The Villages

A great ride! The day was saved by Bob Emmerich, who thankfully did not erase all his photos. Thanks for all your trouble, Bob! Thanks for organizing the ride, Phil!


The Villages Ride - Loop 1 from Bob Emmerich on Vimeo.

Enjoy

O\vo~

Seminole-Wekiva Trail

We almost filled the parking lot at the Sylvan Lake Trailhead on Markham Woods Road as a cool, crisp morning with a light northerly breeze made for a perfect day to ride. Deanne, Sheila, Myhra, Bonnie, Larry, Rick, Lanny, Phil, and Paul had all arrived right on time and we assembled our gear and set out to ride south with three diamond frame bicycles, one recumbent bicycle, and five tricycles, one of which was a tandem.

The Seminole-Wekiva Trail was respectably busy with cyclists, hikers, skaters, dogs, horseback riders, rowers, and onlookers, though never really presented a feeling of being "crowded". In fact, we couldn't help noticing how courteous and friendly other trail users were as we paraded our way along, visiting and sightseeing.

We chose the connector over I-4 on our way down to pay a visit to the Rinehart Road Trail. Since my last visit, the new bridge over Lake Mary Boulevard had been completed, so I was anxious to experience the improved safety of making that crossing. There is also a tunnel under Greenwood Boulevard, a little further south, which added more interest to this otherwise suburban segment.

Crossing back over the Interstate, we turned south and again crossed Lake Mary Boulevard where the trail takes on a much more rural feel and winks in and out of shady tunnels, winding its way through older residential areas with lush landscaping and alongside parks. The scenery is just as varied as it can be, changing from full exposure in the sun across a fence from I-4 to a quiet, dark passage beneath live oaks surrounded by giant, elephant ear plants and squirrels, in just minutes.

By the time we made our way back to Heathrow & Lake Mary, it was past time for lunch so we were quite ready to place our order at the trailside Panera Bread location and enjoyed another opportunity to visit, sharing the same table for lunch. Just a few short miles remained to get back to the start, but first came the surprise of chancing upon a pair of unafraid, sand hill cranes at literally arm's length distance from the trail.

The quote for the day was called out by a retired pilot as he and his wife pedaled by wearing huge grins, "Yeah," he said, "I really feel bad for people who aren't us!"

While there are a few grades along the way, this trail doesn't qualify as hilly at all. The crossings are well marked and equipped with responsive traffic signal request buttons, resting areas with benches were a common sight, and facilities were conveniently located and well maintained.

To see photos from today's ride, click on the Photo Gallery link on the right.

O\vo~

Georgia's Jewel

As very good fortune, indeed, would have it, the first cool spell in many months arrived on the same morning that we found ourselves camped out on the Georgia coast in Crooked River State Park. A short drive later and we were ready to launch on one seriously beautiful trails ride around Georgia's Jekyll Island. The causeway approach to the island, carpeted on both sides with fabulous wildflower stands that seemed endless, let you know that you were nearing something very special and the view from atop the last bridge onto the island revealed the magical crowns of very old timber.

The fact that it is an island, inherently eliminates through traffic, but there seemed to be additional factors at play that affected the general feel of what little traffic there was. The entire island moves at a slower pace and vehicle operators of all types exhibit more courtesy toward one another. Riding on trails designed and designated for cycling is nice enough, but add to that formula laws that impose serious, finite limitations on development and the result is purely delightful. This place is quite the jewel!

Even though we had set aside only a few hours for the experience, it was amazing to see how many completely different riding surfaces and settings could be enjoyed in the 20 mile trip around the island. Everything from smooth asphalt to concrete to crushed stone to coquina to dirt, not to mention wooden bridges and gnarley roots could be ridden upon while viewing sea oats, sand dunes, the Atlantic, windblown scrub oaks, palmetto, salt marshes, residential areas, historic structures beneath magnificent live oaks. Birds were everywhere and the Monarch butterfly was approaching pest status. Restaurants, restrooms, shops, hotels, and camping were all easy to find.

Simply put, this one calls for another visit on the schedule, soon!

O\vo~

Nature Coast - beneath the raindrops

OK. So you were right about staying home. Today was not the best choice for riding weather. I braved it anyway and got along fairly well until just before arriving in Fanning Springs. It began to be apparent then that the rest of the trip was going to be damp. Of course, it wasn't cold, but I can assure you it was also not dry. It rained all the way to Chiefland and sprinkled most of the way back. And yet, just when I thought I had the trail all to myself, I actually did overtake another lone rider making his way north out of Chiefland.

The wildflowers, quiet, and comfortable temperature easily made the trip worthwhile, even with the occasional thought of the unavoidable payback... the cleanup. Just like with a horse, getting put up wet is not the best plan of action. So, one of the things to do indoors, when it is not so nice outdoors, is clean, dry, and lube the machine.

I can always count on the staff of the Office of Greenways and Trails. The trail, apart from being quite wet, was in its usual state of excellent repair and the facilities, available at both ends of my trip, were clean, equipped, and accessible.

And so goes another fine day on three wheels.

October - Florida Greenways & Trails Month

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Greenways and Trails (OGT) is promoting October, 2007 as Florida Greenways & Trails month. Now in its eighth year, this program is designed to focus attention on the conservation and recreation resources of Florida’s greenways and trails, involve Floridians in creating and using these great natural resources, and encourage partnerships that support our mission to create a statewide system of greenways and trails.

Their goal (OGT) is to have each county in Florida host at least one Greenways & Trails Month event during October. Festivities may include dedications or openings, educational exhibits or workshops, trail rides or races, trail blazing, clean-ups or any activities connected to greenways and trails. If your community or organization would like to sponsor or coordinate an event, OGT will post the activities on its website where you can find registration forms.

For additional information, contact Kirk.Marhefka@dep.state.fl.us.

Lake Minneola Scenic Trail/Clermont Trail

What a nice surprise this morning, as ten riders assembled at the Winter Garden Station for a ride on the West Orange Trail and the Lake Minneola Scenic Trail/Clermont Trail. The recent weather pattern had whittled away at attendance for many of our riders, so having this many turn out today was quite a treat.
After a busy meet & greet, we aired up one reluctant tire and launched our entourage westward through downtown Winter Garden. Deanne, Carol, Shelton, Janice, Alice and Rodney were balancing on two wheels, while Steve, Phil, Paul and I managed the horizon from our trikes. The trail was fairly busy this morning, so additional care was needed to insure everyone enjoyed a safe outing. Early in our trip out we saw a half dozen triking friends from the central Florida who had started at the County Line Station for their ride east.

From the County Line Station, you may now travel west to Clermont on the Lake Minneola Scenic Trail/Clermont Trail over some gentle hills through a nicely rural area. There are a few crossings which demand diligent attention, but the trail is very nicely maintained. The southern shore of Lake Minneola is simply beautiful and is directly adjacent to the trail. Click the photo above or visit the photo gallery to see today's shots.

On our return trip we stopped for a few minutes to visit with our friends going the other way which produced a large assembly of recumbent craft including no less than 10 trikes!

By the way, even though their website implies the trail is paved for only 3.1 miles, it is actually paved all the way to the West Orange Trail so our trip was a total of 31 miles.

Trail condition: Excellent
Facilities: Excellent

O\vo~

Withlacoochee North

This morning turned into a regular trike fest, as I was joined by friends from the central Florida area. Phil and Paul on their brand new Trice Qs and Steve on his trusty Catrike Road emerged from the Shamrock in downtown Floral City after breakfast, right on time for a ride to the north end of the Withlacoochee Trail.

Setting the tone for a morning of surprises were the enthusiastic Ah-oooooh-Gah horn sounds heard at our first intersection where we encounterd a veritable parade of antique cars. Just moments later a ponderous squirrel nearly lost it when Phil made a sudden pass around the pack. Unlike my ride on Saturday with so many clouds, today's clear skies and holiday brought riders, walkers, and skaters out in force. Wonderful barbecue smells wafted across the trail and picnics were getting under way.

Mark joined us at the northern trail head and rode his bike south with us for a while before turning back for home. We were all beginning to consider that requisite afternoon nap that awaited.

While the north half doesn't have the Croom Forest and is closer to more development, it still maintains that rural charm that really enhances any outdoor experience. The trail is very well groomed and in excellent repair and I'll now be able to add its track to our Feet First Trails Guide. If you'd care to see the photos from today's ride, just click on the photo above.

After loading up, we retired back to the Shamrock for drinks before heading home.

O\vo~

Withlacoochee South

I started at the gazebo in Floral City this morning, on heels of an early morning rain shower that had flooded the area. A puddle bridged the trail right in front of the gazebo and the pavement was wet all the way down to I-75. After that the surface was dry and the sun came out and warmed up the butterflies who busily lined the trip. Click this photo to see the rest of them, or go to the photo gallery.

There are always surprises waiting out on the trail, but you never know just what to expect. Today I saw the largest bald eagle I've ever seen, then remembered my camera when it was too late. Also watched in awe as a bare-footed, helmet-less, cyclist with a fresh head injury performed craftsman quality, wheel truing using nothing but a pair of small trees that had the decency to have grown close together alongside the trail. A little while later down the trail, I was actually overtaken by this athlete as he safely returned to his vehicle.

Made it to the south end, just below Trilby, FL and back without rain. 46.6 miles for the day.

GoogleGeekers: I noticed on Google Earth you can count up to 26 cyclists on the Withlacoochee Trail, south of FL 50.

See you back in Floral City on Monday.

O\vo~

Fort White to Ichetucknee Springs

We headed out to the Springs in search of a farewell party for Rachel, one our riders who will be leaving us. Never did find the party, but Sandra and I enjoyed a very pleasant ride through the countryside in and around greater Hildreth, Florida. We visited both the north and south entrances to the State Park and found absolutely no shortage of tubers, in cars and trucks, on foot, in trams, in line, just couldn't quite locate that one we were seeking.

On the way back into Fort White, the timing was just too perfect to pass up an opportunity to stop in at the Goose Nest for a buffet lunch. They are now selling to-go buffet orders by the pound.

After lunch, we switched horses and Sandra had a test ride on the Trice Q.

O\vo~

Flagler-Marineland at 8:00 AM

Well, actually, no. It's not really a "Rail Trail", it's more of a glorified sidewalk, but it is a nice change of pace to be able to ride along the coast, see the ocean, and breathe that fresh salt air. Many things, including people, just seem to be a little more colorful in this environment. The trip from the center of Flagler Beach up to Marineland is only 14 miles and includes three readily accessible, public restroom facilites. By far, the nicest of these is to be found at Bing's Landing where there is also a boat ramp and well shaded park.

Just across the street from Bing's there is a popular little Ice Cream/Subs Shop in case it gets too hot. We had started just early enough to be on our way past the place ten minutes before it opened, so we missed it on this trip.

Possibly as much of a third of the route is shaded and at one point in this area (near Palm Coast) there was a break in the surface today, with a very brief little detour onto the grass around the construction. Nothing near as inconvenient as the one of a couple years back, when the new Publix was under construction.

Larry, Sheila, Carol, and Shelton joined me on this excursion and it was smooth sailing all around. We even had a light sea breeze cooling us off on the return trip into Flagler Beach.

30 miles

Trail Condition: Not bad (I've seen it cleaner)
Facilities: Very Good
O\vo~

Nature Coast State Trail

Today was particularly toasty but light tailwinds seemed to come out of nowhere! Gary and I rode over to Cross City, where you simply never know what you are liable to see, and managed to get back across the Suwannee River before noon, escorted by one of these light and variable breezes.

I wanted to get this trail mapped on my Trails Guide, so we split up (Lone Ranger and Tonto style) at the "delta" and I headed on southward to Chiefland for lunch. It turns out to be somewhat interesting to note that this trail, ridden from end to end to end is exactly one metric century. (100km = 62.1 mi) I am not entirely sure it is appropriate to discover this when the heat index is hovering around 100 degrees, however! At least, the smart money would have been on including a visit to Fanning Springs in the middle to cool off!

Trail Condition: Excellent!
Facilities: Trenton - open, Cross City - locked, Chiefland - open

O\vo~

Hawthorne Trail

A warm, moist morning produced visible sun rays piercing the forested hills of the Hawthorne Trail. These hills are always like a little cup of coffee to really get you charged up early in the ride and then to remind you that you aren't quite through just before you get back to Gainesville. The natural setting of this trail easily qualifies it as one of Florida's best with the lure that you can almost count on seeing wildlife as well as other folks enjoying the corridor not necessarily on wheels.

To add additional accuracy to the Trails Guide page I'm building, I went ahead a pedaled down to the overlook at Payne's Prairie only to find this youngster and her mother (click on the photo to see more).

Gary, Deanne, and I were feeling confident that we could make this trip in spite of the heat forecast for today since we had started early enough and there was a light breeze. Our usual rest stop was somewhat disappointing with a posted "Out of Order" sign deflating hopes for convenience, but we were making such good time that we merrily forged on. Just after admiring the new concrete trail section that bridges the intersection of SE 200th Terrace, we arrived in Hawthorne and met up with George Edwards' troop preparing for their return to the Rochelle trail head.

The aforementioned breeze seemed stronger as we turned to face it and it carried along with it a noticeable increase in the chance of a shower. A cotton-tailed rabbit grazed bravely on the trail right of way as we approached and turned tail just as I clicked the camera on. Our return trip seemed to be going rather smoothly, yet just as we passed George's group again, droplets became drops became full rain which changed the experience into an entirely different one.

By the time we were climbing the hammock again, the rain had stopped, but everything was wet and refreshed. The turns in this area called for a little more caution with loose debris from the hard rain the day before and water from this new shower. While we loaded up, George rang me to confirm we had seats waiting at Satchel's for pizza. That turned out to be an experience not to be missed!

32 miles

Trail Condition: Beautiful, some light forest litter
Facilities: "Out of Order", temporarily we hope
O\vo~

St. Marks Trail

Or the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail, as the sign reads, was as beautiful as ever. Most Click here for Photo Galleryof the drive over, after daylight, was covered by a high-level, overcast look, but just a few miles before St. Marks, the sky opened up and had a real nice blue color. I could imagine being able to actually see the humidity drop as the air had a clearer look to it. Add to that a gentle breeze coming in off the confluence of the St. Marks and the Wakulla rivers and you can see it was a great morning for a ride up to Tallahassee.

Starting the ride alone was rather unusual, but that wasn't going to last. In just the first couple of miles, I had already seen a dozen other cyclists on the trail enjoying the morning. This trail is slightly more narrow than the ones we usually ride which also adds to the community of riding with others. In the interest of safety, just a little more consideration and general courtesy is appropriate and always in good supply here.

Not quite as common up this way, I was delighted to encounter a couple on a pair of Rans recumbents. Wildlife sightings were primarily limited to birds on this trip, though I did observe a couple of small snakes. The birds seemed unusually vocal this morning, both in the first mile above St. Marks and then the Canada Goose entourage I found around Kissimmee Street.

Unencumbered by any group of my own, I decided to proceed above the trail head at Capital Circle and found the northern end of the trail where it meets Gamble Street. This added a few extra miles as well as some interesting sights. In the last mile or so, on that northern end, there has been some very nice enhancement to the future beauty of the trail. Someone has planted quite a few magnolias and also some other broad leaf oaks in braced series right alongside the trail. It won't be long at all before they begin to add a very special personality to that area.

42.4 miles

Trail Condition: Beautiful, very clean
Facilities: Quite satisfactory
O\vo~

General James A. Van Fleet State Trail

On a warm morning with the threat of thunderstorms in the forecast, we visited the Van Fleet trail for the second time. Our first trip was cold and very windy, but today was nearly the opposite. We were made to feel most welcomed here as folks more local to the area came out to join us, providing information as well as company. Today was exceptional in that with only three of our regular riders, we swelled to a herd of ten recumbents including our welcoming committee!

Feet First as a group is generally more comfortable with a ride distance of 25 - 40 miles, but today, we had our sites set on completing this entire 29 mile long trail. One of the easiest ways to have lots of miles slip by unnoticed is being involved in good conversation, so here again we were greatly assisted by the day's large turnout.

The Van Fleet trail is flat and straight and would seem to be boring until you ride it. With little or no signs of civilization to be seen, it is very remote and peaceful. Birds can be heard singing nearly all the time, the gopher tortoise is quite prevalent, snakes are not an unusual sighting and some even saw turkeys cross the trail.

Starting from the north trailhead, at Mabel, there is essentially a restroom every 20 miles. One at the trailhead and one at Greenpond Road. The trip to Polk City and back to Greenpond Road makes about 20 miles.

We were very lucky that it never did rain, but it was hot enough that it might have been okay if it had! Four of us made the 58 mile trip and were ready for water in almost any form!

Joining us today were: Mark, Rachel, Steve, Phil, Paul, Jerry, Mary, Will & Gail

Trail condition: Excellent
Facilities: Excellent, though far afield

O\vo~

Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail

This was clearly one of our best choices for a ride in the summer heat and we were not disappointed. This trail is so shady as to resemble being air-conditioned by comparison to some others. Its delightfully well-maintained surface supported the largest turnout on a Saturday morning I've seen since I began visiting this trail seven years ago.

Our lumbering little entourage was "smoked" several times by brisk, tight pace lines of courteous, but serious cyclists. Beginning at the Baldwin trailhead affords us the distinction of not only copious parking and excellent facilities, but greatly reduced traffic on the final portion of the ride and only a few blocks drive to Everybody's Restaurant.

We swung low to the tragedy of having one of Larry's clipless shoes become completely separated from its sole, then high again to seeing an old friend we'd not seen for over a year. A large, white-ish, domestic turkey, who apparently still lives across the trail from the midway rest stop, was observed preening himself near the family lawn mower. Then, there was that "stand-up bike" with no pedals. What a sight.

Click on the photo above to see other shots from today.

Facilities: Excellent in the middle, acceptable at the ends
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Haile Plantation

For a real surprise it was actually cool and pleasant at 7:00 AM this morning as Sandra and I met Gary at Meadowbrook Golf Club in Gainesville. Gary led us on a street/sidewalk tour that safely got us across both NW 23rd Avenue and Newberry Road so we could glide downhill into Haile Plantation and cruise their heavily shaded, paved path around the golf course.

We managed to get down, around, and back up in just 2 hours, disturbing only a few walkers and a very large hawk who had decided to rest on the ground alongside the trail. With the elevation ranging from 75' to 165', there was little room for boredom to set in. We were climbing or gliding most of the time.

Photos are posted in the gallery.

Facilities: Publix! :o)
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Feet First Rider Scores iPhone

Not only was one of our riders lucky enough to come home to a gift from her thoughtful husband of a new Apple iPhone, but she was also kind enough to share with us what we look like when viewed on the extraordinarily popular, technological tidbit! Wow, if we look this good on there, additional orders simply must be placed.

Check the calendar for details of our Independence Day ride at 7:00 AM tomorrow. See you there!

Thanks, Carol!
O\vo~

Hawthorne Trail

It was already quite warm in the sun at 8:00 AM, but became pleasant as soon as we ducked into the shade and climbed through the hammock. There were quite a few runners finishing up a heated effort as we just started out and we encountered several small groups of cyclists both coming and going.

Gary and Sandra joined me on this hot morning jaunt and we whiled away the ride, essentially without incident, at a better pace.

Photos are posted in the gallery.

Trail Condition: Excellent
Facilities: Sufficient
O\vo~

Fanning Springs Tee

It is really starting to warm on up. I think we tried too hard to avoid overdoing it in the sun and wound up pedaling a light 24 miles this time out. Even got started early enough to see a couple cotton tails. We met in at the trailhead in Fanning Springs and Deanne, Sandra, Rachel and I rode first toward Trenton to the east for about 5 miles, then west toward Cross City across the Suwannee River and into Old Town, then back down to Fanning Springs and along the shaded sidewalk behind the north side of town to Fort Fanning Park and finally south toward Chiefland until the shade tunnel gave out and we doubled back to Fanning Springs State Park for a swim. Everyone agreed that it hit the spot.

It was almost noon when we finished loading up and moved the cars over to Huckleberry's Barbeque for lunch.

Photos are in the gallery.

Nature Coast State Trail Condition: Excellent
Facilities: at the State Park in Fanning Springs
O\vo~

Fort White to Little River Springs

It still surprises me how quickly the miles tick past when good conversion, friends, and weather are combined with bicycles. Today was no exception when Lew, Sheila, Larry, Don, and Mei joined Deanne and me for a ride to the spring and back. Lew brought along his new acquisition, a Rans Stratus XP from Hampton's Edge Trailside Bicycles.

We had selected Little River Springs as our destination and started in Fort White on the western part of the O'Leno to Ichetucknee Trail. At the Ichetucknee River, this trail ends and you must cross the river on US 27 to then be able to mount the next trail known as the Suwannee River Greenway at Branford. Riding both these trails in the same outing, the rider cannot help noticing the sharp contrast between the first trail that has experienced absolutely no maintenance since being built over a year ago and one that is regularly maintained. Sadly, the Branford trail is now having troubles with its foundation beyond what would be covered by its routine maintenance. There are some root-based eruptions in the surface in at least one location, but much worse, there are several areas of sinkhole-like activity where the asphalt has collapsed into dangerous holes in the trail. The kind of hole that could easily result in dropping a cyclist and/or damaging a wheel. Not that there is any evidence of it being more than a coincidence, but you should navigate this trail very carefully in the area immediately across the highway from the Suwannee American Cement plant as that is where most of the failed asphalt is concentrated. Once this trail tucks back into the shade and onto the railroad right-of-way approaching Branford, it is much more pleasant and the surface is again stable.

Ivey Memorial Park in Branford had almost no visitors at its cool Branford Spring, but we enjoyed pausing to have a look before riding on.

There likely were more on their way, since it was only half passed ten when we arrived, but we found Little River Springs not crowded at all. Maybe half a dozen folks in the water as other cyclists and trucks arrived. It's usually at least a temptation, but today had already warmed enough that it was more of a requirement to jump in the refreshing spring. More of us did than didn't. By the way, that first mile or two after a dip in the spring is just perfect.

A real treat was inherent in the availability of chilled fruit. Not something normally found on a hot ride in the sun, but Sheila provided cool, fresh cherries at the spring and, like an oasis in the desert, Don and Mei served us iced watermelon on their tailgate at ride's end. Photos are in the gallery. My Goodness, that sure was a quick 38 miles!


Trail Condition: Rideable
Facilities: Nice at Little River Springs
O\vo~

National Trails Day Ride

This Saturday's ride is is sponsored by our friend's at:

National Trails Day Ride
on the Nature Coast State Trail

Gary offers 12 Excellent Reasons to Join Us

All rides start at 9:00 AM (or thereabouts)
from the Old Train Depot, 419 North Main Street in Trenton.
Trenton is about 25 m
iles West of Gainesville on SR 26.

A fun, open, very low-key ride on the smoothly paved Nature Coast State Trail for all levels of bicyclists, including children. Family ride groups are encouraged.

Ride options range from a few miles for beginning riders and families with small children, up to 64 miles for experienced cyclists who choose to ride the entire trail.

The old railroad bridge where the Trail crosses the Suwannee River near Old Town is a favorite option (about 12 miles from Trenton). The original machinery which made the bridge pivot to allow steamboats to pass can still be seen from the bank of the river below the trail. The rural landscape along the trail offers a
peaceful atmosphere complete with live oaks and wildflowers.
Maps of the trail will be provided at the starting point in Trenton. There will be refreshments at the Depot and there are convenience stores along the trail. There is a Dairy Queen under the live oaks in Cross City. The ride is not otherwise supported.

For information, contact
kirk.marhefka@dep.state.fl.us or 352-535-5181
Helmets are required for children under 16 and recommended for everyone.

We were told that somewhere around 70 folks turned out for today's festivities. It was a clear, hot day with a light breeze. The trailhead was manned by Kirk and Billy and there were plenty of refreshments, handouts, and general good cheer. Several of our recumbent friends, Jim, James, George, Lea, Bonnie, Lanny, Don, Mei, Dan (and more) from the Gainesville Cycling Club were on hand and got a bit of a head start on us as I pulled my trike from the car with a fresh flat on it, but we encountered them again near Chiefland and they shouted out their lunch plan.

Gary took a brief test ride on my new Trice Q from ICE (Inspired Cycle Engineering) while Deanne and I enjoyed a rest in the shade. I am never quite sure what will cross my path next, but that's part of what makes it fun to travel a path. Today it turned out to be what the old timers around these parts used to call a Hoover Chicken.

Photos taken today are up in the gallery and we hope to see you next week in Fort White.
Thanks again, Kirk, Billy, and all the great folks at the Office of Greenways & Trails!

O\vo~

Withlacoochee State Trail

This Saturday, the Withlacoochee Trail was alive with cyclists, skaters, and walkers (of all speeds). Quite a nice day resulted from a gentle tug of war between the prevailing ENE wind and a on and off again WSW seabreeze. Just enough cloud cover to hold off the day's high temperature until well after the noon hour provided yet another perfect morning for folks to get out and enjoy the trail.

Sandra and I carpooled from High Springs and were joined by Mark (now a local), Steve from Dover, Phil from Leesburg, and Jerry & Mary from Lakeland. After a little test ride and some obligatory gearhead talk, we headed south on four trikes and three two-wheeled 'bents. As is often the case, on the Withlacoochee Trail, we encountered many other recumbent riders including several trikes.

We made it as far south as Townsend Park and stood down for a rest stop before heading back up to Inverness to wrap up a neat little 30 mile ride. Since Sandra and I had to sort of hurry back, we parted company with some of the group earlier on and Steve and Phil stopped in to visit Regis at Hampton's Edge.

Trail Condition: Excellent
Facilities: Excellent
O\vo~

Nature Coast Trail

Leaping Sturgeon! The Suwannee River's slow current and glassy surface was interrupted frequently this early morning with the sights and sounds of large sturgeon jumping out of the quiet water and splashing back in again. We looked on from the old railroad bridge near Old Town on the Nature Coast Trail. Trail managers, Florida's Office of Greenways & Trails, had commissioned John Moran to photograph bicyclists enjoying the trail and we had happily volunteered as sublects, so we all gathered on the bridge and enjoyed a completely different approach to riding for a little while.

After the photo shoot, we re-organized at Old Town and decided on a ride down to Chiefland and back to Fanning Springs. A cool breeze faced us as we rode through a tunnel of shade to our destination and enjoyed drought spiting wildflowers reminding us it is still Spring. We were welcomed at the trailhead in Chiefland by Tom with the Office of Greenways & Trails as he personally unlocked the facilities for us.

The perfect ending to a day on the Nature Coast Trail was a visit to Petrello's at the Old Boarding House in Trenton for fine Italian cuisine and more visiting with friends.

A few photos are in the gallery.

Reminder: Don't forget to plan on joining us for the National Trails Day ride on the Nature Coast Trail on June 9th. It's on our ride calendar!

Trail condition - Excellent
Facilities - Excellent
O\vo~

Silver Comet - Northwestern Georgia

From our camping nest atop Cheaha Mountain in Alabama, we drove through Piedmont, AL and along the section of the Chief Ladiga Trail that remains unpaved over to Cedartown, GA. Construction has already begun to finish this project. Shortly after entering Georgia, the fresh concrete of the Silver Comet Trail could be seen alongside US 278, but since we hadn't the energy to ride the entire trail, we stuck to our plan to pick it up in Rockmart, GA and pedal east up through Bushy Mountain Tunnel.

Rockmart is a comfortable little town with an atmosphere that takes you back in time. Finding the trail in Rockmart isn't at all difficult as signage appears readily and pulls you in to the center of town along Euharlee Creek and a beautiful park setting. Just before setting out, we made note of Frankie's Italian Restaurant (about which we had been told) to confirm we must be in the right place.

Folks we had met earlier also informed us that the Silver Comet was a concrete trail. To me, this meant I was in for a faster ride, but I had read complaints of it being rougher than asphalt. Once riding on the surface, it all became clear. The concrete was coarsely brushed, which I suspect was done to enhance drainage and provide a more secure year-round surface, though the end result was a little rough feeling.

Scenery was wonderful, heavily forested and lots of elevation change alongside the trail. So, while the trail made gradual slopes the surroundings changed drastically from excavated, rock channel to deep ravines on either side. It could have just been that day, but we couldn't help but notice how many more motors we heard. There seemed to be lots of "industry" off in the acoustic distance and the maintenance crew was on site running a half dozen riding lawn mowers along the trail. While there were birds here and there and lots of bird houses to be seen, this trail came up short on wildlife sightings for us.

Riding through Bushy Mountain Tunnel was a bit of a treat, since we don't have things like that in Florida and it was also nice and cool in the shade inside. After crossing the trestle, we turned around to head back for lunch.

If your Silver Comet plans include nothing else, they should include a visit to Frankie's Italian Restaurant. The Talapia Salad and Talapia Parmasean were outstanding!!

Photos are in the gallery.

Trail condition - Excellent
Facilities - Excellent
Vista - Beautiful!
O\vo~

Chief Ladiga - Northeastern Alabama

Deanne and I began our Chief Ladiga experience at the Woodland Park trailhead at the southwestern end just outside Weaver, AL, home of the Bobcats. Without seeing a bobcat, we started our ride on a clear, mild morning and right away found ourselves immersed in sensory overload. Olfactory, aural, and visual were pegged with Sweet Jasmine, birdsong and sightings, and forrested canopy.

I imagine there could have been as much as a couple hundred feet change in elevation spread over the length of the trail, but the slow, gentle gradient kept the hint of a hill comfortably secret. There was so much natural beauty to consume that it was difficult to notice such things as the relatively narrow pavement compared to many other trails.

The people we encountered on the trail were quite friendly and readily engaged in interested conversation, of course it could have been because we were the only recumbent riders out this fine Tuesday. Germania Springs, in Jacksonville, made an ideal rest spot for us, both coming and going. The peaceful little park with sports and picnic facilities seemed to offer something for everyone, birds and chipmunks
alike. Lounging on the grassy banks of the crystal clear stream had a real story book feel.

Riding high on a carefully banked railbed with a shear drop on either side down to a rock creek gives one the feeling of flying through the upper trunks of very tall trees that let light fracture its way to the trail's surface.

East of Piedmont, the trail is exposed to longer views of the surrounding hills including Duggar Mountain, then begins a climb in that direction carved through some rock face alongside Terrapin Creek. The pavement ended at, and cyclists rested on, the bridge over this waterway, where we visited, looked longingly eastward at the gravel double track disappearing up the slope, and talked of the Silver Comet which picks up this trail's scent in Georgia and takes the traveler on to Smyrna.

On the advice of wise locals met on Terrapin Creek, we stopped in at the Solid Rock Cafe, just two blocks off the trail in the center of Piedmont, for lunch and enjoyed chicken salad croissant, potato soup, and a painfully delicious peach smoothie!

We hadn't really thought of completing the entire paved portion nor of having such a terrific lunch, but were nonetheless very well served by the coincident tailwind that helped us back to Germania Springs and then to the beginning. At 49 miles round trip, this was certainly one of our longer outings. Photos are in the gallery.

Trail condition - Excellent
Facilities - Excellent
Vista - Gorgeous!
O\vo~

Hawthorne Trail

A nice cool, clear morning provided a refreshing start and the ride was smooth and conversations engaging. Suddenly, we were forced to stop. Our local climate crisis of extended drought took its toll recently as apparently wind caused an otherwise healthy tree to literally bisect the Hawthorne Trail about a hundred feet from the environmentally friendly toilet facility at the 7.5 mile point. A word rarely used on our rail trail excursions came into play as we literally had to portage around the root ball of the new fallen divisor.

Finding the tree down made us notice more the incidence of smaller debris that must have been blown into place by the same weather. Still, with that single exception, the trail was completely navigable and experiencing moderate use. Armadillo, snakes, deer, rabbits, birds and prickly pear blossoms were among those sighted, as well as other recumbents, even another trike. The return trip from Hawthorne was much snappier as we were ushered along with a nice tailwind. All in all, another perfect day on the trail.
Photos are posted in the gallery.

Trail Condition: Freshly littered, but navigable
Facilities: Sufficient
O\vo~

Avenue of Abandon

The group may be Feet First, but our official bylaws, that are buried in a mayonnaise jar somewhere in Bruce’s back pasture, clearly state that “head-first riders are always welcome.” And today, Bruce, Feet First’s Grand Poobah* and Web Wizard himself, arrived with a surprise, a nifty new head-first Dahon folding bike. Like magic he had it set up and ready to ride in about 30 seconds and no bike mechanic was required. And he and his new seven-speed had no trouble climbing the small hills or keeping up with the pace, although today we may have been passed by gopher turtles.

We were in our back yard, with Bruce, Deanne, Sandra and I starting in Fort White, riding the trail that Bruce has dubbed the "Avenue of Abandon", formerly known as the O'Leno to Ichetucknee Trail. It lived up to its nickname. We did see some evidence of mowing, but that was about the only sign of maintenance since the fall. Portions are overgrown and long sections, especially on the portion of the trail leading to O’Leno State Park, were so covered in leaf litter and grass clippings that nearly half of pavement was buried.

And for those interested in playing tire puncture roulette, the trail continues to be used for beer bottle target practice, and there are apparently some expert marksmen in Southern Columbia County. We rolled the miles, cleared off a minimum of 10 exploded bottles and removed one downed tree from the trail. We had a good relaxed time, left the trail much better than we found it, and felt our work entitled us to the right to complain.

And Bruce gave his new toy high marks, but noted some padded bike shorts and a bit of suspension would have made for a more comfortable ride. Years of feet-first riding has left him with a spoiled behind. Photos are in the gallery.

Total miles 16

Trail condition: Sad and nearly abandoned, but improved by the time we finished.

*FYI: If you wish to spell check Grand Poobah, with the assistance of Google, you’ll find Grand Poobah is also, “a family owned company based in Centennial, Colorado since 2003” that provides “animal waste removal services for dog owners” and has the Web address www.poopguy.com.
- Gary Kirkland

St. Marks Trail

The first was again last. We saved the state’s very first rail trail, the 16-mile St. Mark’s Trail, for our final day of the tour. It didn’t disappoint.

Peaceful is the word that best described the day. While this trail rolls right into the back door of the state’s capital, it’s well isolated from the hustle and bustle and the azaleas, wisteria and dogwoods made it easy on the eyes. Cardinals, blue jays and a long list of other birds supplied the soundtrack.

We wrapped up with four on the trail, Bruce, Deanne, Rachel and I. The overcast skies kept the temperatures in the mid-60s for nearly the entire trip. This wasn’t a day for racing but for a relaxing mosey from the coast to the capital and back.

We found fun along the way, trying to identify mystery wildflowers. Trailside church signs also provided a laugh. One informed us “God has not forgot” but showed us even the divine can use a good editor. Another was named “Victory Thru Truth Ministries.” Truth, maybe, but not “through” correct spelling.

We concluded the day with lunch at the Riverside Café delivered by a waitress who mixed efficiency with surliness. We hoisted celebratory Lemon Shake-Ups and watched the floor show of grackles flying in through the windows and bussing French fries, crackers and any other scraps left at the tables. For the week we had 10 different riders hit the trail, rolled down portions of nine different trails, covered 259 miles altogether, and enjoyed more smiles and laughs than we could count.
- Gary Kirkland
Photos are posted in the gallery.

Trail Condition: Beautiful, very clean
Facilities: Quite satisfactory
O\vo~

Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail

It’s been interesting to watch the growth and improvement of this trail since Feet First’s initial visit in 2000. Then it was a nice trail through the trees between Jacksonville and Baldwin with one bathroom in the middle and an abundance of shade, making it ideal for Florida summers.

The trail we rode today is all that and a whole bunch more. At 9 a.m. Mark, Bruce, first-time tour rider Rachel and I headed east on the trail to Jacksonville, starting from the Baldwin Trailhead that’s connected to a city park with picnic pavilions, nice restroom facilities and a playground for kids. A skateboard park is under construction next to the trail. The trail and park planners have turned this into a recreation destination.

About half way along the route east, we detoured to explore Camp Milton Civil War State Park. It’s a place packed with history, has a wonderful shaded boardwalk, and much more, and there is direct access to the trail. It’s providing another destination for visitors and trail users alike.

At the east and west ends of the Jacksonville-Baldwin the trailheads aren’t fancy, but the Jacksonville Parks and Recreation Department has equipped them with porta-potties, which shows somebody is thinking about what trail users might need and further indicates they’ve done the important math to figure the MPB (miles per bladder) we boomers need.

All of this, along with the nice ride and good company, made for a fine day on the trail. We went at a quicker pace than in the previous days, but still found time to look at the bunnies, the quail and fox squirrels along the way. Bruce, Rachel and I wrapped it up with a dinner stop at Everybody’s Restaurant on U.S. 90 in Baldwin. We enjoyed a classic Southern meat-and-three, and the “Baby Doll” down-home atmosphere of a restaurant where folks look at guys a little funny if they aren’t wearing ball caps. Bruce did get a lesson in North Florida economics. “Cash has worked just fine since 1949,” advised the waitress who served attitude equally as well as she did food, and offered to put him to work washing dishes. Rachel came to his rescue.
Total miles: 30
- Gary Kirkland
Photos are posted in the gallery.

Trail Condition: Excellent
Facilities: Excellent
O\vo~

Nature Coast Trail

A spring ride on the Nature Coast Trail is almost guaranteed to be filled with wildflowers, and today’s ride gave us a good taste of the early bloom of phlox as we rolled from Trenton to Chiefland.

Back in more familiar territory, we had five in the group today, Bruce, Deanne, Sandra, Mark and I, and nobody was in a hurry. It was a relaxing day of riding with temperatures in the low 80s and intense sunshine. We again proved that mouths in motion tend to make the miles go quickly.

Along the way we took a side trip to Fort Fanning Park, on the banks of the Suwannee River in Fanning Springs. It’s a pretty place, and the short brick-lined connector trail is going to make a nice addition to the Nature Coast Trail, as well as providing a convenient connector to the public restrooms in the roadside park just across U.S. 19.

The trailside in Chiefland seemed to offer the most phlox per mile, and we were surprised to see a fair number of trail users out on a weekday. We also enjoyed a good laugh after seeing one northbound couple, the guy on a road bike looking as if he were staring death in the face and his wife following on a ‘bent and wearing a big grin. We figured his bike seat was talking to him, and his butt was hearing it loud and clear.

In Chiefland we got a pleasant surprise – the public restroom (yes, singular) at the south trailhead was actually open. We visited the nearby chamber of commerce office to register our approval of this fact and put in our plea that it would be nice to see the same on the weekend.

On the return trip we enjoyed a barbecue feast at Huckleberry’s and got a kick out of the ad on the bulletin board selling a “queen side’s bed.” The final 10 miles passed quickly and Deanne hit a milestone, her first 100 mile week.
- Gary Kirkland
Photos are posted in the gallery.

Trail Condition: Beautiful, very clean
Facilities: Satisfactory
O\vo~

Seminole-Wekiva Trail

Following a long day on the bike Monday, Tuesday’s ride plan was much less demanding. We put both bikes in the truck and made the 20 minute drive to the Seminole-Wekiva Trail in Altamonte Springs. It’s an urban trail that threads through the suburbs of Orlando in Seminole County, mostly flat with a variety of scenery.

Overcast skies kept the temperature comfortable and for several long stretches we pedaled under tree canopy. We’d then pop out into neighborhoods. It crossed busy four-lanes, skirted less-than-scenic Interstate 4 and then rolled through a landscaped executive office park before it reentered neighborhoods and gated communities, eventually reaching its end on Markham Road. This section did include the tour’s first flat. We later found the broken beer bottles that caused it, whipped out the magic blue dust pan, and dispatched it.

On our return trip we took a detour up and over I-4 via the mini Golden Gate bike bridge – that provided our only real hill of the day – and linked up with the Rinehart Trail. It parallels a busy four-lane before making a sharp turn down a utility right of way, passing through a tunnel, which was actually an overgrown culvert, before the trail came to an abrupt end. It’s a trail that connects part of the community, satisfied our curiosity to explore, but it’s not exactly a scenic wonder.

We then retraced our route back to the bridge and rejoined the Seminole-Wekiva, stopping at Peach Valley Café, a trailside restaurant for lunch where a lone sandhill crane was walking about on the trail. We then returned to Camp Feet First, packed, showered, napped and blogged, and then hit the back roads for an Interstate-free return to Gainesville, with irony. Total miles 34, trail condition excellent.
- Gary Kirkland
Photos are posted in the gallery.

West Orange Trail and Beyond

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, then hit the trail just after 9 a.m., heading east to Apopka. We were checking out a report that the trail had added some miles since our last visit in December. On that trip Bruce photographed the newest addition to the trail, a bike bridge over US 441. At that time it appeared to be nearing completion. We’d mentioned then “we’ll get to ride over that on the Spring Tour,” totally underestimating just how slow a project can go. It’s looking even closer to completion, and the activity of workers around the site looked like somebody had stirred an ant hill. We did venture a few more blocks east, where we got a report that rumors of additional trail growth to the north were unfounded. So we turned around and pointed the bikes west toward Winter Garden, because we’d also heard that the trail was extended west eight additional miles into Clermont. And at a rest stop this tidbit was confirmed, albeit, unofficially. Technically, the South Lake Trail isn’t open. In fact when we got to the end of the West Orange Trail there was a large sign that read “Bike Trail Closed.”

But the smell of fresh asphalt was too tempting, and once we detoured around the sign, it looked like an open trail to us. Actually the closed trail looked to be better maintained than some of the open trails we ride.

This new addition is a real treat and delivers quite a workout. It offers lots of curves and rolling hills. It winds by upscale neighborhoods, under tree canopy and offers lake views through Minneola (don’t blink) and on the way to Clermont. It’s both fun to ride and the scenery is great, especially the portions scented with orange blossoms.

Eventually the new trail joined some old-growth asphalt and took us all the way to the finish line at Benchwarmer’s, a sports pub with large portions and a beautiful view of Lake Minneola. As Bruce scarffed his Cobb salad and I inhaled a buffalo chicken wrap, he looked up and saw the Citrus Tower rising on the horizon, a tourist trap we’d both visited as kids.

After lunch, it was time to climb back on the bikes and head east, into the teeth of a serious headwind. Hills and headwind gave us an even tougher workout on the way home. By the time we rolled into the campsite, we’d covered nearly 60 miles and pounded the pedals for six hours. On our return trip we also got confirmation that the South Lake Trail will open April 21.

Our survival was assured by a visit from St. Carol (patron saint of Chinese food delivery) and St. Shelton (patron saint of ice delivery). The two saints then joined us for dinner. It was a fine day of riding, and neither of us will need to be rocked to sleep tonight.
- Gary Kirkland
Photos are posted in the gallery.

Trail Condition: Excellent
Facilities: Outstanding
O\vo~

Withlacoochee State Trail

After riding in our backyard on Saturday, Sunday began with a road trip down US 41 to Inverness, which on this morning was the Dead Skunk Memorial Highway. Nothing gets you ready to ride like dodging skunk carcasses in the early morning fog.

Our destination was the Withlacoochee State Trail; at 46 miles the state’s longest. Our plan was a roundtrip tour of the middle 15 miles south of Inverness. With the lakefront views at the parks near the trail head, a fine assortment of restaurants just a few blocks away, downtown Inverness is a good place to launch a ride.

On Saturday, a large fund-raiser ride rolled down the trail, and on Sunday it was litter free and looking good. Somebody had worked hard to keep it up. We had six riders today, with Sheila and Larry making their spring tour debut. They joined regulars Bruce, Deanne, Mark and I. We were all ready to roll at just after 9 a.m. It was Sheila’s first ride on her new Pocket, and she proved to be a quick learner. And Deanne showed that Saturday was no fluke, turning in another strong day on the trail.

The Withlacoochee is extra wide, making it perfect for two and three abreast riding/talking. It’s also well used by a variety of riders. There were go-fast roadies, Wal-Mart one speeds, granny trikes and a whole bunch of other feet-firsters. The Withlacoochee typically has the highest percentage of recumbent riders of any of the trails we regularly ride. There’s even a recumbent bike shop on the trail.

We wrapped up the ride with a feast at Coach's Pub, and then we parted company. Bruce and I headed to Clarcona Horseman’s Park, breaking the BYOB – back in your own bed – tradition. By day’s end we were set up in our campsite 20 feet from the West Orange Trail with steaks on the grill and a cold brew in hand.
- Gary Kirland
Photos are posted in the gallery.

Trail Condition: Beautiful
Facilities: Environmentally friendly
O\vo~

Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail - Spring Trails Tour '07

If Saturday was an indication of things to come, we're in for quite a tour. We hit the trail with seven riders, including two new faces – at least their faces were new to us. Peggy and Mike from Atlantic Beach joined us for the opening day. Mike knew us after following Feet First exploits via the Web. They soon learned that this would be more of a rolling gabfest than a hammerfest.

When we left the parking lot at Boulware Springs there was still a bit of chill in the air, and it was cooler yet in the shade. But the cool quickly disappeared in the first hour. And one of the early surprises was Deanne leading the pack. Her new bike and a good breakfast allowed her to not only keep up, but set the pace.

In Hawthorne we took on fuel at Sonny's and started the trip home with the assist of a respectable tailwind. It was a bright day that put the sunscreen to the test. We did go a bit hog wild on the way back, literally, with a visit from a piney woods rooter that came charging out of the brush. Deer, turtles and more butterflies than we could count were also among the sightings. We rolled about 34 miles on a day that would be hard to beat for two-wheeled pleasure.
– Gary Kirkland


Photos are posted in the gallery. Get set to join us in Inverness tomorrow on the Withlacoochee Trail!

Trail Condition: Beautiful
Facilities: Environmentally friendly
O\vo~

General James A. Van Fleet State Trail

A day on the trail is always good, a new trail, crisp weather and sharing it with good friends notches it up to great. The General James A. Van Fleet State Trail, which touts itself as one of Florida's most rural trails, lived up to that billing. From start to finish over nearly 40 miles, we saw only three cars, no houses and only a few electric lines, offering us a paved slice of Central Florida boondocks, from Mabel to just north of Polk City. With seven of us on the trail, Feet First was a slow-moving, bird watching, stop and talk presence.
A quick glimpse of history shows no connection between the trail's namesake and bikes. He was a World War I, World War II and Korean War vet, a West Point classmate of Dwight D. Eisenhower and a one-time University of Florida football coach. No mention in his bio of any connection to the Fleet enema fortune, which as a general he could have plugged with the slogan, "I have met the enema, and it is mine!"
The trail was smooth, and fearless leader Bruce was elevated and on two wheels, giving Deanne's new bike a 40-mile test ride. Both bike and rider passed with flying colors. A tailwind pushed us south and the headwind coming back made us earn our lunch at the Rainbow Restaurant in beautiful downtown Mascotte. We were left with the mystery of how to pronounce Mabel, does it rhyme with Black Label, or is it like the matriarch of the singing Carter family, May-bell. That mystery will have to wait for another day. Photos are posted in the gallery, thanks to Will Byers for his contribution.

Don't forget, the 2007 Feet First Spring Tour begins Saturday morning, so get your days off lined up and come ride with us. The ride locations and launch times are now posted on the calendar. Yall Come!

Trail Condition: Excellent
Facilities: Excellent
- Gary Kirkland

Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail

What good news! Not only was the trail full of folks enjoying a perfect Spring day, but lots of them were children! It was really inspiring to see so many kids outside. Pedalling, walking, giggling, running, kicking rocks, making plans... not watching TV!

Blooms, blossums, sprouts were beginning to show as small birds darted everywhere. We also ran into our friends from Jacksonville, Jim & Melissa, who are still enjoying my old Rocket. Photos are posted in the gallery.

Don't forget, the 2007 Feet First Spring Tour is coming right up, so get your days off lined up and come ride with us. The schedule is firming up and ride locations and launch times are now posted on the calendar.

Looking forward to our first visit to the General James A. Van Fleet State Trail for next Saturday. Yall Come!

Trail Condition: Excellent
Facilities: Excellent
O\vo~

Withlacoochee Trail - 3rd Catrike Rally

Since our ride was rained out, I decided to join the folks from the 3rd Annual Catrike Rally for their lunch ride on the Withlacoochee Trail. They were starting at Hampton's Edge bike shop and heading north at noon, so I started from Inverness and headed south at 11 AM.
On an absolutely gorgeous day, I met up with the group of over a dozen trikes at the 17 mile marker, so I turned around. We had a very pleasant ride into Inverness. The impact of the 15 colorful trikes parked in front of the pub on local passers by provided great entertainment as we enjoyed each other's company and a fine lunch at Coach's Pub before calling it a day.

Looking forward to the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail for next Saturday. Yall Come!

Trail Condition: Excellent
Facilities: Excellent
O\vo~

Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail

Deanne, Gary and I made up the entire group today. Winter seemed to have "left the building" for this ride, leaving behind what was very nearly a perfect Spring day! A nice cool start with a light SE breeze that matured into a helpful little tail wind on the return trip.
Nearly as present as the small birds darting from side to side, were the number of recumbents sighted. A good sized group, we think from the central Florida area, included some out of state visitors on tandem recumbents, who brightened the scene with their colors. Photos are posted in the gallery.

While Gary had to rush on back, Deanne and I stopped in at Sonny's in Hawthorne for refueling and rest. They had replaced the tired, old, picnic table style furniture with new traditional tables and chairs which gave the dining room a much more spacious feel and, no doubt, enhanced the serving experience.

There were quite a few folks out on the trail, cyclists, rollerbladers, walkers, even employees offering information and taking care of maintenance tasks as well. Also, our late start amplified the number of oncoming cyclists we encountered, a couple of which turned out to be other Feet First members riding on their own schedule.

Looking forward to the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail for next Saturday. Yall Come!

Trail Condition: Very good
Facilities: Environmentally friendly
O\vo~

Nature Coast Trail

Saturday morning in north central Florida was full of surprises starting with a record-breaking low temperature that approached the teens. Gary and I agreed when we met up at the Trenton trailhead that our sanity was in question, but we had planned to be there and it was a beautiful day, so we visited the Foodway for some breakfast and allowed the morning to warm up slightly, since it was still in the thirties.

It was now ride time, though there were no other attendees. At least sunscreen was easily conserved today as precious little remained exposed after suiting up. The forecast of a high in the mid 60s encouraged us to proceed and it was just above 40 as we started out. None of this discouraged the bird population, especially robins, they were everywhere and quite busy it seemed.

As we were about to cross the Suwannee River, a walker and his leashed dog were coming the other way and the dog was carrying a large, slingshot shaped piece of wood in his mouth. As a friendly greeting I smiled and asked, "You got him collecting firewood for you?"

The walker, without hesitation, simply replied, "He whittles!" and kept on walking.

The river was quiet and smooth, as free of traffic as the trail had been, but on the other side there was a veritable parade of motorcycles descending into Old Town where we, too, stopped for a break.

Starting at the Old Town trailhead, we saw two other riders braving the morning. Instead of continuing on to Cross City, we decided to double back and turn south to Fanning Springs to visit the wayside park at the river there and were surprised to find a new park. Fort Fanning Historical Park is on the north side of US 19 right at the river's edge and, we were later told, will be the home of a reconstructed Fort Fanning. It has nice, brick-lined sidewalks with landscaping and benches and a lovely view of the river.
We followed the sidewalk back to the east and discovered a hidden corridor beneath huge old oaks that goes all the way back to the rail trail where there are future plans to add a restroom facility. Photos are posted in the gallery.

On the way back to Trenton, we did encounter a couple more riders and finally saw the temperature above 60. An additional surprise was finding a freshly smashed glass bottle on the asphalt, but Gary's trusty pan and brush made short work of the unusual blemish.

Looking forward to the Hawthorne Trail for next Saturday. Yall Come!

Trail Condition: Excellent
Facilities: Excellent
O\vo~

O'Leno to Ichetucknee

It had been nearly a month since I last rode, so I thought I had best get out there and make the best of the break in the weather. The most energy efficient ride for me is the quick 4 mile drive up to Fort White, so that was my decision. I headed west out to the Ichetucknee River and then back to town before pedaling toward O'Leno State Park.

About half way to O'Leno, I met an oncoming cyclist, whom I had seen before. I waved and spoke to the gentleman only slightly younger than myself and continued on my way, dodging the debris of the still unmaintained trail. A crew had, at least, removed the large trees that were across the trail the last time I rode it, but it continues to be free of any sweeping or edging activity.

At the entrance to O'Leno, I turned about and began the trip back to Fort White. It is a little hilly on that end of the trail and as I came over what feels like the highest point, there in front of the the old Tanner place, I was surprised to see this scene.

I couldn't quite figure what on Earth could have happened here, where there are no intersections and such. Moving on down the slope, it soon became clear that the incident involved a cyclist. It was the fellow I had greeted before! On his return trip, he had apparently blacked out and taken a tumble. A deputy told me that a motorist had called in his misfortune and as we talked the paramedics arrived and began questioning the cyclist about his condition.

The paramedics, guided by the patient's response and evidence of a solid blow to the forehead, began making arrangements to airlift him to Gainesville. There appeared to be no equipment failure as I looked over his bicycle; tires were inflated, nothing looked damaged or out of place. The deputy loaded it up from transporting to the station in Fort White and the ambulance pulled away.

On my way back to my car, I began to hear the sounds of a helicopter approaching in the distance. Nice to know folks can get the help they need out here in the hinterland, but this neighbor I had seen before, surely had enjoyed better days.

Trail Condition: Navigable, yet not maintained
Facilities: Not provided
Emergency Services Response: Excellent
O\vo~

Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail

Mark, Deanne and I met up early at Everybody's Restaurant in Baldwin for our usual country style breakfast and dose of local color and were elevated by our server to the stature of "Darlin's" while she made sure we had everything we desired. Then off to the trailhead, a few blocks north, where Sandra joined us.
This was one of those days that sees a range of temperatures, starting off a little cooler than expected and warming rather rapidly. It was accompanied by a thin layer of clouds that overcast our experience with less than direct sunlight but was unable to mask the natural beauty of this trail. In north Florida, among the paved tails, the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail State Park is this trail's only rival in that department.
It's quite easy to forget to notice the trail surface itself, mostly because the surrounding forest is so beautiful, but also due to its well maintained condition. I was somewhat surprised to see so many people enjoying the trail this time, so I guess the secret is out. There were families, cycling and roller-blading, walkers, runners and horsemen... not crowded, but well used.
At the half-way point, where we are used to visiting the facilities, we were drawn off to the side to another trailhead that had been opened since our last visit. The Harvey House appears to be the central feature, though it has parking, a long, elevated boardwalk nature trail running through a dense pine forest, many acres with specimen Live Oaks planted, and connects via concrete trails to the trailside rest stop. We spent a few minutes there talking with folks and met another recumbent trike rider, John Landress, from Jacksonville.
At the east end, the Imeson Road Trailhead had a nearly full parking lot, unlike our launch in Baldwin which was almost empty.
Photos are posted in the gallery.

Trail Condition: Excellent, facilities clean and available.
O\vo~

Nature Coast Trail

Sandra and Mark were waiting for me when I drove up to the sight of Mark's brand new Rans Stratus, parked and ready. After I took a quick spin on a very quiet, light-weight, new bicycle with superbly stable handling, I slid back onto my tricycle and we were off. There was no difficulty in staying focused on the cold as it was only 49 degrees and hadn't been that cool in quite a while. The idea of shopping for socks crossed my mind a few times, but the wind was light and allowed the sun to peek through a fair amount.

We stopped for a break in Fanning Springs and found some fellas actually doing some welding work on the gas pump island. Considering the concept for just a few moments seemed to hasten our departure... something just didn't seem right about that. There were a few other trail users out this morning, one was particularly interested in our strange craft, but mostly we had the trail to ourselves. In Chiefland, we simply turned about and headed back, but noticing it was still feeling rather chilly at 61 degrees, we began to discuss the warmth we suspected would be associated with that little barbeque joint in Fanning Springs. In less time than the return trip took, it became apparent we would stop there for lunch and that turned out to be a very fine idea, indeed. They even had fried green tomatoes on the menu and do a particularly fine job of not over cooking the collards.

After lunch, it was mostly a back to the barn run. We weren't really pushing it, but didn't dawdle either, finishing up the last of the 36 miles happy to see our warm cars waiting.

Photos are posted in the gallery. I'll be out of pocket this coming weekend, but look forward to the weather at last permitting us to ride the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail the next weekend.

Trail Condition: Always Excellent, facilities clean and available.
O\vo~