Monday, May 23, 2016

Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

A week ago summer descended on Miami. One day we were enjoying delightful late spring weather; the next day the hot, humid weather of the summer rainy season arrived.

Saturday we set off on a long ride. Al and I do 50 to 70 mile rides four mornings a week. Every couple of weeks we do a long ride on one of those four mornings, upping the mileage to about 80 miles. This week we were joined by three of our cycling friends, which turned out to be very, very lucky.

Now there are things you need to do if you take long rides during Miami's hot months:
  • Try to avoid the hottest part of the day by starting early. (Very early.
  • Stay well hydrated. Use electrolyte drinks on long rides. 
  • Acclimate to the heat and humidity by gradually increasing the length and intensity of rides. (In other words, a distance or intensity level you can easily do in the cooler months can be a stretch when the weather gets hot and steamy. Ease into it.)
Saturday I got a little stupid. (Al might say a lot stupid.) I ignored the importance of acclimating to the summer weather. We pedaled from home to where our friends were parking their cars and chatted a bit as people got ready to ride. Then off our little group pedaled. We wheeled down to Black Point Marina, then continued on to Robert Is Here for a break and snack. The weatherman had promised some clouds, but instead it had been mostly hot sunshine so far. We all finished a couple of water bottles each on the first half of the ride. At Robert Is Here we refilled and added ice. After a nice break we got back on our bikes, clipped in, and headed back. Pedal, pedal, pedal. About halfway back we stopped at a convenience store for more water and Gatorade. We were really hot and sweaty but OK.

At 66 miles I had a minor cramp in my left hamstring. We stopped for a minute. After a quick stretch the cramp went away. We dropped the pace, and I moved to an easier gear. At 67 miles we crossed a bump of a bridge over a canal. I was in my easiest gear, but within a couple of blocks first one hamstring then the other started to cramp...a lot. I couldn't believe it was happening. Just a week ago Al and I had done 80 miles with nary a problem. I got off my bike, stretched out the cramping muscles, and, well, stood there feeling really, really stupid.

We weren't that far from where we'd met our three friends at the beginning of the ride. They went to their cars, returned for Al and me, and ferried us and our bikes home. They went way out of their way to do this...with smiles and some jokes.

Good cycling friends like these are truly one of life's treasures. When you go off the rails in a moment of stupidity, they lend a hand (in the nicest way) so you can roll again another day.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Call us butter 'cause we are on a roll. (Stuart Scott)

When you live in a rural area as we did for a couple of decades, cycling on unpaved roads and tracks isn't that big a deal. You do it all the time. I will admit I never expected to be going off pavement on a bicycle, with friends no less, after we moved to Miami.

When more and more of our Miami cycling friends started buying bikes to ride off pavement, we had to give the matter some thought. It turns out there are lots of gravel trails suitable for biking around Miami. Coastal Florida has a substantial system of canals needed for water control. Atop the low dikes that border the canals is double track for use by the people and vehicles that tend the system,  manage wildfires, and do, well, whatever else needs doing. Which means miles and miles and miles of gravel riding opportunities.

Some routes aren't double track; they are full-blown gravel roads. Other routes are more like wide hiking trails. Lots of different moods to choose from.

When we are riding by ourselves, we treat off-pavement riding as the cycling equivalent of hiking. Enjoy the quiet. Frequent pauses for nature watching or taking photographs. In other words, a ramble. We've done several rambles by ourselves and several with friends. When you do an off-pavement ramble, the route frequently determines the distance. Speed? Whatever. Time? Depends what time you absolutely need to get back. A few hours? More? Whatever.
Note the bicycle road sign.

Many of our cycling friends aren't fans of rambles. They want a more energetic experience. They want to ride faster than a ramble. Breaks are at designated intervals. Time and distance are factors, not "whatevers". In other words, a gravel grinder ride. Because these rides do gravel with some speed, they rattle and shake your joints and bones. The right bike and the right gear make a big difference in enjoyment of this kind of gravel riding. So does gradually acclimating yourself to it.

Our friends are enthusiastic about riding off pavement. We are too, but our little studio condominium simply cannot hold more bikes. Al and I each have road bikes, and we each have 90s-era hard-tail mountain bikes, now rigged for city riding and touring. So we are tweeking our old hard-tail mountain bikes for gravel riding. We did lots of mountain biking and off-road riding on these bikes years ago. They can do gravel just fine. But we are making changes to the old bikes to make gravel riding on them more enjoyable. New handlebars and grips for vibration damping. Slightly wider semi-slick tires to replace their current 1.5 inch slick tires.

Our hearts are with gravel rambles: enjoying nature, taking photographs, spending time with a few cycling friends. But we like the variety of more energetic group rides on gravel, too. We'll just watch the length and speed.

We're on a roll...
Gravel riding at dawn with the West Side Sunset Bandits (WSSB) in Miami-Dade (Photograph by Alex Pruna)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we'll find it. (Sam Levenson)

We have many bike routes around Miami that we enjoy. Some, though, are special.

Take the route north along the beaches between Miami Beach and John Lloyd Beach State Park. At its southern end you have South Point Park and Pier, South Beach, and all that charming Deco. You wheel past mansions, modest homes, and lots and lots of amazing highrises. The route is dotted with beachfront parks. At the state park at the route's northern end you can look out across the narrow Stranahan River channel and check out the gigantic cruise ships at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Depending on where you pick up your friends and your choice of destination, you can ride from 30 to 65 miles. 

We like it by ourselves or with a small group on weekends when the traffic is light. There are bakeries and restaurants all along the way. Or you can pack some snacks or a light picnic and enjoy one of the beachfront parks. A personal favorite destination is the Hollywood boardwalk with its stores, restaurants, bakery, and ice cream store right on the beach. A nice Sunday outing.

This past Sunday we met a few friends at Miami City Hall and pedaled down Biscayne Boulevard, over the Venetian Causeway to Miami Beach, and headed north to Hollywood and the Hollywood Boardwalk. We wanted breakfast on the beach. We had an excellent ride, a great little breakfast, and capped it off with a frozen lemonade at A.C.'s Icees in Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove.

Life is good...

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Weekend In Highlands County Florida

Highlands County is just a 3 hour car ride from Miami. It sits at the very southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge. The Lake Wales Ridge is the remains of a chain of ancient islands. It starts in Highlands County and runs north about 150 miles. At its northern end, near Clermont, lies Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest point on the ridge and a climb famous among Florida cyclists. But at the southern end, in Highlands County, the hills are gentler. They are challenging to cyclists from the flatlands of coastal Florida without being intimidating. The area is picturesque with a myriad of lakes, oaks dripping with Spanish moss, cattle-filled pastures, endless orange groves, and mile upon mile of quiet roads. The perfect place for a weekend of cycling.

We drove to Sebring, the largest of Highland County's three cities, for the Everglades Bicycle Club (EBC) Spring Break Weekend. The event has a history spanning back to the 80s. It is a three-day event. The routes are easy to follow thanks to excellent route marking by Highlands Pedalers Bicycle Club. (And this year they provided GPS for the routes, too!) There is a barbecue one night. The historic Kenilworth Lodge in Sebring is the base for the weekend.

Friday morning we pedaled from our motel to the Kenilworth Lodge. We were going to ride the 62 mile route. A sizable group of cyclists was gathered in the front parking area. Greg Neville, past-president of EBC and host for the event, said a few words and the group formed up for a ride around Lake Istokpoga. The Highlands Pedalers led the group out, and we were off for a great day of riding. Our route led us through town, past pastures filled with cattle, past fields tilled and ready for planting, past nests of osprey (the heads of the chicks sometimes peaking up into view), and finally through miles of orange groves on our way back into Sebring. Wonderful ride.

Saturday we again pedaled over to the Kenilworth Lodge. We were planning to join the group riding the 55 mile route north to Lake Reedy in Frostproof. Again, great route marking. Lovely glimpses of lakes as we pedaled along. We saw a beautiful swallow-tailed kite near Lake Reedy. Lovely route. We debated whether the route had more hills or whether our legs were just a bit tired from Friday's ride. (More likely the case.) Al and I slipped away from the group on the way back to Sebring so I could take a couple of photos. My plan for the end of the ride was to stop at an ice cream and soda store we'd spotted near the old downtown circle in Sebring. Which we did. (I can report that Cappuccino Kahlua ice cream is delicious.) Afterward we headed back to our motel for a shower and nap before the Saturday evening barbecue at the Lodge.

Gathering for a picture in Highlands Hammock State Park.
Sunday was the day for the traditional group photo in Highlands Hammock State Park. We gathered at the Lodge and pedaled over to the park. There were lots of photos taken. Some people were headed for a loop through the park, then back to the Lodge to check out and drive home to Miami. A few (us included) were planning to make it a 45-mile day by following today's southerly route down Henscratch Road to Lake June with a loop back to Sebring. We did it as a leisurely photo tour with a break for an ice cream sandwich at a convenience store in the little community of Leisure Lakes on the north side of Lake June. The critter count was excellent: a turkey with 6 chicks, numerous families of sandhill cranes, a large snapping turtle, horses, and cattle, including my favorite, Brahman cattle.
Brahman cattle
There was a bit of humor out in a pasture. There were wonderful vistas of orange groves. Quiet, canopied roads next to lake (after lake, after lake), picturesque old structures, and winding, slow-moving creeks.
Bigfoot sighting in a pasture.
Vistas of miles of orange groves.
Stop at a creek.

This is definitely a weekend event we will do again.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Pedaling In Suburbia

Al and I are urbanites: We think a skyline of highrise buildings is a picture perfect landscape. We live an area of highrise buildings. We don't much like using our car for anything but travel. We don't know much about metro Miami's suburbia.

The weekend approached. Al checked who was riding where and when. WSSB (the West Side Sunset Bandits) were riding Saturday out of the Miccosukee Golf Course. Sunday they were heading up to Weston, a relatively new (mid 90s) suburb in Broward County. Both were just half-hour car rides from our home. Suburbia. Delightful.

Saturday at La Casita 
So Saturday we joined WSSB at Miccosukee Golf Course, chatted and prepped bikes, took some pictures, then wheeled down the road in a nice double paceline. We were out for a sweet little 40-mile ride. We were headed to La Casita, a convenience store with great charm, cold water and ice, and good snacks. The weather was perfect, a peasant mix of clouds and sun, with only a hint of the sticky humidity of summer. This was a popular route, but it was my personal favorite because of how WSSB uses the stretch past the Miami-Executive Airport on the way back to Miccosukee Golf Course. I think of it as a speed zone because it is longer than the sprint zones I've done with other groups.

As we approached it, I kept my eye on Al, because everybody needs a rabbit to chase, and I have used Al as my rabbit for many, many years. I never really expect to catch him. The fun is all about the chase.

With one eye on my power meter and one on him, I gave it my all. Pedal, pedal, pedal! I was having a grand time when I suddenly realized I was hovering right at my power red line, that number that warns me to back it off and recover some. I dropped into a safer effort zone, let riders flow past me, recovered some, then punched it again for as long as I could. Of course, I didn't catch Al until the group slowed for turns, intersections, and a stoplight or two. But catching him really wasn't the point. Back at our cars, we chatted and laughed as we packed up our bikes, then headed home.

Sunday in Weston
Sunday we again met WSSB. We parked our cars in a far corner of a large Publix grocery store parking lot. Alex Pruna took the first of the day's many pictures. Joe Cruz talked about the ride and the route. Soon we were clipping in and wheeling out to the road.

I must say here that the roads in Weston bring tears of happiness to a cyclist's eyes. Smooth pavement. Wide roads. Bike lanes everywhere it seemed. Beautiful landscaped parkways. It was glorious. We were off on a very excellent 50-mile ride.

Our first destination (and halfway point) was Vista View Park in Weston, a park with an actual large hill for us to climb. Not to mention we had a speed zone heading to the park. And another long speed zone on the way back to our cars. Fun! I tried chasing Al in the first speed zone, but (phooey!) I didn't have the juice. One of the guys (Alex) rolled by and offered me an assist. I gratefully hopped on his wheel. At the next speed zone I watched Al fade into the distance. I stayed with a group that was doing something I could handle.

One thing I really enjoy about WSSB is the mix of men and women riders. They ride well together. The stronger riders watch out for us other guys, but they let us push ourselves until we ask for some help. Nobody gets left behind. There are always people who form a slower group if needed. I especially like the women. They are focused when they ride, funny when they talk, and fierce in their determination to ride well.

And then, when all the pedaling was done, libations and food at a tailgate picnic. Good riding, good friends, good times.
Sunday in Weston

Monday, April 18, 2016

How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away (Country Western Song, Dan Hicks)

Al and I have been doing stuff together for a very long time. Spending days and weeks alone together in the cramped confines of itsy-bitsy tents and teeny-tiny campers in remote areas, well, it teaches you how to get along without resorting to small or large caliber handguns. It taught us an important thing about relationships: Space is a very important commodity.

When we moved to Miami, we started group riding. Paceline riding. Which is another way of saying riding close to the wheel of the bike in front of you. What you are doing in a paceline is drafting. It lets you go farther and faster with less effort. Which can be a good thing. Or at the very least, a very pleasant thing.

But you don't ride everywhere in a group. Nor do you want to. Al and I ride lots of miles by ourselves. When we are out riding on our own, we don't draft. It is a lot safer on long rides, particularly when one of us (me) is frequently paying more attention to the scenery than the road. And it keeps the weaker rider (yep, me) from getting lazy.

What we have is The 3 to 5 Bike Lengths Rule. We agree on a speed, then we pedal down the road, the second guy staying at least 3 to 5 bike lengths behind the guy in front. With these special conditions:
  1. If I start to get really tired, I can pull up to Al's wheel and draft. Once I recover, I have to fall back. If I can't recover enough to keep up without drafting, we re-negotiate our speed.
  2. If we have to get somewhere faster than I can ride on my own, Al gets up front and "pulls" and I draft. (Very handy when we're running late or trying to beat an approaching storm.)
It's a great rule for us. The best part: We can enjoy riding together without being close enough to get on each other's nerves. And I like it, too, because the rule makes me a stronger rider.

Space is a wonderful thing.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Okeechobee County Line to Port Mayaca Lock And Dam

 The northern paved portion of the L.O.S.T starts on route 78 just about at the county line. There is a large parking lot and restroom.
 A few miles south the trail comes to the route 98 access point. There's a huge parking lot, restrooms, and a fishing pier. Across the street from the access point is a gas station/convenience store/Dunkin Donuts.
 At Taylor Creek, about 2 miles south of the access point with the fishing pier, the trail is diverted to the highway to cross Taylor Creek. If you return to the trail on the other side of Taylor Creek, you quickly pedal up to a gate across the trail blocking users from dike repairs ahead. So stay on the highway for a couple more miles to the next access point. Once you get back on the trail, it is clear sailing all the way to Port Mayaca Lock and Dam.
 In this area of the trail you don't have to get off the trail at water control structures. At this one we spent a good amount of time watching a 10-foot alligator slowly circling in the water below.
 It doesn't get any better than this. The lake on your right, the dike canal on your left, and a wide, straight, paved, car-free trail as far as the eye can see.
It's about 27 miles to Port Mayaca Lock and Dam. Dike repairs put you back on the highway at this point. The smarter move is to head back to Okeechobee.

This is a unique and beautiful South Florida trail. Quiet. Solitude. A great paved trail.