Friday, May 31, 2013

"If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be." (Yogi Berra)

Another month, another car use report. Our dramatic change in car use since our move to Miami continues. A high-density urban area with public transportation is very livable. We aren't homebodies. We spend our time out and about. We go to stores. We run about town. We do errands and see people. We eat out. We just don't need to use the car.
  • Month:  May
  • Number of Times the Car Left the Garage: 3
  • Total Miles: 154
Just three car trips in 31 days. We racked up 154 miles of car use, of which almost all were used in one trip to the upper Florida Keys. The other two trips were to and from local bike shops!

How does everything get done without using the car? The big three: walking, biking, using public transportation.

A few years back I bought a bright yellow nylon backpack with padded straps. It was on a clearance rack at the beginning of the school year. I fell in love with the color. It languished in the back of my closet until we moved to Miami. Now I use it most days.

And, funny as it seems, it looks good with every outfit in my closet. (Except maybe the little black cocktail dress...)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

We have deep depth. (Yogi Berra)

We sipped our coffee on the balcony in the dark before dawn, planning our day's schedule, and bitching about the crummy weather. Not that we should complain. Miami's weather is hands down better than the severe thunderstorms in the Midwest. But we were heading out for our last ride of May, and the wind was gusting and more rain was possible.

We headed out, dodging the rush hour traffic. We rode about 10 miles meandering through pleasant residential neighborhoods. Eventually we turned south to Coconut Grove. I had dreams of an espresso, but Al was determined keep us on the bikes and moving. We ducked into the traffic lanes along the marinas to check the wind. A quick look convinced us that we didn't want to ride out the Rickenbacker Causeway. We'd finish today's miles doing loops on South Miami Boulevard. Just to add a bit of drama to the morning's ride, I got a flat as we passed Vizcaya, and the bike pump, like most small bike pumps, acted twitchy. But the flat got fixed, the loops of South Miami Boulevard got finished, and our last bike ride of the month was eventually logged in.

We did a little happy dance.

Our May mileage was a new personal best. The most bike miles in a single month. (That does not include months with bike tours, since bike tours and high mileages go together. Duh.)  And we did it in Miami. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Very Windy Memorial Day

We watched the wind in the palm trees as we sipped coffee at breakfast on the balcony. The wind was from the east. The Powell Bridge to Virginia Key would be interesting in this wind. We were out the door heading to the elevators with our bikes after a quick run of morning chores.

I wanted to see the crowds gathering at the beaches, and I wanted a quiet ride through the old Miami zoo, now a protected garden area in Crandon Park. Crossing Powell Bridge into the strong headwind was (gasp...gasp...gasp) a challenge. As we neared the top of the bridge, the pedaling got a little easier. But we had to keep pedaling hard to go downhill. No coasting today.

We rode to the Cape Florida State Park lighthouse for our banana break. Our next break would be the old zoo and the Crandon beaches. The old zoo is kept as an area of botanical gardens. Peacocks, Egyptian geese, ducks, and a variety of other creatures roam free. It's paths wander among ponds and creeks.
Egyptian Goose
The beaches were filling fast. It was breakfast time for most people, but family groups were claiming their tables and beach spots, and grills were firing up. A steady stream of cars was streaming into the vast parking lots.
A windy early Memorial Day morning at one of the beaches.
And the final trip over Powell Bridge with the wind at our backs was pure fun.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Yeah, but it's a warm rain...

Club ride Saturday. Club ride number 2 for us. We were going out with the 16-18 mph group, up from the 14-16 mph newbies group we were with last week. (Progress.)

All groups follow the same route to Deering Estates. The faster groups peeled out first and disappeared down the road. When it came time for our group to depart, we rolled down South Bayshore Drive towards the Grove in a crisp line of 20+ riders. Beyond the Grove the route meandered through a series of residential neighborhoods. It will be a while before I can navigate this twisting and turning route on my own. The fact that riding with a group requires less energy for the same speed was quickly apparent since the mileage of today's group ride was about the same as Al and my daily ride. Today's group was a pleasant speed for us, a good speed for social chit chat. (I made a mental note to talk Al into doing the faster ride some time for more of a challenge.) It was quickly apparent, too, that riders had a perceived pecking order. We needed to ride with this group for a few weeks and learn more about the group dynamics before we inserted ourselves into that pecking order.

There were a bunch of people who were riding to the break at Deering Estates, then turning around and heading home rather than doing the whole ride. Which meant they were also skipping the post ride group breakfast at a restaurant in the Grove. This was their compromise to their busy holiday weekend schedules. That worked for us, too, so we hooked up with them for the ride back to City Hall.

Shortly after we began our ride back, the skies got very, very dark. It started to rain. "Who wants to seek shelter?" Susie yelled to the group. "Keep riding!" they yelled; "We've got stuff we have to do." So we rode on as the rain changed from a shower, to a light rain, to a heavy rain, to a deluge. Rain sheeted down my glasses giving the scene an underwater vibe. We all found ourselves checking and moving cell phones to places more protected from the rain. I looked down at my camera in my snack bag splattered and glistening. I forgot to put it in it's plastic bag, and it was too late to worry about it. If it died, I'd just look at it as an omen that I deserved a new camera!

The rain slowed, then stopped as we approached the Grove. One of the Susies dropped back to me to smile and say, "That was refreshing!" A short time later we were waving goodbye to them at City Hall. Our next stop was a block down, a deli/market where we would dry off, sip some coffee, and stock up on some goodies for the holiday weekend. The sun was already popping out by the time our bikes were tucked into the bike stand, the official end of the group ride for Al and me.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Half of the people in the world are below average.

Miami is the first place Al and I have lived with convenient bicycle club group rides. When getting to and from a ride takes longer than the ride itself, that is a no go in my book. The Everglades Bicycle Club rides start just south of our new home.

We have ridden with groups of riders at bike events, but we've never done it in a formal way. We just tagged along for a mile or two then went off on our own. Which meant that for all intents and purposes we were clueless about manners and protocol for this sort of thing. So this morning we rode south four miles to the old Miami City Hall to our first Everglades Bicycle Club group ride. I was as nervous as a little kid heading to the first day at a new school. I didn't know what I would do, but I was certain I would embarrass myself. Al thought this was funny, but he didn't push the point. We all like to think we're at least as good as the next guy. My vice is the fear of showing myself to be far below average in a very public way.

The group ride start is on Biscayne Bay at the old Miami City Hall.
There were three groups heading out from the old Miami City Hall. We had talked it over and decided to start with Group 3, the 14-16 mile per hour group. We ride faster than that, but ride speed wasn't what we needed to learn. We figured that the leader of the slow group would be the most tolerant of a couple of ignorant riders in their midst. That turned out to be a good decision. The first guys we met were from Group 2, the 16-18 mile per hour group. These aren't the speedy guys, but the thing was this: They'd been riding together for over 20 years. Not the group I wanted to be with on my maiden group ride. They seemed like really nice people. I didn't want to screw up their weekly ride by doing something dumb.

The groups were riding the same route to Deering Estate where we all made a rest stop. Our group turned around and returned to City Hall. The other groups continued south to Homestead Bayfront Park. At the rest  stop at Deering Estate we came upon a comical scene. A dad was staging a video event with his little girl, who was beyond thrilled that her dad was helping her put the whole thing together. Remember the Peanuts cartoon with Lucy selling advice for a nickle? Here's the stand they had going:
Some ladies out for a stroll through the park went up and asked the kid some questions. The little girl was cute, witty, and way too smart for her age!

Our group went to Lulu's in Coconut Grove for breakfast before ending the ride. I was feeling pretty good. I had only caused two almost crashes. Since it was just twice and just an almost crash, I felt my maiden group ride was a success. By the end of the ride I was pointing out road hazards, signaling slowing and stops, and generally performing fairly adequately. We had guessed right about the group. They were very tolerant of my mistakes, and nobody screamed at me even once. Success!

Our Saturday mornings will be Everglades Bike Club group rides from now on. (Sweet.)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why Do Bike Computers Make Us Crazy?

The bicycle computer is an indispensable piece of gear. Unfortunately, it feeds those obsessive, compulsive, addictive behaviors hidden deep within us all.

Today was a comical example. We are going on a club ride on Saturday. Al was making certain all was well with our road bikes. My bike and all its gear were just fine. His bike was fine--but his bike computer was all out of wack. I watched as he fiddled, fussed, fumed, and practiced colorful language. We could do our daily ride without the computer working, but it was clear from the git-go that was not an option. What was comical was that I completely understood this.  Ride without knowing the numbers? Unthinkable!

And so we left on our daily ride, Al's computer still out of kilter. Every block we stopped so that Al could fiddle. I drifted my bike a few yards away, careful to stay out of harm's way. This scene was repeated frequently as we pedalled the mile or so to the Rickenbacker. I listened politely to the updates he provided as function after function was put in order. But I spoke not one word. Never get involved with someone fiddling with a bike computer! They are clinically crazy during these moments.

At last all was well and we were off on our ride. It gave me something to think about as we rode. We keep the numbers on spreadsheets and get a thrill when we reach milestones or personal bests. I can't even imagine riding without keeping track of the numbers. (How weird is that?) I've not infrequently seen cyclists on rides carry their bikes into rest stops from the roadway so that that brief interval of slow riding doesn't affect their overall numbers. (Now that is weird.) All in all, I decided Al and I aren't too far over the edge.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Sunday Ride to the Beach (Peacock Included)

My mountain bike won't be used again until we tour.
I'll be honest. I'm not a fan of the beach. We get enough sun time while we're out on the bikes.

But Miami is the first place we've lived where the beach is a possible bike ride destination. You can ride there, have a snack or a picnic, then ride home. We have a wide selection of beaches, too. Today we picked Crandon Park out the Rickenbacker on Key Biscayne. At 880 acres, Crandon is a fair size city park, and the park is mostly one very long beach. The nice part for us is that Crandon lets us do our regular daily ride to the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park lighthouse, wander around Key Biscayne, then take the Key Biscayne bike path into Crandon.

Today we had an obstacle on the bike path that was a first for us. A peacock. He owned his spot on the path, and he had no intention of moving. Joggers and other bikers wove around him. I decided I wanted to see what he would do if I just very, very slowly edged toward him on the bike. OK, what this bird did was squawk, turn his back to me, and do the tail display thing. Move? No. Now that is a peacock with attitude.
It's his spot on the path, and he's not going to move.

He didn't move when we got right next to him, he just showed tail and attitude.
This is our last ride on the mountain bikes for a couple of weeks. Al has been eager to start regular club rides with an Everglades Bicycle Club group. We're thinking of one of the Saturday morning rides beginning next Saturday. We haven't done club rides in a decade. We'll be on our road bikes, of course. Some people can move back and forth between their bikes at will. Me? I need a day or two to adjust. Each bike uses the body a bit differently, and I need a ride or two to get comfy.

Al spent the late morning doing maintenance on the road bikes. I reattached the gear bags. Tomorrow I'll give the mountain bikes a good wash. We'll break them out again in a few weeks when we take our first short tour.

Postscript: We diverted our routes on our next two rides to check out a hunch about the bike lane peacock. Sure enough, on both subsequent rides, the same peacock was in the same spot with the same attitude. We even did a quick run-by of several of the other peacocks to check if, perhaps, it was another of the peacocks. Nope, it was the same one, a funny feather in the tail was a dead give away. I love this bird!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Tour de Puddles

We drank our pre-dawn coffee on our balcony watching rain and flashing lighting. The cat was annoyed because the rain had wet the edge of the balcony where she likes to sit, sticking her head through spaces in the guardrails to check out the balconies above and below. By the time we finished breakfast the rain had stopped. By the time it was fully light, the sky was clearing.

We rolled our bikes to the elevator around 7:45 for our daily ride. It was going to be a Lazy Loop day. We seldom eat fried foods, so yesterday's conch fritters were still with us. (Burp.) A long hard ride in today's high humidity following the morning thunderstorm...well, that was just not going to happen...

Even a lazy ride felt good. We did do the bridge at our usual pace. Climbing is just too much fun to pass up, even when you're belching fritters and fries.

Most of the ride I was laughing at Al's hand gestures, warning me at the approach to every significant puddle and splash zone. When we come back from rides on days like this, his bike is shiny and clean. Mine? Well, it needs a serious wash up. He has great expectations that I may, just may, improve and be neater given enough coaching...

At the park, an immature brown pelican shared our cozy fishing dock, eyeing us speculatively as we munched our bananas.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Alabama Jack's

We'd done a week of daily rides. We got to our target mileage. It was time to take a rest day.

Our car gathering dust in our building's parking garage.
Last month the car was only used to visit doctors and medical facilities. This month it has sat idle so far, just gathering dust in the garage. We were drooling for a nice lunch out. A lunch of conch fitters with a squeeze of fresh lime slice and red cocktail sauce. For that there is only one place to go. The best conch fritters in the upper Keys are at Alabama Jack's, a fish joint on Card Sound Road just north of Key Largo. We decided to drive down there for lunch. While we were near Key Largo, we could visit two hotels and decide which we wanted to use as our Key Largo overnight stop for bike trips.

Key Largo is about a metric century (62 miles) from our Miami home. To get there, we roll our bikes out of our building and get on the East Coast Greenway route heading south. This is one of the really neat things about our home: it is actually right on the East Coast Greenway route through Miami. I wanted to go there by bike for an overnight this week or next, but Jiminy Cricket (AKA Al) says no touring (not even one this short) until at least a full 10 weeks have passed since the Incredibly Stupid Bike Crash Incident. That means it'll be a couple of weeks more.

Today I'll settle for a car ride and conch fritters at Alabama Jack's...

Alabama Jack's is part biker bar, part old school fish house.

The restaurant and bar are on the covered deck next to the water. No screening or glass. The birds fly right through the place. You can throw crumbs from your plate to the fish in the water below, then watch them snap them up.

Monday, May 6, 2013

If I agreed with you we'd both be wrong.

I'm certain there are couples who face unpleasant tasks with calm, charm, and a cooperative spirit. Al and I are not like that. We bicker and snarl, glare and mutter, and swear and sputter. This morning we rolled the bikes down to the elevators earlier than usual. It was a glorious morning, and we were both busy talking about where we wanted to ride, how many times over the bridge, and how many miles. We were at the street when we noticed. My rear tire was flat.

Al began practicing colorful language. Al hates fixing flats, and since the flat was on my bike, I was obviously at fault. We've been a couple for a good many decades. When adversity confronts, when tempers are short, there is only one sensible tactic: silence. After all, there isn't anything to discuss. After the first few years of living together you realize that there is just no high road, no right way to handle things. Handle what needs to be handled and move on. As quickly as possible.

In no time we were all fixed and back on the road.  We're doing about 3/4 of our normal daily mileage this week. We're working on setting up a basic 40 mile route for our daily ride. The Rickenbacker with the bridge to Virginia Key and the loop through Key Biscayne is where we're laying it out. The only real question now is how many bridge repeats we want included with the miles. I'm voting for four.

Today we were mellowed out by the time we got to the lighthouse. The houses of Stiltsville seemed closer than usual. We ate a couple of bananas while watching the houses off on the horizon. The flat tire was forgotten. We were in good spirits again. The day was glorious. The exertion of the ride felt wonderful.

It was time for a chocolate chunk cookie and espresso. That's something we can agree on and both be right.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Saturday Tour de Rickenbacker-Key Biscayne (Come One Come All)

You've got to love the Rickenbacker on weekends. If you're alive in Miami and own a bike, the Rickenbacker seems to be where you go on weekends. The sheer number of cyclists of all ages and abilities is amazing. Has anyone ever done a head count of their numbers?

We got up and did chores early, eager to be done with work and out on the bikes. By 8 o'clock we were out the door, rolling the bikes to the elevator. It was a fabulous morning. Warm and humid, but breezy. It's a surprise how much less sweaty bike riding is here than at our old Florida home. There is always an ocean breeze here, and the ocean keeps temperatures a bit cooler than those we were used to in Florida's interior.

There were lots of groups of brightly patterned lycra clad riders on skinny tired road bikes. Unlike weekday mornings, all levels and types of riders were in evidence. We were amused at the ones that drove their cars over the bridge to Virginia Key before parking and unpacking their bikes.

We rode to Key Biscayne and into Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. We looped the state park's perimeter on the unpaved path beside the seawall. Lots of fishermen. Families were staking out picnic tables for gatherings, and parents were shepherding their flocks of kids on bikes around the park's quiet trails. The state park is a pocket of quiet in urban Miami. Birds twitter. Waves lap the shore. Palm fronds flutter and whisper.

We left the park, looping a route through the back streets of Key Biscayne before heading back to the Rickenbacker. Mansion building is alive and well here. Some are boring and pretentious, but there are some beauties, too. We did a lot of meandering, finally arriving home about three hours after we had left.

Our ride mileage is inching upward, but (more importantly) we're moving along at a more normal touring speed. Which for us means fast enough for us to do touring mileage, but with no worries if there are lots of stops or slow-downs to take in sights, enjoy the day, and savor the ambiance of the area.

A family group on their bikes in the state park pass a group of fishermen.

Pelicans fly in formation behind a boat. Stiltsville is in the distance.
Riders stopping for coffee at one of Key Biscayne's cafes. Riders give the local coffee spots a lot of business. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Once Again Over the Hill

The day started out refreshingly cool but with lots of sunshine. Sunshine! It's been raining a lot here, and sunshine is definitely better. We headed to the Rickenbacker.

Our rides are moving up a notch in intensity and length. Still no chasing roadies. Which was a good thing early on Friday morning on the Rickenbacker. These roadies are all young, fit, and fast. (Couldn't catch them on my mountain bike without extreme stealth and cunning even if I wanted to!)

At any rate, the point of today's ride was to do the bridge to Virginia Key with something that approached our old level of intensity. Which we did, and it was immense fun. (Next we will add loops of the bridge to our total route. I'm looking forward to that.)

We rode to the end of Key Biscayne and into the state park. We rambled down the perimeter's unpaved path which had small ponds of water at regular intervals thanks to the recent rains. We shared the dry strips with the early morning joggers.

It was a great ride. In a week more of rides like this one, we will notch things up to prepare for metric centuries and touring. I'm getting a yen to ride in the Keys again.
The lighthouse at the end of Key Biscayne.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Less is More: April Car Use

We put 161 miles on the car this month. This is in contrast to our old place in the boonies where we used to put on more than that for one round-trip to a doctor visit or shopping. This city living is sweet.

Starting this month we plan to do a couple of one-day out-of-town bike trips. We'll use the car for those, but it looks like the car will sit in the garage most days. Change has come fast. We no longer use it at all for shopping or most local errands.