“Come on, slowpoke!” I waved to my husband, Ron, encouraging him to hop on his rented bicycle and join me down the trail. We were in the heart of Florida’s Adventure Coast, an area of Hernando County snuggled between the Gulf of Mexico and the Withlacoochee River.
The area’s two main towns, Weeki Wachee and Brooksville, serve as a hub for so many fun outdoor activities that the area’s been dubbed “Nature’s Place to Play.” Despite all these temptations, Ron and I homed in on Brooksville because we wanted to spend a couple of days away from our daily grind and to rediscover cycling. Our teenage daughter said, “Peace out. Have a good time.” And we were on our way.
Brooksville readily welcomes bicyclists, with multiple bike shops—including one, Crank Works Bicycles, offering rentals—well-maintained trails and a gracious attitude toward beginners. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the cycling community in a most comfortable way, so we stayed at The Dolan House B & B. Owned by cycling enthusiasts Tina Jarvis and Mike Dolan, the cheery yellow-and-green historic home oozed Old Florida charm. Mike and Tina coordinate many of the town’s bike races, and their knowledge of local trails helped us plan our routes for our weekend.
We chose the Good Neighbor Trail for our maiden voyage. Following the old Florida Southern Railroad, the trail starts right in Brooksville’s historic downtown, where they converted the 1885 train depot into an interesting museum. We knew it would be a good place to get a ride under our belts and come back for lunch.
“Let’s pick up the pace again!” Ron yelled as he whizzed ahead of me. The trail has a nice mix of shady spots and open spaces, which naturally seemed to make us alternate slow, lazy pedaling with zooming along. Aside from a few well-marked road crossings, the trail features mostly flat and uninterrupted stretches, making it easy for us to just relax and enjoy the ride.
We went much farther than planned—it was so fun and freeing that I didn’t notice the workout I was getting! It reminded me of summer days as a kid, when I was so absorbed with playing and exploring that I didn’t realize until I got home that I was starving and my legs were spaghetti.
When we did finally make it back, we rolled our rumbling bellies and wobbly limbs through the quaint, brick-paved streets of historic downtown to the The Bistro. The atmosphere of the place was as refreshing as the food: exposed-brick walls, a high, white, tin ceiling, huge windows and local art. It was bright, casual, cool and exactly what we craved after our ride.
The diverse menu featured classic American favorites, great vegetarian and even gluten-free options. I had a fig, onion jam and blue cheese flatbread pizza so delicious I’m still thinking about it.
After the meal, we left the bikes parked while we took a short stroll to see more of the downtown area. Our server had told us about Brooksville’s murals, and we wanted to see some of them for ourselves. All depict historic scenes and some form faux storefronts complete with “windows” and people coming and going through painted-on doors. It made us wish, just a little, that we’d been around to see the area back when people dressed like that.
The next day we headed to the Withlacoochee State Trail, Florida’s longest paved trail at 46 miles. Running parallel with the Withlacoochee River, the trail passes through three counties (Hernando, Pasco, Citrus) and eight towns (Trilby, Nobleton, Istachatta, Floral City, Inverness, Hernando, Citrus Springs and Dunnellon).
We started at the Ridge Manor Trailhead, a 15-minute drive from Brooksville. We toyed with the idea of doing the 5.9 miles south to Trilby, but decided instead to head north because we wanted to visit the Silver Lake Recreation Area in Withlacoochee State Forest.
What an amazing ride! The trail was flat, wide and shady—the best ingredients for a casual day out. We passed huge pine and cypress trees, saw a gopher tortoise (they walked with such attitude) and spotted more birds than I could count. Something else I noticed was that almost everyone we passed waved or smiled. It created a sense of community that made an already pleasant experience even better.
A short distance from the state trail is Silver Lake. In fact, the Silver Lake OHV Trailhead comes right up beside where people park to go to the lake and the recreation area. The incredible view revealed water so flat and still, the clouds reflected off the surface in a perfect mirror image. With our seat in the shade, we relaxed and took in the amazing view. We took our time eating a picnic lunch, got rested and refreshed and then cycled back to the Ridge Manor Trailhead.
We later discovered that the Good Neighbor Trail in downtown Brooksville will soon connect directly to the Withlacoochee Trail. To celebrate this amazing new stretch of trail, hundreds of cyclists are expected to converge on the area Oct. 14 for the inaugural Good Neighbor Trail Ride. Ron and I will definitely be there, cheering everyone on.
We got back to Brooksville and, after a quick cleanup at the Dolan House, made a beeline for the final “must-do” on our trip list—The Tap Room at Florida’s Cracker Kitchen. Adjacent to Florida Cracker Kitchen (a restaurant famous for Southern-style food), The Tap Room serves only beer local to Florida. With names such as Swamphead Midnight Oil and Silverking Strike Blonde, sampling the brews offered a mini adventure of its own.
We came home from our vacation a little sore but also happy and relaxed. We’d traded in our to-do list for some much-needed nature therapy. On greeting our daughter again, I recalled her words “Peace out,” and considered that we really got the peace on the inside. Most of all, we broke out of our comfort zone and did something new and exciting. I guess that’s exactly what Florida’s Adventure Coast is all about.