When I met Gene on the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway he was riding for his life. Literally.
The former Ohio coal miner turned corrections officer turned Florida retiree was slowly but surely pedaling away from the inevitable heart attack that would have almost surely put an end to his world.
At one point, he told me, he weighed in the neighborhood of 400 pounds. “I would lie in bed and gasp for breath,” he recalled.
Then he and his wife Jane, started to ride bicycles. First on the shorter Rainbow Springs Trail, and then on the recently paved 15-mile section of the Cross Florida Greenway that runs east to west from U.S. 441, just south of Ocala, to SR 200, not far east of Dunnellon
Nothing dramatic. Just a few miles here. Five miles there. But his miles on wheels have begun to add up to a life-changing experience for Gene. He’s already dropped considerable weight, “and I still have a long way to go.”
When I passed him Gene was doggedly making his way up one of the greenway’s modest hills. “When I can’t go up any more I just get off my bike and push it the rest of the way,” he said. Pushing or pedaling, he’s still getting the exercise.
Gene was hardly alone on the trail on this spring-like Wednesday. There was also a young mom and her daughter riding in tandem, both singing at the top of their lungs. And a bunch of guys putting about a dozen horses through their trotting routines. A man on a recumbent sporting a Navy jersey. Couples on hybrids, and hikers clad in kakis and broad brimmed hats, and joggers….
It’s fair to say that in just the few months that the paved portion of the Cross Florida Greenway Trail has been open, it’s gained quite a following. And for good reason.
This is easily one of the most scenic and fun to ride trails in Florida. Scenic because it runs almost entirely through oak-and-piney wood forests, – rather like riding in Endor – occasionally broken up by palmetto scrub lands. And fun because, well, unlike most of the state’s paved multi-use trails, this one is not a rail-trail.
That’s an important distinction because rail-trails tend to be straight, point-to-point affairs that seldom vary in course and direction. And why would they? The railroad tracks they replaced were also built on the straight and narrow.
But this a nicely engineered trail that winds its way through the trees in near serendipitous fashion – call it curvaceous, twisty and serpentine as the mood strikes (Here’s a Ride with GPS link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/22932797).
Oh, and those modest hills? Sometimes you hardly notice the long, gradually upward sloping slogs until you start to wonder whether you’ve got a flat tire. How else to explain why you’re suddenly moving so slowly and breathing so heavily?
And then the next thing you know, you’re suddenly gaining momentum. Then you glance at the computer on your handlebars and see it’s nudging 30 mph.
Yeah, a fun trail to ride, both for the uphill slogs and the downhill runs.
And in the few instances where the trail encounters major roads, it dips down into bypassing tunnels, so crossing traffic is not a problem. The exception is when you cross over I-75 on the greenway’s nicely landscaped “Land Bridge.”
Oh yeah, and the trailhead at Santos park, just off U.S. 441, has ample parking, rest rooms, picnic tables and camping facilities.
The Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway has been around for years, and has long been a favorite destination for hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers and others who don’t necessarily require asphalt to negotiate the landscape. The addition of this 15-mile section of trail opens the greenway up to cyclists, casual pedestrians, runners and families that need something more than dirt foot paths to get around.
If you haven’t ridden this trail yet you should. It’s a twisty trip through the tall timber.