Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Island Time

I got a lot of messages from friends after my last post. It seems discovering that we aren't as independent and self-sufficient as we believe is something we've all experienced. (Thank you for the many amusing stories.)

This post started as a post about the bike trip we just took. But Hurricane Florence tore into the Carolinas. Suddenly I didn't want to write about bike rides. Too many friends were in the path of the storm.

I had a friend who confessed she got through her first hurricane in a bathtub, covered by a cot mattress, clutching a bottle of scotch. I thought she was just being funny. Then I lived through my first hurricane. It was terrifying. But the storm was just the beginning. After the storm moved through, there was the clean up. The repairs. The rebuilding. For us. For our neighbors. For our town. For every town in our county.

So Al and I spent last week on beautiful St. George Island in Franklin County, Florida, biking the 20 mile circuit of the island, the area's miles and miles of bridges and causeways, and the scenic coastal highway. The weather was lovely, mostly sunny, a touch of rain, but exactly what you expect for summer in Florida. We enjoyed the sound of the surf and the view of the beach from the deck of our rental place.

And I followed posts from my Carolina friends, feeling sorry for what the storm was doing to their homes and towns, but happy that they, and their families, were safe.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know. (Daniel J. Boorstin'

I'm just a beginner at solo bike travel, but I've already stumbled into some unexpected discoveries. True, they are small discoveries, but there have been a surprising number on each short trip I've taken.

I've learned things I didn't even know I didn't know. Some stuff is (ahem) a bit humiliating. Moments when I realize I don't know how to do some pretty basic things. Most are easy to figure out, stuff I did years ago, but stopped doing myself for one reason or another.

Like getting cash.

So I'm in a coffee shop. I pay for my coffee and snack and realize my cash is running low. Now, I always just use credit cards. But then it hits me. I'm sure I'm going to need more cash before I get home. How do I get cash? Since Al and I retired ages ago, Al has gotten cash for the two of us. When I need more, I just ask him for it. There's a moment of vivid clarity when I know that I don't know how he gets it or how I should get it on my own. Wowzer.

Thank god for the purchase plus cash feature at the grocery store check out.

Like most couples, Al and I long ago divided work up between the two of us. So every day on these solo trips I bump into little things that totally baffle me. Oh, I figure them out quickly enough. (Some are no brainers.) Actually, discovering and relearning these things is kind of fun. But it takes the ego down a notch or two. (Trust me on this.) It doesn't make me feel stupid. Just temporarily incompetent.

It is a lesson in humility, but also a lesson in the nuances of our relationships. Self-sufficient independence is very much an illusion. We are part of a family, friendships, community, groups, clubs, and teams. We too often take for granted how much we truly depend on each other for the little things in life.

The little things in life are pretty darn important to us all. No matter how self-sufficient we think we are, we don't do it all ourselves.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping. (Gertrude Stein)

So I couldn't and didn't buy a new bike for bike travel. But, since Al and I sold our old bike travel gear before moving to Miami, some shopping was necessary. The last time I did this was years ago, and shopping for bike travel gear was a real hassle. Not anymore. With online shopping, it is just plain fun.

Before I could buy anything though, I had to set some guidelines for myself:
  1. I decided to keep it simple: lighter is better; less is more
  2. I would get things specifically for travel in Florida, a place where heat, humidity, random showers, and bugs rule. 
  3. Finally and most importantly, when not in use, all my bike travel gear had to fit on two 30" wide cabinet shelves in our tiny studio condominium.
That settled, I set about adding a rear rack to my bike. We already had a couple of seatpost mount rear racks, but I decided against them. I admit that I picked the Thule Pack n Pedal Tour Rack because I liked its looks. It matched the look of my bike, and it lets me keep using my existing seat bag which holds tubes, tools, CO2 cartridges, and the like and fits perfectly around the Thudbuster.

Next I set about putting together the camping gear. I wanted everything to fit into a handlebar pack. I already owned an Apidura Backcountry handlebar pack with a detachable accessory packet. It fits nicely on the Jones loop handlebar. Here's what my new camping gear consists of:
The whole handlebar pack with all the camping gear weighs less than 6 pounds.

I use a top tube bag for snacks, my phone, and a backup battery. There are two water bottles mounted inside the frame. I use a Camelbak Skyline LR backpack with a 3L/100oz bladder. (I've worn it in the full heat of the South Florida summer without finding it uncomfortable.) I stash small items like my tubes of electrolyte tablets and a first aid kit in the backpack's pockets.

On the rear rack I use either of two bags as my "luggage."
  • An Arkel Trailrider trunk bag, or
  • A 19" gym bag. (Ha! Unconventional, but it works.) More spacious than the Arkel. It has functional compartments and has proven itself sturdy. While it is reasonably waterproof, I have a backpack rain cover for it. I attach it to the rack with elastic cargo netting, which gives yet another spot for putting stuff.
You may have noticed that there is no cooking gear. I carry a teaspoon, a salad fork, and a folding fruit knife. I don't do restaurants much. I do grocery stores. I've been doing this for decades while traveling, and I actually eat rather well.

While it isn't what many like, need, and use, it will work nicely for me for a week+ of biking around Florida. And it all fits on those two cabinet shelves when I'm home in Miami.

A special thanks to my friends who gave me suggestions and advice. It made the job a lot easier. You made adding a camping option to my credit card/motel style of travel easier to do than I ever expected.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Running away was easy; not knowing what to do next was the hard part. (Glenda Millard)

OK. So a while back I decided I wanted to do some bike travel again.
  • Not the car/bike/motel style of bike travel that Al and I do all the time. 
  • Not adventurous bike travel around the country or world. 
  • I just want to leave the car in the garage and pedal away from home for a week or two. 
Al is unexcited about doing this kind of bike travel again. We did it years ago. (Been there, done that, sold the special gear a long time ago.) Eventually I realized that trying to talk him into this kind of bike travel was just (1) annoying him and (2) wasting my time.

What to do? Well, I will do the bike travel, but solo. While going on a trip without Al isn't the bike travel I want, it is the bike travel I just gotta do.  Not to whine, but I'm not getting any younger. The clock on this kind of stuff is tick-tick-ticking.

But then I had another problem to work out. I'd been using my road bike for overnight trips. It was fine but limited. We live in a tiny studio condominium. Buying a another bike on top of the two I now own was just not an option. I decided to use my retrofitted vintage mountain bike for these slightly longer trips. Soft ride. Stable. Goes anywhere. Flat, grippy studded mountain bike pedals. A comfy carbon Jones loop handlebar.

I figured I wouldn't have to buy all new bike bags and gear, but some shopping was definitely going to be necessary. Now outfitting your bike for travel is quite personalized. Some people do ultralight. Some pedal heavily loaded bikes. Some pedal only on paved roads and trails. Others pedal down virtual goat trails. Different styles of bike travel have spawned a wide variety of bike bags and gear. Traditional stuff. Randonneuring gear. Bikepacking gear. Tents. Shelters. Hammocks. There are guidelines, of course, and friends have been great at offering advice and suggestions. I've thought about all the advice, and I've decided to mix and match stuff from different styles of bike travel for the best fit with my style of travel. Also, based on advice from friends, I've decided  to carry camping gear. It's not the most comfortable way to spend a night at my age, but I've got to admit I love camping none the less.

Solo bike travel is actually a good avocation for an older cyclist, especially ones like me that love the ambience of bike travel. Going solo lets me ride at my own pace and follow my interests. I like to ride around 60+ miles a day, but I really don't keep a tight schedule. I have a route, a destination, and a time I need to be there. So I track distance, time, and route on my Garmin. All the other data fields can be happily ignored. I'm seldom in any hurry. I meet people. I see things. I get to eat a lot of ice cream cones. I'm busy all day and never bored.

I have no idea whether this is going to work out. But what the heck. To borrow a worn meme, I'd rather say "oops" than "what if."

(I'll show how I outfitted the bike in my next post.)

Monday, August 6, 2018

EBC Paved Trail Weekend Away Adventure, Orlando

One of the perks of Everglades Bicycle Club (EBC) membership is being able to go on planned group cycling trips during the year. And EBC is lucky to have member Ruben Fuentes who puts together the Paved Trail Weekend Away Adventures. Paved trails, which means these trips are suitable for road bikes! And it's a road trip! What could be nicer?

We spent this past weekend with a group of friends riding paved trails in Orlando. It was a great weekend. Now while Al and I travel around the state by ourselves with our bikes, here's why the Paved Trail Weekend Away Adventures work for us:

  • It's low fuss. There is a designated motel for the group. (You don't have to stay there, but that is where the group will gather.)
  • Someone has taken the time to plan the route for you. When I talk to people about taking their bikes with them on trips, the thing they ask about most is "How do you find routes to ride?" What could be simpler than going on a trip with someone in charge of route planning?
  • Having meals out with cycling friends.
  • Hanging out with friends at the motel pool after the ride. Get wet, have an adult beverage, chat. Sweet.
  • Traveling and riding with people you know, other EBC members.
  • As Ruben says, you are riding with "framily." It's not just a no-drop ride; these people look after you. They definitely have your back.

So if you are an EBC member, think about doing a Paved Trail Weekend Away Adventure sometime. (Pssst: I heard there may just be another one in the spring.)
A photo stop by a really big, really old tree.

Monday, July 30, 2018

A New Life for Old Mountain Bikes, Part 2

This summer Al and I made it to 50 years of married life. Updating our old mountain bikes was our anniversary present.

The bikes' titanium frames are custom ones made for us by the folks at Seven Cycles. We've ridden them in some pretty great places over the years. We now live a tiny studio condominium in Miami. Moving into our tiny condo from a more traditional large house meant we could keep only 4 of the 8 bikes we used to own. (Our only table is outside on our balcony, but we have two Thule free-standing double-deck bike stands inside. You have to decide what is really important to you.) We chose to keep road bikes and these old 90s era vintage mountain bikes. While they are beautiful bikes, we didn't use them much because they were heavy and had gearing that was brilliant off-road in actual mountains, but was just a royal pain anywhere else. While they are slow, their strength is that they are lovely, nimble, stable, and really comfortable to ride.

The bike shop called last weekend. One last part they'd been waiting for had finally arrived. The bikes were ready for us to pick up. A couple of the things we wanted didn't work out, mainly because of the bikes having the old style 26 inch wheels and issues with the custom frames. The big changes all got done, so now each bike has:
  • A single chainring up front (AKA 1x, so no more front derailleur);
  • Shimano Di2 (electronic rear derailleur); and
  • A rigid carbon fiber front fork
We took them out for a nice Sunday ride, about 50 miles or so. The shifting is a delight. The new gearing works well. They rolled along at a reasonable speed (16-18 mph) quite comfortably and without undue effort. And the bikes are lighter, much lighter. Gone are the old suspension forks. Even dialed down for pavement use, the suspension forks made steering "mushy." Now the steering feels crisp and responsive.

Yep, the rebuilt bikes are really comfortable and fun to ride. They're going to get a lot of use.

Anniversary presents don't get any better than this.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Highlands County

We lived for 13 years in a tiny rural community on the south side of Highlands County, a county located almost exactly halfway between the east and west coasts of Florida and at the southern tip of the Lake Wales Ridge. Lots of lakes. Orange groves. Ranches. Wildlife refuges. Large pristine areas of Florida scrub. And, oh yes, rolling hills.

The summer in inland Florida feels hotter than summer in the coastal areas. There is always some wind in Miami where we live now. Inland, the heat can wrap around you like a miserable fur coat. The summer is also the rainy season. Water flows in the ditches along the roads. Acres of land that are dry in winter become pond-like. Which keeps the humidity nice and high.

So we make sure our water bottles are full, and we know where we can go to refill them along our rides. We know where the rural convenience stores are, places to get water and maybe even an ice cream bar snack on a longish ride.

We were in Highlands for just two days of riding, but it was worth the drive from Miami. We heard the booming call of alligators in the marshy woods. We saw sandhill crane everywhere. Osprey. Scrub jay. Vultures. Cattle. Llamas. Miniature goats. Burros. Horses, colts, ponies, and mules. Gopher tortoise. Deer. Even a golden mouse. Critters galore.

We stopped into Archbold Biological Station for water and chatted with some staff who proudly showed off the conference center's mass plantings of native Florida grasses and flowers. Then, not long after leaving Archbold, we ran into one of the standard summer inconveniences of the area. There had been a lot of rain in the past week. We were headed to Venus, but the road was covered in water in spots for a couple of miles. Not a problem for a pickup truck, but not something we wanted to play in on bicycles. We detoured around the water and continued our meandering ride.

Someone once asked me how rural bike riding differed from urban bike riding. The difference I said was simple. Urban riding has scads and scads of destinations, but few good routes. Rural riding has limited destinations, but there are good, scenic routes whichever way you head.

Both are fine by me.
This ranch is now conservation land.
Rainy season problem along some secondary roads.
The old main road to Venus can be tricky for bicycles in the summer.
These signs on the rolling hills never fail to make me laugh.