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.