Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jupiter in June

We had a true treat this past weekend. A fun weekend of riding with friends. The focus was on fun. Not miles. Not speed. Not training. Fun. 

Juno Pier (Photo by Larry Morat)
Less than a two hour drive north up the coast from Miami is the small coastal city of Jupiter. Al and I packed our bikes on the car and headed up to Jupiter Friday afternoon. We arrived a few hours before the rest of the group. We loved the location. The hotel was right on the intercoastal waterway. And on a fabulous paved recreational trail that we'd heard about but never seen.

Everyone gathered at breakfast in the hotel's lobby Saturday morning. Outside the sky was a bright clear blue. There was a light breeze. The forecast was for a hot and humid day. Our plan was to head north to Hobe Sound, make a turn around, ride south to Ocean Reef Park, turn around and head north to Juno Pier, then continue on to our hotel. At a bit after 7:30 it was pedals up, and we were off. There were about a dozen of us.

Juno Pier
Gawking at the fish under Juno Pier.
Pedal, pedal, pedal. What a great route! Traffic was light. There was a wide bike lane. The views of the intercoastal waterway and later the beaches were superb. Was it hot? Of course. It's summer in Florida. But this route had a fair amount of canopy and shade. There were beach parks with covered shelters at the turn-around points. And a Publix grocery store for air conditioning, cold water, and a mid-ride treat. (A fellow rider shared cold cubes of crisp watermelon with everyone. Delicious.)

Pedal, pedal, pedal. We pulled into Ocean Reef Park. A group was grilling something mouthwatering in a covered picnic area. We pulled into the shade of the trees near the boardwalk to the beach and mingled and chatted in the cool shade. Then it was off down the road again.

Part of the group on Juno Pier
Pedal, pedal, pedal. We pulled up to the Juno Pier. Part of the group gathered in a shaded area near the street to sort out a mechanical. The rest of the group headed out onto the pier to enjoy the views and the ocean breeze.

The paved path (Riverwalk)
Back on our bikes, it was a short ride to Riverwalk, the paved recreational path that ran back to our hotel. We headed to our rooms and cleaned up, then met back up for a great lunch at The Dune Dog. After lunch the group scattered, some to the pool, some to the beach, some to rooms for a nap. That evening we walked down Riverwalk, crossing the intercoastal, wandering through a yacht club then on to a nearby restaurant. Good company. Good food. Good conversation.

Sunday was a easy pedal before everyone parted ways. We rode through Jupiter and Tequesta, touching the borders of adjacent cities. Midway we made a stop at the Jupiter Donut Factory (Hours: "6:00 am until sold out".) It was definitely worth the stop. Then we continued our ride through the residential areas, down the beaches, and back to our hotel.

Al and I were heading home. Others were hitting the beach and the pool.

It was a perfect summer day.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saying Goodbye to the Hills

Day 6 of BRAG. The last day of BRAG. We rolled our bikes through the lobby of our hotel, turned on our bikes' lights, and pedaled off to today's route. Because it was the last day, we could ride as hard as we wanted. We planned to be among the first riders finishing today. That would give us plenty of time at BRAG HQ to clean up and change clothes, pack the car, chat some, and be among the first in line for the post-ride meal. We were really looking forward to the post-ride feast: Sprayberry's barbecue, one of our favorites (pulled pork and Brunswick stew).

We cruised down the road by ourselves, rotating pulls every 5 miles. We slowed for conversation with other riders occasionally, but then we'd resume our pace. A quarter way through the route, a group passed us. We'd talked with them on previous days. We hooked onto their train, and we were off! The road surface was "shake and bake," an old chipseal road, patched and cracked and rough. One of the guys started complaining that his hands were going numb. But that didn't slow the pace. We chased down and passed group after group. We finally parted ways with the speedy group at a rest stop. It had been great, great fun.

There were large horse farms along the route. As we passed the hillside pastures, the horses would often gather and run, seeming to dare us to race with them. But from time to time, one or two horses would come to the fence by the road, mugging and begging for treats and attention. (Unfortunately, we didn't have any appropriate treats on us, so we rode on.)

On the final leg of the ride, we really got into playing. Al loves to climb, so he would leave me behind and speed to the crest of each hill. I love descending, so I would crest each hill, pedal a bit, get aero, pass him, and whoosh downhill as fast and as far as I could manage.

Finally we pulled into BRAG HQ in Newnan. We were at the end of the ride. A short but fun day. 52.2 miles, 1854 feet of climbing. (And for our whole week of BRAG which included two lazy days? 289.1 miles, 10,909 feet of climbing.)

We got in the car and drove a few hours towards Miami. Talking most of the way about where and when we'd play in hills again.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Good, The Bad, and the Weird

Day 5 of BRAG. The ride today was up and down hills circling West Point Lake. There was a 66 mile, 44 mile, and 17 mile option.

We are staying in a hotel about 6 miles from BRAG HQ. There are a good number of riders here. But there are also a considerable number of young professional Koreans. The hotel breakfast area provided traditional American and traditional Korean breakfast fare. Why? Well, just south of LaGrange is KIA Motors only US assembly plant. The area is also home to scads of KIA suppliers.

We started the day down in the breakfast area. While we ate and sipped coffee, a fellow rider from Macon, Georgia, entertained us with the story of his accidental century. It seems that yesterday he had a flat tire. Just as he was starting to fix it, a SAG vehicle pulled up and took over. They had the tire changed in no time, and he thanked them profusely. "I can't believe my bad luck in having a flat so close to the end of the day's ride. I am really tired and ready to get to camp," he told them. The guys from the SAG looked at each other, shook their heads, and started laughing. "Mister, you are 40 miles from camp. You must have taken a wrong turn somewhere today!" We all winced when we heard that, but the guy from Macon just started laughing. He had a very infectious laugh. "Come on," he said. "I will never forget my first century!"

We left the breakfast crowd, got our bikes, and headed out. We pedaled over to BRAG HQ and started the day's route. Under 10 miles later we pulled over. "How many miles today?" Al asked. We talked it over. Turned out neither of us was in the mood for a long ride. We were in the mood to have some fun other than pedaling up and down hills, as much fun as that would be. It turned out we were near a cut-off for the short 17-mile route. Perfect. We headed to it and pedaled that route to its end at BRAG HQ.

We pedaled off to explore LaGrange. It is a beautiful city. Lots of mansions, Corinthian columns of all sizes. OK, we had seen the Good.

Next we pedaled through some suburban style areas. Chain this and chain that. Strip malls and enclosed malls. OK, we had seen the Bad.

Next we were off to neighborhoods of small, older homes. Some freshly painted. Some shabby. Well-used front porches. Some porches were decorated with care. Others were an assemblage of found objects and second-hand chairs of all colors, styles, and types (old kitchen chairs, a recliner or two, desk chairs, you name it.) Quirky gardens. Front yards with vegetable patches. OK, now we'd found the Weird. And it was charming.

We made it back to our hotel just as the skies darken and the rain began. Sometimes you make a choice, and you get lucky. (Day's total: 28.5 miles, 1022 feet of climbing)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Who Wants to Jump in the Lake?

Day 4 of BRAG. The route went south from Newnan to LaGrange. It had a curious beginning and a interesting end.

People have different ways to add miles to the basic route. Some ride extra miles before and after. Some make U-turns while on the route and ride segments more than once. BRAG adds optional "Hammerhead" routes that branch from the basic route and return to the route. Today there was a confluence of all these in the first quarter of the ride. It made for an odd visual. Riders were heading in both directions on the road in places.

We were wearing our Everglades Bicycle Club orange retro jerseys. There was one other EBC member at BRAG, Bill Detzner, but we hadn't spotted him up to now. Today with the loopy beginning it seemed like a good time to see him. And we did! We were heading down the road in one direction when we saw Bill waving as he was pedaling down the road in the other direction. He was wearing the orange EBC jersey, too.

Near the end of the ride there was a treat. The last rest stop was just 5 miles from the end point at LaGrange College. We rolled into Yellow Jacket Creek Recreation Area and pedaled back to the beach. There was the usual snacks, water, and sports drink. But there was also the beach. Riders took off their helmets and gloves, emptied their jersey pockets, slipped off their shoe---and jumped into the water for a quick cool-down swim! We resisted the urge to join them. But we chatted with some of our wet companions as they got themselves together for the last few miles. Can we say, "Squishy padded bike shorts?" But nobody cared. Everybody was refreshed and happy.

We ended the day with 61.3 miles and 2280 feet of climbing. Just about right for two flatlanders from Miami.
An old theater re-purposed as Hogansville City Hall

Gorgeous park in the center of downtown LaGrange

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Living Lazy

BRAG day 3. Today's rides were loops around Newnan, strangely called "zombie loops" on the map and cue sheets. Go figure. They did film The Walking Dead here in the Newnan area so maybe that's what they're talking about. Pedaling past the locations of the shoots. There was a century loop, a metric loop, and a 38 mile loop.

We didn't paying attention to the BRAG schedule. For us, this was a rest day. We did an easy recovery ride of 20.8 miles with just 685 feet of climbing. We meandered through Newnan, past BRAG HQ (with it's party music blaring), and wandered down a rural road or two enjoying the wildflowers and random, quirky rural tableaus. We weren't the only riders doing this. We passed a guy who had added a trailer to his road bike, a bike trailer with two adorable preschool girls inside. They were smiling and waving to everyone, definitely enjoying this outing with their cycling father. And then there were the two guys riding their bikes at a leisurely pace followed by a SUV with two women and a bunch of kids, a full bike rack of kiddie bikes on the back of the SUV.

Back at HQ, there are all manner of activities going on. YOGA, games, get togethers, and all the usual party fare. We favor the quiet life. Today is rest day.

Another nap sounds good.
Summer means daylilies.
These lined the roads in the hundreds. 
Elegant Queen Anne's Lace

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Tandem, A Big Family on Wheels, and Lots of Hills

BRAG day 2. We headed back to Newnan on a different route from yesterday. At the end of the day we would have a bit over 63 miles and 2588 feet of climbing. Remember just yesterday I said the climbs were long but gentle? Today they upped the game. The climbs were way longer. The grades were steeper. And they added in a bunch of short but catch-your-attention steeper grades, get this, in the middle of long, long climbs. But the downhill runs were frequent and long. Delightful.

Today our strategy was to keep at the front of the group. There are a lot of riders on BRAG, and uphills get crowded as the faster and stronger move up past the slower riders. There are always some who can't keep going and panic, or shift wrong and drop their chain, or have some other catastrophe. So we get on the road before the masses. And we set a pace that means we'll stay out front. It also means we're not out on the route during the hot part of the day. The downside is that the first couple of rest stops are usually just starting to get set up, but we count on the generosity of the volunteers to get our water bottles filled and to grab a snack or two.

It was impossible not to like these two guys on their tandem.
Today we had some interesting company on the road. There was a tandem with two guys our age. They were having a great old time, and we swapped quips each time we passed each other. We passed them on every uphill. They rocketed by us on every downhill.

Then there was the family of 10, led by the grandfather. His son was the sweep. The son also was pulling a trail-a-bike with a kid of 6 or 7 riding on it. Between these two were the rest of the family, a couple adults, a few teenagers, and a few younger kids. Our favorite was a boy of maybe 12 who was a definite keeper. He had attitude, and he had determination.

We had to ride a highway to cross the Chattahoochee River. But that was just fine. The downhill into the valley to the river was lovely, and the uphill out of the valley was equally entertaining.
The lovely Chattahoochee River.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Chasing Al from Newnan to Carrollton

Day 1 of BRAG. We were at BRAG HQ before dawn. We were leaving our car there for the week. We were also dropping our luggage off with the luggage service that would shuttle it to each of our hotels during the week. As we packed our bikes and locked the car, we watched the flow of blinking bike lights start down the route.

Soon we were on the road, too. We rode along with some guys from Atlanta for a while who entertained us with talk of the ride from Atlanta to Alabama on the Silver Comet Trail and their plans for a ride in North Carolina. Later we met a big guy from Atlanta who was riding a vintage 80s Bianchi. It was one beautiful bike, restored with great care and attention to detail. We ended up seeing a lot of him. We'd leave him behind on a long climb, but he'd catch up on long descents. It went like that from the half-way point to the end of the day. It was a fun game, and all three of us enjoyed it.

The climbs were long. Traffic was scarce.
The rolling hills were excellent. Because we don't do hills regularly, we decided against any extra miles other than those we'd rack up riding to our hotel. So we did 63 miles. The amount of climbing today (2503 feet) was very close to the amount (2751) that we did in the Horrible Hundred in Clermont, Florida. The difference was the gentler slope to the climbs. Longer, true, but gentler. Which made for an interesting ride, but a ride that could be ridden and enjoyed by someone from the flatland of Miami.

The weather today did give us a brief scare. We saw ugly clouds gathering just ahead. But they were moving fast and headed into North Georgia, leaving us dry.

The rain clouds that gave us a scare, then went away.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Playing Tourist in Newnan

An example of an antebellum home in Newnan
BRAG offered unsupported "warm-up" rides on Sunday. Roads are marked. Cue sheets and maps are available. But there are no rest stops with snacks and water. (Not really a problem since the cue sheets show where convenience stores were on the route.) Riders were scarce. Some we talked to had just finished long drives to reach Newnan and just wanted to take the day as a rest day. (One guy had driven 22 hours from Brooklyn, New York.)

We watched riders heading out. Then headed out ourselves. We weren't going to follow the BRAG route. We were going to play tourist, pedal around town, gawk at the antebellum mansions, and read historical markers about the Civil War history of Newnan. Newnan was the site of a number of hospitals for the wounded during the Civil War and, as a result, was spared destruction from the Union army as it swept through Georgia.

It was a short day for us on the bikes, but a pleasant way to make the transition to the rolling hills of the Piedmont. We went everywhere around town and BRAG HQ, and there was not one flat stretch of road. It didn't take too many miles to begin to get back into the rhythm of riding hills.

We returned to BRAG HQ, picked up wristbands and bike IDs, cue sheets, and (of course) the ride t-shirt. We looked at the riders setting up their camping gear in the gym and out on the playing fields of the high school. Then we popped our bikes on the car and drove to our hotel.

A civil war monument in front of a building that served as a hospital for Confederate wounded during the war.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

On the Road to BRAG

BRAG is the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia, a week-long supported bicycle tour.

Touring is simple. You have a route, a cue sheet, and a destination (your evening's lodging). On supported tours, rest stops are provided every 15-20 miles. You can be speedy, slow, or in between. You've got all day to get to your destination.

Many years ago we did our very first BRAG. On fat tire bikes. Our longest ride up to then had been under 40 miles. We were a bit apprehensive, but figured, "Hey, what's the worst that could happen?" A week and a lot of miles later we arrived back home. Very tired. And totally hooked on bicycle touring. We were pretty much the slowest riders on the road, but we pedaled the complete route, talked with lots of interesting people, and enjoyed some pretty impressive scenery. All the physical activity felt amazing. Bicycle touring became the yardstick against which other travel was measured.

These days we live in Florida. South Florida. Flat South Florida. We will be riding with BRAG in the Georgia Piedmont region, an area of low hills and narrow valleys. Our cue sheets for the week promise some entertaining terrain. The scenery will be pretty nice, too.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Urban Living: May

At the beginning of May we started using the bikes for errands. The first week we dabbled. Short runs out for coffee. Quick errands to a local bike shop or things like that. We found we liked it.

By the end of May our range for meals, coffee, and errands expanded to 5 to 10 miles from home (round trip 10 to 20 miles.) We don't rush. Our speed is maybe 10 to 14 mph. At that speed, traffic is not a particular problem. If a car seems in a hurry, we pull over and wave him by.

The only problem I had was actually an opportunity. I needed a way to carry things I bought on these errands a bit more stylishly than in a basic drawstring backpack. An opportunity to shop for a new purse! (Okay, I admit Al thinks a drawstring backpack is just fine. Poor thing.)

Is that great or what?