The sands of time and that Old Devil Wind

I wanted to tell you about the sands of time and that Old Devil Wind.

But first the backstory.

When I turned 70 I decided I had one more century left in me (miles, not years…pay attention). So I mounted my road bike in GNV and set off bound for St. Augustine.

I had carefully planned the route so that I would cross the Bridge of Lions at precisely 100 miles. Then a celebratory drink at the Casa Monica bar.

A toast to my last century.

Now I’m turning 75, and lately I’d begun to think that maybe I had yet one more century (miles not years) left in me. As it happened, my wife and I were overnighting in St. Augustine after seeing an Al Stewart concert in Ponte Vedra.

Say…why not reverse my epic bike journey of five years earlier?

And so, at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, I got on my bike next to the Bridge of Lions and headed off for GNV on a route laid to precisely deposit me at First Mag brewery at the magic 100 mark.

Before leaving the Ancient City I took a premature victory loop at Freedom Park. One of my favorite St. Aug best kept secrets.

A dozen miles later I got onto the St. Aug/Palatka rail-trail. Still feeling pretty good about myself and my chances of reliving those crazy, youthful days of my 70th year.

That’s when that Old Devil Wind slapped me right in the face.

It was coming out of the southwest – exactly the opposite direction in which I was headed. And I don’t want to make up stories here, but the sheer gusty energy of that ODW easily outmuscled anything the ‘57 Studebaker of my teen years could put out.

Ah, but I was barely into the ride and felt like I was up for anything. Blow away you ODW.

By the way, there is some amazing scenery along this trail. Check it out.

By mile 22 I rolled into the old Potato Capital of Hastings. They are having a tough time these days in Hastings. The venerable Hastings Potato Growers building is up for sale. It’s been up for sale for quite some time. It’s got a reduced price and still no takers.

At this point I left the trail to follow a series of rural roads winding along the banks of the St. John’s River. I needed the diversion in order to pick up the requisite miles.

By this time that ODW was sweeping across farmlands, gathering up Oklahoma Dust Bowl sized clouds of dirt-and-pesticide and depositing them directly in my oncoming path. But I did not complain.

Oh, by the way, don’t feel too bad for the old Hastings Potato Barons. These days cabbage is king in these parts.

The good news is that by the time I rolled into Palatka, at 38 miles, I was more than a third of the way through my journey and feeling pretty good about myself.

The bad news is that ODW very nearly swept me off the Palatka bridge into the St. John’s River.

Palatka is not a bad cycling city, but it does have some killer roads that need to be avoided. So I had carefully plotted a circuitous route that took advantage of neighborhood streets (two of which turned out to be unpaved, but since nobody was there to laugh at me I went ahead and rode them anyhow).

At 45 miles I stopped at a Palatka sports complex for a snack and power drink. For the first time, getting off my bike, I was feeling a bit weak and shaky.

A guy sitting next to his motorcycle asked me how far I was riding. “100 miles,” I said nonchalantly. He seemed unimpressed. Dude! ONE. HUNDRED. MILES!

Long story short, I was mid-century by the time I hit the Palatka-Keystone Heights Trail.

I have ridden this trail many times. But it seemed to have added mileage since my last visit. I kept checking my Ride With GPS to make sure I wasn’t going backwards.

By this time that ODW was howling at me. It wasn’t just physically exhausting, it was soul-crushing.

It was nearly 2:30 when I finally got to the Florahome trailhead. So much for my noon lunch plans.

As luck would have it, there is a Subway just across the street. “Go ahead, I’ll wait,” the ODW taunted.

I cast caution to the winds and had a Cherry Coke with my sub and chips.

At this point I only had about 7 miles left to go on the trail. It was not unpleasant because that section goes past some of the loveliest wetlands in Florida. Not to mention the Howlin’ Wolf (Trump is our God) biker bar at Putnam Hall.

That’s when the trouble really started.

I took CR 219 to Melrose. CR 219 has virtually no shade and by this time things were, um, heating up. And that ODW was blowing in my face like a blast furnace.

By the time I got to Melrose I was 70 miles into my epic journey…and feeling every mile of it. To celebrate I boldly strode into Chiappini’s – a legendary place in which to crack open a Bud long-neck – and knocked back an apple juice

The sands of time were down to mere grains by now. My planned 8-hour trip was threatening to eat up 10 hours.

At 80 miles I stopped at a lovely spot on CR 1474 for some Gatorade. I briefly considered throwing myself into the lovely swamp. That ODW cackled.

At 82 miles I reached Windsor and hung a left. By this time 5:30 had come and gone and I was feeling sore and creaky in every part of my body.

I got onto the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail at Rochelle, 87 miles into the ride. To make my 100 mile goal I would have had to go east a couple miles past CR 325, turn around and head back to the GNV end.

That last five miles not taken might as well have been 500.

The sands of time had well and truly run out. That ODW had done it’s work. The sun was barely above the horizon.

Neither the spirit nor the body was willing. So I headed toward the barn.

Or, rather toward First Mag. Having racked up 95.5 miles I craved a 72.

Does that make me less the cyclist than I was at 70?

Well, you can’t stop the sands of time.

And that ODW didn’t really stop me either. It just slowed me down and beat the stuffing out of me.

I fought the wind and the wind won.

But who knows.

There may yet be one more century in me. Somewhere down the road.

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