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Cycler Chronicles: Horse Country & Springs Tour

Cycler Chronicles: Horse Country & Springs Tour

Let me tell you about 'our backyard'

By Ron Cunningham, GLOB Correspondent

EDITOR's NOTE: Ron Cunningham is a Gainesville cyclist, journalist, and the Executive Director of  Bike Florida. The GLOB's bicycle boy is ready to share information about the upcoming Horse Country And Springs Tour.

CYCLERchroniclerUPDATEDlogoImageLet me tell you about my backyard.

In my backyard there are horses and zebras and alligators, oh my.

In my backyard a cold, spring-fed river slices through a moss-draped forest like a silver knife. Its water so crystal clear you can gaze down and see turtles at play amid waving aquatic grass beds.

My backyard sports a Florida cracker farm once owned by a renown author who liked to live as large as the epic books she wrote about life on the Florida frontier.

In my backyard are lazy, twisting rivers and miles of hilly, oak-lined back country roads and isolated hamlets tucked away in forgotten corners like artifacts lost in time. My backyard has a broad, grassy prairie inhabited by bison, wild cattle and horses that are descended from the mounts of Spanish conquistadors.

Oh yes, and legions of the biggest gators you've ever laid eyes on.

021015BIKEtourMy backyard has been called Florida's Eden for its splendid natural beauty. It is little visited by the millions of tourists who are lured to the Sunshine State by Disney and beaches.

Which is why my backyard is a cyclist's paradise.

And why you really ought to come ride with us in April, when our next Horse Country And Springs Tour kicks off.

I live in Gainesville, one of America's great college towns. It is a jewel of a green city set amidst a lightly populated region of North Central Florida that itself redefines the phrase "Off the beaten path." Among other things, our region boasts the highest concentration of fresh water springs in the world. And it is the gateway to the gracious horse farms of nearby Ocala.
So naming this tour was a no-brainer for us.

What will you see and do on our Horse Country And Springs Tour?

021015DNAFirst, on Sunday, we'll take you on a short cycling tour of "Hogtown," as we locals like to call Gville (don't ask). We'll leave your hotel in our lively downtown entertainment district, ride through the Duckpond neighborhood, with its gracious old homes, enter the University of Florida's spacious campus (maybe stop by the football stadium to get your photo taken with the big bronze gator) and visit the beautifully landscaped Butterfly Garden at the Florida Museum of Natural History. On the ride back to your hotel we'll cross the DNA bridge - an imaginative tribute to Gainesville's cycle-friendly ethos - and make a pit stop at First Magnitude, one of the city's craft breweries which happens to be located on the Gainesville-Hawthorne Rail-Trail.
And that's just a sample of things to come.

021015MicanopyOn Monday we'll shuttle riders to the nearby town of Micanopy. If it looks vaguely familiar, that's because Micanopy was the setting for the hit movie "Doc Hollywood." Micanopy looks exactly like what it is; the archetypical classic small southern town (if you like antiquing, bring your wallet). Micanopy is the jump off point for the Ocala Horse Country, and miles of twisty, hilly, narrow country roads will take you past picture postcard farms where champions are raised and bred.

And it's not just horses you'll see. Be prepared to round a bend and suddenly find yourself staring, improbably, at zebras, camels, ostriches and other denizens of a little-known zoological preserve tucked away off an isolated lane. We'll also give you a rest stop on the scenic shores of Orange Lake, known for its floating islands and elusive bass.

021015RawlingsOn Tuesday we'll head east on the Gainesville-Hawthorne Rail-Trail and then south to Cross Creek to take a tour of the cracker homestead of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of "The Yearling," "Cross Creek" and other literary classics. You will smell the orange blossoms long before you get there - which is exactly what lured Rawlings away from her big city newspaper job to begin a new life in what was then still pretty much a wilderness. Rawlings lived a fascinating life in Florida. She was once sued by a friend who claimed her character was defamed in a Rawlings book. The offended pal won but collected damages in the amount of just $1.

On the way back to Gainesville we'll have lunch at Pearl's - a gas station that also happens to serve the best barbecue in these parts) and then stop for a stroll in Paynes Prairie State Preserve - where you can walk right up to the sleeping, sunning Gators (just don't get too close or wake 'em) for a classic Florida photo-op.

021015HopperWednesday is a travel day. We'll leave Gainesville for a ride north through the countryside to High Springs. Along the way we'll stop to take a hike down into the depths of the Devil's Millhopper - an impressive sinkhole wide enough and deep enough to have its own ecology. Along the way you might want to stop for lunch in the City of Alachua's classy downtown. If not, Main Street High Springs - with its art galleries and cafes and old train station - is definitely worth the wait.

High Springs, as its name implies, is the gateway to Florida's fabulous springs country. And we're going to take you for a spin past some of the area's best springs - Ginnie, Poe - and across the lazy Santa Fe River to Ichetucknee Springs State Park. Then you're in for a treat: We'll get you off your bicycles and onto canoes and kayacks for a paddle tour (or simply a slow drift, it's your choice) down the fast-moving Ichetucknee River. The water here is so cold and clear it'll bring a tear to your eye. Families of turtles sun themselves on half submerged logs. Egrets and Herons swoop low over the river's silver surface. And only their occasional calls break the river's silence.

021015BerriesOn the way back to Gainesville on Friday, and tour's end, we'll arrange a rest stop at a "pick-your-own" farm where you can sample the strawberries, and then take you back to town past the site of Gatornationals - one of America's premier drag racing venues.

There's more to do on the Horse Country to the Springs Tour, but we like surprises (For instance, have you ever seen a river do a disappearing act? We can show you one). Listen, you really ought to come and ride with us in my backyard, April 19-24. It's not Eden exactly, but it's close enough.

FOLLOW THIS LINK for more Horse Country And Springs Tour information

Last modified onWednesday, 11 February 2015 05:11


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