Bicycle Ride around Lake Okeechobee in South Florida

 

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Lake Okeechobee’s Scenic Trail (L.O.S.T.) was once again the goal for us when planning a longer bike ride. Since last summer Jill and I have ridden almost 3000km on the Santana Sovereign Tandem and we really like it. We had not been out on the levee with our own tandem, so this time we wanted to see whether we could go all around the lake.

 

Saturday, March 1, 2008

We start relatively late at around 8:30am. After a 1hr drive out to the lake from our Palm Beach Gardens home we arrive at the Paul Rardin park and set up the tandem (I’m still amazed that it fits inside of my Ford Freestyle with only taking the front wheel out).

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This park provides a nice gateway to the L.O.S.T., the relatively new paved trail on top of the levee around the lake. There are clean facilities and one can easily park the car there during the day. From the top of the levee the view is quite nice.

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At about 10:00am we are ready to start, a fairly late start for such a long ride.

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We have been here before a few times, including in March last year w/ Jon and Karen Schaubhut when preparing for the South Florida MS 150 ride later in April that year. So we already know the first 50km or so.

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The wind is NE with ~10mph, so we get a bit of a tailwind at the beginning. Everything is fine and we start getting into a good rhythm.

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Soon we get down to the turn of the levee near South Bay, where we will go pretty much straight to the East. We observe the traffic on Hwy 80 some 25 ft below and at a safe distance of maybe 200 ft. A bit further along near Clewiston we pass some burning fields freshly harvested of sugar cane.

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The smoke rises up and forms some Cumulus clouds, quite interesting to study the different winds at altitude. Here we are on the downwind side of the lake, hence no thermals in this area. In fact, the Cu clouds indicate the lake shore during the day, with a big blue area in the sky directly over the lake.

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Apart from the occasional detour down from the levee to cross some canal and circumnavigate a boat lock, the levee offers long straight lines with sweeping vistas of the surrounding marshland.

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Soon we are approaching Moore Haven where the levee ends and we need to cross the bridge over the Caloosahatchee river – one of two tall bridges today.

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From the top of the bridge one has a good view of the canal and the surroundings.

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We are now entering Moore Haven where we will stop for lunch, after all it is already noon after about 50km ride.

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We stop at Joey’s pizza parlor, not exactly a lot of choices here in this little town, but that’s good enough for us right now. We get some sandwiches and soda.

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After this nice break we continue our ride. Just outside Moore Haven the road turns North leading up on the West side of the lake. This stretch of the road is somewhat boring, but at least the wind isn’t as bad as I was afraid it would be. We still make good speed on the tandem. Then we see a new bike path which hadn’t been here last time I was riding around the lake after hurricane Wilma devastated South Florida in October 2005 (see here for that trip report). However, the joy about the bike path doesn’t last long:

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Makes you wonder whether this was tax payers money well spent in the first place. Here we don’t see any bike rider, certainly there will be very very few to go all the way around the lake.

Another sad sight is that of a dead Bobcat on the side of the road. I have never seen this fairly big cat in the wild, and I’d rather not see it when it’s dead.

We both need a quick 5-min rest so we just pull over in the middle of no-where and enjoy a quick power-nap.

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The 100km mark rolls around at 2:30pm. We’re a bit behind my 100km per 4 hrs rule-of-thumb timeline, so we can’t afford to linger too much anywhere, as the sun will set around 6:30pm.

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We cross the Kissimmee river and enter Okeechobee county. After a little while we can get back on the levee. Up here is probably the hardest part of the ride, as we go directly into the wind and we’re both beginning to get quite tired.

We stop at a little park bench which reminds me of many previous rides:

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I was sitting here both on the Orlando - Palm Beach ride in April 2007 as well as on the lake circum-navigation in October 2005.

There are a few more clouds and at times it almost looks like it could rain a bit, but it stays dry. The temperature is perfect today, mostly in the lower seventies, never really uncomfortably hot. As a result, we’re alos not drinking as much as we had prepared for.

We re-plenish the water bottles with some gatorade and snack on some salty peanuts and cereal bars at a nearby gas-station. After that we get back on the levee. There we struggle with the wind which is blowing from the side and prevents us from going fast. In fact, the wind whistles in the spokes of the bike and really makes us work hard. Backs, bottoms and legs start to hurt. Not much choice for us, as we need to do another 50km or so to get back to the car…

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 A few pretty homes lign the canal behind the levee, other than that there is not too much to look at. If I had eyes in the back of my head, this is what I would see:

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Then at 5:00pm we get to the second tall bridge at Port Mayaca near the Eastern-most point of the lake.

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A 10 min rest up here at least gives us some great views of the surroundings, while the occasional truck roaring by makes the entire bridge vibrate up & down.

What follows is probably the worst part of the entire ride, as for the next 15km or so there is no levee and the road is very rough (in the process of being re-paved). Jill laments the fact that the bumps in the road don’t help the fact that she’s already in considerable discomfort. Furthermore she can’t see the road ahead, so she can’t brace for the next bump coming up.

Every bad stretch has an end, so in Pahokee we get back up on the levee.

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There is a trailer park here, and the sun is very low already at 6:00pm. We have another 15km or so to go, so we keep going. The sun is sinking low on the Western horizon and creates nice reflections in the lake towards the West.

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We reach another gate on the levee, one of perhaps two dozen or so that we need to navigate. There we stop for a few more sunset pictures.

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In the pink glow of the evening sky we see a couple of fishing boats, just like we had seen all day along the canals following the levee.

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A few more minutes and we are back at the car. We freshen up a bit at the park’s facilities and I load the bike back into the car. After 8.5 hrs we clock about 185km (114miles) – following the levee w/o taking the slightly longer course of the main roads means a bit less than 200km. Glad to be back at the car after 6.5 hrs ride time - quite a long ride indeed!

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On the way home Jill remembers something about an Indian restaurant in West Palm Beach on Okeechobee road (true to our destination today) and finds it on her BlackBerry. There we enjoy some excellent Indian food which we deserve after this long ride J

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