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The Great New Florida Road Trip: Pedaling from The Nature Coast to the Space Coast

By Guest Author Posted on August 5, 2020

Story by Tom Craig and Max Schulman

The (Interim) 400K “Coast-to-Coast” (C2C) Trail was conceived to create a continuous paved multi-use trail across Florida – from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean – the first state trail of its kind in the United States. 

When complete, the Coast-to-Coast Trail will span approximately 260 miles.  It is currently more than 80 percent complete. 

The OfficialC2C trail links many communities long its entire length between St. Petersburg and Titusville, allowing residents and visitors to explore Central Florida by bicycle or foot.

This corridor includes most of the 51-mile East Central Regional Rail Trail, which is the longest single rail-trail corridor ever acquired by the Office of Greenways and Trails. The C2C trail will link parts of many existing multi-use trails and will be managed by a broad range of communities and agencies.

A coast to coast bicycle road trip across the middle of the state is a bucket list item for many cycling Floridians. There is a special aspect to the challenge when it is completed during this time of COVID.

A Coast to Coast Bicycle Road Trip across Central Florida

The overall route from the Nature Coast to the Space Coast by bicycle as mapped out by Max Schulman and Tom Craig. The west coast lower leg starts in Pinellas County and meets the Suncoast Trail to go north.

The completion of Florida’s first coast to coast biking and walking trails will make that dream more attainable in the future. (See https://floridadep.gov/parks/ogt/content/florida-coast-coast-trail for more information.)

Over the Memorial Day weekend, my outdoor adventure and writing partner Max told me that when he was younger, he would always do something epic on the big years. Since Max turned 70 earlier this year, I pretty well knew where the conversation was going.

Max told me that in honor of his 30, 35, 40 and 45th birthdays he made some epic trips.  Max was stationed in Panama where the Atlantic and the Pacific are only 52 miles apart. A few times he has talked about dipping his toes in the Atlantic as the sun came up and then “sitting in the Pacific Ocean by the sunset with a Cuban cigar and a Peruvian beverage.” He says, “There is something magical about going from one coast to the other under your own power.”

I responded to his pondering “AND…what epic journey are you planning for this, your 70th year?”

Pedaling from The Nature Coast to the Space Coast

L to R, Donald McGill, Teresa McGill, and Max Schulman at the Withlacoochee Bay Trail at the Gulf Terminus as they being their journey across Florida by bike. Image by Tom Craig.

Max went on to tell me about a bike and/or run race from Titusville to St. Petersburg that was cancelled due to COVID-19.  The race is now being run as a virtual race. He explained that he was going to do the race partly virtual, and mostly on the trails.

Max crosses the Inglis Lock on Inglis Island. Image courtesy of Tom Craig.

He invited me to ride with him as much as I could and/or drive the second car so we could minimize out and back legs of the journey, staying away from hotels.  Max’s other biking friend, Donald McGill, had offered to do the same if I couldn’t.  Between the two of us, it looked like things would be covered, so we set to planning, researching, and scouting.

Since the race was virtual, we discussed potential use of routes from key points on Florida’s Nature Coast.

Leaving out of the Gulf Terminus at Fort Island Trail. Image courtesy of Tom Craig.

Donald and his wife Teresa know the greater Orlando area well, so they planned the center segments of the trip. Max and Donald did “intel prep” using Google Earth and then did “road reconnaissance”. This is crucial since we all know online maps can be misleading or completely mistaken.

Max had laid out a list of expedition expectations and goals somewhere between when he left my place the first night and when the sun came up the next morning. When he sent me his list, it kind of scared me, because he’s generally not that fast.

A Map of the western portion of the Nature Coast to Space Coast Trail. For those who don’t plan extensive cycling trips, portage means “carry the cycles and gear via car through this part”. It is usually only for dangerous or impassible portions of a trip.

7 Goals for a Nature Coast – 2 – Space Coast Cycling Adventure

  1. Safely ride from no less than three Gulf of Mexico locations on the Nature Coast to the Withlacoochee State Trail and then on to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, riding as often and far as possible on both the planned and the existing trail. After having completed the ride, create route recommendations for future C2C cyclists who live on – or visit – Citrus, Hernando, and Levy Counties. (See maps)
  2. With the help of an excellent support team, successfully plan for and then conduct all travel minimizing risk from traffic, weather, and COVID 19.  Primarily pedal early and return home every night if possible. 
  3. Determine the status of each C2C leg and the viability of each segment within the Florida Greenways and Trails System and the long-term plan developed by the Office of Greenways and Trails in 2015.
  4. Through research and reconnaissance develop a work-around for all of the disconnected portions along the existing trail and share them with interested cyclists in clubs and support organizations along the way.
  5. Garner facts and pictures to help Nature Coast economic revitalization of local communities and businesses along our route. Learn more about the Treasures of the Trails.
  6. Improve my confidence that our team is capable of traveling long distances on Florida’s amazing (and emerging) trail network.
  7. Meet and talk with experienced cyclists and environmental activists along the way. Expand the support network and HAVE FUN!
The eastern portion of the Nature Coast to Gulf Coast trail route taken by our heroes.

The gulf-to-ocean ride is as easy as a C2C Expedition can be, but it is still a serious challenge. That said, it has gotten easier to travel this path each year of the last ten.

A huge variety of environments were encountered on the trip across Florida via the Coast-2-Coast Connector Trail. Here are Donald and Max at one such iffy site. Image courtesy of Max Schulman.

Future Plans for the Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail System include north to south routes

The Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail System is rolling toward an ambitious goal of specially marked and mapped routes to take cyclists across the state and from Apalachicola to Key West or from Key West to Fernandina Beach.

 “The vision of the legislature in the 1990s was to create a statewide connected system of greenways and trails that would give both citizens and tourists another way to see this incredibly beautiful state of ours. The Coast 2 Coast connector will be the first realization of that vision by creating the first connected trail across the state of Florida.”

Dale Allen, Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation.
Green Springs, part of the Green Springs Trail. Image by Tom Craig.

The C2C rules for the virtual race were simple. You have to complete 250 miles. Max decided to do most of the miles on actual trails. To make up for the mileage from St. Petersburg to Brookridge he peddled from the three potential Nature Coast C2C starting points: The Withlacoochee Bay Trail, Fort Island Trail, and Bayport Park.

The Nature Coast to Space Coast Cycling Adventure Itinerary

Day One: (In Levy and Citrus Counties) Withlacoochee Bay Trail, US 19 (Bike Lane), Levy County Sidewalk Path to Inglis Dam, Inglis Island Bike Trail, West Dunnellon Road, Withlacoochee State Trail

On Fort Island Trail in Citrus County, day one, passing the Marine Science Center. Image by Tom Craig.

Day Two: (In Citrus and Hernando Counties) Withlacoochee State Trail, Good Neighbor Trail. Portage to Van Fleet Trail (in Sumter County)

A native Florida alligator as seen on the Van Fleet Trail. Image by Max Schulman.

Day Three: (In Sumter and Lake Counties) Van Fleet Trail, some Lake County roads and Route 50, Mineola Lake Trail (a heavy rain day)

Day Four: (In Lake County) South Lake Connector

Historic bridge at the St. John’s River and Lake Monroe. Image by Max Schulman.

Day Five: (In Orange, Seminole and Volusia Counties) West Orange Trail, Portage the Clarcona-Ocoee Trail; Seminole Wekiva Trail, Rinehart Trail (Bike Lane), Spring-to-Spring Trail

Hitting the 3.2 mile gap in the Eastern Coastal Region Rail Trail (ECRRT). Image by Tom Craig.

Day Six: (In Volusia and Brevard Counties) Spring-to-Spring Trail, East Central Regional Rail Trail, Coast-to-Coast Trail, East Coast Greenway Trail (Brevard)

This is an example of the level of planning Tom and Donald contributed to the effort. This was the last major trail switch on the route and farthest from home. It is also a location we couldn’t get to during “Road Recon” so it might be very valuable to readers planning a similar trip. Image courtesy of Max Schulman.
 

“When you pass the last mile mark, you get a pretty profound sense of personal accomplishment. I also find myself thanking God for good health and thanking Florida for so many wonderful trails,” says Max.

Thousands of people get that feeling every year, traveling on their own, in groups, on guided tours – or in sections – by completing a trek between two significant bodies of water divided by a respectable distance.

After finishing our frenetic trip in the first half of June, the whole team looks forward to more leisurely trans-peninsula rides when we have more time and better weather. In the meantime, Max is on his bike nearly every day scouting options for our next Nature Coast to Space Coast outing.

“When you pass the last mile mark, you get a pretty profound sense of personal accomplishment. I also find myself thanking God for good health and thanking Florida for so many wonderful trails,” says Max, at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Preserve Visitors Center. Image courtesy of Tom Craig.

“It’s the same feeling I had as an aviator stationed in Panama and Greece,” said Schulman, “A deep sense of freedom and adventure helps keep us fit, and they also give us a feeling of accomplishment. Whether it’s a five-mile mountain bike ride in our local woods or a hard 50 out on a highway, I feel like I’m accomplishing something every time.”

Find out more at http://citrustrails.org/

Comments

Ray Farrell says

Mad Max you’re an inspiration and a BEAST!
Why didn’t we do that C2C thing in Panama

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'Aunt Mary' says

When MAD MAX was very young (say 3 or 4) his older brother yelled for me to get up to the attic. "Mikey is up to something!" As his babysitter I hurried upstairs to find Mikey up on the attic rafters playing "High Tension Wires"!!!
He is still the same adventurer!
- Memories from Aunt Mary

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