Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Two Trails, Three Days, Four Ways

In our original tentative travel plans we had identified two trails in FLA that we might would want to explore on our new bikes.  As it turns out, we enjoyed those original two so much that we kept adding more trails or sections of trails as we went along.

There have been many an inquiry as to where we actually are. 

When we answer the most common response is "Didn't you leave like 'X' days ago?! How are you not further away?" 

Or in the case of Darlene's father, "Are you all traveling forwards during the day and backwards at night?"


As of this writing, we are 18 days into our most recent travels and we have driven an actual mileage of 517 miles. 

However, if we were to drive the direct route back to where we started, we have actually traveled only 317 miles.  On the bicycles we have achieved 130 miles of riding (which by our standards is really darn impressive considering we have pedaled at least 75% of that and motored only the small remaining portion).

As the title of this post states, we will be talking about the latest two trails and our rides on them over a three day period.

We'll begin with the Withlacoochee Bay Trail. 

The Withlacoochee Bay Trail was our first true east to west trail and it led straight to the Gulf (or at least an inlet on a Bay where you could see the Gulf in the distance).

1 Withlacoochee Bay Trail
Hop-a-long and Boneless are loaded down with extra clothes on this brisk 50 degree morning.

2 Withlacoochee Bay Trail (3)
All of our trails up until this point were straight with a slight turn now and then.  This trail was loaded with curves and the change was an exciting one for us.

The cold morning air and strong (even cooler feeling) breeze had most of the critters nowhere to be found early on. 

However, sitting the middle of the trail, a Tawny Emperor Butterfly was attempting to warm up on the pavement.

3a Twany Emperor Butterfly (1a)
Nicole picked it up to move it to a safer location and although she felt quite cold the butterfly apparently found her warmth soothing.

3 Tawny Emperor Butterfly (3)
Despite her many attempts to put it down, the Tawny Emperor was not letting go.

3 Tawny Emperor Butterfly (4)
Not that Nicole was complaining!

3 Tawny Emperor Butterfly (5)
What a wonderful opportunity to inspect the finer details of this beauty.

2 Withlacoochee Bay Trail (1)
Alas, there were miles to go until the Gulf.  So, we set the Tawny down and off we went.

4 Water (1)
The trail runs along side remnants of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. 

Had this project been completed it would have cut a path right through Florida creating a direct link for ships from the Atlantic to the Gulf - and essentially allowing Nicole to grow up on an Island not a Peninsula.  The idea was originally proposed in the 1500's and then again in the 1800's. In the early 1960's construction finally began.  However, by the end of the 60's heavy opposition due to severe environmental destruction brought about an end to the project and in 1971 President Nixon suspended all work on the canal with only 1/3 of it completed. 

4 Water (2)
In 1990 President George Bush de-authorized the project and changed the use of the lands to recreation and conservation. 

In 1998 the name of the entire 110 mile corridor was changed to the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway in honor of the woman who played a major role in preventing further environmental damage that would have happened had it been completed.

6 Wetlands
As we neared the Gulf wetlands and marshes began to show up

9 Wetlands (2)
though save for a few egrets not much wildlife was in the mood to make an appearance on this very chilly day.

As the weather began to warm somewhat we did spot a couple of small birds...

8 Indigo Bunting Bird
Male (left) and Female Indigo Buntings

7 Eastern Wood Pewee Bird
and a new-to-us bird the Eastern Wood Pewee (LIFER!)

11 End The Bay (1)
At the end of the road, Hop-a-long, Boneless and their mamas braced against the strong, cold Gulf breeze.

11 End The Bay (2)
That's the Gulf out there between those islands.  We made it! 

12 Finished
This was probably our shortest and coldest ride to date but we sure did enjoy the Withlacoochee Bay Trail.

That was One Trail, One Day, One Way...

Next up was the Nature Coast Trail.

Our first ride on this trail started in Chiefland

2 (1)
and rode North under a canopy of trees loaded with singing birds.

2 (2)
There was a full blanket of wildflowers all along the side of the trail and although it was another chilly morning start for us

there were a few more critters stirring.  Like this new moth for us which we still have not been able to identify

4 Guinea fowl Bird
and these Guineafowl (some call them Guinea Hens) which although they are not an official ABA bird were totally new for Nicole.  Darlene had seen them before because her neighbor growing up had some.

Although this ride was more 'urban' than others we had been doing the frequent tree canopies and divide between us and the road continued for pretty much the whole ride.

We both commented that despite the increase in street crossings and cars on the nearby road we did not really notice them as we were too busy with the experience.

We stopped to peer at what Nicole thought might be a new skipper butterfly (it wasn't) and found this new spider instead.
Full confirmation on the ID is still out but it made the narrowing down process easier by jumping from area to area when Nicole disturbed it.
We think this Jumping Spider is Phidippus pulcherrimus.

This spider was a bit more shy and watched Nicole's antics with the jumping spider from the safety of its hole in the ground.

9 Oak Hairstreak Satyrium favonius Butterfly
We may not have seen a new skipper but this was for sure a new butterfly.  This is the Oak Hairstreak Butterfly - Satyrium favonius.

While chasing down another potentially new skipper that had landed on this beautiful thistle flower

10 Long-headed Toothpick Grasshopper - Achurum carinatum
this fascinating new-to-us insect was observed.  Meet the very appropriately named Long-headed Toothpick Grasshopper - Achurum carinatum.

And with that we finished up yet another very enjoyable day on the bikes at nearly 14 miles.

Let's see... that gives us Two Trails, Two Days and Two Ways.

Next up was a multi-directional ride on a more northerly section of the Nature Coast Trail.

We moved on to the Fanning Springs Trailhead of the Nature Coast Trail.

The Nature Coast Trail is our first trail in the shape of a 'T'.  The Westerly section (based on our direction of travel) leads to our first true Trestle Bridge.  So, that was our focus for this trail.  The rest just sort of happened because we were having such a good time!

The Hop-a-long / Boneless beginning of the trail photo has become quiet a habit. 

One of these days they'll get tired of posing, start their own motors and drive off!

2- Banded Tussock Caterpillar, Halysidota tessellaris (1)
Only fifty yards or so into this ride we spotted a new-to-us caterpillar - The Banded Tussock Caterpillar

2- Banded Tussock Caterpillar, Halysidota tessellaris (2)
Halysidota tessellaris was quite a fuzzy fella.

After just a few miles we arrived at the fork in the road that creates the 'T'.  The trestle is westerly so left is the path we chose.

Along the way, the wildlife was watching us from behind the wildflowers!

5 Fake Trestle Bridge
Soon we reached this with a dry creek bed under it and thought 'Really, that's it?'.  It wasn't.

We named it the Fake Trestle Bridge.

6 Trestle Bridge Over Suwannee River 
A little while later we came upon this which looked more promising.

6a Trestle Bridge Over Suwannee River
Since rivers can overflow their banks even the approach to the actual trestle is raised well above river level.

6b Trestle Bridge Over Suwannee River
We made it!  Our first real trestle structure over a large river.  Who would have thought it would be in FLA of all places.

6b Trestle Bridge Over Suwannee River (2)
The structure was quite impressive considering its age.

8 (1)
The rails and ties had been removed and replaced with planks.

6c Trestle Bridge Over Suwannee River
The trestle now has benches at around the half way point and we sat and looked out over the Suwannee for a good long while.

6d Trestle Bridge Over Suwannee River
Periodically a very large fish would breach the surface and come down with the sound of a very large rock being thrown in.  We caught sight of several of them and they were huge. 

Later we discovered that they were the Gulf Sturgeon which can reach eight feet in length and up to 220 lbs.  Their annual migration brings them into the river and sometimes into the path of unaware and oncoming boaters.  Knowing this, we were happy to have been viewing from the trestle high above.

8 (2)
                                                  Trestle Art Over The Suwannee...

6e Trestle Bridge Over Suwannee River
We have officially crossed our first trestle.  Now it is time to turn around and go east for a while before returning south.

On our easterly ride we didn't spot much and there was less tree cover so the warmth of the day had started taking over.  Still we pedaled along merrily for several miles before choosing to return to our girl Annie.

6f Checkered White Butterfly
We did spot a Checkered White Butterfly on this final ride which we will share with you.  Not new to us but still always nice to see.

7 Finish
So, Day Three ended at around 12 miles for a three day total of around 37 miles.

Well, that was our experience on Two Trails in Three Days and Four Ways (West, North, East and South).

3 Tawny Emperor Butterfly (1)
Watch out for those strong wind gusts or you might just wind up looking like...

3 Tawny Emperor Butterfly (1)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Withlacoochee State (Rail) Trail Video

We are sitting in the library parking lot subject to another rain / rest day.

Rain Rest Day 2
We are sitting at the black marker (Dunnellon) and have plans to head west to Inglis.  So....  internet catch-up time!

Nicole has been taking short clips of video for some other projects she is working on but she had some time so she slapped a few together to make a video about our Withlacoochee Trail experience. 

Note: we said she slapped them together.  We're not striving for top notch here just having fun with video. 

Speaking of, in this latest video we muted the high wind sections that might have blown your ears away on the last one.  Sorry about that.  So, feel free to put your volume on medium to hear a few nice nature sounds now and then.  This one should be more listening friendly.

Our adventures continue.... when the rain lets up.  Oh, and news for the day...  We finally made it 200 miles from Stuart (our home base for the last year).  It only took us two weeks!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Three Days On The Withlacoochee State (Rail) Trail

After a good day of rest we were excited to start our explorations of the Withlachoochee State (Rail) Trail.

The weather had other plans.

Rain Rain
No riding on this day.  We were socked in for a good 24 hours.

That's o.k. a little forced rest and web catch-up time is never a bad thing.

By the next morning the sky was clear and we woke up to yet another morning in the 50's which warmed to low 70's.  It was a great trail day!

1 Withlacoochee Trail - Come On Mom
Hop-a-long and Boneless are saying "Come on, Moms!  We're ready, already."

2 Withlacoochee Trail - Beginning (1)
At the Ridge Manor Trailhead, on the trail and ready to roll.

5 Withlacoochee Trail Scene
This was the scene for most of the day.  We were wonderfully isolated and it had a very rural feel.

7 Withlacoochee Trail Flower
At one of our first rest / water breaks, Nicole spotted these while chasing down a skipper butterfly.

3 Withlacoochee Trail - Common Buckeye Junonia coenia Butterfly (1)
Then Darlene called her away to see this - the Common Buckeye Butterfly - Junonia coenia.

When she returned to the area the skipper was in, Nicole had considered not trying to photograph it.  After all, she has seen a lot of skippers.

8 Withlacoochee Trail - Whirlabout (Polites vibex) Skipper Butterfly (1)
Good thing she changed her mind because this was a new-to-us skipper - the Whirlabout (Polites vibex).

4 Withlacoochee Trail - Moth Mullein (Verbascum Blattaria) (1)
Although we have seen Mullein in other states, seeing it in Florida was new for us.

4 Withlacoochee Trail - Moth Mullein (Verbascum Blattaria) (2)
The Moth Mullein flower - Verbascum blattaria - is very pretty.

6 Withlacoochee Trail Scene
Heading on down the trail...

... an Eastern Towhee was singing ...

10 Withlacoochee Trail Nicole Photos
... and Nicole found something that interested her.

After months of chasing Pearl Crescent Butterflies and hoping (to no avail) that at least one was a Phaon Crescent

11 Withlacoochee Trail - Phaon Crescent - Phyciodes phaon Butterfly (1)
a Phaon Crescent - Phyciodes phaon - had finally made an appearance!  It was an exciting few moments for sure.

11 Withlacoochee Trail - Phaon Crescent - Phyciodes phaon Butterfly (3)
You wouldn't know that this little beauty (with its wings extended) is only the size of your big toe-nail.

12 Withlacoochee Trail River
Another little bit down the trail and we see this sign pointing to a trail into the woods.  Why not?

13 Withlacoochee Trail - Break
Yup, this looks like a great place for a lunch break.

14 Withlacoochee Trail - Break Scene
- The Withlacoochee River and the trails namesake -

17 Withlacoochee Trail - Break - white-marked tussock moth caterpillar - Orgyia leucostigma (1)
This wonderful spot was further enhanced by the sighting of a new-to-us caterpillar.  This is the White-marked Tussock.

17 Withlacoochee Trail - Break - white-marked tussock moth caterpillar - Orgyia leucostigma (6)
Orgyia leucostigma - hanging on...

16 Withlacoochee Trail - Break Scene
Break over...

18 Withlacoochee Trail Scene
... back to the trail.  Miles to go...

Bike Mirror Selfie

20 Withlacoochee Trail - Pricklypear Cactus Opuntia humifusa
Just before our turn around point we saw a Prickly Pear Cactus in bloom.

Usually the second half of a trail brings about fewer photo opportunities.  Not this trail though.

21 Withlacoochee Trail - Prince Baskettail Epitheca princeps Dragonfly (3)
Several hours were invested in the ID of this beautiful and new-to-us Dragonfly. 

21 Withlacoochee Trail - Prince Baskettail Epitheca princeps Dragonfly (1)
Not only were the wing patterns unique but just look at the beautiful blue eyes on this Prince Baskettail Dragonfly - Epitheca princeps.

22 Withlacoochee Trail - Wild Petunia - Ruellia caroliniensis
We spotted some Wild Petunia - Ruellia caroliniensis.

23 Withlacoochee Trail -Giant Milkweed Bug Sephina gundlachii (1)
A Giant Milkweed bug was hanging around.

25 Withlacoochee Trail - Darlene Photos
We were seeing so much that Darlene commented we may not make it home before dark.

24 Withlacoochee Trail - Antlion Adult Form
Perhaps you have seen the cone shaped traps that the Antlion larvae makes in the sand?
Seeing the adult (winged) form though is more rare given that they are nocturnal so this was a pretty cool sighting.

26 Withlacoochee Trail - Salt Marsh Caterpillar (1)
One of the things that slowed us down on our ride home was all of the caterpillars crossing the path.

26 Withlacoochee Trail - Salt Marsh Caterpillar (2)
Of course we had to make sure that they made it across safely which sometimes involved transport.

27 Withlacoochee Trail - Finished
We did eventually make it back to the van though at nearly 18 miles of travel.

Our first day on the Withlacoochee was a great one and although we were pretty wiped out we definitely favored 18 miles over the 30 we did on the last trail.

Day Two on the Withlacoochee was a bit more crowded.  We started off from the Inverness Trailhead which is around the half-way mark of the trail.

The bikes are ready!

We rode the trail to Floral City and started out near Henderson Lake.

This part of the trail was more urban with a few more road crossings and restaurants / shops within sight of the trail.

Although we didn't see anything new-to-us Nicole did get a great side (underwing) shot of the Whirlabout.

She also got a couple of great shots of a Plume Moth that Darlene found.


When we reached Floral City we had plans to ride down to see the Avenue of the Oaks.  However, their sidewalk system was a bit wonky and kept ending which forced you to ride 50 feet then cross the road for another 50 feet before crossing the road back again.  After two crossings we gave up and figured we'd seen enough oaks already.  We headed back to the Floral City Trailhead to have lunch in the gazebo before starting our return trip.

On our ride back to Inverness Darlene spotted this gate to somewhere just hanging out in the forest.

We stopped to sit for a spell on a bench overlooking Lake Henderson

and ended Day Two at around 15 miles.

Day Three we intended another 15 mile-ish ride this time starting from the end of the trail in Citrus Springs.

At the literal end of the road pointing our noses south.

Again, a more urban section of the trail with many houses in view and a high number of road crossings.

However, it was very quiet and we saw few other bikers despite it being a Saturday.

3 Argemone albiflora White Prickly-Poppy Flower
We also saw a few new things like this White Prickly-Poppy (Argemone albiflora)

4 Long-winged Dagger Moth Cateripillar - Acronicta longa
and this interesting looking Long-winged Dagger Moth Caterpillar - Acronicta longa.

5 Red saddlebags (Tramea onusta) Dragonfly
It must have been hatching time for Red Saddlebags Dragonflies because we saw hundreds of them.

We anticipated around seven or so miles in and the same back however when we got to around five and a half someone was burning brush and leaves and such in their yard and the smoke was engulfing the trail. 

2018-04-14f Florida, Dunnellon - Withlacoochee Trail - Finished

So, we decided to turn around and make it a short day.

Still it was a really nice day and pleasant ride.

Even better was that when we returned to the trailhead and were preparing the bikes for loading we spotted a super cool, new-to-us insect crawling on Nicole's bike.

7 (1)
Meet Arilus cristatus - the Wheel Bug Nymph (immature phase).

7 (2)
One of these days we'll actually spot a mature Wheel Bug but for now this neat looking nymph will certainly do.

7 (3)

Well, that was our three days on the Withlacoochee State (Rail) Trail.  We covered 44 miles, enjoyed some beautiful weather and saw a lot of new things.

It is worth mentioning that we saw somewhere that the Withlacoochee Trail considers itself the friendliest trail and we can definitely confirm that sentiment.  Never have we said or responded to Hi, Hello, How are you? and Have a great day! so many times as we did during our three days on the Withlacoochee State Trail.


Until the next phase of our adventure...