How to Do Bike Paths

Today I’m in Hilton Head, getting ready to take a RoadTrek across Florida for three weeks (starting tomorrow). Aside from helping me complete my thesis for the Florida Studies program, this trip will help me undo my relatively tiny carbon footprint from last month. The thesis is another story and, if you’re so inclined, you can follow my travels at my probably-always-evolving-over-the-next-21-days web site, but right now I’m thinking, of course, about bike paths.

Hilton Head is a tourist mecca but it also has some locals who, many years ago, cared deeply (I’m pretty sure they care still) about retaining a certain type of character as the island developed. When you drive on to Hilton Head today you’re met with a wooded island that doesn’t allow traditional signage. The sheer amount of foliage belies the anxiety-producing number of vistors who cluster around the ocean here annually. The natives (well, no, not the natives, but the locals) made sure of it, and if you’re a store who needs a big sign or fancies neon, you’re out of luck. Whether you’re marking the location of a plantation – and don’t get me started about that nomenclature – or a McDonald’s, basically all your signs have to look a lot like this. No billboards, no high signs, and no flashing neon. It’s a nice visual break, but there’s still plenty to look at in the form of trees and landscaping that doesn’t look a bit like manicured landscaping. These folks are hard core about keeping the local flora intact. Seriously, this is what one of the roundabouts has on its inside (this photograph may be of another part of the island, but trust me, it’s close enough that you’ll never know the difference):

The best way to see this all this is on your bike, because a smooth-paved, well-marked, broad bike path contours the entire island. And my god, it’s gorgeous. Where the path crosses water (and it frequently does; this is low country), bikes bump smoothly across wooded decking on a path flanked by copper-topped posts. You can’t bike for fitness on this island, because every other tenth of a mile is a new vista of cool ocean-forest-like stuff to look at.

Seriously. Except for in a very few places, the entire island’s bike path looks pretty much like these photos. And there are bike racks everywhere and signage and people – even new visitors – learn pretty quickly how to navigate the island and give way to all the cyclists. I could live here without a car, easily. Well, as long as I didn’t have to leave the island.

It’s nice to see a community so committed to cycling. Of course, given the sheer volume of tourists, if they didn’t offer throngs of bikes for rent and well-marked paths to travel, the traffic would look like a cross between Manhattan and Clearwater beach.

Our tourist communities could learn from this city.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.