Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Green Swamp - Van Fleet Trail - Bike riding in Florida

We're in Florida and one of our goals is to get a bunch of biking miles in. Theresa found a great spot in the Green Swamp. The Van Fleet Trail goes for about 20 miles and has barely any elevation change. Sounds perfect for a bike ride!

Wow. When the Wildlife Crossing sign has Bears, Birds, Deer, and Alligators, you know you're going some place wild. 

That is a long, straight trail. 

Looking at the overhead map of this, the General James A. Van Fleet trail follows an old rail trail. It's 29.2 miles long and over the entire length there is only 40 feet of elevation gain! That's about as flat as you could ever hope for. And it's paved too!

The kids flew on this trail, and over the 20 mile ride, we averaged over 10 mph!

We started in the middle so when we got to the start of the trail, we took a little snack break. Every 2.5 miles or so there is a nice shaded bench area to take breaks at. 

We enjoyed fruit, veggies, and crackers, while we drank our water and gave our legs a rest. 

And the kids loved seeing the ridiculous number of lizards that were constantly running around. 

Yes Alli, I'll get a picture of your Frankenstein gummy bear. 

After such a successful first ride of 20 miles, it was no surprise we came back a few days later to get some more miles in. Last time we went South to the Polk City Trailhead. This time we're going North. We're not going to try to make it all the way to the end (that'd be 40 miles), but we'll get a few miles in today. 

This trail has been great for spotting wildlife. These Gopher Tortoises are all along the trails here. And technically it's illegal to touch them. They are protected animals and you're not allowed to handle them without a permit. 
Alli had a goal of seeing 10 tortoises on our ride today and we saw 11!

I don't know how your mind works, but I remember things from growing up and started singing the Sesame Street song about the 10 tiny turtles (I know they're not tortoises, but still).

Along the path, we crossed over a couple bridges. Theresa, who was in the lead, suddenly slowed down and pointed out something in the water. 

Oh my! Alligators! They may be common here, but this is the first we've seen since we've been here. Including the tail, this one was about 6 feet long!

And this big guy was closer to 7! 

Alli asked the excellent question of how to tell the difference between Alligators and Crocodiles. It's a pretty regular occurrence at our house to do bedtime stories, and then find YouTube videos to answer any questions the kids had throughout the day that need a more detailed explanation. We thought the guys from Brave Wilderness did a great job explaining it. 

And on the other side of the bridge, what do you see Ian? 

It's a baby alligator! Baby being relative, it's probably 2-3 feet long, making it about 2-3 years old. 

And since Sesame Street songs are already on my mind, why not sing a little about the Alligator King and his 7 sons. I wonder if any of those alligators had a crown. 

After 5 miles we arrived at our turn-around point, which just happened to be Sven's Place. It made me think of Disney. 

And just a few feet away were a flock of chickens. This swamp seems like a dangerous area to be a chicken. 
Ian - Daddy, do you know any Sesame Street Chicken songs? 
Uh... I actually can't think of any off the top of my head. 

Looking it up later, I only found one that I could really remember from growing up. A song about Chickens In The Trees. 

A baby tortoise! The kids love this trail! It's fast, straight, and flat! Over two days we've done over 30 miles on this trail!

Update: It's been good for 2 rides, so why not go again for a third? Once again we packed up our bikes, drove to Green Swamp, and started our ride down the Van Fleet Trail. 

Whoa! It's Kermit's Way!

Could this be Kermit the Frog? Well, based on the Muppet TV Special - The Muppets at Walt Disney World, we know that Kermit's Home, Paradise Swamp, is just in Orlando. One of the characters says "Tonight after the bug fry, we're going to sit around and listen to the fireworks from Walt Disney World."
And there's even alligators, which you'll see if you're really really lucky!

One of the cool things I've seen along this trail has been these Bike Rx boxes every few miles. What's inside? 

A pump and a couple tire levers. If you have a replacement tube (and can get your tire off) you're good to go!

We made it to the alligator bridge that we saw before. Last time we saw a baby gator over by the tree. 

Today we saw not just one, but 7 (there's a tail sticking out from behind the tree)! The kids thought they were "cute". Now the song from above with the Alligator King and his 7 sons makes even more sense!

And speaking of the Alligator King, he was just on the other side of the bridge. 
It was a good day to see critters! Overall we came across 9 alligators, 17 tortoises, and 2 vultures. It's been a great bike ride! And now we're up to 48 biking miles on the trail! 

Update 2: You know, we've got time for just one more ride. It was a beautiful morning and we've got a few more miles to put in. Plus, you never know what you'll find when you're out exploring!

Like today! Our bike ride today is an out and back and just as we were starting to turn around, we heard "Do the kids want to come see the animals?" 
We're about 5 miles from the trailhead and a mile or so from even a dirt road. Well, sure, why not.

Meet Henry! He bought this place a couple years ago. It originally looked like all the rest of the land here, wooded and wet. He's cleared the area, fixed it up, and now raises animals on it. 
We actually saw him unknowingly on our last ride. While we were riding, we saw someone on a bike pulling a trailer with hay on it. He gave us a honk on his bike horn as we passed. 

I was wondering where the street signs "Sven's Place" and "Kermit's Way" came from. Meet Sven and Kermit! Henry bought the signs and put his dog's names on them. 

Henry raises goats here and this little guy is just a few months old. He loves being petted. 

You might have seen Medusa and Olga in the photo above. They want some attention too. 
They go through the hay pretty quickly and it's a full day event for him to ride his bike into town and bring it back here. 

Henry grabbed a few carrots and let the kids feed them. They sure do love carrots. 

Just across the bike trail over by Kermit's Way is another parcel of land he bought to expand a little. Remember those chickens from above. They are his! He lets them out during the day to forage. I was worried about alligators snatching them, and he told me that yes, he's lost a few to a 10 foot alligator that lived around here. After getting the necessary permits, he and a few friends were able to take it out. 

He had another close call at a small pond where he fills up the chicken's water. He was filling a bucket and a gator rushed out of the water towards him, barely missing him. Gotta be on your toes if you're living out here. 

The chickens stay safe by going to sleep inside the coup. Raccoons sometimes like to come by and take eggs, but so far the chickens have been safe. 
And speaking of eggs, Henry grabbed a few fresh ones and sent us home with a few! 

You never know what you might encounter out on the trail! 

1 comment:

  1. Henry was quite a friendly neighbor, offering to show you his various animals (btw, I like his "Sven's Place" & "Kermit's Way" signs...nice idea) and even some fresh eggs from his chickens...he definitely has to be on his toes (or he may lose one!) when out in the "wild"...those alligators are quick. The family got a lot of good bike miles there, while encountering different animals...don't know if I'd ever say an alligator was "cute"! (informative video on alligator vs crocodile). Having such a flat trail with interesting things to see, along with those shaded break benches, make for a pleasant bike ride. P.S. Didn't grow up w/ Sesame came onto the scene a little late for me. But those Sesame Street songs are way to learn and remember things is through music. EOM