Mid South and Florida Biking Winter 2012
February - March
Wednesday, February29: We are currently camping at the Fountainbleau State Park on Lake Pontchartrain, Louisana. I rode the last of the Longleaf Trace (15 miles) and almost half of the Tammany Trace (12 miles) We camped in a very nice state park just south of Birmingham, Ala on Monday the first night out. It was the site of a large iron furnace that supplied 70% of the iron for the confederacy. The park was Tannehill St. Pk. with a very neat campground, excellent museum and a number of old restored cabins moved in from around Alabama that you could stay in. Tuesday, it rained pretty much all day as we drove down to Prentiss, Ms. where the Longleaf Trace Trail ends (or begins). The rain let up just before we arrived, so I got my rain gear together and headed out for the 25 miles to the town of Sumrall. Fortunately, there were only a few minor sprinkles for the rest of the day, We then drove about 12 miles to a camping resort on the Okatoma River. I finished the trail into Hattiesburg totaling 40.1 miles, this morning. Rhonda was waiting at the trailhead on the campus of Southern Mississippi U and we then dove down to Slide, La. We stopped at a little restaurant off the Interstate in Slidell and ate some shrimp/crab gumbo along with a shrimp poor boy sandwich. Rhonda's making Mexican here at the campsite as I write this narrative. Tomorrow I will finish the Tammany Trace into Covington and we will head over to Pensacola, Fla. There is a trail near there and we are going to try to hook up with one of Rhonda's cousins.
Change of plans. Thursday morning I realized that my posterior was not in as good condition as I would like, so we decided to ride (in the van) across Lake Ponchartrain on the 24 mile causeway bridge into New Orleans. (It is the second longest bridge over a body of water in the world). We drove down to the French Quarter in and spent several hours sightseeing and purchasing a few souvenirs. We treated ourselves to a most delicious New Orleans muffuletta sandwich there in the market area and later bought some alligator jerky to take back to our grandson.
After leaving, N O we stopped by a aquaintance's house in Slidell. We had met her back in July when she was up in Virginia work with a trail crew. She came to the biennial conference being hosted at Emory and Henry College. Back at the campground, we mounted our bikes and rode around some of the roads in the park. There was a movie crew filming some scenes for a new movie with Harrison Ford called "The Enders Game". No, we did not get to see Indiana Jones.
The next morning it was off to Covington to finish the Tammany Trace Trail. The trail was a total of 27.5 miles and I had already ridden 12 and a half the day before. After arriving back at the park, I showered and dressed for travel. Our destination was the off shore islands on the gulf outside of Pensacola, Florida. Some other campers in the campground had told us about a campground in the Gulf Islands National Seashore at Fort Pickens State Park.
From Pensacola, we drove across the bridge over Pensacola Bay to the beach town of Gulf Breeze and down the National Seashore road to the park. Thunderstorms and rain was predicted for the lower gulf states and there were some heavy looming clouds looming as we approached the campground. We got a spot and walked over to the sugar sand beach. The beach and the area between the road and shore had sparse vegetation surrounded by the whitest snow-like sand. The water was choppy, there was a strong breeze and there were only a few people on the beach. We returned to the campground to finish setting up and relax. The sun came out just as we were fixing supper. Since Pensacola is the location of one of the Navy's pilot training bases, we were entertained by some jet fighters before dark.
The next morning we greeted by overcast skies, light rain and some thunder. Rhonda called her cousin in Pensacola and we met her at McDonald's for a two hour breakfast. They had not seen each other for over thirty years. After breakfast, we stopped at a large mall, because by then the rain was coming down harder and our plans were to ride a trail in near by Milton. By mid-afternoon, we realized it was going to be a motel night. It was a good thing, in that we could watch some of the ACC tournament.
The next morning the rain had gone so we drove to the trail head of the Blackwater Heritage Trail. One end of the trail was at the gate of Whiting Field, a naval air station and the other end was in the town of Milton. The trail was just 9.6 miles long.
The major of our trip was spent in Florida. We camped at Manatee Springs SP for two nights and rode some of the Nature Coast trail then headed down to the resort town Crystal River so I could do some snorkeling in the river with the Manatee. We stopped by a dive shop and booked a trip for the next day. We found a campground just out of town by using the Woodalls directory, but when we arrived at the gate we discovered it was a resort campground and the rates were over forty dollars, they suggested we check at Dan's Clam Shack.
We had a nice seafood lunch at Dan's Clam Shack and secured one of their dozen or so sites. It was reasonably priced, convenient to the dive shop and they had free cable tv, I just had to use a splitter to hook it up to another site. We spent the afternoon biking around the neighborhoods that surround the river and its canals. The next morning I had to be a the outfitter at 6:15 to get the gear and be ready for the boat leaving around 7:15am. I was out on the boat for about 3 hours and I got to see about two dozen manatee total. The best sightings were up near some very clear water springs.
After lunch back at the camper, we pulled out for points further south. Our destination was to find a campground down south of the Tampa - St. Petersburg area so we would have a short drive down to visit my uncle and aunt from Connecticut who winters over in North Naples. We stopped at Myakka St. Park and spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the park. While we were biking, we spotted several large alligators in the waterway there in the park. It was a large park, mainly used as a reserve and it's main landscape features was the lake and a expansive prairie. We even saw a large group of flamingos along a river bank right after we left the park. The next day we made our way down to Naples and had a nice visit and lunch with my uncle and aunt. (He will be 92 next month).
Our evening's camp was to be somewhere north of Arcadia. As we were driving through town, we were delayed by a traffic slow up due to a large rodeo that was taking place through the weekend. A rain shower had just passed through and there were some up ahead and behind us. Several of the campgrounds we checked, were just for self-contained units and did not have restrooms and showers. We were told about one back down the road in the town of Zolfo Springs that was operated by the county. It was called Pioneer Park and had a pioneer village as its main feature. We found a good campsite, but the restrooms and showers left a lot to be desired. There was no one around to pay. We stopped a park attendant next morning and told him we needed to pay for the site and they directed us to the office near the entrance.
On the way north, to ride some of the Van Fleet Trail out of Polk City, we passed a orange juice processing plant. The air was filled with the wonderful citrus smell. A little further up the road there was an intersection where the trucks hauling oranges made a turn to go to the processing plant. On the shoulder of the road was more than a dozen oranges that had spilled out. Needless to say, the scavenger in me had to stop an recover some souvenirs. A little further up the road, we stopped at church yard sale and I bought some plant labels and some nice insulated ski pants for a total of two dollars. At the trailhead, we parked under a large shade tree, it was a little before lunch and it was about 80 degrees. We rode the trail a six miles in both directions before having a picnic lunch out of the van
Our destination for the day was a campground we had stayed in the previous year. It looked like it might rain and the campground had a clubhouse with large screen tv so I could watch the semi-finals and championship games of the ACC tournament. The campground was mainly occupied by snowbirds and that were wintering over. There was a golf cart race going on when we arrived. Each cart had a blindfolded driver and a rider giving them instructions on how to run the course. The run of the course was timed and the best time won.
The next morning we went out to ride some of the Withlacoochee Trail. It was very overcast and it started to rain lightly as we were completing the last two miles of the ride. After loading the bikes, we headed to Bushnell to get some ice from one of the nifty free standing ice machines found all over Florida. We even saw them in Louisiana and Georgia. It dispenses ice in 16 lbs bags or 20 lbs loose for $1.25 to 1.75 (much cheaper per pound that most anywhere else). After getting the ice, we decide to try some Sonny's barbeque. We had seen them all over Florida and was eager to give them a taste test. We got the super platter to share. It had ribs, chicken, pulled pork and beef brisket. There was four kinds of sauces on the table. The meal was great, but the ribs could have been a little juicer (they were dry in other words).
The next day we headed for Jacksonville to ride the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail and stopped along the way to buy a bag of oranges to give to our cat caretakers. It was a real nice trail on the west side of Jacksonville and was only 14.5 miles long. We checked for camping along our northbound route through Georgia a found a nice state park outside of Douglas. It was the General Coffee State Park and there were only six or eight other campers.
The next morning we decided to make a slight detour to McCormick County, South Carolina just north west of August on the Savannah River. McCormick County was where my father and grandfather was born. Down the road a ways, just before reaching the town of McCormick, we stopped in the small community of Plum Branch after spotting an old mercantile building with large red letters spelling out the name “BRACKNELL” There also was another building nearby with the name J.W.. Bracknell on it. I inquired at the post office if there were any Bracknells living in the area and he directed me to a lady living a few houses away. Her name was Lou Bracknell. I drove over to the house and spent about 30 minutes chatting with her and trying to figure out if we were were kin. She pulled out a book some local person had compiled about the people in the county and there was a page on the Bracknells. From what we could determine, we figured that we might be fourth cousins connected to a Luther Bracknell and my grandfather Walter. We exchanged emails and we would have talked more, but she had an appointment in town. We also visited a cemetery nearby with a half dozen Bracknell's buried there.
As we headed north toward Charlotte, we decided to go over to Greenville, SC to ride the Swamp Rabbit trail which runs from Traveler's Rest past Furman University and into Greenville for 13.5 miles. The riding of the trail added another trail and another state to my rail-to-trails collections; making it 94 trails in 36 states. From previous research, I knew there was a state park (Paris Mtn) with a campground on the northwest side of town , so we headed that way for the night. After the ride the next morning, Rhonda and I took time to walk around the beautiful downtown area along the Reedy River and headed toward home and was there by 4:30.