Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there. (Will Rogers)

The last day of 2013. This is the time of year for reflection. A time for boundless ambition and loose talk of things to come.

What began as my hint to Santa for new wheels morphed into our 2014 project. What would it take to get me to commit to riding faster and a lot more miles? (I can be easily bribed. I have no shame about this.) 2013 had introduced us to real people who participated in randonneuring events. We'd never had a chance to spend time with any randonneurs before. We discovered we were rather intrigued by the whole randonneuring thing. Yeah, randonneurs are crazy, but they're affable, likable crazies. We may not be able to keep up with any of them for a while, but we won't know exactly what we can do till we try.

We put the last entry in the 2013 biking spreadsheet. After taking a few minutes to admire the numbers, the file was tidied up and archived. We didn't bike much the first 5 months of the year what with the move to Miami and all. But beginning in May the mileage each month crept upward. In December, we rode over 1000 miles. Our down-the-road speed (the speed we can do for hour after hour) had increased to 18-19 mph, too.

We'd successfully negotiated a suitable bribe for me. I would commit to getting a little faster and riding lots and lots of miles in 2014. (For those of you who may not be fluent in cycling husband lingo, "commit" means "making something your first priority: no whining, no belly aching, no quitting.")

The 2014 biking spreadsheets are ready, empty cells waiting to be filled.

Our Sunday ride group reflected in the street windows of a high-rise building downtown.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

Today was a typical morning for us in Miami. We sipped breakfast coffee on the balcony, enjoying the city lights in the early pre-dawn hours. The air was warm. The coffee fragrant and hot. The conversation slid from bike ride plans to Christmas and back.

We lived in eight places before Miami. Big cities. Rural and exurban communities. Some large. Some small. One simply a cluster of homes. Our move to Miami surprised people. "Where will you ride your bikes? Why move to a city with all that traffic?" they'd ask. We knew Miami would be a good fit for us. We'd biked in the neighborhoods where we planned to live, and we had discovered the Everglades Bicycle Club.

We joined the club as soon as we moved to Miami. When we were able to start biking after the move and putting together the new place, we pedaled down to Miami City Hall on a Saturday for our first club ride. We may have ridden bikes for decades, but we were ignorant newbies to riding in a group. We started with the slowest group. The ride leaders taught us the basics. As we got better we moved to a faster group. Everyone was friendly and supportive. Despite the fact that we regularly made some amazingly dumb mistakes, they patiently showed us what to do to become better, safer riders. Slowly we learned who people were and made some friends. We've belonged to other bicycle clubs. We think Everglades Bicycle Club is the best of them. Partly it's their focus on the group rides and teaching people how to ride safely as a group in and around Miami. But mostly it's the sense of community you have when you ride with them.

As we wait for Santa to arrive, we feel like we've gotten the best present already: new friends who share our love of riding bikes. Merry Christmas to all. We hope your holidays bring you much joy and happiness

Sunday, December 15, 2013

2013 Holiday Toy Ride

It had been a week of ups and downs. Al and I had some excellent rides during the week. Those were the ups. Then on Friday we had a down. We were doing loops on the Rickenbacker. We were headed into Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park at the end of Key Biscayne, our favorite spot for a snack break. I went to shift from my big chainring into my middle chainring....and absolutely nothing happened. We pedaled around while I kept trying...and trying...and trying. Colorful language was practiced as we had the growing realization that the shifter or the cable had died. We ate our snack, then pedaled back to one of the local bike shops. The guys at the bike shop did their best, but it was the shifter. It had given up the ghost. They got on the phone and started hunting for a new left shifter for a triple. In a short while one was located in Colorado and ordered. The mechanic put the chain on the middle chainring (so I could get across William Powell Bridge to the mainland), but he warned me that if I shifted it up, it wouldn't go back. Which meant I'd have to ride the bike in the middle chainring until next week when the new shifter got to Miami. Bummer.

We headed out on Saturday to the Everglades Bicycle Club group rides. We decided to give it a try with our regular group. We did about 33 miles with the 18+ mph group. About that time we were on a long straight patch of road, and I was in the highest gear I could put the bike into...and I was spinning like an Animaniacs cartoon character. It was inevitable: I red lined. Al and I dropped back and decided to pull the plug and head back on our own. A lesson learned. (Know your limits and your bike's limits.)

Sunday was another up. A special ride, the 2013 Holiday Toy Ride. It's a ride sponsored by EBC that collects toys and money for the St. Stephens Ministry, a local charitable group. As we rolled our bikes through the lobby of our building, the lobby staff smiled and enjoyed the sight of us wearing antlers on our bike helmets. We rode down the M-Path to Ponce de Leon Middle School. As we were crossing the highway to the school, a cheerful elf on her bike pulled up to us. A fellow EBC rider that definitely had the holiday spirit going. Ahead there were more elves, riders in red or green jerseys, decorated bikes, decorated helmets...a colorful mass of bikes, riders, and holiday cheer. We had coffee and pastries, socialized, then after a word from the ride coordinator, Mary Beth Garcia, and a blessing from delightful minister, we headed out for rides. There were leader led rides for everyone, a leisurely family ride, and rides for the 14-16 mph, 16-18 mph, and 18+ mph groups. (We'd learned our lesson on Saturday. We rode our mountain bikes and joined the 16-18 mph group.) There were almost a hundred riders. In addition to Everglades Bicycle Club, there were riders from Team Sindacto, Team Jama, Stormriders, 550, Hammerheads, and Miami Cycling Club. Our group rode to Miami Beach, swung through South Beach, saw Santa and the Grinch riding high on a firetruck in a parade going down Ocean Drive, took a spin to South Pointe Park to take in one of the best views of water and city that Miami offers. Then back to Ponce Middle School for more socializing, beer, and mimosas. Definitely a great holiday event.

We were headed back through the lobby of our building to the elevators. Everyone commented on the antlers adorning our bicycle helmets. While riding up in the elevator, we said we'd been at a Holiday Toy Ride. "Who puts it on?" a 20-something woman asked. "Everglades Bicycle Club," we told her. "I think I'll look them up. That sounds like a group worth joining." We agreed.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The 2013 Escape to the Keys Ride

Christmas was just weeks away. Most of the country was covered in snow and ice. Here in South Florida it was warm. The sun was shining. Best of all, we were gonna ride our bikes to Key West.

The sun was barely up Friday morning when riders began arriving at Miami Homestead Speedway, the start of the 2013 Escape to the Keys ride. Soon it was time to put luggage in the luggage truck and check in at the registration table. We put on our yellow ride wristbands, and a couple hundred riders gathered for the start. Rafael Acosta, the ride coordinator, welcomed everyone and gave last minute instructions. Speed groups coalesced and pacelines pedaled away.

Al and I had biked the length of the Keys before, but never with a large group. I was nervous. We were doing the whole ride in a paceline. Friday we would be riding 81 miles, much of it into a brisk headwind. (Gulp.)

Happily first we rode a few miles to a special continental breakfast treat. Sticky buns! The out-of-state riders had to be told about the sticky bun tradition. A roadside store in rural Miami-Dade has been a destination for club rides for many years. The family that runs the store are Dunkers (a sect of German Baptists), and their sticky buns are warm from the oven and utterly delicious. A guy from the Midwest muttered that he wasn't sure he should eat one before riding. I laughed at him a short time later when he accepted part of a second sticky bun from a ride companion before leaving. He smiled. "Just helping her out. Really!" he said as he munched.

Our group wheeled out and headed south to Card Sound road. Our group was lucky to have some strong riders who were willing to do far more than their fair share of the pulling. The route south was a challenge because of the wind, but we were doing a respectable pace. One rider had a flat tire, and we pulled over while things were sorted out. A bit farther down the road we passed another group off to the side dealing with a mechanical problem. I was tucked in close on the wheel of one of the guys, protected a little from the worst of the wind. Then we rolled up to the bridge over Card Sound. It was a moderately steep and long bridge, and the wind was brisk and straight in our face. The group splintered as some went up the incline faster than others. I was gasping and wheezing at the top, and I made the mistake of slowing as I got my breathing back under control. When I regained focus I saw that what had been a smallish gap was now a monster one. And they were slowly moving away from me. "Pedal!" Al yelped. I put my head down and pedaled for all I was worth. The gap did not get smaller. A few riders passed us, and we hitched on behind them. Despite a lot of hard work, our original group was still out of reach. Miles later, we pulled to the side of the road for a short water break. We were a very small group. We were hot and sweating and feeling discouraged. We continued riding. The road had turned some and the wind was definitely better. Then came the call from the back, "Paceline passing!" A long fast group wheeled past. We saw some riders we knew from our weekend rides! We hitched on to the end of the paceline. The group was moving fast, but we could keep up! So we rode the rest of the way to the first rest stop with this large group. We slowed and turned into the SAG stop. Shade! Cold watermelon! Munchies! Gatorade! Water! I don't think I've ever enjoyed a SAG stop as much as I did this one. I was red-in-the-face and much in need of a cool down.

We located our original riding group. Refreshed and cooler, we started down the road with them again. The wind was less of a problem, but now we needed to adjust to the rough pavement of this section of the Upper Keys. Road work made for some challenges. Uneven pavement in areas. Weird washboard pavement that went on and on and on. But we were back with our group. The banter was pleasant. We had some strong, fast guys that were up front pacing us. I was determined not to be the weak link in the group, and that thought, shared by a bunch of us, kept us pedaling briskly along. Soon we were at the third rest stop. Munching on watermelon and other goodies. Refilling water bottles. Enjoying the wonderful shade of the scrubby Keys trees. Then it was pedals up for the final stretch. Pedal, pedal, pedal. As we moved out of the Upper Keys, we began having longer and longer stretches with sparkling water on both our left and our right. This was quintessential Keys. It feels like biking on sparkling waves.

All too soon there was a sign for Duck Key and Hawk's Cay Resort. We wheeled in. A shady parking lot next to the hotel and villas had been converted into a hotel registration area for our riders, the luggage truck nearby. And there was a lunch buffet of sandwiches (cheeses, ham, chorizo, and bowls of tomatoes and lettuce), more bowls of potato and plantain chips, and (joy!) cold beer and sodas. We munched, socialized, and relaxed. For some of us it was our longest ride. For many it was certainly the longest ride at that speed. After a while, smiling, we headed to our rooms for a well-deserved shower.

Hawk's Cay Resort is an easy place to love. Behind the main hotel there's a beautiful free-form pool in a large sweep of patio with deck chairs for lounging. Just beyond this is a salt water swimming lagoon and a separate large dolphin lagoon. The show dolphins swim lazily around their lagoon, sometimes doing impromptu performances for resort guests. At night the scene was magical. Palm trunks were wrapped in multi-colored light strings. A patio water fountain was transformed by a flickering gas fire in it's central fire pit. The music was lively. Riders relaxed and enjoyed drinks and dinner with friends.

The next day started at a bit after 7:30. There was a continental breakfast in the same shady parking lot next to the luggage truck. We put our luggage into the truck, munched, and located our riding group. Then it was down the road again. But Saturday the wind was a tailwind! What luxury! We pedaled through the Middle Keys, over the 7-Mile Bridge, our speed effortlessly moving into a range I hadn't dreamed possible. We stopped for a SAG stop just beyond the 7-Mile Bridge. Many pictures were taken with the big bridge as a backdrop. Finally we were off again. Rolling through the Lower Keys. Nearby spans of the old Keys highway, narrow and battered by storms and salt water were re-purposed in spots for fishing. In other areas spans were just left for the seagulls, cormorants, and pelicans. There was a SAG stop at Baby's Coffee before the final miles to the edge of Key West.

Riding with a police escort into Key West.
At the edge of Key West, riders gathered in the shade of trees along a bike path. We waited for our police motorcycle escort into Key West. I must admit, that ride into Key West was perhaps the most amazing moments I have ever had on any tour. People waved and cheered. Tourists riding on passing tourist trams clapped and cheered us on. Tourist took pictures. People called out and asked us about our ride.

So this is what a few minutes of fame feels like!

The end of the road, mile marker 0.
Our day ended at Dante's Raw Bar where the music was loud and the beer was cold. We chatted with new friends, socialized with old friends, took pictures, and shared ride stories. Then we pedaled off to our various hotels. After dark we headed to Duvall Street. We were lucky to be in town for the big holiday parade. And Key West knows how to do a parade. Key West residents, many with well-mannered dogs in tow, lined the streets shoulder to shoulder with tourists. Children happily chased down candy and beads thrown from parade floats.

The next morning we wandered Key West. Al and I had a leisurely breakfast (and later lunch) at our favorite little cafe, browsed a few stores, then wandered back to the Spanish Gardens Motel where the truck packed with our bikes was waiting. The buses taking us back soon arrived. We boarded and relaxed as we drove back home.

Al and I are newcomers to Miami. We've been on lots of supported tours. Some very large, some quite small. The Escape to the Keys ride is special. Most supported rides have lost their unique sense of place. They enclose their riders in a bubble that isolates the riders from the place they are touring. You see the scenery and you visit towns. But to use a food analogy, it's like biting into a delectable looking appetizer ...only to discover it bland and utterly tasteless. The Escape to the Keys still has the warmth and colorful style of Miami. It keeps things going, but lets riders work out the details. It's not over-programmed or overly choreographed.

 Rafael Acosta, you and your people have put together one great ride.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sometimes you just have to bite your upper lip and put sunglasses on. (Bob Dylan)

It's a fact of life. Training cannot roll back the odometer.

Since moving to Miami, Al and I have gotten a lot faster and stronger. There's room for growth, but I'm not kidding myself about this process. Age and talent are big factors. So creativity demands that I just consider cheating. Back when we were waterskiing I learned that gear can make a huge difference. And it's the same in cycling. So I've been on a whisper campaign for an upgrade on the road bikes. I want new wheels to nudge my speed up a bit. (Santa needs to know these things after all.)

We rode both the Saturday Everglades Bicycle Club group ride and an informal EBC group ride Sunday on the rural roads of Redland (but still in Miami-Dade). The good news is our training hours are paying off. Saturday we stayed with the 18+ mph group for the whole ride. The Sunday ride went equally well.

But the best moment of the weekend came before the start of the Sunday ride. We were talking with riding friends about electronic shifting. One of the guys looked at our bikes and commented, "You should start with your wheels first. That will give you a little more speed." I looked at Al, carefully composing my face. "Yeah, that's sort of the plan," I said. I could have done a happy dance on the spot. Al was paying attention to the comment.

I bit my lip and pushed my sunglasses up a little higher.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

It's only weird if it doesn't work. (Bud Light commercial)

We gave up traditional Thanksgiving feasts in the 90's. It was the year we were so bored with roast turkey that we poached the bird instead. Poaching let us go directly to luscious turkey sandwiches. It made for a wonderful, relaxed meal, since the accompanying dishes and desserts could all be made well ahead of time, too. The lesson learned was that our holiday dinner was actually better when we messed around with the traditional menu, despite accusations of cheating from friends who worked their tails off making large traditional feasts.

After that we decided to stick with our weird Thanksgiving menus. The only rule: no roast turkey. We usually have at least one traditional item. This year's menu: pizza, salad, pumpkin pie, and two flavors of ice cream.

A good bike ride was what we wanted to start the day. As luck would have it, when we checked the Everglades Bicycle Club Facebook page, a leaderless group ride out to Key Biscayne was being organized. Thursday morning was going to be quite chilly, at least by Miami standards, but a fair number of riders were going. We rolled our bikes out to the elevator early, off to meet a fellow rider at 6:05 on Brickell Avenue. We'd ride together down to the ride's start at the golf course on Granada. We were happy there was someone to lead us to the ride's start. Nothing says traditional holiday fun like a bickering couple on bicycles wandering about in the pre-dawn darkness, arguing about which street to turn on.

A small group gathered on Brickell then wheeled down the route that led eventually to Coral Way and later the golf course on Granada. There the larger group was just starting east. We pedaled briskly through still sleeping neighborhoods, then popped through downtown Coconut Grove, past Dinner Key, and down the road still farther, till we were at Alice Wainwright Park. Then it was a swing on to the Rickenbacker, over the William Powell bridge, down past Virginia Key, over Bear Cut Bridge, and on to Key Biscayne. We circled into the Oasis, parked, and ordered our caffeine and snacks.
At the old Miami zoo in Crandon Park

Smartphone cameras were busy.
After the break part of the group headed back and part opted for the holiday tour of Key Biscayne mansions, Crandon Park, and the old Miami zoo. A meandering pedal around Crandon took us back to the highway to cross Bear Cut again and on to a loop of Virginia Key. Then it was back over William Powell and home for us. A great ride for a brisk Miami Thanksgiving morning

In the end, Thanksgiving isn't about the traditional holiday dinner. It's a day to have a good time with people you enjoy, be that family, friends, interesting acquaintances, or even friendly strangers. Nothing is weird if it works to make you thankful for having a pretty nice life.

Happy Thanksgiving.
Happy Hanukkah.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Aviation Spice Ride

Once a month, the Everglades Bicycle Club has a ride that gives people the chance to be a tourist in their own city. It's called a Spice Ride. A ride which is meant to be a change of pace, something different from the usual Saturday club ride. This month the ride's theme was aviation.

We pedaled south to Miami City Hall to join the start of the ride. The very early morning sun revealed a large group of about 60 riders gathered. There would be three parts to the ride. Bob Williams, EBC Treasurer and a long time resident of Miami Springs, was our first tour guide. He explained to the assembled group that Miami City Hall was in fact the tour's first point of interest. The building we now call Miami City Hall was once the Pan American Seaplane terminal.

We sorted ourselves into riding speed groups, and we headed out for Miami Springs. On the way, we stopped to see a cluster of buildings on one edge of what is now Miami International Airport. Now just a fraction of MIA, it was once the whole airport, built by Pan American originally.

Glenn H. Curtiss
Miami Springs, along with neighboring Hialeah and Opa Locka, were founded by Glenn Hammond Curtiss. While most people recognize the Wright Brothers, many are unfamiliar with Mr. Curtiss who was a contemporary of the Wright Brothers. Like the Wrights, he started in bicycles. However, unlike the Wrights, he was a prolific inventor and highly successful aviation entrepreneur. A native of New York state, he retired to Miami Springs. He set the land speed motorcycle record in Ormand Beach in 1907 (136 mph) on a V-8 motorcycle of his design. He is called the father of Naval aviation. While working with the navy in San Diego, he was introduced to pueblo mission style architecture. He imported the style for the theme of Miami Springs (originally called Country Club Estates). We meandered through the tree filled town of Miami Springs, visiting several examples of homes and buildings of this style.

The second part of the Aviation Spice Ride was a tour of the Curtiss Mansion. (see Miami Springs web page) The mansion is on the historic register and beautifully restored. Curtiss Mansion curators took us on a tour of the building. (Fun fact: Curtiss was an energetic man and didn't have the patience needed for a standard game of golf. Enter the concept of archery golf. Take arrows, light their tips, and shoot them down the fairways instead. Sweet.) We also had a pleasant breakfast catered by Johnny's Restaurant of Miami Springs.

MIA Air Traffic Control Tower
The third part of the ride was limited to just 36 riders. The other riders wheeled back to Miami City Hall, and the lucky 36 rode to Miami International Airport for a tour of the Air Traffic Control Tower. EBC members James Marinitti and Francesca Franco, air traffic controllers, gave the group a tour of the radar room and tower as well as providing a overview session and a question and answer period. It was an amazing place. We watched the controllers working in the radar room, listened in on the conversations back and forth with the planes, and perhaps grasped just a bit of the enormous job these people do every day. The view from the tower was equally impressive. Giant aircraft looked like toy planes from the tower, moving about with choreographed precision. It's a truly fascinating place.

Then it was time to go. We said our goodbyes, and the group headed out for a brisk ride through the city. A sprinkle or two fell, but the rain bypassed us.

I've been told that Everglades Bicycle Club Vice President and Ride Coordinator Mary Beth Garcia is the genius behind the Spice Rides. Kudos is due her for creating these rides. Miami is one of the most interesting cities on the East Coast. The Spice Rides let us use our bikes to do a little touring of this marvelous place we call home.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The 2013 Horrible Hundred

The Horrible Hundred is a day long romp through the best hills of Florida's Lake Wales Ridge. This is our fifth Horrible Hundred. It is pure unadulterated fun.

We woke early, dressed, and headed downstairs for the hotel breakfast. The breakfast area was filled with people in lycra. I was in a great mood because yesterday two lucky things happened. First, they actually had an extra small t-shirt for me at the Horrible Hundred early registration. (This flat out never happens.) Second, the hotel bumped us up to a wildly spacious suite. This much luck on one bike trip is simply unheard of. We rolled the bikes out to the car and headed to Waterfront Park. Like always, parking was a zoo. We were about 2/3 of a mile from the ride's start. We parked next to two young guys from Baltimore who kept saying (to themselves and us), "This sure doesn't look like Florida. It's all hilly." Poor things. Raised by wolves, I suspect, as they'd obviously never been brought down to Disney.

We were off to do the 70-mile route. The Horrible 70. For the first time there was no mass start. This was wonderful since mass starts are suicidal. The century people were told to head out first. We went out with the last of the century people. (OK, so we're not real good at following rules.) That let us get to the first big climb of the day a bit before the big horde of 70-mile folks. We climbed the hill, stopped to take a picture, and watched the 70-mile crowd begin cresting the climb. The first climb always calms them down enough to make them enjoyable to ride with.

All the climbs live up to their press. You start off with a 13 percent climb. After that there are some steep climbs and a lot of long not too steep climbs. Great sag stops. Nice riders to exchange a few words with. Finally there is Sugarloaf, a long steep climb that kicks the butts of a lot of riders. But, wait, there is more. The route of the Horrible Hundred is designed like a good horror film. Just when you think you are safe, you turn a corner just a couple miles from the end...and you face a short, ugly 16 percent climb, then a series of climbs and descents that refocus your reality, that is, your fantasies of riding like Quintana or Froome melt and turn into copious amounts of sweat.

But then, it's the end of the ride. Time for some food, a shower, and a nap.

But most of the riders, like us, are already starting to plan for 2014. It's the same every year for every rider: Yeah, this year was OK. Next year will be better...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car. (Will Rogers)

We have flat pedals on our sleek carbon fiber road bikes. Yeah, you read that right. Flat pedals. I say this up front so those of you who ride similar bikes have a little time to just get over it. (For those of you who aren't immersed in the arcane rituals and protocols of cycling, road bikes normally have pedals that "clip" onto your bike shoes. Just to be confusing, they're called "clipless" pedals. Their purpose is to make pedaling more efficient.)

This past week one of Al's pedals developed an embarrassing, irritating, evil squeak. The usual fixes were ineffective. We decided to send it to pedal heaven. We headed to the bike shop for new pedals.

The guy at the bike shop eyed our flat pedals with thinly veiled distaste. I give him high marks for keeping his face composed as he asked us what we were interested in as replacements. We explained that we wanted new flat pedals, as light as possible, and they had to be grippy. He spent some time pawing through inventory. Finally he produced a comical pair. Lightweight, yes. With a HUGE platform surface which he seriously proclaimed would work just dandy for us. We pointed out (as politely as possible) that they would be extremely slippery when wet since they had no studs or grip edges.

Rather than watch him muddle about, we suggested a pair we had seen on a previous visit to the store. They'd been sitting on a shelf next to another item we'd looked at. We hadn't pulled them out, but they looked good. Lots of studs for grip. Compact size for a flat pedal. He unlocked the case and hauled them out for us to check. Perfect.

We used to use clipless pedals. They were great. Unfortunately, I have wonky foot/ankle joints. You've heard people talk about joints "giving way" or "locking up"? When you have a wonky joint, this really does happen. I had some heart-stopping adrenaline-enhanced moments brought about by needing to make emergency stops in traffic while clipped in.

I finally decided my odds of dying peacefully in my sleep would be greatly enhanced if I gave up clipless pedals. Flat pedals are harder to ride with, but there's a lot less adrenaline fueled screaming.

Besides, these new pedals are damn sexy...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking spaces. (Will Rogers)

We spend weekdays working to become decent flat-lander bike riders.

We remember our first rides in Florida a gazillion years ago. We drove a long way to enjoy riding our road bikes in a place that wasn't all climbs and descents. It was so much fun, but after 30 or 40 miles our hamstrings whimpered and cried for us to rest, rest, rest. (And we weren't riding that fast either.)

We watch the Florida riders with awe. They have no idea how hard it is to do what they do with such ease. To ride fast on basically flat roads requires stronger glutes, hamstrings, and hip stabilizer muscles than we have developed up to now. Without them being stronger, you push your knees way more than is sensible. This week we had big wind. We did loops on the Rickenbacker, working to get those muscles stronger. The weekend? That's for group rides. Days where we can see if our work is paying off.

Saturday morning we looked at the weather forecast and breathed a sigh of relief. It was going to be a windy ride, but not as bad as the ones during the week. We joined the Everglades Bicycle Club 18+ mph group ride. We were delighted to find that we could stay with the group. It will be weeks more of training before I can get out front and pull. But our confidence level increased: perhaps by the end of this bike season (next April-May) we'll be riding comfortably with this group.

McArthur Engineering Building
We had a treat on Saturday. At the ride start we learned that a fellow rider and Everglades Bicycle Club board member, Greg Neville, was going to do an architectural tour near the end of the ride for anyone interested in seeing Matheson Hammock Park and several buildings on the University of Miami campus. A group of riders joined him for the tour. We pedaled to Matheson Hammock Park. A bicycle path runs through the park, past several structures built by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) during the Great Depression of the 30s. The first building we visited was a simple coral stone park shelter at the edge of a small lake. Next we went to see the nearby Red Fish Grill, a simple, elegant coral stone building facing a large salt water pond on an inlet with an truly amazing view of Biscayne Bay and Miami. From there we pedaled through open meadows past salt water mangroves to the site of the remains of a coral stone structure, now roofless and overgrown by vines and trees. Several riders told of playing in this area as children and later riding here with their own children. Lucky, these people who grew up here...

Our next stop was the campus of the University of Miami. We were there to see Miami Modern (MiMo). Our first stops were the music practice building and an adjacent structure. Built with inexpensive materials and minimalist design, but visually pleasant and quite functional. On to the Oscar E. Dooly Memorial Building. Then on to the delightful McArthur Engineering Building. Lovely buildings on a beautiful campus.

Sunday was a ride to Hollywood. It was just four of us (five for part of the ride back), but, as always, the ride to Hollywood is interesting and fun.

Another week in Miami. Working to ride faster, but the effort made pleasant by interesting biking companions.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pace Line Pastryneuring

Sticky buns! (Photo by Arpad Hevizi)
Coffeeneuring challenges are great fun to follow (Chasing Mailboxes, Coffeeneuring Challenge). But commuters aren't the only ones who bike for coffee and pastries. Group rides for pastry? Why not?

Saturday we pedaled down to Miami City Hall for the 18+ mph Everglades Bicycle Club group ride to Knaus Berry Farm, AKA the sticky buns place. The group rode briskly down to Black Point Marina for a short break, then headed west the final 8 miles to the fabled roadside stand. A long line snaked from the front doors through the parking lot. We parked our bikes and took our place in line. Strawberry milk shakes and sundaes were purchased and consumed while we queued in line to purchase trays of cinnamon buns and pecan rolls (both generically referred to as sticky buns). They were awesome, still warm from the oven and sticky with sugar glaze.

Al and I left the group shortly after leaving Knaus Berry Farms. We waved goodbye as the group approached Dixie Highway, and we headed north on the Busway parallel to the South Dade Trail, slipping onto the M-Path for the last few miles home. A pleasant 57 mile ride, about 5 miles shorter than it would have been had we stayed with the group.

Sunday we headed back to Miami City Hall for the 17-19 mph ride to Hollywood. The ride to Hollywood and Georgio's Bakery, home of fabulous stuffed croissants. Chocolate stuffed croissants are a big favorite, though many praise those stuffed with raspberry-cheese, almond, or spinach. It had been a fun ride to Georgio's, but there had been a serious headwind. A reason to have more than one croissant, to be sure! The ride back was a galloping affair, encouraged, no doubt, by the healthy tailwind. Midway through Miami Beach calm heads took control of the pace line, the group came together and proceeded home with panache. A great 50 mile pastryneuring run.

Pace line pastryneuring could catch on...

Friday, November 1, 2013

Goodbye October, Hello November

A short 32 mile ride was all we needed to hit and go over our mileage goal for the month. We used the last two rides of October to work out some kinks in the setup of out mountain bikes.

When I put our overnight rear rack bags on the bikes, I discovered some rather important spacers had been lost in the move to Miami. We went to the hardware store and got creative. Al's bike got new bar ends. I ordered a Trekker handlebar online for my bike and had our bike shop put it on. After just two rides with my new handlebar, I'm in love with it. Lots of hand positions and I can go from very upright to a low position (like being on the drops on my road bike).

I love these bikes. They started their lives as off-road hard tails. We added Thudbuster seat post suspension after a few years, making the ride nice and comfy. Switching among gears is smooth and quick. Our road bike brifters seem like sluggish dinosaurs in comparison. We'll be back on our road bikes on Saturday. The mountain bikes are sweet for touring but too slow for group rides.

October car use averaged one trip per week. Mostly we're using it to transport the bikes to bike events.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sweet dreams are made of this. (Eurythmics)

It's a week until daylight savings time ends. So sunrise is still almost an hour away when we roll our bikes to the elevator to head out to Miami City Hall. Sunday is the ride to Hollywood.

We pedaled past the Brickell Metrorail Station, passing people with faces lit by the glow of smart phone screens. They all have their ear buds in place, oblivious to us as we pedal past. We head down the M-Path. We don't rush. Ninja joggers are out early on Sunday. Ninja dog walkers, too.

It's the grey light of the pre-dawn as we roll into the parking lot of Miami City Hall. We join a group of riders we know. While we're talking, the big Mack Cycle Training Team rolls in. They're heading to Hollywood, too. Suddenly we realize the group is moving out. We hustle, but the main group is pedaling into the distance before we hit the street. We head out after them, not overly concerned about joining them right away. There are lots of traffic lights and turns ahead.

We catch up with the big group as we approach downtown. The ride route to Hollywood crosses the route of an Ironman race. Police detour our big group south. Our smaller group decides to reroute ourselves another way. After several turns, and the help of an understanding policeman, we headed north on NE 2nd Avenue. Then over to the Venetian Causeway and the usual route to Georgio's in Hollywood. Croissants ahead!

The return trip, fueled by croissants and espresso, is pleasant, and happily uneventful, a nice ride in the sunshine. As we pedal south through Miami Beach we see the big Mack Cycling Training Team heading north. We wonder where they've been and what route they took. When we once again crossed the route of the Ironman, the police are prepared for us. They comment that they are expecting cyclists to cross the Ironman route, instructed us to hustle and not interfere with the race folks, then waved us on.

A short time later we left the group as we got to SE 7th Street, our turn for home.

It's settled. Hollywood sweet dreams involve raspberry cheese croissants...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate. (Thomas J. Watson)

We sipped our coffee on our balcony watching the palm trees flailing wildly in the pre-dawn wind. The wind will lighten at dawn only to pick up again in a few hours.

Today we're starting with the 18-22+ mph group. We're riding in this speed range on our weekday rides. My comfort range is 18-19 mph. Riding with the faster group is the best way to improve. Since the 16-18 mph group rides the same route, we'll just ride with the faster group for as long as I can hang with them. If I can't keep up, we'll join the slower group when they go by.

I was as nervous as a total newbie on the 5 mile ride to Miami City Hall and the ride's start. Saturdays for the next few months are going to be frustrating but interesting.

The group milled about at the start. Travel problems had stranded our scheduled ride leaders out of town, so at first it seemed like we were on our own. Things got sorted out in short order, ad hoc ride leaders took control, and the group headed out in a nice double pace line. The pace was faster than our brief sampling ride two weeks ago. But we were hanging in there. We arrived at the break in Deering feeling pretty good.

We'd heard that the pace got faster in the next stretch (from Deering to Black Point Marina) so we weren't surprised when the pace notched up. In the last mile to Black Point Marina, I started dropping behind, and Al suggested we wait and ride back from Black Point with the 16-18 mph group. Sounded good to me. Our first 18-22+ ride failure was on the books. I thought about Truman Capote's take on it: Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor. 

We rode back with the 16-18 mph group. Chatting with some friends. Admiring the spunky 10 year-old boy that rides with his father in this group. Hearing about the Sunday ride to Hollywood, some friends decided they'd do the ride, too. I like this group. Just riding with them calmed me down again and smoothed out my frustrations.

After all, I bike because it is fun. The goals just keep it interesting.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reality continues to ruin my life. (The Complete Calvin and Hobbes)

I need another camera about as much as I need another bike. So I have been resisting the temptation to buy a POV (point of view) camera. Instead I bought myself a new handlebar camera mount for my current favorite camera, an Olympus TG-2.

My Olympus TG-2 does everything I want, and it doesn't need a special case for rain or dips in the ocean or pool. It's easy to use since it is basically a point-and-shoot with some fancy extras. It's not sexy like a POV, but it's rugged and lightweight.

I wanted a camera mount with a quick release so I could move it easily between bikes. It had to hold the camera firmly over rough road surfaces. And it had to be cheap.

Enter the Smart-Mount. I was online looking at handlebar mounts for smart phones when I first saw the Smart-Mount. It had a clip accessory for a phone. But what caught my eye was the handlebar mount. It had a quick release. I bought it on the spot. When it arrived, I put the handlebar mount on the bike. And I dropped the phone attachment into my box of maybe-I'll-use-this-sometime camera gadgets.

It held the camera firmly in place. Next came a road test. How would hold up to rough pavement and cobblestone pedestrian crosswalks? A ride down the Rickenbacker to Key Biscayne was just the thing, a ride that offers the variety of construction zones, cobblestone crosswalks, and some fine washboard pavement. Happily, the mount performed well.

I'm not planning to use it off-road, but it will do quite nicely for touring and most city riding.

So now I can admire a photo of the lovely clouds glowing in the early morning sunlight...over Al as he drops me yet one more time on William Powell Bridge...

The Smart-Mount handlebar camera mount.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The General James A. Van Fleet State Trail

The Van Fleet State Trail is a rail trail, a former railroad corridor re-purposed as a multi-use recreational trail. It's up in Polk County, and it runs 35 miles north from tiny Polk City to the minuscule town of Mable. A third of the trail slices through the Green Swamp. It's a rural trail with wildlife and wetlands, piney woods and pastures, meadows and wildflowers. We first saw the Van Fleet Trail on a Florida map more than a dozen years ago. But fate was not kind. Each of the many times we headed out to ride the Van Fleet, our efforts failed due to weather, illness, or schedule conflicts. It became our White Whale, the trail we became obsessed with riding.

Last winter Al saw that, for the very first time, Polk City was sponsoring a trail ride, the Van Fleet Trail Cycling Challenge. And so we decided to miss one of our favorite rides, the Homestead Speedway Century, so that we could put the bikes on the back of our car and drive north about 4 hours to Polk County. We decided to put the trail on our ride calendar one more time. One last chance to snag our White Whale, the Van Fleet State Trail.

The first year of any event ride is usually filled with difficulties and assorted rough spots. There's a learning curve for the sponsors. The best approach is to go with the humor of it all, rather than letting yourself become annoyed by shortcomings. Registration and sag stops opened at 9 a.m., but they acknowledged that people would be out on the trail before that. Just pick up your registration packet before you go home at he end of your ride, an email instructed.

We were unloading our bikes in the southern end of the ride just as the sky was filling with the rosy reds of dawn. There were a dozen or so other people there. We headed down the trail. We had almost two hours before sag stops opened. Without the registration packet information we really didn't know the distance between sag stops. To compensate, we packed our own snacks, fluids, and electrolyte tablets for several hours of riding. That turned out to be a very good thing. The sag stops had only bottled water, bananas, and some bite size energy bars. The people manning the stops were eager to please, but totally clueless about what riders would need other than water and bathroom facilities.

It was a very hot day with little cloud cover. We took our time checking out an alligator and some gopher tortoises. A couple of wild turkeys paraded out in front of us at one point. A fat rabbit did a suicide run at Al's back wheel, angling off at only the very last second. By the time we reached the turn around point, we started seeing the beginning of a problem at the sag stops. The supply of bottled water was ominously low. They seemed to have a some re--supply issues.

The real problem of the day had nothing to do with the organizers. The Van Fleet may be the flattest and straightest trail ever. No dips, no inclines or descents, no turns. Which meant no natural shifting of body position. It was like being on a stationary bike for hours and hours. My hamstrings began to ache from the unrelenting rhythm of the pedalling. Arms, shoulders, and other parts were soon crying out for relief. It wasn't about the length of the ride or our speed. This was one of the hardest rides we've done in recent years.

As we finally neared the southern end of the trail, we stopped to conference. Our plan had been to add a 30 mile loop to make the ride a century. I voted to cut the ride short. I was hot and tired, and the straight, flat terrain both hurt and bored me silly. Luckily Al was having the same thoughts. We pedaled our bikes to our car, popped them into the bike carrier, and happily motored off to our motel.

We had snagged our White Whale. We had finally ridden the Van Fleet Trail.

Did the ride. Got the t-shirt.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What's behind me is not important. (The Gumball Rally)

When I was seventeen, my mother let me buy a pair of towering stiletto heels to wear to a wedding. "These shoes are about looking good. They are not about being comfortable," she said firmly as she insisted I practice walking in them before the big event. She was right. It was a huge wedding with hours of dancing. I felt like a movie star in those shoes, but I was in agony after a couple of hours. I sat down by my mother and a gaggle of her tittering sisters. "Is it OK to take them off and dance in my stocking feet for a while?" The women convulsed in laughter. "Go. You've worked hard at looking good. Now just have fun the rest of the night." I had passed the Annoying Introductory Bump associated with wearing sexy stiletto heels.

It's just something you have to live through if you want to do some things in life.

We've been doing the road bike pace line thing since May. We're getting faster. We're getting stronger. We've done a century. It was time to raise the bar a tad higher. Time for another Annoying Introductory Bump. Multiple days of longer rides in a pace line.

So now we've rolled over that bump. We've had three days of riding around Miami with the Everglades Bicycle Club. The Saturday EBC group ride, the Sunday Hollywood ride, and, a little something extra, a Monday ride in Redland. All around 50 miles a ride.

On Saturday we joined the 18-22+ group for the ride to Deering. This was our first ride with this group. Since it was day one of our 3 day ride schedule, we decided just to do the first leg of the day's ride with them. A taste test, so to speak. We waited at Deering for our usual group (the 16-18 mph riders), and finished the Saturday ride with them. We noted with interest that the pace line of the 16-18 group was more disciplined than weeks before. People were more focused. They were getting ready for big rides.

Sunday we pedaled down to Miami City Hall once again, this time for the 17-19 mph group ride to Hollywood. There were 7 riders this week. Part of the usual group were riding to Key West and part were in Mt. Dora biking the hills of Central Florida. Riders joined the group as we rode toward downtown. More were added as we rode through Miami Beach. It was a fabulous day for a bike ride. Besides, on this ride we got to hear not just the usual calls for holes, debris, and water, but something more memorable and hilarious: snow! Someone had dumped a huge pile of crushed ice in the bike lane. In Miami, this counts as snow.

For the Monday ride in Redland we opted to put the bikes in the bike carrier and take the car the 20 miles south to Larry and Penny Thompson Park. We milled around getting our bikes ready as riders came in by car and by bike. We rode a modified Tour de Redland route, since the demented government shutdown had closed Everglades National Park. The day was sunny, the humidity low. It was a wonderful ride with open, rural roads and nice conversations with other riders as we pedaled along. Every ride has a special moment. On this ride we got to ride through the brief rainstorm of an irrigation machine operating close to the highway.

We drove home and dealt with clean up of bikes and gear. We were tired but elated. We had wimpy body parts, but nothing that a hot shower and a long nap wouldn't improve. We were over another Annoying Introductory Bump.

The beauty of doing things like this is simple. The first time over a bump is scary and off-putting because you don't know how it will be. But then you do it. It doesn't kill you. In fact, you feel great about having done it. Now you can do it again without getting all worked up about it. It's behind you now. Like the scene in that old movie The Gumball Rally where Franco (Raul Julia) says, "Remember the first rule of Italian driving. (He pulls off the rear view mirror.) What's behind me is not important."

Works for me.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Long Ride on the Withlacoochee State Trail

I must admit that a year ago doing a century was not on my to do list. Al and I were perfectly happy doing metric centuries. But we spent the summer working on riding faster and longer. Somehow the idea of riding a century seemed like a natural next step.

At 46 miles, the Withlacoochee State Trail is the longest paved rail-to-trail in Florida. The Friends of the Withlacoochee State Trail host a fundraising ride annually on the first Sunday in October. We like to do the ride just to enjoy it's unusual mix of riders. Because the Withlacoochee is a rail-to-trail, it's straight and pretty flat. And there are very few roads crossing it. So you can ride, and ride, and ride. It seemed like a perfect place to do our first century.

We were out on the trail early, happy to have good headlights to spot ninja dog walkers as we pedalled to the start to pick up our registration packets. The good weather news was that today would be sunny. The bad news was that the early morning would be foggy. Off we pedalled into the fog. Follow the blinking red lights. At least it was light enough that ninja dog walkers were no longer a danger.

We followed the century rider route north. We came to the point where the century route left the trail and headed on local roads for about 10 miles. Whoa. Head out on foggy local roads when we can do a boring but very safe 10 mile loop on the trail instead? No contest. We stayed on the trail.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Rest stop for snacks and sports drink fill up. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. While this century ride stuff was a bit repetitious, we were enjoying the ride immensely. The people were fun to watch and chat with. Not a bad way to spend a day.

Funniest sights on this year's ride:

  • A family of 5, all on recumbents: mom, pop, and adolescent son on adult models; a very little girl and a little boy on kiddy size recumbents.
  • A trio of young mothers leading a group of kids on kiddy bikes down the trail. I talked to one of the moms, learning that they were local and not part of the registered riders. She said the kids were a bit confused why they couldn't stop for cookies at the rest stops like everybody else. (The moms wisely promised an ice cream stop on the way home.)
  • A group of 7 ladies on hybrid bikes, all in matching t-shirts, each with her helmet tipped way back on her head, all pedalling jauntily but obliviously down the trail.

Like all long rides, the ride takes you on a mental and physical roller coaster. Your legs get tired, your mood gets irritable...then 10 miles later your legs feel fresh and your mood is jolly. You just roll with it knowing the pattern, knowing what will come next. We dropped our speed to a leisurely 15 mph for the final few miles. Delicious. Then we were done.

Got to do this again!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Hard work has a future payoff; laziness pays off now.

I'm curled up on a motel room bed, eating a banana moon pie, and sipping a can of tangerine soda. Ah, the good life.

We got up this morning, threw our suitcases in the car, popped the bikes onto the bike rack, and hit the road. Since moving to Miami, this is our first road trip out of South Florida. The destination: Inverness, Florida, and the Withlacoochee State Trail. Inverness is a 4 1/2 hour car trip from Miami. Around 300 miles but a world away. It's a sleepy little town of about 7200 souls, the county seat of Citrus County. Long needle pines and oaks dripping with Spanish moss are everywhere. We went to the local Publix grocery store after checking into the motel. The store music was country western and pop circa 1970. Time passes very slowly in Inverness, if at all.

We're going to a ride on the trail tomorrow. It's an annual fundraiser run by the Friends of the Withlacoochee State Trail. The trail, all 46 paved miles of it, is the longest in the state. It's a rails-to-trails affair. It cuts through three counties (Hernando, Citrus, and Pasco) and is about as nice a trail to ride as you can find. Tomorrow there's no mass start. You ride to the start, pick up your registration packet, grab a bite to eat, then start down the trail. While a gazillion riders register, most are families and casual riders who will stay within 15 miles north and south of the start. Once you get past that, the riders you're with are more serious cyclists looking to do a long, fast ride on the trail. The trail surface is well-maintained, and, unlike big city trails, there aren't that many road crossings to slow you down. The rest stops are well-stocked and manned by nice crews.
The Withlacoochee State Trail

We are staying at the Central Motel. It's inexpensive and right on the trail, just 2 miles south of the ride's starting point. The rooms are bright and clean and pleasant. A pleasant private balcony lets us sit outside, enjoy the oaks outside our window, and watch people bike past the motel on the trail. Our bikes are by the door, prepped and checked, ready to go tomorrow before dawn.

I've done my chores and jobs for the day. Tomorrow we'll see how many miles we can ride. There is rain in the forecast, but we're hoping to be lucky. My plans for this evening are to consume another banana moon pie, sip more tangerine soda, and enjoy a dinner of Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. Time to be lazy. Probably the best choice considering the other entertainment options available in the area.

I'm missing Miami already.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

If at first you don't succeed, find out if the loser gets anything. (Bill Lyon)

It's Sunday, and Sunday is the group ride to Hollywood.

We were up and on the road to Miami City Hall before dawn. The humidity was way down. It was going to be a great day for a ride.

There were about 30 riders gathered. We rode out right on time, pedaling quickly up Bayshore Drive to South Miami Avenue, then winding our way through downtown Miami, over the Venetian Causeway to Miami Beach. We picked up riders from Miami Beach as we passed through. The temperature was pleasant, the wind light. We pedaled through a light rain for a while, but that soon ended and our pedaling provided the wind to dry our riding clothes.

Soon we were at Georgio's, picking out our pastries, ordering our coffees, and taking a moment to chat. Then we were back on the road. Sensibly, the faster riders headed home first, free to stretch their legs. The slower 17-19 mph group (with help from a group of stronger riders) headed out next. Riders left along the route through Miami Beach. Soon we were back winding our way over the Venetian Causeway and through downtown. We crossed the route of the Escape to Miami Triathlon. Al and I peeled off as the group rode down SE 2nd Avenue and we turned towards home on SW 7th Street.

It was a good ride. We will miss next week's ride to Hollywood. We'll be heading up to an annual ride sponsored by the Friends of the Withlacoochee State Trail in Inverness, Florida. Normally we do metric centuries. Next week we may push that up to a full century. May. We're riding 750 miles a month now. It's time to raise the bar.

We'll see how it goes.

A Tour of Coral Gables

I love being a bicycle tourist.

Once a month the Everglades Bicycle Club has a Saturday Spice Ride. A Spice Ride is a leader-led ride that is different from the usual Saturday offerings. A different route. A different length. A different destination. September's Spice Ride was a chance to be a bicycle tourist right here in Miami. It was a tour of Coral Gables.

We rolled the bikes to the elevator, out the lobby, turned on our lights, and headed to Miami City Hall. The sun was just breaking over the horizon when we arrived at City Hall. A large group of riders was gathering. After a quick review of the rules of the road on EBC group rides, we were off. This was not going to be a speed ride. We were off to see the architecture of Coral Gables and to hear about the city's history.

The man in who put together the route and who would be today's tour guide was EBC member Gerry Garcia. We pedaled to the Old Spanish Village Arch. Here he talked about Coral Gables being one of the first planned communities, developed by George Merrick during the real estate boom of the 1920s. This was the start of several hours of pleasant pedaling through the city. While Greg Garcia was the one talking most of the time, others on the ride shared their knowledge as well. As I stood over my bike listening to them, I realized how special this was. The people sharing their memories or just fun facts about places we visited weren't strangers like the guides I was used to on trips to far away cities. These were people I knew through EBC.

We visited the architecturally themed villages. Merrick had planned twice as many villages, but the devastating
Gerry Garcia was our tour guide to Coral Gables.
hurricane of 1926, the implosion of the real estate market and economic crash of the Depression ended Merrick's plans. I'd seen the homes of these villages, but until now didn't know their interesting history. My favorites were the Chinese and Dutch South African. We visited the Municipal Building. (Now I know the real story of the firemen sculptures. Until now I was focused on the giant red rabbit sculptures out front. Who knew this building had been over the years, a firehouse, city offices and a jail?) We saw Coral Gables City Hall, Merrick House, an unusual cemetery, the Biltmore Hotel. and the original site of the University of Miami. We visited a school that was built as part of a land swap deal with Merrick back in the 1920, and we heard how the adjacent property was the planned Trolley Garage, a result of a similar modern day land swap deal. We pedaled past the Venetian Pool, a spot some riders were planning to visit.

The group headed back towards Miami City Hall, part of the riders pedaling off to a spot for lunch, others pedaling to their cars and homes. I'd had a grand time. I'd talked to new people and learned a lot about Coral Gables. The riding had been organized but relaxed.

I love being a bicycle tourist.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cover me, I’m changing lanes. (M.I.A., Bad Girls)

The bikes we use for touring are going to the bike shop for their tune-up next week. Our ride and travel calendar is filled for the next few months. Harbingers of summer's end in Florida.
The lighthouse at Cape Florida State Park.

Summer may be waning, but it hasn't ended yet. We still have a couple more weeks to get ourselves in shape for this year's rides. This week we're working harder than usual. Out on the Rickenbacker, of course. There's no upper age limit on getting stronger or improving endurance. But you need to work longer at it and gains come slower. So we pedal our daily route, a little faster than we were last month, gradually getting a little stronger.

Riding with a group has forced me to work harder at monitoring my energy levels. I used to have a working battery gauge. Somewhere, a few years back, I realized that mine had become totally unreliable. I needed to find a physical cue that would help me. A cue that would to tell me when my battery needed a charge. This week I finally found a cue that works for me. I saw some small differences in my visual skills. It was like playing a video game and loosing just a smidgen of focus. Not enough to be an immediate problem, but enough to be noticeable and a reliable indicator. If I ate something (half an orange slice candy, or about 25 calories), my visual skills popped back up to normal. So, now I know when to eat something on the bike.

I always knew playing video games was a good use of my time...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

2013 Tour de Redland: Sunday, Sunshine, and Cycling

A bicycle tour on open rural roads. Nice. On Sunday, free for Everglades Bicycle Club members, and right in Miami-Dade? Excellent!

We packed our bikes on the car and drove to Larry and Penny Thompson Park near Zoo Miami. We arrived just as a colorful dawn was spreading across the sky. Unpacking our bikes, we geared up and pedalled towards the start at the park entrance, hoping to spot people we knew. We moved through the crowd, getting a few minutes of socializing with friends, taking some pictures, and signing in.

The Everglades Bicycle Club had put together the inaugural Tour de Redland. EBC board member Greg Neville welcomed the sea of cyclists then waved a ceremonial flag to start the ride. The mass of cyclists moved out. Unlike mass starts at other events we attend around the state (which shall remain nameless), this start was delightfully polite and controlled. There were plenty of strong, fit, and fast riders, but there was no mad, thundering, push down the road. Groups formed, pace lines took shape, and the groups moved smoothly around each other as the faster groups sped on and slower groups found their comfortable riding speed. Al and I were doing the 55 mile route. We had looked unsuccessfully for our regular Sunday ride group. Happily, before the start we found two riders we knew from our Saturday EBC rides and hooked up with them.

The first leg of the ride was about 26 miles into the wind to the Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center at Everglades National Park. We joined a group shortly after the start, a double pace line formed, and we pedalled happily along. A gap formed and the group split. But in no time a new pack and pace line formed. The day was sunny. The traffic was sparse. And while rural agricultural roads are legendary for their bumps and washboard, these roads were very good for their type. Besides, who can whine about a patch of rough road when you can ride, and ride, and ride without a traffic light or stop sign?

We rolled into Ernest F. Coe Visitors Center and found a place to park our bikes amid the sea of bikes. We broke out our snacks, made use of the rest rooms, refilled water bottles, stretched, and socialized. I couldn't help smiling about how nice it was to be able to visit a National Park's Visitor Center on a local bike tour. Everglades National Park is a very special place.

Soon our group began to gather with their bikes. Pedals up for the ride back. A large group of riders was heading out. Once we rode with them a few miles, I signaled Al that the pace was a bit too fast. (Maybe next year.) In just a few minutes we were part of another pack that was doing a slightly slower pace, a pace that I could handle. The group had an amazing guy leading. He was strong, consistent, disciplined, and shepherded the pack through intersections with skill. The pace line was smooth. Riders communicated well. It was a pleasure to pedal down the road with this group. I was working hard, but I was having a lot of fun.

Our second rest stop was a Tom Thumb Convenience Store. Ice cream! There is nothing like ice cream to make a ride perfect. In no time Al and I were munching down giant ice cream sandwiches. The convenience store was taking the money in as fast as they could while riders bought their treats and bottles of ice cold water. Some riders like us had a chance to thank the riders that were doing the pulling before we were off down the road again for the final few miles to Larry and Penny Thompson Park where our cars were parked.

A nice long Sunday morning ride in the sunshine is always nice. Throw in lots and lots of friendly lycra-clad cyclists, and you have the recipe for happiness.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I’m gonna go read a book with pictures. (The Cabin In The Woods)

It was a week for savoring. Three days a week we ride the Rickenbacker. Which means three days a week we do the William Powell Bridge (AKA, Happy Hill). It's not a climb that would put fear in the hearts of those who ride in places with real mountains, but for Miami, it is about as big a "mountain" as we have. Crossing it is fun.

Since like forever, the common truth is that Al climbs better than me and I descend better than him. Over the past year he's has worked on his descents. He was gradually getting better. That caught my attention. He was changing the dynamics of our hill riding! The only chance I had was to get better on the climbs. I made some changes, and this week I finally started having some success. OK, he still passed me going up. But I managed to hang with him all the way to the top. And I had to use my brakes on the descent since I didn't want to pass him. (Note to self: Do not gloat about beating your riding companion over the hill when he can smoke you on the flats. A riding companion can be amazingly punitive about such indiscretions.)

We logged our miles for the week. Tomorrow is a rest day. Time to spend some time with a good book.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Being soaked alone is cold. Being soaked with your friends is an adventure.

We had an adventure.

It's Sunday. And Sunday is the group ride to Hollywood. We rolled the bikes out to the elevators right on time. Outside on the street, we turned on our headlights and tail lights and set off for City Hall. It was light by the time we rolled into the City Hall parking lot. The weather looked dandy. More and more people arrived. By the time we were to start down the road, we had about 45 riders. A very respectable turnout.

We formed a double paceline and headed north. The ride through downtown Miami, across the Venetian Causeway and north through Miami Beach was delightful. The group stayed together at a nice speed, about 19 mph on my speedo, which let us have some pleasant conversation along with the pedalling. As we got further north, however, we saw dark clouds ahead. We'd gone over some wet pavement, but so far had not encountered rain. That changed. A bright flash of lightning and a loud clap of thunder caught our attention. Al and I were riding near the end of the paceline. Several of the riders ahead of us began an animated discussion. They slowed, waving the riders behind them to pass. I watched in my mirror as they dropped back and peeled away.

It began to drizzle, then pour. The lead riders turned us into the spacious portico of one of the nicer nearby high rise condominiums. We waited there 5 or 10 minutes, then headed out again. It was raining, but not as heavily. Our destination and turnaround spot, Georgio's, was only a few miles ahead. We arrived there, parked our soggy bikes, and went inside for our break time goodies.

Al and I gathered in Georgio's parking lot with a fair size group and headed off down the road, our understanding being that the rest of the riders were following. After a bit, it became apparent that the other part of the group was not on the road behind us. We pulled off and waited. And waited. Finally, the consensus was just to keep going. We got back on the road. The weather was looking pretty nice at this point. Sunshine, even. The pavement was drying. We rolled along happily towards the Venetian Causeway. But before we got there, the rain began again. It was a steady rain, but not torrential. That was to change as we headed towards downtown Miami.

We'd passed over the Venetian Causeway and were pointed towards downtown when the rain ramped up. By the time we were in downtown, the rain was torrential. Up one street, down another, zipping under the highway and metrorail overpasses. I got into a rhythm for tilting my helmet to pour the accumulating water off to one side or the other. Sometimes I missed, and it poured down my face instead. We bumped and skittered over railroad tracks. We turned onto SW 2nd Avenue. As we crossed the bridge over the Miami River, Al and I passed the group, waving and shouting goodbye as we turned towards home. We hopped onto the sidewalk to get one block east to the entrance side of our building. The road had flooded and passing cars sent waves of water lapping over the sidewalk and us.

We rolled our bikes through the lobby towards the elevators. We were leaving copious amounts of water on the floor as we passed. Someone held a door open for us. He was laughing. The lobby staff shook their heads and smiled. We were smiling, too.

We were soaked, but it had been a great ride.

An adventure.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

When Water Bottles Suck

We got in a lot of good rides this week. A couple were damp. We made top speed on one as we raced to finish before the rain caught us. Mainly, though, this week has been me experimenting with water bottles.

My right thumb is wonky. They gave me a brace thing to keep me from tearing it up, but, for now, I'm learning to do things without stressing it too much. I've figured out how to shift, brake, steer, and use a variety of hand positions without over loading it. But grabbing a water bottle? It's not happening.

When I couldn't master the water bottle using by left hand, it was time to move on to other solutions. The simplest solution? Use a CamelBak for hydration.

I tried Al's CamelBak first. Only those who have used a backpack on a bike know the exquisite lumbar pain you get when the weight isn't correctly positioned. I adjusted everything that could be adjusted, but Al's old pack just wouldn't work. Next I pulled out my old fall-back, an ancient Patagonia messenger pack with a wide cross body strap and stabilizing waist straps. It can hold a 3 liter bladder, and the tube fits nicely through the slots designed for an earphone cord. All I had to do to make it work was add a hanger inside for the bladder's clip. It held the weight of the liquid right where it needed to be for comfort. A working solution that I could live with!
A few years ago when water skiing was what we did, I got a new ski. I was over-the-moon happy with it. It only took a tiny twitch to make it go flying off to where ever you pointed it. Problem was, I couldn't ski on it. I'd blow the starts. I'd crash when I was close to being up. I'd get up, think I was home free, then crash. Over and over and over again. After drinking half the lake one morning, I had a hissy fit. I was in the middle of the lake, crying, practicing colorful language, slapping the ski silly with a free hand, loudly proclaiming that I'd never be able to ski again, and generally acting like a complete fool. Al never said a word. He just slowly circled me in the boat, watching me with his "look." When I finally calmed down some, the only thing he said was, "Ready to try again?"

This is why I do stuff with him. He tells me what I need to do. Then he waits for me to figure out how to do it. In the meantime, he gets to use his patented "look," which keeps me on track and never fails to make me smile.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Ticket To Hollywood

We wanna go to Hollywood.

For those unfamiliar with the Miami area, Hollywood is a beach town just north of Miami. A nice distance for a ride. We've found groups that ride that way on Sundays. But these are fast groups. We do distance, but we're still working on riding faster. We thought we'd be doing it on our own for at least a year.

This week we saw a post from Greg on the Everglades Bicycle Club Facebook group. He proposed a Sunday ride to Hollywood for the slower crowd. A 17-19 mph, no drop group ride. It would be a chance to ride in an organized double pace line, which we've learned is fun. Many FB posts followed. How committed would the ride be to 17-19 mph and no-drop? The more posts we saw, the more it looked like the real thing. With the slower speed and no drop format it could have a chance of gaining a regular following. That would make it a reliable ride for Sunday. A Sunday ride the length we like at a pace we can do. Is EBC a great club or what? And Greg? He's the best as far as I'm concerned.

While we'd set a one-a-week limit on EBC group rides, we decided to make weekends for EBC group rides if this ride took off. After all (as the saying goes) what's the point of having a mind if you don't change it occasionally? We posted that we were in.
Taking pictures before the ride. It's a perfect day.

The Saturday group ride had been a washout. Sunday was beautiful. At 7:30 sharp the group pedaled away from City Hall. The group formed a nice double pace line, and we got to take our turn at pulling. Excellent.

The destination was Georgio's Bakery and Bistro in Hollywood. Coffee and pastry. No long stop for a full breakfast. Then back on the road. The ride home was blessed with a tailwind. The speed crept up some. By the time we were hitting the Venetian Causeway, I was beginning to lose my umph. When I saw that another rider was also loosing the group, I hitched up, knowing that Al would see us being dropped and come back to us. That would make a little pack of unhitched riders, and the pack would wait for us somewhere ahead. Which they did, and we all proceed back through downtown.

We left the group as it rode by our condo in Brickell. It had been a great ride. Hope we get to do it again next week.

We wanna go to Hollywood!

Mugging for Greg's camera while waiting for a bridge to lower. (from Facebook post by Greg)

The group at Georgio's in Hollywood. (from Facebook post by Greg)
At Georgio's in Hollywood. (from Facebook post by Greg)