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
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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
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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
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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~