On the internet I discovered that there was a rail trail about 30 miles south of Wildwood where we could ride our bicycles away from any traffic. We drove down quiet, county roads that wound through lush, green cattle rangelands. The Van Fleet trail is in a very isolated area of central Florida, about as remote in one section as the Everglades. No power or telephone lines to be seen here.
The trail is 29 miles long, is paved, straight as a needle and runs through sub-tropical forest. Pretty little flowers nodded in the spring breeze and ferns were in abundance in the sun-dappled forest. As we rode along, the only sound to be heard was the whining of our tires amid the sweet trilling of songbirds. At one point we spotted large black vultures perched in a tree. When I aimed the camera they all took off startling me as their flight was seemingly laboured and quite noisy. I could smell something wild, maybe the reason there were so many vultures hanging around one tree. In a marshy area we saw two sand hill cranes, their red tufts bright against the background. Every so often we would see giant snapping turtles sitting in a sunny spot in the sand beside the path.
As we sat down on a bench to eat our picnic lunch I realized just how remote an area this was. It was so very quiet and peaceful. Within five minutes that all changed. Four noisy couples, birds of another kind chose that very spot to rest. We had hoped to spot some deer but fat chance that would happen with those chattering magpies so close to us. They must have entered the trail at the north end at a less secluded spot. We didn’t encourage conversation and we were relieved when they headed back.
The Withlacoochee River runs through this forest and though we saw no alligators in the river we did spook one as we approached a small pond. The gator quickly slid into the water and remained perfectly motionless for the entire time we watched him. He more resembled a log than a gator with moss and twigs clinging to his back and if you did not know he was there you would think it was a log. On our return trip this same gator was lying closer to the path and Fred’s bicycle tire almost ran over the tip of his tail startling both the gator and Fred and I. Quick as lightning the gator slid partway down the embankment but did not enter the water this time. Because he was only five feet long and because his head was turned away from us and because I had my bike to put between us I ventured to take his photo. We had been told years ago that they may look slow but if an alligator wants to get you he can. Luckily gators are also very shy of people.
On our return trip I happened to look up and against an azure sky saw eight silver gliders in an encircling pattern high above us. I could only imagine the thrill of climbing in the updrafts and then soaring like an eagle. It was so still I could hear the wind whooshing against the wings of the gliders.
We cycled 33 miles and the sight of the Ram sitting in the field was a welcome sight indeed.