When it finally came time to ride the connector routes self-contained for recon, I was happy to have clear skies and moderate temperatures. I checked the weather for the week and a cool front was approaching, so I had to pack accordingly. Always be prepared.
Ready to leave Sun n’ Fun and head to Clermont
The Schwinn Mule seemed to weigh more than it did at last year’s recon ride, and I figure the bike with gear to weigh about 70 pounds..80? One of these recon rides, I’m going to weigh the darn thing. My estimate is based on whether or not I can lift the rear of the bike, and this year it was not an easy feat to accomplish.
That said, the challenge with the weight is parking the darn thing while I do things, like talk to convenience store owners about Rest Stop use, that sort of thing.
You have to lean the mule just right..
OK, don’t try this at home – when out and about, always lock your bike! For the recon, I figure if someone was going to attempt to ride off with the Schwinn, I was going to applaud. And then easily run to catch them. Seriously, the average speed I maintained while riding was 10mph.
But enough about the bike, let’s talk about the route. The ride out of Sun n’ Fun will start along some farmland, then goes under busy Interstate 4, and then back to the country. Within 5 miles, you will have forgotten what Urban sprawl is and admire the Spanish moss on the oak trees, the cows, and a part of Real Florida not seen by many. But do pay attention to the route, the Swindell “steps” will seem like fun until you miss the left turn onto Walker Road.
A Polk County moo
As you meander through the northwestern end of Polk County, you will make your approach to the Green Swamp. The road will seem endless, but the scenery will make up for it, especially if you like cows.
I happen to like cows
Rockridge Road (go ahead you “Blazing Saddles” fans, get it out of your system..ROCK RIDGE!?!) will start a 15-mile stretch of back road leading to the Van Fleet State Trail. Thankfully, it is not a long straight shot the entire way; it has twists and turns and about half way through, you will wonder if you are still on the route. We know exactly where to put the “Still on Route” sign.
What is a long straight shot is the Van Fleet State Trail. For 10 miles, this straight path cuts through the Green Swamp and offers the opportunity to see some wildlife, including gators (do I need to tell you NOT to feed the gators?). You will know you are approaching the time to turn off the trail when you see the construction of new facilities being added to the Bay Lake trail head. We won’t know the exact status of this construction until just before the event, but I will say, you may have to dismount your bike to walk a little bit around the construction, but then you are right back on the road and heading towards the hills of Clermont.
Remember this pasture..it may be the last “flat” you see for two days
Before heading to Clermont, one last area of flat and a unique “Lunch Stop” will be had at the Lake County Pasture Reserve. Food Trucks will be at the ready and refueling is encouraged to face the remaining 16 miles. Yes, there are hills, and yes, you can complete the ride. I know this because the Schwinn Mule made it to Clermont, and if I can do it on that bike…
For my Clermont layover day, I rode the “Huff n’ Puff” metric century. I did it with what I call Schwinn Mule Lite. Oh, I had gear in the side baskets, but not fully loaded and the rear was easy enough to lift. One particular item of gear was a can of blue spray paint. I brought this along with me for one reason and one reason only – to mark the places where I dismounted the bike and walked a hill. Of the 507 miles of recon route I rode, I am proud to say there are only THREE places where you will see the mark of “SM” on an incline of a climb (SM=Schwinn Mule). My challenge to you, if you haven’t seen the blue SM, keep climbing! Oh, and all three marks will be seen on this Huff n’ Puff route.
Schwinn Mule Lite at the start of Huff n’ Puff metric
The Huff n’ Puff metric (metric = 62 miles, but our routes may vary) has at least four of what the Horrible Hundred event calls ‘the mountains of Florida’. The “SM” will appear on Buckhill, Sugarloaf Mountain (which, by the way, only took 8 minutes to walk) and a special evil incline found on Scrub Jay. I don’t know if Scrub Jay is considered one of the mountains, it’s not a big deal, it’s just a pain of an incline. Feel free to curse the ride director when you hit Scrub Jay, you are still on the outskirts of town and no one will hear you.
Riding out of Ferndale
The payoff for riding the Huff n’ Puff metric comes around mile 32, the Yalaha Bakery.
I always buy at least one peanut butter cookie when I visit. And if you don’t have a sweet tooth, there’s the deli, serving sandwiches on fresh bread and beer to wash it all down.
If you don’t know where to start, this may help
This special oasis is only on the Huff n’ Puff metric and Lake County century routes – you deserve it. But don’t get too comfortable, the ride back is where your love of climb is tested.
Don’t get too comfortable, there are hills to climb!
Once you leave the bakery and head back towards Clermont, you will start to see those blue “SM” marks. Buckhill will be the first test. There are three climbs to it and I dismounted only one. I remember getting back on the bike, riding up another crest, thinking the worst was over, and then seeing before me from the apex another descent to another climb. I rode this out of spite.
From Buckhill there is a lull before the Sugarloaf challenge. I know it doesn’t look like much, but you will rethink that about five strokes into the ascent.
Only took 8 minutes to walk!
The “SM” mark is at a tree just after a set of mailboxes, I just couldn’t get any momentum to attack this properly. Once at the top, it is quite the view, and the ride down is kinda fun, just watch out for loose gravel on a few turns.
Now that I’m feeling all good about walking Sugarloaf, and knowing there are about 10 miles left to go, I hit the turn onto Scrub Jay, and that is exactly what it felt like, a hit..as in a wall. I laugh now as I laughed then because unless you truly love climbing, you will be cursing the ride director. I know I let out a choice expletive before dismounting, and then laughed while retrieving the spray paint. When you complete this ride and still have enough in you to find the ride director to voice your love/hate of this particular turn, do know that I can honestly say, “I felt your pain.” And then remember I was on a Schwinn.
At this juncture I would like to tell you the worst is over, but like any evil ride director, I put one more hill in the mix, probably a mountain I don’t know the name of, but there it is. I assure you, this is the final test. My motivation to complete this climb was cold beer and a hot bath, yours may vary. Suffice to say, the motivation worked, there will be no “SM” on this climb, and I felt really good about that, especially while enjoying a bath and beer.
Next up – Clermont to Lake Wales and Bok Tower