Monday, February 16, 2009

It's Always Warm There and Other Myths about Bicycling in Florida

Myth # 1: It’s Always Warm There

Well, most of the time. But on our first day at my brother’s condo in Indian Shores near Tampa, Mother Nature sent the Pacific Northwest weather gods down after us. It poured rain as the palm trees bent low in the wind. Then two big cold fronts chased each other down from the north. On the coldest nights temperatures dipped down into the thirties. Luckily we were snug in our Hilleburg four season tent made in Sweden. But days were mostly nice. The coldest reached into the fifties with clear sunny skies, but by the time we reached Miami, our bare limbs were browning in warm sunlight.

Myth #2: Bicycling Is Very Popular in Florida

Floridians were aghast when my husband, Dick, and I told them we were cycling Highway 41 (called the Tamiami Trail) from Tampa to Miami. They were even more stunned when we explained that our Bike Friday Project Q tandem (made in Eugene, Oregon) could be disassembled and packed in our trailer which becomes a suit case to be checked on an airplane.

In Seattle the popularity of cycling is manifest in groups of six to twenty bikers groomed in flashy jerseys skimming along Lake Washington Blvd. and headed out for a fifty mile round trip training ride in preparation for the annual summer 10,000 cyclist strong Seattle to Portland mob scene.

We did see a number of bikes in Florida, lots of them racked onto the backs of RV’s. Such bikes tended to carry old ladies like me on evening spins around RV parks. We only saw one other bike traveler. He was loaded up and headed for the Everglades. Bikes weren’t even allowed on the Skyway Bridge crossing Tampa Bay so my brother was kind enough to drive down there in his van and ferry us across.

The most avid cyclists we met were my brother, Tim, and his friend, Barbara who, like us, are no spring chickens. We had to put out some effort keeping up with them on the Pinellas Trial, a 35 mile county bike path. But Barb wore a T shirt that read “I biked the entire Pinellas Trail--and it only took me four years.”

The unpopularity of cycling was expressed in gestures and taunts from passing motorists on a northerly stretch of Highway 41. “Get on the sidewalk, you jerks!” Never mind that the sidewalks in that seemingly endless commercial strip of road weren’t wide enough for our trailer. At regular intervals, phone poles grew out of the so called sidewalks which often deteriorated to muddy foot paths with no curb cuts at intersections. So we biked as inconspicuously as possible on the far right side of the street. Even so, one man jumped out of his car and yelled, “No one can get around you.” Never mind that it was a six lane boulevard.

The popularity of Florida style cycling was best displayed in tourist Mecca’s like Sanibel and Naples where families and elderly couples pedaled leisurely along networks of bike paths through woodlands often headed for nature parks or beaches. We also found some nice wide shoulders for cycling on a six mile stretch of bridges to Sanibel Island. Infinite panoramic views like the ones from that bridge, of the Gulf and coastal islands, are some of the cycling’s greatest thrills. Also farther south through the Everglades there was less traffic and some decent shoulders where we felt safe and unharrassed.

.Myth # 3: There’s Nothin’ Out There

“Where you folks headed?” asked a local hopping out of his pick-up at a gas station.
”We’re taking this road all the way to Miami.”
“There’s nothin’ out there,” he grunted.
“We’ve heard there’s lots of wild life.”
“Oh, I guess you’ll see a few birds.”

That was the understatement of the year. What we actually saw was a bird watcher’s paradise. Great flocks of white egrets would suddenly rise like storm clouds out of grassy wetlands. Ahingas and herons stood on stilts of legs in the marshes, their long graceful necks poised to suddenly dart out and stab a fish. Flocks of wood storks, white with black tipped wings, and pink rosiette spoon bills perched in trees along side the road. Pelicans flew overhead in formation like stunt planes at the fair. Sometimes we stopped for short hikes along board walks where alligators lurked in dark pools of mangrove swamps. Once we saw a great horned owl perched regally on high. I felt so sorry for people charging by in cars. You must move slowly to see things.

Myth # 4: Lodging is Outrageously Expensive in Florida

I suppose there’s some truth in that. But at the beginning of our trip, my dear brother, Tim, and his wife, Linda, put us up for a few free nights in their condo at Indian Shores. Then we avoided hotels, particularly fancy ones in prime tourist traps although a couple of times we had to resort to private camp grounds which could cost up to $65 a night. But we loved the Florida State parks with their stately royal palms and grassy spaces. These places with fellowship, fun, nature hikes, ranger talks, ice cream socials warm showers, continental breakfasts and more can be enjoyed at the reasonable price of $20 per night. Since we had no automobile, we were allowed to stay for free a couple of nights at Collier Seminole Park as guests of another couple. We also lucked out with some free nights camping out in lovely primitive sites beside the road.

Our final three nights were also cost free thanks to the generosity of our friend, Lucy, in Miami. Her beautiful Spanish style house is located on a park surrounding a lake with a ten mile bike path running around it. Complete with man made white sandy beaches, the place is quite the tropical paradise. Lucy has the house up for sale at $255,400. She wants to move back to cold, rainy Seattle where the average home costs about $150, 000 more than that. Anyone want to cash in their chips and trade them for a winterless life?

Myth # 5: We Biked All the Way from Tampa to Miami

Actually the tow bar of our trailer broke in two outside the Miccosukee Cultural Village on our last day so Lucy drove about 20 miles out and picked us up. Don’t blame the mishap on Bike Friday. That delicate little piece of aluminum tubing has hauled our stuff thousands of miles across many lands. Besides the Company has since replaced the six year old part with a new one at no cost.

Myth # 7: Alligators are Green

Actually they’re black.


Char said...

I agree with your posting - a lot of people who are in cars have NO idea what they are missing when riding a bike. I was out in the country once biking in a friend's area. I stopped at a corner to check my map, and a couple of guys were at the adjacent corner at a gas station. They asked me how far I had gone. I said 30 miles so far. They couldn't believe it and said "Don't you know that's what CARS are for??" :) Traveling by bike is pretty cheap (with camping - or even splitting hotel rooms), and you see SO much. People think it's a lot of work - and though it can be a little effort, it's definitely worth it in the scenery, wildlife, and people you meet along the way!

Kronda said...

This post makes me so happy for my future! I fully plan to be an old lady on a bike someday. :)

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