All good things must come to an end.
And so today we wrapped up Gator Country Hell Week #11 in Fort Myers, the same place we started the journey one week ago. In the mean time, we rode 830 miles across southern and central Florida. We felt the scorching heat of summer with several days pushing 90 degrees. We bundled up for the antithesis of global warming the last three days. And we saw a whole lot of the Sunshine State in ways and places that most tourists here seldom if ever experience.
The last day of this tour is always a little bittersweet for me. Sure, it is always nice to have a journey come to an end. And if you believe the bumper sticker, “It is good for a journey to have an end, but in the end, what matters is the journey.” But it is always a bit sad to realize that yet another chapter has drawn to a close.
It was quite a bit warmer this morning than the prior two when we left the Ramada Inn near Lake Placid. You know you’ve experienced some chill when 40 degrees seems warm. But 40 is still cool enough for jackets, tights, and booties, so we suited up one more time in winter gear.
A mere two miles into the ride we ducked into the time warp known as Old SR 8, the quaint two-lane road that is one small lasting fragment of the old state highway system that predates the federal system (US Rt 27 being the replacement). Traffic is virtually nil; there are far more orange trees standing spectator to the road than there are motorists whizzing by.
There was even a small section of road closure to deal with. I was pleased to see that none of our crew can follow directions; the numerous tire tracks in the sand bore testimony to the fact that everyone simply rode between the barricades and kept going.
But what can I say? Dave and I did the same thing. Short of a bridge out, nothing was going to stop us from seeing this page of highway history.
The country store in Venus is now imploding, one piece of lumber at a time. Eleven years ago I sat on the porch of this store with friends, enjoying a cold soda. After the old woman died, her daughter tried to keep the store going, but it fell on hard times. The ghosts of Various & Sundry Items no doubt lurk amid the decaying rubble; all we could do was pedal by and take a long, slow look.
It was less than a mile to our turn onto Detjens Dairy Road, whose raised curbs bespoke a long history in roadmaking. There’s no dairy there today, only a few old timeers and a few shiny new double-wides. Land must be cheap on that road. A half-dozen abandoned, identical homes littered the right side of the road, no doubt the former residences of hired help many years ago.
And then the road runs out and we have to get on Rt 27 for the 6 miles to Palmdale and the morning SAG, where the shuttered Palmdale Store sits awaiting someone to finish the remodeling job started well over a year ago. I have sat in that building several times, too, through the years, but it’s tough these days to make a buck on the remote interior of the state. People are in a hurry to get to Miami, and couldn’t care less about old buildings.
After the break we hit Hwy 29 for the 14 miles back to LaBelle…a very quick, flat run that Dave and I tackled at 23-25 mph (thanks to a little help from the wind). At LaBelle we start retracing the exact same 48 miles we used to leave Fort Myers. It’s a very fitting conclusion to our journey, for now we got to see what it looks like going the other way…catching glimpses of the Caloosahatchee River, cruising through Alva (no doubt named after a certain Mr. Edison), and, after a quick lunch at Hwy 80, on into Lehigh Acres.
Just as the remaining four contestants on TV’s Survivor have a reflective exercise near the end as they recall all the others they have voted off the island, we were allowed to reflect on the week spent pedaling, and finish it just the way we started it.
The only difference is that we idn’t vote anyone off.
It was a very quick 34 miles from lunch back to the Super 8 and our finish line, giving us the shortest day of the week with only 93 miles. The miles clicked all to fast…by the airport, onto the bike path along Six Mile Cypress Road, past the bustling commercial area near Colonial, and then along the secluded bike path running parallel but far away from the traffic.
Most of us finished within just 9 minutes of one another. Packing and showering ensued, and before you could say “cut!” the scene was over. Riders scattered in a variety of directions, leaving a few of us behind to grab dinner at Hops.
But for the 13 of us who completed the journey, we’ve got memories. We’ve got tales to tell. And we know that when it came time to dig deep into the suitcase of courage, we were able to overcome whatever barricades that bedevil us.
After all, “Road Closed” is just another way of saying “Great Cycling Ahead.”