The air is usually cool at this time of the morning. The wind zips past me as my bike glides over the pavement. On a good day, I’ll hit 20mph on the flats. Today is a good day.
As I make the turn off Baseline Road to CR 314, I know that I’ll need to break this stride at some point soon. You see, when I hit the Sharpes Ferry Bridge that links the pavement on either side of the Ocklawaha River, the steel squares that make up the 237-foot span aren’t exactly cyclist-friendly. With narrow tires that have virtually no tread, the slightest hint of moisture would act as a glass sheet and a wipeout would be almost certain. I did a charity ride in Savannah where a rider broke his leg trying to cross a similar span.
So I’ll be careful. I’d rather unclip my shoes, walk my all-carbon Giant over the grates, and add an extra few minutes to my trip each way. I’ve actually come to enjoy that part of my ride, a few stolen moments when I can notice the fishermen below, the birds overhead, and an occasional kayaker gliding on the water. I can usually hear my heartbeat, too. I always take an extra sip from my water bottle.
I’ve also heard many cars pass over this bridge in the years this route has been part of my normal training routine. No matter how large the vehicle, the bridge creaks and moans under its weight. When I’m on the span as the car passes—and only one can squeeze by at a time—the bridge drops a few inches to accommodate the weight. Yes, that clacking sound is a soothing refrain.
And then I’m soon back at my pace, spinning the miles between me, Sharpes Ferry, and my ultimate destination. As you can probably tell, I’m fond of this particular old bridge.
I’ve wanted Ocala Style to cover Sharpes Ferry Bridge as a story for a while now, but something would always come up and take my attention away from this important topic. And then I’d get a press release saying it would be closed for a few days for “routine maintenance” or see a newspaper article that would bemoan its terrible safety record. I assigned the piece to Associate Editor Karin Fabry-Cushenbery and she got to work tracking down the inspection reports and getting those involved to return her calls.
And then freelance photographer Lisa Crigar turned in a batch of spec photos to Art Director Trevor Byrne and I knew we had something special on our hands. Lisa lives near the bridge and had taken a series of poignant shots, most sepia-toned, many with daughter Elise as a model. Dozens of photos showed the weathered bolts, braces, and grates I’d rolled over on those morning bike rides. Her shots—oddly beautiful and timeless—would be the perfect accompaniment to Karin’s well-researched feature. Add to that an outstanding layout by designer Mitch Carnes and this is a story that I’m very proud to showcase in the pages to follow.
But it gets better. As we were working on the Sharpes Ferry Bridge story (most of our features take months to write, photograph, and design), a replacement was finally green-lighted, partially funded using federal stimulus dollars. We show you a sneak peak in the sidebar.
Fast forward one more year…
My bike will now zoom over the Ocklawaha at a full 20mph, no unclipping necessary, the water below just a momentary blur. I will admit one thing, though. I already miss that sound.
All my best,
The Ocala Style Top 10 with Dean Blinkhorn, the first Friday of each month at 8am on BIG 92.9 with Bill Barr.
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