Jacksonville / Daytona Beach, March 14-17, 2015

Bicycling along the oceanfront somewhere is among my favorite bicycling trips in America.    Especially when the coastline is relatively uninterrupted by inlets,  bicycling through the street grid of a beach town is safe and interesting.   Since my good friend Tom Constantine lives in Jacksonville, Florida, I went again to bicycle along the northern Florida coast.

Amtrak does not work well to many destinations from the Raleigh/Durham area, but it does to Jacksonville. You leave from Cary at nine-thirty at night, go to sleep, and wake up arriving in Jacksonville at seven a.m. It has a similar schedule on the return. The seats on Amtrak are pretty large, and you can stretch out.  On this trip there was a lot of commotion with people getting on and off in Columbia and Savannah in the middle of the night. I have some soft furry eyeshades held on by elastic. They are absolutely essential for this kind of travel.

Amtrak also does not have a uniform policy about bicycles, except that now folding bicycles are specifically allowed as carry-on items.  I got off the train in Jacksonville lugging the bike in my arms, walked about ten feet, unfolded the bike in about three minutes, and rode off into the 7:00 AM gathering light.
The Amtrak station in Jacksonville is not in their downtown.  It is next to a railroad freight yard; not the toniest part of the city.   Tom lives in the much nicer Ortega Forest neighborhood, about ten miles south. The ride along four lane Edgewood Avenue was unpleasant, but had a bike lane and was safe enough.  I thought this seafood place place at least gave the highway some character.


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I got to Tom’s house in time to have breakfast with him and his daughter Lucia; oatmeal, and freshly squeezed tangerine juice from their backyard.  They both showed me great hospitality for the next twenty four hours.
The next day, on Sunday morning, Tom and I biked together from his house about eight miles to his law office downtown. I left him there and headed off towards Jacksonville Beach, fifteen miles further east. Like Edgewood Avenue the day before, Beach Boulevard was many lanes wide and unpleasant to cycle. Yet it had either a bike lane or a significant shoulder, so biking did not feel really unsafe. The first half of the ride passed through decaying suburbia. I did see some remnants of 1950’s commercial modernism.  Some may laugh and say “so what?”, but this stuff is being rapidly torn down in America.

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Once in Jacksonville Beach, I was able to turn directly south for the thirty-five additional miles to St. Augustine.   Riding along the beach was generally pleasant, free of major traffic.   It took me through several beach towns, the best-known being Ponte Vedra, a posh area known for being the site of The Player’s Championship golf tournament.    It was fun looking at the beachfront houses.   The American wealth dynamic is playing out here, as people buy up expensive oceanfront lots.  They tear older houses down and replace them usually with something gaudy.   All the houses shown here are oceanfront.

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Does anyone remember the A-frame?
Does anyone remember the A-frame?


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St. Augustine bills itself as The Oldest City in America, and surely it does have some old stuff here.

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Being Florida, it also has a lot of touristy shlock.   I stayed in an older Howard Johnson’s motel just outside of downtown, and had dinner at The Ice Plant, a new restaurant with jazzy $12 cocktails.  I enjoyed listening to the young bartender talk shop with an off duty bartender.   With the current cocktail craze, twenty something kids have spent a lot of energy becoming designer bartenders, learning about the nuances of aged vintage rums, or the proper shape of an ice cube.


Monday morning I headed south across the bridge and down the beach road A1A.  It was fifty-five miles to Daytona Beach, and gradually the vibe changes, as we approach what I call the Motorcycle Capital of America.

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Florida deserves credit for at least trying to make bicycling safer.   It is apparent that any new bridge built seems to have a bicycle lane attached.

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There was also a paved path along A1A in many places, including a long oceanfront stretch through a state park.

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It was not all residential.   There were places with oceanfront campgrounds, including the longest camping rig I have ever seen.

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I glided into Daytona Beach about cocktail hour, and walked into a dingy restaurant on a dingy block downtown.
I was a friendly bar, lined with elderly people, some with Harley-Davidson logos on their clothing. The pricing difference from the previous evening was dramatic: I ordered a Tanqueray and tonic, which included all the peanuts you can eat. I was still hungry so the cordial bartender brought me a bag of Lay’s Potato Chips. ($1.00). It was Happy Hour, so a second drink was free. All this for $ 6.63 including tax.
While drinking my drink(s) I perused the internet on my cell phone. I found a room at what looked to be the nicest place in town;  Hilton Oceanfront, for $ 77 including tax on Priceline.
Later that evening, in the same dingy downtown strip of Daytona Beach, I went into a sushi restaurant that I had found on Yelp. The Asian proprietor seemed to personally know many of the multicultural clientele, including one big table that seemed to be speaking Arabic. The sushi was not only good, but really low cost.

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Amtrak does not go to Daytona Beach.  I would have to bike about thirty miles inland to a town called Deland,  where a train leaves for North Carolina at eight-thirty in the evening.

The next day on the way out, the older part of Daytona had some colorful neighborhoods.

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I was willing to take a circuitous route to avoid the four lane highway, but ended up on some dead end roads in board flat unpopulated pine forests. Google Maps alert: your program is wonderful, except that it does not show when a traffic-free paved road through the woods turns into an unpaved set of car tracks covered in loose sand!

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I ended up cycling many more miles than anticipated, and finally going most of the way on the unpleasant four lane highway.
Deland is a pretty town, home of Stetson University, and lots of Spanish moss dripping live oaks on a suddenly hilly landscape. I had a nice dinner downtown.

I am glad I gave myself some time cushion, and that I brought my bike lights, because the Deland Amtrak station is really quite far out of town. I ended up pedaling several miles along dark country roads. It was a classic old train station, sitting by itself in the darkness.

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The train actually showed up on time, and it was not as full as the previous southbound trip. I got so much sleep that night that the next morning I was inspired to bicycle from the Cary train station to my home in Chapel Hill.

One response to “Jacksonville / Daytona Beach, March 14-17, 2015”

  1. Paco, you always take great pictures, but that last one of the train station is fabulous. Nice reporting once again. Just be careful.

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