SJR2C - Deland to Debary Station

Submitted by mag on

New Blue Spring Trail segment of SJR2CWe set out to prove that a couple of casual, cautious, recreational bikers who do not like riding on high-speed roads can have a great, mostly-trail-riding adventure leaving from Deland. This should theoretically be easy! Deland and Debary are near an important intersection that forms a hub from the Great Florida Regional Trail Network. Deland is just a few miles east of the St Johns River to Sea Loop (SJR2C) and at Debary the SJR2C joins the Coast-To-Coast Connector to continue east to Titusville. At Debary the SJR2C turns North toward Palatka and the C-2-C turns South to join with major trails in its journey west to the Gulf. In fact, Debary is one of the few places 4 Regional Connectors meet - the St Johns River to Sea, the Coast to Coast Connector, the East Coast Greenway alternate route, and the Heart of Florida Regional Connector. So it's vitally important that this get completed as soon as possible.

Our destination on Day 1 was Winter Garden, in the heart of the West Orange Trail - and in fact the West Orange Trail is the heart of Winter Garden. Sticking to trails as much as possible it's a distance of 55 miles. We don't travel fast and we stop a lot for photos, nav checks and breaks. We planned a loop route - the only section we overlapped outbound and home-bound is Deland to Debary Station so I'm only going to cover that section once. 

From Downtown Deland the best way to get to the Beresford Trail section of SJR2C there's no really great route, but the best route we've found is to take Minnesota west to Ridgewood. Ridgewood is a fairly quiet, slow road and it cross Highway 44 at a place where the traffic is slowed down to 40 and you have good visibility (unlike the dreaded crossing at Grande). Take Ridgewood south to where it comes to a T at Beresford. From there you have 2 options - bad and badder... going left (East) on Beresford and down Fatio is our least favorite because, although you aren't on Fatio long before cutting into Beresford Park, it's one of those roads with no shoulders, double yellow line, and hills - so motorists don't want to cross the lines to give you space - and they don't... it's quite dangerous. The other option is to go west to Alexander, which is a sand road and from the end there's a short path through the woods. I've included photos of this route even though I fear the wrong person might see it and close off this option... If this is you, think twice before you do it... sooner or later someone will get killed on the other route.

Bikes, Batteries, Baggage and Butts leave Amersterdam

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Arriving at SchipholThe Schiphol Amsterdam Airport is one of the busiest in the world. Yet flying out with a bicycle is routine and relatively simple. If you can carry all your baggage on your bicycle and you don’t have lithium batteries, it’s a simple matter of pedaling up to the terminal (bike path all the way), wheeling it into the airport through the huge revolving doors, using the huge elevators, purchasing a box, taking your bike apart and putting it in the box, and wheeling it to the departure check in area.

If, as in our case, you can’t carry all your baggage and you have lithium batteries, life gets a lot more complicated. We puzzled and theorized ad nauseum before coming up with a strategy. Being engineers and strong believers in Murphy Law+ (If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong and at the worst possible time” – in this case the worst time being any time that would conflict with our flight out at 3 pm Tuesday) eventually we did develop a systematic, low-risk but somewhat complicated process …. We call it our B4XAM System… which stands for getting our Baggage, Batteries, Bikes and Butts out of Amsterdam.  I may write it up in an article at some point, because it did work with no unexpected fees so I'm convinced it was the most economical way possible - but it was pretty arduous and would be very boring to anyone not involved in the same challenge.

Anyway, long story short, Bags, bikes and butts arrived home in South Haven at 1:30 am on the morning after we left Hoofddorp. (Batteries will come separately as hazardous cargo) Our dear neighbor Cheri had left us dinner and breakfast in a cooler at the back door.  That was a pleasant surprise!  Inside the house there were other, less pleasant surprises – gas turned off by the utility company due to a leak at the road so no heat, mice, spiders, and mold greeted us.  Took us a few days to pick up all the pieces, do all the cleanup, get over our jet lag and get life back on track but now all is good.     We are very happy to be back on US soil.       

Happy in Holland - Hoofddorp and Haarlem

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Happy in HollandWe were really happy to get back to Holland - it feels very comfortable and homey to us. What a joy to be back “home” in Holland. The weather is perfect, the people are friendly, bike trails everywhere, English spoken everywhere, the food and beer is great and you can actually order food whenever you want! We got a lovely little apartment from AirBNB in Hoofddorp. The only really sad thing was we missed connections with our Dutch friends due to an email mixup. 

Hoofddorp is not as charming as interesting as Haarlem, but it had many advantages. Near the airport, on the airport bus line, easy to park, unload and clean the car. And of course bike trails everywhere so no problem to get to Haarlem, the airport or anywhere else we wanted to go. The first thing we did after getting settled was return the car to the Sixt office near Amsterdam Central Station. (Sixt has places everywhere but only the Station location handles the cargo vans). After that we were free to go by bike wherever we needed to go – several lovely trips into Haarlem. We spent 2 afternoons at the beautiful waterfall restaurant on the lake.(Vork & Mes on the Haarlemmeerse). 

The village of Hoofddorp is lovely with a main bike trail leading directly from our place in Overbos to downtown, as well as the nearby shopping plaza. We spent a lovely and relaxing few days, but then it was time to start worry about getting all our gear and bikes back home… and this is a story in itself.

Cycling the Heart of Nature in the Champagne district

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Velovoie des Lacs On our way back to Holland we stopped 2 nights for one last cycling adventure in France - in the Champagne district near Troyes. We got a delightful little cabin on Lac D'Orient in Geraudo called Chalet au cœur de la nature. We have to admit this canal and the Velovoie des Lacs was a little anticlimactic after the fabulous canals of Burgundy, but the "chalet" was so perfect it more than made up for it. The Lac is a reservoir, so like all the reservoirs it was about 40 feet down. The canal is not a navigation canal, but just a water source for the Seine.

Cosne sur Loire and La Loire a Velo

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Stowing bikes in the castle cellar at CosneThe last canal we explored in the Burgundy region was the Loire Canal near the headwaters of the Loire just north of Nevers, on the west side of the Loire right over the western edge of Burgundy. This was the part of La Loire a Velo we missed last year and includes the famous wine regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume.

We stayed in a cute cottage "Gîte Vieux Château jardin suspendu" built right into the castle wall. It was very roomy and had a lovely little “hanging garden” terrace. From this base we explored the beautiful but crumbling towns of La Charite sur Loire and Pouilly Fume which are right along the river and easily accessible by bike. We also explored Sancerre which is a picturesque town high up on a mountain type and not accessible by normal cyclists. Times like these you are really happy to have a vehicle! We were also able to buy a case of their famous Sauvignon Blanc, which we couldn’t have done on bikes.

On our way north from Cosne we stopped at the Pont Canal in Briare, where the Briare Canal actually crosses the Loire to connect to the Loire Canal in a spectacular 19th century engineering feat.

The Nivernais Canal

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Dinner in the ChapelAfter Canal du Centre, we headed west, making a stop at Clamecy on the Nivernais Canal near the wild region of the Morvan. We stayed in the Auberge de la Chapelle, an inn built in a converted chapel. We had a really special dinner in the dining room which is the former chapel. We arrived early and spent the afternoon riding north on the beautiful wooded Nirvernais, which connects to the Seine. There were a lot of charter boats on the canal – and one right in the middle of the trail! They were also repairing the bridge that the boat struck.  Somebody's holiday gone wrong. 

Clamecy is a charming, very steep town whose main claim to fame is the fascinating history of the “floating forest”. In the 1500s Paris ran out of wood to burn, and turned to the ancient forests of the Morvan. Each spring a massive movement of logs flowed into Clamecy, where it was lashed into rafts which were guided down the river, arriving in Paris in time for the next winter. Each log was marked with a brand to secure payment. This odd industry thrived for more than 400 years only being replace by coal in the early 1900s.  In the morning we rode south on the canal, where there are lots of artifacts 

Canal du Centre (#2 of 4) and Voie de Vignes

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Cote D'Or Voie de VignesAs I said, we had 4 canals to explore in the Burgundy region: The Burgundy, the Centre, the Nivernais and the Loire. In the Burgundy region we got the full benefit of having a vehicle - we would never have been able to explore so much of this vast incredible area with only bikes and trains. 

So after Vandenesse, we headed south to get a good look at the Canal du Centre and do some more wine tasting. The weather finally broke and we are back to sunshine and warm-enough days.  We got a great camping cabin at Camping des Sources in Santenay and this formed a perfect base for exploration of the area.  Santanay is one of the prettiest towns anywhere - with flower-lined stone bridges and a huge square with a fountain and right on the interesction of the Voie de Vigne (Vineyard bike bourte) and the Canal du Centre.  

From our base in Santenay we could ride out in every direction - first southeast past Chagny, then the next day North on the Cote D' Cote D'Or Voie de Vignes Trail to Beune where we enjoyed a great lunch and another wine tasting, then south west past xxxx until the trail petered out, then west on an old railtrail up through the vineyards to Nolay.  

Especially on the trail to Changy, again the incredible engineering comes in focus.  Here the canal is high up on the mountain top, passing over deep valleys, rivers, the railroad tracks on its way southeast to meet the Saone and eventually to fulfill the great feat of  connecting the Loire to the Rhone.  The photos can't adequately show how high it really is, because you can't get far enough back to get both the canal and features far below in the same photo.  

Cote D'Or Voie de VignesThe day riding up the Cote D'Or Voie de Vignes trail into Beaune for lunch and another wine tasting was another of our favorites. 

More Adventures on the Burgundy Canal and Chateau Neuf

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Chateau Neuf dominates the landscapeOne of the features that makes this section of the Burgundy Canal so special is the towering image of Chateau Neuf - a fairy-tale castle and town on a spectacular rising crag that dominates the landscape. (Actually the real 1000-year history reads more like a horror story than a fairy tale, with murder, burning at stake, torture and betrayal, but we are sticking with the fairy-tale.) We had planned to spend a night up there but the hotel canceled our reservation at the last minute... but we did manage to make the climb up there several times (NOT by bike!) and got some good photos and a nice lunch (not as good at R. de L'Auxois though). The town and the castle are truly one of the historic treasures of France, and if we do return to the area we will try again to spend a night up there if only to feel the 1000 year-old ghostly echos that only come out at night.

Further adventures of the Sissy Pants Riders on the Burgundy Canal

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Tunnel Entrance of Canal du BourgogneOur iron-butt mountainbiker friends think people who prefer improved trails are "Sissy Pants Riders".... maybe we should change our domain name to! We loved the beautiful, flat, interesting Burgundy Canal trail so much we spent 6 days here - dodging the rain, stopping for photos every 5 minutes, talking to folks on the canal boats (they were the only English speakers around), and happily making our way from one restaurant or wine stop to the next. It's hard to imagine a more idyllic place for us Sissy Pants types.

A highlight of the visit and high point of the Burgundy canal (literally) is Pouilly en Auxois (pwee nokes to us English speaker barbarians) where the canal was forced underground into a tunnel for over 2 miles! The trail runs right along the top of the tunnel, with "wells" for air circulation the only indication of what's going on below. The tunnel is the exact size of the canal boats, so those crazy enough to brave the tunnel are surrounded by mossy black walls the entire slow way through. Many of the tour boats start on the East (Dijon) end of the tunnel because the passage not everyone's idea of a good time.

The Picturesque Burgundy Canal - #1 of 4 we explored.

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Dinner on the porch at Lac Du Panthier ... cold but sunnyThe thing that drew us to the Burgundy region of France was not the wines but the canals! The wine was just a nice lagniappe. Burgundy is notable as the region where the watersheds for the three great rivers of France - the Seine, the Loire and the Rhone - all come within digging range of each other. Since these three rivers link the great open waters (the Atlantic, the Med, the North Sea), connecting them was a no-brainer and the French responded to this rare situation by building an incredible system of interlinked canals that tied all the rivers together so that cargo could get from virtually anywhere in France to virtually anywhere else by water. And where there are canals, there are trails - hence the emergence of Burgundy as one of the premier cycling regions of France.  

The namesake and still the most picturesque of the canals is the Burgundy Canal (Canal de Bourgogne) that links the Nivernais (which connects to the Seine) with the Saone (which connects to the Rhone which leads to the Med and to north-bound canals that connect to the Rhine) by means of a spectacular 2 mile long tunnel at Pouilly en Auxois.   There is a lovely cycle train running the entire length of the canal, so this was our first destination.  We drove to the town of Vandenesse - a charming village near the great turn where the canal makes a sharp turn to follow the Ouche River which runs North to  Dijon.  We were lucky to get a very comfortable camping cabin at Lac Du Panthier - one of the great reservoirs that feed the canals.  These cabins are always fully booked until mid-september when the Europeans go back to work,  so this is a great time to explore this area. We were also lucky to be in a comfy cabin because the sunny weather that had blessed the first 6 weeks of our tour, had finally deserted us, testing our optimism with nearly a week of dreary rain.

We were camped right on the edge of the vast Lac du Panthier, one of the massive reservoirs constructed in the mid-1800s to feed the canals.  Standing on the edge feels like looking down into the pyramids turned inside out.  All the great reservoirs are down about 40 feet or more... we don't know if this is due to chronic water shortage or just a seasonal phenomenonl. 

Lock on the Burgundy CanalBut even so, the sun usually showed its face for a few hours each day and since we were almost right on the trail, we were able to dash out and take full advantage of the break in weather.  This is by far the prettiest, most charming and most interesting of the Burgundy canals.  The locks are about one per km, very narrow and deep and lovingly maintained.  Although now the lock tenders cover several locks and run between them on motorcycles, many of the lockhouses are still is use as homes, restaurants or gites (holiday rentals).  If you can only do one segment of the Canals of France, the section between Pouilly en Auxois (we called it PweeNoekswah which is as close as we can get to the French Pronunciation) and Dijon is the one to visit.

Burg Wildenstein - Reality, myth, legend and imagination

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Burg Wildenstein Today was really a highlight of the whole adventure and reminded us of the reason we embark on these crazy adventures on our own. You would never have a day like this on a tour.  The fortress castle of Burg Wildenstein is a world class adventure all its own. 

We can say "We took our bikes up to Burg Wildenstein" - and it's true - we did take our bikes


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