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Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home          In Search of Sun         Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home 

By Theresa Russell

Note: The author, a seasoned cycling travel writer and frequent contributor to The Bicycle Exchange, is the author of the recently-published guidebook, Bed, Breakfast & Bike Midwest. This book was reviewed in our Spring '01 Feature Articles). She is currently working on a cycling guide to the Yucatan Peninsula.

With winter and colder weather upon us, you have two coping options for riding at home:  bundle up and get out on the road or put your bike on the trainer and enjoy the same old scenery of your exercise room.

But, if the dreary, sunless days are causing SAD to set in, pack up your bags and head to the sunny and warm south.  I have selected three personally visited sites for your fun in the sun riding pleasure.  These areas have the perfect combination of great biking, good food and diverse attractions.  Most are a bit off the beaten track and one is absolutely exotic and some of these destinations consider winter their slow season and offer nice discounts on accommodations.  I have included some photo links so you can get an idea of the areas and amenities.

Florida  

In Central Florida, Polk County does a lot to attract cyclists with a variety of routes and maps that highlight diversions along the routes.  The routes vary in length and include a century ride for the more ambitious.  Two interesting rides are the Lake Wales Ride of 28 miles which offers a short detour to Bok Tower Gardens, a beautifully landscaped area with a massive carillon and full services for a meal.  Not too far away is Skydive Lake Wales.  Here you can switch from an on-your-seat adventure to a by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience.  The center offers tandem skydives with an experienced jumper.  I thoroughly enjoyed both my jump and the aerial view, which revealed the many lakes of the area.  This is a good place to park your car and start your ride. 

Another ride has Lakeland as its base.  I stayed at the Terrace Hotel, an elegant and historic hotel in downtown Lakeland.  The hotel does have some special bicycling packages for guests that you might want to check into. The Grille on the entry level provides outstanding cuisine and makes a perfect ending after a day of cycling. For a long stay and with a larger group, you might also look into a fully equipped rental property like those managed by SunSplash, which offers homes at quite reasonable rates.

Lakeland itself has the wonderful Polk Museum of Art, with some fine collections including an interesting  pre-Columbian exhibit.  Florida Southern College showcases several Frank Lloyd Wright buildings on its campus and welcomes visitors on guided tours.

For these and other rides in the area, a ride packet is available at www.centralfloridasports.com. 

In the panhandle of Florida, Rosemary Beach is a new planned development with an eclectic mix of rentals.  Right at the entrance is a dedicated cycling path that continues 19 miles along the coast.  Along the way, you will find state parks, shopping areas, funky restaurants and a plethora of attractions.  Winter here is the off-season, which means reduced rates.

The blues of the ocean mimic the colors in the Caribbean. Rosemary Beach has plenty of other activities, both on land and on the water.  Take the virtual bike tour of Scenic 30-A at the website: www.30-a.com/tour/tour.html.

Tammany Trace

West of Florida is the North shore of New Orleans, home of the Tammany Trace. Now, the biking part of this tour is just an excuse for all the good eating you will find here. The Trace itself makes quite pleasant riding, but the food available in the area celebrates the love of food found here. Besides the great food, there are some quaint little towns like Abita Springs, home of the quirky UCM Museum and a brewery. Right on the Trace, these make for interesting stops. Roads nearby the trace are quiet enough for cycling and provide an alternative to an out and back ride.  The Tammany Trace will eventually be a continuous distance of 31 paved miles. There are still a few sections of unpaved trail. Lodging in the area ranges from chain motels to charming bed and breakfasts.  Swamp tours and small town tours are popular.

NZ

Moving south and west from here, you will come to one of my absolute favorite places to ride in our winter - the South Island of New Zealand. (Yes, it is very south and west). For this adventure, you need a minimum of two weeks, which will give you just a taste of the island.  Mountains, rain forests, glaciers, pristine lakes and waterfalls dot the landscape.  New Zealand offers spectacular scenery, hospitable people and a range of accommodations.  I personally find that for the solo traveler the hostel system canít be beat. They donít compare at all with the hostels in the rest of the world.  Camping or cabins in the motorcamps are another option, with yet a third option the wonderful NZ motel.  What could be so wonderful about a motel, you ask?  How about a fully equipped kitchen, usually a separate sleeping area and a decent price?

Sometimes distances between accommodations can be long, but there is ample light in a day to cover a lot of territory.  The terrain rarely offers any flat stretches, so a granny gear or extra powerful legs are essential.  Although you could find a few loop rides, you would be better off riding continuously, using the bus or train system to transport your bike when necessary.

Right now the exchange rate is excellent making this an extra great value.  The one book that I have used and heartily recommend for planning any bicycling trip to New Zealand is Nigel Rushton's book, Pedallersí Paradise.

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