Sanibel Island Through My Eyes while Biking
Whenever I cross the Sanibel Causeway, I open all car windows and deeply inhale the salty sea air. The views are spectacular. At the peak of the 70 foot high bridge I leave behind all that is not Sanibel and look only forward. I never stop admiring the view of the approaching island under various weather conditions. There are busy boats and people, and more often than not I see dolphins playing in the waters of San Carlos Bay, on either side of the Causeway.
The closer I get to the island, the more excited I get, until I am finally - home again. How excited can I get about such a small island? Just 20 square miles! What is there to do? Isn't it boring? Can I live here year round? Sanibel means happiness in its simplest form. We are just happy to be alive on Sanibel Island. Wherever I look I see smiling faces. The sun shines almost every day. The beaches are exquisitely white. The water is green. A constant breeze gently flows through the palm trees. No one is in a rush. Time seems to be endless. It really is Island life at its best. Sanibel is home to many important people who run part of the world when not here. They all enjoy the same privacy I enjoy, privacy which is safely guarded. Isolation is a word that fits Sanibel well. But I can also stay in touch with all major newspapers and my smart phone and I can get one of our many local papers which tell me about upcoming events, like art auctions or "foods of the islands" where I can taste what's cooking on the islands.
After I first see the Sanibel Welcome sign I turn left on Periwinkle Way, if I want to go down to the Lighthouse for a swim, or I turn right on the same street, which is our main street on Sanibel. Here - or very close to Periwinkle Way - I find almost all our stores and restaurants. Naturally there is the first real estate office, the first gift shop, the first vacation rental office. Jacaranda - or The Jac" - sits to my left with its nightly entertainment. It is one of the favorite restaurants with daily a Happy Hour even in the off season.
Continuing down on Periwinkle Way I find everything I need to live. Like food markets and the post office and the library and churches and a cinema and theater and museums and bike shops. Sanibel has a large community of artists. They live here year round or only during the season and frequently donate their art work at local auctions. The Barrier Island Group for Arts (Big Arts)features an art gallery for exhibiting works of artists, a hall for concerts, various art and culinary oriented classes, exhibits and workshops. Big Arts hosts yearly lecture series programs presented by distinguished speakers. Big Arts also provides classes in dance, yoga, fine arts, painting, drawing, pottery, discussion, language and more. As you can see I really don't have to leave Sanibel, "go overseas" as we call it here. But I do on occasion. Maybe just so I can look forward to return.
I like the quiet and at night, I like the darkness. We have no streetlights here and no neon lights shout out the names of restaurants or attractions. At night all I see is the stars in the sky. And during the day all I see is green. Nearly 70% of Sanibel will never be developed, so people live in harmony with their natural environment, by law.
When you embrace the Sanibel Vision Statement, you understand why we live how we live. One of my favorite past times is biking. I will bike on one of our many bike paths all the way from the east end, going west on Periwinkle Way with its shops and restaurants, until I reach Sanibel Captiva Road just where a road leads down to Tarpon Bay. Tarpon Bay Explorers offers a variety of water and nature tours here. I use my kayak to explore on my own, paddling all around Tarpon Bay, observing fish in the clear waters.
The independent Marine Laboratory of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) is also located at Tarpon Bay. It is funded through private donations, and local, state, and federal granting agencies. Research conducted at the laboratory is driven by critical management questions concerning water quality, estuary health, and the restoration of these resources. Data collected by the laboratory is used to better understand the current state of the waters surrounding Sanibel and Captiva and to make more informed decisions regarding the future of the estuary. I spent my earliest working years in research and am always intrigued to take a quick stop at the little laboratory.
I continue on Sanibel-Captiva Road until I enter the J.N.”Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. For a yearly $12 pass I can spend any day of the week here except for Friday. Friday is reserved for the wildlife to recover from us ! I bike 4 miles on the one way Wildlife road through the refuge. I always encounter wildlife here. More plentiful in the winter months. We are not allowed to disturb wildlife, and wildlife seems to know this. No animal ever hurries to get out of harms way when cars or bikes approach. We look at each other, acknowledge each other, respect each other.
Who is looking at whom? Do they wonder as much about us as we wonder about them?
There are few rules. Do not feed the wildlife and do not step beyond boundaries. Boundaries are there for people to observe. Wildlife roams free. I have seen many alligators and even a huge crocodile which used to lounge at the exit of the refuge for several months, almost looking fake because it was always there, in the same spot. We called her Wilma. Unfortunately, Wilma died in 2010. I meet bird watchers and nature photographers who are getting ready for next year's calendar. Fishermen launch their boats to catch dinner.
Heading back home going east on Sanibel-Captiva Road I usually bike down to the Bowman Beach Park where I take a dip in the Gulf, walk along the beach looking for seas shells or watch dolphins swim by. Returning to Sanibel-Captiva Road I pass sleepy gulf front communities of single family homes and come eventually to the Sanibel School, a blue ribbon school and national school of excellence.
Rumor has it that children actually love to learn here. The public school is heavily supported through private donations and provides a first rate education from Kindergarten through grade 8. It also offers an excellent after school program. There is a new sports center with a large swimming pool. For a small fee locals can enjoy these facilities as well.
Across the street I see C.R.O.W, the Clinic for the rehabilitation of Wildlife. C.R.O.W. is one of the nation's leading wildlife rehabilitation hospitals for tropical native and migratory wildlife. A non-profit veterinary hospital, C.R.O.W. provides medical care for more than 3,400 injured, sick and orphaned wildlife patients every year. C.R.O.W. provides educational opportunities for students from across the United States and other nations to participate in the wildlife rehabilitation. C.R.O.W. is a private, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that relies exclusively on philanthropic support from individuals, corporations and foundations. When you live on Sanibel and have any spare time, there are many places that welcome you and your expertise as a volunteer.
I hop back on my bike and continue to Rabbit Road. I find Doc Ford's located at the corner, a restaurant named after the main character in Randy Wayne White's novels. The author lives on Pine Ilsand but many of his novels take place on Sanibel. When you visit Doc Fords's - you step into a novel. Next to Doc Ford’s Restaurant I enter a narrow nature path that leads down to West Gulf Drive, which becomes Middle Gulf Drive and then East Gulf Drive. We are so very easy here with our naming conventions. The Gulf Drives run parallel to Periwinkle Way all the way back to the east end of Sanibel; they also run parallel to the Gulf. So if Periwinkle is ever too congested for you, try these parallel roads.
When I first enter West Gulf Drive I see mansions on the Gulf side of the street. Lush vegetation protects these homes from unwanted viewers. But there rarely are gates or fences. We all live in harmony and respect each others privacy, no matter the stature of our persona. The area around West Gulf Drive is very residential with mostly single family homes of various values. An occasional small path between the luxury homes leads down to the beach. These paths allow deeded access to the beach for home owners whose properties do not border the beach.
The further east I bike the more frequent condos become. They are mostly located on the Gulf side of the street. But single family homes remain, now more often located on the other side of the Gulf Drive. When I reach the corner of Tarpon Bay Road, which also leads to Bailey's, one of our two super markets, I see another public beach to my right, Tarpon Bay Beach. On I go. Wildlife Preserve to my left, condos to my right. Then I take a short cut which brings me to Sanibel’s pioneer cemetery. Here I like to take a little break and look at the inscriptions on the few grave stones. I like to imagine the people and the times behind the words.
I continue biking, feeling Sanibel’s soft tropical wind on my skin, inhaling the fragrant air spiced with Seagrapes, Ficus, Palms, Bougainvilleas and so many other plants. Soon I reach Lindgren, a corner where I decide to push my bike on the beach for 2 miles or just continue on East Gulf Drive, until I come to the Sanibel Lighthouse with its very flat white sandy beach. East end waters are shallower than west end. Now I am back on Periwinkle Way. Ah – I am almost home. There is the Lighthouse Café, a well visited place for breakfast all day long. I also see delis and gift shops. This is a place for tourists and locals alike. Outside benches welcome us to relax and watch the traffic or read one of the local or national newspapers located in boxes around the stores; mostly at no charge.
And finally I bike up on Periwinkle Way, now through an area of almost only single family homes. Many located on San Carlos Bay or on east end canals. One last trip down at North Yachtsman to the Sanibel Marina and Gramma Dot’s, a popular restaurant where I occasionally enjoy a grouper sandwich and when the time is right, a Whiskey Sour!
This is a good place to end my little excursion. It’s time to make arrangements for an evening out fishing or boating or meeting friends or going shelling at low tide, especially after a storm. Maybe I will see you there.