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Day Trip to Sanibel Island

Day Trip to Sanibel Island

Our favorite day trip in Florida is cycling from Fort Myers to Sanibel Island.  We enjoy this 40 mile round trip every year while we’re vacationing in Fort Myers visiting Craig’s mother.

Our adventure begins right at Carole’s doorstep in The Forest gated golf community where she lives.  This year we had a gorgeous sunny day with highs in the 70s and no wind.  Absolute perfection.  It was actually a bit chilly when we started out around 10:00am.  I had to bike back to the house to put on a sweatshirt.  But I didn’t mind one bit.  It was 9º F when we left St. Louis five days ago so I’m not gonna complain about 63º!

Stopping at the top of Sanibel Causeway for photos

Stopping at the top of Sanibel Causeway for photos

Our route takes us along congested Tamiami Trail Highway 41.  Oh how we hate traffic.  But biking in Fort Myers is a breeze despite the high traffic because (as I explained in my Biking Fort Myers post) of the ever present bike trails.  After a mile north on Tamiami we turn off into a neighborhood and pedal over to Gladiolus and then Summerlin and MacGregor Blvd. which will take us all the way to Sanibel Island… bike trail almost the entire way.

The thirty miles to the Sanibel Causeway bridge is all along busy highways with lots of shopping centers, restaurants and RV dealerships.  This day trip wouldn’t even be possible if it weren’t for the bike trail and even then it’s not the most scenic route.  But hey, we’re bicycling in sunny Florida in February so I’m not complaining! Most of the trail borders a creek and we often see cranes, ibis, and herons wading through the water.  One year we spotted a five foot long alligator sunning on the shore.  Don’t fall in…

It's 70 feet down to the water from the top of the Causeway.

It’s 70 feet down to the water from the top of the Causeway.

We’ve also seen a lot of big black vultures circling overhead or feasting on roadkilled raccoons and armadillos.  During our trek to the Linear Park a couple of days ago, we had to pedal through a large group of them as they munched on some hapless cadaver.  These nasty birds freak me out with their blood red featherless heads, huge shiny black bodies and piercing beady eyes.  They are not intimidated by little ol’ me in the least.  My heart fell when I spied the vulture gang on the trail ahead of me… but I gulped down my fear, stood up on my pedals and charged toward them with the loudest rebel yell I could muster.  They just glared at me as I approached and halfheartedly hopped out of my way at the very last moment.  Scary.

Sanibel at last!

Sanibel at last!

Today the trail remained vulture free and we had a pleasant, smooth ride until we reached… the end of the trail.  For some inexplicable reason the bike trail simply ends about two miles before the Sanibel Causeway.  We have no option but to cycle along a narrow shoulder to get to the Causeway with cars and trucks whizzing by our elbows the entire way.  I do not enjoy this section at all and pedal furiously to get it over with as fast as possible.

The Causeway is actually a three mile stretch of three bridges connected by thin islands spanning the San Carlos Bay joining the Florida mainland to Sanibel and Captiva Islands.  There is no designated bike lane on the bridge but the shoulder is comfortably wide.   Tourists RV camp and fish along the two narrow islands connecting the Causeway bridges.  Families wade along the beaches and parasurfers whip around in the wind.  Pelicans fly above the bridge and dive bomb into the water.  Dolphins frolic in the waves.  It’s incredibly scenic which honestly makes me nervous.  I always say a prayer before we begin our trek across the Causeway that no one will swerve into the shoulder area behind us while they’re gawking at the view.  There’s no place for us to go, it’s either into the traffic or over the railing into the water.  The railing isn’t very high and it’s a looong way down, 70 feet down to be exact, from the top of the first bridge.  (The first bridge, Bridge A, was originally a drawbridge but was replaced with a high span bridge in 2007.)  Several years ago, a white painted ghost bike locked to a street sign on one of the Causeway islands hopefully encouraged motorists to slow down and pay attention.  This year the bicycle has been been removed but we are mindful of the danger.

The fastest way to get around Sanibel is on bicycle on the many bike trails that circle the island.

The fastest way to get around Sanibel is on bicycle on the many bike trails that circle the island.

However we’ve never had any trouble on the Causeway and today was no different.  We stopped at the top of Bridge A for photos.  While pedaling over Bridge C, I spotted a pod of black dolphins surfacing in the Bay and stopped to capture them on video.  I got a good shot but didn’t notice through the viewfinder in the bright sun that my fingers were over my lens.  Whoops.  I was holding onto my iPhone a little too tightly because I didn’t want to drop it over the side of the bridge.  I’m kinda clumsy and you just never know when that phone is gonna fall out of my hands and go flying over the side of the bridge.

Stopping for lunch at the Sanibel Bean.  YUM!

Stopping for lunch at the Sanibel Bean. YUM!

Finally we arrive at Sanibel Island and the trail starts back up again.  Sanibel is a paradise for cyclists with separated bike trails circling the island.  The island roads are narrow two lane affairs and car traffic is usually so backed up and slow that cycling is a much faster way to get around.  The island is around 33 square miles with a population of around 6,000.  Thousands of tourists flock to the island daily to fish, enjoy the beaches, shop, and eat at the many restaurants. Several bicycle rental shops stay busy renting all sorts of bikes out to tourists every day.

Motorists on Sanibel Island are surprisingly courteous to cyclist, almost always stopping for us when we approach the crosswalks.  Here's why...

Motorists on Sanibel Island are surprisingly courteous to cyclists, almost always stopping for us when we approach the crosswalks. Here’s why…

We stop at our favorite Sanibel sandwich shop, The Sanibel Bean, and enjoy fresh sandwiches, fruit and iced coffees before continuing our ride around the island.  Normally we cycle over to the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and trek through the trails in the Refuge.  Almost half of Sanibel Island is preserved land.  I’m so glad that so much of the island is being protected. The Ding Darling Refuge is home to myriads of water birds, alligators and protected mangroves.

Today we cycled over to a beach area instead and hiked around the shore with our bikes.  When I bought my Surley Long Haul Trucker several years ago, I boxed up my Kona Dew and shipped her down to Carole’s house for safekeeping so that I have a bike to ride down here every winter.  I’m a bit jealous that my Kona gets to retire in Florida while I still have to return to cold St. Louis.   But in all this time I’ve never taken her to visit the beach.  Today I made up for it by taking her on a long walk along the shore.  I think she thoroughly enjoyed it and so did I.

My Kona Dew had so much fun on the beach today.  Me too!

My Kona Dew had so much fun on the beach today. Me too!

We left the beach and cycled over to the southern side of the island.  We’d never cycled there before and wanted to try a new route.  An old steel lighthouse marks the southernmost tip and we stop again for snacks and another beach walk and photos.


Aaaaaahhhh joy joy joy...

Aaaaaahhhh joy joy joy…




We’ve had a wonderful adventure but all too soon it’s time to start the ride back home.  Back over the Causeway which is the only uphill climb of the entire 40 mile journey.  Unfortunately I can’t enjoy the resulting downhill run because I’m too worried about the traffic to my left and the low railing to my right.  I let Craig zip on past me to enjoy the downhill as I slowly brake my way down.  Craig is much braver than I am.  This time he even records a video of his descent with his iPhone, hanging onto his handlebars with one hand as he sails down the bridge.  Crazy Craig.

Saying goodbye to Sanibel and heading back home.  The Causeway is in the background.

Saying goodbye to Sanibel and heading back home. The Causeway is in the background.

The trail-less section on MacGregor has a much narrower shoulder than the westbound side and it is a harrowing two miles to where the trail begins again.  I watch in my rearview mirror and pedal wildly as far as I can before the next group of cars approach and I slow down to ride as closely to the edge of the shoulder as possible.  UGH I hate this section!  But there is no other way to get to Sanibel so we push on through and soon reach the blessed bike trail again.

Our remaining 30 miles home is smooth riding and fun.  Despite the short unpleasant section with no trail, we’ve had a glorious ride and another great day trip to Sanibel. Here’s a fun little video Craig made of our adventure…

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