Posted by Miles Arbour
Words and photos by Karlos Bernart (@singletracksamurai)
Florida is a magical place. Cool 72-degree water flows out of the underground river they call the Florida Aquifer. The St. Johns River links most of these lakes and springs together. They call this area the River of Lakes.
The Lure of connecting this all together in one ride that incorporates the natural beauty that Florida offers and intertwines it with long forest roads, abandoned brick, and the trappings of the oldest city in the United States. Long forgotten railways converted to bike paths and dirt-limestone roads combine to create a beautiful journey that steadily stimulates all your favorite cravings.
A true dedicated Looper commits and recognizes the importance of the swim. Sure, it may be cold outside, but trust me, the water will feel warm. Although the name of the place is Mud Spring, it’s not muddy at all. The Crystal Clear Emerald green water invites you to launch off the rocks and frolic in the water. With gallons upon gallons of water you can clean up in, this makes an excellent place to finish the first day.
As you make your way toward St. Augustine, you ride long, twisty roads into San Mateo, then miles and miles of now-paved rail bed and then crunchy and way too big gravel rock roads.
St. Augustine has everything a rider could want, from high-dollar restaurants to every single type of fast food option possible. We opted for a traditional visit to the St. Augustine Distillery to enjoy high-dollar cocktail drinks that are highly effective.
Just a snack was all we needed, as we rode en masse through the tight roads, taking over like a bikepacker’s version of critical mass. The crossing of the Bridge of Lions indicated our exit of the historic downtown and kicked off the part of the route where we spent the rest of the time traveling south.
The Atlantic Ocean felt just as cold as the spring. How Ironic. The ocean seems so alive in its fury and so intimidating in its vastness. The camp that night was at Moses Creek. A friend showed up with brews and pizza. All night we talked, told stories, and laughed until our abs where sore. Under the cover of the pavilion at camp, we sat awestruck as we saw every inch of our surroundings change as a storm blew in and dropped downpour on us until the sun broke the horizon the next morning.
There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear, and some folks found out that night that their tents were not watertight. It was good fortune for us the rest of the way. Cool air blew in, and the roads were hard-packed. The route covers a portion of road called the Old Ghost Highway, a 10-mile segment of red brick in the middle of nowhere. Old Diners in Palatka helped everyone feel full, and limestone and sand roads were our dessert and our reward for another loop complete.
This was my 7th River to Sea, and I have to say it was the best one. The camaraderie, friendships, food, liquor, springs, and ocean punctuated a route strewn together with a perfect mix of paved and unpaved. I say it was the best, but I probably said that last year, and will probably say it next year again.