What a post-holiday treat it was to get back on some of my favorite cycling and running trails. I did so as part of the team of organizers for the annual River, Roots, and Ruts Half-Marathon, marking the many miles of unpaved trails of Caloosahatchee Regional Park that are used for the race, which was held earlier this month. After a lengthy stretch of being unable to do any serious trail running or mountain biking due to a nagging injury I had as much fun as I’ve had in a long time. And it only added to the experience that the race went off without any problems, which was the main goal of organizers. Before I go on, let me explain my absence from one of my favorite activities.
Due to a persistent foot and ankle problem I’ve only been able to gingerly cycle CRP’s single track trails over the past few years but not really enjoy myself, since I was afraid of doing more damage were I to crash, something that’s quite easy to do out there. Running those challenging mountain bike trails was, of course, out of the question; I knew from experience that doing so would mean weeks of no running at all and would even hamper routine walking and cycling. This caused me to get on the trails by bike only to mark the race course, with my primary concern being to complete the task without making things worse. However, for reasons unknown to me, sometime around the end of the year the pain unexpectedly subsided to the point I was able to spend a significant amount of time biking, hiking and running CRP’s outstanding trail system over the four days I was out there. As one who finds trail running immensely enjoyable, this “recovery” was an unexpected holiday gift.
Being back on the trails reminded me just how much different it is from road and sidepath running or cycling. Surrounding oneself in nature rather than traffic has a therapeutic effect, at least for me, no matter how difficult the conditions might be. Like the runners who participate in RRR, I relish the challenge of the winding, trip-hazard strewn course, which, for many, includes at least one fall. It surprised me, however, to see some folks wearing headphones and ear buds instead of enjoying their surroundings. Not to mention it means being unable to hear when another runner is trying to pass on the narrow single-track trails or when race organizers are trying to communicate directions or other important information. Fortunately, unlike road races, in which the majority of participants break the rules and wear them, I noticed only a few using them at RRR.
Although there are plenty of hazards that are intentionally part of the route, trail conditions on both sides of the park were excellent, thanks to the ongoing hard work of park staff and dedicated volunteers from Mudcutters off-road bike club. The riverside has pristine hiking trails and dirt service roads, and the north side has a combination of single track bike trails, wide equestrian trails and unpaved service roads. All were used, but it was primarily the hiking and biking trails that made up the bulk of the half-marathon course. Not only does CRP staff keep all aspects of the park in outstanding condition, they’ve been instrumental in making this race a success for 12 years and were especially enthusiastic hosts this year. The whole team is to be commended for the work they do all year long in making Caloosahatchee Regional Park a true gem for Lee County’s residents and visitors.
This is the ideal time of year to get out to CRP, whether it be to camp in its tent-only campground, hike or run the foot trails on the riverside, or bike, hike or run the 12-plus miles of single-track trails on the north side. A note of caution for those who do venture out to the north side: the mix of bike and pedestrian traffic on the winding, narrow trails means all users need to be ready to deal with each other at a moment’s notice, with runners and hikers understanding that the trails were built for and by mountain bikers. Equestrian traffic is also present, with a number of horse trails crossing bike trails (cyclists and pedestrians must always yield to equestrians). On the river side, bikes and horses are not allowed on the trails so that’s where you want to be to avoid any potential conflicts while enjoying the beautiful park.
No-pressure cycling group
The Southwest Florida Biking Meetup Group is meant to be a way to find cycling companions for those who may feel intimidated or otherwise turned off by traditional cycling club rides. The idea is for individual members to suggest outings with a system of communication and reservations being part of the service. It’s free to members, although there is an ongoing cost to keep the Meetup group going, something I took on when the original organizers were about to close it down a few years ago. Unfortunately, although there are 143 members, there have been few outings suggested other than those I put forth. That being the case, I plan to keep it going until at least May, when the next management fee is due, but will consider allowing it to go by the wayside if activity doesn’t pick up by that time. If you’re interested, check out meetup.com/Biking-SWFL.
Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and pathways.
— Dan Moser is a long- time bicycle/ pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him email@example.com 334- 6417.