by Jenny Leigh Hodgins
My last conversation with my brother, before he tragically died in a late-night car accident ten days before his 29th birthday, was about riding a bicycle. John was a true naturalist, hiker, camper, gardener, cyclist, outdoor-man. In our last chat at our parents’ Kentucky home, he put his all into coercing me to get a bike and take up cycling. So, after he died, in my 42nd summer, I bought my first bicycle since my youth. It was a Trek road bike that cost me almost $1000.
Just before purchasing, I had a bit of a desperate conversation in my heart with John, neurotically seeking his approval of my first fairly-expensive-for-me bike choice. As if on cue, and out of the blue, John’s best friend, James, walked into the bike shop!
Of all days, he had come to the same bike shop to check on repairs of an old bicycle my brother had given him. I showed him the Trek, explained this was something John had wanted me to explore, and got enthusiastic approval from James that this bicycle was a great choice. I felt as though my brother was speaking to me through his buddy to encourage me to get on this bicycle and roll forward.
Since that day, I’ve ridden my cherished road bike up and down suburban hills, behind the Kentucky Horse Park in (my hometown) Lexington, Kentucky, through Talon Winery & Vineyards for a quick tasting with a cheese snack, to the beautiful Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, the Arboretum on Alumni Drive (both Raven Run and the Arboretum must be explored only on foot, so bring your bike lock!).
I've cycled through winding, country roads where gorgeous horses trotted parallel to my dual road wheels past scenic farms with white fences in Paris, Kentucky. Each of my bike rides is a personal tribute to my brother, his ode to the natural world, and to living fully in the present.
Having moved to Florida in 2006, my days of huffing and puffing up Kentucky hills were replaced with sweating bullets through the heat and humidity of Florida's tropical flatland. I’ve pedaled my way on multiple rides through the Starkey Park Trail in New Port Richey to the Suncoast Parkway, along the Pinellas Bike Trail from downtown Tarpon Springs to the Greek Sponge Docks, to Honeymoon Island Beach, Caledesi Island State Park, Wall Springs Park in Palm Harbor, and through downtown Dunedin.
As I have passed the big five-OH, I’m more interested in getting off my bicycle for some R & R. There are some fun things to explore along the northern Pinellas Trail if you want to park your two wheels along the way.
Start in downtown Tarpon Springs and cycle to the Sponge Docks for a look-see (and maybe even buy) at the plethora of small shops on Dodecanese Boulevard. A unique way to explore Greek culture, or introduce a guest to a leisurely afternoon in Florida, is to view the beautiful hand-made Greek jewelry, wonderfully aromatic, organic hand-made soaps, explore a tea and spice shop full of unique fragrance and flavors, or grab a few, big, soft sponges and assorted, fun souvenirs. Make sure you’re wearing a backpack for your treasures!
There are short boat cruises featuring dolphin sightings and sunset views you can book ahead on days with good weather. I love grabbing a delicious Greek lunch or dinner at Dmitri’s On The Water and enjoying a quiet view at the dock alone, or with friends before getting back on my wheels for the jaunt to my car at downtown Tarpon Springs. On one of my previous rides, upon return to Tarpon Springs, a friend and I got a coffee and decadent chocolate dessert at what used to be an Irish pub (it is currently Currents upscale restaurant), and sat outside listening to a young guy playing the bagpipes on the Pinellas Trail at sunset.
Another great bike ride is from Tarpon Springs to Honeymoon Island Beach. Nothing beats a moment to take in the relaxing atmosphere there; colorful kites floating above invisible strings held by kids on family outings, sailboats skating smoothly past the horizon in the distance, the distinctive yakking of sea gulls flying a little too closely as they scout for food, the salty, gentle breeze brushing over you, the warmth of the famous Florida sun, and those beautiful waves of water slapping and bubbling onto the white, sandy shores. Another fun option is to lock your bike wheels to rent a few hours on a kayak, sailboat or a paddleboat at Sail Honeymoon, Inc. The bright rainbow of upright kayaks there has been the subject of many photos (mine are hanging in my ocean-themed bathroom).
On the way back from the beach, boost your energy at Strachan’s Ice Cream & Desserts on Dunedin Causeway, then ride back to Tarpon Springs for dinner. Burning calories makes you hungry! Speaking of food; you can go all the way to Dunedin from Tarpon Springs to have a scrumptious pan-seared salmon dinner at Cafe Alfresco.
Dunedin is full of options for future bike trips to include leisurely strolls in its abundant, small art galleries and gift shops. On my last bike ride, at Lafayette and Rushmford Home, I found an almost realistic, brown Cuban cigar ornament with a glittery red and gold-painted label—a silly, impulsive Christmas gift purchase that held a private history and packed a humorous punch for my four-foot eleven-inch, petite, blonde, younger sister.
One of my favorite places along the Pinellas Trail is an old boxcar called Express Cafe, where you can get an amazingly delicious chocolate smoothie. They also have hot and cold coffee, quiche, breakfast, dessert items and various snacks. A great place to chill on a bench with your bicycle parked close-by in a bike rack.
All these food options give me the sustenance to cycle my way back, taking time to view the lovely Wall Springs Park in Palm Harbor, or stop on top of the overpass at Palm Harbor Boulevard to catch my breath while I snap a few photos of the mangroves down below.
Every bike ride I’ve taken along the northern end of the Pinellas Trail has been a wonderful tribute to my brother’s adventurous spirit, as well as enjoyable, leisurely and refreshing.
It’s about discovery, getting out there, doing new things, touching the spirituality in nature, being present and appreciative of the small things and little excursions, always inspired to continue pedaling ever forward, on to the next adventure. Just have some fun. Get rolling.
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