Information about the world of cycling, including bicycle touring

Suwanee County Fairgrounds

The Suwanee County Fairgrounds
in Live Oak was the base for the first
three days of the Florida Bicycle Safari.

Wildflowers graced many of the shoulders of the roads on the Safari routes.

Wildflowers graced many of the shoulders
of the roads on the Safari routes.

Dixie Grill cooks

Cooks from the Dixie Grill prepare
vegetables and seafood for one
of the dinner feasts.

Recumbent along swamp

A cyclist on a recumbent bike enjoys
the scenery near Pinetta, Fla.

I simply couldn't pass up the sign
at Kramer's Department Store in Madison, Fla. Unfortunately, the store was having
a going-out-of-business sale
during the 2003 Safari.

Patriotic cyclist

The 2003 Safari took place during
Operation Iraqi Freedom, and many people
showed their patriotism on their bicycles.

Rocky the Raccoon

Carrie Lohman's cycling mascot, Rocky
the Raccoon, gets some protection
from the rain.

Bubba vs. the Cowboy Burger

Bubba Barron conquers the 16-ounce
Cowboy Burger at the Food for Thought
restaurant in Madison.

Cold day on Safari

The high temperature only hit 50 degrees
on the sixth and final day of the Safari
as we rode from the Cherry Lake
campground back to Live Oak.

SUMMARY: A 3-day or 6-day bicycle ride based out of Live Oak and Madison, Fla. Up to four routes are available each day of the ride on flat to rolling terrain in northern Florida and southern Georgia. The breakfasts and dinners prepared by the Dixie Grill of Live Oak, Fla., have made the Florida Bicycle Safari a popular ride among cyclists. The shrimp, salmon and ribs are among the best entrees you'll ever eat on a camping-style bicycle tour! The Safari shows you there's more to Florida scenery than beaches and palm trees. The Safari is a great way for a cyclist to get a jump-start on the cycling season.


Florida Bicycle Safari: 2003

It took me six years from the time I first signed up for the Florida Bicycle Safari to actually ride the six-day celebration of cycling and good food!

I had intended to go on the 1997 version of the ride. I paid my fee, and I even started on the road down there. But there was a problem: My transmission started making strange noises while driving on Interstate 64 toward Mount Vernon, Ill. They continued while I was traveling down Interstate 57 toward Marion. I had fears of the transmission giving out on me while driving in the mountains of Tennessee, so I abandoned the Florida Bicycle Safari that year.

In 2003, everything fell into place so that I finally would do the Safari. Well, almost everything.

I got caught in construction north of Chattanooga, Tenn., and heavy traffic in Atlanta, so I didn't get into Live Oak, Fla., the starting point of the ride, until 8:10 p.m. By that time, registration had closed down for the night, so I tried to find the tents that Bubba's Pampered Pedalers had set up for the trip. The tents were there, but Bubba wasn't, so I had no idea which one was mine. At that stage, I decided to go back into town for dinner. I decided to dine at the Dixie Grill and saw a pair of cyclists. It turned out I missed Bubba by only minutes. After dinner and a quick stop for some supplies, I headed back to camp. I just missed Bubba again, so I decided to start looking for an empty tent. Fortunately, I found one and finally got to something that resembled sleep.

But when there's lots of hassles before the ride, it usually means the ride itself goes pretty smoothly. This was the case with Florida Bicycle Safari in 2003.

A perfectly glorious day of cycling began with an 8 a.m. group start at the Suwanee County Fairgrounds, our host for the first three days of the Safari. Despite having only slightly more than 150 miles of outdoor cycling in 2003 before the Safari, I was feeling strong. I wasn't surprised about that because I was pretty strong on 30- and 42-mile rides in the two weeks before Safari. I suspect the reason for that is that I've been sleeping better in the past few months thanks to treatment for sleep apnea. I have noticed a lot more energy since I started regularly using a CPAP machine to help with my breathing, and I would urge anyone who has problems with snoring or erratic breathing while sleeping to be tested. It makes a big difference!

Lots of pretty wildflowers greeted Safari riders as they headed south toward O'Brien and back north to Live Oak. The roads that were used either were really, really good or really, really bad with not much in between. Fortunately, the really, really bad roads were the exception to the rule. We had a dose of both on the first day of the ride as well as the second, which took us through White Springs, the site of the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park.

White Springs sits on the the banks of the Suwanee River, which was made famous in Foster's legendary song "Old Folks at Home." The river was our companion for the 65-mile Sunday loop. Temperatures reached the mid-80s, and the heat and headwinds slowed down some of the riders.

My problems Sunday were more of the mechanical nature. Because I got in so late Friday night and wanted to get a strong start Saturday, I failed to replace my front and rear tires as I intended to do. As I approached our rest stop in Welborn, I noticed a lump in the front tire. I soon noticed a big hole in the tire where the tread has worn out, but I managed to deflate the tube before it popped. After a short walk to the rest stop, I put a dollar bill inside the tire, and that kept the tube within the tire. The roughness of the next 17 miles took their toll on that poor dollar bill, and the lump reappeared a mile from the campgrounds. I began walking the bike to camp, but a sympathetic Safari participant who was driving her van back from White Springs pulled over and gave me a ride for the final mile.

After installing my two new tires, I joined the rest of the Safari riders for some corn on the cob. While I still think Midwestern corn is better than Florida corn, corn on the cob still is a good thing in April! At dinner, I sat with Carrie Lohman and her husband, Leonard, who came down from Cincinnati for the Safari. I first met Carrie in 1993 on Cycle Across Missouri Parks and saw her again last year on GOBA. Earlier in the ride, I saw a big group of cyclists from Lansing, Mich. I could tell because they were wearing their DALMAC jerseys.

The Dixie Grill's amazing dinners are the big reason Safari has been a popular ride for so long. Here's our dinner entrees each night of the Safari:

Saturday: Chicken and rice
Sunday: Grilled shrimp and salmon
Monday: Corned beef and cabbage
Tuesday: Seafood pasta
Wednesday: Barbecued ribs

In putting on my new tires, I must have pinched my rear inner tube because I had a slow leak during our 61-mile ride from Live Oak to the Cherry Lake campground north of Madison near the Georgia border. I replaced the tube at the first rest stop. The next few miles were pretty uneventful, but then we had to turn west about halfway through the ride. The headwind was fairly strong and the long stretch with no towns got a touch tiring. We were happy to see the rest stop at Pinetta.

It is somewhat interesting to see the contrasts in northern Florida. It definitely doesn't fit in with the stereotypical view of Florida: palm trees, beaches, Mickey Mouse, etc. Among the well-kept ranches, you can see pockets of poverty. Some parts of the communities have seen better days, somewhat like the small farming towns of the Midwest.

For those of us who did the six-day version of the Safari, Day 4 and Day 5 made excursions into southern Georgia. Gray, overcast skies were our constant companions those two days, but the temperatures were compatible with cycling. Day 4 took us into Quitman, Ga. Because it was still early in my 2003 cycling season, I chose the 44-mile option, even though there were 52-, 62- and 100-mile options available. It turned out to be a smart move because the rain starting coming down for the last 14 miles of my ride. The first two waves of the rain weren't too bad; I managed to get to camp before the second wave. But the third wave was a downpour, and many people who tried the 100-mile option were brought back to camp by van.

Day 5 went into Georgia again, and then back down to Madison so we could see the historic community. I agreed to meet Bubba at the Food for Thought restaurant, and he insisted that I try the reuben sandwich. Bubba had a bigger goal in mind, the 16-ounce Cowboy Burger. Bubba not only ate the 1-pound burger, complete with bacon, tomatoes and all the fixings, but he ate the accompanying order of fries. A fellow cyclist (not me!) who went for the 11-ounce Cowgirl Burger was the target of good-natured kidding from Bubba.

I sat with Carrie and Leonard for the final dinner of barbecued ribs, and Carrie was surprised by how many familiar faces she saw at the Safari, including me.

"It's funny how I keep coming across certain people again and again on my rides," Carrie said.

"Yes, it's funny how I see certain people on my rides," I responded.

"No, they're my rides!" she exclaimed. (Just so you know, Carrie, they're really my rides since they are included on my Web site!)

It amazing how many people I see over and over again on these rides. There's Carrie and Bubba, of course, then some of the folks from Lansing. Then there's Susan Smith, whom I met through Bubba's Pampered Pedalers on Cycle North Carolina in 2003. Thanks to Susan, I met her friend Cher Barringer on the Safari. Meeting people like them and others make bicycle touring rewarding.

Bubba, in particular, impressed me on this trip. Several years ago, Bubba was on a bicycling event in Madison. There were few suitable sites left at the school where cyclists were camping, so Bubba asked an elderly couple whether he could camp in their shaded backyard. The couple agreed, and Bubba kept in touch with them over the years. A few weeks before Safari, the husband died. Bubba made a point of visiting his widow several times during the course of Safari, and I was honored to join him for three of the visits. It's amazing what a short visit can do to lift someone's spirits!

The good times of Safari had to end, and they did so as people woke up to temperatures in the 40s on Thursday, April 10. The high temperature would only hit 50°F that day, very unseasonably cool for Florida in early April. Fortunately for us, the wind was at our backs as we cruised from the Cherry Lake campground back to Live Oak. The cool temperatures prompted lots of people to take a shortcut back into Live Oak, but it that didn't diminish the quality of our journey the past six days.