March 21-28, 2015
My buddy, Don, summed it up nicely when he posted, “Two guys runnin’ wild and free headed to Florida for a few days of rail trail riding”. And so, we did. As usual I couldn’t resist a stop at the “Varsity” as we slowly passed thru Atlanta. It’s a tradition. A couple of hot dogs, some onion rings and a chocolate milkshake! After reaching Lake City, FL we chose to get off the interstate and travel the old highways. This led to our first trail ride, the Withlacoochee Bay Trail, a nice trail along the old Florida Barge Canal. Our second ride was the Upper Tampa Bay Trail. Following a long day of travel, I had no problem getting in a good night’s sleep in my tent. We got the last available campsite in the campground! The next morning’s downpours were a little disappointing but gave us ample time to do some scouting and planning. It was 2 pm by the time we finally began riding our third trail, Venetian Waterway Park Trail. This beautiful greenway trail follows along both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway, from the ocean north and somewhat east, past the Venice Airport to north of Venice Avenue. We also had the opportunity of riding thru the nice little town of Venice. We began and ended this trail at the Historic Venice Train Depot which is also where our fourth trail, the Legacy Trail, began. This is a 10.7 mile trail that is flat and straight except for the nice bridge across US41. There are several other small bridges over waterways where you have some great views. After a 2pm start and 45 miles of riding we had a very good late dinner at Brian’s Place.
Tuesday morning, we left the Venice area and headed north to Dunedin where we were planning to meet Joe, my friend from Myrtle Beach. It was a beautiful morning. As we started across Tampa Bay, we stopped at the Terra Ceia Rest Area to enjoy the wonderful views and snap a few photos. We then proceeded across the beautiful Sunshine Skyway Bridge into Saint Petersburg, Clearwater Beach and finally, Dunedin. This is about the halfway point on the Pinellas Trail and is another of Florida’s quaint little towns. After connecting with Joe and grabbing some lunch we began our ride on the popular Pinellas Trail. We rode to Tarpon Springs where we spent quite a bit of time walking around town and enjoyed seeing the large boats docked there. This is a very active town with a lot of tourists having fun. After completing our 27 mile bike ride, we once again took to the road trying to find a campsite for the night. This was a harder task than we anticipated. We finally found a campground which was full but allowed us to pitch our tents in a large, open, grassy field. The bright moon and stars made for a beautiful night.
Wednesday, following a great breakfast at the Chef’s Café, a small family restaurant in Spring Hill, we drove to Inverness and the Withlacoochee Trail. Because we were a little late getting on our bikes today, we chose to ride north on the trail which was the shorter section and save the longer southern section for the next day. It is a nice, very popular trail. Following our ride, we found some primitive campsites at Fort Cooper State Park where we set up our tents for a couple of nights. Primitive was certainly a good description of this place and I think we were the only campers there.
Thursday, following another good breakfast at a local restaurant, we headed south on the Withlacoochee Trail. This section of trail was more scenic than the section we rode Wednesday. There was a bike shop beside the trail as well as a couple of places to grab something to eat. We saw several more bikers on the trail and most were riding trikes. Trikes are very popular in Florida because of the numerous rail-trails. With 50 miles, it was our longest ride of the week. With an overnight forecast of 90% rain and a couple of thunder storms, Joe decided to pack up his tent and bid us farewell.
After surviving the all night rain in our tents, we were welcomed with a warm partly sunny morning on Friday. It was our last day to enjoy the wonderful Florida rail trails. We grabbed some breakfast and headed to the West Orange Trail near Winter Garden. It was our favorite trail and the weather was near perfect for the first 20 miles or so. Then we began encountering showers and finally an all-out rain. We got soaked and as the temp dropped to 63 degrees, we also got a little chilled by the end of our 41 miles. The ride was great, especially the part thru downtown Winter Garden. They make the claim that the West Orange Trail is the city’s Main Street. And I guess that’s true since the trail runs right down the middle of the street!
With the completion of the West Orange Trail our Florida Bike Trails Excursion was complete. Well, almost, we still had to drive home. We made it to Valdosta, GA where we spent the night before completing our journey on Saturday. We spent 2 days traveling there and back and 6 days riding 7 trails for 222 miles (and had no flat tires). We slept in our tents for 4 nights and motels for 3 nights. We ate mostly in small local restaurants and had some great meals. And the weather was very nice…except for the rain during the last 20 miles of our ride Friday! Thanks Don and Joe for hanging in there when we had no idea what we were going to do next! It was a fun week. Oh yea, I saw one alligator! And I got his picture!