Monday, February 25, 2008

Back to the Beach, Then Back in Time

After an easy ride through empty pine scrubland east of DeLand, we suddenly hit dense residential areas as we got within a few miles of I-95 and succeeded in finding roads with bike lanes or with bike-friendly sidewalks that got us through Daytona Beach to the ocean. Our arrival was carefully timed to miss the departing NASCAR crowd by one day and the start of "Bike Week" by one full week. Alas, NOT our kind of bikes.

And what a beach we found! As the highway approached the beach from the west, we expected the only options to be north or south, paralleling the beach. But the road continued to a toll booth, where cars can, for $5, drive right onto the beach! The sand is astonishingly compact, and in fact it was car racing on the beach almost a century ago that led to the creation of the Daytona 500.
Today you can race your car at any speed you like, so long as it is under 10 mph. You have to stay well inland of the water,
and get off every few miles for pedestrian only areas. In fact, few cars drove by us in the next 2 days of walking along the beach, and never bothered us.

Our stay was terrific, thanks to Paula and Mike,
next-door neighbors to us in a B&B 3weeks ago. They offered us use of their cottage 2 blocks from the beach, and it was perfect: cute, cozy and convenient. It's hard for us to get consistently healthy meals just from restaurants, and for 3 days we cooked the healthiest, best tasting suppers and breakfasts. We thank Paula and Mike profusely, and we are sure all our body parts thank them as well.

The beach was mesmeric, so much so that we ended up walking 25 miles in 2 full days off the bike -- so much for "rest days"! The surf, the shorebirds, pelicans gliding by in close formation like the Blue Angels in slow motion,
the endless stretch of hard-packed sand ... we just kept walking and walking, as if in a sand-induced trance.
On day two we reached a park with walkways through the sand dunes and a forested area to the lighthouse that marks the end of the peninsula. THIS was the beach experience we had come to Florida for!

Our 58-mile ride from Daytona Beach to St. Augustine was as easy as any ride of that distance we've done. There was a paved shoulder most of the way except in tony Ponte Vedra, where we took a local road that was narrow but fascinating as it went past beautiful house after beautiful oceanfront house. It had the added feature of a 25 mph speed limit which we almost hit, thanks to a light tailwind, but not a problem, the cars hardly passed us as they all seemed to obey the limit as well, despite their petrochemical-driven ability to exceed it more easily than we could.

St. Augustine was amazing. This place was 211 years old while Tom Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence! The reason for its founding is simple: the French had set up a fort near modern-day Jacksonville, which worried the Spanish king, and staffed it with French Protestants, which put the king in a frenzy. Add to this the fact that treasure ships headed to Spain with the wealth of the New World sailed just off the coast, and something had to be done. The town was founded in 1565 and almost disappeared the same year, as the French wasted no time in attacking. But the attackers were cut off by Spanish reinforcements from Havana, and that was the last of them. St. Augustine came close to extinction a few more times from fire, disease, and unfriendly Indians and Englishmen, but survived.
To our amazement, we discovered that Florida once had more missions than California, all of which closed when Florida was handed over to the British in 1763 as the result of Spain being on the losing side of the Seven Years War. If you click on the photo you can see the detail in this map, which shows only about one fourth of the missions the Spanish founded in and around Florida.

In the late 1600's the Spanish got serious about a fort to protect the place, and built Castello San Marco --
over a period of some 40 years. It was attacked 13 times, and it survived every one of them, including two lengthy sieges. During those sieges the entire population of 1300 people lived in the fort, and the accommodations were a tad tight. The sieges failed in part because of the
building material, coquina, a type of soft limestone with shell fragments that was said to "swallow" cannon balls lobbed into it, rather than smash apart. The detail here is of a portion of the original wall about the size of a modern brick.

To help bring history to life, the Park Service has found gunpowder-happy volunteers who dress up in army costumes of the 1600's to give a cannon-firing demonstration several times a day. It was a blast, as they say, despite the fact that the Park Service does draw the line at providing these pyrophiliacs with actual cannon balls.

The town can be expensive to walk through, with numerous places using "Historic" (sorta old), "Old" (a tad older), "Ancient" (getting REALLY old) or "Oldest" in their names to draw in the unwary tourist.
But for no cost at all you can walk through the old city gates (St. Augustine, like Quebec City, was once completely walled for protection) and down a pedestrian-only street where many ancient (sorry) buildings are and get
a fine feel for long-ago. You can also walk nearby to one of the less-well-known sights in town, the "Love Tree," where an oak tree has a palm tree in a woody embrace, to put a G-rated label on it.

We did surrender $12 for two tickets to tour a college. Now, that probably seems odd to a lot of you, as it did at first to us, but this is no ordinary college. Henry Flagler has been mentioned in the blog before -- he built the fabulous resort hotel The Breakers in Palm Beach, and he built Flagler's Folly, the railroad to Key West. His first foray into Florida however, armed with fabulous wealth earned as Rockefeller's partner in Standard Oil, was to St. Augustine. In 1888 he opened up the most expensive hotel built in America to that day, then called the Hotel Ponce de Leon, but home since 1969 to Flagler College, a 4-year liberal arts school. The hotel was designed by the architects who built the New York Public Library, and the glass and interior design was by Tiffany.
These pictures hopefully speak for themselves as to how beautiful this place still is. The hotel building is mainly used for its dining room and meeting rooms, with the original hotel rooms now housing female college students. Newer buildings nearby house classrooms and male students.
Is this not the most amazing college dining room you've ever seen? Small wonder we felt the tour price worth paying.

We're now in the upper right-hand corner of Florida, as it were -- Fernandina Beach. We had an easy day's ride to Atlantic Beach yesterday, with enough energy to walk 7 miles along yet another hard-packed beach where birds once again outnumbered the people, and an easier still time of it today riding a strong tail wind to Fernandina Beach as thunderstorms approached.
We arrived none too soon, and watched a good demonstration of angry weather all afternoon through the window of our hotel room. We'll close with this photo of the ferry that
brought us across the St. John's River today, and with two very different views from the road into Fernandina Beach. After a day playing on the beach tomorrow, we're off to Georgia. Talk to you next from there!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Connecting With Old Friends and New Trails

We left you last in Sebring, visiting Gary and Carol Speary. The next morning we had a tandem escort out of town, and Carol operated the "stoker cam" to get these two pictures of us in action.
We had a fast ride on back roads through orange groves to the none-too-subtly-named town of Frostproof, where the Spearys headed back and we kept on to the town of Lake Wales, which sits on the shores of Lake Wailes (go figure -- that's not a typo, folks!). Since we had blazed a fast pace to beat a front of thunderstorms moving in, and perhaps look good to the Spearys, we had done our miles before lunchtime.
The next day threatened thunderstorms all day, so we stayed put for a day and a half and explored the town on foot, with raingear in our backpacks. We stopped at the town library both days, but having just written a blog entry, we found ourselves actually reading books there -- you know, those VCR-tape-sized things with paper inside that libraries stick on the shelves around the public-use computer terminals?

Once the storms moved on, our next challenge was to get across the fairly urban landscape around Winter Haven and its neighbors, which run together for many miles of congestion. A detailed AAA map worked wonders, and we somehow got all the way through, riding either on shoulders of (just) adequate width, or on back roads with little or no traffic. Our goal was to reach the Auburndale Municipal Bike Trail and the Van Fleet State Bike Trail, which uses the same abandoned rail corridor but doesn't yet quite connect. The internet helped us find Lake Juliana Fishing and Lodging, a collection of mobile homes rented out usually to fishermen. Forewarned, we had picked up supper and breakfast items, and cooked a terrific sea scallop dinner with all the fixin's, and enjoyed 3-egg omelets for breakfast. The only downside was that the clothes we wore there smelled of cigarette smoke for a few days afterwards -- a small price to pay for the chance to cook our own dinner for a change.

The two bike trails were terrific: smooth-surfaced, wide, extremely rural and totally flat. With a light tailwind pushing through the trees, we averaged 18 while still getting a good view of the Green Swamp that the trail runs through, headwaters of several important Florida rivers. After 20 miles on the Van Fleet
we took a back road off to the northeast which brought us to Groveland, and then had a short ride from there to Clermont, where we put up at the "Old Bicycle Inn." A Google search showed a few places to stay in town, but of course we checked that one first, and it worked out quite well for us. The owner was so impressed with our adventure, he arranged an interview with a reporter from the local paper. We hope to have more info and perhaps a URL to the article, which we have not yet seen, next time.

When preparing for the trip, Jeff had gone through the online alumni directory for his high school to see if there were any classmates living near our route. Turns out one of them, John Gmuer and his wife Doris, retired to Clermont.
Now Regis is not your ordinary high school. It's in the heart of New York City, a few blocks from the Metropolitan Museum, but is fairly small, about 550 students in 4 grades. It was established by an anonymous "benefactress" some 95 years ago, and is the only private school in America that has never charged tuition -- admission is by academic scholarship only. One of its early alums became the incredibly gutsy priest who took on the Mafia on the Brooklyn waterfront, a struggle dramatised in On the Waterfront with Karl Malden playing "Father Barry." More recently, Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor who won a conviction against Scooter Libby, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, perhaps the most famous leader of the fight against AIDS, have brought fame to Regis.

The alums are quite loyal, both emotionally and financially.
The reality is that the endowment only covers part of the cost, about $19,000 per student, and alumni donations are now a major part of what keeps this school going. Jeff went back for his 40th reunion, and found that it is still as academically challenging as when he went. Indeed, he considers his third year Homeric Greek class at Regis the toughest but most rewarding course he ever took. In any event, Jeff and John had a good time recalling their days at Regis and in gauging how each had changed in the subsequent 43 years since they last saw each other!

Our original plan had been to bike in one day from Clermont to Mount Dora, but by the time we looked for rooms, there were none to be had there, in part due to the running of the Daytona 500 some 60 miles from Mt. Dora -- that's how far the housing crunch spreads! This turned out to be a boon for us. We tracked down a B&B in Winter Garden, only 15 miles from Clermont, and thoroughly enjoyed riding the 50 miles to Mt. Dora over two days. In the past year the county has extended a 3-mile bike trail in Clermont another 8 miles to connect with the West Orange Trail, and
we ended up riding every one of the 36 miles of connected trails. The Clermont Trail was not a railtrail, and proved to be remarkably hilly but wonderful, as it is one of the best-built trails we have ever been on. We really liked their way of handling street crossings, seen in this photo.
We saw numerous cyclists, including this tandem couple whose names we did not get, and many walkers and bladers as well. When we came into Winter Garden,
we found that the trail, like the rail line it replaced, went right down the middle of the main street. You can see in the photos how that potential lemon was turned into lemonade.

Our B&B, the Historic Edgewater Hotel, is actually an old hotel, solid as a rock -- it's survived 5 hurricanes and a near miss from a tornado -- and is run as much to help enliven the town as to make a profit. We had a room with a private bath, a twin bed and a double bed, for $75, and that included the best B&B breakfast we've had in months. The trail, the reopening of the hotel, and much more can be traced to civic activism that has turned a town that was dismissed as "Winter Garbage" by some into perhaps the most charming small town we've seen in Florida. That evening, we went across the street to a theater that dimmed its movie projector about the same time Jeff graduated from high school -- in 1965 -- to see the first production in its reincarnation as a home to live theater. We hadn't heard of The Musical of Musicals before, but enjoyed the idea of seeing a musical produced in the style of 5 great musical comedy writers and composers, such as Rogers and Hammerstein, Jule Styne and Andrew Lloyd Weber, and indeed we saw a great show.

But that's jumping ahead a little. We arrived in Winter Garden at lunchtime, and found a delightful pizza place in the ground floor of the Edgewater, with outdoor tables facing the bike trail. However, there were no vacant tables. Seeing this, a couple waiting for their lunch to arrive invited us to sit down and join them, moving their bike helmets off two empty seats for us. Roger and Jean proved delightful meal companions, and we learned how they had recently been transferred by Roger's company from central New Jersey to Orlando . We talked about our bike trip, and mentioned that we had just met up earlier that day with one of Jeff's classmates from a small high school in New York City. "Which one?" asked Roger, his eyebrows arching with interest. "Oh, it's called Regis -- have you ever heard of it?" replied Jeff. "Class of 1962" said Roger, grinning from ear to ear!
And so we resumed reminiscing about dear old alma mater for a second time that day! Such a small world!

We're almost done with central Florida. We saw the rest of the West Orange Trail, another top-notch bike trail,
then found reasonably low-traffic roads to Mt. Dora. They were narrow, shoulderless and hilly, but the relatively few cars that passed did so with lots of room for us, and the scenery was more like that of the Northeast than anywhere else we've been to in Florida. Indeed, John Gmuer told us back in Clermont that it's that resemblance to the Northeast that has made the Clermont area the fastest-growing part of Florida in recent years, and what brought them there as well.

Though we missed seeing any, we've heard of t-shirts saying "I climbed Mt. Dora." It's a local joke. There's nowhere around there that's even 300 feet above sea level. Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, for comparison, is over 400' high. It was billed as quaint in some guidebooks, but that's probably stretching things a bit. It does have the 125-year-old Lakeside Inn, where we stayed, and we enjoyed reading our novels after dinner sitting in the lobby of this grand old wooden hotel. Tonight we're in DeLand, home of Stetson University (yup, their nickname is the "Stetson Hatters"). In less than 30 miles or riding tomorrow, we'll be back on the ocean. More about that next time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Making New Friends in Central Florida

The past week has seen us bike 200 miles from Naples, on the Gulf Coast due west of Miami, to Sebring, about 50 miles northwest of Lake Okeechobee and pretty much midway between the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. For the next week we'll head right up the center of Florida, our only extended period far from salt water until some time in May. The original plan was to visit a Seattle friend with a guest house in the small central Florida town of Lake Alfred, but she was unable to make it to Florida this year. But investigating the area got us interested in it, so we decided to explore here anyway.

They came a serendipity. A few blog entries back, we mentioned meeting a tandem couple who had a blog page on (where, by the way, a LOT of cycle tourists have trip blogs, for anyone out there interested in the genre). We read their blog several times since they are heading up the coast through much of the same territory we will be seeing in a few weeks. One day a fellow named Gary Speary sent them a message that posted on their blog, inviting them to contact him if they were heading near Sebring, for routing down bike-friendly roads and a place to stay. As it turns out, the other couple took a coastal route nowhere near Sebring, but we had decided to go through there so we got in touch with Gary and his wife Carol and were given the same offer.

The Spearys are retired teachers who are as deeply into tandeming as we are, and in some ways more intense. Last summer they rode 6200 miles from here to Colorado and back, not by the most direct route, visiting family and friends. Okay, sounds like something we might do. But they did it in 85 days of riding (plus 18 rest days), i.e. over 70 miles per day! Definitely something we have both done, but no more. That's one of the hills we're over!

We've now spent two nights with Gary and Carol at their beautiful home on the outskirts of Sebring, having been met on the way into town yesterday for a bike-friendly guided tour through town, and a day ride without the luggage today. Tomorrow they will ride half-way to our next destination with us, and have even offered to carry two of our four panniers that far, a generous offer as we are now in a surprisingly hilly part of Florida.

Did we imply that Gary and Carol were hard-core? Today's ride went 40 miles through the countryside, with a 15 mph wind
out of the northeast that occasionally had us easy-pedalling at 22 mph, but more often pushing against a head wind or side wind. Our average speed was 17 1/2 mph. More important than the pace was the good fun we had riding through the attractive countryside around lakes and over to Highland Hammock State Park, where we took the photos above, including the "catwalk"
through a marshy area past a variety of birds and at least two alligators that we knew of, and perhaps a few more that watched us unseen. As the only tandem team in town, the Spearys were very happy to have "one of their own kind" on a ride, and commented on one downhill that they almost NEVER get passed on the downhill. We did some math and figured out that, even unloaded, Team Davis has about 35 pounds more going for it on the downhills than Team Speary, but they generously attributed our downhill biking abilities to strength and skill. We like friends like that.

Earlier in the week we spent a day touring Naples while our luggage rested in a motel. It was the first time either of us had seen the Gulf of Mexico, and the beach itself looked much like the beaches on the Atlantic coast. The birds look similar too. Hopefully this pelican doesn't read English, and the municipal ban on diving off the pier.
Looking at the human flocks on the beach or at pedestrians and drivers we passed, however, and you could see it is a much older crowd. Consequently we've had much less glass litter on the roads. They just don't put Geritol and Immodium D in glass bottles like the Buds and Millers we saw shards of on the hard-drinking Atlantic coast, or maybe the drivers over here don't toss their empty med bottles out of cars like the youngsters over there with their ethanol-rich "medications."

That's not to say we've had no flats. We got "screwed" one day,
and that ruined a tube, and caused other difficulties when our "Mister Tuffy" flat-protecting liner gouged a small hole in the tube a day later at the spot where the screw had gone through it and created a rough spot. We patched that flat and removed Mister Tuffy, then got another flat from tire-booting material we had put on the inside of the tire where the screw had gone through. Fixed that, and got another flat there, so remove the tire boot and glued a regular tube patch on the inside of the tire, since it has smooth edges. All told, we actually got 5 flats from that one screw. We THINK we've got it all under control, check back in our next blog.

Two other places worth mention are Sanibel Island and the Edison-Ford Estates. Sanibel and neighboring Captiva Islands sit right off the coast near Ft. Myers. We chose a motel landward of the bridge at the fairly pricey rate of $154/night after finding nothing on Sanibel or Captiva Islands at less than $200/night.
Even with lodging costs like that and a bridge toll of $6 per car ($2 for motorcycles, $0 for bikes), they were raking in over $2000 an hour at the toll booths both when we rode onto the island and when we rode off. That's the pricey bridge behind our long-necked friend.

Sanibel had bike trails alongside every major road, and miles of gorgeous lightly-peopled beaches. It also had Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, named for a popular editorial cartoonist who was a major voice for conservation in the first half of the 20th century, and for a time a conservationist in FDR's government. This is one example of his humor on display in the visitor center that the golfers in our readership will no doubt enjoy (the original was run Easter Sunday weekend).
The refuge also provided excellent opportunities to see wildlife, and Jeff and Louise had new "lifers" (birds to add to our non-existent "life list") in the form of roseate spoonbills, the pink birds in one of these pictures.

On the otherwise trafficky route through Ft. Myers,
we stopped at an oasis of invention, the winter home of Thomas Alva Edison, and the adjacent winter home built by Henry Ford specifically for the purpose of spending two weeks every year feting Edison on his birthday. Seems Edison had been one of the first people to encourage Ford, and he adored Edison for the rest of his life.
Edison only semi-relaxed there, dabbling always in his large laboratory with numerous lab assistants to assist, and also grew all sorts of trees and shrubs on the grounds, trying to find a natural source of latex that would grow well in the U.S.
BTW, that is a single banyan tree, with hundreds of vertical "roots," behind Tom and Jeff. It now covers over an acre. It started as a single cutting 80 years ago. As for the search for latex, when the Germans began to develop good synthetic rubbers in the 1920's and 30's, the effort was abandoned, though it did continue a few years after Edison's own death in 1931. We learned much about gracious early-20th-century Florida living and about Edison's amazingly diverse interests and inventiveness there.

We have a southeast wind promised for tomorrow. Hooray, another tailwind. May all of our readers have their own personal tailwinds to look forward to as they read this!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Adventuring in the Everglades

The last few days have been spent in the Everglades, another mythic area of Florida that everyone has heard of and no doubt wondered, what are they like?

Water is the key to understanding the Everglades and south Florida generally. It's hard for a Seattleite to comprehend how a place that gets 60 inches of rain a year, about 60% more than Seattle, can have water shortage issues, but they have them here and they are overwhelming. The problem is that 80% of that rain comes in the six wet months from late May to early November. So much arrives that a lot of it has to go, as swiftly as possible, out to sea, a legacy of the disaster 75 years ago when a hurricane overwhelmed Lake Okeechobee and drowned some 2000 people.

Just as the annual flooding of the Nile once served Egypt's environment, so too the somewhat less regular flooding of Lake Okeechobee served the Everglades. Now water is diverted away when it is most plentiful, and also routinely diverted to keep the farms and lawns of south Florida alive.
If you're an ecosystem like the Everglades, you like hurricanes, as they bring extra allotments of water. Last year the insurance companies were happy that no hurricanes hit Florida, but not the plant community. All of south Florida is now on water restrictions, with residential watering allowed only 1 day a week, and engineers are planning new pumps for Lake Okeechobee to lift out what little water remains from lower down than they have ever pumped before.

Now a lot of water still makes it into the Everglades, but not nearly enough.
Due to farming and housing expansion, the Everglades are much smaller than they used to be, and hurting for water in some years. Nonetheless, they remain spectacular, and if the politicians can bring ecological sense to the situation, there is some hope that they will improve. At the moment, it's a close question whether they are getting better or worse.

We had investigated the biking possibilities here, and decided they were not fortuitous. There were two problems. First, the main road into the Everglades goes from near Homestead to a small community called Flamingo. Hurricane Wilma so drenched the lodge there a few years ago that it is now houses only mold. How to repair or replace it is a still-unsettled question. Since it was the only lodging, a ride to Flamingo was out of the question -- too long to get there and get back and still have time to hike the nature walks. Second, the road along the top of Everglades National Park is too far without lodging to do in a comfortable day, and would leave us no chance of doing the high point of that area, Shark Valley Road.

So we arranged a rental car from Key West to Naples. Our Ford Crown Vic had a spacious trunk, and that is indeed our entire tandem in the trunk!
As we drove back up the Keys, we agreed that we had seen them quite well enough on the bike ride down, doing 25-35 miles a day, and did not need to ride back out. It's worth biking once to see the area, but the narrow shoulders and traffic lack charm, and the bike path is too intermittent at this point, and generally substandard. There is talk of doing it up right, but that appears a long way off, frankly.

We dropped our luggage in a motel in Florida City and headed out to see the 'Glades, and had one of the most spectacular days of
wildlife-viewing ever. The National Park Service has done a
fantastic job of building trails here that bring you right into the Everglades environment. They also helped us understand how much a few inches difference in elevation means to the plant communities.
What we saw were mostly saw grass prairies that look dry at a distance but which are often intersected by rivulets of water. Alligators look for slightly deeper spots in this water world, or else wiggle their tails to dig out holes in these rivulets, "gator holes," that provide them a nice home environment and also attract all sorts of other wildlife. As we headed down one trail we got excited about one alligator a short distance across a canal,
then turned onto the boardwalk section of the trail and saw a busy little community of them. Actually more like a retirement community, as most alligators take rather relaxed poses during the daytime, rarely moving. And everywhere, birds, turtles, fish jumping, and a surprisingly rich assortment of vegetation.

If you look over the sawgrass prairie in these photos, you'll also see clumps of vegetation where the land is a little higher, consisting of trees such as cypress
and bushes that can stand to be under water part of the year, and other areas with large trees, called hammocks -- former coral reefs that are now limestone ledges just high enough to escape the wet season flooding, and supporting gumbo limbo trees, palms, ironwood, and other large plants. There were nature walks to see these as well, and it's a strange experience to go from the blazing sun out by the gator holes and then to walk into the tropical-jungle-like but cool shade of the hammock.

Day two of our Everglades adventure involved doing that drive across the top of Everglades National Park, on the so-called Tamiami Trail, since it connects Tampa and Miami. It goes straight west from Miami, but just before 40-Mile Bend (truly the first bend in the road) you can turn left into a parking area for Shark Valley Road. We flashed our Golden Age Passport, parked and unpacked the tandem. 40 minutes later it was once again a functioning bicycle, and off we went.

Shark Valley Road goes straight south 7.5 miles following an old canal filled with alligators (click on that photo of Louise to enlarge it and see the two right behind her!) to a viewing platform, then returns on a slightly curvy route through the sawgrass prairie.
You cannot drive it, only bike, hike or take the $15 tram ride. We saw more bicycles on it than we've seen in the prior two weeks in Florida. It is so-named because it feeds the Shark River further down, but nothing like a river is visible here. Water flows slowly down to the Gulf through this and other Everglades valleys, but it does so in thousands of rivulets in the wet season, or underground through the aquifer. The lookout tower
was terrific for giving visitors an overview of the immensity of this environment, particularly when one remembers that you can only see a few percent of the Park from this vantage-point.

Thirty minutes of disassembling the bike and we were off to our overnight destination, the Ivey Lodge B&B in Everglades City. This town sits right outside the Park, and the Lodge runs a canoe and kayak service as well. We had signed up for the six-hour kayak trip for day three of our Everglades adventure, and Louise was apprehensive of the physical demands, as she has never kayaked before. We had a tandem kayak, however, and Jeff assured her that all would be well. At the end of the day we both had slightly sore arm muscles, but agreed it was a magical day we will never forget!

Our guide drove us and 8 other kayakers, with a trailer full of kayaks, paddles, life vests and lunch, to a launch spot on the Turner River. Forget what you think rivers look like,
this thing was never wider than a narrow alley and never deeper than 3 feet. And those were the wide and deep places!
We first headed north, up-river, and after awhile took apart our kayak paddles and used just half, as a canoe paddle. When things got really tight, we pulled ourselves along through the brush on what seemed at times like little more than heavy dew. Around every bend there were egrets, herons, mudhens, anhingas, cormorants, and gators. Lots of gators.

Time to talk about gators. They've gotten bad press. They don't eat people. We are way too big. If really provoked they might snap at someone, or if a small child or a dog gets within range they will think "lunch," but full-sized people are not in any real danger. The standard advice is to keep 15 feet away, but that's as much to avoid stressing the alligator as it is to avoid any unfortunate encounters. Staying 15' away was a challenge on this small waterway, but we had no encounters, fortunate or otherwise.

After returning to the launch site for a stretch break -- your legs really do need it after two hours in a kayak -- we paddled down to where we could all watch a gator on the opposite shore, and had lunch sitting in our kayaks. No handouts to the gators, however -- there's a $600 fine, and it teaches really bad behavior to the gator and does create problems for other people in the future, whom the gator might view as a food source.

After lunch we paddled further downstream to
where the stream began to turn brackish. Freshwater plants cannot stand the slight salt content of the water here, but mangrove have adapted to it, and we were now in what is known as a "mangrove tunnel" cut through to allow boats to get by.
Pulling the kayak through by grabbing the mangrove was often more effective than paddling, and watching other boats struggle to maneuver through tight turns created amusement until you yourself got hung up. At last we reached a place where a ripple in the limestone bedrock created a round dip maybe 50' across where it was too deep for the mangrove, and we could all gather for a few minutes before starting back.

Yes, it was a very special day, and the view we got of the Everglades was so different than if we had stayed land-bound.
Our guide John also made it special with his tremendous knowledge of the flora and fauna -- he has a degree in wildlife biology -- and he identified what we saw but also explained things well, such as how dangerous is the life of a baby alligator, who have an even higher mortality rate
than 16-year-old males with new drivers licenses.

Well, time to get back on the bike. We're now in Naples, the car has been returned, and we have some sightseeing to do around town on the tandem before strapping on the panniers tomorrow and striking north. Thanks for staying with us for this longer-than-usual posting about this more-interesting-than-usual place, the Everglades.