Mention Florida and most people think of beautiful beaches, cool drinks, endless sunshine and warm temperatures. I recently travelled to north-western Florida on a two week business trip and met up with a fellow bicycle touring enthusiast. Walt Ebbert lives in Florida and when he heard that I was headed his way he offered to lend me a bicycle and take me on as many bicycle rides as we could fit in between our two busy work schedules.
The first ride took us along the beachfront before heading inland on quieter roads that wound through gated communities. Many sights including the "Bad Ass Coffee Shop" and the Whaling wall were enjoyed. The roads were largely flat and in most cases very peacefui and soul soothing.
About twenty minutes from the ride's end the skies opened up and rain quickly left us drenched and a bit cool. All was forgotten twenty minutes later when we successfully returned to our starting point.
The second ride took place the next day and this time I was given the priviledge of enjoying some very quiet and rustic riding about one and a half hours north of the coast in the Black Water State Park area. The ride started on a very wide paved rail trail but eventually we got out on to the open highways of the area. The highways included paved shoulders and courteous drivers. Eventually we left the highways and headed down numerous quiet country roads.
The scenery was constantly changing with swamps, rivers, woods and farmfields vying for our attention. We stayed on the paved roads but every so often a red clay road would call out to us as we passed it.
Florida is often thought of as flat but there are indeed small hills throughout the area that we toured. These hills usually consisted of long grades that seemed to go on forever! (grin).
Another Florida myth is that the sun is always shining. Although this wasn't the case the day before it most certainly was on this day. There is something especially appealing to a canadian to be riding in January in reasonably warm temperatures with the sun beaming down on your head.
Towards the end of the ride we joined the Southern Tier route. This route is one of the ones that cyclists crossing the southern part of the United States often use. The road here again included nice shoulders and courteous drivers but I couldn't help thinking about all the remote roads that the route passes right by!
Another interesting thing about this route is that it runs alongside Florida State Road One. This road is very visible in the area we rode through. It was a red brick highway that was used in previous years. Compared to modern roads it is very narrow (about equal to one lane) and it is made of red brick.
The two rides encompassed 84 miles/135 km in distance but allowed me to travel much further in terms of seeing and experiencing a new part of the world for me. I left the two rides very thankful to my host for allowing me to see more of Florida then just the beautiful beaches.
Is it worth a tour?
Warm temperatures, friendly people and interesting things to see make this a place that I hope to experience more fully one day and hopefully as part of a bicycle touring adventure!
Walt is a member of the Emerald Coast Cyclists. You might consider visiting their web site to find out more about cycling in the north-western part of Florida.
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