Sunday, September 29, 2013

If at first you don't succeed, find out if the loser gets anything. (Bill Lyon)

It's Sunday, and Sunday is the group ride to Hollywood.

We were up and on the road to Miami City Hall before dawn. The humidity was way down. It was going to be a great day for a ride.

There were about 30 riders gathered. We rode out right on time, pedaling quickly up Bayshore Drive to South Miami Avenue, then winding our way through downtown Miami, over the Venetian Causeway to Miami Beach. We picked up riders from Miami Beach as we passed through. The temperature was pleasant, the wind light. We pedaled through a light rain for a while, but that soon ended and our pedaling provided the wind to dry our riding clothes.

Soon we were at Georgio's, picking out our pastries, ordering our coffees, and taking a moment to chat. Then we were back on the road. Sensibly, the faster riders headed home first, free to stretch their legs. The slower 17-19 mph group (with help from a group of stronger riders) headed out next. Riders left along the route through Miami Beach. Soon we were back winding our way over the Venetian Causeway and through downtown. We crossed the route of the Escape to Miami Triathlon. Al and I peeled off as the group rode down SE 2nd Avenue and we turned towards home on SW 7th Street.

It was a good ride. We will miss next week's ride to Hollywood. We'll be heading up to an annual ride sponsored by the Friends of the Withlacoochee State Trail in Inverness, Florida. Normally we do metric centuries. Next week we may push that up to a full century. May. We're riding 750 miles a month now. It's time to raise the bar.

We'll see how it goes.

A Tour of Coral Gables

I love being a bicycle tourist.

Once a month the Everglades Bicycle Club has a Saturday Spice Ride. A Spice Ride is a leader-led ride that is different from the usual Saturday offerings. A different route. A different length. A different destination. September's Spice Ride was a chance to be a bicycle tourist right here in Miami. It was a tour of Coral Gables.

We rolled the bikes to the elevator, out the lobby, turned on our lights, and headed to Miami City Hall. The sun was just breaking over the horizon when we arrived at City Hall. A large group of riders was gathering. After a quick review of the rules of the road on EBC group rides, we were off. This was not going to be a speed ride. We were off to see the architecture of Coral Gables and to hear about the city's history.

The man in who put together the route and who would be today's tour guide was EBC member Gerry Garcia. We pedaled to the Old Spanish Village Arch. Here he talked about Coral Gables being one of the first planned communities, developed by George Merrick during the real estate boom of the 1920s. This was the start of several hours of pleasant pedaling through the city. While Greg Garcia was the one talking most of the time, others on the ride shared their knowledge as well. As I stood over my bike listening to them, I realized how special this was. The people sharing their memories or just fun facts about places we visited weren't strangers like the guides I was used to on trips to far away cities. These were people I knew through EBC.

We visited the architecturally themed villages. Merrick had planned twice as many villages, but the devastating
Gerry Garcia was our tour guide to Coral Gables.
hurricane of 1926, the implosion of the real estate market and economic crash of the Depression ended Merrick's plans. I'd seen the homes of these villages, but until now didn't know their interesting history. My favorites were the Chinese and Dutch South African. We visited the Municipal Building. (Now I know the real story of the firemen sculptures. Until now I was focused on the giant red rabbit sculptures out front. Who knew this building had been over the years, a firehouse, city offices and a jail?) We saw Coral Gables City Hall, Merrick House, an unusual cemetery, the Biltmore Hotel. and the original site of the University of Miami. We visited a school that was built as part of a land swap deal with Merrick back in the 1920, and we heard how the adjacent property was the planned Trolley Garage, a result of a similar modern day land swap deal. We pedaled past the Venetian Pool, a spot some riders were planning to visit.

The group headed back towards Miami City Hall, part of the riders pedaling off to a spot for lunch, others pedaling to their cars and homes. I'd had a grand time. I'd talked to new people and learned a lot about Coral Gables. The riding had been organized but relaxed.

I love being a bicycle tourist.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cover me, I’m changing lanes. (M.I.A., Bad Girls)

The bikes we use for touring are going to the bike shop for their tune-up next week. Our ride and travel calendar is filled for the next few months. Harbingers of summer's end in Florida.
The lighthouse at Cape Florida State Park.

Summer may be waning, but it hasn't ended yet. We still have a couple more weeks to get ourselves in shape for this year's rides. This week we're working harder than usual. Out on the Rickenbacker, of course. There's no upper age limit on getting stronger or improving endurance. But you need to work longer at it and gains come slower. So we pedal our daily route, a little faster than we were last month, gradually getting a little stronger.

Riding with a group has forced me to work harder at monitoring my energy levels. I used to have a working battery gauge. Somewhere, a few years back, I realized that mine had become totally unreliable. I needed to find a physical cue that would help me. A cue that would to tell me when my battery needed a charge. This week I finally found a cue that works for me. I saw some small differences in my visual skills. It was like playing a video game and loosing just a smidgen of focus. Not enough to be an immediate problem, but enough to be noticeable and a reliable indicator. If I ate something (half an orange slice candy, or about 25 calories), my visual skills popped back up to normal. So, now I know when to eat something on the bike.

I always knew playing video games was a good use of my time...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

2013 Tour de Redland: Sunday, Sunshine, and Cycling

A bicycle tour on open rural roads. Nice. On Sunday, free for Everglades Bicycle Club members, and right in Miami-Dade? Excellent!

We packed our bikes on the car and drove to Larry and Penny Thompson Park near Zoo Miami. We arrived just as a colorful dawn was spreading across the sky. Unpacking our bikes, we geared up and pedalled towards the start at the park entrance, hoping to spot people we knew. We moved through the crowd, getting a few minutes of socializing with friends, taking some pictures, and signing in.

The Everglades Bicycle Club had put together the inaugural Tour de Redland. EBC board member Greg Neville welcomed the sea of cyclists then waved a ceremonial flag to start the ride. The mass of cyclists moved out. Unlike mass starts at other events we attend around the state (which shall remain nameless), this start was delightfully polite and controlled. There were plenty of strong, fit, and fast riders, but there was no mad, thundering, push down the road. Groups formed, pace lines took shape, and the groups moved smoothly around each other as the faster groups sped on and slower groups found their comfortable riding speed. Al and I were doing the 55 mile route. We had looked unsuccessfully for our regular Sunday ride group. Happily, before the start we found two riders we knew from our Saturday EBC rides and hooked up with them.

The first leg of the ride was about 26 miles into the wind to the Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center at Everglades National Park. We joined a group shortly after the start, a double pace line formed, and we pedalled happily along. A gap formed and the group split. But in no time a new pack and pace line formed. The day was sunny. The traffic was sparse. And while rural agricultural roads are legendary for their bumps and washboard, these roads were very good for their type. Besides, who can whine about a patch of rough road when you can ride, and ride, and ride without a traffic light or stop sign?

We rolled into Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center and found a place to park our bikes amid the sea of bikes. We broke out our snacks, made use of the rest rooms, refilled water bottles, stretched, and socialized. I couldn't help smiling about how nice it was to be able to visit a National Park's Visitor Center on a local bike tour. Everglades National Park is a very special place.

Soon our group began to gather with their bikes. Pedals up for the ride back. A large group of riders was heading out. Once we rode with them a few miles, I signaled Al that the pace was a bit too fast. (Maybe next year.) In just a few minutes we were part of another pack that was doing a slightly slower pace, a pace that I could handle. The group had an amazing guy leading. He was strong, consistent, disciplined, and shepherded the pack through intersections with skill. The pace line was smooth. Riders communicated well. It was a pleasure to pedal down the road with this group. I was working hard, but I was having a lot of fun.

Our second rest stop was a Tom Thumb Convenience Store. Ice cream! There is nothing like ice cream to make a ride perfect. In no time Al and I were munching down giant ice cream sandwiches. The convenience store was taking the money in as fast as they could while riders bought their treats and bottles of ice cold water. Some riders like us had a chance to thank the riders that were doing the pulling before we were off down the road again for the final few miles to Larry and Penny Thompson Park where our cars were parked.

A nice long Sunday morning ride in the sunshine is always nice. Throw in lots and lots of friendly lycra-clad cyclists, and you have the recipe for happiness.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I’m gonna go read a book with pictures. (The Cabin In The Woods)

It was a week for savoring. Three days a week we ride the Rickenbacker. Which means three days a week we do the William Powell Bridge (AKA, Happy Hill). It's not a climb that would put fear in the hearts of those who ride in places with real mountains, but for Miami, it is about as big a "mountain" as we have. Crossing it is fun.

Since like forever, the common truth is that Al climbs better than me and I descend better than him. Over the past year he's has worked on his descents. He was gradually getting better. That caught my attention. He was changing the dynamics of our hill riding! The only chance I had was to get better on the climbs. I made some changes, and this week I finally started having some success. OK, he still passed me going up. But I managed to hang with him all the way to the top. And I had to use my brakes on the descent since I didn't want to pass him. (Note to self: Do not gloat about beating your riding companion over the hill when he can smoke you on the flats. A riding companion can be amazingly punitive about such indiscretions.)

We logged our miles for the week. Tomorrow is a rest day. Time to spend some time with a good book.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Being soaked alone is cold. Being soaked with your friends is an adventure.

We had an adventure.

It's Sunday. And Sunday is the group ride to Hollywood. We rolled the bikes out to the elevators right on time. Outside on the street, we turned on our headlights and tail lights and set off for City Hall. It was light by the time we rolled into the City Hall parking lot. The weather looked dandy. More and more people arrived. By the time we were to start down the road, we had about 45 riders. A very respectable turnout.

We formed a double paceline and headed north. The ride through downtown Miami, across the Venetian Causeway and north through Miami Beach was delightful. The group stayed together at a nice speed, about 19 mph on my speedo, which let us have some pleasant conversation along with the pedalling. As we got further north, however, we saw dark clouds ahead. We'd gone over some wet pavement, but so far had not encountered rain. That changed. A bright flash of lightning and a loud clap of thunder caught our attention. Al and I were riding near the end of the paceline. Several of the riders ahead of us began an animated discussion. They slowed, waving the riders behind them to pass. I watched in my mirror as they dropped back and peeled away.

It began to drizzle, then pour. The lead riders turned us into the spacious portico of one of the nicer nearby high rise condominiums. We waited there 5 or 10 minutes, then headed out again. It was raining, but not as heavily. Our destination and turnaround spot, Georgio's, was only a few miles ahead. We arrived there, parked our soggy bikes, and went inside for our break time goodies.

Al and I gathered in Georgio's parking lot with a fair size group and headed off down the road, our understanding being that the rest of the riders were following. After a bit, it became apparent that the other part of the group was not on the road behind us. We pulled off and waited. And waited. Finally, the consensus was just to keep going. We got back on the road. The weather was looking pretty nice at this point. Sunshine, even. The pavement was drying. We rolled along happily towards the Venetian Causeway. But before we got there, the rain began again. It was a steady rain, but not torrential. That was to change as we headed towards downtown Miami.

We'd passed over the Venetian Causeway and were pointed towards downtown when the rain ramped up. By the time we were in downtown, the rain was torrential. Up one street, down another, zipping under the highway and metrorail overpasses. I got into a rhythm for tilting my helmet to pour the accumulating water off to one side or the other. Sometimes I missed, and it poured down my face instead. We bumped and skittered over railroad tracks. We turned onto SW 2nd Avenue. As we crossed the bridge over the Miami River, Al and I passed the group, waving and shouting goodbye as we turned towards home. We hopped onto the sidewalk to get one block east to the entrance side of our building. The road had flooded and passing cars sent waves of water lapping over the sidewalk and us.

We rolled our bikes through the lobby towards the elevators. We were leaving copious amounts of water on the floor as we passed. Someone held a door open for us. He was laughing. The lobby staff shook their heads and smiled. We were smiling, too.

We were soaked, but it had been a great ride.

An adventure.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

When Water Bottles Suck

We got in a lot of good rides this week. A couple were damp. We made top speed on one as we raced to finish before the rain caught us. Mainly, though, this week has been me experimenting with water bottles.

My right thumb is wonky. They gave me a brace thing to keep me from tearing it up, but, for now, I'm learning to do things without stressing it too much. I've figured out how to shift, brake, steer, and use a variety of hand positions without over loading it. But grabbing a water bottle? It's not happening.

When I couldn't master the water bottle using by left hand, it was time to move on to other solutions. The simplest solution? Use a CamelBak for hydration.

I tried Al's CamelBak first. Only those who have used a backpack on a bike know the exquisite lumbar pain you get when the weight isn't correctly positioned. I adjusted everything that could be adjusted, but Al's old pack just wouldn't work. Next I pulled out my old fall-back, an ancient Patagonia messenger pack with a wide cross body strap and stabilizing waist straps. It can hold a 3 liter bladder, and the tube fits nicely through the slots designed for an earphone cord. All I had to do to make it work was add a hanger inside for the bladder's clip. It held the weight of the liquid right where it needed to be for comfort. A working solution that I could live with!
A few years ago when water skiing was what we did, I got a new ski. I was over-the-moon happy with it. It only took a tiny twitch to make it go flying off to where ever you pointed it. Problem was, I couldn't ski on it. I'd blow the starts. I'd crash when I was close to being up. I'd get up, think I was home free, then crash. Over and over and over again. After drinking half the lake one morning, I had a hissy fit. I was in the middle of the lake, crying, practicing colorful language, slapping the ski silly with a free hand, loudly proclaiming that I'd never be able to ski again, and generally acting like a complete fool. Al never said a word. He just slowly circled me in the boat, watching me with his "look." When I finally calmed down some, the only thing he said was, "Ready to try again?"

This is why I do stuff with him. He tells me what I need to do. Then he waits for me to figure out how to do it. In the meantime, he gets to use his patented "look," which keeps me on track and never fails to make me smile.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Ticket To Hollywood

We wanna go to Hollywood.

For those unfamiliar with the Miami area, Hollywood is a beach town just north of Miami. A nice distance for a ride. We've found groups that ride that way on Sundays. But these are fast groups. We do distance, but we're still working on riding faster. We thought we'd be doing it on our own for at least a year.

This week we saw a post from Greg on the Everglades Bicycle Club Facebook group. He proposed a Sunday ride to Hollywood for the slower crowd. A 17-19 mph, no drop group ride. It would be a chance to ride in an organized double pace line, which we've learned is fun. Many FB posts followed. How committed would the ride be to 17-19 mph and no-drop? The more posts we saw, the more it looked like the real thing. With the slower speed and no drop format it could have a chance of gaining a regular following. That would make it a reliable ride for Sunday. A Sunday ride the length we like at a pace we can do. Is EBC a great club or what? And Greg? He's the best as far as I'm concerned.

While we'd set a one-a-week limit on EBC group rides, we decided to make weekends for EBC group rides if this ride took off. After all (as the saying goes) what's the point of having a mind if you don't change it occasionally? We posted that we were in.
Taking pictures before the ride. It's a perfect day.

The Saturday group ride had been a washout. Sunday was beautiful. At 7:30 sharp the group pedaled away from City Hall. The group formed a nice double pace line, and we got to take our turn at pulling. Excellent.

The destination was Georgio's Bakery and Bistro in Hollywood. Coffee and pastry. No long stop for a full breakfast. Then back on the road. The ride home was blessed with a tailwind. The speed crept up some. By the time we were hitting the Venetian Causeway, I was beginning to lose my umph. When I saw that another rider was also loosing the group, I hitched up, knowing that Al would see us being dropped and come back to us. That would make a little pack of unhitched riders, and the pack would wait for us somewhere ahead. Which they did, and we all proceed back through downtown.

We left the group as it rode by our condo in Brickell. It had been a great ride. Hope we get to do it again next week.

We wanna go to Hollywood!

Mugging for Greg's camera while waiting for a bridge to lower. (from Facebook post by Greg)

The group at Georgio's in Hollywood. (from Facebook post by Greg)
At Georgio's in Hollywood. (from Facebook post by Greg)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Cycling As A Water Sport

The weatherman said there was a 20 percent chance of rain but not until the early afternoon. Radar seemed to back that forecast up, so we rolled the bikes to the elevator. Our Saturday Everglades Bicycle Club group ride was on!

It was a pleasant ride down to the ride start at Miami City Hall. Wandering over to the water's edge for a picture, I thought it looked like rain just northwest of downtown. But, hey, that's miles north of City Hall, and the ride goes south. So, no worries, I got back to the group. And off we pedaled.

There was a bit of confusion a mile or so from City Hall when we had to divert to the sidewalk because a couple of police cars had closed off a half block of road. It's a strip used by cycling groups going both north and south. Manners varied, but the groups managed to move along past the blockage. Soon the slow up was behind us. Off we went again, but this time there was the very beginnings of a drizzle.

Real rain began a couple of miles farther on. Our leader (Sue) pulled the group off the road to partial shelter. The rain was increasing. Sue pulled out her phone and checked radar. She held up the screen so we all could see. It was time to call an end to the ride, turn around, and head back to City Hall.

A block later, with the rain increasing to a deluge and lightning flashing, the lead riders u-turned, headed down a home's driveway, and led the group to the shelter of the home's wide front entrance. It was hilarious. Here were 20-some people and bikes huddled under the wide eaves of a total stranger's ranch home. Rather than becoming upset, the owner acknowledged our presence by graciously turning on his porch lights.

In a while, the rain seemed slower, so it was pedals up and off down the road again. There were the usual problems. Brakes were wet. Paint markers on the road were slippery. But in Miami, run-off is the real issue when it rains this hard. Water covered the road in places with whirlpools forming around drains. A car drove by going the other way, spraying riders with a huge chest-high wash of water. In several places water washed over my shoes as I pedaled down the road. And that was the shallowest area of the road. We left the group at City Hall, heading for Fresh Market Deli for a little shelter from the rain. Their outdoor tables were canopied. Al and I took turns running into the store. (We didn't linger inside long. Air conditioning really sucks when you are dripping wet.)

We felt better in a few minutes. (Chocolate does wonders.) It was still raining when we got on our bikes to ride the last five miles home.

Once again, the lobby staff laughed as we dripped though to the elevators.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My favorite poem is the one that starts 'Thirty days hath September' because it actually tells you something. (Groucho Marx)

When we moved to Miami, it took us a while to put together a number of biking routes we could use for everyday rides. Now that we've been here half a year, we've established our routes and patterns. For riding here in Miami, four days a week we go out on our road bikes. At least two rides a week are loops of the Rickenbacker. One day a week we explore Miami. We use our old favorites, bikes which started as off-road bikes but are now version 4.0 touring/city bikes. They can carry stuff, go anywhere, and have the gearing to pedal straight up a rock wall. I love those bikes.

This week we explored Pinecrest on our old bikes. It's a pleasant area to explore. We were somewhat familiar with Pinecrest since the Saturday Everglades Bicycle Club group ride routes through the area. Our meanderings took us through gated communities, a plethora of cul-de-sacs, and ended at Pinecrest Gardens. Pinecrest Gardens was one of the original Florida theme parks, Parrot Jungle, opening back in 1936. The theme park moved to Watson Island in 2003. Pinecrest Gardens (a.k.a., Parrot Jungle Historic District) is now a botanical garden, petting zoo, butterfly garden, and children's playground and splash'n'play park. And on Sunday it has a very nice farmers market. We loaded up on baked goods and dragon fruit. Labor Day weekend picnic goodies.

Labor Day dawn over Port of Miami and Virginia Key.
The nicest thing about September is that it starts with a holiday. We decided to head out on the Rickenbacker. As we swung onto the Rickenbacker, one of the prettiest sunrises in weeks was spreading across the eastern sky. By the time we did some loops and swung into Cape Florida State Park the early morning sky had taken on that peculiar shade of blue that blends into the sea at the horizon. We wheeled though Crandon Park. There were lots of baby peacocks. One young one was perched on a railing and making adorable noises. Riding past the beach, we stopped for a moment to watch two fishermen poling their boat in the shallows. It was getting hot, and we headed for home, sliding into the stream of cyclists heading west. A last ride over William Powell Bridge, a short run down South Miami Avenue, and we were home.

Thirty days in September. Last month our total bike miles was our highest ever (non-touring). The heat and humidity are notching down. September looks very, very good.
The sky and sea merge in early morning over Biscayne Bay.
Fishermen pole their boat in the shallows off Crandon Beach.