Not the first location you would think of for a bike ride but, nonetheless, definitely one with a thrill! We were staying with relatives in Miami and decided to visit Shark valley in the Everglades national park.
This ride wasn’t short of adrenaline. It literally could have been life or death if we had got it wrong. Well, that could be a slight exaggeration. Especially seeing as the route was a closed road, it was completely flat, and we were riding cruiser bikes. Where the hell is the danger in that then I hear you ask?
The location should give it away. The Everglades. It’s quite well known for its wildlife, and one rather dangerous species in particular. The alligator.
Normally the only cold blooded killers I’m avoiding on the bike are the ones piloted by aggressive or oblivious drivers. Not this time, now we had more gators than you could shake a stick at just waiting for us to put a foot wrong… and it happened!
But we’ll get to that later. The decision to ride bikes in the Everglades wasn’t the original plan, we first decided to explore Shark Valley tower on the visitor’s centre tour bus. This quickly came to a stop when we weighed up the $70 cost for the bus against the possible $18 for two bikes for two hours. No brainer! Bikes, exercise, and saving money…… and made going for a Fuddruckers later that day so much more acceptable. (If you don’t know what fuddruckers is then google them, and get ready to drool!).
We saddled up on two mighty fine Sun Atlas klunkers, no brakes bar a back pedal hub, both fitted with child seats. Now I’m confident enough to ride most bikes and can normally get around most bicycles status of maintenance or repair but these two though were true hire bike workhorses. I mean they look like they hadn’t been touched in years, so I had my concerns. I’ve had two years of working in a bicycle hire and have seen some bicycle abuse. Of course none of this was let on to my other half or kids, I wouldn’t want to put riding bikes at risk!
Not even ten metres down the concrete shark valley road we were called to a stop for a photo. My wife wanted a picture with an alligator statue set up on the grass. She moved closer to it to have her picture taken, it blinked. I then took the opportunity to ask her if she new it was a real one, the expression on her face changed and she hurriedly edged away. Much to my amusement. For the best though, just before she started sitting our kids on it!
Back on the bikes and we headed off through the sheltered swampy mangroves. This lasted about a mile, the trees stopped and we were out into the more open grassland. Straight into a block headwind! And we had six more miles of this along the straight concrete path. Flanders has nothing on the Everglades I tell you! Trying to get your grumbling fidgeting kids to get into an aero tuck is pretty tricky, we were in for a workout.
Obviously I had my strava on, there’s no way I’d cycle on another continent without evidence, we planned to have a little break about half way so kept an eye on the miles. Although finding a safe place to stop was a little trickier than expected. I’ve never seen so many enormous alligators, you would find one sunning itself on the side of the road every 50m……..And it wasn’t just the quantity of gators, it was their proximity! They were at bestless than 6ft away. Clearly no grasp of social distancing. It wasn’t all just gators though, the variety of bird life was just as impressive and ultimately less threatening!
We did eventually find a gator free spot and stopped to have a drink. Just enough time to get some legs back to fight that headwind. Although it didn’t quite go to plan. The design of the bikes, position of the child seat, and wind meant my wife’s bike tipped over. Unfortunately dropping our 1 year old son, luckily I managed to grab the bike on the way down so the impact was reduced. He was wearing a helmet so there were no injuries, just a little shook up. This is one of the reasons I dislike rear mounted child seats, they are rarely a stable addition to a bike and put kids at risk of a fall from a high position. They make bikes hard to handle by reducing weight over the front wheel and need a certain level of upper body strength to use. My advice? Use a trailer or buy a bakfiets. Anyway, back to the Everglades….
Saddling up we set of for the midway point of the ride, Shark valley observation tower. One of the highest points in the Everglades, which is not that hard for wetlands! Arriving we parked up the bikes and walked to the base of the tower. Despite being in a fenced off area we couldn’t help the niggling feeling a gator was about to slink from the bushes and have a toddler for a treat. All was fine though and we stopped for more snacks at the bottom of the tower (do you know how much kids under four eat!!!). Here we saw three vultures parading around looking for scraps, you know just to add to that ‘we’re going to get eaten’ feeling.
The tower has a great long spiral walkway to allow anyone to access it, and the kids loved running up it. The view from the top is spectacular and well worth the 7 mile headwind slog out there.
The trip back was a lot easier. We hopped on the bikes and immediately felt the benefit of the tail wind. No gators could catch us now surely! No, but this time it was my turn to drop a child. We stopped halfway again to enjoy the wildlife and, surprise, to have a snack but in doing so I was unable to completely steady my bike and my four year old went down. I had a partial hold and helmet was on so she avoided any injury. I just think both would rather not go on a bike seat with mummy or daddy anymore!
The final three and a half miles were trouble free and wind assisted making for an enjoyable return to the visitor centre. And guess what…. that same old gator was exactly where we left it. Energetic characters aren’t they!
Despite the slightly ropey machinery and the fierce headwind, cycling in the Everglades was a lot of fun. Some stunning (if a little flat!)’ scenery, incredible wildlife, and a nice workout. If you are staying in Miami shark valley is worth a visit.