A ride report from a rural florida motorcycle excursion, a ride to nowhere.
A free afternoon and beautiful weather means a ride to no where in particular was called for today. One of the things that I love about being on a motorcycle instead of in a car is the Florida air with all its different fragrances. At 70 mph the smells can be very intense. It opens up a whole new sense to explore.
Back roads and rural highways were the goal for today. A run from my house up C.R. 481 and across C.R. 480 lead me past rural pasture land. There was a fresh clean smell to the air with the scent of hay rolls still lingering along the way. I passed through Floral City and turned East onto Eden Dr. with the intention of exploring a very unique bridge on Moccasin Slough Rd. Eden Dr. starts out passing through a neighborhood that does not look very interesting, but then the pavement gives way to a wide limerock road and becomes Moccasin Slough Rd. it then narrows down to a pot hole filled two track trail making my dual sport motorcycle at home. As the narrow trail headed further away from pavement it dropped down almost to water level traversing through stagnant swamp. I grew up hiking waist deep water through the swamps of Brooker Creek Preserve and love the smell of cypress trees with their rich fragrance. There were several vultures gliding overhead and I hoped to avoid smelling whatever was attracting them. I entered through an open gate without any signs forbidding me to be there and continued to a dead end dirt parking lot at Flying Eagle Preserve.
I spend hours on Google Earth tucking away in my memory unique destinations for when I find myself in a given area. This was one of those moments. Unfortunately, Google Earth will show roads and features, but does not show when a road is gated off or who owns the property. SWFWMD has gated this road in recent years stopping any hopes of riding out to the bridge I wanted to see that is designed to allow cars to pass East and West and Airboats to ride up over the bridge North and South on a wooden rail. I will have to come back on a mountain bike at another time to see this unique structure for myself.
I took the time to stretch my legs and walk around some. I learned very shortly after purchasing the bike not to stray too far from it as there have been numerous occasions when someone will take too close a look at the bike leaving me nervous that their intention may be to steal it. At 330 pounds it would not be hard to do. This time was no different. Just as I crossed the gate and made the wood line a small truck came in and stopped next to my bike. I made my presence known and they left.
Just inside the preserve is a pit for hunters to dispose of deer and hog carcasses. It appears this hunting season was a productive one. Bones and hair were strewn about for hundreds of yards where coyote and other foraging animals made a meal of the remains. Heading back I rounded to the back side of the parking lot where a bat house was. I have had the opportunity to build several of these assisting in Eagle projects for my scouts. Not all of them attract bats so I am always interested to see if a bat house has a successful roosting population. This one proved to be very well inhabited judging by the size of the guano pile at its base and the high pitched chirping of hundreds of bats high up inside. The pungent smell of guano is unmistakable. It is the same smell I experience on the way to work passing under I-75 where a colony has formed in the large beams of the bridge.
I fired up the bike again and headed back out the way I came in. At Old Floral City Rd. I headed north a short distance to Hwy 44 where I wanted to stop and see McGregor Smith Scout Reservation. I have a lot of good memories from there. Nostalgia is a disease I suffer from. My first backpack trip was there doing an 18 mile perimeter hike through swamp land and palmetto scrub with an army surplus A.L.I.C.E. pack that didn’t have a waist belt. I learned a lot on that trip and in spite of the sore back and raw shoulders loved every step of that adventure. That experience led to many more wilderness treks including a 60 mile hike on the Bruce Trail in Canada and a more recent trip to Richloam WMA where we got trapped in a forest fire by Forestry fire bombing us. Another fond memory was using elastic water balloon launchers to rain down horse manure on other scouts during their wilderness survival merit badge (back then it was an active horse and cattle ranch as well). McGregor-Smith camp has had some rough times lately due to budget cuts in Gulf Ridge Council. Currently, Swiftmud owns it and it is my understanding the scouts no longer use it. I snapped a few photos of the now decaying entrance and headed back out to 44 and pointed north.
A right turn at a sign pointing to Lake Pannasofkee looked inviting so I answered the call and headed towards the lake. I am always looking for interesting signs or places when I am riding so when I saw a sign that said “The Dam Pub” I figured someone was bad at spelling or there might be something back there. Either way it was worth having a look see. Sure enough there is a dam called the Wysong Dam used to control river levels next to the pub. I had forgotten about it being there. Almost twenty years ago we did a four day canoe trip down the Withlacoochee and had to portage around the dam. (Tim Marchand, if you bring up the other story about that trip I am going to hurt you). A few photos and a brief moment of quiet solitude watching the swirling white water rush past the lock and I was on my way again.
At this point I noticed the sun was getting low in the sky. As the road wound and twisted along the side of the lake it would occasionally point west dropping the sunlight into my eyes making it difficult to see. I figured the best option would be to continue east and turn around to ride home in the dark after the sun had set. So with that excuse made up in my mind I crossed under I-75 to find a serene little park nestled between the railroad tracks and the interstate. I followed it back through both sets of gates to the end where I found an older couple sitting out on the dock in lawn chairs peacefully enjoying an evening of fishing in the canal. The gentleman appeared to give me a look that said not to disturb their privacy so back out to the main road I went. Keeping my eastward direction I hit the dead end of C.R. 470 and headed north up 301 with the setting sun at my back.
I almost missed it, but having been cemetery hunting enough to notice the typical indicators, I caught the small withered sign designating the entrance to Sumterville Cemetery. Following the dirt road back behind an automotive shop that was dilapidated to the point of disrespecting the view of the cemetery was an SUV blocking the road. Guiding the bike around it I followed the grassy pathway to the back side of the cemetery where there were two men reading headstones. I assumed they would know something about the place and attempted to ask them about the cemetery’s history. They denied ever being there before and scurried away. I went about reading some headstones and found a Woodsmen of the World marker as well as several confederate soldiers’ graves. It was heart breaking to read a stone that was formed like an open book that mourned the loss of two children about 7 and 9 who died about 13 days apart in 1890. I can only assume a common illness took their lives. I never cease to be amazed at how many children are buried in these forgotten cemeteries. Modern medicine spares us many tragedies.
It wasn’t long before the distinct smell of marijuana began wafting my way and I understood why those two men weren’t very friendly in sharing my interest of history. Firing up the bike one more time and I left now heading south on 301 with the sun below the horizon. The clouds took on a beautiful deep red hue defining their wispy edges. The phrase, ‘red skies at night, sailors delight, red skies in morn, sailors take warn’ promising good weather tonight and tomorrow came to mind as I watched them disappear behind tall pines and reappear across rolling pastures.
I am not sure what road I crossed over on, but as is the case with me I followed a whim and found myself at another ancient cemetery in a place called Tema Settlement. There were some very old family burials surrounded by a low red brick wall covered in green vines. The wrought iron fence and gate long ago rusted away to oblivion leaving only the nubs of rusted metal indicating it ever existed in the first place. There was just enough evening light left cascading through the old oaks to make out that these graves were from the latter half of the 1800’s.
I left heading south through Bushnell and turned west on 48 crossing under the interstate emerging on the other side having lost the last vestiges of daylight. Once out of range of the city lights and light polluting motel signs the motorcycle’s single headlight took over illuminating the deserted highway home. The temperature began to drop and the smells of rural Florida began to dominate again. Someone was cooking something that had the aroma of fried chicken reminding me that I hadn’t had dinner yet. That gave way to the odor indicating a fireplace was hard at work warming a home with oak logs. Another few miles and from an unseen grove came the sweet fragrance of citrus.
After stopping for a quick refueling to make sure I can make it to work in the morning I made it home looking forward to the next time I can go for a ride to nowhere.