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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

WST: Hernando to Floral City

It’s hard to believe that as many times as we’ve ridden the Withlacoochee State Trail (WST) that we’d never ridden the section from Hernando to Inverness. But after a couple of friends told us about a hamburger place in Hernando, we were motivated to take another ride on the WST.

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Like the rest of the trail, this portion is flat and mostly shady, but we also found some wacky sites Florida is so well known for. Less than two miles into the ride we came across a glass shop that creates art from bottles, mostly blue bottles. Bottle trees. Bottle flowers. Even bottle art with a bicycle and across the street, a large pink elephant.

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Our plan for the day was to ride more than twenty miles so we didn’t stop at Inverness, but instead continued to Floral City on a beautiful springlike day.

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Seeing a gopher tortoise along the trail is not unusual, but we saw our first bluebird on one of the many birdhouses that line the trail.

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For some reason I struggled on this ride. Before reaching Floral City I was tired and riding slower than usual. Fortunately the thought of a burger at the end of the ride kept me going. Located just north of the Hernando trailhead Burger Station delivered tasty burgers as promised.

It’s amazing that I’ll ride 24 miles for a burger.

Do You Know Julie?

I’m frequently asked about my bike. Does it have gears? How many? Do you ride on those skinny tires?

Yes, Julie, the name I’ve given my bike, has gears. When I started riding regularly a few years ago, I rode a 1971 Schwinn Hollywood my Dad bought for $15 at a garage sale. While I loved riding Hollywood, I found I couldn’t keep up with John since my vintage bike didn’t have gears. I also had difficulty on even the smallest changes in elevation on Florida trails, so while I kept Hollywood, I bought a 7-speed Boss Cruiser by Jamis.

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Hollywood, 1971 Schwinn

The Boss Cruiser that I called Cucumber (the bike’s color), served me well for about a year before I gave it to my daughter and purchased the Jamis Hudson, another 7-speed bike with a single hand brake and no skinny tires.

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Cucumber, my Jamis Boss Cruiser.

The Hudson is described as a comfort bike, and that it is. Lightweight and designed for flat foot starts and stops makes it easy to ride, and I like the step through feature which eliminates the need to maneuver around the top tube to mount the bike. One strange feature of the bike is its single brake lever that operates both the front and rear brake. This single lever is a safety feature that prevents front brake lock-up but at times I’d prefer to be able to use my left hand to brake so I can use my phone to take a picture. (I probably shouldn’t be taking pictures while riding anyway.)

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Julie, my 7-speed Jamis Hudson.

So, is 7-speeds enough? I think so. I really don’t know what to do with 14 or 21 or 28 gears. I NEVER use first gear. I can’t keep my balance when pedaling that fast while moving so slow, and I ALMOST never use seventh gear. I rely on third through sixth gears so a 7-speed bike seems to meet my needs.IMG_1508-768x1024

And why do I call my bike Julie? Well, I initiated the Hudson on a ride along Flagler Beach, and billboards lined the road asking,

Do you know Julie?

Where is Julie? 

I’ve called my bike Julie ever since, and yes, I know where to find Julie. She’s in the garage.

VanFleet Trail: Polk County

We made a return trip to the Van Fleet Trail (click here to read about our ride from the Mabel Trailhead), biking the southern portion starting at Polk City. This is easily one of my favorite places to ride since the trail is so flat.

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Less than two miles from the trailhead we spotted the first wildlife of the day. Not gators or gopher tortoises or rabbits like you might expect, but a herd of llama. A lone llama posed for us from outside the fenced enclosure before we continued on our way.

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The trail was well marked with mile markers painted on the path as well as the names of roads crossed and emergency contact information. Another interesting feature of the trail: a bicycle repair station complete with a pump and a few basic tools.

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More wildlife along the trail, but again only the domesticated type. The rural landscape was home to donkeys, cows and horses. And while we heard gators in the swamp bordering much of the trail, none were to be seen.

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The roundtrip ride from the Polk City Trailhead to the trailhead at Green Pond measured 19.7 miles. On a clear, cool, February afternoon, this trail was a great ride despite the fact the wind blew in our face riding out AND on our return. How come it never blows to our back both ways?

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Although flat and straight like the northern part of the trail, the southern portion of the Van Fleet Trail did not provide the cover of shade we found on our earlier ride starting in Groveland. I’d ride this section only in the early morning or on a cool day so as not to bake in the sun.

We’ve ridden all but the middle section of the Van Fleet trail so the next time we’ll start at Green Pond and ride north to Bay Lake Road in the heart of the Green Swamp. This section is described as tree-lined offering shade during most of the day, and it crosses the start of the Withlacoochee River at three points…maybe a good place for a March ride.

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Daycation: St. Petersburg

In January, we checked off the first item in our list 16 in 16 when we attended a Jackson Browne concert. On Monday, February 22nd, we finally found the perfect day for another of the planned events for 2016 when we spent the day in St. Petersburg for a Daycation.

We waited for a warm and sunny February day because our plan was to bike ride the city trails and visit several of the museums. We started the ride on the trail behind the Morean Center for Clay, one of the museums on our list and rode in to the city. I was somewhat reluctant to ride downtown because I “don’t do traffic”. Fortunately, a concrete barrier divided the trail in the city from the traffic. We even had stop lights to make for a smooth flow downtown.

Traveling past Tropicana Field, through downtown, to the bay and then before the end of the day toward Treasure Island until we reached an end of the trail due to construction, our 17 miles on the bike met our goal for the active part of the day.

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Parking at the Historic Seaboard Train Station, our first stop was a tour of the Morean Arts Center for Clay.

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Here we were surprised to find the center closed on Mondays, but when a staff member realized we’d driven two hours, she permitted us to walk through the facility where artists were working in the shared spaces. Actually, we enjoyed looking at the art outside as much as the displays inside the center.

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From the train station we rode our bike downtown to see the Chihuly Collection at another of the Morean Arts Centers located on the city’s waterfront. A 20 foot sculpture located outside the center ushers guests into the building that was specifically designed to display the glasswork. The price of admission includes a docent led tour, but we decided to enjoy on our own instead of traveling from room to room with a crowd.

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Next, we stopped for lunch at Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro with margaritas overlooking the water.

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We purchased a bundled ticket which included a visit to the Morean Galleries as well as to the Glass Studio and Hot Shop with our ticket to the Chihuly Collection. Unfortunately, the Morean Galleries were in the midst of changing out the exhibit so we saw more cardboard boxes than art. Next time we’ll know to call ahead since this information is not provided on their website.

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But while the galleries were a disappointment, the highlight of the trip was the time spent in the Glass Studio and Hot Shop where we sat in bleachers watching David Sturgeon create a piece of glass art with the assistance of the narrator, Jeremiah. For fifty minutes, the glass was shaped, colored, twirled, heated, cooled, heated, cooled, and heated and cooled some more until the piece was completed.

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A successful daycation of bicycling and art. We’ll be back.

Costs: $106

  • Gas $16 (about 8 gallons at $2/gallon
    Tickets for Chihuly Collection, Glass Studio and Hot Shop $40 (tickets for two)
    Lunch $50 (2 margaritas accounted for half this cost)