Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Everglades Birthday Ride

A Tom Burton birthday selfie with
the Visitor Center's Florida panther sculpture 

Tom Burton is a man who has learned the secret of enjoying a birthday. Do something you love.

Tom is soft spoken, genial, and a gentleman of the first order. Tom loves long rides, and he loves the ride to Flamingo in Everglades National Park. How to celebrate your 70th birthday? Invite your Everglades Bicycle Club friends to a long ride through the Everglades. He even had a plan to allow each rider to pick his ride length. Park in Ernest Coe Visitor Center and ride about 80 miles or park anywhere farther along the road to Flamingo for a shorter ride.

Beginning the ride to Flamingo (photo by David Fernandez)
David and Lissette Fernandez offered to be the ride's SAG. A SAG is important in the Everglades. The road to Flamingo is beautiful, but there are no facilities or places to replenish water along the route. Large chests of ice, water, cold soda and snacks were in the back of their their large vehicle. Riders liberally applied insect repellent before starting out. Buzzing clouds of bloodthirsty Everglades mosquitoes are a legendary part of the Everglades experience during the summer months. It was a nice size group that wheeled down the road. The skies were blue with light wisps of clouds. While it was warm and humid and the beginning of South Florida's rainy season, the beginning of the day was as perfect a summer day as you could order.

Different speed groups coalesced. Some took it fast. Some kept mellow and just enjoyed the scenery at a more modest pace. There is a 17-mile stretch of raggedy pavement at the beginning, and the SAG vehicle had parked right at the point where the smooth pavement began. A nice place to give the undercarriage a well-deserved rest while munching a snack and sipping a cold soda. Then it was pedals up and we headed down the road again. A second impromptu stop was at Paurotis Pond. No SAG, just the amazing sound of hundreds of nesting wood storks in the mangroves across the pond and glimpses of roseate spoonbills, herons, and egrets. Then it was off again for the final leg of the ride to Flamingo.

As we approached Flamingo we waved to some riders in their bright orange Everglades Bicycle Club jerseys who were already heading back. At Flamingo, a group of riders was relaxing in the shade of a tree next to the SAG vehicle. We chatted with them as we refilled our water bottles. While Tom and some others were having lunch before heading back, these riders were heading back before lunch. We wanted to stay for lunch, but we weren't feeling at peak. A shorter day would be a sensible choice for Al and me. So after pictures and more chatting, our new group waved goodbye and headed back. Serious rain clouds were forming, but we wheeled down the sometimes wet road with only sprinkles falling on us.

Only later did we see the Facebook post that told us of the ride back for Tom. While we skirted the rains, it was a monsoon for those who stayed for lunch. David Fernandez in the SAG took the quintessential picture of Tom, rolling relentlessly down the road on his 29er in the pouring rain.

Adventure and challenge reside not out in the world but between your ears. Tom is the kind of guy that understands this. Flamingo was a ride Tom had made many, many times before. But never as a 70th birthday ride. And what better way to celebrate a 70th birthday than the challenge of completing the ride no matter what the weather gods threw at you. That is an adventure.

Gentlemen, take note. This is the sense of adventure women find so appealing and attractive. It's not the years, it's the attitude...

Heading back (photo by David Fernandez)