Monday, July 18, 2016

The Suburbs To The Sea Ride

We popped the bikes into our car's bike carrier and headed off for a Saturday ride with the West Side Sunset Bandits.

WSSB had posted its weekend ride schedule. We did a little happy dance when we saw it. A new route! And an early start, too, which in South Florida in the summer is a very good thing.

The new route was from West Kendall Lakes Park in the west Miami suburbs to Key Biscayne out in Biscayne Bay. An east west route, close to 50 miles. Suburbs to the Sea.

We arrived at the start point. After some pre-ride chatting and a picture or two, we clipped in, formed into a nice double paceline, and pedaled toward the glowing clouds in the eastern pre-dawn sky.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. The route was a nice one. Urban, but with long stretches without the stop-and-start of many urban routes. We moved along at a nice pace. Soon we were wheeling along streets of the close-in Miami suburbs.

We swung north as we rolled through the Grove. It was past dawn now and sunlight sparkled off the windows of high rise buildings. Traffic was blissfully light. We were heading for the William Powell Bridge and the Rickenbacker Causeway. That would take us across Biscayne Bay to the islands of Virginia Key and Key Biscayne.

Part-way up the bridge...and the top still seems far, far away.
Crossing the William Powell Bridge is fun. For flat land cyclists, the bridge seems like a fair-size mountain with the top of the bridge way high and far away. The group took the bridge well. Like any climb, those who love climbing looked happy as they charged over the bridge. Most of us, though, found our rhythm and rode up and over, pleased that we were keeping up with the pack. Then the best part: a fun descent down the bridge! Once everyone was over the bridge and on the Rickenbacker, we reformed and enjoyed the beautiful causeway ride out to the islands.
Out on the Rickenbacker (Photo by Alex Pruna)
Our destination on Key Biscayne was the Oasis Cafe, a favorite rest stop for cyclists visiting the Key. Living in Brickell, Al and I go there regularly, but this was the first time we were there with all our friends from WSSB.
At the Oasis Cafe (Photo by Alex Pruna)
West over the William Powell Bridge.
Break over, we rolled out for our ride back to West Kendall Lakes Park. We wheeled down the causeway. This time turning onto Virginia Key for a loop of that little island. Then back to the causeway and over the bridge to the mainland. We regrouped at the bottom of the bridge.

Heading back.
We pedaled on through the Grove. Our route gave us lots of canopy from the sun as we rolled down residential streets on our way west. It was a sweet urban route that kept the group on low-traffic roads but with few turns and a minimum of stops.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Now we were heading west. There was more traffic, but the road was a good one for bicycles. And we had a tailwind. We were having a great time. There were long stretches of road where we could get into a good rhythm and enjoy the flow of the ride. Delightful.

Then we were pedaling the last miles to West Kendall Lakes Park. I looked at the time, pleasantly surprised that we had been to Key Biscayne and back, and it was just mid-morning. We were all smiling. What a great ride!

A good east-west cycling route through Miami is hard to come by. This one is outstanding.

Can't wait to do it again!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Self-delusion is pulling in your stomach when you step on the scales. (Paul Sweeney)

It is July. We are watching the Tour de France and remembering that in just a few months we'll be riding again in hilly places.

Bummer. I probably need to get ready for that kind of fun.

A couple of years ago we got power meters on our bikes. I used to think power meters were just for younger, talented, competitive types. Luckily, someone explained to me how a wimpy older rider could get her money's worth from using one. And he was really, really right. I love my power meter!

When I first started using a power meter, I was seriously humbled by the power numbers I could crank out. We are talking seriously tiny power numbers. Humiliatingly tiny power numbers. I spent a bunch of time figuring out how far I could push those numbers up without a melt-down. It was wonderful and useful. I learned how to track my average power numbers for rides. I also learned that because I was a fairly small rider, I didn't need big numbers. It was all about the power-to-weight ratio (PWR).

This year I was determined to use the power meter to get better at chasing Al up and down the hills. The thing I needed to do was to improve my power-to-weight ratio. I did intervals. And more intervals. And more intervals. And my average power output slowly got a bit better. (I loathe training, but I will admit it does help.) But my numbers were still humiliatingly tiny

This month I realized that getting stronger was just part of what I needed to work on. There is another way to make the PWR thingy better. Lose some weight. I'll admit that I've gained a few pounds in the past year. Less than 10 pounds, but I'm just 5'2". A few pounds is a big deal when you are just 5'2".

While there have been no changes to our nutrition plan for rides or for eating at home during the past year, we have been eating out a lot. And I have been over-indulging my love of ice cream cones. Losing a few pounds would be an easy-peasy way to make that PWR look sweeter for the hills. All I really need to do is rein in the total number of ice cream cones consumed and be a bit more sensible when eating out.

It may not make me charge up the hills. But at least I'll be able to slowly crank my way up climbs with a little dignity. (Even as I watch Al happily charge ahead, leaving me in his dust.)

Lose a few pounds. Easy-peasy. I'll miss the ice cream cones, but I'll smile as I pedal up the hills at Mt. Dora and the Horrible Hundred.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company. (Mark Twain)

Naples' street art
It was the 4th of July weekend. Which, in Florida, means hot and humid. Floridians can generally deal with hot and humid. What made this weekend a bit different was the heat index. It was going to hover at 100 degrees.

We were off to the Gulf Coast with a friend for a Sunday cycling event called Wheels and Wings. It's an annual July ride in Punta Gorda. It's a well organized event with-marked, pleasant routes for both road cyclists and gravel grinders. You spend the morning pedaling, then end the ride with beer and wings at a local sports bar, with the Tour de France on all the bar's big screen TVs.

Ride to Naples
On Saturday we decided to ride down to Naples. A ride to Fifth Avenue in Old Naples would give us a 45-50 mile ride through a variety of lovely neighborhoods. There was little traffic. Bike lanes and sharrows were everywhere. We saw a good number of cyclists. We stopped for a rest and a chance to fill our water bottles at a coffee shop on Fifth Avenue before pedaling back. By the time we finished the ride, the temperature was barely 90 degrees but the heat index, as predicted, was almost 100 degrees.

Al and I checked weather for the Sunday event. It was going to be mostly sunny and a little hotter than Saturday. We decided that we needed to get creative. OK. So we had maps and cue sheet for all the road routes, and there was some overlap among them. The roads were marked well. We knew where the SAG stops were. So why not just create our own route from the ones put together by the Wheels and Wings folks? We could do an early "pre-start" loop, then return to for the regular "start" for a second loop. It sounded like a good plan. The three of us would use the same ride style as Saturday's ride: single-file paceline with 5-mile pulls, everybody sharing the pulling equally.

Punta Gorda bicycle path
Old Punta Gorda
So by 7:00 am we had parked our car, picked up our ride t-shirts, clipped in, and pedaled off. The short 15-mile family ride loop was the perfect length.

It turned out to be the highlight of the day for me, a quirky little spin down the type of route I hadn't ridden in a long time. On the plus side it made excellent use of Punta Gorda's bicycle paths. We pedaled along the water and through parks. The scenery was lovely. But paths of this kind aren't that long. The path linkages went across parking lots and even down the service alley of a retail strip. All safe, of course, but not the type of route you normally follow on a road bike at an event! It was, as they say, a hoot. In a few miles the route moved to a low traffic road with a bike lane. But even that segment of the route had a bit of weirdness peppered over it. The most conversation provoking were the speed bumps we encountered on just one side of some bridges over canals. They were placed right where the road tipped upward to cross the bridge. Why? Why? Why? We couldn't puzzle that one out. Except that maybe someone in the road department had a wicked sense of humor. Pedal, pedal, pedal. The rest of the short pre-start loop was uneventful.

It was getting very hot.

We made it back to the start. The horde of riders had left. We topped up our water bottles, clipped back in, and wheeled down the road.

Our second loop took us out into more rural areas. We rolled past cattle grazing in pastures. There were dozens of small ponds and lakes, sparkling in the morning sun. Yellow wildflowers were sprinkled along the roadsides. Stalks of purple pickerel weed poked up from ditches and along the edges of ponds. The route turned and looped into small communities where the roads were lined with trees, providing cooling shade. We passed riders standing in the shade, taking a break from pedaling in the heat. We passed pastures with horses and one with ostrich and goats.

Finally we pulled over. Exactly where were we and where was the SAG stop we needed so badly? We all agreed it should have been at the corner we had passed a half mile back. Another rider stopped, asking the same question. She was out of water. ("No problem," she said, "There's a grocery store not far down the road.") We pedaled on. Three miles down the road we came to the SAG, munched and filled bottles. Then we were off again. Pedal, pedal, pedal. It was really, really getting hot. We descended on the next SAG stop (strangely close to the previous SAG stop) glad to munch some snacks. It wasn't many miles more to go.

As we headed down the final miles to the finish of the ride, we noticed that the all the riders in front of us were ignoring the route markings that turned them from off the main avenue. We followed the markings...and discovered what the others knew. The marked route went through the historic district and brick roads. Undulating, bumpy brick roads. It was a lovely historic district, but on a day this hot, it was something we could have done without!

And then, sweat dripping off our noses, we pedaled to the end of the ride. Our bikes were packed for the ride home, and we settled down to our post-ride wings and beer. The sports bar hosting the post-ride event was filled to capacity with a sweaty lycra-clad clientele. Everyone was enjoying the air conditioning and watching Stuyven nearly manage to win stage 2 of the Tour de France with a strong solo ride (only to be caught by the peloton just 450 meters from the line).

It was a hot-as-hell day for a long bike ride, but the company was awesome.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things. (George Carlin)

This past week I found myself talking with friends about the pros and cons of different places to ride around the metro Miami area. I finally concluded that the difference between cycling in urban, suburban, and rural areas is essentially the contrast between routes and destinations.

The more urban the area, the more diverse the destinations you have to pick from for your rides. The more rural the area, the more numerous the pleasant routes you can pick among for rides.

Urban routes are a challenge. You have to know traffic patterns. There can be a lot of stop-and-go because of traffic lights, stop signs, and traffic circles. But urban rides have a wealth of parks, bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops, places of interest, and landmarks to serve as destinations and rest stops. And there are more structures and landscaping that block the wind and provide shade.

Rural routes have a different set of challenges. Shade is harder to come by, and wide open spaces mean little protection from the wind. While there are more long stretches of uninterrupted road and more low traffic roads, destinations are fewer and often have to be fabricated. A convenience store where you can get ice, water, and Gatorade. A fruit stand or grocery store if you are lucky. Any state or county recreational facility. You have to get pretty creative sometimes.

So what is our favorite Miami area ride? Well, if I made a list of my favorite urban bike rides in Miami, the ride to Hollywood from Coconut Grove would be near the top. We like going to the Hollywood Broadwalk beach. The ride is long enough (50 miles) to be satisfying. The route is pleasant: A handful of small bridges to cross. Beautiful highrise buildings. Glimpses of beaches. Glittering morning sun on the ocean. Mansions and small older buildings and homes. Strips of retail shops. Ocean front parks.

Traffic is light on Sunday mornings making it a perfect time for a ride by ourselves or with a small group of friends.  There are lots of groups out on the Hollywood route on Sunday, so you can count on seeing friends along the way.
Sometimes we go beyond Hollywood to John U. Lloyd State Park. You can take a break at a pavilion on the beach or go look at big cruise ships across the Stranahan River. Sometimes we just stop at a roadside picnic area on the Stranahan River outside the state park. Sometimes we go to one of the many Atlantic beach parks all along A1A. (Choices, choices...)

We ride all summer in Florida's heat and humidity. Urban, suburban, and rural areas all work for us. They each have their challenges and virtues. Wherever we ride in the summer, it is going to be hot and sweaty.

I can handle sweaty summer pedaling as long as I can look forward to an occasional ride to Hollywood, crossing from island to island along the way, shaded by the glittering highrise buildings, cooled by the ocean breeze, watching the morning sun on the ocean and intercoastal, and happily enjoying the best of bicycle.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Adventure is just bad planning. (Roald Amundsen)

There is nothing like planning trips and vacations to light the imagination. You start batting around some ideas. You kick around logistics and such. We've been doing this enough to know you shouldn't believe the trip will happen according to plan. Trips never do.

Which is fortunate since that is how adventures happen. Trips are fun. Adventures are wonderful.

We are planning some trips for the summer and early fall. Our trips are never big ones. The destinations are not glamorous. Their interest comes from seeing them by bicycle, something that took us many years to understand. We took trips to ride our bicycles in places thousands of miles away only to realize we had just as much fun visiting places by bicycle that were much closer to home.

When you are on a bicycle, people talk to you. You may be a stranger, but you are an interesting stranger. All you really have to do is be very polite, be friendly, and listen as much as you talk. People love to talk about the place where they live. The novelty of meeting a bicycle tourist is fun for them. And you can learn all sorts of odd tidbits about the places you visit. Who needs a travel guide when you can talk to the local people?

So we research our destinations, make our hotel reservations, check out the GPS sites to see routes being used by cyclists, and sketch out our trip plans. It all looks so sweet and simple and flawless.

With luck the rides won't be that sweet, simple, and flawless. With luck we'll have some adventures.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

When I eventually met Mr. Right I had no idea that his first name was Always. (Rita Rudner)

We are celebrating our anniversary this week.

We wanted to celebrate by doing something different. We finally decided on taking a trip without taking our bikes. That's something we haven't done in probably a couple of decades. And what better place to have this strange adventure than the Florida Keys. We've ridden our bikes up and down the Keys countless times. But a trip to the Keys without bikes? We haven't done that since the 70s!

Our travel bikes have never been selected for speed. Travel bikes need to be stable. They need to be able to carry the weight of luggage and gear. They need gearing to allow you to climb with a fully loaded bike. They need to be comfortable for day after day of long distance rides. They need to be rugged and easy to repair. We've had yellow Bike Fridays. We've used our trusty old Seven titanium mountain bikes. Travel bikes have a lot of the same qualities you look for in a spouse.
Very tame Key deer

This trip we have no bikes. Here we are on Big Pine Key, looking at the ocean out the window of our room, a room without bike gear or bikes, without bike clothes hanging to dry before tomorrow morning, without the faint sweet smell of bike lube lingering in the air. Instead a kayak sits beside our patio, paddles and gear propped nearby, with swimsuits, flippers, and snorkel gear filling spaces where bicycles usually are parked.

This trip will keep us off our bicycles for five days.

I'm happy, but I'm already missing that wonderful smell of bike lube!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes. (Jim Carrey)

Before we moved to Miami, we didn't know many couples who rode bicycles together. And all those couples were touring cyclists.That has changed. We ride with couples all the time in Miami.

Cycling is a very time-consuming sport. You can sit on the sidelines...or you can join the fun. Joining is much, much better.

It can be frustrating to be the slow-poke novice when your spouse is fit and speedy. If you want your spouse to take the time to ride with you, you have to commit to working your butt off.

I remember when Al and I first started riding together. He had a road bike. He found one for me. Problem one: I just couldn't learn to shift all those gears. I "solved" my problem by going to K-Mart and buying a cheap 5-speed. It had skinny-ish tires, hand brakes, big fenders, and a huge kickstand. It weighed a ton. But I could shift the gears. Al hung his head in dismay, but he sucked up his pride and rode (and rode and rode) with me. In time I got a better bike. (And another and another.)

At first I was slow, and I couldn't ride very far. He got me faster. He pushed me to ride farther (and farther and farther). The big family rule was no whining, no bitching, no bellyaching, no quitting. (I did, however, sometimes cheat and vent in some blog posts.)

I was lucky. Al knows me well. I can be bribed. Shiny new bikes. Nice bike clothes. Fun trips. Lots of good times together. At the end of long, hard rides, I was sore and exhausted. But I felt wonderful. And I really got hooked on that feeling wonderful part of cycling. Cycling keeps us both fit and healthy. It keeps us busy and involved. And it gives us a circle of cycling friends. Fun people who like being active.

We ride a lot. We see a lot of wonderful sunrises. We wander Miami's neighborhoods. We pedal barrier islands, causeways, bridges, and parkways. Best of all, we are riding together.

My recommendation if your spouse rides a bike: Don't let 'em pedal off without you!