I am very proud of Elise. Yesterday, we rode our bikes from our doorstep to the end of the Lehigh Rails-to-Trail path and back – a distance of over 22 miles. I feel like that is an impressive accomplishment for an 8-year-old. She is such a sport and down for almost any kind of big activity. This path passes through the 3,000+ acre Graham Swamp Conservation Area and along the Lehigh Canal, roughly from Flagler Beach to Highway 1. It’s quite beautiful.
(We had been planning on driving down to Blue Spring State Park by Daytona Beach over the weekend to see the manatees, who like to swim inland during the “winter” months here. The natural springs up and down the Eastern and Gulf Coasts have waters that are kept stable at warm temperatures. Alas, we had forgotten that this weekend was both the Daytona 500 and a day President Trump was in town. We expected the whole area to be a madhouse with traffic and changed up our plans. Hopefully, we can make it down before temperatures warm up and the manatees move out.)
In the spirit of having many future adventures, I bought two excellent books:
Rail-Trails Florida: The Definitive Guide to the State’s Top Multi-Use Trails – This is a wonderful book mapping out the handiwork of the Florida Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. As Lehigh is one of our favorite trails, I wanted to find more around the state that are like that. (Our beach town alone has 135 miles of bike paths along the water, through wetlands, and through the jungle, but we ride or walk them every day.)
I was shocked by the number of endurance-worthy bike paths the state has. In particular, I would really love to ride the path along Henry Flagler’s original railway bridges through the Florida Keys. My understanding is you can ride the restored path, separated from traffic, from Key Largo to Marathon. After that, you have to ride alongside cars. That’s a very long distance in its own right, but it had us fantasizing about taking off on our bikes and booking a hotel room along the way. Like we have to make it to [insert island here] to stay overnight, then we turn around and come back. Or just hanging out for a while on several different islands. It’s a little intimidating though, because if something happened to your bike that far out on the water, you’d kind of be S.O.L.
There is also an over-100-mile path that circumnavigates Lake Okeechobee, the 8th largest freshwater lake in the United States.
I love the Rails-to-Trails program in general. It manages to combine my great loves of history, infrastructure, and finance all in one thing. For a while, I got into reading about the history of the railroads here in the United States and elsewhere. I have a framed railroad bond from Russia dating back before the revolution, with the coupons still attached. So cool. I like learning about all the independent railways that were established all over Florida.
The second book is Hiking the Florida Trail: 1,100 Miles, 78 Days, Two Pairs of Boots, and One Heck of an Adventure by Johnny Malloy. This book is about a thousand times more entertaining than I imagined it would be.
The Florida Trail is an 1,100-mile trail that stretches from Big Cypress National Preserve outside of Miami (in the Everglades) up to to Fort Pickens at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Pensacola Beach (the Florida Panhandle). I had absolutely no desire to thru-hike this trail before I bought the book, but I figured it would be a good way to learn about Florida geography and maybe find some sections to hike.
All I can say is, good grief, the people who actually manage to thru-hike the Florida Trail are bonkers. The official site for the trail warns you that the trail is unlike other long trails in the US, starting with the fact that it is not through mountains but often through swamps. One website I looked at advised hikers to pre-treat their clothing with some industrial-grade mosquito repellent that you can get off of Amazon when hiking through the swamps.
Malloy starts off describing the hike through Big Cypress as miles and miles of sloshing through swampy water. Unlike other trails, where you can pretty much hike until you are exhausted and then set up camp, in the Everglades you have to reach specific destinations to camp because the rest is usually underwater. Once you begin, you are totally committed. Combine this with the fact that even urban areas in Florida have hungry dinosaurs, big cats, and venomous snakes roaming around, that’s a scale of adventure I’m not cut out for. But it does make a fantastic read.
The whole time we were riding through the swamps yesterday, I tried to imagine venturing off the boardwalk and trying to hike through that stuff. Nope!