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Day 6 - Lake CIty to Jacksonville Beach - 126 mi / 201 km
This is it, the Last Day

Leaving Lake City, I leave by sidewalk - no breakdown lanes on Hwy 10, and given the propensity of Floridians to blow their horns at a moment when you couldn't react anyways, I opt to navigate through the metal bits and broken glass of the unused sidewalks.


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After three miles I take a parallel side road to get back onto pavement and soon after State Road 100 appeared, complete with the nice 3 ft wide paved breakdown lane I had come to expect from Florida.

I continue to be blessed with supportive wind. The latest Alberta Clipper ( the third this week, according to the Weather Channel) continues to create a NNW wind which is totally complementary to my SSW highway bearing. I rapidly reach 16 MPH average and stay at that clip for hours, rolling over the slow rises and falls of the mildly hilly landscape.




Much lumbering activity - Jesse (a ZZ Top look-alike) agrees to have his picture taken:

Lake Butler comes and goes at Mile 25:

Starke at Mile 40 - The county court house:

Recalling yesterday's short episode in misdirection, and with Starke being the hub of Hwys 100, 200, 16, 301 and 230 and each offering a sometime contradictory east/west, north/south directions and each operating with a street name as well, I take my time rolling through the various intersections, foregoing my original day-goal of this day having the highest everage speed on the trip and opt for accuracy.

The wind is moving around a bit, especially when I am in curves or when the forest pulls back from the edges of the highway. Similar to wind between skyscrapers, there is some "wind tunnelling that often works in my favour but sometimes has me me leaning and wobbling with the erratic gusts.

Next up is the Wild Life Management Area in Clay County, with Camp Blanding parked right in the middle of it.

Camp Balnding is now the training base for the Florida National Guard. In the 1940's it was a POW camp for German soldiers. There's a museum, old planes mounted on pedestals, tanks with their cannons in a state of erection, multi-storey training towers with ropes and platforms. 

I take no pictures, given my recent experience with the Air Force. The Internet is chock full of stuff, of course:

Then it's on to Penny Farms, where JC Penny of retail fame has part of the highway named after him:

JC Penny

I am happy to see Green Cove, confirming that I am more than halfway through my day.

For the first time this week-long trip I stop for lunch, at the "Double D" Cafe. It's a good roast beef sandwich that has four middle-aged women involved in its creation and delivery: order taker, meat slicer, sandwich assember, deliverer.

The sunny and warm ambience is somewhat altered with incongruous Christmas carols pumped forcefully into the air - Xmas is still six weeks away.

Once back on the road, I come up to one of my last causeways before reaching the Atlantic. It has no breakdown lane. Traffic is very busy and I'm operating with a strip of 24" of littered asphalt and a three-foot high retaining wall ie my centre of gravity is above the top of the wall and the wind is gusty, compounded by the tractor trailers  roaring by and creating eddies. 

With the afternoon shadow hiding much of the broken glass and metal, my focus narrows to the point my world is the eight-inch strip of brown concrete sandwiched by the white dividing line and shadow. My eyes nailed onto a spot just ahead of my front wheel as I scan for objects that could create a deflating (!) experience. It's a long three miles with big load traffic in both directions, and the highway below me loses detail and becomes three bands of colour:

I make it to the end of the bridge and pull over to catch my breath. Looking back:

Once composed, I carry on into the last stretch of tree-lined highway, pass under Intersate 95 and reach St Augustine city limits.  A couple of high zigs and zags and I am on theVilano Beach Causeway which thankfully had the much appreciated 6-8 foot wide paved breakdown lanes spanning its length. My first view of the Atlantic Ocean:

Vilano Beach Atlantic Ocean

As I stop to take pictures, a bike and rider appear behind me, complete with the full complement of front-wheel and back-wheel paniers, plus a full-sized spare tire strapped across the back and a German flag waving from the front handlebars. Gunter had started in Germany, cycled across Russia and China, then flew to San Diego and had pretty much replicated my trip across the US.  He was ending his US stint in Jacksonville and would then be flying to France to pedal home.  His time and bike stats (common things cyclists share even before sharing names): eight months and 9,500 miles.

We were arriving at the Atlantic at the same time but clearly our cycling experiences are completely different. With his sturdy bike and collection of gear, he is totally self-contained for eating and sleeping on the road.  A big distance day for him was 60 miles.

My setup is dependent on motels and gas station/convenience stores peppered across the countryside, but I can knock off 120 miles per day. Gunter looked at my setup with more than a bit of incredulity, and I remarked that there was no way I could have done his trip in my cycling setup.

It is 2:30 in the afternoon and Gunter is telling me, from his experience, that given the distance and the strong headwind, I would be arriving in Jacksonville Beach deep in evening darkness. I counter that, because of my lighter load and smaller wind profile, I will only need to average 12.5 MPH cover the last 25 miles and I would be checked in before sundown. He looks at me with a small rueful smile.

We wish each other the best of luck and Gunter heads south towards his St Augustine hostel and I turn north to take the coastal highway up to Jacksonville Beach.

Before I really step into gear, I pedal until I hit a beach access point and roll across the wooden walkway through the dunes to the Atlantic beach. I limp up to the waters's edge.  In other circumstances I would shed my clothing and jump in, but I was afraid of cramping in the cold water, with some cycling still ahead of me:

Looking North:

Looking South:

And straight ahead:

The Atlantic was noisy, surging, angry, foaming, crashing, hissing and tearing at the beach. Incredibly beautiful.

The Atlantic is my favorite ocean. Through my life I've been in its waters in the Maritimes, Maine, Cape Cod, Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and multiple points along Florida's coast. It has always radiated a unique unruly energy, completely different from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. What a marvellous beast.

I put my hand into the churning water and taste it. yup, salty.

The moment was a wonderful multi-sensory experience: the view of the horizon, the feeling of the breadth and width of it, the taste of it, the noise, the push of the wind, the reverberation of the crashing waves through the sand up into my feet, my place in the world at this instant.

I had done it - a solo bicycle ride across the USA. I remembered the Pacific in the fog, the climbs and descents through the California mountains, the long beautiful desolate stretches of desert through New Mexico, Arizona, and big big Texas, the Gulf of Mexico and the Louisiana swamps, crossing the Mississippi River, then more Gulf along the edges of the states of Mississippi and Alabama, and this long final heads-down effortl through the Florida Panhandle.

All that remained now was to get through the last two hours into a strong headwind.

A sandcastle - really.

I dig in and head for JAX Beach. The goal is to take a picture from my hotel room before the sun goes down. I want to polish off the day in a way that shows I am at the top of my game, that all the junk I had around pedalling into the wind on the last February trip would be cleaned out of my system.

I look at my odometer for the first time in hours. To beat sundown I need to average 12.5 MPH.  I do 14 MPH.

Home Stretch:

Some homes along the way at Ponte Vedra Beach:

I ride into Jacksonville Beach, check into the Best Western and head up to my room, my bike clicking and whirring down the hotel hallway. I open the balcony door to the Atlantic Ocean, crashing and moaning in the fading light. I take my picture:

Mission accomplished.


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