I could have assumed that the large flock of noisy Canary-winged Parakeets Kelli and I spotted after only 100 yards into our ride on the Pinellas Trail was a good omen for a great day. I wouldn't have been wrong.
We stood at the St. Petersburg Trailhead at 8:30am shivering a bit from the chilly early morning air. The temperature was hovering in the high 40s. Although a little cold, it was quickly shaping up to be another beautiful autumn day in central Florida. We were beginning our 34-mile bike ride on the Pinellas Trail from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. We chose to ride from south to north and overnight at a bed and breakfast in Tarpon Springs and return on Saturday. We had barely turned a pedal or two when we were greeted with many sharp chirps. They were the kind you hear in a pet store; this time there was no pet store around. What we were hearing and looking at was a very large flock of vibrant green Canary-winged Parakeets. Although they are a Florida native species, I had only spotted a few of them once before. I would estimate that there were at least 60 of them flapping about and loudly chirping: a very cool beginning to a great adventure.
What we would see today would range from busy urban landscape to small quaint towns that time forgot, bayous, wetlands, picturesque parks, beautiful beaches, parakeets, chickens and an osprey or two. For an urban trail, the Pinellas Trail has quite a bit of wildlife.
After an unsuccessful attempt at snapping a picture of the flighty green birds, we refocused on the task at hand and began our ride. The first six miles of the trail run through an urban landscape that is one of the busiest areas we would encounter. The planners of the trail did an excellent job by building several elevated bridges over some of the widest and most congested streets. Although a benefit to us, Kelli was struggling on this early morning to pedal her post-Thanksgiving butt up the ramps of the bridges. In fact Kelli was even having trouble pedaling anywhere. She was having an early morning bonk. After a stop for her to pound down a pack of Gu (an energy paste that I swear is just cake frosting) and drink some water, I was hoping she was going to feel better.
By mile seven we were rolling over the Cross Bayou Bridge that runs over Boca Ciega Bay. We stopped and watched pelicans swoop low over the water and join their other friends swimming around below us. Our next animal sighting was one that you wouldn't expect to see in an urban environment. Around Seminole at mile 11 we laughed aloud at the odd sight of a red rooster and several of his hen friends running along the trail!
The trail in this area alternates between residential neighborhoods and strip mall areas as it heads towards the busy city of Largo around mile 14. At mile 15 we stopped at Taylor Park for a restroom break. Taylor Park has a very pretty reservoir along with restrooms, picnic tables, fresh water and a playground. It was at this point I noticed that I had lost my favorite cap. It had come off of my rack pack at some point. I was truly sad. I liked that hat. Around mile 17 we entered southern Clearwater, the next major city along the trail. In this area the trail is atypical; instead of a separate trail that we had enjoyed previously, it now ran along the side sides of a road on a widened sidewalk. We had planned to stop in downtown Clearwater at John's Bicycle Store to look for a pair of gloves and a helmet for Kelli she had forgotten these items at home. I had loaned my gloves to Kelli, my fingers were cold; I was more than happy when we easily found the shop within a few feet of the trail at SR 60. Unfortunately John's inventory of gloves included three pair, size large. As we readied our bikes, a young girl, head hanging out of the back of her parents car, yelled "Hey Mister! Where's the beach?" Me, the Florida resident standing there with cold fingers, and the tourists are looking for the beach so they can go swimming. You got to love Florida.
Although we didn't eat at Clearwater, there are a lot of opportunities for some good grub here. My recommendation would be a Mexican place on SR 60 about two or three blocks east of the trail on the north side of SR 60. I believe it is called Los Mariachis - very tasty grub. It was still early yet, so we planned to stop for lunch a few miles north in Dunedin.
Dunedin falls between mile 22 and 23. Kelli, who is a constant eating machine, was more than happy when we arrived and began our search for lunch. Dunedin is a very cute town. The trail runs right through the middle, providing a sort of arterial pulse for the little town. People were out in force on the trail, riding their bikes, walking, roller blading and going about their business. They were even decorating the light posts along the trail with Christmas décor. Norman Rockwell could have spent a lifetime here.
We finally decided on Casa Tina's. Lunch was very tasty. I had Huevos Rancheros and Kelli snarfed down an enchilada plate. I quaffed a couple of cold Dos Esquis and it was time to get back on the bikes. Two more miles up the trail, which is in my opinion two of the prettiest miles on the entire trail, was the trail spur that goes to Honeymoon Island. It's a 2.5-mile ride out and back, adding 5 miles to your ride if you so desire. I highly recommend it. Crossing Curlew Road to get to the spur proved challenging. It's a very busy and large intersection. The spur is actually a widened sidewalk that runs right along the beach of St. Joseph Sound. We were treated to some very pretty scenery as we pedaled along. About 2 miles into the spur, we stopped at a restroom facility and then decided to head back to the Pinellas Trail. Back on the trail, we soon were on another overpass bridge, this one at Alt. US. 19 and Orange Street provided us with some very pretty views of Smith Bayou from its elevated perspective.
We soon found ourselves in at mile 30, just south of Tarpon Springs, only four miles from our destination. Once again the trail passes through the middle of a quaint town. Tarpon Springs is a town that time forgot. It features quaint stores lining Tarpon Ave., neighborhood corner bars and a historic Greek Sponge Dock area that draws a lot of tourists. Our first stop was at Neptune Cyclery to search for gloves. The shop was very easy to find, it's directly off the trail at Lemon Street. It's housed in an old worn wooden floored store that has a lot of character. Although they didn't have a huge supply of gloves, they did have some in Kelli's size. If nothing else, I would have gloves for the ride back on Saturday. To complete our journey, we continued on through downtown to a rather unceremonious end, 1.5 miles north of Tarpon Ave. Large orange barricades marked the end of the trail at mile 34. We took a few pictures and enjoyed the view of the wetland area of the Anclote River. We think we may have even spotted a Bald Eagle perched high above the grassy marsh! If not an eagle, it ould have been an Osprey.
We decided to ride to the sponge docks before we checked into our bed and breakfast. The sponge docks are Tarpon Springs most recognized feature. Greek divers and fishermen have their boats portaged there among a pier-like conglomeration of small Greek restaurants and crappy souvenir stores. Many people were buzzing about, creating a very lively atmosphere. It really seemed as though we were in another country! During our ride back to find our bed and breakfast, we decided that as nice as the docks were, we were probably going to hang out in downtown that evening. I'm a big fan of the cozy corner neighborhood bar. We had spotted one early directly off the trail at Tarpon Ave., that looked like it was going to fulfill my beer needs quite nicely.
Our B&B was easy to find. Spring Bayou Bed and Breakfast is located off of Tarpon Ave., a short block or two from the trail. It's an old house that features circular architectural details and is quite attractive inside and out. Linda our host showed us to our room and was kind enough to give us some inside info on Tarpon Springs. After a much-needed shower, we headed out to a pub - the trail-side pub we had spotted earlier. Long story short, we enjoyed many $2.50 McEwans and Stella Artois drafts and had some first rate Irish grub.
The next morning Linda made us a great breakfast as we played with Simon, her very cute sidekick Maltese. For the most part the ride back was a reversal of the previous day, which was not to say boring in the least. We covered the distance slightly quicker, due mostly to Kelli feeling better. We stopped for lunch at The Aging Still in the Frontier Plaza at mile 13 at Walsingham Road. The official guidebook listed a bar called Mickey O'Sheay's that apparently is now The Aging Still (the old signs were still up on the wall by the restrooms). For pub fare, the food was good, the beer cold and cheap, the atmosphere - friendly redneck. After a couple of tasty sandwiches and several very cold drafts, we reluctantly pried our butts off of the bar stools and headed out to finish our last 13 miles. Kelli soon provided us with a valuable lesson. At mile 11 we again spotted the resident Urban Chickens. This time, Kelli was staring at them for so long, that she ran a guy off the trail when she drifted to the left, fixed in a chicken gaze. No harm was done, but we learned to keep our eyes on the trail and not on the chickens! We soon returned to our car and headed home, but not before we got a send-off from the parakeets again.
If you like a change of pace from mountain biking or backpacking in the wilderness, then this trail is for you. Although predominately urban in its landscape, the Pinellas Trail provides those with a sense of adventure several small towns full of interesting people, shops and restaurants to explore and some beautiful scenery along the way. I highly recommend starting in the south and traveling north if you wish to overnight somewhere. Even if you don't feel like riding all 34 miles of the trail to Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and especially Dunedin are also great choices for an overnight stay.
In 1983, a man whose son was killed while riding his bike, helped form the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organizations Bicycle Advisory Committee, consisting of bicycle enthusiasts. This committee, in conjunction with the Pedestrian Safety Committee, wanted a safe place to enjoy bicycle riding, strolling or jogging. The county had a separate issue that proved to be beneficial - a 34-mile corridor of abandoned CSX rail line.
In 1990 the first five-mile section of the Pinellas Trail opened, connecting Taylor Park in Largo, Florida to Seminole Park in Seminole, Florida. Its usage figures soon exceeding expectations. Soon a local option sales tax was passed to fund a connection from north to south, creating a continuous long-trail.
The Pinellas Trail is very popular, generating an average of 90,000 people using the Trail per month. The Trail is a unique greenway corridor linking some of Pinellas County's most picturesque parks, scenic coastal areas and residential neighborhoods. The trail features deep glades of ancient live oaks trailing Spanish moss, quiet waterways and tidal streams with all varieties of land and water birds. The Trail is a welcome relief in a busyand sprawling urban-scape.
The Trail is patrolled by the Pinellas County Security Task Force which represents law enforcement officers from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and various municipal law enforcement agencies. Pinellas County Park Rangers also regularly patrol the Trail, just as they do any county Park, and the Auxiliary Rangers, a legion of volunteers, function as extra eyes and ears for the regular Park Rangers.
Green signs along the Trail with the white numbers are station numbers. They are 500 feet apart and you can use them to calculate your distance traveled or report the location of any problems on the Trail. (Station number 0 is at the Trail's start at 34th St. in St. Pete.)