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.

Redland Tropical Trail

Not a bike trail. Not a hiking trail. Not a kayak trail. Nevertheless, the Redland Tropical Trail is one that shouldn’t be missed.

I’m not sure how we’ve been visiting south Florida for the past ten years without ever exploring Redland. Located near Homestead, Redland remains an agriculture center known as the “garden capital of the world”, and I guess that designation doesn’t sound like an invitation to visitors; but that would be wrong.

We started exploring Redland by stopping at Knauss Farms, a U-pick farm with strawberries and tomatoes ready for picking. However, it wasn’t the produce, but the bakery, that will require a return trip. Without a doubt, the warm cinnamon rolls purchased from the bakery were the best I’ve eaten and the white chocolate chip key lime cookies…delicious!

Most left Knauss with boxes of cookies, pies, bread and of course, cinnamon rolls, but since we were camping, we could only manage a half dozen rolls and a half dozen cookies. We’ll develop a better plan for our next trip so we can make a larger purchase.

The next stop on the Redland Trail? Another U-pick farm, Burr’s Berries. Again, we did not pick any produce, but instead ordered their famous strawberry milkshakes. (Just what we needed to top off the cinnamon rolls.) And yes, it deserved the hype of the best berry shakes. After purchasing the days homemade salsa with ingredients picked from the field earlier in the day, we were ready for stop number three.

Fortunately, R.F. Orchids didn’t sell food. Instead we enjoyed the amazing variety of orchids in the greenhouses and show rooms. Of course, we didn’t turn down the complimentary lemonade being delivered by the staff, but we did leave without making a purchase since the likelihood of an orchid surviving five days of camping seemed remote.

Our final stop: Robert is Here, yes, that really is the name of the produce stand with a small zoo, playground and water park for kids (all free). Here we found numerous fruits and vegetables we were unable to identify and after sampling various products, left with a jar of mangrove honey and one of mango butter. Both unique and yummy.

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Apparently we didn’t leave sufficient time to explore all of the Redland Tripical Trail attractions since on our final stop I came across a brochure listing a dozen more Redland treasures.

Who knew a sleepy agricultural community could provide a day of entertainment and so many calories?

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.

 

 

 

Hiking the Ocklawaha Prairie

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The plan for Saturday morning was to hike through the Ocklawaha Prairie to a boardwalk for what we hoped would be a morning of photographing wildlife.

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John had a backpack loaded with a spotting scope, binoculars, tripod and camera and we started out for the boardwalk trail along the Ocklawaha River.

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An incredible magnolia tree meets hikers just across from the trail head where we picked up a map. We’ll have to make another trip in a couple months just to see this enormous tree in full bloom.

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Construction on the bridge caused a change of plans since the boardwalk trail was inaccessible.

While the trail was mostly dry, there was one area where we had to cross a small steam. Too wide to jump across, several pieces of downed trees had been fashioned into a bridge by previous hikers so we could cross without plodding through the water.

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We followed the white diamonds indicating a multi-use trail for hikers, bicyclists and those on horseback. It appears this is a popular trail for horseback riders, evident by the need to keep your eyes on the trail to avoid the gifts their horses left behind.

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We were even surprised to find a campsite with a picnic table, fire pit and well on the river for campers willing to backpack in from the trail or by boat.

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Our new plan didn’t result in any wildlife sightings, but the five mile hike was a good way to start the day. Only a few minutes from home, we’ll definitely be back.

The Ocklawaha Prairie is located at 7910 SE 137 Avevue Road, Ocklawaha, FL.

Warning: While we had no problem with mosquitoes on a warm March morning, this place looks like it will be mosquito heaven in another month or so.

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.