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Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D. Headshot

Biking With Alligators

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So the boyfriend and I are on our way to the Everglades to meet up with a friend of ours and bike the Everglades' Shark Valley Loop Trail. I love the outdoors, I love exercising: this was perfect.

And then I realized I was going to be biking 15.4 miles. With alligators.

(A side note about my bicycling ability: I'm okay with the pedaling part. However, I have two main issues when riding a bike: a) getting on the bike, and b) getting off the bike. Other than that, I'm good.)

The scene that morning, at the Wendy's before we leave (because it's always a good idea to stop for fast food before biking 15.4 miles. In our defense, we had grilled chicken sandwiches.):

Me: I don't know if I can do this. You've seen how I ride a bike.
BF: It's okay, we'll just bike at your pace.
Me: My pace is that of a garden-variety snail.
BF: If you don't want to go, we can skip it -- it's okay.
Me: I do want to go, but.... *sob*
BF: Alrighty then...

So, off to an auspicious start.

The bike trail looks like a hairpin. It's all squiggly (yes, that's a technical term) on one side, and straight on the other. So once you get done biking the squiggles (fun), you are thankful for the straightaway (a relief). There is a big observation tower where the squiggly part of the trail ends and the straightaway part begins. It's 65 feet tall, so you have an amazing view of the Everglades. And you can see all the alligators sunbathing and, well, being alligators. Very cool. (There is also a tram you can take to the observation tower if you are hoofing it instead of biking.)

Interesting tidbit about the observation tower -- that piece of land was originally owned by an oil company, starting in 1946. Back then, they didn't have a way to take the impurities out of the oil, so things didn't work out so well for the company. But they left a really cool observation tower for us to enjoy. (That's also why one side of the trail is a straight road -- it was for the oil trucks to navigate.)

There are alligators all along the sides of the straight part of the trail. And if you bike the trail in the winter, I do mean all along the sides. They need to lay out in the sun to warm up. You will be biking right past these prehistoric-looking creatures (or biking around one that decided the middle of the trail was a good napping spot). However, it wasn't the alligators on the side of the road that I was concerned about -- they seemed pretty chilled-out and sleepy. It was the water on the side of the straight-away that got me wondering. (Ask Floridians what they know about canals and such. We, for the most part, have gleaned our info from the nightly news.)

At one point, two out of the three of us (not including me) stopped to get a better look at an animal. Two options ran through my mind: a) Turn around and bike back towards said animal, running the risk of falling into the water on the side during my U-turn due to my poor coordination, or b) Keep pedaling. I chose option B, even though the trail is smoothly paved and definitely wide enough for someone to make a successful u-turn.

The wildlife you see on Shark Valley Trail is breathtaking. We saw a Roseate Spoonbill (which has one of the coolest scientific names ever -- ajaia ajaja), osprey, purple gallinules, herons... the list goes on and on. It's such a beautiful habitat to visit.

I highly recommend going on the Shark Valley trail. We brought our own bikes, but you can also rent them there. Biking the trail takes about two to three hours. You can walk it too, but it takes considerably longer. (Genius observation, I know.) Make sure you bring enough water, especially during the summer. And non-Floridians -- if you are here during the summer, we have a daily tropical rain shower in the afternoon. Plan accordingly.

Here's a nice article on the bike trail from ProTrails.com: "Shark Valley Loop Trail".

Enjoy!

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