Woodpecker Trail

I can always count on John to find new trails to hike or ride. Last week he suggested we ride the Woodpecker Trail in White Springs. That meant setting the alarm clock for 6:00 (during the first week of school), but we had a two hour drive ahead of us and didn’t want to ride in the heat of the day.

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Since Woodpecker Trail is only seven miles round trip, we decided to not only ride, but to also hike to Big Shoals, Florida’s largest whitewater rapids.

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It’s an easy mile to the shoals, but since we were the first on the trail, we had the pleasure of breaking through all of the spider webs. I looked like a crazy Ninja chopping my way down the path trying to avoid having webs across my face. And after a short while, John took the lead and handled the webs and spiders blocking the way.

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The overlook provided a good view of the Class III whitewater. But of course, we had to climb down the rocks to get a closer view. image

The first time we were on this part of the Suwannee River was in the early 1980s…in a canoe. We watched two canoes attempt to manuever through the rapids unsuccessfully, but that didn’t prevent us from making our own attempt. I’m pleased to say we paddled through without any difficulty and plucked the items from the overturned canoes out of the river tossing them on the bank so they could be retrieved by their owners once they were back on the water.

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When we completed the hike and returned to our car, we unloaded the bikes and started down the paved trail.

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Within the first couple hundred feet, we found the trail blocked by a tree upended in a recent storm, but John wouldn’t let me use that as an excuse to call it a day.

 

The 3.4 mile Woodpecker Trail connects the Big Shoals and the Little Shoals through a mostly wooded path with bridges crossing tributaries of the Suwannee.

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Big Shoals State Park offers over 28 miles of wooded trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and birding, and for those interested in water, there’s a canoe launch and plenty of opportunities for fishing.

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However, be aware that those who own the property adjacent to the park don’t take lightly to trespassers.

It’s a VanFleet Kind of Day

It’s been hard to get motivated to go for a bike ride in the heat of the summer, but when we decided it was time for a twenty mile ride, I knew immediately I wanted to ride the Van Fleet Trail in Mable. It’s a trail I described as flat, straight and shady after riding it the first time a couple of years ago, and those qualities make it possible to not only survive, but to enjoy a summer ride.

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We didn’t start as early as we should to avoid the heat, but we were riding by 8:45 on a beautiful sunny morning.

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During our drive to Mable, we heard a story on NPR about the efforts of Rangers at our National Parks trying to insure that park visitors are able to enjoy the natural sounds as well as the beauty of the landscape and wildlife. Despite the location of the trailhead only a couple hundred yards off SR 50, the sounds of nature were quite evident on the Van Fleet trail. The chirping of insects, singing of birds and bellowing of alligators were just a few of the sounds piercing the otherwise silence of the ride.

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And what a contrast of wildlife – a Pygmy Rattler and a Magnolia bloom.

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As a bonus, I burned 600 calories in less than two hours. It really was a Van Fleet kind of day.

Happy (Retirement) Anniversary

It’s hard to believe that one year ago today, marked the beginning of a new chapter in our lives called Retirement.

In the course of a year, our bags have been packed as we’ve traveled like never before. In addition to our numerous, traditional day trips, we’ve crisscrossed the continent and got our feet wet in Europe. Looking back, it’s been a wonderful year.

Omaha: College World Series

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Northwest Coast: Portland, Seattle, Vancouver

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Jacksonville: family weekend

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Miami: first week of school celebration

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Fall toad trip: stops in Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont

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Birmingham: 90th birthday celebration

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Miami: college baseball opening

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South Florida: National Parks & Keys

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Netherlands: bike tour

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Iceland: camping

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Today, as we begin year two, we fly to Buffalo for another Canadian adventure. First, Niagara Falls and then off to Toronto.

We’ll be keeping our bags packed and go wherever life takes us.

 

The Country of Bicycles

Known for tulips…and windmills…and wooden shoes…and ice skating…and artists referred to as the Dutch masters, the Netherlands is also known for bicycles. With over 30% (in Amsterdam closer to 40%) of residents using bikes as their primary mode of transportation, you can see why the Netherlands could easily be called the Country of Bicycles. This was a major factor in selecting a bike tour as the way to see the Dutch countryside.

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Of course when relying on a bicycle for transportation, modifications are necessary for carrying groceries, school books or other items.

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Even DHL makes deliveries by bike.

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It’s amazing to see the adaptations made for children. From seats with windshields to simple metal racks.

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Even fancy wheelbarrow type carriers with seat belts. But no Dutch cyclists wear helmets, not even children. The only riders with helmets are those on bike tours, an insurance requirement, and probably a good way to recognize tourists who may not be familiar with the rules of the road.

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Parking garages house thousands upon thousands of bikes in cities like Amsterdam where nearly a half million cyclists ride two million kilometers per day according to the city’s statistics. Even university housing includes multiple levels of parking for student bikes.

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Strict traffic laws, classes on bike safety in the schools, as well as driving courses that stress bike awareness for those in cars keep the streets safe. And according to Denise, one of our tour guides, if a car and a bicycle are involved in an accident, the driver of the car is at fault. Attentive drivers are a must.

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As we conclude National Bicycle Month, I’m sure the Dutch would encourage us to follow their example and make every month Bike Month.

Wear your life jacket to work?

You may know that May is Bike Month and yesterday was National Bike to Work Day, but did you know it was also Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day?

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Both John and I have participated in Ride Your Bike to Work Day. May really is the perfect time of year to leave the car behind and pedal to work. But since we’ve both retired, there was no work location to which we could ride this year, so instead we rode the trails at the Greenway for a little exercise.

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On our way home from our ride, I heard a story on the radio about Friday being Wear Your Life Jacket to Work Day. That’s a new one for me, but I guess it makes sense to draw attention to the importance of boat safety and wearing life jackets with summer approaching. The event kicked off National Safe Boating Week which begins today and runs through May 27th.

I can’t say that I saw anyone wearing life jackets while I was out and about yesterday, but maybe next year we’ll go for a bike ride wearing life jackets. That should turn a few heads.

And regardless if you’re riding bikes or boating, be safe!

If you wore a life jacket to work yesterday or know someone who did, I’d love to hear about the reaction.

Windmill Wednesday

While it’s hard to beat the tulips and beautiful flowers throughout the countryside in the Netherlands, the windmills come in a close second. And of course, biking to a windmill was always a great excuse for a picture taking break.

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Last weekend was National Mill Day in the Netherlands, an annual event held on the second weekend of May. Nine hundred fifty windmills and watermills opened their doors so visitors could get a close up look at these iconic symbols of Holland.

For centuries, mills have played an important role in reclaiming land in the country pumping water out of lowlands to rivers so the land could be used for farming.  They also were used to process raw materials and manufacture products. image

Today you can see modern windmills used for harvesting wind energy next to the centuries old mills the country is famous for.

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We learned that the positioning of the stopped arms were used by millers to send messages. One position indicated the miller was away for a short time while another position let neighbors know he was away for a longer period. They also were used to announce the birth of a child or a death in the family.

Near Amsterdam, the Molen van Sloten is a poldermill and museum which provides guided tours with explanations of how the windmill moves thousands of gallons of water per minute. We were lucky enough to be there when the mill’s arms were moving.

Tulips may take top billing, but the countryside dotted with windmills like those seen in the paintings of Rembrandt are pretty spectacular.

Biking Through the Country of Tulips

A trip to Europe had been on our calendar for the Spring of 2016, but we’d been debating exactly where we wanted to go for months. Then in August, we decided that a bike tour through the Netherlands would be the perfect way to visit, and after some research, we booked a trip with Van Gogh Tours for April.

For months I built my endurance for six days of riding, and then on April 24 we joined twelve other riders and Emma and Denise, our guides, in Leiden for over 200km on the bike.

So what does a bike tour in Holland look like?

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Day 1: We met and toured Leiden (on foot, not bike) before moving on to Noordwijkerhout (I have no idea how to say that!) where we checked in to our hotel and got fitted for our bikes and then rode out to the beach along the North Sea to test out our equipment.

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Day 2: On the bikes by 8:30, we rode 9km to the world famous Keukenhof Gardens with plenty of time to enjoy the gardens.

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Another 9km through tulip fields to a restaurant for lunch, and finally a 14km ride back to our hotel. (Did I mention it was 45° and raining? Oh well, not much we can do about that.)

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Day 3: A morning ride of 17km through the dunes concluding with a coffee stop.

Then another 15km to The Hague where we ate Dutch pancakes for lunch with a final ride of 10km to our hotel in Delph after a stop at a Delph pottery shop.

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Day 4: We were in Delph for King’s Day, a national holiday and celebration of the King’s birthday. Orange was the color of the day and the celebration included all day concerts in the city square as well as a city wide “yard sale”. Tables and blankets throughout the city filled with items for sale.

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There was also an optional ride of 35km through the Dutch countryside, but I decided to opt out and instead walked around Delph watching the locals celebrate.

Day 5: I’m glad I skipped the previous day’s ride since we rode 60km on day 5. We started with a 20km ride through agricultural lands and an area of windmills before stopping for lunch in Rottemeren.

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The second leg of 17km ended with a stop for coffee and sweets and then the final leg ended in Noorden at our hotel where we spent the final two nights overlooking a lake.

Day 6: The final day of riding turned out to be the windiest day (but also the sunniest) of a very windy week. After riding 26km to the day’s lunch stop, half of the riders opted for a shorter return trip of only 6km, instead of the planned route of 20km. John and I were among the riders who took the shorter ride since we were both battling congestion after a week of riding in rain, sleet, hail and wind, with no day reaching 50°. No, this is not typical April weather in the Netherlands. The week prior to our tour it was in the 60s and sunny and the week after, the temperature reached the 70s on several days, and again it was sunny. We were just unlucky in the weather department.

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I can’t think of a better way to see The Netherlands than by bicycle since this is a country where everyone rides, and I can’t think of a better time to visit than in April when the tulips are at their peak, but I’d like to enjoy their typical mild spring weather instead of the crazy extremes we rode in for a week. Fortunately, our group took the wild weather in stride, with no complaints, and we’ll certainly have tales to tell about our bike tour in the country of tulips.

 

 

Triathlon Florida Keys Style

Ever since we completed the Tamiami Triathlon, an event sponsored by Everglades National Park to encourage visitors to enjoy hiking, bike riding and kayaking in the Everglades, we’ve found more ways to create our own versions of triathlon for non-athletes. No competition or entry fee or awards, just our own plan to bike, hike and paddle.

We didn’t set out to do a freestyle triathlon in the Keys but after kayaking, snorkeling and then hiking over three miles in Key West, we knew we had to bike ride to make it complete.

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We started the morning sailing with Danger Charters where we snorkeled in sponge beds and kayaked around Mule Island.

When the boat docked and we disembarked, it was off to Fort Zachary Taylor where we explored the old fort.

This turned into a three mile city hike by the time we traveled from the dock to the fort to Blue Heaven for a little key lime pie snack and then back to our car.

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On the way to Long Key State Patk to set up camp, we decided to add a bike ride that evening to catch the sunset on the opposite side of the island – a five mile round trip ride to exit the park and get to an open area for sunset viewing.

Even without a medal, it felt good to accomplish another triathlon and a full day of actively enjoying our surroundings.

 

 

Overseas Heritage Trail

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Following the path of Henry Flagler’s old railway, the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail provides a way for cyclists to ride the 106 miles from Key Largo to Key West. More than 70 miles of the trail have been paved, and in fact, new portions were marked and completed while we were there.

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You can hardly ask for a more beautiful ride with the water in sight a good part of the ride. Most of the trail runs parallel to US 1, and while there are dedicated bridges for bikes, pedestrians and fishermen in some portions, it’s necessary to share the road in other places, making for some dangerous encounters with traffic.

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We never had any intention of riding the full length of the trail, 106 miles (one way) is way more than I can manage. And while we saw a few cyclists riding the full distance, there are too many sections which are much too dangerous. When roading sharing is required, the bike lane is often narrow and filled with debris. However, what worries me the most are the drivers…residents in a hurry to pass the slow moving tourists, trucks and cars pulling boats and campers, eighteen wheelers rushing to make deliveries, tourists gawking at the fishermen reeling in their catches, not to mention the harsh, sometimes, blinding sun. We witnessed a woman drive off the road into the water. What if there had been a person on a bike?

Despite these challenges, we had a WONDERFUL time riding the Overseas Trail, riding almost 60 miles over the course of three days.

Our first ride was truly a destination ride as we unloaded our bikes and rode the last five miles to Mallory Square in Key West to not only enjoy a bike ride but to avoid the traffic and hassle of finding a parking space.

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The next day we took a short ride from our campsite in Long Key State Park to see the sunset, all on a paved trail off the side of the road. (It’s also the place where we watched a car skid into the water the next morning.)

The fifteen mile ride on Marathon was the most enjoyable as it was all off road and took us out on the old 7 Mile Bridge, which is dedicated to bikes, pedestrians and fishermen. The final leg of this ride ended on Sombrero Beach, which may be the best beach in the Keys.

Without a doubt, the most beautiful ride was from MM71 to MM81, twenty miles round trip, past gorgeous houses and clear blue-green water with lots of boats filled with fishermen. Unfortunately, this section requires cyclists to share the road with traffic across three bridges. And even though the shared lanes were wider than on most bridges, I still held my breath while crossing.

Our final ten mile ride on Long Key included a 2.2 mile span across the water, separate from traffic, but being a Saturday morning, packed with fishermen. No problem! I can dodge their casts much easier than vehicles.

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The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail provides riders with spectacular views, and it’s one I’d ride again…but, only  by skipping the parts I feel are unsafe, and only by riding in the cooler months. We were lucky to have perfect weather with temperatures in the 70s all week. Since there’s very little protection from the sun, I can’t imagine riding in the heat of the summer.

 

 

 

Bike Art

Parked in front of the Tax Collector’s Office in Palatka, I noticed a painted bike with flowers in the basket across the street so I jumped out of the car to get a better look.

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As I turned to go back to the car I saw another bike down the street so of course I decided to investigate further.

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Across the street, a blue bike with a basket full of flowers. And further down, more bikes.

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I had gone down a rabbit hole looking for the brightly painted bicycle planters adding a little fun to downtown Palatka.

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Several children’s bikes and tricycles were included in the bike art.

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There were even a few that looked like they were still works in progress, either lacking plants or paint.

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Finally I came across an interesting bike rack with a boldly painted message:

Bike Palatka

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This is a city ready to embrace the Palatka-Lake Butler Trail under development as well as the Palatka-St. Augustine Trail. Or maybe they’re just preparing for the upcoming Palatka Bicycle Festival on April 9-10. In any case, the bikes got my attention.