We were all sad to leave the gulf and the companionship of fellow touring cyclists, but it was time to keep moving. On their way off the island, Nalani and Carsten ran into a German man heading east, who was taking over a year to bike around the whole world. They also ran into three cyclists headed west following the same route as us.
Our campground tonight wasn’t ideal. The woman who ran it was friendly, but the bathrooms were dirty and didn’t have toilet paper and the shower didn’t work. Moreover, the place felt somewhat empty, leaving us feeling a bit on edge. The evening improved, however, when banjo music drifted over from a neighboring site with an airstream.
We wanted beach time, so the three of us agreed to take a rest day at Dauphin Island. We started our morning by going out to breakfast with Jazz, Nate and Adam, three cross-country cyclists. We went to the Lighthouse Bakery, which was rumored to have delicious seafood omelets and freshly baked cinnamon rolls. The line for food snaked through the whole restaurant, but the food and coffee was well worth the wait.
We all lingered over breakfast, enjoying the instant camaraderie that comes from being fellow touring cyclists. We were all touring, but each in our own style. Nate had no exact plan. He was creating his own route using google maps as he went and pitched his tent on the side of the road or in the yards of people he met along the way. He was riding in flip flops and a baseball cap. Jazz, on the other hand, wore riding gear, had special touring handlebar and bike seat and a go pro on a selfie stick, so that he could record his adventure. And then there was the three of us. Prius in tow with no previous touring experience.
We all exchanged contact information in the hopes that at some point down the road, our paths would cross again. Adam and Nate hit the road after breakfast. They were headed to New Orleans. Jazz was also taking a rest day on Dauphin Island.
We spent the remainder of the day on the beach and exploring the island – which was full of bike paths and cyclists. In an Audubon sanctuary next to our campground, Carsten and I spotted two foxes!
Bicycling gang out to breakfast!
The Pensacola Days Inn turned out to have a fairly extensive breakfast. Carsten and I started our morning with mini-omelets smothered in sausage gravy.
We had an incredibly scenic ride today with a view of the gulf most of the way. We took our first break at a beach on Florida’s Perdido Key. It was hard to leave the white sand behind and keep riding, but definitely worth it because soon we crossed our first Stateline and were in Alabama!
The route only briefly left the coast to meander through a swampy state park and then along 10 miles of bike trails. The final stretch of the ride was my favorite. We rode out on a narrowing peninsula to the ferry to Dauphin Island. At some points we could see water on either side of us.
We met up with Nalani crossing to Dauphin Island. On the ferry we also met another cyclist named Nate. Today was Nate’s first day on the road. He was headed to Colorado and was making up his own route as he went. He had crossed the country from San Diego to St. Augustine a few years back, so we eagerly asked him what to expect in the coming month. He was also spending the night on Dauphin Island, so we invited him to meet back up with us that evening for a campfire at our campsite.
At our campground on Dauphin Island, we ran into three more cyclists – a father and son pair and a man named Jazz riding solo cross country. They had started in St. Augustine a few days after us, but were putting in more miles each day. They all planned to reach San Diego. Jazz and Nate both joined us for our campfire and we had fun sharing stories from the road. It turned out Jazz had played a show at Cheers in South Bend the week we started our bike trip
- Crossing our first stateline!
Wetlands in Gulf State Park
There were too many beautiful places to take breaks.
Ferry to Dauphin Island
Ferry to Dauphin Island
Ferry to Dauphin Island
I drove on ahead of Carsten and Nalani today because I was eager to see the gulf and explore Pensacola. I drove the route that I knew they would bike because I was curious what sort of conditions they would face entering the city. Between Milton and Pensacola they had about 20 miles of biking along a highway, lined with big box stores. Nearer to Pensacola the road became a two-lane scenic byway overlooking the gulf with a decent shoulder. The view was beautiful, but the traffic was fast and the road was fairly curvy, meaning it wouldn’t exactly be a relaxing stretch.
On the way into Pensacola, I saw damage from the recent tornado – a flattened condominium. Oddly enough the buildings on either side appeared untouched.
I spent the first chunk of my time in Pensacola searching for a place to stay. I opted for the Pensacola Days Inn, which was walking distance from downtown. I then explored downtown and walked to the port. I was pleasantly surprised by Pensacola. The downtown was full of historic buildings, restaurants and cafes. For dinner we found a coop grocery store with a delicious hot food and salad bar.
Historic downtown Pensacola
Pensacola was full of both real brown pelicans and statues of pelicans.
Today was an exciting day because halfway through our ride we finished our first map (7 cycling maps bring you from St. Augustine, FL to San Diego, CA). A few days before, we had decided to celebrate the completion of each map with ice cream.
Today’s ride was long and although the wind was less intense than yesterday, it still felt fairly brutal. Our route also had a fair amount of traffic, so there was no opportunity for Carsten and me to chat – talking makes the miles go by faster. Carsten and I motivated ourselves to keep going with the constant reminder that we were biking towards ice cream.
We had planned to meet up with Nalani at an ice cream parlor in Crestview, 45 miles into our ride, but the ice cream parlor turned out to be permanently closed. Disappointed, we devised another plan. Carsten and I would keep riding – we still had over 20 miles to go and we were making slow progress – and Nalani would go to a grocery store, buy ice cream and then drive to catch up with us.
We ended up eating two pints of Ben and Jerry’s on the side of the road. It was absolutely delicious and gave Carsten and me the energy to keep going. Our last 10 miles to the state park went by more quickly because they were on beautiful, empty country roads. By the time we met up with Nalani at the campground, it was already 5pm, meaning Carsten and I had been riding for 9 hours – our longest and slowest day yet.
Today wasn’t a long mileage day, but it was tough because Carsten and Nalani had to contend with a head wind of between 20 and 30 mph. Sometimes the gusts were so strong that despite their pedaling, they felt like they were biking in place.
We stayed at Vortex Spring, a private campground known for its cavern diving. The park was flooded due to the storm the night before. Picnic tables, bridges, and grills were half under water. It seemed like a nice place, but the flooding gave it a somewhat spooky feel.
Our original plan for tonight was to stay at Florida Caverns State Park or Falling Waters State Park, however, the evening’s forecast predicted thunderstorms, hail, and damaging winds due to a tornado expected to hit the gulf coast. We opted to play it safe and stay in a motel.
Carsten and I had a pleasant ride, but the wind started to pick up the last few miles, so we were happy to arrive at the shelter of our motel 8, where Nalani was already waiting. It was only 1pm so we were the only guests for our first several hours at the motel. For dinner, we drove down the road to a Mexican restaurant and ate huge quesadillas loaded with guacamole.
The storm didn’t hit until we were all in bed, but it rained hard most of the night, which made us grateful not to be in our tents.