Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hill Blocks View (Duh)

The road to Venus, Florida, is one of the nicest rides in our area. And it has the funniest road signs. This is a road with rolling hills. At every hill approach, there is a warning sign:

We ponder the signs as we pedal along. Who needs a warning of this kind? (Flatlanders? Graduates of the short bus?)

On our ride we stop at Archbold Biological Station (learn more) to check out the new Learning Center and Visitors' Lodge. It's a beautiful place for a snack stop. And to banter more about who does need those "hill blocks view" signs...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

You're in range. Be nice to me.

We headed out on Al's favorite route. I call it Al's hamster wheel or the 30-mile time trial route. He has slowly gotten me to be a lot stronger cyclist, mostly right on this route. It is basically flat with 5 "mystery inclines," those wicked things that make you work harder when the dang road looks so deliciously flat.

Beginning this week I am mirroring his riding: same gear, same cadence. To keep up with him while mirroring his riding, I have to use more power. Which I find really, really, really tiring. But it's an easy way to approach the whole routine. When Al says he's going to ride at such-and-such cadence and such-and-such speed, you might as well be setting the numbers into a computerized machine. He heads out, and whatever he said, that's what shows up on my bike computer if I mirror him. For 30 miles...

I speed down the road. No drafting allowed. Staying 4 to 5 bike lengths behind his wheel. For a while I just think evil thoughts. Like road bikes should be equipped with short-range missiles...or at least a small caliber gun...

At long last we turn onto the street where our cool-down segment begins. We stop near the end of the street, across the canal from our house. I spot my coral-red bougainvillea blooming next to the screen room. Right next to the lounge chair where I intend to park my very tired legs and read for hours. OK, that made me feel better. Al is safe. I'm heading home to my reading chair. Life is good.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Ride with a Motorcycle, a Gator, and a Trainer

We really did eat the whole pumpkin pie. It was chilly and windy, but we needed to stretch our legs and move. A nice long ride in the wind sounded great. Al set a brisk pace, keeping me chasing to keep up.

While he wasn't in the mood to dilly-dally, I yelled for him to turn around and follow me into the model airplane club's field. I absolutely had to get a close up look at the motorcycle parked there. Now when you are retired, you have hours and hours to follow your passions. We run around on our bicycles. But the area is chock full of guys who restore antique cars, build aircraft, and customize motorcycles. There at the model plane club's field was a bright yellow customized tricycle motorcycle like nothing I had ever seen before. Absolutely stunning.

Front View

Rear View

Now you are probably wondering where the gator and the trainer come into this ride's narrative. Well, when we passed a small creek, there was the gator, a small one, basking on the bank in the sun. We missed the gator chomping down the jogger. All that remained was the trainer and the smile on the gator's face...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Windy Thanksgiving Ramble

The wind refused to go away. It was sunny, but the wind was gusting from 15 to 20 miles per hour. It made 60 degrees seem a lot colder.

We headed out for a few hours of rambling on our bikes. We decided to wander our little community, exploring the dozens of streets and roads that have managed to stay relatively undeveloped over the last several decades.

We passed a grassy area near the local golf course. The sandhill cranes were still curled in sleep. Apparently even sandhill cranes sleep in on Thanksgiving.

One street had a totally vacant block, a block comprised of beautiful white sand scrub, covered with Florida rosemary, wildflowers, and scrub oak.

A house not far from ours was decked out for the holidays with a glorious bougainvillea that had been allowed to fill the garden space by the front entrance of the home. We have one this same color in our back yard near the corner of our screen room. It provides an amazing display every holiday season.

Near the end of our ride we stopped at our community park on the lake. It certainly wasn't a day for fishing or recreational boating. The lake was choppy whitecaps to the horizon. Not at all like the smooth glassy surface we see when we head out to water ski at dawn in the summer.

The chilly ramble had given us an opportunity to say "Happy Thanksgiving" to a bunch of folks. Al pointed us for home. "Time to cook and feast," he declared. Good idea!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Horrible Hundred 2012

If I had to pick my favorite annual ride, it would probably be the Horrible Hundred. It's a big ride (over 2000 riders) sponsored by the Florida Freewheelers Bicycle Club. It's up in the wonderful hills of the northern Lake Wales Ridge of central Florida. Most people visit this area for Disney, the other big Orlando theme parks, and non-stop shopping at malls, malls, and more malls. We pity them. The theme parks and shopping malls are boring compared to a day of riding a bicycle around here.


We put our suitcases in the car and the bikes on the bike rack and drove the 2.5 hours north. The Horrible Hundred ride was Sunday, but there was early rider check-in, a variety of rides, and a Cycling and Fitness Expo Saturday. It's a treat to wander through the dealer tents, checking out the latest bicycles from different companies. This year there also was a dealer with custom high wheel bicycles. He had some elegant antique track bikes, too. Real eye candy. In a more practical move, we needed new short-finger riding gloves, so we shopped the clothing racks and bins, trying on lots of gloves. We scored a couple pairs with gel pads. A nice way to spend an hour or two.

The desk clerk at our motel remembered us from a recent visit. We chatted briefly. The hotel was fully booked with cyclists. People were rolling bikes in and out of the motel, and a bunch of riders had circled comfy chairs into a casual conversation area.

Once up in our room, I called up tomorrow's weather forecast. Around 54 degrees at dawn, 60 by ride start time, going up to the mid 70s later in the day. Mostly cloudy. Very windy, 15 mph NE winds with gusts to 20 mph. "Good," smiled Al. "It won't be raining."


I spent a lot of time with the route maps over the past week. I wanted to see if I could patch together a custom route that mostly stayed on the roads the ride organizers were using, hit the climbs, didn't miss sag stops (chocolate fixes!), had the miles we wanted, but didn't worry much about anything else. My plan had us joining the route just after a nice long steep climb not too many miles from the ride's start. That would take some steam out of the engines of the galloping packs.

We pedaled away from the motel after breakfast. The motel's flags said it all. It was windy, very windy.

We rode a couple of miles to the Horrible Hundred route. As planned we watched the fastest riders thunder past. Followed by a reasonable gap. We got on the route, joining the next mass of club riders, their enthusiasm notched down some by the first serious climb of the day. We like riding with these people once they calm down after the start. They're competitive but they have an upbeat attitude. They're also unrelentingly supportive of the riders around them. We make no effort to join their groups. We ride as a pair, Al in front for a while, then I take the lead. Our cadence work and interval training has paid off. On climbs we ride at the cadence that keeps our intensity at a challenging but comfortable level. Al crests the climbs first, slows and waits for me to catch up, then we descend. I love descending, the faster the better. On descents I can keep up with just about anyone. Al usually lets me play, catching up with me at the next climb. But he stayed with me on every descent. Nice. We are going to have fun with this.

I had my camera mounted on my handlebars. A lot of riders, not knowing whether I was doing video or still photos, would pass me and turn and perform for the camera. I loved it and got to laugh a lot.

All too soon we reached the spot where my custom route split us from the ride and headed us back to the motel. There was a bar-B-Q lunch for the riders, but Al and I were planning on a meal out on our own.

When we got to the motel, sweaty, tired legs and all, the desk staff gave us a big welcome. "You won! You beat the other guys back!"

They were having such a good time with their riff, we just smiled and headed upstairs to our room.

In old age deceit and treachery beats youth and talent every time...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fog and More Fog

The fog was pretty dense before dawn. We waited an hour for it to lift, but it stubbornly held fast. Where was wind when you needed it?

We finally decided to start our ride around 8 a.m., feeling pretty sure the fog would thin by the time we finished our 1 mile warm-up. No luck. We threaded a route through residential streets, heading toward one of our favorite routes to the south of home. The air was in the 60s. The fog condensed on us and our bikes, leaving our glasses hazed and water dripping from our helmets. I kept my head tilted down. I would give my head a sideways shake every minute or so to keep the dripping water off my glasses. Mostly.

By the time we got home the fog was gone, replaced by low hanging clouds. A neighbor smiled and waved. "It's too chilly to be riding today," she said.

Florida. November. Temperature in the mid 60s. And it's "too chilly"?

I love this place!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Florida Crested Caracara Road Kill Cafe

This morning we went out on our last long ride before next Sunday's Horrible Hundred. We took a favorite route, one that pretty much stays in the open areas of the local ranches and wildlife preserves. The sky hinted at blue, but there were too many clouds for the morning to warm up much. We laughed that you don't need GPS out here. Just follow the power lines. When the power lines stop, so does the road.

Part way through our ride, we came upon a Road Kill Cafe. It had one customer leisurely enjoying breakfast, a good sized squished critter. I got excited and screeched to a stop when I realized the bird was a Florida crested caracara. It's in the falcon family, but it's primarily a scavenger. Caracaras tend to stay on the palmetto prairies. We saw them a lot when we were riding off-road on the prairie over by the Kissimmee River. They are beautiful birds. Caracaras are more skittish than other large birds. Usually a caracara is long gone by the time I get my camera pointed in the right direction. This time the caracara stopped briefly on top of a fence post giving me time for one very hasty photo.

We are ready for the Horrible Hundred. Al has been setting a challenging pace, and we've done a lot of miles over the past week or so. We will go out on more rides this week, but not long or fast ones. Just rambles to keep things loose and happy. I need the time off strenuous riding. Charge up the battery, as it were.

Can't wait to ride up and down hills again!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Our Transportation Fleet

We live in the boondocks. There is no public transportation system here. It's 6 miles into the tiny nearby town with the grocery store and library. It's 25 miles to the larger town where you can get most things, if you aren't too picky. It's 90 to 125 miles to many medical specialists and the type of shopping common in urban and suburban areas. Having a car is a must. (It has always amazed me that so many older seniors choose to live here. Go figure.)

Standing in our garage today, I surveyed our transportation fleet: a gas sipping little car, a 125cc scooter, and a lot of bicycles.

The road bikes, used most, are in floor stands. The mountain bikes hang on the wall. City folding bikes are in hanging in their soft cases, ready for our next visit to a large town. Folding touring bikes are hanging next to them in their soft cases, too.

Our annual gas bills for our ski boat and jet ski are way larger than the ones for our car and scooter. And the miles on our bikes are way higher than the miles on the scooter. Thank heavens for a big garage!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Of course I talk to myself. Sometimes I need expert advice.

Good grief! An early cold front snuck into Florida. It is cold and windy. At least it is sunny. This week I got to try out my new homemade lightweight Florida winter layers.

Last year I hit the big thrift stores in search of cashmere sweaters. They are popular with crafters, but by searching during the hot weather months I was able to find a half dozen in various sizes. These sweaters were very, very popular a few years ago, and many are now turning up in thrift stores. Cashmere isn't scratchy like wool, and it washes like a dream. (Just don't send it through the dryer. Or if you do use the dryer, use the delicate setting.) A cashmere sweater makes a fabulous winter bike layer.

A long sleeved pullover sweater works great as a mid layer for cold mornings. (Cycling tank under the sweater and a long sleeve zippered bike jersey over the sweater.) Another sweater, shrunk to kiddy size by careless cleaning, got cut into fingerless mittens to cover my padded bike gloves, and it also was used to make a throat wrap for really blustery mornings. Unlike my old touring fleece gear, the cashmere gear is easy to stuff into my seat bag. After all, this is Florida. You may need this gear at the beginning of a ride, but you'll be stripping it off in an hour or two.

The new gear works beautifully!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

O Day of Rest and Gladness

Wispy clouds of smoke fill Lake June Scrub State Park.
Sunday is the most dangerous day of the week on rural Florida roads. The only-on-church-day drivers are out and about. These are the drivers of your nightmares. They are older than dirt and the worst drivers on the planet. They have poor vision and glacial reaction times.

We found a empty route towards the south.
The first rule of Sunday morning biking here abouts is that you never, never take a road that leads to a church. Since we have a lot of churches, route planning becomes an art form. Today we had a double problem, smoke from controlled burns was drifting into our area from Lake June Scrub State Park. There are some good routes on that side of our residential area, but those were not for us today.

We headed south. We looped wide of all the roads that feed into the local churches. At about 10 miles we had left the smoke and church traffic behind. Al had a route in mind, and we headed out. It was a great success...we made it home alive!!!

The Horrible Hundred is in less than two weeks. It's one of our favorite rides of the year. The next week and a half will be our pre-HH warm up. We'll be doing long rides almost daily.

It's going to be fun.
My skilled navigator (very pleased with his success!)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Democrats are better lovers. (Who ever heard of a good piece of elephant?)

A friend from way, way back and I were swapping favorite jokes from past political campaigns. She brought up the "make better lovers" riff that was our mutual favorite in our college years. Later in our chat, she solved this week's bike clothing conundrum: what to wear for "cold weather" rides in Florida.

The rest of the country thinks our winter weather is balmy. Florida cyclists are acclimated to hot and humid. Many, like me, are total wimps about being cold. (Snowbirds aren't real Floridians in these matters.) I wear cycling knickers and cycling sandals year round. In "cold" weather, meaning 55-65 degrees, the gap between the bottom of the knickers and my socks gets cold. The stuff sold for non-Florida cold weather is just too warm and bulky. My old friend had the perfect suggestion: knee socks. So I hit Target, picked up some basic knee socks that were the same turquoise/white color combination as my long sleeve cycling jersey, and tried them out this week when temperatures dipped sharply. They worked like a charm. Problem solved.