BIKING ON BULLS ISLAND
A Few Things to Consider
We could only spend one day on Bulls Island, and I wanted us to explore as much as possible: to have lunch under the live oaks at the Dominick House, visit the remains of the shell ring and martello tower, admire at the boneyard and its seashells, gawk at the alligators, and still have time for whatever surprises the island might have in store. It was going to be tough to fit it all in, so I arranged for us to rent bikes - surely we would be able to cover more ground on two wheels than on two feet.
I know I am not the only person who has followed this logic - and I’m sure I am not the only person who has been disappointed in the results. Bulls Island is enchanting no matter how you explore it, but if you’re thinking about bringing bicycles along, I urge you to consider the following:
GETTING THE BIKES ON AND OFF THE FERRY IS A PAIN.
Even if you have a bike rack and are skilled at loading and unloading it quickly, factor in extra time to walk your bikes down the looooooong and narrow pier, clatter them down the even narrower ramp, and then wrestle them past waiting passengers onto the boat. Factor in some bruises, too. We had classic beach cruiser rental bikes, and by the time I got mine on board I was nursing a couple of nasty “pedal bites” on my shins.
BIKING ON THE BEACH IS PROHIBITED-- FOR GREAT REASON!
Bulls Island’s beaches are nesting grounds for both sea turtles and shorebirds. Not only can bike tires crush camouflaged loggerhead nests and shorebird eggs, but bicycles also disturb parent birds, who are constantly protecting nests from predators - and, in some cases, even cooling their eggs with seawater! When those parents get spooked, predation and high temperatures can destroy an entire generation of chicks in as little as fifteen minutes. When you consider how few stretches of beach in our country offer parent birds restful conditions, it’s no wonder places like Bulls Island are so prized by conservationists...and no wonder that bicycles, which are big/unfamiliar/scary to birds, are not allowed on Bulls Island beaches.
THE ROADS ON THE ISLAND ARE MADE OF SAND, AND LOOSE SAND IS REALLY DIFFICULT TO BIKE THROUGH.
As we were loading the bikes, Captain Wil asked about my route and gently tried to warn me about the sand. I shrugged him off because Amy and I are both fit, active women; I figured we could still bike faster than we could walk. I was very, very wrong about this! Sure, there were sections where the trail was packed - but more often, our tires simply failed to get traction no matter how vigorously we pedaled. We end up pushing our bikes more than half of the time...which segues into my next point.
FENDING OFF MOSQUITOES IS MUCH HARDER WHEN YOU ARE ALSO PUSHING A BICYCLE.
Mosquitoes live on Bulls Island, and Amy and I were prepared for them; with our lightweight and loose long sleeved shirts and long pants, we should have been fine during the buggy stretches. Alas, pushing our heavy bikes around slowed us down, made us sweat, and left us more vulnerable to mosquitoes - and it was much harder to shoo and swat while stabilizing the bikes. Needless to say, I developed a keen appreciation that day for how much a brisk walking speed helps keep the bugs down.
FLAT TIRES ARE A SERIOUS POSSIBILITY.
Blame it on the bull thistle, the dewberries, the prickly pear, the sand spurs...the fact is, there are a good few spiny plants growing on Bulls Island. Learning about these spines can be fascinating - they’re neat adaptations! - but it’s hard to appreciate that when they just poked a hole in your bicycle tire.
Amy and I had a great time on Bulls Island. The wildlife was seriously showing off; not only did we spy dolphin, mink, and American Oystercatchers from the ferry itself, but we observed bald eagles, an osprey nest, and several alligators while on land! That said: we did it without the bikes. We parked them in a place we could retrieve them later, and opted for a more realistic itinerary that a) allowed us more freedom to explore and b) enhanced our interactions with wildlife. From the second we abandoned the bikes, our quieter, easier pace allowed us to see much more on the island - even if we didn’t see as much of the island itself!
You may still choose to take a bike to Bulls Island; there are, after all, a couple of places where you can move a little faster by bike. If you do bring a bicycle along, I recommend that you plan extra time for loading and unloading, keep your itinerary to a realistic walking speed, and spend some time exploring away from the bikes to better enjoy your surroundings. And I definitely recommend that you add both bug spray and a patch kit to your day pack! See you there!
Be Prepared! Read the Frequently Asked Questions about Bulls Island before you embark on your adventure.