On mornings like this, the gym doesn't have a chance to win the toss - I've been away from my beloved Pinellas Trail for over two weeks - and the overcast sky and cooler air brought on by whatever tropical storm is out there right now makes a convincing assertion that summer may actually be coming to an end.
I'd been biking our rails-to-trail for many years before I realized that trail cyclists considered it one of the best "urban" trails in the country. Kyle and Sam were young homeschooling tykes when we first hopped on our bikes to ride the very first completed sections in the middle of our long thumb-shaped Pinellas county. Now it's 34-36 miles end to end with several off-shoot spurs, it connects a bunch of city and county parks, and travels through a wide spectrum of commercial and residential neighborhoods from the housing projects to upper class Belleair with "white trash" and retiree mobile home parks and scores of middle class neighborhoods in between.
I can take the Gulfport spur near the southern end to eat lunch on a rooftop overlooking the Gulf of Mexico or watch the swing dancers at the pavillion, then cross the inter-coastal in the section pictured above, then much farther north, paralell the Gulf again in Dunedin, Crystal Beach and Tarpon Springs, smelling the briny air across the mangroves, even when I can't see it. You can bike for breakfast, lunch or dinner in downtowns made for day-trippers (Gulfport, Dunedin, and Tarpon), and the food is so good at some of these places, that it will take you quite a few bike trips to sample them all.
On my relatively short ride south this overcast Saturday morning, I mostly passed or was passed by other "serious" cyclers (road bikes with helmets, bike shorts, tops, and shoe clips) riding in small groups, with relatively few walkers, runners and skaters. I also encountered a tyke on one of his first rides without training wheels being coached by Grandpa and Grandma who crashed into the fence pictured above just after I passed, a couple of homeless dudes with bikes having a chat by one of the overpasses - a pretty regular occurrence in certain sections of the trail, an assistant cook heading to work with a dangling cigarette, an orange Fanta, and a serious hangover clouding his face, and the best part of my coffee break: a blue/black crow who strutted around the Starbucks patio like a gun-totin' outlaw, forcing the tiny wrens to safer ground.
I like passing commercial buildings sporting murals on several sections of the trail (St. Pete, Clearwater, Tarpon), a homeless dude who routinely reads the paper on a bench just over the fence from the swankiest neighborhood in the county, women who walk the trail barefoot in their Sunday suits and hats with high heels in hand on their way to the African Methodist Episcopal church, compact Mexicans on their way home from work, middle-schoolers clad in baggy blacks who clump together for identity and power, and cast-net fishermen hoping to snag supper from the Anclote River.
It's our trail, its my trail and I love it.