Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011 - Hello 2012

We took a short (16 mile) ride this morning.  Other things were waiting our attention, but a quick ride clears the cobwebs and sets up the day.

Before leaving on the ride, I set up my spreadsheet for 2012 biking.  And, a bit wistfully, tidied up and got ready to archive the 2011 biking spreadsheet.  Every year is a bit different.  This past year had no week-long touring, but it had many longer and faster local rides.  All our riding since September has been on our new road bikes.  Our mountain bikes and folding bikes have been lonely.
We rode almost 2000 miles in 2011.  1200 of those miles have been rides on our new road bikes which we got in mid September.  In other words, we are enjoying ourselves.  The new bikes are more comfortable than our old road bikes, which was a pleasant surprise for us.

An important footnote to the year:  Both Al and I have noticed that the feelings of well-being and contentment that typically follow rides have expanded into the day after a ride.  This is new, and a delightful development.  Exercise may not be a silver bullet for the downsides of aging, but it sure beats whatever is in second place (to mix and match old sayings.)

Since it is the last day of the year, I want to post our favorite views on local rides.  For Al, it is the view of our backyard from the spot where we check average speed for the day's ride.  We always stop on the street just across the canal from us.  (Personally, I believe he's thinking about eating lunch out on the screen porch.)
Al's Favorite View

My favorite view is a nearby ranch that has been put into trust as conservation land.  This was an old ranch, handed down for generations within the same family.  The rancher did not want future generations to subdivide or otherwise develop the ranch.  It is a beautiful place, and I find it very comforting to know that the owner of this fabulous place could love the beauty of his land more than the money the land would bring.  A naively hopeful thought for the beginning of the year.
Old Ranch Given a New Life as a Conservation Area


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from Florida

Our thanks to all our friends who sent and posted holiday greetings and lovely pictures of winter in the Midwest, East, and West.

Needless to say, things are a bit warmer down here. For all you who have tucked your bicycles away until spring, here's a picture of Christmas biking in Florida. (Don't you love the idea of sandals with no socks at the end of December?) So pack your bike and head down to where life on a bicycle doesn't involve snowtires or parkas.

Merry Christmas!



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

1956 Tangerine Oldsmobile

There are a lot of restored antique cars here.  I guess that goes with having a lot of retirees with the time for this very time-consuming hobby.  I've been admiring one particular car for some time.  I see it frequently at our grocery store and parked in front of local restaurants.  I also knew where it lived: in a garage just a mile from our house.

On our last ride, the car was parked in the yard.  We stopped and talked to the car's owner (Mike--note the car's license plate).  He showed it to us and told us it's story.  Mike bought the car in Seattle in 2005.  He spent 3 years restoring it.  He laughed about the color.  "It's a perfect color in Florida, but it gets a lot of laughs when I drive it up to Vermont," he said smiling.

It is a perfect color for Florida.  I can easily see myself driving this beauty down by the beach in Miami.

1956 Oldsmobile
Mike and his 56 Olds




Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bobcat

We had our first local bobcat sighting on today's ride.  Unfortunately, he (or she) moved into scrub before I could take a picture.  It was about 2.5 miles from our home, so we'll be keeping our eyes open for this bobcat in the future.  In case you've never seen a bobcat, here's a picture from the web.  It's size, tufted ears, and shortish tail make it very different from a common house cat.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Critters and Christmas Decorations

We get to meet and talk to a lot of people when we are out on our bicycles.  This week we stopped to chat and saw something that was special.  A fat raccoon peeked out at us from the house foundation shrubs.  But instead of sneaking away, he boldly walked into the garage.  He was quickly escorted back into the woods.

Raccoon Checking Things Out
Boldly heading into the garage.















A lot of Christmas decorations are lovely. When they make you smile, then they are really special.  We ran into three that made us smile.  One was a scarecrow Santa standing tall in the front yard of an avid gardener.  Another was a whirly gig biking Santa, spinning away in the front yard of a cyclist we know.  And the third was the unusual display that sported traditional lights, a Christmas tree, an animated snowglobe Santa, and an inflatable Florida Gator.  This was obviously the home of an serious football fan who knows what's important this time of year!

Biking Santa
Scarecrow Santa



Florida Gator Fan's Christmas Decor

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What a Difference the Sun Makes

Only a couple of days ago, low grey clouds filled the sky and the temperature was downright chilly.  Today the sun was back.  There was not a cloud in the sky.  The temperature was in the 60s, but the sun made it feel more like the mid 70s.

We were out doing a simple 30 mile route.  First, here's what that scene of dog fennel covered pasture looked like today with the sun and the clear blue sky.  (It is the same time of day as the picture with the grey clouds, by the way.)
Now this is a typical winter day--a clear blue sky.

The model plane club packed their little field.  It not only was clear and sunny, but the wind was calm, too.  It had been windy for a number of days, too windy for their planes.  They were making up for lost time.  We stopped and watched them fly their planes for a few minutes.
The model planes are just specs in the sky in this picture.

But the highlight of today's ride came at about the 20 mile mark.  A white tailed deer was standing by the side of the road.  We stopped.  The deer gave me enough time to take out my camera, then bolted across the road in front of us.

The deer bolted right after I pulled out the camera.
Now that was a fun ride.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Winter Arrives

December stretches out ahead of us.  We decided to spend December in Lake Placid.  It seems pleasant to be able to hang out at home instead of the usual hectic holiday schedule of past years.  We'll take the road bikes out for meandering trips inside Highlands County where we live.  On short trips to the coast, we'll throw our folding city bikes in the car.

The first true cold front swept through Lake Placid bringing chilly nights and cool days.  True, winter in our area is mild.  We switched our central system from air conditioning to heat in October, but the heat has yet to switch on even once.  The past few days have been the coldest so far this year with lows in the 50s and the highs barely in the 70s.

Since we ride in the morning, we've had to add some layers to our bike clothes.  It's not cold enough for typical northern cold weather gear, but it is much too cold for our usual Florida gear.  I compromise by wearing a second pair of socks with my bike sandals.  (Yes, bike sandals in December.)  And I add a sleeveless fleece bike jacket with a wind-stopping fabric front over my usual gear.

Our ride today was beautiful.  Low grey clouds accentuated the winter mood.  The clouds aren't typical winter weather here.  The nickname "the sunshine state" comes from the fact that our winters are sunny.  So while the tourists may be complaining, we were admiring the beauty of the clouds over the scrub.

Christmas decorations were up.  While some still had uninflated displays strewn across their yards or roofs (elves, reindeer, and snowmen waiting in line for their blow jobs), most homes seemed ready for the holidays.  One home stood out.  The homeowners had limited the decorations to a huge traditional wreath on the front door---and Santa hats on the home's outdoor lights.  Very, very effective in its simplicity.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Riding Partner

Biking is more fun with a partner.

Some people like riding with people from their bike club.  Some ride with friends from their neighborhood or work.  Me, I'm married to my riding partner.  This has advantages and disadvantages.  (Doesn't everything?)  But there are definitely more advantages than disadvantages.  He is stronger and faster.  I descend better than he does.  (We have fun chasing each other on hilly rides.)  The biggest advantage is being able to share something that we both enjoy totally.

Can't beat that.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Riding the Horrible Hundred

We woke early, dressed for the ride, and groggily wandered down to the hotel's breakfast area.  The place was packed with riders.  You couldn't help but feel sorry for the handful of tourists who found themselves with this group.  My heart went out to one poor beer-bellied guy who was dressed for Disney or one of the other theme parks, a pudgy wife and two pudgy kids in tow.  He and his wife acted as if they were surrounded by aliens.

A half hour later we were off to the ride.  Clermont, Florida, is about 20+ miles west of Orlando.  It is typical Mouse-Town suburbia.  Gated golf communities, subdivision, after subdivision, retail mini-malls filled with all the franchise names that fill suburbs across the country.  It's claim on Florida bicycle lovers is its topography.  Hills that pitch up and down only 200-250 feet, but they are constant and vary unexpectedly from long ramping climbs to short steep climbs.  It is a LOT more fun than a day at the theme parks!

This is a popular ride.  (This year 2100 riders!)  Lots of groups from bike clubs come.  We try to avoid the mass of riders that swarm out at the beginning of the ride.  These are the avid competitive types, fun to watch, but, frankly, not our style.  We ride simply for the fun of pedalling.  So we wait at the beginning of the ride for most of the riders to head down the road, then we hit the road.  It means we are way behind most, but, since it isn't a race, who cares?  It was a good strategy on this ride.  The day was sunny, warm, and humid.  The heat and humidity meant that we needed to pace ourselves better than usual.  We didn't need the excitement of a pack to tempt us into pushing our limits.

The rest stops were less flamboyant than past years', but the treats still as much fun.  I am a total sucker for chocolate truffles, dark chocolate chips, and the like.  As long as you are swilling down Gatorade, you might as well nibble some Ghirardelli chocolate, too.

Before the ride ended, we stopped briefly on a bridge to enjoy the quiet water view.  Then we pedalled to the parking lot where we left the car, put the bikes on the carrier, chatted briefly with a woman about a ride in Ocala, and, enjoying the usual post-ride euphoria, started the car and headed back to the hotel for a shower.  There was a post-ride meal, but we had other plans for our time.

Back at the hotel, we showered and changed.  Heading back out through the lobby, we passed groups of sweaty riders heading up for showers.  We all looked very tired, but very pleased with ourselves.

It was a really great ride.



Friday, November 18, 2011

The Horrible Hundred Century Ride

This year will be the fourth time we've ridden the Horrible Hundred Century ride, but only the third time as paid participants.

The first time was right after we moved to Florida.  We had moved here from the Blue Ridge Mountains of northeast Georgia.  We loved it not for the climbs but for the wonderful rest stops.  Music, scrumptious sweet treats, costumed volunteers.  It was fun stuff.

The second time was the time we were not paid riders.  We were on an independent bike tour (just us, our folding Bike Friday Llamas, and our trusty Ortlieb suitcases clipped to our rear carriers) riding from Savannah, Georgia, to Lake Placid, Florida.  We had taken the train up to Savannah, and we were taking our time riding home.  We had picked a bike-friendly route from the east Florida coast to the center of the state.  We were surprised to find a bunch of riders on our route.  They, in turn, seemed awfully friendly and very surprised to see the two of us tooling up and down the hills with our suitcase-laden bikes.  When we passed one of the great Horrible Hundred rest stops, we figured out who the other riders were.  (Since we couldn't have their rest stop snacks, we stopped later for a Ben and Jerry's splurge eaten straight from the container while sitting on the curb outside the convenience store where we made the purchase.)

We were doing independent touring and missed the ride for several years.  Last year we went again.  We were most impressed by the unrelenting cheerfulness of the riders.  On one long hill, the string of riders walking their bikes up the hill were cheering madly for those of us that pedalled by them!  Now that is enthusiasm.

Today we drove to Clermont.  We picked up our registration packet and t-shirts.  There were several rides today, but we didn't go on them.  Instead we wandered through the large area of vendor displays.  Lots of nice bikes and gear.  Then we were off to the motel.  There are a lot of interesting motels in the area, but we had errands to run.  The most convenient motel for all our running about was the local Hampton.  It has one of those annoying corded Internet hook-ups in its rooms, but at least it has freshly baked cookies in the afternoon.

Life is all about compromises.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fall in the Florida Scrub


What struck me on our ride today were the fall flowers in the scrub.  Two in particular were standouts.  The yellow button was a strip of color along the road.   And the dog fennel stood about 10 feet tall in the pasture land of a nearby ranch.  (If the cattle were in there, the dog fennel covered them completely!)  Dog fennel is covered with very tiny white flowers that are quite fragrant.
Yellow Button
Dog Fennel - At least 10 feet high!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Maxing out Highland County's "Hills"

We needed to up our hill climbing practice.  So we decided to do five consecutive loops of the best hilly stretch we have.  It adds up to about a 15 mile hill segment in the middle of our 30 mile local ride.

It worked out pretty well.  The fun was watching some construction guys become increasingly interested in us as we passed their work site time, after time, after time.  One guy was actually smiling and waving by the last couple of passes.

I can't help wondering if they'll still be there next Wednesday when we do that route again.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Long Windy Ride

As I've said, we're getting ready for a hilly bike event.  Since we don't have a lot of hills, we were pleasantly surprised to get a very windy day.  Riding in the wind really does get you stronger and improve bike handling skills.  Today's wind was perfect for a long ride challenge.  The wind was around 17 mph, gusting to 26 mph.  We headed out to do at least 50 miles.  (Which we did.)

Our funny critter sighting was a very close run-in with a wild pig.  The wild pig was darting out from a deep roadside ditch to cross the road.  He never heard us on our bikes, and his wild-eyed expression, his frantic jump into the air, and his panicked scramble to turn around and head back to the cover of the roadside bushes was truly comical.  A pig is agile and quick, but its large size makes scrambling movements look downright silly.

Florida has the image of being heavily urbanized.  Well, that is pretty much what coastal Florida and Disney Florida are like.  But inland or south near the 'Glades, things are pretty rural.  Our home's postal address is Lake Placid.  But that small town of a little over 2000 is about five miles from us.  We actually live in an unincorporated community called Placid Lakes.  Placid Lakes was created by August Tobler back in the 60s when he decided to develop his ranch, which bordered on Lake June, into a planned community, complete with a small canal system for boat access to the lake.  It's about 4.5 square miles of land with about 8100 residential lots.  In almost 50 years, only about 2000 of these lots have had homes built on them.  A good number of these homes are vacation homes of Florida coastal people and winter homes of snowbirds.  The homes are boring in a comfortable way: little ranch style homes from the 60s and 70s, Florida international style homes from the 70s and 80s, and, that standard from the 80s to the present, the boring Mediterranean style home.

If I had to show just one picture that says it all, it is this: a view of Placid Lakes' "downtown."  It has the town hall (see the flag?) and the adjacent "business district" (a convenience store and gas station which share a very small strip mall with two real estate offices, a barber shop, and an empty storefront). That's it.  Down the road a mile is the standard small country club and golf course.  A few miles farther is a small air field with an array of hangars and outbuildings.  That's about it other than a few acres belonging to the local model airplane club and a small park and boat launch on the lake.  Placid Lakes, Florida 33852.  A blip of a community surrounded by ranches and wildlife preserves. 
Downtown Placid Lakes


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Happiness is a Newly Resurfaced Road

When you ride a bike, you notice rough pavement.  It may be interesting to watch the Paris-Roubaix, but when a local road reminds you of that race things are not good.

There is a 2-mile portion of one of our rides that rattled the bones.  Drive the same road in a car, and the pavement didn't seem that bad.  But on a bike, it was something you just endured.  There was no way to avoid the stretch without a multi-mile detour onto the paved shoulder of a major highway.  So you endured.

Sometime since our last ride on that route, the road was resurfaced.  As we approached the area, I slowed somewhat and got ready for the bone-chattering entry to the bad stuff.  But instead there was a smooth, fast, beautiful new road surface.

It was better than Christmas.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Our "Hilly" Local Route

We're getting ready for a ride in hills at the end of the month.  Since Highlands County is at the southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge, we have only a few climbs available here.  "Hilly Florida" is up west of Orlando by Clermont and Mt. Dora.


A View of Lake June from North Main Street
We've added a local loop route through Lake Placid to do a 30-plus mile ride with the best hills in the area.  Those are all found in a 3 mile stretch on North Main Street between downtown Lake Placid and Highway 27.  Our route does two loops of the hilly section of Main Street before heading back toward home with a 10 mile loop near our little airport.  It's a nice route, and it is the closest thing to hill climbing practice available.

We used to live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northeast Georgia.  Hill training was easy there: there was no flat area to ride.  Luckily, once you learn to climb, you never really loose the skill. But unless you are really good, climbing is never pretty.  You simply find your rhythm and don't rush and over-extend yourself.  It let's you pedal up any climb.  (If a lot slower than you might like.)  The more climbing you do, the better you get, and the faster you go up the hills.

We felt pretty good this morning about our beginning of season climbing efforts.  We did the hilly stretch about 10 miles into our ride, and it wasn't much of a strain.  I imagine I'd have a different opinion if we'd done 30 miles first, but for now we are happy.

We also made the final adjustments to our new Adamo road saddles.  I put the seatpost adjustment up a quarter inch, and put the saddle itself farther back, not quite to it's farthest position, but close.  I like riding on the drops, and this is the most comfortable saddle position for me.  Al has also put his seat back, but he went to the farthest back position.

Al's bike is heading to the bike shop tomorrow.  He jammed his chain when he shifted too quickly going up a hill.  We freed the chain, but now there's an audible rub of something up front.  The bike shop will sort it out. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Homestead Speedway Century 2011

Homestead Speedway is south of Miami.  It was built back in the mid-90s after Hurricane Andrew.  NASCAR has events there. 

A few months ago I ran across a listing for the Homestead Speedway Century, a ride sponsored by the Everglades Bicycle Club.  Part of the ride was actually on the Speedway.  Definitely a winner.  "Want to ride your bike around a NASCAR race course?"  I asked Al.  He said he did.

We drove down to South Florida on Saturday.  We diverted to a bike shop in Miami (Bike Tech) for early packet pickup, then headed to Homestead, checked into our motel, and set out to see the area.  The old section of town is small. There are some interesting Mexican restaurants.  But most of the area is typical cookie cutter suburban development.  The back roads, however, have some charm.  We headed off to Publix for fruit, Greek yogurt, and, my food find for this trip, diet JupiƱa pineapple soda.




Riding on the Speedway
Sunday was the ride.  We drove over to the ride start at the Speedway.  It had been a long time since we were on a ride with this many other riders.  The place was packed.    We gathered with the others around an entrance into the Speedway and waited for the gates to open.  Right on time they opened the gates.  We slowly rode through the pedestrian tunnel to the outer roadway, then gathered on the track for the mass start.  It was a perfectly lovely dawn when we set out around the track.  Down the straightaway towards the first banked end.  We were riding near guys that were talking about taking the curve high by the wall.  Most of the riders stayed on the flatter inside of the curve.  But going high up by the wall sounded too exciting to pass up.  The pavement began to bank steeper and steeper until it was almost a 45 degree slope down from the wall to the lower part of the curve.   It was amazing!  There we were riding on our skinny tired bikes on a slope I would have sworn only mountain bikes could ride.  Then down to the straightaway and on to the banked curve on the other end of the track.  Again we went high up by the wall.  What a thrill!!  I saw a woman take a picture while riding one handed.  I just couldn't bring myself to be that brave this year. (Maybe next year?)

Quiet Rural Miami Dade Roads


Rest Stop in Hammock of Everglades National Park
Our lap of the Speedway, one of the best things I've ever done on a bike, was over too quickly.  Now we had to get traditional and head out on the roads.  Al and I took the 62 mile metric century route.  The routes stayed together through town, which had bike lanes, then headed into rural Miami Dade.  The turn around for the 62 mile route was the rest stop inside Everglades National Park.  It was a beautiful location for a rest stop: a quiet hammock surrounded by sawgrass almost to the horizon in all directions.  It was a windy day.  The wind was in our face for the ride to the Everglades.  But that meant that for the ride back we had the wind mainly as a tailwind.  Just when the temperature was getting toasty, it got cloudy, a welcome change from the hot sun.

The last 5 miles were smack into the wind, and the wind kicked up substantially.  We envied the bike clubs riding in their pace lines, drafting behind their lead rider.  It wasn't a pretty 5 miles for us, but nobody ever said it had to be pretty.  You just have to make it to the end of the ride.

This is definitely a ride that we will attend every year. 



Saturday, October 15, 2011

New Saddles

The Bontranger Affinity RXL saddles were good, but we decided we could do better.  They just were not as comfortable as we needed them to be.  So we took our bikes into our LBS, and we asked them to put on white ISM Adamo Road saddles.  The LBS wanted us to trial them first, but we opted to just go for it.

Today we took them out for a 30 mile spin.  Right away I knew I was going to like the Adamo.  No matter what hand position I tried, my hips were tilted exactly right.  Tender parts were happy, too.  I prefer riding down on the drops, and it seems that that forward position is where this saddle excels.  I'd been warned that smaller people like me (5'1") often found the front of the saddle too wide.  I sure didn't find that to be the case.  This saddle is more comfortable than the Terry Liberator Gel that I have on my touring bike.

A couple more rides locally, and we will be heading out for another bike event ride.  It's down by Miami.  More on that later.

Saddle Update: December 4

After riding on the Adamo for a few weeks, Al switched to his old Terry Liberator (borrowed from another of our bikes).  He decided the Liberator won, so we bought two.  I tried the new Gel Liberator on my bike, but it didn't work for me.  I'd prefer the Liberator for the upright position of a mountain bike, so I put it on mine and kept the Adamo for the road bike.  Here's the finals:
Al's Terry Gel Liberator
Marsha's Adamo Road

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Local Ride that Had It All

Wind.  Rain.  Humidity.  Hot sun.  This was a fun ride that ran us through the full spectrum of Florida ride conditions.

We headed out today for our long ride of the week.  Right now, that means 50 miles.  We're getting used to our new saddles.  (But the jury is still out on them.)  For us, 50 miles is the psychological tipping point for longer rides.  We learned long ago that when you feel dead tired and swear you can't go one more mile, you still have 1-2 hours left in your legs.  So once you can do a comfortable 50 mile local ride, you can do a metric century (or more) if you want to.

The interesting thing about today's ride was the weather.  Temperatures were classic fall Florida weather for our area: 73 at dawn, 85-90 by late morning.  The wind was from the southwest, a direction that brings us warm, humid air.  It was humid.  We set off at around 7:30 a.m., and we chatted for a half hour with new neighbors down the street.  Then we were off.  The sky had been partly sunny, but by the time we hit one mile on the road, dark clouds filled the sky.  "It'll pass," we agreed and pedalled onward.  About 15 minutes later the light rain began.  We continued in light rain for 10 miles.  The rain turned to a light misty sprinkle for a few miles.  Then the clouds grew scattered and bright sunshine kicked the temperature up rapidly.  This mix of misty rain and clouds and some clouds and hot sunshine continued for the first 30 miles.  Then we moved to just climbing temperatures and sunshine.  We felt great but were wet with heavy perspiration when we got home.

Gopher Tortoise

Wild Pigs' Work

Sand Hill Crane
As always, there were interesting critter sightings.  First we spotted a gopher tortoise munching grass near his burrow on the shoulder of the road.  Later we came across newly "plowed" areas which is evidence of wild pigs in the area.  Last, right by home, a couple of sand hill cranes were walking down the sidewalk like an old couple out for a morning stroll.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Highlands County, Florida

Many of you are familiar with biking in Highlands County.  Several multi-day annual bicycle tours are hosted here.  Many other people come to the area for Highlands Hammock State Park, one of the oldest state parks in Florida.

The county lies at the southern edge of the Lake Wales Ridge, a series of sand dunes which mark what was an island in that long ago era when the majority of Florida was submerged.  The Ridge today forms a 100-mile spine down central Florida, its dunes spotted with fresh-water lakes of all sizes.

The county is rural, it's economy based in agriculture (citrus, cattle, and caladiums) with a smattering of tourism.  While multi-purpose bike trails are pretty much limited to Sebring, the county has a vast network of low-use rural roads perfect for bike rides.  If you are used to urban or suburban biking, Highlands offers a wonderful alternative.  It also offers a variety of pleasant hotels, motels, and campsites for visiting bicyclists.  Nothing like the Ritz or a resort, but well within my idea of OK.

River Otter
The county is Florida scrub punctuated by ranches and citrus groves.  Our local rides take us past groves, several ranches, a large expanse of wildlife refuge, and Lake June In Winter Scrub State Park. We commonly see sand hill cranes and scrub jays.  We also see river otter waddling across back roads, are paced by curious coyotes, watch wild turkeys roam through groves, and watch deer grazing on the roadsides and in nearby open fields.  Osprey sing in their high nests near the lakes, and black tailed kites soar above their homes in clusters of tall pines.

Scrub Jay
My personal favorite time of year is when the citrus groves are in bloom (winter-spring).  I have been known to do loop after loop though a local grove, just to enjoy the heady fragrance of the blooms.  My personal favorite activity is feeding the scrub jays.  I carry several snack bags bulging with raw peanuts in the shell on all our rides.  Scrub jays live in large family groups out in the scrub, and they come readily to offerings of peanuts.  Many people enjoy having the scrub jays eat the peanuts right out of their hands.  I prefer tossing handfuls of peanuts on the roadside and watching the birds fly in and carry them off.

Perhaps what is most enjoyable about biking here in Highlands is heading out for long, fast rides down uninterrupted stretches of quiet highways and back roads.  Businesses and residential neighborhoods cluster near highway 27 which runs north-south through the middle of the county.  The rest of the county is delightfully quiet and rural.

Al and I picked Highlands County as home because of Lake June and water skiing.  But before we bought our home, we biked the area extensively.  And we fell in love with it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Riding the Withlachoochee State Trail

The first cold front of the season came through last night.  We woke up this morning and it was officially fall.  The temperature was 60!  It was a shock to the system, especially dressed in Lycra bike clothes.  The good news was that it was sunny and clear.  We left the motel and pedaled north just under 2 miles to the headquarters of the ride.




It is always a surprise to see the wide variety of people who come to this ride.  There are the usual "roadies" but there are people of all ages, from little kids on teeny bikes, to people who appear to be in their 70s (and one guy that HAD to be in his 80s).  There are fat people on bikes, and super fit people on bikes.  There are guys in Lycra with truly amazing pot bellies.  There are roadie dads with their kids on trail behind bikes.

There are 16 miles of trail north of ride headquarters.  The century riders head that way, but most of the other riders head south.  The north section of the trail will have fewer riders and that appeals to us.  We head north, joking with a couple of guys about how cold it is and about what wimps we Floridians are about cooler weather.  Hot we love.  Cold we suffer through.  There is a sag stop in about 12 miles.  Al scarfs peanuts and m&ms which are served in little cups.  I opt for the chocolate chip cookies that have a small dollop of peanut butter with a thick slice of banana on top.  Delicious.  (Yeah, there are bananas, and bagels, and orange wedges, and tiny peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.)  We headed out and continued to the end of the trail, then circled back to ride headquarters.  On the way back, we stopped to chat with a woman and her daughter who were walking two miniature horses down the grassy border of the trail.  We've seen a bunch of walkers with dogs, but this was the first sighting ever of walkers with miniature horses.  The horses were not even waist high to me, and I'm only 5'1".

We stopped briefly at ride headquarters to snarf up a cup of coffee and lemon pie.  Then we continued south.   The southern section of trail did have a lot more casual bikers, families, and slower bikers.  At 45.5 miles, we decided our legs, arms, and backs were ready for the bike season and felt just great.  Our butts, though, were still getting used to the saddles on our new bikes.  45.5 miles was enough for us today.  We'll do more next ride.

Back to the motel for a shower.  Then off to the grocery store for more picnic supplies.  We'll spend the rest of the day on our balcony reading, then catch some TV, watch a movie, and tuck in.  We drive home tomorrow.   Overall, an excellent ride and day.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Off to Inverness

Inverness is 150 miles from our home in Lake Placid.  That takes somewhat over three hours to drive.  We left Lake Placid after breakfast.  Our motel in Inverness is the Central Motel.  We checked in a bit after noon.



The Central Motel is right on the Withlacoochee State Trail.  It's a small basic motel, but very efficient, very clean, pleasant, and did you not hear me say, it's right on the Withlachoochee State Trail.  The rooms have all the basics (fridge, microwave, internet, adequate TV) and the rates are budget friendly.   Our room looks out through oak branches at the trail.  There's a balcony with a couple of chairs.

We bummed around town for a while in the afternoon.  Down behind the courthouse and next to Sunshine Bicycle the tents are being set up for tomorrow's activities.  Across the green space of the adjoining park a pavilion was sporting clumps of balloons and tables covered with picnic lunches and other food.  A gaggle of kids was romping around the pavilion with a group of moms and dads talking and laughing.  A bunch of bikers in colorful Lycra were packing their bikes on the backs of their cars.  An older couple was walking briskly down the trail.

We hit the grocery store for fruit, yogurt, bread, and (yes!) a few treats.  We prefer simple picnics in the motel room over restaurant meals.  It's a lot easier to watch your nutrition.  My food find of the trip was Stoneyfield Oikos non-fat Greek yogurt.  I hadn't tried this Greek yogurt before, but it is delicious (especially the fig and the blueberry flavors) and may just become a staple of my travel diet.

Back to the motel by 5 p.m.  Quiet time tonight.  I'm on the Internet, then reading a crime novel.  Al watches some TV and reads.  We brought along our little DVD player.  Tonight we watch Robert Rodriguez's "Machete."  Hilarious film, I enjoy it no matter how many times I watch it.  Tomorrow is the ride.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Inverness and the Withlacoochee State Trail

Our first ride of the year will be the annual fall ride on the Withlacoochee State Trail in Inverness, Florida. 

Inverness.  A quiet small town of 7000 or so in northeast central Florida.  It was settled in the 1860s.  A century later Elvis Presley visited to make the film "Follow That Dream."  That's about it for highlights of town history.  The historic downtown area centers on the county courthouse and an assortment of attractive historic buildings.  The Withlacoochee State Trail runs just behind the courthouse.  There are picturesque water views nearby (in pretty much any direction).  Think sleepy southern town with tons of oaks and pines dripping heavily with Spanish moss.

The Withlacoochee State Trail is a paved, 46-mile long former railroad corridor.  It has a popular annual bike ride, usually scheduled for the first Sunday in October. Riders can travel as little as one mile to as much as 100 miles along the Trail, which is mostly flat with gentle hills. Registration proceeds help provide enhancements to the Trail.

Sag stops along the way will provide water, sports drinks and food.  The fun of this ride is the food.  There are the usual things: bananas, orange wedges, peanut butter, and bagels.  But there are more fun stuff than at other rides.  Interesting sweets!  Neat special cookie treats.  Everything from the light continental breakfast, to the sag stops, to the light post ride lunch is provided by the Trail support group in a enthusiastic way.

Visit railstotrailsonline.com for the link "Bike Ride in October."  There is no mass start.  This is a fabulous beginning of season ride for riders of all types and interests.  It is very family friendly.  (We were also told about a good ride on this trail in March.  Check out  http://www.cleanairride.com/ .)

The Bike Season Starts

We focus on bicycle riding during Florida's cooler months, mid-September through mid-April.  We enjoy bike touring.  If we are touring independently, tours are planned to begin and end at our home.  Mostly this involves packing our gear on our bicycles and pedalling away with a route planned to bring us back to our home in a week to ten days.  We are lucky to live near (20 miles) from an Amtrak station where the train can take us places, then we can pedal home.  There are also the classic cross-state supported tours (like BRAG in Georgia) and a slew of multi-day tours which have the advantage of letting riders stay in a fixed place and ride loop routes in the area.

We have different bikes for different types of touring.  We have folding Bike Friday Llamas for touring that will include a train or a ferry.  We have folding urban bikes for casual trips (by car) to Florida cities.  We do most of our independent touring on hard tail mountain bikes.  (They are slow even with pavement tires, but they go anywhere on any surface.  We once had a memorable 10 miles on a backroad that was supposed to be hard-packed sand but in reality varied from hard-packed washboard to loose sand.  They are the trusty little pack ponies of our bike stable.)  For supported touring we use our regular road bikes.

This year we will be doing touring events.  Part of the decision to do touring events rather than independent touring is the our new road bikes.  They are fabulous road bikes, but not designed to carry luggage.  Since I really, really want to ride them alot, we'll do events this year and save the independent touring to next year when the excitement of the new road bikes has toned down.  We are planning doing one or two events per month.  This will give us plenty of time to ride in our local area.  This also is a good schedule for our cat, Lucy, who can stay at home in our absence rather than face the prospect of days in a cage with strangers while we are gone having fun. 

We initially prepare for touring with regular 30-mile rides locally.  We have a few restaurants 20-25 miles from home that make convenient destinations for longer rides.  The hardest thing to train for is hills.  We have several nice grades, one fairly steep if short, within 10 miles of home.  We used to live in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and these are little baby hills compared to those climbs.  But it is all we have.  Luckily since Florida "mountains" are often bridges and the like, they work for us.