Sunday, August 23, 2015

Exploring Suburbia

From the highway, all you see of Fleming Island is a series of beautifully landscaped entrances to its various developments. We put together a ride to explore it and the area around it. Just for fun, we decided to throw in a picnic lunch on the St. Johns River.

We started out after breakfast, heading north along the Black Creek Trail. A mile or so down the trail there was a low, marshy area. The trail builders' solution was to build a wide wooden raised trail. It was a unique experience to ride it. The noise of the boards as you rode across them was unnerving. Rattling and clattering. We found ourselves unconsciously slowing our wheels, quieting somewhat the rattling and clattering. Back on the regular trail, we moved from quiet stretches shielded from the highway by trees and shrubbery to stretches separated from the highway only by a wide strip of grass. We followed the trail over an eastern finger of Doctor's Lake to the town of Orange Park. In Orange Park the trail abruptly ended.

We headed west. We were going to ride around Doctor's Lake. The neighborhoods were older, their homes modest cottages, sprawling ranch-style homes from the 60s and 70s, 80s bungalows and colonials. The neighborhoods were mature and quiet. Many of the homes were shuttered for the summer.

After the circle of the lake, we headed south into Fleming Island. Everything was new. Mile after mile of new roads, new homes, new elementary and high schools, new golf courses, new facilities of every kind. Everything stylish and manicured, polished and photo-ready. The main road was a tree canopied parkway paralleled by a wide multi-path on which people strolled, pedaled, and jogged. We rode in the street rather than dodge the families on bicycles, walkers and joggers, and moms and dads pushing strollers. Being a planned community, everything was in its place. Community facilities in their area, restaurants clustered in another spot, and so on and so on. Off the main parkway were entrances to different "villages" and similar developments. All beautifully landscaped, all tidy, fashionable, and new.

After looking over the entire community, we pedaled out. Back into the real world with its refreshing messiness and oddities. We went south, eventually finding ourselves in Green Cove Springs. Yesterday we had pedaled past an old, derelict Art Deco movie theatre. We went back to it. It was just off the main highway through town, on a side street that led to a park and fishing pier. That was our destination for our picnic lunch. The park was on the western shore of the St. Johns River. We wandered out on the fishing pier to take in the views of the river. Then we went back to the park. Munching our sandwiches, we enjoyed the cool shade of a gazebo just yards from the river.

We pedaled off. We weren't ready to end the ride, so we did another loop up to Orange Park and then out to the main entrance to Fleming Island before heading back to the hotel. Which meant we had another go at the rattling and clattering of the wooden trail. (Our opinion of it did not improve.)

A nice slow Sunday ride, 51 miles.



Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Fleming Island Rotary Ride

"Where's Fleming Island?" Al asked. "Their Rotary has a ride. Want to go?" I did.

It turns out Fleming Island is a pleasant unincorporated suburban community on the west shore of the St. Johns River. Just north is I-295 and quick access to Jacksonville. Just south is SR 16 and a quick ride over to St. Augustine.

We rode our bikes 2 1/2 miles from our hotel to the ride's start in Hibernia. We used the Black Creek Trail, a wide paved trail that runs along US 17. At the ride's start we checked in and surveyed the crowd. The Fleming Island Rotary Ride is a cozy ride. 100-150 riders. The local Rotary puts on the ride as one way of raising money for their local projects. Scholarships at the high school. A food pantry. That kind of thing.

The riders were a friendly group. The Rotary was well organized. A local motorcycle group monitors riders and assists with route guidance at critical turns along the route. A van from a local bike shop is on call on the route. The route is marked by the usual painted road markers, but also with signs at the side of the road. SAG stops are pleasant and well placed.

The route was the surprise. We headed south from the start to Green Cove Springs. We would see the signs for the city limits of Green Cove Springs several times because the route had two large loops, both starting and ending there. The first loop took us to ride in low rolling hills! Who knew a coastal ride would include hills? These were the type of hills that coastal riders can love. In about 20 miles there was 600 feet of climbing from a continuous series of rolling hills. Nothing serious, of course. But fun. The second loop was basically flat. It went through an area with small and large acreage homes with horse barns and a variety of horses, ponies, and even an occasional burro. Scenic and entertaining.

It was a really hot, humid, and sunny day. We were hot and very sweaty when we rolled into the finish for the post ride lunch. The Hibernia Baptist Church was the location, and a large covered outdoor seating area was set with tables and chairs, fans whirling pleasantly overhead. It was barbecue sandwiches, sides of cole slaw and baked beans, and cool banana pudding or watermelon for desert. Huge glasses of shaved ice and water. Laughter and easy company.

Then it was time to say goodbye and head back to our hotel. An excellent end-of-summer ride in an interesting area. 91 degrees at the end, 66 miles.

What's not to love?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Choices, Choices

We're going to the Florida Panhandle in a few weeks. Which is why we spent way too much time recently going back and forth about which bikes we'll take on the trip. Road bikes or slow bikes?

Road bikes are the sports cars of the bicycle world. They are sleek and light, fast and responsive, and a lot of fun to ride. But they are pretty much limited to pavement. And even on pavement, their skinny tires mean sand, gravel, and wet spots on the road are not fun. Road bikes, especially carbon fiber road bikes, are best for group/club rides and supported touring. Our slow bikes, on the other hand, are like little 4-wheel-drive SUVs. Sure-footed and nimble, they ride well on just about any type of road, trail or path. They have delightful suspension that makes their ride plush. But because they are heavier, they are slower. You work harder pedaling. When we ride the slow bikes we have to either ride fewer miles (about 20 percent less) or spend more time riding (an hour or two more usually). We use these bikes for noodling around Miami and unsupported touring. They can carry a heavy load, go anywhere, and are totally bomb-proof.

Each bike has a different ambiance, a different mood. We finally settled on taking our slow bikes. Why? Several of rides will be on older roads on narrow lightly-developed barrier islands. (Think beat-up chip seal pavement with fine white "sugar sand" pushed on it in spots by the wind and traffic.) We want to be able to explore the area, heading down any road or path we choose. Slow bikes will be perfect.

Happiness is having choices.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Yield to temptation. It may not pass your way again. (Robert A. Heinlein)

We head out for a ride. Nothing fancy, just a fast spin on  the causeway to Key Biscayne and the state park there.

We see people we know and wave to them. We watch for a friend who rides from Little Havana to the state park for a swim every day. We wave to the staff at the state park's entrance booth as we pedal past. We don't stop anymore. We ride through often; they know us.

It's hot and humid even in the early morning. We ride faster than usual, pushing to finish our miles early.

We swing over to the state park's lighthouse for a snack break. The early morning sun is already hot. We stand in the shade of the lighthouse, enjoy the sea breeze, and watch the waves lap on the shore and a small jetty that separates the park's beaches from the lighthouse and the fishing piers to the south. The only sounds are the waves and the wind in the palms.

We need to finish our ride and move on to the rest of our day. Instead we savor the moment. Such a perfect morning. Such a joy to feel the breeze on our sweaty skin, to feel so alive.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken anyway.

I am in the process of fixing a mistake.

Two years ago I bought a lovely big desk for our tiny home. Last month I swallowed my pride and told Al I was buying a new desk. A smaller one. That hurt. I hate spending money on decorating stuff when I could be spending it on bicycle stuff.

Before we moved to Miami, I spent a lot of energy trying to fit in. My friends cared about decorating, remodeling, and gardening. I gave it a shot. Final report: I suck at that kind of domestic stuff.

In Miami, fitting in is just less important. In a small town, being different makes you stand out. Everybody knows who you are, and you quickly recognize that this is not a good thing. In Miami, or any big city for that matter, being different is pretty insignificant. (Numbers count. As Bill Gates once said, "In China when you're one in a million, there are 1300 people just like you.”)

Being an older couple on road bikes makes us stand out some. Few people in our building know our name. They usually call us "the bicycle people" but in Miami that isn't a bad thing at all.

So today I will fix my little but annoying decorating mistake. Later we'll noodle around the neighborhood on our slow bikes, then watch stage 2 of the Tour de Pologne (Tour of Poland), rooting for Kittel to win the sprint. Maybe I'll even have time to work on the routes we'll ride on an upcoming trip to Apalachicola.

Life is good.





Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Never test the depth of a river with both feet. (Warren Buffet)

The Miami River is a working river, and it is spanned by numerous bridges. The expressways and light rail systems pass over the river on high rainbows of concrete. Everyday surface roads cross the river over low drawbridges, their center sections ready to lift so the larger boats can pass on their way to the shipyards and docks that line the river's edge for miles.

We follow the river on slow, meandering rides. There are stores with imports, seafood restaurants and markets, ship builders, ship repair shops, fishing boats, marinas, and a myriad of interesting places to explore. Parks and green spaces are there, too.

Best of all are the views of the city from the bridges. Miami as a working city, a city of grit and strength. So different from the polished glitter of the beaches and resorts.

We pedal past, enjoying the cool breeze that floats to us off the river. Up and down and over the Miami River. It never grows old.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Power Meters and the Weaker Sex

We listened to some good advice from two Everglades Bicycle Club friends when we were buying our current road bikes. They said, "Get a power meter." We did.

Okay, so I know what you're thinking. Wow, now you can see what a wimp you are in numbers every time you go out for a ride. (There is that.) Power meters measure the force you use to move your bike down the road. Pro cyclists can generate jaw-dropping, huge numbers. Me? Not so huge.

The power meter, none the less, has changed my life. I'm not talking about using it to train to get stronger. I like to ride, but I loathe training. Because I ride a lot, I have decent endurance. What "training" I do for cycling consists of chasing Al. It is great fun, but I sometimes push it too hard for too long. Then kaboom!, and red warning lights flash in front of my eyes as I slide into the red zone. One thing is sure, once that happens, I pedal home slowly, the fun over for the day. Going into the red zone is a bummer.

I'd tried the heart rate monitor thing. It was nice, but it just didn't work for me. It requires a level of discipline I just do not possess. But a heart rate monitor paired with a power meter? We have a winner!

Once I had a power meter on my bike, I started gathering data. Watching the power meter and my heart rate, I figured out the power meter reading where my heart rate spiked. And I figured out the place where I could ride hard but maintain a steady, not insane, heart rate. I figured this out on long rides, fast rides, hot rides, climbs when I was dead tired, climbs when I was feeling rested and frisky, riding into a headwind, and any other situation I could think of. (You get the idea.) Once I knew my numbers, riding efficiently was much easier. I learned to shift gears more to keep the power number under control. It lets me accentuate my endurance, without going into the red zone by pushing too hard. In fact, I haven't gone into the red zone since I started doing this power meter/heart rate monitor approach.

We went to an out-of-state bicycle event where we rode up and down hills all day, day after day. On the back of our bikes was our rider ID which showed we were from Miami. At every rest stop (if Al stepped away) I'd have women asking me how someone from Miami could do hills. I told them how I was using the power meter. I explained how it let me know when to shift gears to keep my cadence high and effort even. A number of them had never heard of a power meter. Others had. One said, "My husband has one of those! Hey, I'm getting one, too!"

The power meter. Who knew it could be such a handy cycling gadget for "the weaker sex"?