Sunday, February 7, 2016

If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster. (Clint Eastwood)

A public school downtown.
Our Sunday group ride was cancelled just 5 minutes before we were to push our bikes out the door and take them to our car. We quickly checked what other rides were going out, realizing a short time later that a group ride was not going to happen for us this Sunday. The only one we could hook up with in time was taking a route we'd already done twice this week.

A new plan was needed: We decided on a Miami Tour de Neighborhoods.

Miami neighborhoods are fascinating. Miami, like most cities, is a patchwork of unique neighborhoods, each with its own cultural group, style of homes, stores, restaurants, colors, and panache. It makes Miami a fascinating place. (And it's why we can't imagine living anyplace else.)

A very interesting alley.
It was a cold (55 degrees) and overcast morning with a blustery wind from the northwest. We were bundled up in Miami cold weather cycling clothes (think upper Michigan in June). We pointed our bikes north and began pedaling.

We wheeled up Biscayne Boulevard, detoured down the parkway along the bay so that we could check out the big boats at Port Miami. We rolled around Bayfront Park, then headed a few blocks inland. We went through Wynwood, the Design District, Little Haiti, Little River, finally turning around in Miami Shores. We headed back south on Biscayne Boulevard to downtown, occasionally waving to groups of cyclists headed north. Then we headed inland again winding along the Miami River, finally crossing it, heading inland through Little Havana. We made a quick stop at the Versailles Restaurant/Bakery. Then we turned south and pedaled into and around Coral Gables.

We saved the best for last, a long, fast ride through the Miracle Mile and down Coral Way into Brickell and home. On Sunday we barely ever had to slide over into the bike lane. Traffic was light, and we just took the right hand lane. Wonderful.

It was a beautiful day for a bike ride.

Along the Miami River west of downtown.

Black bikes against a black and white mural.
Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho (8th Street SW)
An always amusing piece of public art in Coral Gables.
Cafe con leche at one of our favorite local cafes.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless. (Bill Watterson)

If you own a bicycle and enjoy riding it, on any weekend morning there is a good chance that you are out pedaling before most of your friends have considered getting out of bed.

You know all the good coffee places along your favorite bike routes. You are probably having coffee at one of them while your friends are still padding around at home in pajamas.

Or you have gone someplace in the middle of nowhere, spending money for a room in an ancient motel (the only one nearby), just to ride a route you heard about from someone...someone who also rides a bicycle.

This weekend we took an 80 mile ride on Saturday, stopping for coffee around the half-way point, then taking a route home we had not been on since last summer. Sunday we took a gravel ride out in the Everglades with Everglade Bicycle Club friends. It was a short 20-mile ride that rattled the bones, an entertaining change from riding on pavement.

We've gotten over the need to explain our bike ride addiction.

Our favorite question we get from people (even some bicycle people): Why are you doing that?

Answer: Why not?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness. (Ray Bradbury)

The Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) is unique, a recreational trail on top of the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee, Florida's largest freshwater lake. It is the way you feel, pedaling on top of the dike, looking down at the lake on one side, looking down at the surrounding roads and homes and fields of sugarcane on the other side, that make this our favorite inland trail.

The LOST runs all the way around the lake. Portions of the LOST are paved. Other sections are just hard-pack trail. Navigating the whole thing is complicated by locks and water control structures. And then there are the dike repairs. This work by the Army Corps of Engineers has closed whole sections of the LOST, especially on the south and west sides of the lake.

We planned to spend two days on the LOST. This wasn't a trip for long rides or miles. We wanted to nose around the LOST, learning how the construction and repairs were affecting riding the trail, and gathering ideas for future trips.

Our first day of riding the temperature was 48 degrees. When we returned to our motel after a few hours of riding, the temperature had soared to 49 degrees, our high for the day. At Clewiston there was an unpaved section heading west but construction had left only a 4 mile stretch of paved trail open to the east. (Large locked chainlink gates blocked the trail when they really, really didn't want you to go farther.) The second day was a bit warmer. We roamed between Clewiston and Port Mayaca locks. If you didn't mind unpaved trail and detours off the trail around large strips of construction, you could put together a decent day of riding.
Paved sections of the trail are perfect for road bikes. The section between Okeechobee and Port Mayaca is best.

Unpaved segments are easily handled by mountain or gravel bikes.

Rubble boulders, part of the dike repairs, lend an exotic beauty to some areas.

In some areas bridges take the trail over canals. 

A sugar cane field being burned near the lake fills the air with smoke and ash.

Some water control structures have a rustic beauty. This one was particularly striking.
An unexpected sight in an RV camp on the lake's edge in Pahokee was a tiny Casita trailer colorfully decorated by its owner.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Our Tour de Cape Becomes The Tour de Pelican

A year or so back, a friend introduced us to the Tour de Cape, an annual ride in Cape Coral. We decided to do it again this year with the same friend.

During the week before the ride, things were looking grim. Rain and severe storms were predicted for Saturday night. (The ride was Sunday.) The organizers had tentatively canceled the 100 mile ride and delayed the start of the other rides to mid or late Sunday morning.

We had our motel room and had paid for the ride. What to do?

Another look at the weather forecast gave us our answer. Saturday was going to be a beautiful day. We'd take a long ride on Saturday. If Sunday's ride worked out, it would be a bonus, a two-ride weekend.

So we agreed to meet at the motel at noon Saturday. Al and I wanted something that was hard to come by in Miami: A long ride with few interruptions. We noticed that our motel wasn't too far from Pine Island Road. There were plenty of stores along it for snacks and drinks. While it was a fairly busy highway, especially in the middle of the day, it had a bike lane. And it went out to Pine Island which is, after all, the largest island in the state of Florida. Unlike it's famous neighbors, Captiva and Sanibel, Pine Island doesn't have big sandy beaches. It's mainly agricultural. There is also a state-owned wildlife refuge there.

Saturday was a wonderful day for cycling. Light wind. Sunshine. Temperature in the mid-70s. Pedal, pedal, pedal. The first part of our ride was typical coastal suburban. Pine Island Road was busy, but the bike lane was adequate. Soon we reached the bridge to Matlacha (pronounced "mat-la-SHAY"), a small village known for it's Old Florida cottages, all painted in a rainbow of bright colors. Pretty. The village hugs the highway, luring tourists to its galleries, shops, and restaurants.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. We crossed another bridge, and we were on Pine Island. The highway cuts through the wildlife refuge. Lovely. In a few miles, you reach the island's other main road, the north-south highway that runs from Bokeelia on the island's northern tip to St. James City on its southern tip. We turned toward Bokeelia.

Near the northern tip of the island, we followed the signs to the ferry. The ferry takes you to Cayo Costa State Park. Not our plan today. We stopped for a break and a snack. To our delight, there was a large group of white pelicans swimming nearby. There was also a group of common brown pelicans. One immature brown pelican waddled about just a few feet from us, boldly begging for a snack.

We left the ferry's dock and headed back to the highway, turning north and following it to its end. Then we turned about and pedaled the same route home. A lovely ride on a beautiful day.

The storm came through as predicted overnight. It cleared by 8 AM. There were standing puddles in low areas. The ride start was set for 10 AM. No more rain, but lots of wind. The weather guy said the winds would be sustained at about 25 mph with gusts of 35+ mph. We checked in at ride headquarters and picked up our ride T-shirts.

Ride? Wasn't going to happen. We said our goodbyes, smiled, and headed home to Miami.

We'd had a delightful Tour de Pelican.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Fun gimmick: Add the word "apparently" to any sentence and it splashes a little sarcasm into the mix.

This is very handy for for social small talk when you need a gently snarky comment. And it is handy when you need to describe a ridiculous experience without blatantly whining.

Take a bike ride we took this week.

It started out as long, easy ride on a beautiful morning. Near its end we treated ourselves to a couple of big blueberry muffins and cafe con leche. We sat at an outdoor table enjoying the restaurant's pleasant garden. We fed muffin crumbs to the sparrows living in the shrubbery. We were having such a great time we didn't notice the rain clouds coming in.

It started to drizzle.

We quickly rolled our bikes to the street, clipped in, and pointed them towards home. Which was about 8 miles and two bridges away. Al took the lead. He set a very brisk pace. It was getting darker. The drizzle was now a light rain. Al kicked the speed up. We started taking turns pulling. The speed kept inching upward. It was about this point that I told Al I had to get on his wheel. I was at my maximum down-the-road speed. I couldn't hold this effort without drafting. He lost me going up over the bridges, but I caught up by pedaling wildly on the descents.

Two miles from home the rain notched up again. Al, not one who enjoys getting wet, pushed the speed up yet again. My heart rate was soaring, my breathing ragged, but I stayed glued to his wheel. I got absurdly happy at intersections, traffic circles, and traffic lights since they briefly slowed us down so I could recover a bit. I unclipped rolling up to our building, hopped off my bike, and pushed it across the slippery painted sidewalk and up the handicapped ramp to the side entrance to our building. We dripped through the elevator lobby, squeezed us and our bikes into an elevator with 6 other people, and headed up to our floor and home.

When the elevator doors opened on our floor, we said goodbye to the other people, and rolled the bikes out of the elevator. The elevator doors closed.

"Well, that was a fun ride," Al said smiling widely.

"Yes, our sprinting is apparently improving," I said, feeling water dripping off my helmet and down my nose.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Lake Placid, Day 3

We woke to what looked to be another gray, chilly day. But the weather guy said it would clear up and get warmer. OK. Back to yesterday's original plan: leisurely breakfast, ride north around Lake June, to and around Sebring, then circle back. A nice long ride along favorite old routes. Some sections are from rides years ago with our old bicycle club, the Highlands Pedalers. And from the Dan Henry markings along the route, they are still being used.

The ride started gray, chilly, and somewhat windy.
 But it got a little better.
 Then the gray clouds lifted, and we had one beautiful day for a bike ride.
When we got back to the motel, we stopped next door at a bright yellow food truck, Eats. It's our big discovery of the trip. Now this food truck does country food typical of the area such as gator nuggets as well as the usual burgers and hotdogs. But the owner said he kept getting requests for Cuban sandwiches, so he gave it a try. And his interpretation of a Cuban sandwich is marvelous. The bread is more of a hoagy roll than Cuban bread, but it works. He uses two kinds of roast, pulled pork. There's a long slice of pickle. Lots of gooey melted mozzarella cheese. The whole affair is toasted and pressed to perfection. A wonderful example of fusion cuisine. We liked it so much we had the Cuban sandwiches two days in a row.
 Post-ride meals don't get any better than this.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lake Placid, Day 2

We had a plan. We would have a leisurely breakfast, then do a loop ride north around Lake June to Sebring and back. Coffee and a snack in Sebring. A simple plan.

The weather did not cooperate. It had rained overnight. It was windy and chilly and gray. The weatherman said we'd stay dry if we got back to the motel by early afternoon.

He lied.

Two miles north of the motel it began to mist. In a while it was a light drizzle. The pattern of a mile of drizzle followed by a mile of mist continued for a good while. Then the clouds over Sebring got darker.

It was time to rethink our plan. Continue north to Sebring? (Don't think so.) The clouds were lighter to the south. Go south? (Of course.) So we made a u-turn and started a loop to the south.

It worked. We did a Tour de Lakes in south Highlands County. And we stayed fairly dry.

And we got to feed peanuts to scrub jays. It always pays to carry peanuts when you bike in Highlands County.