Sunday, October 28, 2012

333 (only half evil)

Cattle. They are big. They are a delightfully dim-witted. I ask you, what's not to love?

Today as we were pedalling by the wet northeast pasture of a nearby ranch, we found some cattle chopping the tender green plants growing in about 2-3 feet deep water. As we approached, the herd splashed and meandered away from us. Except for one sly guy. He was so-o-o obviously hiding in the tall weeds. Watching us. Standing very, very still. (Peek-a-boo, I see you...)

Al was being almost evil today. He is determined to get our speed back up to what it was a few years ago. So today I was once again chasing, chasing, chasing. We took a long ride to the south on a serpentine road. The wind was from the northwest, calmer than the tropical force winds of a few days ago, but still formidable. The leg south was OK. Hey, I thought, I'm getting a lot better! Then we u-turned and headed north. Agony, pain, and much gasping and panting! Finally we got a stop for a snack. Relief. Then it was off again. In the final quarter of the ride, I finally found a strategy that helped. I discovered that Al slowed ever so slightly whenever our course took us into the wind. I pushed myself then, using his slight slowing as an opportunity for me to gain any ground I'd lost. It worked! I felt like a champ.

Al is a great riding partner and coach. I decided he was only half evil. (But I always did like the bad boys...)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Even if the voices aren't real, they have some pretty good ideas.

We needed new scenery. We craved a bit of a change. The voices were whispering, "We need hills."

Running about 150 miles down the center of Florida is the Lake Wales Ridge. This area was a series of sand islands long ago during the Pleistocene. The rest of Florida may be pretty flat, but this area has actual hills. Hills of all configurations. The southern part of the ridge is flatter. The northern part has the most interesting hills for cyclists, mostly around Clermont and Mt.Dora. The best climbs have even been given names. Sugarloaf Mountain. The Wall. Buck Hill. Hospital Hill. Northridge.

We threw the bikes on the car bike rack, dumped the suitcases into the car, and drove 2 hours north to Clermont, Florida. We'd stay a couple days and have fun. It was windy, too. Double fun.

Day one we headed out to a great climb, Hospital Hill. We circled the area, enjoying the back roads through a subdivision built in terraces up a hill. The streets connecting the terraces were steep and happily devoid of traffic. We had a wonderful ride, delighted to find that our climbing skills were in good shape. At the top of our final big climb of the day we stopped at the traffic circle at the top. A high school age boy walked passed. He looked down the road we had just climbed up, looked at us panting and making jokes, shook his head and smiled at us before hiking off down the road. It was less than a mile of climbing, but that road was as steep as many climbs in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia where we used to live. Fun.

Day two we headed out on the bike trail network, a large series of connected trails spanning the area from Clermont to Orlando. Being a trail network the climbs are tamer, but the effect of rolling hills was a wonderful contrast to the flats and mystery inclines of our home rides.

Trees in bloom along the trail in Lake County.

The trail skirts farms and pastures.
These cows were used to people riding past them on the trail.
When we woke up on day three, we discovered the weatherman had missed with the forecast. Instead of a cloudy morning, it was a cloudy rainy morning. We snuffed any thoughts of a morning ride. Instead we had a long, leisurely breakfast, talked for a while over coffee, then packed and drove home, very glad we'd listened to the voices and spent time with some hills.

A rainy ride home.

Happy to be dry in the car instead of wet on a bike.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mellow Yellow Fall in the Florida Scrub

Every yellow fall wildflower is in bloom this week. People often overlook the fall colors in Florida. The trees are not the focus of fall color here. It's the wildflowers and the grasses that provide the show. It makes for lovely scenery on a bike ride.

Yellow Buttons
A stream sparkles in the morning light as it meanders through gold and russet prairie grasses.
Tall goldenrod is the background for shorter yellow blooming wildflowers and pale yellow topped grasses.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I keep pressing "escape" but I'm still here.

In case any of you have been in a coma for the past few months, we're in the final days of elections season. It is one of the few times I long to escape Florida to some remote region of the world. Living in a swing state is hazardous to one's mental health.

Heading out on a ride around the back roads of our county, it is impossible to escape election advertising  You can fast forward through television political advertising  but you can't avoid the stuff on billboards and those small signs stuck along every street and back road  "Vote for..." signs are everywhere. On one remote road, two homes, the only two homes in the whole area, had identical signs in their front yards. Zeal? Humor? Some weird flocking behavior? I wish I were brave enough to knock on a door and inquire.

This area is predominantly conservative Republican, with a large dash of Tea Party. Go into any local waiting room, and there is a good chance FOX commentary is on the TV. There are many liberal and moderate Democrats and independents, of course, but it's socially easier to vote your mind rather than post it on your front lawn. There's been a change this election, however. There are almost none of the more exuberantly ugly or socially insulting displays anywhere. The guy down the road who 4 years ago had a swastika and confederate flag by his front door has nothing but Halloween stuff this year. We've seen nothing that goes beyond normal conservative political sarcasm. That's a refreshing improvement.

We have only a few more weeks of the silly season. Maybe it will be fun to see if we can find a stretch of road without a political sign. On the other hand, maybe we could make a game of counting them and crunch the numbers. Notify the local press of our findings. (Escape! Escape! Escape!).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pretending to be a mature adult is boring.

We were pretending to be mature adults this week. We had a full to-do list with appointments and commitments which left us only a few hours to ride each day. So we rode local roads again. It was very windy, but windy days make great play days on a bike. Interval training? Just ride a loop. Chasing? Strengths and weaknesses, scheming and tricks--everything is more fun in a good wind.

Today's ride was the windiest. Flags looked starched. The windsock at the airport looked like a skinny Pinocchio. Riding with the wind was effortless and very, very fast. Riding into the wind felt like an endless climb up a steep, steep hill. Riding with the wind from the side made you actually tip slightly, forcing you to lean into it like a turn. We rode for a couple of hours. We had only gone 30 miles, but I was as physically spent as if we had ridden three times that.

Being mature adults is boring. Playing in the wind on a bike? Now that is like being 10 years old again.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Happily Re-tired in Florida

Monday we stopped at the Bike Shop to get the rear flat on Al's bike fixed. Matthew examined the tire. He tactfully pointed out that the tire was wearing through in spots. Hmmmm. "They're just a year old," we whined. Matthew patiently explained about the expected lifespan of road bike tires. OK, he had a point. We had put a lot of miles on them, and we do ride pretty much all the time on chip rock/bituminous roads. It was quickly determined that both bikes needed new tires. He asked if we want the same type we had now or something different. Duh? As is often the case, we didn't have a clue. We asked for advice.

Matthew walked us back near the work area and grabbed a wheel hanging there. It was from LW's bike and was also in for a new tire. LW is a local legend, a guy in his mid 70s, who rides 10,000 miles a year. He's been doing that for as long as I can remember--and he's still going strong. Matthew explained about the type of tires LW was using and why they were working out so well. LW puts all those miles on the same roads we ride, he patiently pointed out.

Al and I are very unlikely to ride 10,000 miles this year. But we do put on a lot of miles. Al and I glanced at each other, doing that silent communication thing that comes with spending most of a lifetime together. The reason we go to Matthew is because Matthew knows what he's doing. He spends a lot of time and energy keeping current on just this type of thing. If anyone has an opinion that is worth listening to, it's Matthew. So we go with his recommendation. We don't need a tire like LWs, but we do need one that's a whole lot tougher than what we've been using.

The bikes look pretty good with their new tires, Bontrager Race Lite Hardcase road tires. The all black tire on the all black wheel looks good, too. Toughens the look of the bikes some. And that's a good thing. The white sidewalls on the old tires were a nice touch, but they were a bitch to keep clean. And maybe they did look a bit prissy, all said. The black is definitely better.

Now it's time to go have some fun and get them dirty...

Monday, October 8, 2012

Withlacoochee State Trail

We packed our bikes on the back of our car, threw our suitcases into the back seat, and drove 3 hours northeast. Our destination was the town of Inverness, Florida, and the Withlacoochee State Trail. The WST is a rail trail, 46 miles of rail trail, the longest in Florida.

There were over a thousand riders. Century riders did a segment on adjacent roads in addition to a circuit of the trail. Everybody else stayed on the trail. It's a great start-of-season event ride.

Riding past the tents at ride headquarters.
It rained heavily the afternoon and evening before the ride. We woke and checked weather. Dawn was still an hour away, the temperature was 73 and the dew point was 70. It was going to be a hot and sticky ride. Al poured me a cup of coffee, and we sipped coffee, watching the bike lights blinking down the trail below our motel balcony heading for the ride start. We joined them a bit later when the sky was light enough to ride without headlights.

There were 1000 riders, but the trail was never crowded.
Al had a plan. There was 16 miles of trail north of the starting point and 30 miles to the south. The trail to the south was seriously flat, while the trail north more undulating. We'd head south first, then do the northern bit of trail. Sounded good to me. I was focused on the sag stops. I am inordinately fond of oreo cookies topped with a small dollop of peanut butter and a thick slice of banana, a feature of a number of the sag stops on this ride. (One cannot pedal on an empty stomach.)

This ride had a seriously wide variety of participants. Pack riders sporting club jerseys were everywhere. There was good representation from the 70 and 80 something contingent (more women than men, by the way.) And there were noteworthy oddities, things that are always found on this ride and no other. My favorites this year:
  • A man who looked to be in his 90s riding an adult tricycle bike, slowly but resolutely, the old bike creaking and squeaking as he proceeded down the trail sporting his new event t-shirt and a pleasant smile. 
  • A very happy young girl riding a pink princess bike, pedalling proudly behind her father on his serious carbon fiber road bike, the father keeping a slow but challenging pace for the little girl (and looking extremely proud of her).
  • A woman who had to be told at the first sag stop that her helmet was on backwards
  • A pretty young woman with perhaps the biggest breasts I have ever seen riding her road bike at a rapid pace, hands down on the drops, causing predictable chaos wherever she went.
We headed south for a number of sag stops, occasionally joining and chatting with different packs of riders. Then we turned about and headed north the way we had come, passing the ride headquarters to do the north segment of the trail. On our return to ride headquarters we skipped the post ride food and headed back to our motel. As usual we had plans for the rest of the day. We had done 65 miles, and it was an easy, fast, and pleasant metric century ride for us.

When we pulled up to our motel, I hoisted up my bike up to climb upstairs to our room. Al was standing at the foot of the stairs waiting on me to get to the top. Kaboom-hissssssss. I turned, looked at Al, and broke out laughing. His bike had waited to until we were at the motel before the rear tire blew. He laughed and looked down at the tire. "You know, we'll be driving right past the Bike Shop on our way home tomorrow. I think we should just let Matthew fix this one."

A lake along the trail.
I agreed.