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Riding to Cape Canaveral for the Final Shuttle Flight (7 - 11 July 2011)

Itinerary

    A 200-mile (330 km), three-day trip from Orlando to Cape Canaveral. My plan was to take a last-minute plane to Orlando and start from there on a plain rental bicycle. Why last-minute? Because in the rocket bTourist Trap on Highway 50usiness, launches can be - and regularly are - postponed any day, hour, minute or second before the actual lift-off. Another problem: several hundred thousand people were heading there for the set launch date, July 8, and all the available accommodation had already been booked for more than a week. To face that situation, I had a neat plan: instead of a motel room, I reserved a campground site in a RV park some 35 km east of Orlando. From there, I had a very good chance of getting to the Cape on time for the very short launch window, at 11 a.m. Actually, the final Atlantis flight, which also was the last Shuttle flight, happened right on time, against all odds and in spite of a heavy thunderstorm episode the day before. As for my own trip, that unpredictable storm was very bad news: my plane couldn't land in Orlando and had to sit it out on the tarmac in Jacksonville for almost three hours. I did the trip as planned, but just a bit too late.

Resources

  • Campground and RV Park on Internet
  • My GPS track records (in Garmin .gdb format), available upon request.


Summary

·      Putting all the Eggs in the Same Basket

·      A Short Tour of the Space Coast


Putting all the Eggs in the Same Basket

Day 0

Thursday, July 7 – From Montreal to Kissimmee

The pessimistic weather reports kept piling on as the final days of the countdown elapsed. I knew from the start that my chances to actually witness the final flight of Atlantis were dim, at best, but I left anyway the day before because it was my last chance to see a live Shuttle launch. My plane reached Orlando on time, but it was denied clearance for landing due to the heavy thunderstorm conditions there and it had to go back to Jacksonville, some 160 km north. While we were sitting out the rain there on the tarmac, I chatted with my seat neighbour, a New Yorker who had been a custom agent in Guyana some twenty years ago. He had seen the Rev. Jimmy Jones several times. Due to good connections, that guy could go in and out freely without having to stop at the customs. He brought in a lot of new people for his congregation in Jonestown, which totalled about one thousand people. Most of them never came back.

Finally, my plane was cleared for Orlando and landed there some 3 hours late. When I picked up my heavy 35 lb sport bag* from the carrousel, the bike shop from which I was supposed to start off had just closed, there were still sporadic heavy rain episodes and I had no hotel reservation. Worse yet : when I phoned to the Airport Ramada Inn, they told me that it was full and redirected me to the Ramada Heritage Park Hotel in Kissimmee, some 23 kilometers west of the airport (room. $45; taxi, $35), close to Disneyland, of all the places... That was a very bad start, indeed, but since the poor weather conditions would probably force the postponement of the launch anyway, I thought that I still had a chance to get there in time.

* Because United charges $27 for every bag, I took only a big one, and was completely dependent on cabs.

Day 1

Friday, July 8 - From Orlando to Sharpes, on Indian River (71 km in 4.5 h; max. 29 km/h, av. 17.6 km/h)

             After breakfast at the Denny's, I took a cab to the bike shop, which cost me an arm and a leg - $80. Loco Motion Bike Shop is located in Baldwin Park, a posh suburb built around small Baldwin Lake. I chose that place because it was close to Highway 50 (Colonial Drive in Orlando), and because it's the only place somebody answered my call directly. For pancake-flat Florida, I rented a 3-speed, backpedal brake classic beauty for three days ($60). The mechanic installed my baggage holder and removed the king-size beverage holder from the handlebar - I needed that place for my GPS. While I was getting ready, I could watch the countdown on the giant TV screen hanging from the ceiling; weather conditions was still no-go, but NASA weathermen were expecting a hole in the overcast sky to move over the Cape just in time for the very short launch window at 11 a.m. The mechanic told me that Floridians felt sad about the end of the Shuttle flights because it meant that thousands of jobs would be lost not only in the aerospace business, but in the tourist business as well. I said that technically, the Shuttle certainly was a wonderful machine, but that for the Congressmen, all issues tend to boil down to costs, and cost-wise, the Shuttle record was a very poor one. To which he replied that billions were thrown mindlessly in bottomless pits like the Iran and Afghanistan wars; I could agree with that. Meanwhile, beating all odds, Atlantis lifted off right on time, minutes before I was ready to leave the shop.

  

Riding with a Rental Bike
           Riding on the asphalt shoulder of the six-lane Highway 50, I was wondering if that was allowed or not in Florida. No other cyclist was in sight to tell me, and the people I asked on the roadside didn't know; I might as well have asked them about UFOs. Then I saw a shop advertising mountain bike tours on the Georgia Trail, in the Lower Appalachians. They told me that I could use any public highway in Florida except the Interstate, and that was all right with me. While the coast-bound traffic was rather light, the lanes going back to Orlando were absolutely plugged with vehicles of all sizes, as the 700 000 people who had piled up around the Cape at 11 were going back home.

             Then, the 50 narrowed down to four lanes. Going through dense palm trees forests alternating with vast, weed-covered wetlands, there wasn't much to see, and yet, the detail was so different. There were lots of white cranes, buzzards and other variegated small bird species. Getting nearer to the Coast, you can see squashed baby alligators on the side of the road, and sometimes, the remains of strange scale-covered mammals, armadillos, a common species at that latitude. The clouds gradually cleared up and, as the damp air was heating. That day, I had to drink a record 3 litres of water to survive in a steam bath environment.

             Past Interstate 95, I took the 405 southward and then, old Highway 1 following Indian River. Shortly before 4 p.m., I started to look for a motel room - there is no point to pay $32 for a place in a RV park (assuming that you can find one that accepts campers without a RV - not all do) when you can get a cheap motel room for $50 or less. I found one in Sharpes; the Apollo Inn ($50) is not a fancy place, but a dry and quiet place was all I needed for the night. Dark clouds were piling up again and there was a short rain episode as I was moving in. Getting hungry some time later, I rode six kilometers back on Hwy 1 to Redfish Charlie's Bayou Restaurant. The Fisherman's Plate ($18), consisting of various breaded deep-fried sea food served with French fries and other fried vegetables, was anything but light, and excessive seasoning had totally smothered whatever taste was left.


A Short Tour of the Space Coast

Day 2

Saturday, July 9 - A Space Coast Tour (86,2 km in 8 h; max. 48 km/h, av. 18,1 km/h)

 

           That day, I wanted to visit the Kennedy Space Center and then go to Jetty Park Beach. Getting up at 6 with another nice and hot day ahead, I had the option of moving to the Jetty Park campground, the only one in the Cape area, hoping to find an available site there (without any guarantee), or keeping my cabin for one more night and travelling light without my panniers and equipment. I chose the easy way. Leaving just after 9, I switched from Hwy 1 to the pleasant old road following the Indian River shore. I saw a couple of cyclists there, the urban type, going for a short morning spin. I didn't see any other cyclotourist in Florida; most decent people there prefer to move about in a motor vehicle, the bigger the better. After crossing Indian River on the 528, I turned north on the 3. According to a sign at the crossroad, KSC was only 6 miles away. As it turned out, this refers to the limit of that vast property; the John F. Kennedy Space Center is located another 6 miles farther, on Hwy 405. There, I joined the long and fat line of people waiting for the ticket booths to open at 11 (regular $43, children and seniors $35). Obviously, not all the people had left the Cape the day before.

 

 
Jetty Park Beach
           After waiting for one hour or so, I grew fed up and quit. Come to think of it, with only one day to spend on the coast of the Sunshine State and its fabled beaches, I had better things to do than visiting a museum. Trying to go through Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, across Banana River, I was turned back at the gate, as I thought I would be. The last time I was there, visiting the place in a rented car with my 9-year old daughter in 1989, I drove by one of the two (then inactive) Shuttle pads, but that was eons before 9-11. So, I had to go back on my track to Hwy 528. However, I didn't do this 40-kilometer dead end loop for entirely nothing, because crossing these vast and empty expanses gave me a feeling of rural Florida. These lands, part of endless citrus orchards before, were expropriated to build the huge Apollo facilities in the early Sixties. I was riding in a semi-wild country with long weed fields alternating with ghost orchid areas covered with long-dead or absolutely neglected orange trees, harboring a rich variety of semi-tropical and water birds, with some raptors like the emblematic bald eagle. In a place, I suddenly came upon a pride of big reddish brown animals running away in the long weeds. They were some of the infamous Florida wild hogs, whose ancestors had been introduced there nearly five centuries ago by Spanish settlers and explorers like Hernando de Soto and Juan Ponce de Leon.

             At 1 p.m., after going through the municipal campground, I was in Jetty Park. The day was getting hot, some 33 °C. I ate a very good fish taco on a shaded picnic table close to the beach. Probably victim of severe case of hypoglycemia, I indulged in a huge ice cream cone right after. Then, I walked to the end of the jetty, which is a protected area for turtles. People were watching the little green critters swimming and diving all around in the rocks. I left before 4 because showers were expected for the end of the afternoon. The incoming dark clouds shed only a few drops, which cooled down the air a bit. One hour later, I was sipping a cold beer in front of my cabin.

             The lady taking care of the motel told me that the best place for a fish dinner was the Corky Bell, about 5 km north. When I got there, there was a long file of people waiting outside, chatting together until they were called in. The guy next to me, a big and tall white-haired man, told me that he had served in the US Navy during the Pacific War; he was now past ninety. He also said that Floridians didn't trust Obama because he didn't control a thing, he couldn't get the hang of it. To which I replied that in Canada, the reverse was true: given a simple majority, the Prime Minister could do whatever he fancied, and that was a problem, too. He recommended the catfish filets ($21), which I ordered after making sure that they would be broiled, not fried, and I didn't regret it.

Day 3

Sunday, July 10 - From Sharpes to Orlando (75 km in 5.5 h)

             Leaving early on yet another beautiful morning, I headed west for Orlando, but on Hwy 528, the shortest way, which becomes a toll road past Interstate 95. The automatic tool booth didn't have any option for cyclists, so I assumed I didn't have to pay. Going through the coastal wetlands area, I had to watch out for occasional small snakes warming up on the shoulder. Then, I passed through vast wooded areas and a few big livestock ranches, before falling back on Hwy 50 and by 1 p.m., I was back at the Loco Motion Bike Shop in Baldwin Park. Then, dragging my huge sports bag, I took a cab to the airport hotel ($28). The friendly Latino cab driver didn't mind chatting, while carefully dodging any controversial topic. He did tell me that there was something wrong with America, where the rich corner an indecent and ever increasing part of the wealth. The Ramada Airport Suites ($50) is the best hotel I had (huge bed, HDTV, coffee-maker, fridge, full-sized bath).

            Even though I had miserably missed the last Shuttle launch, that short trip was instructive because it shows that with some planning, cyclotourists and bicycle campers can visit many, many interesting places in North America without having to bring their own bike.





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