Friday, June 29, 2018

Highlands County

We lived for 13 years in a tiny rural community on the south side of Highlands County, a county located almost exactly halfway between the east and west coasts of Florida and at the southern tip of the Lake Wales Ridge. Lots of lakes. Orange groves. Ranches. Wildlife refuges. Large pristine areas of Florida scrub. And, oh yes, rolling hills.

The summer in inland Florida feels hotter than summer in the coastal areas. There is always some wind in Miami where we live now. Inland, the heat can wrap around you like a miserable fur coat. The summer is also the rainy season. Water flows in the ditches along the roads. Acres of land that are dry in winter become pond-like. Which keeps the humidity nice and high.

So we make sure our water bottles are full, and we know where we can go to refill them along our rides. We know where the rural convenience stores are, places to get water and maybe even an ice cream bar snack on a longish ride.

We were in Highlands for just two days of riding, but it was worth the drive from Miami. We heard the booming call of alligators in the marshy woods. We saw sandhill crane everywhere. Osprey. Scrub jay. Vultures. Cattle. Llamas. Miniature goats. Burros. Horses, colts, ponies, and mules. Gopher tortoise. Deer. Even a golden mouse. Critters galore.

We stopped into Archbold Biological Station for water and chatted with some staff who proudly showed off the conference center's mass plantings of native Florida grasses and flowers. Then, not long after leaving Archbold, we ran into one of the standard summer inconveniences of the area. There had been a lot of rain in the past week. We were headed to Venus, but the road was covered in water in spots for a couple of miles. Not a problem for a pickup truck, but not something we wanted to play in on bicycles. We detoured around the water and continued our meandering ride.

Someone once asked me how rural bike riding differed from urban bike riding. The difference I said was simple. Urban riding has scads and scads of destinations, but few good routes. Rural riding has limited destinations, but there are good, scenic routes whichever way you head.

Both are fine by me.
This ranch is now conservation land.
Rainy season problem along some secondary roads.
The old main road to Venus can be tricky for bicycles in the summer.
These signs on the rolling hills never fail to make me laugh.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Running Away from Home on a Bicycle, June Edition

Sometimes you need to find time for yourself. Sometimes all you need is a bicycle. Last month I ran away from home on my bicycle and spent a night down in the Keys. June is full-on summer, and motels are cheaper. Time to splurge and spend a couple nights down in the Keys.

I decided to stay at one of the old cottage-style resorts in the Upper Keys. I like riding 60-70 miles a day which is just about the mileage from my home in Miami to the south end of Key Largo. I wanted a place with a beach, tiki huts, kayaks, and paddle boards. And a guest laundry. I made my reservations before leaving home, snagging a kitchenette unit on the water with a king bed. Here's how the trip played out:

  • Day One. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Took the route from Miami to the Keys via Card Sound Road. Traffic was light. The sun was relentless. Shade nonexistent. It was really hot and humid. The wind picked up and was a gusty headwind as I got down to the Keys. Tragedy! My ice cream shop was closed so I didn't get my key lime pie ice cream cone. Got to my motel, checked in, dumped my bike luggage in the room, found a cold soda, and chilled in a tiki hut on the beach. Pedaled over to Publix and picked up the makings for lunch and dinner. Then I changed into swim wear and splashed around in the water before cleaning up for dinner and the ritual viewing of sunset.
  • Day Two. Coffee and a pastry at the breakfast tiki hut before a ride south to Layton. Loved the tailwind on the ride home. Changed into swim wear and set up in a tiki hut on the beach. Read the papers on my phone and had lunch. Two middle aged German tourists joined me, then a couple from Naples. The German tourists were particularly amusing. Played catch with a small boy who appeared on the beach. Went out on the paddle boards with the German tourists. We weren't very good at the paddle board thing, especially in a gusty wind, so we swapped the paddle boards for kayaks and went for a nice outing. Dinner. Sunset. Packed the bike for the trip home.
  • Day Three. Coffee and a pastry at the tiki hut and goodbyes to the German tourists and the couple from Naples. Pedaled north to the mainland via Card Sound Road. A film crew was set up on Card Sound, and police were making lots of people unhappy with long delays. Many northbound people turned around and rerouted back to US 1. I got waved through. Police "traffic control points" were set up at regular intervals for the southbound lane. I pedaled happily along with almost no traffic in my northbound lane. Pedal, pedal, pedal. I was home. Lunch with Al and a nap.

Running away from home on a bicycle is awesome.