Bike Ride from Jacksonville to Juno Beach
Ever since I did the long tailwind rides in the upper midwest back in 2003 and 2004 I was thinking about doing similar rides down here in Florida. In fact, I posted earlier on this site about Biking South Florida tailwind.
Living on the Florida peninsula, there is one constraint, though: Few directions lend themselves to long distance tailwind rides, and even with the best directions in South Florida you sooner or later run out of land and hit the golf or the Atlantic Ocean. Except when you go parallel to the Ocean, either North or South-bound. From my home in Juno Beach it is around 300 miles North until you hit the Georgia border near Jacksonville. Plus the Amtrak Silver Star / Meteor trains run between Miami, West Palm Beach and Jacksonville and further up the East Coast all the way to New York City, with convenient bike transport. (See for example the much shorter 100 mile ride from Sebring back to Juno Beach with NW wind, which can be done same day.)
So you would need either a strong wind from the South or North, all day and preferably all night as well. Early March 2018 such a weather pattern had arrived: A strong “Noreaster” winter storm was bringing all kinds of mayhem to the Northeast, including blizzards with lots of snowfall and near hurricane-force winds, shutting down traffic and even causing a few fatalities. This storm pushed a cold front far down South, always a relief for us in Florida. And the weather report called for consistent winds from the North at between 15-20mph.
With a long tailwind ride you either need to get upwind before the ride or back upwind after the ride. In this case, it means taking the Amtrak Silver Star train North from West Palm Beach to Jacksonville, departing 1:27pm and arriving 10:43pm. Conveniently, my office is in a building right next to the train station in West Palm Beach, so I just loaded the bike in the car in the morning when going to work and then left work during the lunch break. The train is on time, I am ready.
The train takes a slight detour from Lakeland, Central Florida, to the West to serve Tampa. Since the train comes back to Lakeland, I get off in Lakeland to get a decent dinner – unfortunately no dining car on this particular train. This turns out to be a good choice, as the weather is beautiful, and after a big spaghetti carbonara and garlic bread I stroll around a small lake next to the train station.
Unfortunately, the train is more than an hour late coming back from Tampa – apparently more than 200 people boarded in Tampa, which took time. So I’m waiting near sunset for the train, helmet in hand and backpack over the shoulder:
The rest of the trip is uneventful. I‘m trying to prepare myself mentally for what’s ahead, no sleep and lots of hours in the saddle. As I have experienced many times, long distance cycling is as much a mental as a physical challenge – being in the right frame of mind is everything.
Once we arrive in Jacksonville, it’s about 11:30pm. no bike assembly required this time, as Amtrak transports bikes in a special bike rack in the luggage car. I call an Uber driver for the 35-min ride to the Atlantic Coast. After all, I don’t want to cycle through a major metropolitan area which I don’t know in the dark, and the direction is due East, so no wind assistance there either. As a starting place I pick Jacksonville Beach.
It is just 15 minutes past midnight when the Uber driver drops me off at the City Council building and I am ready to roll:
And just like that I am riding. Is this really happening? How will it go? What if I can’t do the full distance, how will I get back home? So many questions…
It’s past midnight, a few cars near Jacksonville Beach on a Friday night, then as I move onto Ponte Vedra Boulevard hardly any traffic. This first stretch is very scenic. This stretch of A1A is lined with one mansion after the other. And most of them are beautifully illuminated, giving the whole scene a feel as if I was on a real estate showcase at night.
There is also almost a full moon and the sky is perfectly clear, so there is enough light to see the road and any obstacles ahead. I get into a good rhythm. Not that there is any strong or noticeable wind, but what little wind there is points the flags along the road in the right direction: South. Soon, I need to take my long-sleeved jacket off as it is relatively mild here along the coast (60F) and riding with the wind always feels warmer. I smile into the flash of the camera and feel good:
The first stretch of about 50km leads to St. Augustine. Here the road leads over a big bridge to connect with the mainland, as there is no bridge across the inlet. Climbing up the bridge is very slow, with the wind from the side and about 20m tall. But the view from above towards the bay with the lighthouse and the Castillo and old town restaurants is quite nice.
In contrast to the total silence of the last 90 minutes, there is still some nightlife here in the old town. Cars, motorcycles, drunken party-goers crossing the street and tourists snapping selfies with the Castillo National Monument in the background.
I remember this from a nice little trip a few years ago with Jill. I cross over the second bridge to continue the ride South. I stop at a gas-station around 2:30am to warm up over a hot chocolate with some pastry, and also to make sure I have enough to drink for the next 90 km or so down to Daytona Beach. At night you never know how far to the next shops or gas-station that’s open.
This next stretch is beautiful in terms of scenery: Long, straight beaches with moonlit white sand and waves breaking offshore, creating a steady humming background noise. Occasionally some communities and state parks pass by, but there are also long stretches without much change in the scenery. At one point I see two deer in the grass right next to the road, reminding me of the incident of when a deer almost took me down by crossing immediately in front of me on the night-portion of my ride from Iowa to Canada.
The cold and fatigue are starting to get to me. With the overhead full moon I can read the speed in large font on my odometer, but with my eyes and the very low light I can’t discern the distance in smaller font. I check my Suunto Spartan wrist watch for the distance, and count down the km and hours until dawn. At Flagler Beach around 4:30am I stop again for a hot tea and some bananas, as fell as to warm up inside the store.
It’s about another hour down to Daytona Beach, where I’m sure to find some restaurants open for breakfast. This stretch is really hard and cold, without much wind. I realize that I’m much slower than on some of the tailwind rides in the midwest, and at this pace I’m not sure I can make it all the way home down South. Hey I barely crossed the 100km mark a little while ago and am already struggling – not a good sign.
In Osmond Beach just North of Daytona Beach I see a Pancake House preparing to open at 6am, but I don’t want to just wait there for 10 minutes. So I continue for another 20 minutes or so until I get to a Denny’s right by US1. That’s as good as any stop for me right now. I need to eat and to get warm.
Over some horrible tasting coffee and some sweets and fresh orange juice it gets light outside. At least I won’t need to battle dark and cold anymore. From one window in the Denny’s one can see the Atlantic and the sunrise over the Eastern horizon:
I now continue riding with both long-sleeved jacket and long pants as I’m still not fully warmed up. The coastline here is lined with hotels and restaurants. After all, Daytona’s Beaches are well known for the sun & fun they offer.
A cyclist is going the other way and struggles a bit with the wind. Almost makes me feel a bit sheepish, as I don’t have to work hard for the joy of tailwind riding – but hey, it’s all in the planning :-) Sure enough, 15 minutes later the same cyclist passes me on the way South, apparently he decided he had had enough upwind riding for the day. I resist the temptation to jump on his wheel as I don’t want to get tired in my legs – still need them for many more hours today. Speaking of legs – here is a look in the “engine room”:
South of Daytona Beach Shores the road connects over a tall bridge to Port Orange back to the mainland. Same experience as on the previous bridge, slow and windy on the way up, but scenic views once up:
Unlike before, here starts an extended stretch of staying on the mainland since we are near the Canaveral National Seashore, followed by Merritt Island and then Cape Canaveral which has no through roads. For convenience and simplicity I will stay on US1 heading South, just West of the waters between the mainland and the Ocean shores. The town of New Smyrna Beach passes by.
It is 8am when I pass the 150 km mark. Slower than on some past long distance rides, but the wind seems to be picking up, as is my morale. As so often in the past on long rides, I don’t dare thinking about the entire distance ahead, but instead just simply focus on the shorter distance to the next interim goal. Here it is the town of Titusville, some 80 km from Daytona Beach. Following US1 is convenient and makes it easy for me to navigate, after all I don’t know this area from previous rides. However, it often forces me to stop at red lights, which is annoying when you’re cruising along at good tailwind speeds well above 30km/h. On one of these stops I use the enforced stop to shed my long pants and jersey, putting those away in the backpack.
About an hour later the road bends to the WSW to go far enough West of the Indian River, one of the very few stretches where the route isn’t looking like a straight line on the map. Here I notice how much support the N wind has been providing all along, as the ride seems much slower despite being harder work. I stop at an overpass for another snack, an apple I had brought from home but somehow not eaten on the train. I also take my new bike shoes off at these rest stops to air out my feet – I had ordered these new shoes a bit too small so they start to get uncomfortable after a few hours in them.
When you just sit by the side of the road you observe a lot more than whilst just passing by. There are birds overhead, squirrels and other forest animals making noises, and some remote chainsaws of forest workers pierce through the otherwise quiet scene in between passing cars.
At 10am I pass the 200 km mark. Although I often get out of the saddle to roll for a stretch and offload my uncomfortable butt, my legs are still doing fine and I am getting more confident about today’s project. At this pace I would need until maybe 10pm at night, definitely not my preference to ride many hours again in the dark; but I’m hoping for the increasing wind to help pick up my speed throughout the next couple of hours.
The last couple of miles leading towards Titusville there is a nice bike path next to US1, which makes for a nice contrast to riding in the bike lane of this major highway. Once in Titusville I look for a nice place to stop and rest for a little bit. I find it in a small side street ending at the Indian River, looking across the water with the Kennedy Space Center and the mammoth cube of the Vehicle Assembly Building in the distance.
I treat myself to a 20-min rest, laying there barefoot and enjoying the stiff breeze coming off the water. I text my wife Jill my whereabouts and some details of the scenery – after all she was born and raised here in Brevard county, just South of here in Melbourne, which marks the next short term goal.
Getting started after rest stops requires some discipline. Wouldn’t it be nice just to lay there and maybe take a nap? Unfortunately, no time for that right now… After some refueling with Powerade at a gas-station the ride continues South on US1. I’m not taking many photos here as the ride is not very scenic: Passing some power plants, strip malls, car dealerships – this could be anywhere in the US. Minutes after 12pm noon I cross the 250 km mark. Then I reach the overpass over the Pineda Causeway with its tall bridge connecting to the Patrick AFB to the East – the first of three possibilities to cross over to reconnect with A1A right along the beaches. I continue on South on US1 to Eau Gallie, the middle of the three bridges, where I treat myself to another 20-min rest stop. 270 km down, about 170 km to go, so definitely past the half-way point.
From here on South I know the road; after all, Jill and I rode from here back home to Palm Beach Gardens many years ago on the tandem after having visited Jill’s mom at her house in Melbourne. But first, the West-East causeway crossing makes for slow going. Uphill with strong wind from the side feels like riding with the brakes on after easily rolling downwind all day. And the wind gusts from the North whip up the water next to the causeway and cause whitewater to fly off the waves crashing into the rocks next to the road. While this feels a bit hectic on this short stretch, I’m happy about the relentless wind as it will make the next several hours more easy and bearable for me. Once A1A is reached, I turn South again and the speed picks up to a more comfortable cruising around 35 km/h.
But for the aching butt and lower back, life is good. I had applied more sunscreen and the heat is on now early afternoon and riding with the wind. But what a joy compared to this morning just before dawn!
Not too much to look at on the long straightaways just following parallel to the shoreline. At 2pm I reach the 300 km mark, and with the current speed it definitely looks a bit more manageable for the rest of the trip. I count down the km to the next attraction, Sebastian Inlet with its tall inlet bridge. From up there, a nice panorama awaits on both sides:
Sebastian Inlet marks the turn-around point for one of my longer Florida rides back in 2013, almost exactly 5 years ago. It’s about 135 km from here, and I know the scenery well. On the next stretch I rest for another 15 min or so at Wabasso Beach, about halfway between Sebastian Inlet and Vero Beach. I watch some kite-boarders playing with the wind and waves while enjoying taking shoes, helmet and gloves off and just sitting there barefoot in the breeze.
Sometime later at 4:15pm I cross the 350 km mark. As we are still only in early March, the sun sets at 6:20pm, so I only have a bit over 2 hours of daylight remaining. Not long after this I reach Ft. Pierce, a place we often visit with the tandem when doing the Hutchinson Island loop. Although very familiar, this place takes on a different feel in the evening hours and after a long, tiring ride.
So many hours are spent thinking about how far still to go, how to keep going when butt and back are hurting pretty badly, when for the umpteenth time I stand up in the pedals and roll to provide some relief from sitting in the saddle and turning the pedals, if only for a few moments. When you anticipate the next rest stop for hours, once you’re there it feels special. While I desperately would want to take a longer rest here in the mellow afternoon light and warming sun, I feel rushed to cover as much distance as possible before dark.
The first stretch down to Jensen Beach and then Stuart is very scenic. One can see the Indian River lagoon with Hutchinson Island to the East, and the road follows the water without any private residences between the road and the shore so one has mostly unobstructed views.
The sun is already quite low, which makes for warm colors and the still strong Northerly winds push me gently along. I am surprised at how good I feel on this stretch, given how tired and sore I am already. Once again, the mind is a powerful thing: When you enjoy the views and moving along at a good clip, the mind tunes out the suffering. I stop for a quick self-timed photo in the warm evening light:
Another reason which makes me more upbeat is that sunset isn’t happening on this stretch yet and so I get a few more miles to ride before dark. The last big bridge for the day connects back over to Stuart, and it’s still some 10-15 minutes to sunset. Hence I continue along to Sandsprit Park, another well known place where we usually start the Hutchinson Island ride. Very low sun and very clear air make for some nice photo opportunities chasing my own shadow.
Just South of Sandsprit Park the sun is finally setting, with wonderful hues of blue and yellow on the Western horizon.
Moments after this photo I take a picture of the 400 km mark (6:24pm) and roll to a stop to take off my sunshades. And it’s only about 45 km to home, definitely doable despite the coming darkness.
I navigate the remaining roads South of Stuart to get to a bike path off the main road, and then connect to Jupiter Island in Hobe Sound. Feels very familiar and like home turf now. I stop one last time at the beach park here on bridge road, drink lots of water and eat another cereal bar. One more hour and I am home – hard to believe after so many hours of suffering, hoping it will end soon, but not knowing for sure…
In Jupiter there are two more bridges to cross, next to the Jupiter Lighthouse which casts a beautiful cone of light into the clear night sky. I stop on top of the US1 bridge, rest the camera on the bridge to get a nighttime photo of a new restaurant which just opened recently and to just take in the now celebratory mood one more time.
The last half hour follows A1A running directly along the beach. I have ridden this stretch a hundred times, but rarely have I felt so joyous. For many hours my mind was increasingly focused on how much longer this ride would last. How much I would have liked to take a longer break but couldn’t afford to lose the daylight time! When you anticipate relief for so many hours, it becomes almost too good to be true.
As I arrive at home and put the bike away in the garage, it feels good just to take my shoes off and sit down next to our dog Jackie, who can’t fathom why I’m so happy.
Only my mind wanders back again through the many hours, the thousands of homes along A1A.The trip in numbers (per Sigma bike odometer):
I didn't stop the Suunto at every short stop, hence it shows about 18 hours of time for the 16 hours of actual ride time. I also twice forgot to restart it immediately upon resuming the ride, hence it shows a few km less than my odometer. Here is the entire ride with some metrics from my Suunto heart rate monitor. I guess I have my monthly riding goal for March reached with this ride alone!