Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Weekend In Highlands County Florida

Highlands County is just a 3 hour car ride from Miami. It sits at the very southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge. The Lake Wales Ridge is the remains of a chain of ancient islands. It starts in Highlands County and runs north about 150 miles. At its northern end, near Clermont, lies Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest point on the ridge and a climb famous among Florida cyclists. But at the southern end, in Highlands County, the hills are gentler. They are challenging to cyclists from the flatlands of coastal Florida without being intimidating. The area is picturesque with a myriad of lakes, oaks dripping with Spanish moss, cattle-filled pastures, endless orange groves, and mile upon mile of quiet roads. The perfect place for a weekend of cycling.

We drove to Sebring, the largest of Highland County's three cities, for the Everglades Bicycle Club (EBC) Spring Break Weekend. The event has a history spanning back to the 80s. It is a three-day event. The routes are easy to follow thanks to excellent route marking by Highlands Pedalers Bicycle Club. (And this year they provided GPS for the routes, too!) There is a barbecue one night. The historic Kenilworth Lodge in Sebring is the base for the weekend.

Friday morning we pedaled from our motel to the Kenilworth Lodge. We were going to ride the 62 mile route. A sizable group of cyclists was gathered in the front parking area. Greg Neville, past-president of EBC and host for the event, said a few words and the group formed up for a ride around Lake Istokpoga. The Highlands Pedalers led the group out, and we were off for a great day of riding. Our route led us through town, past pastures filled with cattle, past fields tilled and ready for planting, past nests of osprey (the heads of the chicks sometimes peaking up into view), and finally through miles of orange groves on our way back into Sebring. Wonderful ride.

Saturday we again pedaled over to the Kenilworth Lodge. We were planning to join the group riding the 55 mile route north to Lake Reedy in Frostproof. Again, great route marking. Lovely glimpses of lakes as we pedaled along. We saw a beautiful swallow-tailed kite near Lake Reedy. Lovely route. We debated whether the route had more hills or whether our legs were just a bit tired from Friday's ride. (More likely the case.) Al and I slipped away from the group on the way back to Sebring so I could take a couple of photos. My plan for the end of the ride was to stop at an ice cream and soda store we'd spotted near the old downtown circle in Sebring. Which we did. (I can report that Cappuccino Kahlua ice cream is delicious.) Afterward we headed back to our motel for a shower and nap before the Saturday evening barbecue at the Lodge.

Gathering for a picture in Highlands Hammock State Park.
Sunday was the day for the traditional group photo in Highlands Hammock State Park. We gathered at the Lodge and pedaled over to the park. There were lots of photos taken. Some people were headed for a loop through the park, then back to the Lodge to check out and drive home to Miami. A few (us included) were planning to make it a 45-mile day by following today's southerly route down Henscratch Road to Lake June with a loop back to Sebring. We did it as a leisurely photo tour with a break for an ice cream sandwich at a convenience store in the little community of Leisure Lakes on the north side of Lake June. The critter count was excellent: a turkey with 6 chicks, numerous families of sandhill cranes, a large snapping turtle, horses, and cattle, including my favorite, Brahman cattle.
Brahman cattle
There was a bit of humor out in a pasture. There were wonderful vistas of orange groves. Quiet, canopied roads next to lake (after lake, after lake), picturesque old structures, and winding, slow-moving creeks.
Bigfoot sighting in a pasture.
Vistas of miles of orange groves.
Stop at a creek.

This is definitely a weekend event we will do again.