Monday, April 9, 2018

A Rest Day and Our First Rail Trail

Now that we have the bicycles we thought it might be nice to explore some of the rail trails that are out there.  Florida has several and the Van Fleet was the first on our list of possibilities. 

The day before our anticipated ride date though we wore ourselves out with errands and a one hundred and thirty mile move. 

So, instead we opted for a day of R & R with some web connected catch up and an afternoon at the Hampton Tract. 

The Hampton Tract is a Florida WMA (Water Management Area) that provides day use and camping.  We had thought we would camp here and use it as a basecamp for our trail ride however it was all booked up.  So, instead we went over for the day and walked around.

It was a quiet area and we enjoyed a relaxing walk with a few familiar and new-to-us items seen.

Hampton Tract - Caterpillar (4)
Only one fuzzy crawler made an appearance on this day. 

Hampton Tract - Caterpillar (5)
A beautiful, blonde Salt Marsh Caterpillar

Hampton Tract - Caterpillar (3)
Estigmene acrea

Hampton Tract - Pearl Crescent Phyciodes tharos Butterfly (1)
A Pearl Crescent Butterfly

Hampton Tract - Pearl Crescent Phyciodes tharos Butterfly (2)
who in an exciting moment for Nicole showed us the underside shot of its wings.  Thank you, Phyciodes tharos.

Hampton Tract -  Utetheisa Ornatrix, Ornate Bella Moth
In another exciting insect moment, Nicole got a long distance shot of the underwing on an Ornate Bella Moth.

Hampton Tract - Flower Plant
Pretty flower interlude...

Hampton Tract -  Plant Fruit (1)
Saw this unique looking, perfectly round fruit on a plant.  Haven't been able to identify it yet.

Hampton Trace -Margined Leatherwing Chauliognathus marginatus
Spotted a new insect... the Margined Leatherwing, Chauliognathus marginatus

Hampton Tract - Carolina Satyr Hermeuptychia sosybius Butterfly
and a new butterfly... the Carolina Satyr or Hermeuptychia sosybius

But the Piece de Resistance was this awesome sighting by Darlene...

Hampton Tract- Moth Cocoon (2)
this beautiful specimen (now absent of its inhabitant)

Hampton Tract- Moth Cocoon (1)
is the cocoon of a large silk moth - most probably the Polyphemus Moth.

After a good day of rest, we were pretty excited to explore our first Rail Trail via our new bikes.  We were up early the next day and departed our very quiet Cracker Barrel overnight location to get to the trail prior to its 8 a.m. opening.

1 Van Fleet - Burrito Leaf Roller
By the way, Darlene took some notes from the leaf-roller caterpillars and has become the master of
the Bicycle Burrito

2 Van Fleet - Arrived (1)
Unwrapped and ready to unload...  Boneless and Hop-a-long are as excited as we are.

Yes, we named our bicycles.

3 Van Fleet - Loaded
Loaded down with snacks, cool weather clothing and lots of extra water and ready to hit the trail!

We chose the General James A. Van Fleet State Trail as our first Rails to Trails experience with our new bicycles. 

This trail is one of Florida's most rural, paved rail-trails and runs a full 29.2 miles with only one curve.  The Van Fleet runs on an old Seaboard Air Line Railroad through the Green Swamp and the Richloam Wildlife Managment Areas.  It is noted as the most rural trail in the state of Florida and traverses a combination of cattle (and llama) ranches, lush forests and wetlands.

4 Mile 0 (6)
Given that we had the motor option when our legs gave out we decided to complete the trail in two parts.  On this day we parked at the Polk City Trail Head to do 15 miles in and 15 miles back.  Yes, 30 miles round-trip for our first outing. 

No, we are not entirely crazy.

So, come along with us.

5 Mile 0 (1)
Mile ZERO.  Let's do this!

6 Van Fleet - Trail Selfies (1)
This won't happen often.  Nicole tried a shot while riding.  That's Darlene sightseeing in the background.

7 Van Fleet - Gopher Tortoise Turtle Reptile (2)
A Gopher Tortoise was our first wildlife siting.  After this first one, we saw them nearly every ten feet.

8 Van Fleet - Swamp Scene
Around mile 10 we entered the Green Swamp area.

9 Van Fleet - Florida Box Turtle Reptile (6)
We saw a shift in the variety of turtles.  This one is the Florida Box Turtle.

10 Van Fleet - Trail Selfies
The Van Fleet is a very flat and well paved trail.  Around ten miles in and still smiling.

11 Van Fleet - Trail Selfies
The trail is also very well shaded.  Although on this low 70 degree day we didn't need the shade all that much.

12 Van Fleet - Zebra Swallowtail Eurytides marcellus Butterfly
After two days of constant sightings, Nicole finally got her first shot of a Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly - Eurytides marcellus

13 Van Fleet - Trail Scenes
Cute bicycle wheel snowman at the Ranger Station

14 Van Fleet - Trail Scenes
One of the more forested sections of the trail

15 Van Fleet - Alligator
The trail crosses a series of bridges over swampy areas.  Do you see the gator in the lower section?

16 Van Fleet - Alligator
How about now?

17 Van Fleet - County Line Divide
Nicole crosses into Lake County while Darlene takes her photo from Polk County.

18 Van Fleet - County Line Divide
Darlene's bike beats her across the county line.

19 Van Fleet - Alligator
We enjoyed stopping at the bridges to see what we could see.

20 Van Fleet - Alligator
Did we mention that we saw alligators?

21 Van Fleet - Alligator
Lots of alligators.  Sometimes too many to count without going cross-eyed.  The gator in the above photo looks large and (s)he was.

26 Van Fleet - Beware Alligator
This one, however, further down the path, was larger and apparently enjoyed the trail enough that it warranted its own sign.

22 Van Fleet - Great Southern White Ascia monuste Butterfly
Nicole got some of her best shots of the Great Southern White Butterfly. 

23 Van Fleet - Great Southern White Ascia monuste Butterfly
Ascia monuste - love the light blue tips on the antennae.

23 Van Fleet - Suwannee River Cooter Turtle
In the turtle variety department, here is a Suwannee River Cooter

24 Van Fleet - Three-striped Mud Turtle
and a Three-striped Mud Turtle.

25 Van Fleet - Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae Butterfly
The trail reviews said that we'd see a lot of butterflies.  They were right.  Here is a shot of a Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly - Phoebis sennae.

27 Van Fleet - Half Way
15 miles.  We made it!  Sort of....

Are you familiar with the phrase "eyes bigger than stomach" in regard to eating?  Well, we both got to mile 15 on pure excitement and then realized that it wasn't "the end" in the way that our bodies had hoped.  It was merely the halfway mark.  Time to turn around and go back where we came from.

So, since we had done a good job of pedaling almost ten of the fifteen miles, we motored home.

28 Van Fleet- Finished Thirty Miles
This is the next photo in our file. Thirty Miles Complete!

Apparently we were too exhausted after mile 15 to pull the camera out.  We can tell you that after mile 30 we were definitely exhausted although also elated to have completed such a big ride. 

We had fifteen miles to discuss our original decision to ride the second half of the Van Fleet Trail in a 15 in and 15 out the next day or day after this experience.  By mile 30 we had decided that although it was a really nice trail, we might would like to opt for something different for our next ride.

Perhaps it was the exhaustion and waning adrenaline talking but the trail isn't going anywhere and we can always do the second half on a return trip to the sunshine state.  Meanwhile, we are excited about upcoming trail adventures.

Well end this with a very short video that Nicole took while riding. This won't happen very often, that's for sure.  It's a bit tricky!