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 Jupiña 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.