Monday, January 20, 2014

Everglades National Park by Bicycle

We put the bikes on the car rack. We were heading just a few miles down the road to ride in a World Heritage Site. What's not to love about living in Miami? Other people travel around the globe to visit a World Heritage Site.

Our destination: Everglades National Park. We would be meeting up with Everglades Bicycle Club member Tom Burton. Tom leads an EBC group ride through the park. It's a progressive ride, that is, you can choose where you start along the route. That lets riders choose how many miles they want to ride. We were starting with Tom at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. We'd ride with him the full route from the Visitor Center to Flamingo and back, a total of 80 miles. Other riders would join us along the route for shorter rides.

Everglades National Park was founded fairly recently (1947). It holds the distinction of being the first national park founded primarily because of its ecological importance. At 1.51 million acres, it's big. There aren't many miles of paved road in the park, but the longest one is the one to Flamingo.

The first dozen plus miles is a bumpy chip seal road, but after that the road surface is new smooth pavement. We were on the bikes we use for touring, mountain bikes with 1.5 inch street tires. Tom was riding a hybrid. The other riders were on road bikes. The pace for this ride is easy touring speed: 14-16 mph with stops for wildlife and nature viewing. Perfect!

The morning was unusually brisk, and we were all dressed in extra layers (jackets, vests, arm and leg warmers, etc.)  Tourists from snow zone states and countries laugh at us, but in Miami cold is anything under 60 degrees and frigid cold is anything under 50 degrees. This morning it was 43 degrees.  (Brrrrrrr.)

Things were immediately better once we started riding. The sun felt wonderful. As we pedaled along, cars passed us with bikes in bike carriers, and riders we would be picking up down the road waved and called out to us. We picked up riders at three spots along the route. The wildlife in the Everglades is fabulous. We glimpsed an alligator or two, saw all kinds of birds, even rousting dozens of egrets at one spot, the birds winging off in a flurry of wide white wings. There was the unscheduled stop to fix a flat tire. (I wish I had a video of it. Funnier than a Saturday Night Live skit.) Pedal, pedal, pedal. We arrived at Flamingo.

We opted for a picnic lunch at the Flamingo Marina. Some riders had packed in their lunch. Others of us foraged in the marina store. We watched the pontoon tour boats come and go. A family of tourists struck up a conversation with us. Manatees entertained us. A nicer spot would be hard to find. After lunch we decided to bike around Flamingo, past the old pink mid century modern building, down the multi-path to the campgrounds, and back around. Beautiful views of Florida Bay, white pelicans, and people out in kayaks and canoes.

Then it was time to pedal back, dropping riders at their cars, heading back down the highway to Coe Visitor Center. We stopped along the way, of course. Be fools not to. Tom told us about the many places we could explore on future rides. And then there was the "little something extra" that comes at the end of the best rides. We stopped at a bridge not far from the park entrance. An egret softly winged upward and away. And below us, so close we could practically see our reflections in his eyes, was a big alligator, all tucked in among some grass below the bridge.

If you are an Everglades Bicycle Club member and you haven't been on this ride with Tom Burton, put it on your list of rides to do in 2014. After all, everybody else has to spend big bucks to buy a plane ticket and the rest of the vacation fixings to visit a World Heritage Site. All you have to do is drive a few miles. And you have a fellow EBC club member as your ride leader and tour guide.

What's not to love about that?