Monday, September 28, 2015

There is more to life than increasing its speed. (Mahatma Gandhi)

 We are back in Miami, doing our Miami routines. Sipping coffee on the balcony before dawn. Morning bike rides by ourselves and with friends. Watching movies. And more movies. Doing the simple daily tasks and chores that keep one's life in order. And planning and organizing for upcoming trips.

Saturday we save for the EBC (Everglades Bicycle Club) group rides. (And the 16-18 EBC ride group. Some old friends. Some new ones. Fun group. More on them in future posts.)

It sounds like a relaxing schedule. And it would be if not for smartphones that beep, buzz, and beg for attention. And pop-up notes and chimes on tablets and computer screens that enumerate the emails and messages that are piling up.

It seemed worse this week. You see, when we got to Apalachicola (our last trip) we discovered that our phones (and everyone's who was not on Verizon) had little or no coverage. Our phones just had a red "X" on the little connection symbol. At first it was annoying. How were we supposed to live without working smartphones? I was used to dealing with messages as they came in. (Sort of.) Our link to the outside world was our hotel room's Wi-Fi connection.

But after a few days, our annoyance evaporated. We had accidentally traveled back to the 90s, back to the time before smartphones and instant connection to everyone. It was bliss.

We want all our gadgets. But I want what we found in Apalachicola.

So we're learning to love airplane mode.



Friday, September 18, 2015

Apalachicola Rundown

So far on this trip we've found some pretty scenic rides. My plan to do a tour of the whole panhandle using Apalachicola as our base was a total wash. It can be done, but it is just too complicated for a relaxing trip. But Apalachicola turns out to be a gem of an area for cycling. It has rides with different moods, different scenery, and different ambiance. (Which is very important to us.)

But what has us excited about the area are the rides we haven't done yet. Rides we will do on our next trip, on road bikes. Franklin County is one of those rare Florida places that has most of its land set aside as state and national forest or wildlife refuges and the like. It is one of the least populous counties in Florida. (And likely to stay that way.) The coastal highway is scenic and reasonably bike friendly. Because the Apalachicola River and protected environmental areas run through the center of the county, roads that lead away from the coast are few, have wide paved shoulders, and almost no traffic. We can't wait to take our road bikes out on these highways.

For instance, a ride to and from the tiny crossroads hamlet of Sumatra on highway 65. Not a stop sign or slow down in 25 miles or so. Road bike heaven.

Thanks to those who messaged asking about our hotel and other details. Our hotel is the Water Street Hotel and Marina. There are also standard motels in the area (the Best Western is newly refurbished), a lovely restored historic hotel downtown, and the River Inn, an older restored riverfront motel (all rooms face the water). So why are we at the Water Street and not at one of these others or in a beach rental? Because the Water Street Hotel and Marina is new construction, not a restored older building. Because each of its apartments has a large screened balcony on the river, furnished with comfortable patio furniture. Because the units have good wireless Internet. And because we enjoy watching the boats going up and down the river and listening to the wind in the marsh reeds. It's as simple as that.

Yep, we'll be back here soon. With road bikes.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Back to St. George Island

Clouds hovered in the east. It was really windy. We checked local weather. No worries. The clouds would come and go, but rain chances were low. The wind, on the other hand, was going to be with us all day.

We did a second ride to St. George Island. A lot of the first half of the ride was straight into the wind. Al joked that perhaps the definition of a headwind was when 9.2 mph seems like a reasonable pace. We got some respite from the wind each time we wandered down a side path exploring. Half-way through our ride on the island we found a store with some amazing just from the oven muffins and scones. After a coffee and pastry break, we headed to the northern end of the road. That's where we turned around.

Tailwind!! Amazing tailwind!!! We waved to cyclists pedaling into the wind as we rolled down the road at 22-28 mph on fat tires with almost no effort. This wasn't a sprint speed. This was cruising.

It didn't take that long to get back home to the hotel.

Miles: 51.7

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Rest Day

An oyster boat heads out to the Apalachicola Bay.
Our apartment at our Apalachicola hotel has a kitchen. With a stove. And all these pots and pans and stuff. Today was a rest day. No long bike ride. We decided we had the time to cook a lovely dinner. And we could eat that dinner out on our balcony looking at the Apalachicola River.

Of course, the two of us hadn't actually cooked a meal in pots and pans on a stove in over 15 years. That's when we moved to Florida. We didn't bother moving the pots and pans to Florida. (Or buying any after moving here.) The stove in our Florida home is lovely, polished regularly but never used. Cook a shrimp dinner here in Apalachicola? How hard could it be?

So this afternoon we went to the store. Veggies? Check. Shrimp? Check. Rice? Check. Sauce fixings? Check.

Back in the kitchen, we got busy. After a little trial and error, all the parts of our dinner were ready to take to the table. (Yeah, the kitchen was a total mess.)

We carried it all out to the balcony, sat down at the table, and enjoyed the moment. We ate and watched the oyster, shrimp, and small recreational boats chug up and down the river below. We lingered over our meal. We watched the day end and night slip over the salt marsh.

Best rest day ever.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Carrabelle

The wind was blowing at a steady 20 mph from the east northeast. We were heading up the Big Bend Scenic Highway (highway 98) to Carrabelle. Which meant we had a headwind all the way there. On our slow bikes, it was hard work.
When we got to Carrabelle, we had to take a close look at the Carrabelle police station: a tiny blue phone booth standing on the corner near the center of town. (Hello, Dr. Who.)

We voted for a coffee break. We were in luck to find a small coffee shop downtown. The interior was amazing, the coffee strong (fifty cents a mug!), and the fresh baked pastries really, really good.
But the fun of the day was the ride. The ocean on one side, Tate's Hell State Forest on the other.
On the way home we had an awesome tailwind. We took a side trip down highway 65, a road that heads inland through the state forest and the Apalachicola River wildlife refuge. The coastal highway was beautiful, but the inland highway was road bike heaven. (Next trip we bring the road bikes!)
After a while we went back to the coastal highway and headed home. With that awesome tailwind all the way.
Miles: 63


Monday, September 14, 2015

Cape San Blas

Today we headed south, pedaling down highway 98, the scenic coastal highway, turning south down county road 30. Our destination was St. Joseph Peninsula State Park at the tip of Cape San Blas in neighboring Gulf County.

The ride would have been a snap on a road bike. But we were on our slow bikes so we were working a bit. This route was not as dramatically beautiful a ride as the ride out to St. George Island and the state park there. The highways skirted the huge St. Vincent 14 Mile wildlife refuge. And St. Joseph Peninsula State Park has awesome marshes, white sugar sand beaches, and a little marina with a colorful kayak rental.

Pedaling back to our hotel was "interesting". The wind had picked up considerably, and it was a headwind. Luckily, there were plenty of spots where photos just had to be taken so we had an abundance of little breaks all the way home!
Miles: 64.1

Sunday, September 13, 2015

St. George Island

Today we had a really fun ride. We pedaled north from Apalachicola across the river to Eastpoint, then took highway 300 over the long, long bridge to St. George Island.
Once on the island, we turned north at the lighthouse.
Then we just headed north until we came to the state park.
We rode into the park, following the park road. The road was empty. The scenery beautiful.

The paved park road ended at the last beach facilities and a parking lot. Our mileage at that point was 24 miles.
That's where the pavement ends. The road beyond the gate was hard pack sand with muddy low spots. Some areas were dry, but you had to watch out for areas of soft sand.
We made it to the end of the trail. We had our snack there then turned around and rode back.
We just retraced our route to get home. Leaving St. George Island we got to ride one more time on that great long, long bridge to the mainland.
We got home in time to clean up, dress up, and go out for a great creole brunch.

Pavement miles: 48. Off-road miles: 9.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Rain Day

It rained all night. It rained all morning. It rained part of the afternoon. We were taking it well: We were happy we weren't camping.

When the rain finally dwindled and stopped, we rolled the bikes out and rode around Apalachicola for a bit. It was a nice way to end a day that had us mostly in our car.

Since we couldn't bike in the pouring rain, we drove west along the coast in our car. We were curious if the positive changes we found in Apalachicola extended farther west. Port St. Joe looked good. And things were OK as we rolled into the eastern beach towns.

Then we passed Tyndall Air Force Base. Ahead of us was the bridge across Bonita Bay and the towns that formed the fringes of Panama City and Panama City Beach. And that's where it happened. The paved shoulder on the highway disappeared. Time had stood still in the Panama City area, the Black Hole of the Florida Panhandle. It was still shabby. (And not in the "shabby chic" way.) It was still the least bike friendly place in the entire state of Florida.

It was hopeless to think riding through this area would be worth our time. The roads were dangerous. The towns were butt ugly. We drove around. How can I describe it? It's Okeechobee on the beach. It's like someone scooped the worst of Alabama and moved it to the center of the Panhandle. Al suggested that it must be city code that buildings have flaking paint. We saw a group of guys hanging out on a corner in downtown Panama City. They looked like they had come down for spring break in the 70s or 80s, partied too much, and forgot their way home. So now they just hang out in PC. And then there was the cutesy tackiness. (We saw a specialty cake bakery called "Sugar Boogers." Really? Who would shop there?)

We headed back to our hotel, promising ourselves that we would give the entire Panama City area of the Panhandle a very wide berth.

And we rolled out our bikes and rode around Apalachicola. A good way to end the day.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Ooops

Rain was heading our way. We decided to create a route of 15-20 mile loops around our hotel. After each loop, we could decide if we would chance another loop. First we would head north to the other side of the Apalachicola River and visit the little town of Eastpoint. We would do a loop on back roads on the north side of the river, then head back south of Apalachicola toward Cape San Blas for a loop. We’d get a lot of nice scenery, and we could check out a couple of restaurants that interested us. So after a leisurely breakfast, we pedaled off. We took back streets to the river, then crisscrossed the downtown area. Recent years have been good to Apalachicola. The historic district has gentrified and turned into an appealing little tourist town.

We pedaled on, crossing the bridges and causeways, heading over the river to Eastpoint. We passed some modest gated communities, but mostly we saw pleasant small homes with the kind of waterfront views only mansions have in Miami. Rural living does have its good points. The vehicle of choice in front of most homes was the ubiquitous pickup truck.

We pedaled down to a boat ramp, watched a couple of boats being put in, and turned around to pedal back over the causeway. Pedal, pedal, snap!, whirr-rrr-rrr, (clink).

Oh, crap. I couldn’t believe it: My chain just broke. I stood over my bike staring at it as Al pedaled back to me.

Do we have a chain tool? Do we know how to use a chain tool? Do we care if we have a chain tool? We talked briefly (maybe 2 nanoseconds) before saying, "A bike shop can fix this!" Al rode off with a little wave. He’d go get our car. I’d walk, pushing the bike, until he came back.

My little walk wasn’t without interest. I watched an eagle catch a fish, enjoyed a close fly-over by a pelican, and took some photos of the bay. Soon Al was there with the car. He put my bike on the bike rack and we headed back to Apalachicola.

And guess what? There’s no bike shop in Apalachicola or any of the nearby towns! (Crap.) The nearest reliable bike shop is about 80 miles away in Tallahassee.

So we set off to Tallahassee with the bike. By this point our mood had improved. There wasn’t much we could do about the situation, so we set about enjoying the trip to Tallahassee and making plans for dinner. Dinner in a charming little restaurant we saw on our bike ride today.

All’s well that ends well.

(Miles today: 27.1)
Apalachicola






Thursday, September 10, 2015

On The Road to Apalachicola

We got up hours before dawn. We drank our coffee out on the balcony, then took everything down to the car, put the bikes on the bike rack and our suitcases in the car, and drove to Apalachicola, 9 hours away. We saw sunrise in the rearview mirror as we rolled through Central Florida.

Apalachicola is a small town on the eastern end of the Florida Panhandle. It sits at the mouth of the Apalachicola River on Apalachicola Bay. If you are an oyster lover, you know that this is the area where 90% of Florida oysters are harvested. The town itself dates back to the beginnings of the 1800s. Its historic district is picturesque. Fun trivia fact: Back in 1849, Apalachicola physician, Dr. John Gorrie, invented a cold-air refrigeration process and patented an ice machine. We can thank Dr. Gorrie for the air conditioning which made possible modern Florida life as we know it.

It is one of the loveliest coastal areas in Florida. Piney woods, sugar white sand, and light development by Florida standards. The scenic coastal highway (highway 98) has a paved shoulder suitable for cycling beginning in Carrabelle, a small town about 25 miles north of Apalachicola. From Apalachicola you can bike to St. George Island and Cape San Blas. Our original plan was to do a series of loop rides between Apalachicola and the Alabama line, in essence doing the equivalent of a ride from Apalachicola to Gulf Shores and back. While planning our routes, we discovered we had four rides, each around 60 to 65 miles in length, just in the Apalachicola area. So we became selective in which other areas of the Panhandle we would explore on this trip. Since the bigger towns hold no special appeal for us, we decided to sample several quieter sections of the Panhandle. Small towns and pretty beaches. It has been a few years since we last rode our bikes up here, so it will be interesting to see what has changed.

We have rain coming through the area. We'll probably be getting wet some in the next day or two. Tonight, though, we are dry and cozy in a pleasant hotel room. (Not out in a tent or camper like so many other trips we've made to the area.)

Life is good.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Education is important, but riding a bicycle is importanter. (Anonymous)

Photo by Dino Rio (edited for this blog post by Marsha)
Ever since moving to Miami, Saturday has been EBC (Everglades Bicycle Club) group ride day for Al and me. Since 2013 we've been living rent free in an EBC paceline. This month we began paying back EBC by volunteering as ride leaders. Saturday we got to ride with the 16-18 mph speed group. And we had a really good time. The 16-18 group is focused, spunky, and upbeat.

This Saturday there was a big group. We gathered at City Hall, ran through the opening tutorial, clipped in, and headed out. We rolled through the Grove and wound our way to Deering Estates for a quick break before continuing on to Black Point Marina. It was a sunny, hot, and humid day. We got very sweaty very fast. Stuff happened (doesn't it always?), but nothing but little stuff. I had only the vaguest of ideas of the route, so I kept away from the front of the group. Which gave me a chance to meet a bunch of the riders. I was surprised how many I knew from other rides over the last year. (Confession: I rolled up beside one guy and introduced myself. "Hi, I'm Marsha." "Hi, I'm Dino," he laughed. Well, duh, of course! I've known Dino since he started riding with EBC. And it happened with some other people, too. OK: I was a little nervous Saturday.) Some of the riders told me they were new to riding. Others had been riding for some time. Some had been off their bikes for a spell and were getting back up to speed. Others had been riding with EBC for a long time and just liked the 16-18 pace for their Saturday ride.

If I had to pick one thing that stood out about the group it was this: they actually rode better and pulled together when everybody was getting tired and the going was getting tough. In the last few miles when many groups are getting grouchy and sloppy, this group went into an upbeat survival mode. I saw at least one rider (Pepe) go up to the front and take a long pull. And earlier when a small group got split from the main group at a stop light, a new rider (Tori) was up to helping pull us back up to the main group. And it was really good to see a couple riding together, a team working with the larger team of the paceline. Camaraderie and mutual support makes a huge difference in a paceline. Very nice.

We hope to ride with this group on a regular basis. We were beginners in this group just a short time ago. We are still new to paceline riding, and we are still working to get better at basic paceline skills. Like most things in life, it's a work in progress. The Saturday EBC rides showed us the basics, the stuff you need to know and do when you ride in a paceline. The stuff that goes a long way towards making you ride farther, faster, and easier. Not to mention safer.

And that makes riding fun.