Inland Florida

22Jan12

2/29/12 Some of the photos in this post have mysteriously disappeared off of flickr….we hope to get them back soon. 

On New Year’s day we left St. Petersburg and we found ourselves again riding the Pinellas Trail, this time north. This was the same trail that brought us in to the city two weeks prior. The ride is completely different in the opposite direction. This trail is well used, maintained, signed and accessible. On our ride, with Debi fighting off the end of a cold, we chatted with other cyclists who had done some touring. It is  always nice to talk to folks who have been out there.  Generally, everyone was pleasant that we came across, perhaps because it was the first day of the new year.

Boxcar cafe serving Green Mountain Coffee Roasters! Unfortunately, it was closed being New Year's Day

We followed the trail  north to Tarpon Springs, FL. The trail makes its way through the downtown area and then ends with no great fan fare as it dumps you out on some well used and abused roads north of Tarpon Springs. Before leaving town we were able to see some of the local sponge industry on the waterfront. Even if only a tourist market today it added a little old time style to this Greek-American town.

Sponges for Sale

After a few grueling road miles our route finally brought us east out to the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness  area where we picked up a connector trail which would take us back to the Sun Coast Trail. The wilderness area had a campground that seemed pleasant and was very affordable.

Sand Hill Cranes

Old burn area in the Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Area

We traveled north on the Sun Coast until just after dark and found a nice quiet campsite in the flat, open woods. The moon was bright and the light was good so setting up the tent after dark was no problem.  The next morning we were up at dawn and rolling through the crisp morning air. The northern end of the Sun Coast Trail is quite hilly and succeeded in getting our heart rates up!

Debi begins a climb up a stepped concrete overpass on the Sun Coast Trail

The northern terminus of the trail is just a parking lot and a picnic table. Once off the Sun Coast Trail we picked our way east and north over to the Withlacoochee State Forest. We did a little more climbing on a smooth highway  and then turned off on some local roads. These roads took us past defunct quarries. Vultures soared overhead and always seemed to find some roadside delicacy to devour. The forest roads were full of their share of sand and Pine and Oak forests. We did our share of pushing our bikes through the deep stuff. Forest road 13 had very low traffic and was an enjoyable ride. The word Withlacoochee means crooked river.

Quiet road heading north

Road starts to narrow but stays solid

Cool stenciled road sign in the Withlacoochee State Forest

Bryan pushes through some of the sandy spots

Soil types kept changing even if only for a hundred yards at a stretch

Close up of the road in the hard pack areas

Quiet campsite deep in the forest

Tuesday morning we woke to some sunny but chilly weather. Now it was Bryan who had come down with the cold. In a couple of miles we were immersed in a busy commercial area with chain stores. We found some coffee and rode a few more  miles to Hernando, FL where we were able to turn south and head down the Withlacoochee State Trail. In  this area of Florida we have been able to link up five paved trails that are traffic free with only small, manageable  sections of easy road riding. Anyone could have a lot of fun in this area by creating narrow loops or figure 8’s if you lived close by. One extremely nice person we met on the trail was Harry and he inquired if we had ever heard of Ken Kifer who said “take two bicycle wheels daily”. We hadn’t heard of him but after researching him we thought we would share his website (above).

Looking up at the Withlacoochee Trail

If it were only that easy - Oh, wait, it actually is that easy

Road crossing on the Withlacoochee Trail

Pannier friendly bike rack and rider friendly swing along the trail

One area we didn’t have enough time to explore nor the right tires or suspension was Croom, FL. Mountain bike trails abound here. Maybe someday we will return to ride some single track here – who knows? We found a quiet campsite deep in the forest off the bike trail. After getting off the Withlacoochee Trail we found a large breakfast, wi-fi and coffee at the local Denny’s. We did a quick re-supply at a Winn-dixie super market  and then headed east on route 50 for 17 miles to the James A. Van Fleet Trail trail head. Route 50 was the only section of our ride into St. Petersburg that we repeated on our way out. This section cf highway crosses the Florida Trail where ample camping can be found. The James A. Van Fleet Trail is almost completely straight from the beginning to the end with the exception of one bend. We only saw a handful people using it. It is rather remote and borders state forest on one side and ranch lands on the other.  Wild cattle watched us as we pedaled by. There is not much room to camp as swamps and barb wire keep close tabs on the trail.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent cycling south through big citrus country. We found ourselves riding through towns with names like Frostproof and Winter Haven. Not all miles of a trip like this are glorious and we call these areas the “in betweens”, sometimes you have to ride the in between stuff to get to the areas you want to be in. Often, the in between areas are mid-sized urban areas that are busy and not used to touring cyclists coming through. We passed a lot of citrus groves that were actively being harvested by hand and loaded into large trucks. It was a busy time of year for sure. We rode through the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest in the late afternoon and later, well off the road we camped in a  sandy clearing in the forest.

Big easy roads in the Florida sunshine

Oranges ready for harvest

Simple trail head in Lake Wales Ridge State Forest

Sunset from camp

We decided to ride over to Lake Okeechobee, the largest fresh water lake in Florida to partially circumnavigate a trail that runs along its shore. The next post will be about riding to that area and other wild areas of South Florida, then on down to the Keys where we are writing this post from, trying to catch up with the cyber world after a 14 day stretch of riding without a break.

More to come!

B+D

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One Response to “Inland Florida”

  1. 1 Frank Zangara

    Great pics, as always. It is cold here in Jersey so enjoy the weather.

    I am looking forward to your next post.

    Frank

    Bike cop


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