LAKE KISSIMMEE STATE PARK — Jeff Futch promised I would not knock my teeth out.
"There's nothing to it," he said, rocking back and forth on his all-terrain Segway. "Even you could do it."
I've always tried to avoid land sports and stick to the water. It hurts less when you fall.
It seems every time I climb on a motorcycle, ATV or mountain bike, I end up hitting the ground, hard. I've had all sorts of breaks, tears and bruises, and I've got the scars to prove it.
"That looks a little tippy," I told Futch. "I know I'm going to end up breaking my nose, again."
But the owner of Back Trail Adventures of Florida insisted the X2 Personal Transporter, with its wide tires, internal gyroscopes and tilt sensors, would do all the work for me.
"I'll have you up and riding in two minutes," Futch insisted. "A couple of loops around the parking lot and you'll be ready to hit the trail."
I did the math in my head: 2 minutes, that's 120 seconds. A Cracker cowboy could ride a dozen bulls in less time than that, and after all, Lake Kissimmee is in the heart of Old Florida cattle country.
And not much has changed around these parts since "cow hunters" ruled this piece of prairie. This state park has plenty of white-tailed deer, bald eagles, sandhill cranes and wild turkeys.
Anglers can catch bass on lakes Kissimmee, Tiger and Rosalie. There are also 13 miles of hiking trails, 6 of which are open to equestrians. The full-service campground is one of the best places in Florida for stargazing.
You can credit old Ponce de Leon with kick-starting the industry in 1521 when he introduced seven Andalusian cows to Florida's ample grazing lands. Over the years, the number of cattle grew, until the mid 1800s when large herds of scrub cows ruled the Central Florida wilderness.
Florida was an open range with no fences, so the great herds of cattle — some with as many as 50,000 head — roamed freely. Florida's first cowboys had to hunt their cows in the cypress swamps, pine flatlands and hardwoods hammocks. After a while, folks started referring to these hardened men as "cow hunters."
I couldn't help but wonder what those crusty old Crackers would say if they saw this city boy rambling through the woods on a contraption that looked better suited for a Star Wars set than a state park.
But the battery-operated Segway ran almost silently through the sand pines and barely left a footprint in the sand. In fact, it was much quieter than my Boy Scout troop that had hiked the same trail the day before. The extra foot or so of elevation helps you see much better over the landscape.
Don't be worried about falling. If you lean forward, the Segway speeds up. Lean back, the Segway slows down. Lean to the right, the Segway turns right. Lean to the left, the Segway turns left.
And while you're at the state park, be sure to do a little fishing. Long before college basketball grabbed everybody's attention this time of year, March was known for bass fishing. Lake Kissimmee, the largest section of five distinct bodies of water on the legendary Kissimmee River, has an international reputation for largemouth bass. The lake covers 35,000 acres, so an angler can spend decades fishing this lake and never see the whole thing.
The catch rate (fish per hour) is usually better here than most Florida lakes. Large stands of vegetation make Kissimmee a favorite lake for "flippin' " plastic worms.