Half way through our bikepack of the Ocala National Forest I was blown away by the terrain. As we made our way up the third long soft sandy climb, an idea was born. The idea was to invite others to ride the route we were discovering. There wasn’t much of a route plan that day. I spent hours looking at Google satellite maps, using a measuring tool, calculating how far it would be between turns as guidance. Combined with an old Ocala Forest map, we set out with a firm seat of the pants plan: “Hey, check this out, it says overlook,” and “look here, Silver Glenn.” The planning of that first bikepacking trip that we did to Silver Glen and Santos was long before I knew how to make custom GPX files, before I even knew that was a possibility. That trip that started that cold icy morning helped establish parts of the routes that make up the coast to coast ride that goes on today. Bikepacking the Cross FloridaWhen the four of us rolled out, the destination was north. The goal, to find the banks of Lake George, Flordia. It looked so big on the map that I wanted to see what all that water would look like from the shoreline. We never made it to the banks, but the side trip to Silver Glen for stocks and supplies revealed a lagoon with crisp cool blue water. It was so inviting for an afternoon dip, such an emerald oasis in the middle of an enormous pine scrub forest. My buddy Curt Refner shot me a link about the historic Fort Gates ferry and how it was still operating. I don’t think even a week went by before I had a GPX file drawn up and we met up in the heart of the Ocala National Forest. I remember Edith (my girlfriend) and I zooming at high speeds down old forest road 559,  explaining to her that she had to stay on the gas to pedal up these sandy climbs or risk getting the truck stuck. Curt and I spent the day pedaling north and east, till we passed thru salt springs and crossed over into Fort Gates. We then navigated the forest roads in Crescent City, and traversed the Lake George State forest, North to South. Unbeknownst to us that day, we were blazing what would become a key element of the East to West Route. Bikepacking the Cross Florida The key to unlocking the connection of Lake Monroe to Deleon and Lake George State Forest did not come without difficulty. Edward (Edith’s Son) and I took countless voyages into the unknown. Sometimes ending up knee deep in sugar sand service roads and flooded out forest trails. We found old abandoned rail beds with train tracks going nowhere. Climbed over creeks handing bikes across that were too deep to wade through. We called it steamboating when we had to traverse nearly waist deep flooded out double tracks. But eventually we found the connection to the Naked Indian Loop I had been riding for years, and unlocked the final connector for the East to West Mountain Bike Route.Bikepacking the Cross Florida I thought I was almost done with the route. Then Edith suggested that I add Chuck Lennon, I mean, how could a visit to Deleon be complete without riding the gnarliest trail in the area, a virtual play ground of buffed out flowy trail. I knew there was a “locals only” back entrance that connected perfectly to railroad service bed, that linked up lovely to Lake Woodruff Wildlife Refuge and eliminated 8 miles of pavement while traversing a preserve in the process. The whole evolution of the route seemed serendipitous as the pieces of the puzzle came together. I have become a pro at connecting green spaces to green spaces. Finding the combination of existing trails and abandoned forgotten corridors and seamlessly stringing them together, to create a route that represents Florida backcountry and the diversity it offers. Bikepacking the Cross Florida Eventually my vision evolved into what it is today. A rider can enter the state at Georgia, and travel to Inglis, or to New Smyrna or to Flamingo, or Big Cypress, or West Palm, or Venice or almost anywhere in Florida, and follow a mostly off road route to do it. They can have the best in Florida Backcountry experience and still cover the miles needed to get from point A to point B. The Cross Florida Individual Time Trial was born out of the tradition of the first bikepack that we did. Where we set out on a cold morning, to ride across Florida, from forest to forest, following as much dirt as we could. To honor that first ride we now gather on a common day, at a common time, and strap a bunch of stuff to our bikes.   Bikepacking the Cross Florida Join in the fun and watch as riders go from East To West Starting, November 15th at 5am http://trackleaders.com/cfitt14 Charlie Kemp is taking on the challenge of the north to south route, The Florida Divide: Fargo to Flamingo, Starting on November 19th.  An avid outdoorsman, Charlie has been helping me scout key parts of the route and joined me on the initial expedition I did earlier this year. Bikepacking the Cross Florida Follow him here http://trackleaders.com/floridadivide14 , he will hopefully set a good benchmark for others to take on the route, February 28th 2015.     Karlos Rodriguez Bernart is The Naked Indian, an Ultra Endurance Racer and Long distance off road Tourist.   He is also the owner and operator of Singletrack Samurai productions and founder of the Cross Florida Mountain Bike Route.  Experience Florida Backcountry at singletracksamurai.com

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