A Very Flat Florida Ride: Lake Nona + St. Cloud

One of the only upsides of driving instead of flying to Florida for the holidays is that I could bring my bike! Normally when I visit my family I fly and I don’t bring my bike because a) I don’t have a bike bag to fly with anyway, and b) I’m not usually visiting long enough to really need my bike. I end up going on a few runs instead. But right now, my foot is still in a lot of pain, I’ll be in Florida for a solid month, and biking is the only activity that doesn’t bother it; maybe driving was a blessing in disguise.

After being trapped in a car from sunrise to well after sunset on Saturday, I could not get out the door quick enough on Sunday morning for the first ride of my stay. The only problem was…I didn’t know where I was going. Though my parents have lived here for eight years, and I lived in Tampa for just as long, I did nearly all of my riding by the Bay. And there aren’t any great routes in this area. Plus, it’s overly crowded, the roads aren’t very bike-friendly (and neither are the drivers), and my only bike friend remotely close by lives nearly an hour away. All that to say, I had to do some research.

Before I went to bed on Saturday night, I browsed Strava in search of routes in the Lake Nona area. There weren’t many that started or ended near us, most of them circled housing developments over and over, and very few crept above 30 miles. I wanted something bigger to shake those three days of sitting out of my legs. Finally, I stumbled upon a 50-miler someone posted that left from a Publix parking lot a mile away and even passed by two small lakes south of us. Done! I sent the GPX file to my Wahoo and went to bed.

Sunday morning, after so many cups of coffee, I was out the door around 7:30 a.m. As expected, the air was hot and thick with southern humidity and I was sweating before I hung a left at the first light. Oh, how my hair and I will never miss humidity.

The flat flat three-lane road took me from Orlando to neighboring St. Cloud where traffic thinned and the houses started to spread out just a bit. It was funny how quickly the landscape transitioned from suburban concrete housing complexes to rural farmlands, cow pastures, and orange groves. It was actually very peaceful.  

Since I had no sense of direction, I relied heavily on my Wahoo bike computer, which, I have told everyone I know, is probably the best piece of bike tech I’ve ever used. It holds a charge like no other device, it pairs so seamlessly with its app, it’s easy to understand, use and set up right out of the box, and the turn-by-turn directions are incredibly accurate. I’ve never once lost service on it. Plus, there is a cool feature called breadcrumbs that allows you to back track the way you went if you need to turn your ride around and go back the way you came. They thought of everything. If you’re ever in the market for a computer, Wahoo products are excellent.

There were a few out-and-backs on this route that took me to the edges of the two different lakes, East Lake Tohopekaliga and Lake Tohopekaliga. There isn’t a way to circle them, unfortunately, but the roads skirt their edges and still offer some views, which were a nice change from traffic and supermarkets.

I circled around St. Cloud a bit, went up and over a turnpike overpass (there’s at least one on every ride), then the route took me on a roundabout way home that dropped me off on the road I started on for the last ten miles. And I’ll tell ya, those last ten miles on a flat, straight road were exhausting. One direction, no descents or relief, nothing to look at but chain restaurants and shopping plazas and gated communities. I left my headphones at home for this ride, so I had to listen to my bike make all sorts of awful noises as it flexed and stretched in the hot humid weather. My dad ended up dropping my bike off at a shop on Monday since it needs some TLC after so much rough Colorado riding and a long drive.

When I finally pulled into the driveway back home, my Wahoo read: 52 feet of elevation gain in 53 miles of riding. I had to laugh because in Colorado you can gain 52 feet in a half mile without even trying, whether you want to or not.And somehow, riding flats are so exhausting because you never get to let up on the gas, you never get a break on a descent, and stopping and starting at traffic lights takes a mental toll as much as a physical one.

I have a feeling I’ll be riding this one a lot while I’m down here because it’s filled with bike lanes, which is a luxury and rarity around here, and doesn’t hit too much heavy traffic if you time it right (read: start riding before sunrise).

What’s the best and worst place you’ve ridden?

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