My lime green beach cruiser is older than the Fred E. Marquis Pinellas Trail, which opened in 1990. My husband gave the bike to me as a gift when the bike route was merely an idea being tossed around at Pinellas County Commission meetings. We both grew up near the beach, and in the 1980s, you were not cool unless your ride had oversized tires and a fat seat.
On a recent Sunday, however, my status as vintage beach chick did not bolster my confidence as I began my ride at 102nd Avenue. As I organized my pen, paper and camera in a backpack, I checked out four women, all with toddlers secured in bike trailers, saddling up as well. They whizzed off in their Lycra outfits, between the statuesque estates of Thurston Groves. I yearned for a fashion update, as well as Lance Armstrong's Madone SL.
However, my attitude adjusted as the area's bird-caged pools and well-groomed shrubbery were replaced by block homes, vacant fields with overgrown grass and industrial sheds.
Here on the trail, which sits on the abandoned CSX railroad track, your mind can wander as you go through the different neighborhoods. You're allowed to be nosy, peeking into people's back yards, whether they've mowed their lawn or not.
At Walsingham Road, I pulled into D&S Bicycle Shop, 40 feet east of the trail. Owner Dan Block gave me a tour of his 30-year-old business, and introduced me to his parrot, Scarlet.
Dan, 51, along with Scarlet, 14, have heard hundreds of stories from people pining for their childhood bike.
"Everybody has a memory to share,'' he said, as he and the African gray rolled their eyes in unison.
I spotted a 30-year-old Schwinn ready to roll. For a moment, I thought I found a friend with classic style.
"You know, Mr. Block, I'm riding the trail on an old beach cruiser. It's got to be 25 years old,'' I bragged.
The store owner shook his head. "Well, at least you're not on the couch. Being out on that bike puts you five steps ahead of those couch potatoes,'' he said.
I decided it was time to go.
The overpass on Ulmerton Road, 75 feet above sea level, is one of the biggest inclines on the trail, and the bottom of the incline is the spot where you'll see the biggest smiles. I counted 10 cyclists, all grinning from ear to ear, as they coasted down the hill.
My favorite smile belonged to Joseph Callahan, 83. He had a bike with three wheels, and a Bucs flag waving in the wind. Before he disappeared in the distance, he had just enough breath to holler. "Start moving, sister!'' he yelled.
Before turning off the trail at 16th Avenue SW, I stopped under a shade tree. I watched choir members with robes zipped up entering St. Mary's Baptist Church. Meanwhile, on the trail, people cycled by, focused on their own trek, unaware a morning service was about to begin. The scene marked the essence of this place rich in diversity.
Twenty-five years ago, after his son was killed on a bicycle, Bert Valery Jr. of Indian Rocks Beach began a quest for a safe path for bikers in Pinellas County. Whether biking, skating or walking the dog, everyone should get on the trail, at least once, to see the results of the grieving father's vision.
Please contact Piper Castillo at email@example.com or (727) 445-4163 with ideas for this column.