Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Health

Get a workout and explore the scenic sides of Florida on a bike tour

Hopping on your bike can be an invigorating way to see parts of Florida, engaging your legs while being easy on your joints. But Florida is a state with a terrible reputation for keeping cyclists safe.

A good compromise can be finding a scenic bike ride away from traffic. Studies have shown that a bike ride, versus a tour in the car through the countryside, can decrease stress, increase muscle tone and may even improve the immune system.

Now a company that specializes in guided bicycle trips around the world, Escape Adventures, has made its first foray into Florida, expanding opportunities for local cyclists. (See tours, far right.) Escape Adventures has set up seven tours in some underappreciated gems around the state, like the Withlacoochee Trail, about an hour north of Tampa, and the hills of Clermont.

Taking a bicycle out while on vacation is a popular side trip out West or in the lovely countryside of New England. But Florida has consistently led the nation in bicycle deaths, so bicycle tours are rarely offered even with record tourism.

Two years ago, a National Complete Streets Coalition report named the Tampa Bay region one of the worst metropolitan areas for bicyclists and pedestrians. The same report dubbed Florida the most dangerous state for riding a bike.

The metropolitan areas are making baby steps, even earning kudos recently from Bicyling magazine for adding more bike lanes and trails in recent years.

Meanwhile, there are some jewels in Florida that Escape Adventures thinks are worth exploring on two wheels. Tours, designed to suit any speed, cater to both locals and tourists looking for a day trip.

Cyclists pedal new Specialized road bikes with extra wide tires that offer smooth and stable rides. They are delivered in a tricked-out minivan and guided by Alan Snel, a former Tampa Tribune reporter who has been an avid bicyclist for more than 20 years.

Snel was a longtime Tampa Bay bicycle advocate who co-founded the Seminole Heights Bicycle Club. He quit the Tribune in 2006 to create SWFBUD (South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers), a bicycling advocacy group.

After a three-year return to journalism in Las Vegas, he met Jared Fisher, who owns an international bike tour business and bike shop. Snel persuaded him to expand east, and Escape Adventures Florida was launched in early December.

"These are my favorite bike rides that I've cherry-picked from years in Florida," Snel said.

The trips are:

• The "Alps of Florida," what Snell calls the rolling scenery outside Clermont northwest of Orlando. At its peak, Sugarloaf Mountain Road reaches 312 feet.

• The Withlacoochee Trail ride is a paved and shady trail, a 46-mile ribbon that is the longest rails-to-trails path in Florida. The mostly flat path begins in north Pasco County and ends near Dunnellon in Citrus County. "It has a beautiful tree canopy, and you have small towns like Inverness and Floral City every 10 miles or so to take a break," Snel said. "You have this beautiful canopied kind of wilderness scenery, and you don't have to worry about vehicular traffic."

• You can take a 20-, 40- or 60-mile trip on the Pinellas Trail. One of the most scenic stretches of this trail is the quarter-mile-long Cross Bayou Bridge that spans Boca Ciega Bay.

• The Vero Beach A1A ocean ride pedals along the Atlantic Ocean to the Sebastian Inlet bridge that offers a perch for spectacular views of the ocean and the Indian River Lagoon.

•The Ormond Loop offers 25 paved miles about 90 minutes northeast of Orlando pedaling through a tunnel of oak and swamp maple tree foliage.

• Lake Okeechobee puts riders on a paved trail atop a 30-foot earthen berm that encircles one of America's biggest freshwater lakes.

• The Jungle Trail is a hard-packed dirt road that runs along the Indian River Lagoon north of Vero Beach, about two hours north of Miami, and leads to the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation's first national wildlife refuge featuring stunning bird life.

When Scott Sofferman was visiting his sister in Boca Raton in December, the retired veterinary surgeon and cycling enthusiast booked Escape Adventures for its tour of A1A.

"I've ridden all over Europe and California, but I do know Florida has that dangerous reputation," Sofferman said. "I didn't have that much time and I wanted a relaxing ride."

Sofferman said he liked that Snel had a local's eye for knowing the less-traveled but scenic spots.

"I think people are surprised to find such beautiful rides here," Snel said. "The people who are in charge of promoting tourism in Florida really need to show off that bicycling element."

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.

     
 
Comments
Free clinics respond as more people head to the ER with dental problems (w/video)

Free clinics respond as more people head to the ER with dental problems (w/video)

Charles Lee had been dealing with an excruciating toothache for days. The pain made it hard to eat or sleep or focus on work. But Lee, 54, didnít have dental insurance. His job as a delivery truck driver offered only a supplemental policy that was to...
Published: 01/22/18
When you need a breast screening, should you get a 3-D mammogram?

When you need a breast screening, should you get a 3-D mammogram?

When I went to the imaging center for my regular mammogram last year, the woman behind the desk asked me if Iíd like to get a "3-D" mammogram instead of the standard test Iíd had in the past."Itís more accurate," she said.What do you say to that? "No...
Published: 01/22/18
Expect some pain. Thatís what hospitals are starting to tell patients as concern spreads over opioids

Expect some pain. Thatís what hospitals are starting to tell patients as concern spreads over opioids

Doctors at some of the largest U.S. hospital chains admit they went overboard with opioids to make people as pain-free as possible, and now they shoulder part of the blame for the nationís opioid crisis. In an effort to be part of the cure, theyíve b...
Published: 01/19/18
Itís flu season, and how: Hereís what you need to know

Itís flu season, and how: Hereís what you need to know

Cristi Fryberger, a fifth-grade teacher, was headed back for the first day of classes at St. Petersburg Christian School after the Christmas break but didnít feel well. She left a couple of hours later and went to an urgent care clinic, where a swab ...
Published: 01/19/18
This 66-year-old is about to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents

This 66-year-old is about to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents

When Robert Owensís father was 75, he gave his son some advice. "He said, ĎYou know, son, the sad part is when you get old they just put you on a shelf and you become irrelevant. Fight to stay relevant. Fight to stay in the game, otherwise they will ...
Published: 01/18/18
5 things we learned about Trump from his medical checkup

5 things we learned about Trump from his medical checkup

Five things we learned about President Donald Trump from Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the doctor who oversaw Trumpís first medical checkup in office. SLEEP Trump doesnít get much shut-eye. Jackson guessed that Trump snoozes four to five hours a nig...
Published: 01/17/18
A century after the 1918 pandemic, science takes its best shot at flu

A century after the 1918 pandemic, science takes its best shot at flu

WASHINGTON ó The descriptions are haunting. Some victims felt fine in the morning and were dead by night. Faces turned blue as patients coughed up blood. Stacked bodies outnumbered coffins. A century after one of historyís most catastrophic disease o...
Published: 01/17/18
A popular school fundraiser is just Ďjunk-food marketing to kids,í experts say

A popular school fundraiser is just Ďjunk-food marketing to kids,í experts say

For 43 years, schoolkids and their parents have clipped the labels from cookie bags and cracker boxes as part of a popular rewards program called Labels for Education.Through this and similar programs ó think Tysonís Project A+ or General Millsí Box ...
Published: 01/17/18
Pinellas is at the center of a rise in Florida flu outbreaks

Pinellas is at the center of a rise in Florida flu outbreaks

Feeling a little sniffly or scratchy or stuffed up? It may be the flu, and you donít want to wait around to see a doctor this year. This is not the time to write off flu-like symptoms, Tampa Bay area health officials and doctors warn. The influenza v...
Published: 01/16/18

CDC says ĎThereís lots of flu in lots of places.í And itís not going away anytime soon.

A nasty flu season is in full swing across the United States, with a sharp increase in the number of older people and young children being hospitalized, federal health officials said Friday.The latest weekly data from the Centers for Disease Control ...
Published: 01/12/18