Four Full Moon Loops

5 years ago in mid 2019 I wrote a post about riding Florida loops. I had discovered the benefits of doing loop rides in terms of added scenery and variety – as compared to always just going up and down A1A along the Atlantic Coast. Shortly thereafter I settled on a slight variation of a 200km loop route which has become my favorite since then, having done it perhaps a dozen times by now, five times in 2020 alone.

Sometime later I extended this loop from 200km to 200 miles (ca. 325km) to combine both the Jupiter and Hutchinson Island parts along the Atlantic as well as the Eastern half of Lake Okeechobee. I rode this loop four times by now (10/2/22, 1/2/23, 7/3/23, 6/20/24). Here is the map from the Garmin Connect app (with 25km laps) – this one starting in Ft. Pierce and counter-clockwise.

Highlights from the four loops follow below.

First time (10/2/22) – establishing the route

This time I start at home at 3am clockwise, i.e. first out West to South Bay. It’s nice to ride at night, very little traffic on Northlake and Seminole Pratt Whitney Roads, as well as the always low traffic South Canal Street directly West from Twenty Mile Bend (instead of following the busy Hwy 98). When riding at night it’s important to have some refueling options, typically gas stations which are open 24/7 – such as the one in South Bay. This is also the end of the night ride portion.

At first I ride up on the levee, but there is quite a noticeable Northerly wind, which slows me down and I decide to ride on the main road from Port Mayaca to avoid the worst of the wind. It is also still quite cloudy, which makes the view from the top of the bridge a bit less scenic.

As I make slow progress up North, the clouds dissipate and the sun comes out, which adds color and lifts my spirits. It takes a while to get all the way up to Okeechobee town, where there is another 24/7 open gas station and also the pavilion and observation deck of the Lake Okeechobee park, always a welcome rest stop.

Up to here the scenery was very familiar from many years of cycling. From here, Hwy 70 leads ENE towards Ft. Pierce. I think I rode on this road only once before, so this feels comparatively new. As before, there is no shade for about 50km and it gets quite hot. Near Ft. Pierce there is a pedestrian overpass which has been closed for years and I have never seen anyone use it, but it provides some welcome shade for me to sit in the grass and cool off a bit.

Soon thereafter I reach Ft. Pierce, pass under the Turnpike and I95 and make my way diagonally across town to get over the bridge to Jetty Park at the Northern end of Hutchinson Island. From here there is a bit of tailwind which greatly helps me to close the loop. Fatigue sets in, but the scenery and the view from the bridges is great. Not long thereafter in Hobe Sound I cross the Intracoastal on Bridge Road onto Jupiter Island for the last 25km to home.

I finish up around 6pm after 12h23m ride time and a very small detour to reach 325km. A lot of scenery to pack into a single day. As it turns out, it won’t be my last time…

Second time (1/2/23) – moon set and sun set from Lake O levee

Just 3 months later, I set my sights on this route again. This time I leverage the full moon for the night portion. It’s just after New Year’s Day, the nights are long and the air gets chilly overnight. I decide to drive out to Port Mayaca and start from there at 1:30am counter-clockwise. Having to drive an hour to the start adds some hassle, but it offers a few advantages to align with changing winds and also to come home somewhere along the ride for extended rest, food, shower, etc.

The first section down to South Bay along the Lake is beautiful, the air is cool, but clear and I can see the moon slowly setting over the water. After some hot coffee and sweet pastry I continue around 3:30am. The next section has me a bit worried due to some fog along the sugar-cane fields. And even at this early hour there are plenty of trucks transporting the sugar cane. At a small bridge over a canal I pause and take a self-timed night shot of the fog and dust kicked up and illuminated by the trucks.

I struggle to stay warm on the next 15 miles or so, and am happy to reach the bridge at Twenty-Mile bend with no more fog and likely warmer temperatures ahead.

Making my way East along Southern, then Northlake, and finally PGA Blvd it feels great to come home at dawn and be able to have some great breakfast, recharge some batteries, and set out again for the second portion of the ride.

The route North is very familiar, of course, with Jupiter Island and then Hutchinson Island always quite scenic. I spend some time relaxing at Jetty Park, enjoying the sun and now pleasant temperatures. In fact, on the subsequent early afternoon tailwind stretch across to Okeechobee town, it gets really hot, which adds to the large diversity in experiences of this loop ride.

I reach Lake Okeechobee Park around 3pm and have 2+ more hours of daylight for the remaining portion along the levee. The wind dies down and the mellow light of late afternoon sun paint a beautiful scenery all around. This is one of my favorite sections here in South Florida, no traffic up on the levee, nice views and especially cycling into the sunset.

This is one of the reasons I like starting (and finishing) the loop in Port Mayaca at Lake Okeechobee, as you can time it such that you end with a highlight:

Third time (7/3/23) – flat tire and mosquito bites

Half a year later we have another full moon, but also some residual storm clouds dissipating overnight. To avoid the extreme summer heat, I decide to start in the evening and ride through the night. I leave at home around 5:30pm, clockwise to ride up the lake shore at night. Warm evening air and light give way to dark, somewhat ominous clouds on the Western horizon, but with rising moonlight from the East. Around 8pm I’m cycling West on South Canal Street to cross over to South Bay.

After the now familiar rest stop at the gas station I set out alone up on the levee into the night. Sadly, after a few miles on a short gravel section I puncture my tube and roll to a stop with a flat rear tire. It is pitch dark and I decide to walk to the next street light at a canal access point. While it takes almost 45 minutes to get there, I keep moving and remain optimistic. Having some light will make it easier to fix the flat tire. However, once I stop, there are hundreds of mosquitoes all over my arms, face, legs. At first I keep swatting them away, but soon realize that this is a futile exercise. The only thing that gets me out of here is to start riding again, which means I first need to fix the flat tire – mosquito bites be damned!

It’s almost 1am when I cross the bridge at Port Mayaca, and about 3am at Lake Okeechobee Park. I buy a gallon of water to refuel and fill my bottles before the next long stretch to Ft. Pierce. Riding through the entire night is always hard, so I am very happy to see the fantastic glow of the morning sun in the sky around 6:20am just a few miles West of Ft. Pierce.

One upside of riding all night is that you have plenty of time the following day, so you never feel as if you’re in a hurry. And I do enjoy taking rest stops, here around 8am at the Jetty Park in Ft. Pierce.

I have both a tailwind and draft behind a fast cyclist on Hutchinson Island, making for a fast lap down South. It does get hot quickly now, making the few sections of tree shade extra precious.

And it is July 4th Independence Holiday, so lots of folks come out to play on the water, as can be seen here at the Southern and of Jupiter Island.

I reach my home at 11:30am and cool off in our pool. Definitely a hot one today, but happy to have closed the loop once again.

Fourth (6/20/24) – shortest night and brightest moon of the year

Almost a year later I hadn’t exactly planned on this ride, as the weather was again hot, humid and rainy. The last two full moon cycles I had used to ride 300km loops around Lake Okeechobee from home – similar to when I did it the first time back in March 2017. And here we have another full moon plus enough clear weather as well as shifting winds to allow for another attempt at this route. This time I also have some time commitments for the following day, which requires some flexibility and creativity in planning. I drive North to Ft. Pierce, park the car next to the Turnpike exit and start at 10pm at night.

After one traffic light I am heading West into the darkness. There is a 35km long bike path parallel to Hwy 70 and the moon is bright enough that I can ride that entire section without my headlight. What an eerily beautiful scenery to both sides of the highway, with the motorists oblivious to the sights, sounds and smells of the night. Here is a view North to some thunderclouds in the Vero Beach area:

The new iPhone 15 Pro really shines at night time shots. We can’t see the blue color at night, but the longer exposure of the camera brings out interesting colors, stars, clouds and all. I get to Lake Okeechobee park around midnight and refuse as usual before continuing South with slight N tailwind. This section is about 40km and all on the levee under the bright full moon. I see a few critters, including foxes and a possum. As there are no clouds in the sky I can safely ride without headlamps, which makes today the longest distance (70+ km) I have cycled at night without light.

Here is another interesting nighttime photo at 2:15am from the Port Mayaca bridge looking South West. Note the reflecting moonlight over the water as well as the horizon red antenna lights from the other sides of Lake Okeechobee, some 40km away.

By now the refueling stop at the gas station in South Bay seems fairly familiar. Also the following section across East to Royal Palm Beach along South Canal Street. Here one often gets the most scenic impressions, all with long straight roads along the canal and very little traffic.

As we have summer solstice the night is the shortest of the year (here about 10 hours) and the above predawn photo was taken at 5:36am. An hour later I am in the Westlake area and stop for a first photo after sunrise.

Both Northlake and then PGA Blvd are very busy on a weekday with rush hour traffic, so this stretch is quite hectic and I’m glad to reach home around 8:30am. Today is unusual in that I have to run a few errands and will end up pausing the ride for 8 hours at home, including two naps and lots of water and some food to replenish.

At around 4:30pm I start again North. For a nice change, cyclist friend John Bauer agreed to ride with me for this portion of the route. It is always nice to ride with someone who shares the passion for the outdoors, and few people I know are more enthusiastic than John about outdoor adventures! So we keep chatting about past and upcoming planned rides, as well as enjoying the view during a brief pause from the bridge near Stuart.

We refuel at the Tiki hut and set out going North. Thankfully the weather report was correct and we get to enjoy the evening ride up Hutchinson Island with a good SE tailwind. Hutchinson Island is almost always nice, but rarely was it any better than today.

So many different impressions, from the dark pastures West of Ft. Pierce to the levee around Lake Okeechobee, the busy morning streets and now the mellow evening mood on the Island. We pass a Pizza place packed with locals on a Friday evening ready to start the weekend, and sit for a final break at Jetty Park enjoying sunset at the Ft. Pierce Inlet.

Another half hour or so crossing Ft. Pierce with several traffic lights and fading daylight gets us back to the car. As before, having to drive to and back home from the starting point is a bit of a hassle, but it opens up many more options to get the best sunset sights and increase your chance at tailwind (twice today). Small price to pay for a ride like today which will be remembered for a long time!

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