The popular notion that riding a bicycle throughout Florida could be one helluva way to see the Sunshine State can be traced to Herb Hiller, a string bean-thin 85-year-old who nearly 60 years ago moved to Florida and began exploring its back roads for old villages and beautiful natural settings.
While Florida earned a reputation for being a theme park, beach and Disney destination, Herb began selling bicyclists on discovering a different Florida -- one dominated by beautiful hemlocks and soaring birds and small towns and beautiful rivers.
It turned out that Herb emerged as the Godfather of Florida's bicycle tourism, lending his vast experience of pedaling the state's back roads to many bicycle, greenway and trail organizations during the past six decades.
Even at 85, Herb remains active and is advancing trail projects. He's president of the St. John's River-to-Sea Loop Alliance. It's the longest multi-use trail underway through the American Southeast. Check out the map of this loop trail. It would extend from St. Augustine at the trail's north end to Titusville on the trail's south end in Brevard County.
The former travel writer now lives in DeLand, the Volusia County government seat between Orlando and Daytona Beach off I-4.
What a treat it was to see Herb on Wednesday evening at a bike tour dinner hosted be fellow bike tour guide Bubba Barron of Bubba's Pampered Pedalers in Cocoa Beach. When you chat with Herb, it's like listening to a savvy veteran bicyclist who is part naturalist, part historian and part tourism expert.
There's Bubba in the center and Herb is looking spry in a red turtleneck.
I want to thank Bubba for calling me after both of our bicycle tour businesses appeared in a Florida Today front page story nearly two weeks ago. Bubba's Space Cost bike tours are week-long, while Escape Adventures' Florida tours are day tours. Bubba, a former St. Louis police detective, invited me to his dinner and I loved meeting him and Herb.
Before this week, I hadn't talked with Herb in more than 20 years when I interviewed the bicycle touring legend for a story I reported for the Palm Beach Post on biking the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail.
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Herb talked to more than 30 of Bubba's week-long tour cyclists at a dinner and I enjoyed listening to the bike ecotourism master explain how former Florida Gov. Bob Graham appointed Mr. Walkability and Bicyclability, Dan Burden, as the state's first bicycle coordinator in 1980.
Herb said some state DOT road engineers thought they'd eat Burden for lunch.
"It was Dan who ate the road engineers," Herb told the touring bicyclists.
I like to think that Escape Adventures' bike tours around Florida -- from Lake Okeechobee to Jungle Trail along the Indian River lagoon to the Withlacoochee Trail -- follow Herb's bike tourism model of celebrating Florida's natural wonders.
The Tampa Bay Times certainly took notice of Escape Adventures' remarkable bike tours with a section cover story on the EA Florida tours.
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Herb Hiller's bike touring handiwork still is literally felt today.
On a late Saturday afternoon at Sebastian Inlet Surf & Sport, Bob Spiegelman and Paul Haydt of the East Coast Greenway Alliance met about 30 local bicyclists to chat about their 3,000-mile-long greenway trail from Maine to Key West.
Spiegelman, who lives in Concord, New Hampshire, is the chairman of the greenway alliance's voard of trustees, while Haydt is chairman of the Florida committee and will try to knit together a 560-mile segment of the East Coast Greenway in Florida that will end in Key West.
I couldn't help but think that Herb could have offered a few words of advice this afternoon and I'm pretty sure the greenway alliance has already reached out for sage counsel from the Godfather of Florida bicycle tourism.