Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Walking on water--hiking across the Apalachicola

If you're through-hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail or you have some other reason to be walking across the Florida panhandle, you're eventually going to have to cross the Apalachicola River. Some river crossings on the Florida Trail are a bit iffy. At St Marks, for instance, the trail simply stops at the banks of the St Marks River, where a small signs advises you to "Hail Boat to Cross." Crossings of the Aucilla and Suwanee rivers are on highway bridges. The crossing of the Apalachicola is also on a highway bridge, the eastbound span of the Trammell Bridge, which carries traffic on SR 20 from Blountstown to Bristol. But you don't have to worry about sociopaths in motor vehicles trying to knock you into the river because the bridge has a dedicated lane for pedestrians and bicycles.

The hiker/biker lane was included when the eastbound span was built in the late 1990s. Before that, the Trammell Bridge was an old two-lanes-with-no-shoulder span that dated back to the 1930s. I remember riding to track meets in Panama City on a school bus back in the 1970s; going across the old bridge could be thrilling. The old bridge is now the westbound span of the bridge, with no room for pedestrians or cyclists who want a long and healthy life. The hiker/biker lane on the eastbound span, though, is a model of safety.

For one thing, the lane is separated from motor traffic by a low concrete wall. This isn't a typical highway bike lane, with only a four-inch painted line between fragile bicycles and hurtling tractor-trailers. A breakdown lane and a wall divides the human beings from speeding tons of steel. Your protection from motor traffic assured, you can turn your worries to the river, 55 feet below. Another low wall separates you from the drop into the Apalachicola, but this is topped by a high railing. You could still fall into the river if you heaved yourself up onto the wall and then climbed to the top of the railing, but I don't think that you could call it an accident.

The exact length depends on how you want to measure it, but the biker/hiker lane across the Apalachicola is about 1.6 miles long. This distance will probably inspire someone to think of staging an out-and-back 5K across the river, but forget it. The lane is quite narrow--"ordinary sidewalk width," the signs say--and eastbound runners would be sure to interfere with westbound runners. Because the Apalachicola River marks the boundary between the Eastern and Central Time Zones, it might be interesting to do a "Time Warp 3K," where the runners start on the east side of the bridge and finish before they started (according to local clocks) on the west side of the bridge. Or at least it would be interesting if there weren't a possibility of eastbound cyclists needing the lane at the same time as the westbound runners. Then it would be too interesting.

Best just to leave the biker/hiker lane as a safe way for the non-motorized to cross the Apalachicola River. For Florida Trail hikers, it's not much of a wilderness experience. But even the Appalachian Trail crosses the Little Tennessee River on the spine of Fontana Dam, which, as one of the largest concrete structures in the world, is hardly a woodland.



  1. Am I to understand that I've missed this featue when cycling to Blountstown from Tallahassee? I've ridden on the scary bridge with lots of broken glass and a really high speed limit. I'll have to look for this safety feature the next time I'm riding that way.

    P.S. I like the idea of a time warp 3k.

  2. I'm nervous enough about heights that I'd have trouble taking a bicycle over the walkway, but that's just me. It'd certainly be less scary than riding eastbound (Bristol-to-Blountstown) on the old north span.