Monday, October 5, 2015

Withlacoochee Trail Ride, Part Two

Partly cloudy, temperatures in the 70s, and low humidity. Perfect weather for a bike ride. We decided to do the trail again.

Yesterday we got soaked for 60 miles while riding on the southern end of the trail. If we re-did that section of the ride in today's nice weather we would have the perfect distance for an enjoyable recovery ride. We had a plan. So off we went, south down the trail from our motel.

There are several bike shops along the trail. Recumbents are popular on the west coast of Florida and particularly in areas with good trails. We loved the way one bike store had painted the back of the store facing the trail.

There's a great old bridge that passes over a busy divided highway on the southern end of the trail.

We rolled a block off the trail to visit the tiny town of Trilby. The post office, an old church, and a couple of old repurposed buildings are all there is of downtown Trilby.

The trail doesn't cross many roads, but when it does, traffic is amazingly respectful to cyclists. We came to one road at almost the same time as a large pick-up truck driven by a middle-age guy dressed like he might work on one of the nearby ranches. He stopped, waved us to cross, and actually called out an apology for not yielding the right away sooner! If anything, that guy was typical of the friendly attitude we ran into here in Inverness.

We needed to ride north of our motel to pick up some extra miles. We headed to Inverness for a photo of one of those amazing public art pieces you can find in tourist areas. These two smiling turtles were on a giant bench near the lake at the Inverness trail head.

You know, biking is much more pleasant and fun without rain.

Miles: 63

Sunday, October 4, 2015

40 Miles of Nice, 60 Miles of Rain

The ride started well enough. We come to the Withlacoochee State Trail for the annual fall ride because it's a great trail and because it has tons of well stocked rest stops. These people know how to do rest stops. Like oreos with a dollop of peanut butter, a slice of banana, and a couple of raisins. Or salty cheese crackers with peanut butter and banana slices. This on top of the usual fruit, sports drinks, cookies, and cups of little munchie things. It is one of the nicest places to ride a century in the state.

But early in the ride we began to see a problem. Clouds were on the horizon.

At about mile 40 it began to drizzle. By mile 50 it was a steady light rain. I call this "a steady light rain" in deference to the people of the Carolinas who are being inundated by torrential rains. Whatever term I use to describe the rain, we did get very wet. At one rest stop we bolted to the welcome shelter of the rest stop's tent. "It wasn't raining till you got here," said the volunteer ladies shaking their heads. And so it went. A mile and a half from our motel, and the end of our ride, we saw the first lightning.
What we looked like riding in the rain.
We made it to our room. By the time we had stripped off our wet gear, tended to the bikes, showered, and dressed in street clothes, the rain had stopped and the sun was peaking through.

We couldn't help ourselves. We laughed.

Miles: 101

Saturday, October 3, 2015


We packed the car and the bikes and drove 4+ hours to Inverness, a town just northeast of Tampa. Small lakes are everywhere. Streets are lined with oaks draped in Spanish moss. Through the center of town, near the county courthouse, runs the Withlacoochee State Trail, Florida's oldest rail-to-trail, 46 miles of wide paved bike path.

We are here for a ride tomorrow which is sponsored by a Rails-to-Trails group. It is an annual ride we chanced upon years ago. We were fascinated by the interesting mix of people who attend. It is both a standard ride for people wanting to ride 62 or 100 miles and a big bicycle festival for casual riders of all ages. It routinely draws 800-900 people.

We wandered around town briefly, stopping at a local bike shop for some things and checking out a couple restaurants. We laughed at the town's demographics. Silver and gray hair predominate. The Villages, that vast retirement haven, is just 20 miles from here. The area is positively overrun by retirees. Most were just regular folks, but some were clearly living in a time gone by. We saw one guy who apparently hadn't changed his wardrobe or haircut since 1972!

We headed back to our motel. We doubted we were ready for the tingling excitement of Saturday night out on the town in Inverness.

Monday, September 28, 2015

There is more to life than increasing its speed. (Mahatma Gandhi)

 We are back in Miami, doing our Miami routines. Sipping coffee on the balcony before dawn. Morning bike rides by ourselves and with friends. Watching movies. And more movies. Doing the simple daily tasks and chores that keep one's life in order. And planning and organizing for upcoming trips.

Saturday we save for the EBC (Everglades Bicycle Club) group rides. (And the 16-18 EBC ride group. Some old friends. Some new ones. Fun group. More on them in future posts.)

It sounds like a relaxing schedule. And it would be if not for smartphones that beep, buzz, and beg for attention. And pop-up notes and chimes on tablets and computer screens that enumerate the emails and messages that are piling up.

It seemed worse this week. You see, when we got to Apalachicola (our last trip) we discovered that our phones (and everyone's who was not on Verizon) had little or no coverage. Our phones just had a red "X" on the little connection symbol. At first it was annoying. How were we supposed to live without working smartphones? I was used to dealing with messages as they came in. (Sort of.) Our link to the outside world was our hotel room's Wi-Fi connection.

But after a few days, our annoyance evaporated. We had accidentally traveled back to the 90s, back to the time before smartphones and instant connection to everyone. It was bliss.

We want all our gadgets. But I want what we found in Apalachicola.

So we're learning to love airplane mode.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Apalachicola Rundown

So far on this trip we've found some pretty scenic rides. My plan to do a tour of the whole panhandle using Apalachicola as our base was a total wash. It can be done, but it is just too complicated for a relaxing trip. But Apalachicola turns out to be a gem of an area for cycling. It has rides with different moods, different scenery, and different ambiance. (Which is very important to us.)

But what has us excited about the area are the rides we haven't done yet. Rides we will do on our next trip, on road bikes. Franklin County is one of those rare Florida places that has most of its land set aside as state and national forest or wildlife refuges and the like. It is one of the least populous counties in Florida. (And likely to stay that way.) The coastal highway is scenic and reasonably bike friendly. Because the Apalachicola River and protected environmental areas run through the center of the county, roads that lead away from the coast are few, have wide paved shoulders, and almost no traffic. We can't wait to take our road bikes out on these highways.

For instance, a ride to and from the tiny crossroads hamlet of Sumatra on highway 65. Not a stop sign or slow down in 25 miles or so. Road bike heaven.

Thanks to those who messaged asking about our hotel and other details. Our hotel is the Water Street Hotel and Marina. There are also standard motels in the area (the Best Western is newly refurbished), a lovely restored historic hotel downtown, and the River Inn, an older restored riverfront motel (all rooms face the water). So why are we at the Water Street and not at one of these others or in a beach rental? Because the Water Street Hotel and Marina is new construction, not a restored older building. Because each of its apartments has a large screened balcony on the river, furnished with comfortable patio furniture. Because the units have good wireless Internet. And because we enjoy watching the boats going up and down the river and listening to the wind in the marsh reeds. It's as simple as that.

Yep, we'll be back here soon. With road bikes.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Back to St. George Island

Clouds hovered in the east. It was really windy. We checked local weather. No worries. The clouds would come and go, but rain chances were low. The wind, on the other hand, was going to be with us all day.

We did a second ride to St. George Island. A lot of the first half of the ride was straight into the wind. Al joked that perhaps the definition of a headwind was when 9.2 mph seems like a reasonable pace. We got some respite from the wind each time we wandered down a side path exploring. Half-way through our ride on the island we found a store with some amazing just from the oven muffins and scones. After a coffee and pastry break, we headed to the northern end of the road. That's where we turned around.

Tailwind!! Amazing tailwind!!! We waved to cyclists pedaling into the wind as we rolled down the road at 22-28 mph on fat tires with almost no effort. This wasn't a sprint speed. This was cruising.

It didn't take that long to get back home to the hotel.

Miles: 51.7

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Rest Day

An oyster boat heads out to the Apalachicola Bay.
Our apartment at our Apalachicola hotel has a kitchen. With a stove. And all these pots and pans and stuff. Today was a rest day. No long bike ride. We decided we had the time to cook a lovely dinner. And we could eat that dinner out on our balcony looking at the Apalachicola River.

Of course, the two of us hadn't actually cooked a meal in pots and pans on a stove in over 15 years. That's when we moved to Florida. We didn't bother moving the pots and pans to Florida. (Or buying any after moving here.) The stove in our Florida home is lovely, polished regularly but never used. Cook a shrimp dinner here in Apalachicola? How hard could it be?

So this afternoon we went to the store. Veggies? Check. Shrimp? Check. Rice? Check. Sauce fixings? Check.

Back in the kitchen, we got busy. After a little trial and error, all the parts of our dinner were ready to take to the table. (Yeah, the kitchen was a total mess.)

We carried it all out to the balcony, sat down at the table, and enjoyed the moment. We ate and watched the oyster, shrimp, and small recreational boats chug up and down the river below. We lingered over our meal. We watched the day end and night slip over the salt marsh.

Best rest day ever.