The Ride of a Lifetime
Getting back in gear with a Gainesville getaway
I hadn’t seen Jenna with that much zest for life in more months than I can remember. As she rode across the wooden bridge over Lochloosa Creek on the rails-to-trails route, she started singing “You Are My Sunshine” to hear how her voice vibrated with each plank, laughing and smiling the whole way. In this moment, I knew that our weekend getaway in Gainesville was exactly what she needed, what we needed.
In our 20s, we enjoyed going on long bike rides together. We even took a tandem bicycle for a spin while enjoying a romantic weekend at a quaint bed and breakfast. After a heartfelt talk one night, we decided that saddling up again would be a great way to get some exercise while spending more time together. At first we just rode around the block in the evening. Soon, Jenna was riding to work a few times a week and we were taking long, leisurely rides every Sunday. Still, something between us was off. We both needed a change of scenery to reconnect.
The Perfect Winter Destination
We live for the winters in Florida. Instead of summer vacations, we take winter vacations. The temperatures are pleasant and there aren’t as many crowds. Rather than a beach vacation or a short cruise, we decided to do something different. With that, we loaded our bikes on our car and made the three-hour drive from our home in Sarasota to Gainesville. Jenna found a bed and breakfast near the historic downtown that was within walking distance of delicious local restaurants and pubs.
Our home-away-from-home was also located just a few miles from the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, which is where we headed the next morning.
The paved trail meanders for 16 miles through a beautifully diverse landscape—streams and wetlands, dense pine forests and historical areas. Our favorite part of the trail was the section referred to as “The Hammock.” It was shady and quiet with plenty of rolling hills and curves. The hills aren’t too steep or difficult to ascend and the coasting descents brought a smile to my wife’s face. She looked stunning with the wind blowing her golden hair that extended below her helmet. The hardwood canopy framed the moment perfectly.
We detoured off the main trail on the La Chua Trail, until we reached an outlook point with commanding views of Paynes Prairie Preserve. We could just make out the silhouettes of hardwoods in the distance beyond the pale, olive green and rich gold flatwoods lit up by the sun. We decided this was the prime location for our picnic lunch.
“This is amazing!” I said between bites, the rapid fire of a woodpecker in a nearby tree punctuating my statement.
“Unforgettable,” Jenna replied, her smile revealing a tiny piece of arugula on her lip. I reached over and gently wiped it away. It had been months since she had been this relaxed and we felt so comfortable with each other.
That evening we sat on the patio. We watched the sun set, streaking the sky with brilliant shades of crimson and magenta. It was the perfect end to a remarkable day.
Lost and Found
The innkeepers at our home away from home steered us in the right direction for a day trip outside of Gainesville. We took a quick drive down to Micanopy, where we did some serious shopping. A sense of nostalgia welcomed us as we meandered through antique shops and quaint cafés housed in architectural works of art, guarded by towering oak trees. Inside and out of the shops, everyone we met was bubbly and friendly, brimming with Southern charm. I found a rare copy of The Velveteen Rabbit in a used book store and bought it for my mother. Jenna stumbled upon a small bowl made from repurposed bicycle chains in an eclectic little shop tucked inside a historic building.
“Isn’t this perfect?” she said, more of an exclamation than a question. “I’m not sure where I’m going to put it, but I want to see it every day so that I can remember what an incredible time we had here.” Her enthusiasm was contagious and I couldn’t help but smile at the re-emergence of the girl I used to know, the love of my life.
Focus on the Future
The adventures that Jenna and I shared in Gainesville brought us closer together. These are the moments we will focus on going forward—the moments that make us feel alive. We are already talking about coming back during the Downtown Festival & Art Show next fall, and after we wander through all of the amazing art booths, we’ll head out for a hike at San Felasco. We might even test the waters in a kayak in the nearby Santa Fe River!
For another look at biking and cycling around Gainesville, check out this video.