Return to Shark Valley

Shark Valley Loop

Not a single alligator reared its head during a bike ride through the Pahayokee last July. Much cooler now, they’re all over.

Ardea herodias

Alligator mississippiensis

Cirsium horridulum

Alligator mississippiens

Nuphar lutea

A Coconut Grows in Bokeelia

Cocos nucifera

It takes about a month for the verdant shoot to emerge, so this one likely washed ashore while Hurricane Ian spread millions of tons of natural and man-made debris from Manatee to Collier County (and beyond).

Bokeelia is a tiny island community on Pine Island settled by the Calusa Indians, a doomed advanced coastal society that relied heavily on fishing and shellfish.

Henry Ford came along in the 1920s and purchased land on Bokeelia for a fishing village. He also built a large dock and a hotel on the island, and he established a botanical garden. The village never took off, and a hurricane destroyed the the hotel in the 1940s.

In the 1960s and 70s, the island began attracting retirees and vacationers. Many homes were built as it became a popular destination for boating and fishing. Today, Bokeelia is a small community of permanent residents and many more seasonal visitors. Pine Island’s scenic routes and trails, including flat terrain, winding paths through nature preserves, palm nurseries, mango farms, and picturesque coastal roads make it a rad place to ride your bike year-round.

Bokeelia is also home to several parks and preserves, including the Randell Research Center, an archaeological non-profit researching the Calusa Tribe.

Sea Purslane

Sesuvium portulacastrum

Sea purslane is a salty, crunchy trailside nibble. One hundred grams of raw sea purslane has 32 milligrams of vitamin C, 267 milligrams of potassium, and 69 milligrams of calcium. It’s also a good source of antioxidants, including beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

Click here for a sea purslane chimichurri recipe.

Biking the Pahayokee

Shark Valley Bike Trail

The Shark Valley Bike Trail is a ~fifteen mile loop in the Florida Everglades. Pahayokee is the Seminole word for the region, which means “grassy waters.” (Marjory Stoneman Douglas had a similar thought.)

Ardea herodias

Among others, alligators, park rangers, Athenian expats, great blue herons, Germans, fish, French Canadians, pig frogs, turtles, and Midwesterners mingle in the summer heat.

Shark Valley Bike Trail

Cyclists meander to the midpoint of the trail, a forty-five foot observation tower providing panoramic views from the highest elevation in the Everglades.

Shark Valley Bike Trail

Before ascending the concrete loop, massive cocoplum bushes offer up trailside nibbles.

Shark Valley Bike Trail

Shark Valley Bike Trail

Shark Valley Observation Tower

Shark Valley Bike Trail

Macro vistas stun.

Ipomoea sagittata

So do the micro ones.

Kudzu Vista

Kudzu On the Tracks

The latest section of greenway spits cyclists out near Lexington Road. A short ride west under Loop 10 leads to the now-vacant homeless camp called Tent City, which sits on one of many recently clear cut and mulched embankments around town. Hike up to the top of the hill, past a handful of abandoned huts and peek under the overpass for an incredible view of kudzu blanketing a stretch of buried railroad.

Tent City


On the morning of the last day of school, one of my students pulled me aside and discreetly mentioned, “This weekend we’re moving to a place called The Salvation Army.” I explained where it’s located and talked it up as a place where they’ll be well-taken care of until they have to move again (a familiar ritual). After our conversation, I wondered how the residents of a local homeless camp were faring given recent destruction of woodland habitats, and recalled my first visit to Tent City.

I drove across town to join a small hodgepodge of volunteers from Athens and Atlanta in a Lowes parking lot on the morning of January 6th, 2008. The meeting was organized by an Atlanta-based nonprofit called The Mad Housers. We drove two miles west to Tent City on Lexington Road, a homeless camp tucked into the woods along a stretch of Loop 10.

Wielding tools and panels constructed the day before, we hiked up a shady trail dotted with tents and rudimentary lean-tos in varying states of disrepair. It was hard to discern which were occupied and which ones were abandoned. Once the path leveled a bit, a gentle war veteran named Radar greeted us with firm handshakes. He was the reason for our visit.


Radar and the rest of our crew spent the next few hours chatting while building his new home, the now-vacant hut pictured above.


The Mad Housers returned to Tent City and built more homes over the years. Radar passed away, then a woman named Sissy shared the hut with her ailing mother.



Now everyone is gone. Crews contracted by the Georgia Department of Transportation are in the process of felling trees and clearing undergrowth alongside major roadways. According to a piece on the WUGA website, the project “pushed back the tree line to reduce shadows on the road and ensure falling trees wouldn’t disrupt traffic in storms.”

Whether it’s a mom unable to pay rent and utilities, a chipmunk or garter snake seeking refuge from predators, or military veterans and the mentally ill seeking shelter, the DOT has disrupted more than a few fallen trees and shadows on the road ever could.



Palma Sola Bay to Sarasota Bay


A bicycle tour south through Bradenton Beach and Longboat Key begins with great egrets, brown pelicans and an opportunistic gull.





After grooming atop a pole, an agile resident settles into a standing split.



Vying for scraps, a laughing gull plops down on a pelican’s back as it dives for mullet.


Next is a ride through the Robinson Preserve.


Stretches of paved path yield to elevated sections winding through mangrove forest.





Hidden breaks in the forest lead to amazing vistas of the bay.


A flock of white pelicans slowly bobs up and down until one notices a school of fish.


An awkward orange, black and white ruckus erupts. The collective briefly takes flight.




Crashing down onto one another, the frenzy lasts maybe a minute (but it doesn’t appear that many catch a snack).



Compared to Robinson, Perico Preserve is a smaller and younger restoration project. Bikes are restricted to a small loop, but the route includes curious flora and fauna, including fallen trees and sharp turns.


Drivers and cyclists on Manatee Avenue are forced to take in the view as a yacht lumbers through the drawbridge over Anna Maria Sound.


More avian natives eye tourists from a weathered jetty on Coquina Beach.


Taking such subjective advice in Florida (and across the US) is hard these days.



A dune daisy blooms below one of many towering resorts occupying Longboat Key.


The day’s ride begins and ends on Palma Sola Bay.