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Alligator alley

Danger lurks along the Legacy Trail near Sarasota, Florida.

So, Sarasota, Florida. What a trip!

I went for a week to the Sunshine State to visit with my dear friend Maynard. I hadn't been to the popular Gulf Coast city since my wife, Vicky, and I had left for Maine 38 years ago. Boy, it is way different down there now. Lots of people ... lots of new construction ... lots of traffic. I couldn't figure out the lay of the land after a nearly four-decade gap. I'd lost my bearings.

Then I borrowed a bicycle. Problem solved — just like that. The "view" from a two-wheeled machine is like no other. The gentle gliding along allowed me to absorb the completeness of my surroundings, taking in all the sights, sounds, and smells. Regaining the identity of a place that had once been very familiar.

I ended up going for lengthy pedals over a period of four days. One ride involved cruising around downtown Sarasota — boy, where did all the tall buildings come from — and several of the nearby keys, which were reached by way of connecting bridges. A pleasant enough journey, but the real gem came with the discovery of the Legacy Trail. It was so good, I found myself on its entirely paved surface for all of my other treks.

The Legacy Trail, which was started in 2008, runs along an old Seaboard Railroad corridor between Sarasota and Venice. With its recent extension to downtown Sarasota, the trail now totals 18.5 miles. One gets the sense it is well maintained. It's also as straight as an arrow pretty much the whole way and as flat as a pancake. How flat, you ask? The elevation gain for one of my 30-mile rides came in at a whopping 62 feet.

There are countless reasons why this pedestrian byway in Florida is probably the best one I have ever experienced. And why those communities or organizations thinking of creating their own, should check out the Legacy Trail first. Here is what I observed, in no particular order:

— Rest stations, providing benches, roofs for shade and any inclement weather. Some even had water fountains.

— Porta-potties located at various points.

— As stated earlier, it was an entirely paved surface.

— Information kiosks describing natural features of a given area.

— Several trail heads with parking lots/trail connectors to housing developments.

— Extremely well-marked crosswalks with traffic controls, along with "You Are Here" signage to help trail users keep track of their whereabouts.

I could go on and on. The Legacy Trail was well populated, no matter the time of day. There was an abundance of e-bikes and recumbents, along with walkers, joggers, and people with dogs. All ages. I tended to ride just after dawn, before the heat arrived.

One of the more interesting and "cool" highlights was viewing a group of eight or nine Mennonites or possibly Amish — both men and women — coasting along on their tricycles. Wearing their everyday garb; no evidence of any spandex.

So what about the alligators? Yes, there were posted signs along the trail cautioning you about the presence of the big-teeth reptiles and asking you to "please do not feed the wildlife." Or face a $500 fine. Not the sort of thing one would ever see in Maine. Believe me, I took a good scan of the murky water before getting off my bicycle to take any photos.

Anyway, needless to say, it was fun riding a bike in just a T-shirt and shorts — well aware that those back home in the Pine Tree State were shivering because of the cold temperatures. If you ever visit the Sarasota area, I highly recommend checking out the Legacy Trail. It's worth a pedal. Stay safe!

Looking back toward downtown Sarasota from one of the keys.

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