat, and good riddance. My salvation is just beyond that gate!

Mat, a sick and twisted man, kept going along the jungle topped dam, and I made my way to sweet sweet pavement. I followed the hard smooth trail to a rest area at a lovely little place called Picnic Pond. I took off my gear, had a snack of a chocolate Cliff Bar, and some more vitamin water. I took my time knowing that Mat would have a slower go of it, pushing through all of that grass, while I had the much easier, and saner route of asphalt. Finally, I repacked, got back on my bike, and pushed for the last section of my ride to my truck.

The end is in sight!

Mat had the same idea as I did, once he was within sight of our “goal”. (Image by Mat)

Finally, we were back at our vehicles, the bikes were packed, and it was time to call this trip done! I looked as good as I felt!

Next time, I’m picking the route!

Top Ten lessons learned.

10) Mat is in much better shape than he looks.
9) Do not comment on this to Mat, he is a mean sadistic man, and it only fuels his need to punish those who ride with him.
8) When someone admits that no one will do a bike packing expedition with them, and that you’re the first, take this as a warning that maybe there’s a reason for this.
7) Mat pretends sympathy fairly well. He gloats even better.
6) Weight on the bike is easier to carry than weight on the back, while riding a bike.
5) Take only enough water as necessary. Ten gallons (or what feels like it) in a backpack, while on an “two hour” ride, is excessive to the point of searing lower back pain.
4) Before going on an extended ride for multiple days, don’t take a two month break from bike riding.
3) If you insist on taking a break from riding, or it’s forced upon you, do not try to tackle a bike packing trip, without getting in some reintroduction rides first. Try riding an hour or two with the expected weight and load distribution once or twice before the actual trip.
2) Bring some sort of pain medicine, Tylenol, Aspirin, Ibuprofen, something. You will appreciated it.

And the number one lesson learned from this trip.

1) There’s a reason I haven’t been on an “Adventure with Mat” for over five years!


I was able to get the wife to take a leisurely ride with me today. We loaded the bikes onto the rack on her car, and we drove to the local neighboring communities of Watercolor and Seaside.

Seaside is well known in these parts for it’s role in the movie “The Truman Show” It is also known in certain circles for a more historic reason. In my job I am on occasion placed in the role of tourist information guide. I had made the mistake of telling a visiting group about Seaside’s role in the aforementioned movie. I was then given a long lecture as to the architectural importance of this community. It turns out that this town was one of the first planned neighborhood, designed to be a walking community.

One feature of this neighborhood is the many beach accesses. The town of Seaside lives up to it’s name by stretching along a few miles of the sugar white beaches of the Florida Gulf coast. It’s quiet, narrow, brick paved roads make for a very relaxing environment.

There are several gravel covered multi use paths through these little towns.

Some make use of wooden boardwalks over the wet grounds surrounding the lake.

The walking and bike paths make use of several bridges. Some criss cross back and forth across one of the thirteen coastal dune lakes of the area. Western Lake is a centerpiece of the community of Watercolor.

Some of the trails are accented by various water features. Some are tile lined concrete streams with built in waterfalls, and others are more sculpture like in nature.

We stopped for lunch by the “Boat House” where visitors and residents can rent various water craft, such as canoes, kayaks and stand up paddle boards.

We enjoyed a shady spot within a well flowered butterfly garden. We even had a visit from a hummingbird. (For some reason I didn’t take any pictures of the garden, but I did get a pleasant one of the wife…)

It made for a great day. We went home and avoided the heat, and holiday weaken crowds by hiding and watching movies. Another trip out is planned for the cool of tomorrow morning. Time will tell if it will include the bikes. A return trip to the home of these shaded brick roads and cool man made streams is in our future.

I had been lazy. A week without a single trail ride, and I felt the need to get out there. This last week found me with a schedule of 12:30 PM to 9:00 PM, and I found my mornings a little too filled to be able to get out and enjoy them. So, I had a trail system I wanted to check out and last night I decided that I would wake up early and do just that. I set the alarm in the phone for 4:40 AM and went to sleep. 4:40 came and went, with a momentary awakening to slide the snooze button on. I think I actually got up around 5:30 AM, and was on the trail by 7:00, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I looked over the map of the trails I intended to try out.

I wanted to get a feel for a few different levels of trail. This system has the blue as beginner, green as intermediate, and red as expert. I was interested in going in from the Ranger Trailhead side, so it looked like Speed Demon, Pine Dog and Carbo were going to be the ones I’d try. I jumped in the truck, and headed off. I made a few pit stops. One for fuel, another I picked up a McGriddle meal from McDonalds (something I would regret later) and at the last stop, a few bottled beverages for hydration purposes. I made it to the trail head, and just as I got there, the storm I had noticed brewing while buying my drinks, had caught up with me. Now I’m not afraid of getting wet, but there was two things keeping me from getting out into this storm. One, the rain drops were huge. They felt like wet fists. Not just wet but cold, giant cold wet fists hitting me. Even more justifiable, was that bolt of lightning I had seen a few miles in FRONT of the storm, and continuing rumbles that were persisting while I waited for the storm to pass. Finally things cleared up, and as I said, by about 7:00 AM I was getting my tires dirty.

I had decided I’d warm up on one of the blue trails, which in this case would be Speed Demon. I started pedaling, and noticed a problem right away. While the first sign post was good, the second of the markers that should have been holding a sign, or the color coded reflector was bare. I soldiered on anyhow, figuring worst case scenario, I ended up on a equally good, but different trail.

There’s actually a pretty good amount of elevation change at the northern end of Speed Demon.

There’s a creek bed off to the left as you ride north on the wester half of this loop.

Evidently they’ve closed off at least one of the old trails.

I had made my way along, but noticed that I had seen none of the color coded reflectors that served to show which level trail you were on, as well as tell which direction you were supposed to be riding. So I turned around, and headed back the way I came.

There was some interesting red lichen on one of the trees along the way back…

I found where the trail split, and I decided to try to find my way along the red expert level trail. Here is where I started to regret my McGriddle purchase, and was wondering if my gut was about to try to return the order…

I had found the Carbo trail. This trail kicked my butt. I am far from a good rider, nor am I in particularly good shape, and I had been warned. I took my time riding this, and I still felt like I was getting whooped. Every “right” turn was an uphill climb, and every left was a combination of braking, desperate steering, and refreshing coasting.

I stopped and checked out some future “items of cultural historical interest”

This image almost gives you an idea how winding this trail is. But it still doesn’t do it justice.

Here’s one of the reflectors. Since it’s on the side of the tree that we can see, it means we’re heading the right direction.

Here is the intersection where the Carbo trail technically ends. The sign offers an extension. To the left is the Speed Demon trail, and to the right is the Pine Dogs trail.

This is the first intersection I came across while riding the extension. I think I ended up on the trail named “Quitters” but I wasn’t ready to quit yet. I took the left, and made my way back to Speed Demon trail.

I recognized the trail right away, and I decided to follow it beyond where I turned around. I completed the northern loop, and rode along the twists and turns that roughly paralleled the power lines that made the north border of the permuted bike area. I came to another intersection, and it put me on the Pine Dog trail.

This section can be a real heart breaker. You go along what seems at least a quarter mile, and then you notice there’s a trail ten feet from you, and that it is some of your back trail. This section has long serpentine loops that almost touch themselves in the middle of the segments. Sections can be a little monotonous, being what I’d guess to be a pine scrub environment, filled with sand pines. Not one of my favorite trees. But every once in a while you come across something that looks a little more interesting.

This is a sand pine corridor, leading to the end of this particular stretch of trail.

A couple of the signs that indicate the trails you were just on, or might be about to take.

I was trying to be cool, and “jump” one of the downed trees across the trail. I managed to slip my foot from the pedal, and it swung up and bit my shin.

As I left, I decided to photograph the Timberlake Trail Head signs. I’ve heard people say they’ve had a hard time finding this road, and I thought these might help.

I will certainly find myself out on these trails again. My next write up should be from the western half of the trails. I’d like to see the lake from which the trail system got it’s name. As well as checking out the campground where I’d like to stay sometime in the future.

I was very excited to get out and do some more exploring on the bike today, but then there was this…

The trouble was, it only got worse as the morning progressed. Finally it cleared up enough, that I thought it safe to go ride the rolling lightning rod…

I decided to come at a trail I found yesterday, from the other side, and this is what it looked like…

But once again, you sometimes have to stop and appreciate the little things…

When I went through this trail before, it was dry.

Climbing a mountain of sand…

Yet another natural community inside this one block of state forest…

A raised access road along a drainage ditch.

The afore mentioned ditch…

More stopping to admire the little things…

The rain really raised some of the local water levels…

This is a service road, turned river. Look at the flow of water at the top of the image…

It got deep in a few places. Sure, they’re forestry service roads, but I’m glad I don’t have to take the wildland fire truck through this…

I knew I would find some higher ground eventually, since for the half mile or more of walking/pushing the bike, that I did, the water was always flowing towards me. Well, higher ground was found!

I could put wet trails behind me, for the time being.

This was a pretty sight. It looks like some long leaf pine restoration in the works…

I found my way back to the single track. I forgot how much fun this is to ride. I might give muddy exploration a break, until things dry up some, and get back to trying to improve my riding skills.

One mile to county road 83!

I made it to the main road, and took a detour to the beach. I was able to wash the grit out of the gears using the public foot wash…

I got back onto the same single track trail, and then saw an off shoot that I had never checked out before. It had the end obstructed with a couple of dead branches, but that didn’t stop me… I almost wish it did, because it was nice at first, then it turned to this…

I followed that until it turned back into a little firmer packed boundary service road. This opened up to a little development. I followed brick pavers for a while, until I met up with this guy…

Run away little guy, run away!

He ended up getting himself a little stuck at the edge of the road where there was a drainage basin. I picked him up, and set him at the hill side that was a straight shot to the pond he was aiming for. He slid down that hill so fast, he actually ricocheted off from a tree on the way down!

I made my way through that little community, and popped out on 30-A and took advantage of the paved bike path there. I got this shot looking out from a covered bridge on said path…

Enjoying the shade and breeze under the covered bridge…

I was soon within sight of the beach again…

I ate a sandwich on the bench that they built into this little bike path bridge.

From there it was just a couple miles of easy paved trail back home. Another nearly sixteen miles of bike riding (and pushing) behind me. I certainly worked some different muscles this time, but it feels good to be getting out and about. I’m getting to see sights that are within just a few miles of my house that I never saw before. That most people around here don’t even know exist.

It feels good to be one of the few privileged ones.

So last night, I was checking out my area using the Google Maps in satellite image format. I was noticing some old trails on some state land nearby. So I decided to try to find those paths.

I started off with a quick view of the bay…

These guys seem to be everywhere…

I rode around on pavement for a while. I was disappointed because the access to the trail was at the end of a development that was a closed gate community. Fortunately there was a neighboring property for sale that had an access road to the back of the property that met up with the trail.

The area has a very nice longleaf pine stand, with a well established wire grass understory.

I saw an owl drop down from a tree about here, and swoop across the forest out of sight.

I found some interesting scrap metal deposits out there.

As well as an old building that once was screened in, next to a little pond. I’m guessing it’s a local teen drinking spot now. I found several glass bottles in the area and inside.

It’s been a while since this was used…

I saw a couple owls, and several deer. Including this one…

When I got home, I wanted to give the bike a good cleaning. Some of the mud from the other day was still caked on, and I couldn’t stand that.

So I took the wheels off to get it good and clean again. Things were going well until the wife saw I was using one of her towels…

Mud, Mud, and More Mud

Posted: May 12, 2012 in Trail Reports, Updates

I know, it’s bad for my drive train.

But it’s so much FUN!

I made my way out to look for another way to the trails I found the other day, it didn’t start off well…

I took a moment to stop and smell the flowers…

But then, there was something else that didn’t smell as well…

Then on to more open and clear trails…

This guy seemed to like all the downed trees though…

Then things began to improve. I found this nice trail through a cypress strand. Although, I might have accidentally been trespassing on private property.

It took a while, a few places where I had to push through sand, and didn’t feel like photographing my shame, but then I found some mud!

Where there’s mud around here, there’s pitcher plants…

Found some “easier to navigate” roads.

A little off the trail scenery.

Back to the trails…

With thick mud.

There were some spots without as much mud…

I wasn’t the only one playing in the mud…

Back to the mud!

I made it back “home” with only a few splatterings above my knees..

It was another great ride. I am really enjoying this bike, even if I’m abusing it a little… 😀

I bought a new bike…

A local forum member was telling me about an excellent set of local trails that I had been driving by for years, but never bothered to explore. So with previously mentioned new bike, I set off to investigate his claims.

I arrived in my trusty bicycle hauler…

As I was getting ready to pull the bike from the truck, I discovered that I had failed to bring my camelpack that I had loaded with ice earlier that morning.

I had nothing to drink, and I tend to get thirsty. So a trip to the corner store was in order.

Now, properly equipped, I could return to the trail head and remove my bike, to prepare for my ride…

I checked with the map kiosk, and picked my route. The blue trail, a little over five miles. That should be a good start.

The trail takes you through the four main natural communities of the forest, which include sandhills, flatwoods, cypress ponds and titi swamps.

At one point the camera, while mounted slipped free, and flipped upside down. On it’s way, it did manage to capture a shot of me…

With the ride completed, I decided to check out the area around the trail head parking.

I took a “beauty shot” of the bike, after the ride…

I made my return to the parking area, by way of the trail head kiosk…

I finished the trip with a side route through Panama City, and stopped for a bite to eat…

A little “nature geek” info on the property…

Pine Log State Forest Unit Management Plan