Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day 33 (Sun, 24 Mar)

I made it to Florida today – State #8!!  This was a beautiful ride along the Gulf Coast – Sunny Florida!!  Lot’s of cool pictures, as well.

I rode from Gulf Shores, AL to Ft Walton Beach, FL today.  A ride of 73 miles and a little under 800 ft of good climbing, basically all of which was just on the arched bridges that I crossed throughout the day.  I think I crossed at least 6 as I went back and forth out to the barrier islands along the AL and FL coast.  As you’ll see from the pictures and videos, a good portion of the ride – about half – was along beautiful white sand beaches along the Gulf Coast of AL and FL.  Lot’s of folks on vacation, particularly along the beaches in FL.

The route: US Hwy 90 going out of Gulf Shores all the way out of Alabama (about 15 miles) and that turned into Hwy 292 in Florida.  In Pensacola I started riding on Hwy 98 (which I’ll spend quite a bit of time on over the next few days) and then nearing Ft Walton Beach to get to my hotel I was on Hwy 393, then Hwy 189, and finally Hwy 85.

The weather: Today was another day that I was supposed to get wet, if not totally soaked.  The forecast was for heavy rains and thunderstorms in the area.  Long story short (again!!!) – it was sunny all day. Temps started out in the 60s and were in the high 70s most all day with relatively low humidity.  I was riding East most all of the day and had a strong 15-20 mph tailwind out of the West – Awesome!

I took a ton of photos again today, so, on to the pictures.

Outside my hotel in Gulf Shores this morning.  Sunny and wind blowing out of the West - both great sites for my sore eyes to start the day.

Gulf Shores beach this morning.

Zip Line near the town of Orange Beach, AL along Hwy 182.

Going across to another barrier island, just South of Terry Cove in AL.

Going down that same bridge, looking down on the last 5 miles or so of the Alabama barrier island/coast, heading East.

Entering Florida, called Perdido Key.  

"Flora-Bama" shops and restaurants on the state line.

Welcome to Florida - the last state sign I'll come across on the trip.

Next 3 pictures: Along Hwy 292, leaving Perdido Key and going onto the peninsula where Pensacola is located.

Part of old town Pensacola.

If you zoom in on this picture, you can see the bridge that runs south out of Pensacola to the peninsula on the south side of Escambia Bay.  The bridge is about 3 miles long - I hopped on to it a few minutes after taking this picture.  There was bumper-to-bumper traffic across the entire bridge and onto the peninsula - lots of folks from other states heading to the beach for vacation in sunny FL.  I was able to get across the bridge nearly as quickly as the cars - nice, go cyclists!

I knew I was on the right path (St Augustine is the final destination of my trip) when I saw this sign along Hwy 98 in Gulf Breeze - awesome.  One of the benefits of bike riding is having the flexibility to pull over and read these - cool bit of history.  More info here:

This is the bridge that goes from Gulf Breeze down to the FL barrier island, called Santa Rosa Island.  Windy and lots of cars moving along slowly!!

The small town of Pensacola Beach on the Western end of Santa Rosa Island.  This is where most of the tourists were headed on the island.

Ferris wheel - not running today, presumably due to the 20+ mph winds.

The next set of pictures and video are during the ride along Santa Rosa Island in the Gulf Islands National Seashore - a protected park with no development.  This was about a 7 mile stretch of the island and very cool.  By this point there were very few cars, so I was able to somewhat sail along with the wind at 20 mph and still enjoy the awesome scenery.  Lot's of fine, white sand (much of which ended up on me and my bike and in the bike chain - I have some cleaning to do tonight...) and wonderful ocean waves.  Definitely the highlight of the ride today and one of the tops for the full trip!  In the last 2 videos you'll see kite surfers out in the Gulf - it must take a huge amount of strength to do that in such strong winds - impressive.

Small town called Navarre Beach on the East end of Santa Rosa Island.

Bridge on the East end of Santa Rosa Island that I took back on to mainland FL.  I knew this was here but still very happy to see it (otherwise I would have had to ride back into the wind for 20 miles to the other end of the island and the bridge I came across on!!).  Tight track to ride on for this bridge :-)

 My family is originally from Wisconsin and all of them (except me...) are big Green Bay Packer fans.  This restaurant is in Florida and yet is obviously owned by a big Packer fan - they're all over the place.

Similar to earlier in the trip, now that I'm in Florida I'm hoping to see some cool military jets.  I passed Pensacola NAS earlier in the ride (hoping to seeing some F-18s that the Navy flies at that base - I did not) and then I also passed this USAF base today - Hurlbert Field.  This is where the USAF Special Operations Command is located.  The USAF flies lots of cool airplanes like the AC-130 and CV-22 out of this base.  I hung around the runway for 30 minutes, but unfortunately didn't see any planes.  I have more chances tomorrow and Tuesday - we'll see if I can get luckier at the next two USAF bases...

One of the inland bays near Ft Walton Beach later in the afternoon, just before arriving at my hotel.

Updated map!

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