Sunday, March 22, 2020

Miami Urban Cycling During the Corona Virus Crisis

Like everyone that rides a bicycle in a city, I used to bitch about traffic. Before moving to Miami, I lived in rural areas for a lot of years. It took a while for me to get used to Miami traffic. But with the corona virus crisis, traffic volume has dropped. A lot.

While people need to stay at home, we can get out to go to the grocery or pharmacy, to walk the dog, or to go for a run or a bike ride. I'm continuing to ride my bike. Mostly by myself. Since I can get lost a half mile from home, I rely on my GPS gadgets and routes programmed into them.

At first it was great. Fewer cars really changed the mood of urban riding. But it didn't take long to realize there were some real challenges, too. No problem if you were just taking a short pedal around the neighborhood. But for a longer ride in an urban area you need places for water and bathroom breaks. (Like there aren't groves and isolated roads in Miami like in rural areas of Florida.) My breaks along my old routes were mainly at parks, marinas, and recreational facilities. Now those are posted and padlocked.

So I'm developing new routes. Ones that rely mainly on the ubiquitous Publix grocery stores for breaks. Now I could create the routes on a site like Ride with GPS, but I'm just too lazy for that method. I use Google maps on my phone to create a Publix to Publix route. Then I use the phone for GPS guidance as I ride. I wander about rather than strictly following the Google route which of course, adjusts for my detours. Then at the end of the ride if I liked the route, I save my Garmin ride data on my Garmin as a course and give it a name. Easy peasy.

I'm going to have a chance to explore parts of Miami I used to avoid because of traffic. One new thing for me, though, is that I have to remember to carry a lock or two for stops. (While I saw one cyclist pushing his bike into a Publix, I'm not planning to try that myself.)

I'm looking forward to finding out what I can see on these rides. Yesterday I wanted a not too long ride, so I started out along the Miami River with plans to head up to Wynwood to look at the murals. Instead I found myself meandering around West Flagler, then Little Havana, and then the Gables, before finally turning toward home.

There are a lot of really cool neighborhoods in Miami. I think I'll spend the next few weeks being a bicycle tourist in my own city. Should be fun. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

You can only be young once. But you can always be immature. (Dave Barry)

They say the best things come in small packages. I sure hope so. Because my big new thing for the year ahead is a little folding bike, a Brompton.

I've been thinking about this since last summer. I decided I wanted an all around errand bike for use in Miami. I use Metrorail a lot. When I take a bike, I can never find suitable bike racks at stores and offices. A Brompton handles these situations. (It even has a "shopping cart" mode!) I also wanted a travel/touring bike that would let me easily hop on trains and buses. A Brompton travels like a pro. A Brompton opens up a lot of territory for my little "running away from home on a bicycle" adventures.

I decided on a Brompton for two reasons. First, a Brompton folds faster, easier, and more compactly than other folders. Second, and a big plus for me, Brompton has a line of bike bags designed just for their bikes. Something for every purpose from commuting to touring.

Since my husband no longer shares my enthusiasm for bicycle touring, I just go solo. Some people think solo touring would be lonely or boring, but it's not.  Bicycle touring's allure is its freedom. You keep your own schedule. It's liberating. When you tour solo, there is no negotiating with your traveling companion! You make stops when you feel like it, eating or having coffee when you want. You can chat with people or enjoy solitude. And you never have to apologize for spending too much time taking photos, wandering down a back road, or changing your plans on a whim. And when you are riding a little folding bicycle like a Brompton, people go out of their way to make your aquaintaince and chat with you!

The covid-19 pandemic has complicated things, to say the least. The bike and accessories have been ordered, but they will get here when they get here. And, like everybody else, I'm doing the social distancing thing. In other words, taking it one day at a time. Which means I have time on my hands to daydream about trips I want to take on my Brompton when it finally gets here and the pandemic thing cools down.

Watch this space.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Running Away from Home on a Bicycle: A Comical Trip to the Keys

I'd planned a simple camping trip to the Keys, which was what I was expecting as I pedaled away from home. I love the quirky kitsch in the Florida Keys and finding some tacky wonders is the best part of any trip.

I knew I was going to have wind problems. I had a stiff headwind all the way from home to my first destination, a state park. And it was hot. So I was feeling great joy when I rolled up to the check in kiosk.

I parked my bike and went inside. The little check in area was exceptionally busy. I finally got to the front of the line. The ranger gave me a big smile. "OK. Got you in the area you wanted." Behind me I heard even more people filling the little room. A couple of little kids were not happy campers. "Listen, I can go drop my stuff at the site and come back in a bit to finish checking in," I said, trying to be helpful. She said that would be great, and I left her to deal with the crowd.

I headed into the park and down some footpaths to the hidden area that held some group and primitive campsites. Only it wasn't quiet like usual. I headed to the smallest group site, the one I was supposed to use. At a nearby large group site I saw a swarm of rowdy boys and a couple of adults attempting to organize the rambunctious group. I parked my bike. The adults pivoted toward me. Big smiles. They strode over and introduced themselves. The boys, it seemed, were 5th graders having an exciting adventure. The adults professed their delight in having me there. I was quickly invited to join their little group. "The boys would love to see your bike and learn all about what you're doing," they said with great enthusiasm.

I felt my eyes narrow somewhat as I scanned the milling young campers. "Sure," I replied with as neutral but polite a tone as I could muster. (Wasn't gonna happen.) "Well, got some things to do before I settle in," I said as I remounted my bike and gave them my best smile and a little wave. And I pedaled back to the check in kiosk.

I took the horde of 5th graders to be a divine sign that I should find a motel for the night. The ranger cancelled out my camping paperwork, nodding and saying she understood. I pedaled away.

Now I'm a huge fan of the older tourist motels that line the Overseas Highway. I have favorites. Pedal, pedal, pedal. I stopped at a couple, trying to negotiate rates. (It is still the season, after all, and prices are sky high.) Finally I rolled into a place I really love. They had several vacancies, all cottages designed for families. But they had one small unit, and we were able to negotiate a price that was quite reasonable. It was a vintage RV, set on a kitschy foundation. The interior had been attractively remodeled to make it a cute little cottage.

I settled in, went to the office for a kayak paddle, and headed to the beach. I didn't bother with a swimsuit, my bike kit would do just fine. I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with a bunch of Canadian tourists who were using the kayaks and paddle boards. As I walked back to the office with one of the Canadians, both of us carrying our paddles, a woman passed us. "How was the water?" she asked. "Wet," we replied in unison and laughed.

I loved my little RV. It was spacious and comfortable, a nice base for biking the area. But it was time to move on to my next destination. I fired up the weather app on my phone. Bad news. A front was rolling through. There was a line of serious rain. Followed by a wind shift, a big increase in wind, and a big drop in temperature. I made two plans, then went to bed. I'd go with the plan that seemed the most sensible in the morning.

In the morning I packed the bike and moved it to the big tiki hut that serves as the coffee/breakfast/TV area for the motel. There I met two couples who had their boats moored nearby. We huddled over the weather. There was a bit over an hour before a fast moving line of heavy rain rolled through. Then there was about a 1 1/2 to 2 hour window where I could have a big tailwind if I headed back toward Miami. (After that the wind shifted and became a headwind.) Then the wind really kicked up in the Keys. The boaters gathered their things and headed to their boats. I settled in with coffee and TV and waited for the rain to come and go. (It poured.) I had decided to head back to Miami.

When the rain stopped, I pointed the bike toward home, really enjoying the tailwind. Right on schedule, the wind shifted from a tailwind to a headwind. Bummer.

When I finally got home, I realized I had not taken a real stop on the whole trip home. I straddled the bike for snack breaks. I was wearing my 3 liter camelback so I never stopped for water. I even had an espresso, thanks to a Starbucks canned espresso from my handlebar bag, sipped while straddling the bike on a snack break. Final fun fact: (drumroll, please) it was my longest ride of the year on my slow fat tire bike.

Not the trip I had planned. Not what I was expecting. But I had a wonderful time.

And I can't wait to do it again.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020


We wanted a few days of biking in an area that was new to us. We decided to give Titusville a try. Why?
  • It's an easy 3 1/4 hour drive north of Miami via I-95.
  • Trails. We've been reading about the trails in the area, but we hadn't given them a try yet.
  • Merritt Island. It is right across a fun bridge over the intercoastal from downtown Titusville.
  • Lots of cycling routes are available on Ride with GPS. (Inland routes though the refuges, wildlife sanctuaries, and forests; coastal routes; and loops through Merritt Island.)

We picked an inland route through the refuges and wildlife sanctuaries for the first day's ride. The GPS route let us navigate through the quiet streets of residential neighborhoods as it linked the highways that wandered through the conservation areas west of Titusville. A very satisfying 60 mile ride.

The second day we picked a loop that used both the SJR2C (St. Johns River to Sea) and ECRRT (East Central Regional Rail Trail) cycle paths before swinging over to Merritt Island and a return to Titusville. Fabulous trails, much lovelier in my estimation than the busy urban trails in Orlando, Tampa, and Inverness that we've ridden so often over the years.

We will be back!
Inland ride
We liked this restaurant so much we ate breakfast there three days running!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

I believe humans get a lot done, not because we're smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee. (Flash Rosenberg)

Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. Not a big vacation. Just a simple mini road trip. So we headed up to Lake Okeechobee, just a couple of hours north of home in Miami.

Lake Okeechobee covers 730 square miles and is the largest freshwater lake in Florida. In fact, it is the eighth largest in the country. Ninety years ago hurricanes made direct hits on the lake, killing thousands in the flooding caused by the overflow of the lake's waters. As a result, the state and the US Corp of Engineers designed and built levees around the lake for flood control. The Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (the LOST) was later built atop the levees.

During the hot summer months, using the trail is a formidable undertaking. The bugs are plentiful, large, and vicious; the weeds are overgrown in unpaved sections of the trail; and the unpaved portions are often muddy. But in December, the bugs are few, the trail's pretty dry, and the weeds are under control. Of course, just to keep things interesting, the levees are currently being rebuilt and repaired, causing segments of the LOST to be inaccessible to hikers and cyclists. Meaning detours to nearby roads.

We accessed the trail from the park on the northern shore near the small city of Okeechobee. You can do a metric on paved trail heading east. We headed west. The first few miles is paved with views of the lake to your left, then you pop off the trail to cross the Kissimmee River by road, and when you pop back to the trail on the other side of the river, the trail is unpaved, somewhat rutted double track. Here you can't see the lake from the trail, just a low flood plain covered with vegetation on the left and, of course, the wide canal that surrounds the entire lake on the right. We followed the trail until we hit one of the segments under construction and were detoured down a hard packed sand street to the highway. We circled back following roads, sliding back to the trail on the east side of the Kissimmee River.

A totally satisfying ride, even if the only place for coffee was Dunkin Donuts. Not the weapons-grade caffeine we get in Miami, but it did the trick.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Of all the things I've lost I miss my mind the most. (Ozzy Osbourne)

My work continues, to return to cycling after surgery on both my feet. Time to try some gentle hills. After all, the closest thing to hills in Miami is a bridge or two.

Central Florida has hills. A nice variety of hills. And in October it has the Gainesville Cycling Festival. Saturday is a group of event rides (century, metric, gravel, family) benefiting the local Boys and Girls Club. Sunday the rides move south of Gainesville to the Ocala area and horse country. Sunday has delightfully scenic routes, assuming you love horses and all that.

Since the surgery on my feet I've had to make some changes.
  1. Studded flat pedals only. No more clipping in. (But I still use stiff-soled bike shoes. They are much more comfortable.)
  2. No pushing through the ball of the foot when pedaling. (I've gone back to the pedaling style I used decades ago for off road rides on my mountain bike. Keeping the foot flat on the pedal with the axle of the pedal about an inch behind the ball of the foot.)
High cadence pedaling is difficult unclipped. There's the definite possibility of wounding yourself if a studded pedal gets away from you. (Those studs are wicked.) Higher resistance and bigger gears are what I'm doing lately, while keeping a constant eye on my power meter so I don't blow myself out, especially when I'm riding with companions who are faster. (Which is all of them these days.)

Bottom line: climbing is (ahem) interesting. I wouldn't call it more difficult. But it is slow, frustrating, and demoralizing since I can remember how much faster I used to climb clipped in. I'll get a bit faster as the muscles get stronger so I can push my average power higher on climbs, but I think I'm just going to have to suck it up and accept being a turtle on climbs.

But back to the Gainesville Cycling Festival. The bigger hills were the most fun. I got left far behind by my riding companions on the way up, but (have I mentioned I love descending?) I could catch up with them as long as there was a nice descent on the other side of the climb. The highlight of my ride: my power meter readout. After the first half hour I knew my numbers to assure that I'd keep up and make it to the end of the ride in OK shape. (Three cheers for power meters! Worth every penny you spend on them!)

It was a great weekend. The Gainesville Cycling Festival is a weekend of riding that's well worth the drive to Gainesville. Lovely hills, and great routes to ride. A winner.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention. (Howard Rheingold)

It was time to put the bikes on the car and head to a laid back bike event. A gentle introduction to riding metric centuries again. We headed north past Tampa to Inverness, Florida, and the annual Withlacoochee State Trail ride.

Years ago when I was learning another sport, they told me where to focus my attention: keep my head up and my eyes looking down the course. Where you look is where you'll go they said. Look down and you'll go down.

For weeks I've focused my attention on my feet and pedals. That had become a bad habit. I had too narrow a focus of attention. To ride well and safely, I needed a broader one. Eyes up. Attention focused ahead and around me.

Figuring out where to focus my attention (and doing it) made everything go better. My pedaling was smoother and stronger. I kept up without feeling stressed. Best of all, I got to enjoy the scenery: oak trees draped in Spanish moss, wild flowers, lake and river views, birds, tortoises, and other critters.

I limped slightly on my way to the snack table at a rest stop...and it made me smile. I'd been paying attention to the trail and surroundings rather than the minor discomfort in my foot. I had an extra cup of trail mix to celebrate.