Monday, June 20, 2016

Adventure is just bad planning. (Roald Amundsen)

There is nothing like planning trips and vacations to light the imagination. You start batting around some ideas. You kick around logistics and such. We've been doing this enough to know you shouldn't believe the trip will happen according to plan. Trips never do.

Which is fortunate since that is how adventures happen. Trips are fun. Adventures are wonderful.

We are planning some trips for the summer and early fall. Our trips are never big ones. The destinations are not glamorous. Their interest comes from seeing them by bicycle, something that took us many years to understand. We took trips to ride our bicycles in places thousands of miles away only to realize we had just as much fun visiting places by bicycle that were much closer to home.

When you are on a bicycle, people talk to you. You may be a stranger, but you are an interesting stranger. All you really have to do is be very polite, be friendly, and listen as much as you talk. People love to talk about the place where they live. The novelty of meeting a bicycle tourist is fun for them. And you can learn all sorts of odd tidbits about the places you visit. Who needs a travel guide when you can talk to the local people?

So we research our destinations, make our hotel reservations, check out the GPS sites to see routes being used by cyclists, and sketch out our trip plans. It all looks so sweet and simple and flawless.

With luck the rides won't be that sweet, simple, and flawless. With luck we'll have some adventures.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

When I eventually met Mr. Right I had no idea that his first name was Always. (Rita Rudner)

We are celebrating our anniversary this week.

We wanted to celebrate by doing something different. We finally decided on taking a trip without taking our bikes. That's something we haven't done in probably a couple of decades. And what better place to have this strange adventure than the Florida Keys. We've ridden our bikes up and down the Keys countless times. But a trip to the Keys without bikes? We haven't done that since the 70s!

Our travel bikes have never been selected for speed. Travel bikes need to be stable. They need to be able to carry the weight of luggage and gear. They need gearing to allow you to climb with a fully loaded bike. They need to be comfortable for day after day of long distance rides. They need to be rugged and easy to repair. We've had yellow Bike Fridays. We've used our trusty old Seven titanium mountain bikes. Travel bikes have a lot of the same qualities you look for in a spouse.
Very tame Key deer

This trip we have no bikes. Here we are on Big Pine Key, looking at the ocean out the window of our room, a room without bike gear or bikes, without bike clothes hanging to dry before tomorrow morning, without the faint sweet smell of bike lube lingering in the air. Instead a kayak sits beside our patio, paddles and gear propped nearby, with swimsuits, flippers, and snorkel gear filling spaces where bicycles usually are parked.

This trip will keep us off our bicycles for five days.

I'm happy, but I'm already missing that wonderful smell of bike lube!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes. (Jim Carrey)

Before we moved to Miami, we didn't know many couples who rode bicycles together. And all those couples were touring cyclists.That has changed. We ride with couples all the time in Miami.

Cycling is a very time-consuming sport. You can sit on the sidelines...or you can join the fun. Joining is much, much better.

It can be frustrating to be the slow-poke novice when your spouse is fit and speedy. If you want your spouse to take the time to ride with you, you have to commit to working your butt off.

I remember when Al and I first started riding together. He had a road bike. He found one for me. Problem one: I just couldn't learn to shift all those gears. I "solved" my problem by going to K-Mart and buying a cheap 5-speed. It had skinny-ish tires, hand brakes, big fenders, and a huge kickstand. It weighed a ton. But I could shift the gears. Al hung his head in dismay, but he sucked up his pride and rode (and rode and rode) with me. In time I got a better bike. (And another and another.)

At first I was slow, and I couldn't ride very far. He got me faster. He pushed me to ride farther (and farther and farther). The big family rule was no whining, no bitching, no bellyaching, no quitting. (I did, however, sometimes cheat and vent in some blog posts.)

I was lucky. Al knows me well. I can be bribed. Shiny new bikes. Nice bike clothes. Fun trips. Lots of good times together. At the end of long, hard rides, I was sore and exhausted. But I felt wonderful. And I really got hooked on that feeling wonderful part of cycling. Cycling keeps us both fit and healthy. It keeps us busy and involved. And it gives us a circle of cycling friends. Fun people who like being active.

We ride a lot. We see a lot of wonderful sunrises. We wander Miami's neighborhoods. We pedal barrier islands, causeways, bridges, and parkways. Best of all, we are riding together.

My recommendation if your spouse rides a bike: Don't let 'em pedal off without you!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memorial Day Weekend, Miami

We woke up and carried our cups of coffee out to the balcony. It was long before dawn. Miami sparkled with lights. City sounds drifted up from the streets below. The cat wandered around our feet, peering through the balcony grating, monitoring the movement of traffic and early morning pedestrians. We sipped coffee and planned the weekend ahead. And there was a lot of planning to do. We were spending the Memorial Day weekend in Miami. Three days of biking and enjoying our beautiful city.

History trivia: Memorial Day originated in the years following the American Civil War. A day to honor those who died in military service. Back then it was called Decoration Day. On one of the very first Decoration Days, 5,000 people gathered to decorate the 20,000 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery. It is hard to wrap one's head around the huge number of soldiers killed in the American Civil War: 620,000. That's around half of all the American soldiers killed in all conflicts and wars up to the present day. This in a time when the country was just ten percent of today's size in population.

Fast forward to the present day. Memorial Day is still a holiday honoring those who died in military service. But it is also a three-day holiday filled with gatherings of families and friends kicking off the start of summer: Enjoying the freedom won by all those who died protecting it.

We had bike rides with friends each of the three days of Memorial Day weekend. We had a road bike ride both Saturday and Sunday with the West Side Sunset Bandits (WSSB). Monday we did a road bike ride with some friends from Everglades Bicycle Club (EBC) and WSSB. And we found the time in between to try out a new restaurant near our home in Brickell.

A red, white, and blue weekend in Miami.
Photo by Alex Pruna

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...