Tuesday, February 17, 2015

There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate. (Linda Grayson)

The Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve is a 560,000 acres tract located in the four corner area of Lake, Polk, Sumter, and Pasco Counties. Running through this area is the Van Fleet State Trail, a 29+ mile, 12-foot wide paved rail trail. A group of Everglades Bicycle Club members organized a weekend to the area to ride the trail. These special rides are a work in progress; they are improving each time we head out on a long group ride.

For this ride, the closest motel to the trail was the Best Western Inn and Suites in Auburndale. From the Best Western, you can ride your bike a short 2.7 miles to the trailhead of the Auburndale-Teco Trail. That trail runs just over 6.5 miles and right to the entrance of the Van Fleet State Trail.

Saturday morning was chilly. For people from Miami it was downright frigid. In Auburndale the low was 38 degrees. We decided to start at 10 a.m. by which time the temperature had soared to 45 degrees. We headed out in full Miami cold weather cycling clothing. (Leg warmers, arm warmers, base layer, jersey, jacket, under helmet cap, shoe covers, long finger gloves, in other words, the works.) It was a bright sunny day. (If you are laughing, then you are probably one of those crazy people who lives in a place where water freezes outdoors.)

We wheeled out of the motel entrance and navigated our way to the Auburndale-Teco trailhead. Then we rolled onto the trail. There were a few bicycles, mainly cruisers on this stretch of trail. A couple of people taking a morning walk with their dogs. Then we rolled up to the entrance of the Van Fleet. We already noticed the differences between the two trails. The Auburndale-Teco trail was flanked by electric pylons, a lightly traveled road, and pastures with cattle. The Van Fleet ran through a quiet wilderness.

As we pedaled down the Van Fleet we saw some serious cyclists. A few road bikes. Nice recumbents, including a hand-cranked recumbent. We had a couple of minor mechanicals. We stopped for bio breaks and snacks. A couple of the faster guys stretched their legs and disappeared into the distance. We were rolling along and having a marvelous time, taking turns doing the pulling, enjoying the view of cypress ponds and jiggling over a few little bridges which crossed creeks and sloughs.

About 6 miles from the end of the trail I had a freak accident. Erosion on one side of the path made the dirt shoulder dip 4-5 inches lower than the paved path. I was drifting back after another rider took over pulling, and my attention flicked to something in the middle of the trail for a second or two. That was the wrong time at the wrong place. My tire dipped off the pavement. I found myself using old mountain biking skills, but the soft earth, loose rocks, and skinny road bike tires did me in. My bike veered towards the curb-like edge of the pavement. I saved myself the first time my front tire struck the pavement, but I couldn't slow and unclip fast enough to hold it together when the tire bumped it a second time. I went down on my side so fast I never even lost my grip on the handlebars. I landed hard on my right shoulder.

We quickly figured out that I'd done something bad to the shoulder. Boy, was I happy to have my EBC friends there. Mercedes, Pepe, Judy, and Al stayed with me. Judy and Pepe made a sling for my arm out of their last spare tube. We started walking slowly back toward the last trailhead while the rest of the group headed back down the trail to locate help. In no time a park ranger in a truck drove slowly down the trail toward us. Our friends helped Al and me get into the truck and got our bikes into the truck bed. Then they headed down the trail to catch up with the rest of the group. The ranger drove us to the motel where we picked up our own car and headed to a nearby hospital emergency room. Xrays showed I had broken my collarbone close to the shoulder. It's never fun to break a bone, but it really helps to have people you like and trust there to help you.

It's good to ride with Everglades Bicycle Club friends. They're the best.