ECBT – Route Retrospective

Leg 1 – Panama City Beach, FL to Destin, FL
Planned: here
Actual: here
Blog/photos: here

We rode the last 30 miles of this route in pretty serious rain so my memory of it is colored a bit. However, doing the best I can to separate the route from the day’s experience, this was a very nice route. There were some beautiful communities along the way with very nice homes that were a pleasure for me to view. I don’t recall all that much of a coastline view that day, but it could have been because I was hunkered down much of the day. There is plenty of retail on this route so many places to stop for breaks or lunch. Overall, I wouldn’t change anything about this route.

Leg 2 – Destin, FL to Pensacola, FL
Planned: here
Actual: here
Blog/photos: here

This was a really nice route overall even though it didn’t have beach views most of the way. The beaches are out on Santa Rosa Island, but about half of that island is Air Force so you cannot ride the length of it. You can cross at Navarre and ride down to Pensacola Beach, which I’ve ridden several times before. That adds a few miles, but would give more beach views. We opted to take the more direct route and it was fine.

The one thing that I really didn’t like about this route is crossing the bridge from Okaloosa Island into Fort Walton. There are no shoulders unless you consider a few inches a shoulder. There is a sidewalk, but it is raised about 10 inches off the roadway. That leaves you a choice of taking the lane on a very busy bridge or riding up on a raised sidewalk that would surely be quite a spill into the roadway should you venture off the edge. Unfortunately, a detour would go way north around Eglin Air Force Base.

Bridge from Okaloosa to Fort Walton

Bridge from Okaloosa to Fort Walton

The bridge across Pensacola Bay is fine; it has very wide shoulders. The route through the west side of Pensacola goes through a run down area. There are bike lanes most of the way, but it is a bit depressing. This is always the route suggested when we travel from Gulf Shores or Orange Beach over to the NAS Museum so I don’t really know what the alternative might be. I might look for one next time.

Overall, I think this was a good route with the exceptions noted above.

Leg 3 – Pensacola, FL to Dauphin Island, AL
Planned: here
Actual: here
Blog/photos: here

I don’t have much to say about this route. I’ve been vacationing in Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Pensacola Beach for the last 25 years so I know every inch of these roads. These are great roads for cycling. There isn’t much retail on the road to Fort Morgan, but that’s not much of an issue if you stop in Gulf Shores and fuel up on what you need for the 22 miles out. (There are actually a few convenience stores along the way.) I wouldn’t change anything about this route.

Leg 4 – Dauphin Island, AL to Gautier, MS
Planned: here
Actual: here
Blog/photos: here

I was really worried about this route as it went inland through areas I know nothing about. It turned out to be just fine. The causeway/bridge to the mainland from Dauphin Island was no trouble other than a strong crosswind. Most of the route was through remote areas with little retail, but there was the occasional convenience store to support a break and we hit Pascagoula in time for lunch. I wouldn’t change anything about this route.

Leg 5 – Gautier, MS to Waveland, MS
Planned: here
Actual: here
Blog/photos: here

Along with leg 3, this was my favorite. This was a coast/beach ride almost all the way. I posted all of my planned routes on Bike Forums and one of the two comments from an experienced cycle tourist was that he didn’t like the section of highway 90 between Biloxi and Gulfport. I think I know what he was talking about; this is a two lane highway with no shoulders, a divider on the left and a raised curb on the right. If traffic was heavy, this would normally be a high-pucker-factor situation. We experienced traffic, but it was all respectful and gave us plenty of room. I had prepared an alternate route through that area, but we were perfectly comfortable.

There is a multi-use path (or boardwalk) for a great deal of this route. Much of the concrete looked new so I’d be willing to bet that the other cyclist didn’t have that option when he went through. We rode on that in a couple of areas; mostly because it was there. However, the seams in the concrete got on my nerves and since I was comfortable on the road, I preferred riding on Highway 90. I wouldn’t change anything about this route.

Leg 6 – Waveland, MS to New Orleans, LA
Planned: here
Actual: here
Blog/photos: here

There were several things that I did not like about this route. First of all, our route detoured onto Old Lower Bay Road that cut out a horseshoe bend on Lower Bay Road. Well, Old Lower Bay Road should no longer be called a road; it was a disaster. I’m not sure if Google Maps suggested that or if I saw it and detoured to save a little mileage, but I would never do that again.

Shortcut onto Old Lower Bay Road

Shortcut onto Old Lower Bay Road

Second, Highway 90 or Chef Monteur Highway is one of the most desolate places I’ve ever ridden. We were riding in the rain at 52F (without proper attire for that weather) so that probably affected my attitued, but I just hated riding through such a rundown area; it’s depressing. This is mostly two-lane highway at high speeds. There is a wide shoulder for most of it, but it is covered in a lot of debris. I ended up flatting 34 miles into this route and I’m really not surprised.

Third, this was the second suggestion given to me on Bike Forums. The more experienced cycle tourist said if he ever did it again, he would ride further north into Slidell and then come down the bridge over Lake Ponchartrain. I should have asked him why, but I think I know why. At least, I now see a valid reason for taking his advice. On his suggestion, I had prepared an alternate routing, but when we got to the crossroads where we needed to turn off for Slidell, we were just wet and cold and just wanted to keep on the most direct route. The problem is that this brings you into New Orleans through a horrible part of town. Not only that, you cross the river on a scary bridge. If I ever do this again, I will absolutely take his advice and go through Slidell. Lesson learned.

Overall
Two more thoughts on the overall itinerary or plan.

First, I wish we had one or two down days to relax at one of the beaches; Destin, Pensacola Beach, Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, Biloxi, or Pass Christian. An extra day without a fixed schedule would have given us options in the event of bad weather. Since we had a fixed schedule, we had no option other than to ride regardless of the weather.

Second, some of these state parks were very remote or, at least, were not near nice retail. I guess I’m a bit of a city-boy, but I prefer to end the day with a cold beer and a decent restaurant when on vacation. I’m not sure what the options might have been, but I might look for camping options in more populated areas next time.

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