After driving south for 22hrs from Chicago, Via Greenville, SC, we arrived in Clermont, FL for a week long training camp. The weather was bad for Florida, a chilly 33 degrees Celsius in the sun. “Clermont has the only rolling terrain in the whole of Florida”, we were told. We were not told that the roads were perfect ribbons of hot black tarmac flanked on both sides by lush, dense, deep green vegetation that the sub-tropical climate provided for us. Heaven is a place on earth. I had no idea how much I’d enjoy my riding here.
The ride in question is as near to 165km as makes no difference and starts and ends in Clermont itself. A short stretch east turns to due north which ends up settling on north west…and we’re away. After snaking through the swamps we find ourselves on Sugarloaf Mountain. A big hill for the area, but pales into insignificance when compared to even the South Downs in the UK. You rise out of the swamps, into the sauna. The heat is intense under the sun and the views over Orlando are worth seeing. The descent is a welcome cool breeze and the dead straight road means feeling the sensation of speed. 50mph can be achieved.
The route takes a hard left and heads back south and after half way Clermont is within touching distance. There are no stores after this, best to fill the bottles and the stomachs. The roads sweep left and right, gently. It’s just enough to keep the route a mystery until you pass each new horizon. The vegetation thickens and the amount of standing water increases, we’re in the swamps.
Hitting the ‘Green Swamp wildlife management area’ means a slight left turn, and a bike path. It’s so straight the only thing that stops you seeing forever is the curvature of the earth. Be aware of rope-like objects on the path. Chances are they are snakes. Bunny hop skills and copious amounts of swearing see the ordeal behind us. A moment later and a quick look left results in brakes needing to be applied. We come to a halt and have a moment to catch our breath – we need to let the alligator get out of our way.
An almost 180 degree turn at the end of the bike path sends us back up north, direction Clermont. Nearly home. Heads down, the average speed goes up - 36kph for the ride overall. Knowing it’s a matter of time before we unclip and training is over I take a moment, think of where I am and how I got here. Looking down means I can see the muscles firing in my legs. Bronzed, moistened by swear, and full of a feeling of pain that makes me feel at home; no matter where in the world I am. The sound of simultaneous rapid-fire clicking means we are off our bikes, we look past each other’s dirt covered faces and into sunken eyes. We are more of a team than when we started.
Florida, who would have known…