Florida is flat. Right? Well, yes. Except for the parts that aren’t. It gets a little lumpy around Clermont, an understandable magnet for cyclists.
Indeed, while RBA Paul Rozelle served up the usual Floridian cuisine for which some randonneurs from northern climes usually yearn come January—warm temperatures, lakes, citrus orchards, cattle farms, and swamps—he added some unusual hills for dessert garnished with wind.
In all, 54 riders showed up for the MLK weekend brevet. Riders had obviously accepted Paul’s challenge published on the Central Florida Randonneurs’ web site:
Take your time and have fun, especially on this course, where all of the hills show up in the first 20 miles and then you get to see them again in the last 20 miles. Ride a pace that’s gonna let you climb the steep side of Sugarloaf with 114 miles in your legs, ‘cause that’s what’s in store for ya!
Indeed, Sugarloaf Mountain was one of the—pun intended—highlights of the brevet. The site of two secret controls, the summit offered a gorgeous panoramic view eastward of ranchland gently descending into Lake Apopka. One of the brevet volunteers, Garret, who had pre-ridden the route, described an agile hawk he witnessed on the summit fly into a tree, which it hugged for a split second with its wings, grabbing its prey, and making a getaway, all in one motion.
On the return, riders who’d successfully mounted the summit a second time plucked a “smiley face” sticker from a plastic baggie attached to a “RUSA Control” sign, affixing the smiley face to their control card as proof of passage. Kudos to Paul’s daughter for the brilliant sticker idea!
A short while after navigating Sugarloaf for the first time, Sridhar and I chatted with Paul, who manned the control in Howey in the Hills next to Little Lake Harris. Sridhar and I warmed ourselves with coffee, refilled water bottles, and sampled food items from a spread reminiscent of a club ride. Paul held us spellbound with a few astonishing anecdotes of his 2012 “Silk Road” 1200km randonnée in Uzbekistan. While it is unarguably geographically and historically correct, I deduced that the moniker, “Silk Road” in no way captures the materials engineering of the roads along the route. I can’t wait to see Paul’s pictures and read his ride report.
From Howey on the Hills, Sridhar and I pushed on for the next 40 miles to the turnaround control in Lake Lindsey located deep in Florida swampland. Along the way, we witnessed the yellow blossoms of wild mustard, citrus groves, Spanish moss. An assortment of wild and domesticated animals: cattle, donkeys, horses, water buffalo, Brahma bulls, llamas, egrets, ibises, buzzards. A tractor trailer laden with oranges labored to pass us on one of the hills. More than once, I felt the urge to stop and pick an orange from one of the gravid trees, relieving it of its burden.
The Lake Lindsey turnaround was another pleasant surprise. A rough-hewn wood-frame country store with motorcycles parked in front belied the gentleness of the people and the quality of service inside. A real treasure. At the deli, I ordered a 6” chicken salad sub. Extremely delicious, it was almost more than I could eat.
Waiting for my order, I got my card signed, sipped on a bottle of cold water, used the just-cleaned restroom, and entertained myself by reading a few of the many signs hanging on the walls. One in particular caught my eye. It was posted on the safe near the cash register.
I heard one of the bikers begin to wax philosophic. He asked his brand-new randonneuring friends: “Now tell me again, why do you do these rides?”
Fully sated and entertained, Sridhar and I pealed clothing in anticipation of 70-degree afternoon temps. We then attacked a headwind out of the swamp for the next 16 miles.
Forty-some miles later, we landed again at Little Lake Harris where Paul met us. After a short break, it was off again toward Sugarloaf Mountain.
Coming off the summit of Sugarloaf, the remaining ride seemed downhill figuratively and literally. Not that there weren’t some more hills to climb upon reaching Clermont.
Garret met us at the hotel end-control. As a rule, because randonneurs are accustomed to self-sufficiency, as a breed we are humbled by the selfless actions of volunteers who greet us on our journey. Thanks to Debbie, Cara, Garret, Paul, and to anyone whom I’ve omitted. Your presence was truly appreciated.
Paul, thanks for the experience. I look forward to vicariously traveling the Silk Road from your ride report. Thanks to Sridhar for his companionship on yet another chapter of the early-season Florida tradition. Good eating. Good riding. Great friendship. Great fun.