by ERIN THURSBY
Looking for a fresh way to explore the outdoors? Nature bike tours are so yesterday. Today’s tourist opts for something with more novelty: the Segway. It’s not just for mall cops! I know what I’m talking about because I took an EcoMotion Tour (www.ecomotiontours.com) on Fort George Island through wildlife trails to Kingsley Plantation.
Unlike a bike, which is surprisingly easy to crash, it takes special effort to crash a Segway. Even if you can’t ride a bike or anything else that requires natural balance, it’s very likely that you’ll be able to maneuver a Segway without taking a tumble. After all, this is a vehicle that can be easily maneuvered by those with Parkinson’s disease and even stroke victims. It should be noted, however, that the most dangerous thing to a Segway is another Segway. Our single mishap occurred during picture time, when one of the tourists lined up a little too close to her friend’s Segway. The wheels got caught and she took a spill. She was right back up again in moments and none the worse for it.
Lean forward to move forward, lean backward to move backward and use the handles to steer. Instinctively, I did try to lean left or right to turn at first, but soon learned to use the handles instead. Because of the gyro tech inside it, the Segway always tries to balance you as you stand on it. You don’t have to stand stock still though. As the guides explained, that’s a rookie mistake that will make you sore the next day. Instead, you can stand as you normally would, shifting your weight naturally.
As I was filling out the paperwork and donning my helmet, it was apparent that legions of mosquitoes had been informed that I was in the area. I had to stop and spray myself down with my all-natural repellent. EcoMotion also had a basket of bug spray for the ill-prepared tourist. I felt a little smug since I was so prepared and using something organic. The smugness didn’t last for long though; while fewer mosquitoes were sampling my DNA, I was still a banquet for those mutants who were undeterred by anything less than a liberal coating of industrial-strength DEET. Not far into the tour, the guides were spraying down our legs with the good stuff as we stood on the Segways. I was happy to be in the woods with people who knew what they were doing.
EcoMotion tricked us out with headsets so we could hear the tour guide and gave us a tutorial in an open field. Once we got on the trail, under the canopy of the trees, it didn’t seem so hot. That, and the movement of the Segways, kept us cool. The Segway adventurers on the tour ranged from grandmas and Midwesterners on vacation to young locals looking for something interesting to do.
We learned about Spanish Moss, which is neither Spanish nor a moss, native Indian uses for local plant life, and some of the local history. The thing we saw the most of were gopher tortoises. The tour guides had given each one an amusing name. Despite being toward the back, I periodically got a face full of spider web. I remedied the problem by following the person in front of me more exactly rather than at an angle. We learned about the spiders too, which the guide said were particularly docile.
At the midpoint, we stopped at Kingsley Plantation. The peace of Kingsley is difficult to express. I could imagine it bustling with people in the 1800s, but even in my imagination, with commotion, talk and work happening all around me, I felt as though the land itself has an underlying harmony. Inside the whitewashed houses, we learned about the clever ways people did everyday things. Outside, cicadas sang in the moist Florida heat, and by the shore, I saw the paw marks of a raccoon. A breeze made things sweeter.
When we came back to the Segways after our walking tour of the Kingsley Plantation, our guide informed us that the governor on our Segways had been set for a higher speed. Ten miles an hour doesn’t seem fast unless you’ve been previously maxing out at five—and let me tell you, Segways feel fast. As I was doing donuts in the practice field before setting out, I wondered why it felt so darn dangerous, even if it wasn’t. It wasn’t because we were wearing helmets; it was because we were standing and moving, without walking. That’s a novel sensation to be feeling on land. So, yes, I was thrilled by a vehicle with a max speed of five to 10 miles an hour.
Need to Know:
Max weight: 260 pounds. Minimum age: 13.
No flip-flops or curved-sole shoes such as Shape-Ups.
Tips are appreciated; bring cash to tip the guide.
You can bring a camera, but you can’t use it while on the Segway.