Monday, February 21, 2011

Meet Me at Myakka River State Park

Once a month, the bikers from the Isles Yacht Club get together for a longer ride than the weekly "bike to breakfast" on Saturday mornings.  This month's ride took us to Myakka River State Park in Sarasota (the park's motto is "Where River and Prairie Meet the Sky"). The park covers 58 square miles and there is something for everyone there.  In addition to the seven miles of paved road, you can bike on 20 miles of dirt roads, hike over 39 miles of trails, go canoeing or kayaking on the River, take a tour on an air boat or tram, go birding or cast your rod and try to catch some dinner. 

Almost as soon as we started pedaling, we stopped at an overpass to look for some alligators.  Disappointingly, there were only a couple of specimens lolling in the sun.  (Later on, I came across an interactive display with questions about alligators that children--like me--could answer by hitting the "true" or "false" button.  For instance, True or False:  Alligators can go for months without eating and often do not eat all winter.  TRUE!  Alligators digest food very slowly in cold weather so they can go without food during the winter months.  Another "fun" fact that wasn't on the interactive quiz:  Alligators can run over land at a rate of 20 mph.  Don't worry, though, their stamina isn't great!)

Our next stop was the Canopy Walkway, which is suspended 25 feet above ground and extends 100 feet across the trees.  Only four people are permitted across the walkway at a time and it does sway when you walk across it.  Once you cross the walkway, you arrive at a 74' tower that you can climb to get a lovely view of the Park.  (One friend asked us what song the tower made us think of.  "Stairway to Heaven", of course!) 

From there we actually did some biking, riding to the end of the Park and back to the Birdwalk.   The ride itself was lovely, with lots of Spanish moss and trees spanning the road to create an arch for us to ride under.  (The shade was quite nice, actually, as the temps were already in the high 70s by 10:00.)    When we arrived at the Birdwalk, a park ranger offered us some homemade brownies (which was a bit strange, but I understand they were tasty!) and directed us to the telescope that he had set up to watch an osprey taking a bath.   From there it was off to lunch at the Park concession stand, where I had a lovely gator stew.  (Maybe that's why there weren't a lot of gators at the bridge where we stopped!)   The stew was surprisingly tasty and the gator tasted like, well, chicken.  We sat outside on a deck and enjoyed the view, all the while being serenaded by some guy with a guitar who wasn't too painful to listen to.  The whole concession experience was a significant notch above the food at a rest stop on the highway (especially in Florida, where your dining experience at a rest stop comes from a vending machine.)

After lunch, I walked down to the River where I saw an incredible wood ibis.   (A quick look at Wikipedia told me that the proper name for this bird now is a "wood stork".)  It was really funky looking--I was glad that I had my binoculars with me to take a closer look.    There was also a white heron wading nearby in the River.  I wasn't sure what it was at first because it had a lot more feathers than the herons do that I'm used to seeing.   I was informed that the plumage is an indication that it's mating season.  You learn something every day!

My day was then complete.  Some fresh air, some nice scenery, some exercise, some chatter with friends and a bit of education thrown in to boot--not a bad way to spend a day in late February!   I'm already looking forward to next month's bike ride, which is part of the Leukemia Cup Regatta being hosted by the Isles Yacht Club.  We'll be participating in a Mystery Bike Ride in the morning (what that means is part of the mystery) and then a pedal through town with the City Manager sharing some info about the history of Punta Gorda.   Join us if you're in the area!

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