VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Hoofing it through a park can get you blisters and aching muscles.
At First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach, however, the going gets easier when you see the changing landscape - woods, swamp, boardwalk, wildflowers and beach - from a Segway PT.
Segway of Hampton Roads uses the electric personal transporters to give 90-minute guided tours of the 2,900-acre park and its osprey trail.
It also offers tours in the historic Freemason area in downtown Norfolk and off season at the Virginia Beach oceanfront, all in southeastern Virginia.
Riding a Segway PT is a little intimidating at first, but Mark Landers, who co-owns the dealership, patiently provides basic training in about 15 minutes.
"Step on it like you step on a ladder," he says to nervous first-time rider Phyllis Beers of Virginia Beach.
"Look at me, look at me," he softly tells Beers as she puts one foot, then the other one on the personal transporter's platform. "Stand up straight. Look at me, and find your center of balance."
Once you find your center of balance, riding a Segway PT is simple. Call it intuitive transportation - the PT goes where you lean. Straighten up, and you stop. Five micro-machined gyroscopes and two accelerometers automatically sense changing terrain and your body's position.
"It becomes a part of you, and you don't even have to think about it," says Jackie Gaskins of Virginia Beach, who bought her own Segway PT. She rides it to nearby bank and the grocery store, taking fresh produce home every few days in a travel pack that attaches to the front frame, or in a backpack.
Gaskins coaches Beers while Landers turns his attention to two more tour-takers. Training takes place in a quiet parking lot at the Virginia Beach Hotel and Conference Center on Shore Drive, where Landers has an office.
"It's total feel," Gaskins says as she watches Beers master going up and down a sidewalk ramp.
The next challenge is riding the personal transporters across haevily trafficked Shore Drive to the Cape Henry Trail, which meanders through the park. Like a mother duck and ducklings, Landers leads the group. He's proud of his safety record, so he keeps reminding everyone to pay attention to his instructions.
Safely across Shore Drive and into the quiet of the paved trail, you realize the Segway PT makes no noise. Instead, you hear crickets chirping and birds singing. The group glides past a garden blooming with every flower imaginable.
The trail also takes you past several historic American Indian exhibits, including a burial ground. At a rest stop, a short boardwalk leads to a small swamp filled with bald cypress trees draped in Spanish moss and dragonflies doing touch-and-goes on the surface of the black water.
From there, the group heads to a longer boardwalk and sandy beach overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. The day is perfect - sunny and mild. The view across the waterway is crystal clear.
"I always tell people that this is the most beautiful spot in all of Virginia," Landers says.
The ride back from the six-mile tour is quick and easy. Everyone agrees they feel completely comfortable with their Segways.
Beers says, "I enjoyed it more than I thought I was going to."
Tooling Around on a Segway
Each Segway PT is powered by a pair of lithium-ion batteries that recharge when you ride downhill. When there are no hills, the unit plugs into any wall outlet. A single charge takes you 24 miles.
A Segway PT goes up to 121/2 miles per hour. Mark Landers programs each unit to go a maximum of 6 m.p.h. on his guided tours.
The personal transporter's brushless motors are maintenance free - there's no oil to change or clutch to replace. Tires, which last 1,200 to 1,800 miles, depending on terrain, are $100 each to replace.
More than 1,100 police and security departments worldwide use the Segway PT.
There are more than 320 Segway guided tours worldwide.
Cost for a base model is about $5,300.
Segway of Hampton Roads gives certified guided tours of First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach seven days a week, year-round. Tours are $60 per person; ages 14 and up permitted.
For tour information, call 757-412-9734 or go to www.segwayhr.com.
For Segway information, go to www.segway.com.
- Kathy Van Mullekom