Recently I made a trip down to South Florida to one of the best places to see the real Everglades: the Shark River Valley. This is essentially the living and beating heart of the Everglades, and is only accessible by airboat, touristy tram ride, on bicycle on the same tram road, or on foot. I brought my trusty reliable mountain bike which is customized for nature photography excursions.
As I’ve written in the past, mountain bikes are the perfect solution for covering a lot of ground without spooking wildlife. I ride a Specialized Hardrock which I’ve had for about ten years and have had almost every piece except for the frame replaced for either outfitting to my personal needs for work or for environmental reasons. Not ecological reasons in this case, but that the environment (rain, heat, cold, humidity, saltwater) in some of the places I visit can break down certain components. Then there are the accidents, crashes, etc. such as this (please excuse my language) that are bound to happen.
Though I usually prefer traveling the unbeaten path, this time I made an exception, and was glad I did. The 15-mile tram road was a fantastic ride through the Everglades, and there was so much to see, but the highlight for me was the number of clutches of baby alligators I would see from time to time, mile after mile. Sometimes there was a large protective mother keenly watching her brood, and sometimes the newly hatched youngsters were seemingly alone until my presence caused the predictable chorus of baby gator chirping that ultimately brought “mama” to the surface of the pond or canal. Here is one of them I was able to photograph without disturbing the wildlife.
Combining my love for nature photography and mountain biking has been such a productive, fun, and healthy endeavor for me and I would have missed so many of the best-selling images seen in my galleries otherwise. But there is so much more to it than that. You get to see much more than one would while hiking. You get to travel much further than you would do on foot. In the South when it’s hot, you feel cooler with the wind and speed you are traveling. In the cold, you feel warmer by the exercise. After a while, you can even get attached to your bike. I know I am.
My mountain bike has been with me high in the mountains of Tennessee, North and South Carolina and Kentucky, across Virginia and Georgia hills and salt marshes along the Gulf of Mexico. It’s been carried on my back up steep ravines and carried across innumerable creaks and streams, and ridden hard through just about every environment and condition the entire state of Florida can throw at it. Best of all – in a few weeks it will be tested by the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park!Rich Leighton June 7, 2011