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Florida Coast to Coast - Part I


Welcome back...

Last week we had the old team reunion in Florida for the 10th Annual Coast to Coast race. Mark, Will, Suzanne, and I were the racers, and Rozzi, Danny, Perry, and Candy were there for support. This year's race started on the Gulf coast at Crystal River and covered 214 miles to the Atlantic coast near Daytona Beach.

Our effort was dedicated to the memory of Mark's stepfather Larry Sartory, who kept us all laughing before, during, and after the 2007 race. Larry passed away from lung cancer the following year.

Even getting to the start line was a bit of an excitement. The Coast to Coast has always allowed racers to bring their own boats, and after the debacle in the '07 race, we were determined to have some quality paddling sections. So Suzanne did a bunch of calling around, looking for any place that had good tandem kayaks for rent. Our best option ended up being two 21-foot fiberglass kayaks from Chequamegon Adventure Sports, which were unfortunately 9 hours away in Minocqua, Wisconsin. I drove out to pick them up the Friday before we left, and delivered them to Plymouth for subsequent overland transport to Florida. Mark, Will, and Perry left on Monday morning with the two kayaks and Dave's trailer behind the pickup truck.

Which blew a front axle at 2 AM outside Chattanooga.

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Just look at those boats!

The three of them had a frantic morning, and were finally able to limp the truck back to a Dodge dealership near Chattanooga, and transfer the kayaks and trailer to a 26 foot U-Haul truck. Suzanne, Danny, Rozzi and I spent some time in the Tampa airport checking online and calling around about vehicle rentals, and finally we ran the numbers and determined that it would be least expensive (and the least hassle) to simply extend the U-Haul rental for another 4 days and 600 miles. Otherwise, we'd have had to piece together multiple ways of transporting all the gear, and the more pieces involved, the more that could go wrong.

That settled, we drove up to meet the rest of the team in Crystal River, had dinner, and finally got to relax. The next day we got all the gear ready, checked in, and attended the 8 PM race meeting. We received the maps at that time and had a luxurious seven hours before the 4 AM race start on Thursday morning. We all managed to get some sleep, even.


Be part of something good. Leave something good behind.

The first leg of the race was a 7-mile run down the highway to the bridge crossing a barge canal near the Withlacoochee River. It was still dark, and the Gulf moisture cast a hazy fog over the entire area that strengthened into mist at times. It was still warm and drenchingly humid, and we quickly had to slow the pace from our original burst out of the gate. Of course, all the other teams slowed down, too, and with the help of some towing, we managed to cover the distance in slightly more than an hour and arrive at the Felburn boat ramp in the top five.

Our support crew was ready with our paddle gear, and we jumped in the two beautiful 21-footers and took off into the canal. About three miles up we ran into the Inglis lock, and we had to search around with another team for a location to portage the boats up and over it. The darkness made it more difficult, but we finally managed to drag the boats up a bunch of riprap on the right side and surmount the lock. Shortly afterward we paddled out into Lake Rousseau. I used my usual time and bearing calculations for crossing lakes in the dark, and we had no problem following its convolutions until it started to get light. There were also obvious red and green channel markers for the benefit of all the boats slightly larger than us.

The upper third of the lake became quite shallow, more of a marsh with crisscrossing channels. We stayed in the main channel, and although it was a little twisty, it was also deep and safe, with no chance of accidentally paddling into a dead end. As we approached Dunnellon, the distant treelines on each side came closer and closer together, until we were finally out of the "lake" and fully into the Withlacoochee River. We paddled under the highway bridge and turned left at the junction of the Rainbow River.

This river had a completely different character than the water we'd paddled for the last 15 miles. Instead of being dark, soupy, and vaguely organic-smelling, it was cool and clear with an ocean-like aquamarine color. The river itself ranged from maybe 5 to 20 feet deep, and the sandy bottom was clearly visible. There was also a bit of a current to fight against, but our excellent hull speed gave us an advantage here. Obviously, this river was spring-fed. No coincidence that our next (and first) checkpoint was at the bottom of Rainbow Spring.


Yee-haw!

We paddled another few miles upstream against the increasingly strong current, and finally beached the boats at the dock within Rainbow Springs State Park. The spring itself was a couple dozen meters north, and Suzanne and I tried to eat while Mark and Will dived into the spring, swam out about 10 meters, and retrieved our team tag from OP Sleepmonsters. After that, we just had to jump back into the kayaks and paddle downstream a few minutes to KP Hole County Park, where we swapped our kayaks for inner tubes.

(Cue some country music here...)

One member of the team, who shall remain nameless, commented that this was the "silliest" adventure sport he'd ever done. But I think we all had fun floating down the river, especially since we were allowed to take our paddles. We had bought four sets of flippers the evening before the race in anticipation of this section, but the paddle turned out to be faster for me personally, as I got used to plowing the tube through the water. The key was to sit up tall and minimize the amount of drag in the water. Suzanne did use her flippers to kick when she got tired of paddling, and it worked well for her. Either way, the "typical" time for the float down to the Blue Run bridge was supposed to be four hours, and we finished the section in under two. Will got plenty of pictures and a couple of videos in this rather unique section.


Beautiful water color.

We took out river left at the SH-464 bridge, and had a 15 minute TA into a very, very long bike section. It was now mid-afternoon, the sky was mostly clear, and the sun was brutal. We headed east towards the turnoff for the Pruitt Trailhead and the start of the Cross-Florida Greenway. On the way there, we had to dodge around a flagman guarding a road closure down to one lane. He waved us through, and we stayed on the newly paved section to avoid the oncoming traffic. That is, until the new pavement became really new, and suddenly it was a lot harder to turn the pedals. I looked back to see some nice bike tracks engraved in the still soft asphalt. Sorry about that. We jumped back onto the good pavement before the heat could manage to hurt our tires, and continued on to the obvious turnoff.

Unfortunately, we made a couple of false turns shortly afterwards and ended up on the horse trails. Once we realized the mistake, we backtracked to the correct turnoff, but this mistake allowed a couple of teams to pass us. No worries, we just continued on to the east, getting ready to look for OP Golite. The aerial photo at the trailhead helped immensely, and allowed me to spike the control by attacking from the edge of a clearing. Then it was another eight or nine miles to the next CP. This one didn't go so well.

It turns out that there were a number of trails in the area - not just the main trail, but also several singletrack trails, horse trails, and some ATV tracks. We, and a bunch of our teams, were all on the main road, but that was not the one marked on our barely adequate maps. As a result, OP USARA became a "bingo" control. We spent over an hour searching in ever-widening circles before bailing out on it. And we were searching together with at least a half dozen other teams, all of whom had the same problem. Some were more perserverant than others, but I think quite a few teams did the same thing and ended up bagging it.


Body 2 inches, legspan 4 inches.

It was in this section, in the dry piney woods, that we first encountered the Giant Spiders From Hell.

These orb weavers set up giant webs, usually two to four feet across and conveniently placed several feet above the ground. In other words, head height. After I walked into the first one (and thankfully sent its resident scurrying away from me), I watched a little more carefully and kept a stick to wave in front of me. The first time Buck walked into one, he wasn't so lucky, and he looked down to see something disturbing on his arm. I heard the high-pitched girly scream from 50 meters away, but I can't say I blame him - I would have done the same thing!

We were also slow to get the next CP, for two reasons that are now obvious in hindsight. One, it was hot as blazes out, and I was getting a bit frazzled. It didn't help that I was having trouble eating and drinking - almost anything I tried would make me gag. Second, I wasn't yet appreciating the fact that there were multiple parallel trails. So we continued down the "main" trail, only to arrive at the I-75 crossing and realize we'd overshot the turnoff marked on the map. The correct trail turned out to be the singletrack trail I had ignored after crossing SR-464. Thankfully, we had another kiosk at the crossing and I was quickly able to reorient and determine the mistake. But I had to take some time to explain the gaffe to the rest of the team, and so we were slower getting started on the backtrack down the singletrack than we should have been.

About a mile west, we came out on a sandy north-south trail and reoriented on the road corner (even though the "roads" didn't look much different than the trail.) We ran into ImOnPoint/Odyssey AR here, and I was irritated to find one of their members not only a bit unfriendly, but condescending as well. He was putting on an air of superiority, and after I asked if he'd found the CP, he followed up by asking me "Do you want me to show you where it is?" They're a very good team, no doubt about it - this is a 100% merit-based sport, after all - but I was surprised by the douchey attitude. It's nonexistent among the teams we usually race against, and I hope it's not more prevalent elsewhere in the country.

We found OP Adventurous Concepts less than five minutes later and headed back the same way to the I-75 crossing. After that, it was a long ride through some very pretty, flat singletrack towards the next CP. The sun was getting lower in the sky and the heat was abating a bit, and since much of the trail was shaded by trees, we were able to put up a good pace, maxing out on many of the twists and curves. This section was some of the most fun biking we'd done so far, in my opinion.

Coming soon: the old bugaboo; fun with ropes; and hell "off" wheels.