FL Part 4: Sarasota to Panama City (The Nice Part of FL)

North-central FL, the northwest coast, and the panhandle are a completely different world from the east and SW coasts. Somehow these areas have been spared relentless development, even along the beaches, and beautiful natural areas dominate the landscape. The ride north of Tampa and west along the gulf coast were a much welcomed change in scenery.

My cousins from NY recently moved to the boondocks in Dade City, so rather than continue up the coast from Sarasota I rode inland.  Once I got north of Tampa a wonderful thing happened: I looked up and saw countryside, and a hill that wasn't part of a bridge.  Horses, cows,  pasture, and orange groves were everywhere.   I saw share the road bike signs and even crossed paths with a group of cyclists.  After a 90+ mile day, I got a hearty meal of soup, a ping pong tournament and a comfy bed.  I am so glad they gave me a reason to ride to that part of FL.

Riding north the next morning two cyclists, Vinny and Jim, rode with me for a bit and took me out to breakfast.  One of them founded the San Antonio FL bike shop.  The area is apparently a cycling destination in FL.  There is even a nice country bike path, which I followed north through Floral City, home to a recumbent specialist bike shop.  I camped at Ft. Cooper State Park just off the path.  More nice country riding to Gainesville and along the way I stopped at Rainbow Springs State Park for a swim.  What a good decision!  The clearest water I have ever seen (120' of visibility I was told) and 72 degrees year round.  I would take this over the beach any day.

Rainbow Springs swimming area