Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company. (Mark Twain)

Naples' street art
It was the 4th of July weekend. Which, in Florida, means hot and humid. Floridians can generally deal with hot and humid. What made this weekend a bit different was the heat index. It was going to hover at 100 degrees.

We were off to the Gulf Coast with a friend for a Sunday cycling event called Wheels and Wings. It's an annual July ride in Punta Gorda. It's a well organized event with-marked, pleasant routes for both road cyclists and gravel grinders. You spend the morning pedaling, then end the ride with beer and wings at a local sports bar, with the Tour de France on all the bar's big screen TVs.

Ride to Naples
On Saturday we decided to ride down to Naples. A ride to Fifth Avenue in Old Naples would give us a 45-50 mile ride through a variety of lovely neighborhoods. There was little traffic. Bike lanes and sharrows were everywhere. We saw a good number of cyclists. We stopped for a rest and a chance to fill our water bottles at a coffee shop on Fifth Avenue before pedaling back. By the time we finished the ride, the temperature was barely 90 degrees but the heat index, as predicted, was almost 100 degrees.

Al and I checked weather for the Sunday event. It was going to be mostly sunny and a little hotter than Saturday. We decided that we needed to get creative. OK. So we had maps and cue sheet for all the road routes, and there was some overlap among them. The roads were marked well. We knew where the SAG stops were. So why not just create our own route from the ones put together by the Wheels and Wings folks? We could do an early "pre-start" loop, then return to for the regular "start" for a second loop. It sounded like a good plan. The three of us would use the same ride style as Saturday's ride: single-file paceline with 5-mile pulls, everybody sharing the pulling equally.

Punta Gorda bicycle path
Old Punta Gorda
So by 7:00 am we had parked our car, picked up our ride t-shirts, clipped in, and pedaled off. The short 15-mile family ride loop was the perfect length.

It turned out to be the highlight of the day for me, a quirky little spin down the type of route I hadn't ridden in a long time. On the plus side it made excellent use of Punta Gorda's bicycle paths. We pedaled along the water and through parks. The scenery was lovely. But paths of this kind aren't that long. The path linkages went across parking lots and even down the service alley of a retail strip. All safe, of course, but not the type of route you normally follow on a road bike at an event! It was, as they say, a hoot. In a few miles the route moved to a low traffic road with a bike lane. But even that segment of the route had a bit of weirdness peppered over it. The most conversation provoking were the speed bumps we encountered on just one side of some bridges over canals. They were placed right where the road tipped upward to cross the bridge. Why? Why? Why? We couldn't puzzle that one out. Except that maybe someone in the road department had a wicked sense of humor. Pedal, pedal, pedal. The rest of the short pre-start loop was uneventful.

It was getting very hot.

We made it back to the start. The horde of riders had left. We topped up our water bottles, clipped back in, and wheeled down the road.

Our second loop took us out into more rural areas. We rolled past cattle grazing in pastures. There were dozens of small ponds and lakes, sparkling in the morning sun. Yellow wildflowers were sprinkled along the roadsides. Stalks of purple pickerel weed poked up from ditches and along the edges of ponds. The route turned and looped into small communities where the roads were lined with trees, providing cooling shade. We passed riders standing in the shade, taking a break from pedaling in the heat. We passed pastures with horses and one with ostrich and goats.

Finally we pulled over. Exactly where were we and where was the SAG stop we needed so badly? We all agreed it should have been at the corner we had passed a half mile back. Another rider stopped, asking the same question. She was out of water. ("No problem," she said, "There's a grocery store not far down the road.") We pedaled on. Three miles down the road we came to the SAG, munched and filled bottles. Then we were off again. Pedal, pedal, pedal. It was really, really getting hot. We descended on the next SAG stop (strangely close to the previous SAG stop) glad to munch some snacks. It wasn't many miles more to go.

As we headed down the final miles to the finish of the ride, we noticed that the all the riders in front of us were ignoring the route markings that turned them from off the main avenue. We followed the markings...and discovered what the others knew. The marked route went through the historic district and brick roads. Undulating, bumpy brick roads. It was a lovely historic district, but on a day this hot, it was something we could have done without!

And then, sweat dripping off our noses, we pedaled to the end of the ride. Our bikes were packed for the ride home, and we settled down to our post-ride wings and beer. The sports bar hosting the post-ride event was filled to capacity with a sweaty lycra-clad clientele. Everyone was enjoying the air conditioning and watching Stuyven nearly manage to win stage 2 of the Tour de France with a strong solo ride (only to be caught by the peloton just 450 meters from the line).

It was a hot-as-hell day for a long bike ride, but the company was awesome.