The Wandering Pedaler

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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Do-do-do, Dora: Or why I rode the Mount Dora 43rd Annual Bicycle Festival

by Stephen Krill

We live in a region with many cycling options — from daily commuting to group rides and multi-day events. Something for everybody. We also live in a region with a vast transportation system that will take you anywhere. With rides earlier this year in New Jersey, California and Pennsylvania and the 2013 RAGBRAI becoming a distant memory, I wanted to try something new, something different.

The same year I did RAGBRAI, my college roommate rode the Mount Dora Bicycle Festival (MDBF). Started in 1975, this multi-day event is Florida's oldest and largest (about 1,500 cyclists). He told me MDBF offered great routes, good support and a lot of memories. I jumped at the chance to do fall cycling in Florida.

Sponsored by TREK, 2017 MDBF offered 16 different routes over four days, including a full century and the “Famous Battle of Buckhill.” All of the routes start and end in the charming town of Mount Dora and wind through beautiful Florida countryside, Ocala National Forest and Emerelda Marsh. The “Famous Battle of Buckhill” follows a former State cycling championship route (55 miles) with 1,835 feet of climbing, including summiting Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest point in Florida.

Off the bike, the $190 registration fee gave riders SAG support, food, music (The Wailers) and a Hincapie jersey. Optional activities (for an additional charge) included the Wine Walk in downtown Mount Dora.

With Thursday (day 1) set for TREK appreciate day and only a single, 16-mile ride, I chose to arrive afterward. It down poured when I got to Mount Dora, and the weather played a role throughout my four days in Florida.

Friday (day 2) started dry with five rides, including the Bakery Ride (56 miles) and the Bakery Ride Extension (100 miles). The bakery is an authentic German bakery, Yalaha Bakery, which MDBF advertises as a well-earned "carb-happy destination." I chose the Bakery Ride and added 6 more miles to complete a metric century. (By the way, the pretzel sticks were amazing!) No rain during the day. At night though, a different story, with Central Florida's weather being affected by Hurricane Nate.

Speaking of hurricanes, in 2016, Hurricane Matthew forced the cancellation of MDBF. This year, while we saw a lot of road-side debris (mostly branches) and in some places spot flooding caused by Hurricane Irma, Central Floridians really came together to survive the storm and to quickly put their lives back on track.

Saturday (day 3) brought another five rides, including the Countryside Century and the Swamp Metric. Riders completing both full centuries earned a "back-to-back" century medal for their efforts. I chose the full century, figuring without the hills of Virginia and Maryland, I could easily get this one done and still find myself with enough energy to enjoy the afternoon beer garden and evening reggae concert. With mostly flat roads, B riders kept a pace of about 26-28 mph. No matter the incline, many riders struggled to get up hills. With rain in the forecast, we expected to get wet. Fortunately, and once again, the down pours waited until the evening. Probably nothing better than listening and dancing to reggae than during a thunderstorm. 

Sunday (day 4) ended with the final five rides, including the "Famous Battle of Buckhill" (55 miles). Say what you will about Florida being flat. My Garmin recorded 1,800+ feet of climbing, and our ride leaders shared three of the hills were steeper than 14 percent. While we got to the starting line in another Florida down pour, for the ride, the weather stayed dry. The humidity, however, went through the roof.

I met riders from throughout the southeastern U.S., as well as Chicago and Germany. A number of times when I spoke of the Pedalers, people knew the Club and a handful of riders shared fond memories of riding with us. A few of them said they might do the 2018 Back Roads Century (BRC).

I left Florida with 217 additional miles, several new friends and a lot of fond memories...and a three-hour delay from the Orlando airport — wait for it — because of thundershowers.

MDBF is slightly smaller than BRC with regard to number of riders. Because the Festival is deeply intertwined with the City of Mount Dora (with the Chamber of Commerce serving as the host), MDBF gets a huge amount of community support and offers many activities in and around the town. The Chamber of Commerce also actively promotes the Festival all year round. While no tomato sandwiches at MDBF, it's a well-organized, well-supported event and something definitely worth adding to your bucket list.

Just bring an umbrella.


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