Thursday, February 1, 2024

Mines Roads Motorcycle Ride: January 2024

When you’re riding through the Mines roads, the chemical smells will hit you without warning.  It smells like plant food and tar…the scents of mining activity in the middle of Central Florida’s Mosaic mine operations.  One of the things you’re smelling is the creosote-soaked railroad ties that the mines use on their railroad tracks.  And you’ll see many railroad crossings sprinkled throughout that area as the trains transport concentrated phosphate and potash from the 500 foot gypstacks.  It looks like the surface of the moon up on top, where the big trucks go to pick up load after load of dusty gold.  The white dust coats everything.  On the rim high above, backhoes endlessly claw through toxic byproducts of the fertilizer production, which are slightly radioactive. Not enough to hurt you, though, unless you breathe in nothing but phosphate dust for several decades.

Skirting the narrow, twisting roads are fields of flowers and bodies of water; ponds big enough to be lakes.  And they’re everywhere.  The aromas from nearby orange groves and tall grass finally overpower the odors from the mining activity you’ve transited and you’re back riding through some fine East Tampa country backroads.  

That’s the experience you’ll get from riding the Mines Roads ride. And that’s what my buddy Lee wanted to see.  So on the last day of January 2024, we left Ruskin/Sun City Center and headed due east on the 674 for some of my favorite local riding.  

I’d ridden the entire area many times, of course, but I always managed to eke out another new road, so I was keeping my eyes peeled.  

We took Bethlehem Road from the 674 and connected to Highway 37.  Just a mile later we turned east on the 630 and then went north on Old Hwy 37 to Bradley Junction.  It was there, in the middle of town—if Bradley Junction can be called a town—that we stopped so I could air up my rear tire.  My BMW’s overbearing bike management system had been nagging me about slightly low air pressure, so I relented and broke out my air compressor. And while it hummed along, I explained the upcoming route to Lee.  

Leaving there, Old Hwy 37 becomes Agricola Mine Road…the first of the mines roads we’d be riding today.  

Agricola Road twisted and turned between big ponds, sometimes forcing us to slow down for the 90 degree turns.  We passed a turnoff for Hooker’s Pariarie Road and I mentally noted a need for a future visit to that yet-unexplored route. 

We went north on Hwy 555, then doubled back on Hwy 640 going west toward Bonnie Mines Road…our second mines road of the day.  

It was a nice, winding road that passed more mining activity and led to Hwy 60. 

Reaching the town of Bartow, we stopped into one of my fave places, El Ranchito Jalisco, for some decent Mexican chow.  It was 51 degrees when we met up that morning; it was now in the low 70’s so we dropped our sweaters…and Lee even turned off his Bluetooth electric socks.  🫢

Leaving Bartow, we found South Floral Avenue and that soon became Noralyn Mine Road….our third and final mine road of the day.  That led us back to Hwy 640 and Hwy 555. The latter dead-ended into Old Brewster Road which then blended into District Line Road…a 7-mile stretch of smooth dirt.  We found our way onto Hwy 664 then rode into the town of Bowling Green off of Hwy 17.  Having already ate lunch, I pulled into the parking lot of Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ, a favorite of mine, and took a quick break.  The smoke from pork and brisket permeated the air and made me think a second lunch was in order! It was starting to get a bit warm so we got back on the road.  

Hopping back on Hwy 17 for 1 block, we turned onto Doc Coil Road until it dead-ended at Hwy 663.   Trying my best to stay off of main roads, we hung a right on Ollie Roberts Road until it became John Gill Road…and that took us to Hwy 62.  

From Hwy 62, we had a few options on how to get back. We both had recently ridden the Tail of the Gecko, so we continued toward Parrish to the 579/Saffold Road, a cool little route that ends at the fire station in Wimauma.  

We rode together until I turned off in Ruskin and Lee continued north on the 75.  Truly, it was a great day of riding.