Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (After the Tropical Storm)

I'm sure the weather people have a simple explanation, but the day after a tropical storm or hurricane is always a fabulous summer Florida day. Perfect blue sky. Low humidity (for Florida). Everything green and thriving.

It was 75 degrees but the dewpoint was a lovely 63 degrees when we headed out. The sun, though, was bright due to the complete lack of cloud cover. The sun makes it feel about 15 degrees warmer than the thermometer tells you it is.

We were eager to burn off pent up energy. It had been a week of rain, more rain, wind, and more wind. No complaints as we really needed the rain. Our lake went from a record low to last summer's level in one week. It was the lack of tropical systems coming through our state last year that put us into drought.

And so we set out on our local loop. By the time we warmed up in about a mile, we agreed to go hard and not worry about blowing up. After all, we'd be home in under 2 hours. It was fabulous after days of inactivity. We just did the loop as fast as we could (with two very short stops to feed the scrub jays, of course.) It was sprint after sprint. And it was no surprise when we finished to find that we had done it in the fastest average speed we'd ever recorded for a ride. Ever. Anywhere.

Can't beat that.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tropical Storm Debby

A small tornado crosses a pasture in Venus, Florida
We needed the rain. In fact, we need lots more rain. Tropical Storm Debby is moving at a slow crawl toward Florida's NW coast and the Florida Panhandle and is predicted to continue this slow pace across the state's northern counties. We've already seen a 4.5 inch rise in our lake level here, several hundred miles SE of the storm. That is a fair increase for a 3800 acre lake. That brings our lake level up to just over last spring's low point. (The lowest lake levels are normally in about April as we get very little rain in the cool weather months--hence our moniker, the Sunshine State.) It is raining as I type this, and the rain should continue for several more days. The main issue with rain from a tropical storm is the increased danger of severe weather, that is wind bursts and small tornadoes. That happened yesterday in fact. A small tornado ripped through the Venus area just south of us. The same storm hopped over us and the lake, then tore into a bunch of homes on the north end of our lake. Now these are very small tornadoes by the standards of the Midwest, Tornado Alley, or other such spots up north. But yesterday's storm did leave a woman in Venus dead and her young child seriously injured.

But this is a blog about bicycling, so the effect of Tropical Storm Debby is frustration, increasing boredom, and way too much time on our hands. All I can say is we will have very clean and shiny bikes on our next ride. Not to mention tidy gear bins, etc. (This sucks...)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our Big, Big Yard Birds

The heat index is in the low 70s. But it is only in the high 70s temperature-wise. So it may be humid, but it's not a hot and humid morning. There are few clouds when we head out, but the clouds will build steadily. More rain should come this afternoon.

Al wasn't in the mood for me dilly-dallying with my camera. He set a fast pace from the start, and I was fairly certain he would leave me by the side of the road if I dawdled. So I didn't. We got some stares from the early morning exercise walkers as we sped down the main road of our community, down low on the drops and in perfect cadence with each other. We were home in record time.

In our last mile we came upon a bunch of sand hill cranes that have taken to hanging out in our immediate neighborhood. I love sand hill cranes. They are ridiculous birds that announce their presence with very, very loud unmelodious squawking. They are always with their mate and, at this time of year, there are also one or two   of their current brood, now almost grown, with them. These are to the bird world what teenagers are to many families. Loved despite being outrageously loud and awkward.

On its knees on a lawn.
One legged pose.
A pair settled down on a lawn.

Once home a check of the kitchen showed us to be down to a handful of nuts and berries. Time to head into town to hunt and gather at the local grocery store.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Beat the Rain Ride

The temperature was no warmer that our last ride, but the dew point had moved into the 70s. It was humid. Not as humid as it will be later in the summer, but it was definitely going to be a sweaty ride.

The sky was threatening. The wind was gusting around 23-25 mph. We checked radar before heading out. A large area of rain was coming at us from the south. Bands of rain were stretched across south Florida. It seemed there was a 50-50 chance we could get in a ride without getting too wet.

Half-way through the ride we thought we were out of luck. It began to spit raindrops, the wind making the raindrops feel like fairy water bullets. But our luck held and the sputtering rain stopped. We made it home dry and happy. Another bike day snatched from the weather goblins. (OK, so I've been reading a lot of urban fantasy lately...)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Beat the Heat Ride 2

We had coffee before dawn while we walked the cat. The wind was already blowing from the northeast. The lake would be choppy. Not to mention that every family that owned a boat would be out playing in it on Father's Day. The lake being worthless for water skiing, we are off biking.

The neighborhood was quiet at dawn. Our 94 year old neighbor chugged down the road on his brisk morning walk. A dog walker strained to contain a rottweiler, a lab, a chihuahua, and a dachshund. Only the dachshund snapped and barked and struggled to chase us, straining frantically on his leash and earning a laugh from us and the dog walker.

The dewpoint is in the mid 60s making our ride quite comfortable for summer. There are supposed to be clouds by midday, but right now there is nothing but blue sky from horizon to horizon.

Couldn't ask for a better day for a ride!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Beat the Heat Ride

It's windy today. Too windy to go water skiing. We've got that covered. We're biking.

The trick to happy summer riding here in inland Florida is to ride early. Since it's going to be windy for at least 4 to 5 more days, we're getting on our bikes at dawn instead of heading out skiing. Our current morning loop route takes about 2 1/2 hours. That takes into account time for the short stops needed for my feeding scrub jays, taking the occasional photo, and any gawking at interesting critters. (Today's critters included deer and sand hill cranes.)

The sun rising over the scrub.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bike Touring the Florida Keys

My favorite place to ride a bike in Florida is the Florida Keys. We've toured there many times, and it just doesn't get old. This summer I'm trying to come up with a bike tour to the Keys that isn't a copy of something we've already done. Since the Florida Keys are simply a string of islands linked by bridges and one highway, planning something new is kind of a fun challenge. Here are the basics:

  • Ferries: There is one that goes from Miami to Key West and vice versa. Another goes from Fort Meyers Beach to Key West and vice versa.
  • There are several towns along the Keys that can be used as bases for loop tours.
  • The entire length of the Keys highway has either wide paved shoulders or nice bike trails.
  • You get to spend lots of time riding over bridges, including one that is 7 miles long.

The ferry is a great way to get from Key West to the mainland.

You are always near the ocean on the Keys bike trail.

This is our style of bicycle tour "camping." We have lots of picnic meals, but at inexpensive motels.

Key West isn't all tourist t-shirt shops. This is Key West, too.

One of the many, many bridges.

See the storm? We got very wet a few miles down the road...

I like the Keys in October and November, and that is when I think we'll head there next. We keep meaning to go with the Everglades Bicycle Club tour of the Keys in November, so that is among the options. But I don't tend to wander and dilly-dally on group tours, and I enjoy doing just that in the Keys. So we'll just see what makes the final cut. It's not like there are any bad tour options in the Keys...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bike Death by Drowning

We were water skiing not biking this morning. But a bike did figure in the start of our day.

There must be a story about how a mountain bike ended up in Catfish Creek near the park and public boat launch. It appeared to have drowned sometime late last week, but the weed-covered bike corpse was just ignored and bounced around by the wakes of passing boats.

After we got home and had our boat tucked away in its boat lift, Al returned and fished out the drowned bike. It ended up in the dumpster, an inglorious end for a nice little set of wheels.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Foggy Sunday Ride

Foggy start for the day.
We left the house early. A morning fog cocooned the area, the wind too gentle yet to blow it away.

Counting rabbits.
For some reason, rabbits were everywhere. Al began giving me number-of-rabbits hand signals as we pedalled along.

Someone out for a long walk with their dog.
As the fog began to dissipate, we came upon someone out for a long morning walk with their dog. It was a little dog with stumpy little legs and we wondered how many miles the dog could walk. (Quite a number it seemed...)

This guy is out every day.
When the fog finally lifted, we came across someone we see most days, an older man out on a very brisk walk. He told us once that he took up walking years ago after he had triple bypass heart surgery.

Convenient turn arounds.
A long stretch of "parkway" connects our little community with a local east-west highway. It has turn arounds every quarter mile, convenient when you want to add a few miles to your route or just spot something you want to look at more closely. (Today it was three deer.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Circling Lake Okeechoobee

It's summer. For us, summer means we don't leave home (and the lake) under any circumstances. That includes natural disasters like hurricanes since our area is where coastal people can evacuate to during storms. A former director of the National Hurricane Center retired to our town because he wanted to stay in Florida, and we are one of Florida's safer locations. So summer isn't bike touring time for us.

We still enjoy cycling locally, of course. But the fly in the ointment, for me, is hearing about other people out there touring. The solution to "the summer problem" is to plan the bike tours and bike trips we will take in the late fall, winter, and early spring.

I'm in the middle of setting up our Lake Okeechobee trip. This is a favorite of ours and one we've done a number of times. Lake Okeechobee is circled by the L.O.S.T. (the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail) The ride is beautifully described online (the best is in the blog Palm Beach Bike Tours) so I won't go nuts talking about most of the details. It is short (under 120 miles). Some like to do it as a one day ride. I prefer  dragging it out into a couple of days and enjoying the scenery. What scenery? Alligators! OK, this shouldn't be such a big deal for me. After all, I live on a lake with alligators. But I admit to loving them immensely. And the L.O.S.T. puts you on a bike looking at alligators. Now if you are somewhat afraid of alligators, the L.O.S.T. is the way to go. The trail is on a raised dike, so the gators are easy to see, but they are also safely far enough away that even the most timid person will feel comfortable with the gators.

Out on the L.O.S.T. a couple of years ago.
We can bike to the L.O.S.T. from home in one day. Some times we do that, and other times we haul the bikes over to the trail on the back of our car. It just depends how many days we want to spend on the trip.

Oh, yes. You can see by the picture that our gear does not include panniers. That is an Ortlieb wheeled suitcases on the back of my bike. It clips right onto the rear rack using a clip system provided by Ortlieb with the suitcase. We still have the tent/sleeping bag gear, but our preference these days is to stay in motels. This is Florida, after all, a tourist state with a gazillion motels. (Granted, some of them are fleabags...but, for me, an air conditioned fleabag motel trumps a tent and hordes of Florida mosquitoes.)