Biking the Emerald Coast

Anyone who attempts to do serious biking in the Atlanta metro area knows the activity is a challenge. Sharing the road with 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 a trail like the Silver Comet.

After hitting Atlanta 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.

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 was entering the trail, I felt the cool breeze coming off the Gulf of Mexico and the golden Florida sunshine. If the mostly flat trail makes you think that this is an easy trail to ride, think again. The wind provides 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 some 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. It is said by locals that Blue Mountain received its name from European settlers who may have thought that the dunes were mountains. The "blue" in the community's name most likely came from the blue flowers that cover its dunes.

Grayton Beach, where the real Florida is

My favorite part of the Timpoochee is Grayton Beach. 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 up. 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 populate this 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 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 Shak, a haven for the 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.

Happy Trails in the Panhandle

While the Timpoochee Trail welcomes visitors year-round, I love getting on it in the off-season, which typically runs from September through March. Fewer bikers and walkers get on the trail, which means much 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 more than an hour.

I must confess that after coming here for almost eight years, there were a few more folks on it than I had experienced in years past. Indeed off-season seems to be shrinking. So many people throughout the Southeastern United States want a piece of the pie, so more people are either visiting or now living in Northwest Florida's Panhandle.


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