Anyone who attempts to do serious biking in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, knows that the activity is a challenge. Sharing the road with Hummers and 18-wheelers is a practice that cyclists like me can do without. That is why I put the family bikes on my car rack and head to local paths. After hitting Atlanta’s area trails many times over the years, I’m always on the lookout for a change of scenery. On a recent getaway, I revisited the Timpoochee Trail that runs parallel to Walton County’s Scenic Highway 30-A in Florida’s Panhandle. No matter what time of year it is, the 19-mile Timpoochee Trail brings a mixture of sun, fun and a good workout in one session. On my last outing, I started at one end of the trail in the community of Santa Rosa Beach.
Santa Rosa Beach
Just as I entered the trail, I felt the cool breeze coming off the Gulf of Mexico and the golden Florida sunshine. If the mostly flat routes make you think this is an easy trail to bike, think again. The wind provides a resistance, which makes the ride a great workout. As I was going through Santa Rosa, I spotted some of my favorite shops at Gulf Place, where a few of the community’s finest retailers can be found, as well as excellent places to stay overnight.
Lush Blue Mountain
After leaving Santa Rosa, I went through the community of Blue Mountain. This is what Florida is all about: luscious vegetation and shapely dunes. Just looking around the area transformed me to a much-needed state of peace and quiet. It is said by locals that Blue Mountain received its name from European settlers who may have thought these dunes were mountains. The “blue” in the community’s name most likely came from the blue flowers that cover its dunes.
My favorite part of the Timpoochee is Grayton Beach, where the "real" Florida is. On past rides, I would stop here and never return to the trail. With its eclectic shops, restaurants and bars, including the legendary Red Bar, Grayton Beach is a guilty pleasure. Authentic Florida can be felt here with its oyster-shell roads and massive pine and oak trees. If you wish to catch a special sunset, head over to Western Lake, where the sun glistens on its calm waters.
Popular Seaside and Seagrove
After I tore through Grayton Beach, I arrived in the Seaside and Seagrove communities where the ride slowed. Tourists and residents alike slowly stroll the path. While it was tough to get around them, I managed quite well with my lightweight Fuji bike.
If I were into shopping, I would probably call it a day at Seaside, lock up the bike and spend my week‘s paycheck here. Shops featuring touristy goodies and mainstream eateries festoon the area. So do the SUVs and minivans that seem to come mostly from the Atlanta area. Seaside and Seagrove represent the New South; loads of new buildings and traffic-clogged thoroughfares. Still, these communities have much to offer. The Seaside Repertory Theatre is a premier company that attracts top-notch talent. Seagrove is home to some of the state's finest cottages.
Relaxing Rosemary Beach
I concluded my ride in Rosemary Beach. Described as a neo-traditional town, Rosemary Beach offers the finest in dining, including the scrumptious Onano Neighborhood Café, Summer Kitchen Café/Blue by Night and the Cowgirl Kitchen. Kids love the Sugar Shack, a slice of heaven for little tykes who crave sweet treats. Some of the neatest lodging can be found at the Rosemary Beach Cottage Rentals, as well as a bed and breakfast known as The Pensione. If you wish to stay here for a day or more, you cannot go wrong. I stayed in a comfortable, spacious cottage for two days. The kitchen was stocked with all the necessary tools needed for preparing a meal. It was great cooking on a stainless steel Viking stove. The staff was helpful, providing information on where to shop, dine and simply relax. I also took advantage of the property's indoor pool where I worked off the dinner I cooked up in my room the night before.
As I pulled off into Rosemary, I couldn't help but notice the cyclist in front of me. Even though he was quite a hefty fellow, he was using his large, strong calves which propelled him at high speeds. It goes to show you this trail is great for riders at all levels and ages.
Happy Trails in the Panhandle
While the Timpoochee Trail welcomes visitors year-round, I like getting on it in the off-season, typically runs from September through March. There are fewer bikers and walkers, less hassle in reaching my goal of finishing the trail. Since I did most of the trail from Santa Rosa to Rosemary Beach, I logged about 15 miles in a little over an hour.
I must confess that after coming here for almost eight years, there were a few more folks than in years past. The off-season seems to be shrinking. So many throughout the southeastern United States and beyond want a piece of the pie. More people are either visiting or now living in northwest Florida’s Panhandle. From Panama City to Destin, development is booming. Even though the population as well as the landscape have changed and is changing, Florida’s Panhandle is an affordable, nearby destination. After a few more years, this part of Florida will definitely give South Florida a run for its money.