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.