Two hundred fourteen km’s into the Rapha Festive 500 challenge, it was time for a change of scenery, so my friends from Grupetto USA as well as the Island Riders joined me for a metric century out on the Withlacoochee Trail.
The Withlacoochee State Trail is a 46 mile long paved, multi-use, non-motorized rail trail in central Florida. It begins in the tiny town of Trilby, which is approximately an hour west of Orlando, and extends through Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties, ending near Dunnellon.
It’s a true rail trail, as it runs on the original line of the Inverness and Brooksville railway dating back to the 1880’s, which was ultimately abandoned by CSX in 1987. In 1989, the state purchased the railway for it’s planned rails-to-trails program. Like all rail trails, the inclines and curves are gradual. The route parallels the Withlacoochee River, passing through the lush forests of the Withlacoochee State Forest, and small picturesque towns like Floral City, Inverness and Citrus Springs. Every mile is marked by cement poles from the railroad era which mark the miles to Richmond, the railroad’s hometown.
A large group of over 25 riders, mostly from the local riding clubs of Grupetto and Island Riders, showed up for the planned 62 mile ride from the Ridge Manor trailhead to Hernando and back. The pace was set at a comfortable 18-20 mph, which as usual was pretty much ignored once everyone was warmed up, causing big gaps in the accordion-like pace line. The riders mid pack or further were having to do full on sprints to catch up with the quick moving front end of the line, turning what was supposed to be a brisk paced ride into a session of constant intervals.
At about 17 miles in we reached Flora City for a planed water/nature break (the trail has very good and well maintained bathroom facilities along it’s route), and decided to make the group more manageable by splitting into two, a faster and a “not as fast” group. Only eight of us went with he speedier group, which allowed us to keep the pace in the mid 20’s up to the rides midpoint in Hernando.
Smaller pace lines of 6-8 riders are ideal on the Withlacoochee trail, particularly for their ability to accelerate quickly away from the numerous road crossings near it’s middle part. By the way, drivers along the trail are extremely courteous, always slowing down and or stopping to not impede the cyclists at crossings. The trail is a big draw for cycle-tourists, and the residents/drivers really look out for them.
We reached the midpoint of the ride in quick order, and relaxed a bit while we waited for the second group to reach us. We all refueled and topped off our bottles for what was going to be a return trip against the wind….yes, we had a tail wind all the way out. We decided to keep the entire group together to better fight the headwind, but as is usually the case, the wind ripped the group up into many smaller groups.
I typically like to stay in the front 5 or so riders in large groups to avoid gaps and mishaps. Sure you end up pulling more often, but then that’s the fun part of the ride. Seven of us ended up breaking away from the fragmenting group which slowly whittled down to just 3 of us. When we reached the Edgewater crossing, the three of us decided to veer off the trail onto the newly paved Nobelton Croom Road for a little “hilly action”. We discovered this road a few weeks earlier during the Hilly Hundred Ride.
We blasted our way against an ever stubborn headwind down the smooth rolling tarmac, hoping the others would not catch us (yes we knew it was not a race, but bragging rights are bragging rights), especially since it was a bit longer than staying on the trail. When we rejoined the trail we found that a group of three had gained a lead of a couple hundred meters on us, which made for a very fast and wild, leg burning final 10 miles.
Bragging rights were maintained and as a bonus we picked up a few Strava cups along the way! Most importantly though, everyone made it back safely, and although there were many tired legs, we all had fun.
So another 64 miles knocked off from the Festive 500 challenge, leaving me with approximately another 113 more miles to ride. It will be windy tomorrow, so it’s probably back to Flatwoods for a few easy laps to get the lactic acid out of my legs.