Monday, January 21, 2019

The Blue Lady And The Lost City Of Palatka

Sometime early in 2018, the brothers Perkins decided to morph our monthly camping trips into something besides eating too much and sitting around the campfire talking politics. We started walking and then trying to bike around the dirt roads of the Princess Place Preserve and finally got to riding recumbents down A1A. Being who we are, we started to find out just how much we could really do. Paul, the planner brother, started mapping out all of the trails in Florida, while Steve, the professor, started researching just how much gadgetry you could use while doing this. Me? I started worrying...about how I was going to keep up. As Steve says, "It's not a race unless you are in last place".
Steve has back issues and needed to ride a trike. He quickly found out just how much it costs to get one of those that isn't slow. He now owns a Catrike 700, which is only slow going up steep hills. Paul and I are still going through recumbent bikes that we find for sale used, trying to find the one that works perfectly for us. In my mind, the world of recumbent bicycles is like the world of Harley Davidson choppers: it seems that there are so many variations that it's hard to know what you want until you've ridden it.

Excitement prevailed in early January 2019, when it was announced that the Palatka trail was now open, which is near our camping place. The official grand opening is supposed to be in April, but they are letting people on there early to test it out. The trail is open, but there is still a gap that prevents it from being the truly epic ride that it will be in the future. As of now, you can ride about 50 miles of really nice paved trail with few road crossings. There are restrooms, and parking along the way.

We got up early on a Saturday morning, Steve insisting on cooking his "Man breakfast" of eggs, bacon, sausage and hash browns. Paul was shaking his head and saying he would prefer some organic oatmeal, with perhaps a dash of uncut brown sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I was saying "I really shouldn't", while holding out my plate for seconds on the bacon. I saw no reason why good cooked food should go uneaten.

We piled into our vehicles and started the 40 minute drive to the trailhead, me chugging coffee and blaring bluegrass music to get me in the mood for riding into the town that time forgot.

We met Paul's neighbor, Tim at the trailhead and got going in the bright, cool morning air. It was one of those days that made you glad to live in Florida, and have hope that the real estate developers will all choke before they reach the Palatka region. We rode through canopied woods, farmlands, and pastures. At one point, we had a perfect line of derelict boats on our left and a herd of Long horn cattle on our right. I was never able to figure out the boat collection. Was the farmer waiting for some city slicker to come by and offer him a large sum of money for an old rusty boat with a hole in it? If so, he needed some 'edumakatin' about the resale value of boats.

The ride didn't just go through woods and end in Palatka, there are some little towns in between and it looks like they don't quite know yet what's coming. If things go like they did in Winter Garden Florida, they will have rednecks in pickup trucks driving down main street with Hip Hop music blaring, while road bikers in spandex watch from little outdoor cafes, enjoying a little cup of latte before heading back on the trail 

Near the halfway point of our ride, there is a great bridge that spans the St. Johns river and takes you into the town of Palatka. That is a decent climb and I have seen people walking their bikes over that bridge, but we all made it. Lunch was on the other side and that was an inspiration for me. I had visions of some really cool Mom and Pop restaurant, that served fried green tomatoes, sweet tea, and grits done just right...but Paul made the call and it was 'Subway' for lunch. And that went pretty much as I thought it would. A giant line of people filled the little place, gawking at these people in strange clothes and unusual bicycles. I stood tall in line and tried not to stink of sweat as I waited patiently behind a well-dressed elderly woman with blue hair, thinking how strange it was to feel this out of place in the state I grew up in. At one point, she turned and looked up at me and said, "Excuse me young man, are you boys riding the Palatka trail today?". I replied that yes I was, and kind of puffed up my chest as I told her that we were going to do 55 miles in a single day. She smiled back and said, "It is a great trail, but that section at Hwy 100 isn't working yet. When we get that done, you'll have a 120 mile stretch. Now THAT's a ride!"
She then went on to telling me about websites and travel groups in the area...fortunately, she did not go into detail about how fast she and her group ride...which I felt was quite charitable on her part... 


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