Thursday, December 8, 2016

Never again is what you swore the time before. (Martin Gore, Policy of Truth)

I enter the gym five floors below our little studio condo home and head over to the spin bikes. It is an hour before dawn. I give a nod to the two guys who are already there working out. They return my little greeting.

I'm retired. I'm wearing baggy gray knicker sweat pants, an old cycling event t-shirt that's been liberally customized with scissors, and a pair of well-worn Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers. The two guys are young, pulled together, sculpted, and stylishly tattooed.

I adjust my ear buds and the volume on my music. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Sweat drips down my neck. My mouth is open as I gasp a bit for air. Every five minutes a Metorail train crosses the Miami River on the bridge outside the gym's wall of windows. My eyes follow each train as it goes by.

I'm getting back to my old cycling schedule. This is the time I normally head out for a bike ride. Since a spin bike is the only bike I can ride until January 1, I'm in the gym. The workout is good, but the going-nowhere-ness of a spin bike is just plain weird. Every day I swear I'm never doing this again. But here I am, back one more time.

The sculpted, tattooed gym rats watch me warily as I gasp for air, concerned, I fear, that they may have to call 911 at any moment. But before they actually feel the need to panic, my playlist ends. Another day on the spin bike is done.

I nod a goodbye as I head for the door. See you tomorrow. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me. (Alice Roosevelt Longworth)

Al and I were mountain bikers years before we decided to pedal around on road bikes. Back then we lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and mountain biking was just what you did there. Unfortunately, mountain biking had a shorter shelf life for me than other types of cycling. Mountain biking is exciting, but it also has constant pounding on tendons and joints. I finally decided the rougher stuff was something best left behind. It was fun, and I've got the memories.

Al and I still own and ride our mountain bikes. We just do it a lot slower than we used to. And with our tires in constant contact with the ground. What we do these days is the mountain biking version of hiking. We go out and enjoy nature and wildlife and skip the adrenaline stuff.

But back to the point of this post.

I am sitting in our tiny Miami condo recovering from a crash I took on a road bike. And this past week my entertainment has been some very funny mountain biking friends. Friends that have made me laugh by shamelessly making fun of my whining and complaining.

They do not tolerate whining. Or pity parties. And why should they? Each of them has survived a serious crash or two. They are supportive, but they are quick to let me know when I need to suck it up and get my act together.

Their current undertaking was getting me to put more weight on my left leg. I whined that it hurt and that I just looked like a penguin. Of course I was immediately inundated with penguin GIFs. So I sucked it up and started working on learning to put weight on the left leg. And (surprise!) after a wickedly bad couple of days, it got better. I still look like a penguin. (And will for some time.) But I'm a much happier penguin.

You just can't have too many crazy friends.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. (Mark Twain)

I have never considered myself an athlete, just someone who enjoys being active. So I was retired before I joined my first sport club. Naturally, it was a bicycle club.

Teams and clubs, I learned, have uniforms. In sports these are referred to as kits. I don't know much about sports, but I love clothes. What could be better, I thought: Sports let you play dress-up.

I really wanted the kit of my first cycling club. But when I went to buy it, I discovered that women were expected to buy the smallest men's kit. I was skeptical. I am barely 5'2", which is to say way shorter than even the shortest man in the club. I went to a local bike shop in the little rural community near our home, and I tried on the jersey. It was just so funny. The jersey was so long I could have belted it and worn it as a tunic! Needless to say, I skipped buying that particular club jersey.

Not all clubs and teams made this fundamental sizing mistake. In the years that followed, our jersey collection grew. And grew. We've belonged to several clubs, often more than one at the same time. And there were groups that came together just for an event or tour, using an event jersey in place of a club or team jersey. We soon needed rules to keep the number of cycling tops we owned under control:

  • If there was a date on them, they had to be retired in a couple of years. 
  • Immediate retirement for white ones that got dull and dingy. 
  • Ditto sun-faded or raggedy ones. 
  • Absolutely no magenta or brown ones.

It is tremendous fun to run around with friends who are all wearing special jerseys. Some folks get pretty emotional and territorial about their team or club kits. But I think most of us understand that kits are an adult dress-up game that should be enjoyed for what it is. Particularly in very large clubs, it is inevitable that common interest sub-groups will coalesce and want their own special kits. Fine. The more the merrier. After all, it is all about friends, riding bicycles, and memories. Life is too short for childish bickering over minor matters.

Wearing a team or club kit gives you a sense of belonging. It also communicates our shared understanding that we have the responsibility to ride safely and take care of each other. Each time I peer into my drawer of cycling jerseys, each different jersey reminds me of fun rides where I wore each one. It is a collection of treasured memories of riding with special friends.

Back to that club that didn't have women's size jerseys for women members. I decided not to argue with the guys. From their decidedly sexist point of view, most of the women fit into the men's jerseys so there wasn't a problem. Life being too short to bicker, I decided to go out and buy a tacky, cheap garage sale rhinestone cocktail necklace. I paired it with my usual tank jerseys, and it became my bike club outfit. I enjoyed the comments about the necklace but never explained it to anyone.

We moved before another woman my height joined the club so we both could wear tacky, cheap rhinestone necklaces.  It would have been a lot of fun.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

We scare because we care. (Monsters, Inc.)

It wasn't my first visit to an emergency room. The first time was when I was a kid, competing with my next door neighbor to see which of us could swing highest. Coming down from the very top of our highest arc, laughing at the fun of it all, our laughter suddenly turned into hysterical screams when, Billy, my neighbor's pet goat, wandered into the path of our swings. The goat survived with a minor lump or two. My neighbor got stitches for an ugly gash on her shin. I broke my collarbone.

This visit to the emergency room, a lifetime later, was because of a bike crash. Al and I were out on a group ride. Someone lost control of his bike and swerved into me. Fellow riders handled moving us off the road, calling the police and ambulance, and answering all the necessary questions. I was put on a stretcher and lifted into the ambulance. I had identification and my insurance information with me. (Never go biking without them. And there is one thing I am going to add to my bike wallet: a laminated card with the names of my doctors, a brief list of my medications, and a note about my most important medical conditions. I fumbled to give them this simple information, and it made me feel frustrated and helpless.)

Here are the two points that I didn't know would be important:
  1. My bicycle helmet came with me in the ambulance to the hospital
  2. How fast I was going when the crash occurred was important. It determined which hospital I would be taken to. The faster you were going, the higher the level of trauma care they anticipate you will need.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was whisked into the emergency room. At this point hospital protocols took over. I was immediately put into an examination room, and the first of wave after wave of nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff began coming through. My lycra bike clothes (or rather what remained of them) were removed, and every bump, bruise, scrape, bit of road rash, and other areas of suspected injury were quickly probed and catalogued. My helmet was examined, and they actually discussed whether and where the helmet had hit the pavement. (They even matched up some minor abrasions on my head with the cable ties used to secure my helmet mirror to the helmet!) Then I was rolled off for head to toe CT scans. Back in the examination room, more questions from the doctors, more people walking in and out. The doctors pronounced that I had a broken pelvis. I had also fractured a vertebrae in my neck. There was some concern about the possibility of internal bleeding in the area of the duodenum. There was damage to a vertebral artery leading to the brain. That artery was a serious concern and their first priority. I was whisked off to a Neuro ICU, my hospital home for the next 12 days.

If you have never been in an ICU, all you need to know is that patients are hooked up to all manner of monitoring machines. This in addition to IV drips and the like. I teased the nurses that leather bondage fashion would make as much style sense in an ICU as hospital gowns. From the patient's viewpoint, an ICU is a place where everything beeps and pings, constantly, 24 hours a day. But it is also an amazingly comforting place. (Then again, that may just be a result of whatever they added to the IV drip running into my arm.) In the next hours I was whisked off for MRIs and blood was drawn repeatedly. My last memory of the evening was a doctor coming in and summarizing my condition and reviewing what was going to happen next.

Was it scary? Of course, it was. But my personal take-away was this: Everyone that was part of this experience, from the ambulance attendants to the trauma team to the nursing staff, knew what they were doing and did it well. Am I OK? Yes. Thanks to the excellent care at the hospital, I am feeling good and am on the mend. The doctors say I will probably be able to start riding again in January.

And, oh yeah, I learned something valuable about my friends and family. Not one person suggested I should stop riding my bike. Not one. And they all asked, "Is the bike OK?"

Are these great people, or what?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity. (Thor Heyerdahl)

Improving at a sport you enjoy is one of life's simple pleasures. The small markers of progress are both fun and genuine points of pride.

Al and I love riding our bicycles, and we ride a lot. When you do something (pretty much anything) a lot, you do get better at it. We use bike rides to see things. We are basically bicycle tourists. We are particularly fond of rides over and around water. Florida, being a long peninsula, has miles and miles of just this type of thing.

Because of the type of bicycle riding we enjoy, endurance is something we are always working to improve. We take 3 to 5 hour bicycle rides four days a week, a pattern that keeps our endurance at about the level we need for the types of bicycle rides we enjoy. Now it would seem hard to mess up something as simple as this, wouldn't it? The complication that trips us up is getting enough rest days.

It almost happened this week. After a week of day-after-day long energetic rides up in Franklin County, we looked at all the interesting group rides happening over the weekend in Miami. Tempting but foolish. We needed to do of what friends here call a recovery ride. So we ended our week with a familiar ride with a friend we enjoy, a ride long enough to satisfy but at a pace that allows the body to recharge and consolidate its gains.

Riding a bike is simple. Sometimes getting better at it can be its own complication.

Pedal, pedal, pedal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Promised Land always lies on the other side of a Wilderness. (Havelock Ellis)

For a lot of years, Al and I loved going to wilderness areas. Deserts. Mountains. Backwater places. They were beautiful but seriously lacking in creature comforts. Great fun, though, even with the bugs, sunburns, scrapes, bruises, cactus stickers, heat, cold, wet, and all the other inconveniences that came with the experience.

As we got older, travel with comforts and simple luxuries became more appealing. Lately I began pondering why wilderness areas are so darn appealing. (Other than the allure of being difficult to reach.) For me it is the solitude and serenity they provide, an appealing interlude in the noisy, busy pace of everyday life at home. It seems reasonable that even a state as densely populated as Florida had places that could provide us with small pockets of that same solitude and serenity. Florida has a wealth of beautiful places. Maybe we just needed a place where our cell phones wouldn’t work.
So this week we are back in Franklin County up in the Florida Panhandle. It is one of the least populated counties in the state. Huge areas filled with state and federal forests. A bunch of wildlife refuges. Protected wetlands.

A span of an old bridge is now a fishing pier. The new bridge is on the right.
A river runs through the center of the county. One cellphone service kinda, maybe, sorta works on one side of the river. Another cell phone service kinda works on the other side. Go out to the barrier islands and you may get another carrier to work...sometimes. All we can tell you is that our phones have a big X on the signal icon...wherever we go.
On our first visits to Franklin County we carried our phones with us everywhere anyway. Like little security blankets. But soon we just left them our hotel room. We are used to hopping online anywhere, anytime, via our phones. Here in Franklin County, the phones will work on wifi...which is available only in your hotel and a couple of coffee shops. Not much use when you are out riding your bike.
Yep. A touch of wilderness, Florida style. (We will be doing more of this in the months to come...)
The bridge between the mainland and St. George Island is 5 miles long.
A river in Tate's Hell State Forest
On the highway through Tate's Hell State Forest
The bridge over Apalachicola Bay early in the morning.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. (Michael Althsuler)

Labor Day is always a bittersweet holiday.

As a kid, Labor Day weekend meant a great parade in the little town where I lived. There was always a big family get-together. At least one friend always had a pool party. So it was hard not to like Labor Day. But Labor Day also meant the end of summer vacation. School was starting.

These days my feelings about Labor Day are still the same. The good: The Labor Day weekend is always filled with fun things to do with friends. Summer is ending, and good cycling weather is coming. (I always liked what one writer said about Florida having just two seasons: Summer and FallWinterSpring.) The bad: We will soon be traveling and biking around Florida, which, while fun, means missing many rides with friends in Miami.

So Labor Day weekend must be enjoyed and savored:

  • On Labor Day itself we headed out on our favorite ride to Key Biscayne. It was just the two of us. (And hundreds of other cyclists, since the area is a favorite of Miami cyclists.) 
  • The Sunday before Labor Day we rode up to the Hollywood Broadwalk with a few friends for our last official Summer 2016 Breakfast on the Beach Ride.
  • And on Saturday, the first day of the weekend, we rode down to Robert Is Here with the West Side Sunset Bandits. It was a fun and memorable ride. An early start, the group's bike lights blinking in the pre-dawn darkness. Then sunrise, La Casita, Robert Is Here, the ride back to our start point (which included a brief but drenching rain), and a pot-luck tailgate birthday get-together for one of the WSSB guys.

Summer may be over, but life, as they say, is good.
Photo by Alex Pruna

Monday, August 29, 2016

Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit. (Elbert Hubbard)

Obsessions are wonderful things.

Bicycle obsessions especially. The endorphin-driven elation of setting a personal best: riding faster or longer than ever before. The excitement of finding and trying new bicycles or gear. The adventure of searching for new routes to challenge the legs, for new scenery to delight the eye.

Labor Day is a week away. The heat and humidity of the South Florida summer will be waning in the weeks ahead. Florida's best biking weather is coming. Our calendar is rapidly filling up with bicycle travel and bicycle events. The bikes have been tuned up and checked; new gear has been fitted and readied for use.

We are set to saddle up our favorite obsessions and let them stretch their legs.

And why do we do this? Well, we'd be fools not to.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Food is an important part of a balanced diet. (Fran Lebowitz)

Sometimes you eat to ride. Sometimes you ride to eat.

Hobe Sound
Al and I are eat-to-ride people, especially when we travel. Which is a good thing. Florida has areas with sophisticated dining, but it also has areas where the cuisine is based on barbecued critters, dares, and deep fryers. Because a lot of our travel is to places with few dining opportunities, we really appreciate road trips with cyclists who are in the ride-to-eat camp.

Walking to dinner on the nearby recreational path.
When we heard that a group of cyclists we'd met through the Everglades Bicycle Club was heading up to Jupiter for a weekend of riding, we jumped at the opportunity to join them. We had done this weekend road trip with them once before. This was a group that enjoyed good conversation and interesting places to eat. Excellent.

Jupiter is the northernmost town in Palm Beach County. Just an hour and a half north of Miami. (And just 20 miles north of Donald Trump's Florida home.) The area is great for cycling. It also has beautiful beaches, waterways, ocean parks, and  lots of restaurants.

We were staying at a hotel on the Intracoastal Waterway. It's a brilliant choice for a bicycle weekend. A paved recreational path runs behind the hotel. We used the path to walk along the water to a nearby marina and restaurants in the evening. The hotel's pool area had a couple of large tiki huts that made hanging out at the pool an inviting option.

When we arrived, we ran into another friend from the Everglades Bicycle Club. He and his wife were also staying at the hotel. He was doing a ride with some randonneurs on Saturday. (He is working on a 12-month award again this year.) He and his wife said they would join us for our Sunday ride to the Jupiter Donut Factory. (I ask you, who can resist doing a donut ride?)

The weekend's cycling was excellent. Our Saturday route took us past Blowing Rocks Preserve, to Hobe Sound, down quiet residential roads along the ocean, and over intracoastal bridges with lovely views. We looped back past the hotel, heading down to another ocean park before finally heading back. Sunday's route took us over a bridge or two and past a basball training park then on to an excellent donut shop. After a quick stop for a donut we pedaled on to the Jupiter Pier. We stopped for a stroll down the Pier. Then Al and I rode with the group back to the hotel to say our goodbyes. They would be packing up, checking out, and heading to a nearby restaurant for lunch. We were staying another day, so we were going to keep pedaling for another loop up past Hobe Sound.

Good food, good conversation, cycling friends, laughter, and beautiful summer weather. A perfect cycling road trip.
Amazing food and good conversation at The Food Shack.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Anytime you see a turtle up on top of a fence post, you know he had some help. (Alex Haley)

Sometimes I think I ride a bicycle as an excuse to take pictures.

My camera is an Olympus. It isn't fancy. We are talking your basic easy to use point-and-shoot.  Its picture quality is decent, and its HD video is excellent. Its best feature is that it is tough and waterproof. It has survived, mounted on my bike's handlebar,  rides in heavy rain. It has been in a couple of crashes (crashes that did more damage to me, my pride, and my bar tape than the camera). I've dropped it while riding. I've even accidentally stepped on it.

When I first got the camera, I looked at the instructions briefly. I figured out how to use it by trial and error. (Does anybody read the instruction manual?)

I got bored one day last week. So bored I read the camera's instruction manual. I was looking at all its settings when I saw one I had never noticed before. It simply said "Magic." Magic? Curious, checked it out. Turns out there are a dozen special effect filters built into the camera. Who would have guessed?

So I flipped the dial to Magic and started taking pictures. In the course of a week I went through all twelve effects, using each on different subjects and in different light conditions.

The appeal of using the built in filters is that they are easy, much easier than using an app or photo editor. Most weren't very interesting or useful. But two were outstanding. One filter creates dramatic shots in low light (think restaurants or the city at night). Another creates a mirror image (reflection). I found myself playing with that one quite a bit. It's most effective with very geometric objects. Like bicycles. And I take a lot of pictures of bicycles.

So I now have a new (free!) toy.

Hocus pocus, abracadabra!    ...Magic!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

When you're average, you're just as close to the top as you are the bottom.

Ever worry that you aren't working hard enough on a ride?

Happens to me. I think it happens to everyone.

Growing up, I lived exactly one mile from school. First on a dare, then for a long time just because it was fun, some friends and I used to run the whole distance home. We would arrive home panting and laughing and red in the face. We didn't care who was fastest or who was the slowest. We were just friends having fun.

Those handy little computers on our bicycles and our much-loved GPS data have changed the way the average cyclist takes a ride. The computers and GPS data are useful and helpful and fun. But, sometimes we have too much information. Information that is addictive.

All that performance information makes training more efficient and lets us enjoy some fun competitive moments. But is the data and the competition more important than enjoying the ride with friends? When that becomes the case, then maybe we need to take a step back from it all.

When all is said and done, we are just out there riding bicycles. Wonderful, beautiful, bewitching, elegant, darn good-looking bicycles, to be sure. But we are just out there riding bicycles.

So when I worry about the stats while I'm out on a ride with friends, I take a deep breath. And another. Then I remind myself that the Olympics aren't in my future: focus on the ride.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Just enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific. (Lily Tomlin)

Bicycles are beautiful machines. Some people think any bicycle will do. I've never found that to be true. If you like to ride a lot, you need to pick your bicycle with care.

Bike fit is important of course. But the bike must also meet your individual needs. The better the bike works for you, the more you will enjoy riding.

Take our road bikes. My current road bike is the fourth good road bike I've owned over the years. My last bike was a great bike with a great ride, but the vibrations from choppy pavement and the stress of shifting made long rides difficult for me. I was having some issues with stiffness and arthritis. So we looked at road bikes that would make those issues less of a problem for me. We needed endurance bikes with electronic shifting. The bikes we chose (Trek Domanes) are lovely to look at, but, more important, I no longer suffer on long rides. My arthritic joints are very happy as we pedal and pedal and pedal.

A friend asked, "You sure do ride those bikes a lot; are you any good?" I just smiled and replied, "The bikes are good; we just enjoy the ride."

Bicycles are beautiful machines. Picking the right one makes all the difference in the world.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory. (Albert Schweitzer)

We ride our bicycles a lot. We have a car, but these days we put more miles on our bicycles than our car.

Some is fitness cycling with friends. Some is travel. Mostly we do everyday, ordinary cycling. Cycling for cycling's sake. On our carbon fiber road bikes. On our ancient slow-but-sweet titanium mountain bikes. Fast or slow, long rides or short rides, we ride because of something difficult to express in words. Seeing places from the seat of a bicycle shapes our view of the world.

Cycling lets us observe up close the transformation of our city's landscape. The speed of change in Miami is stunning. Neighborhoods that were recently residential or low clusters of small storefronts are being replaced by mid and high rise commercial and residential buildings.

Some of the new buildings are architectural gems and delight the eye. Some are prosaic, so ordinary your eye sees them only as mundane shapes among their more interesting neighbors. Some are giant pillars of sparkling glass, others towers of concrete, still others columns of fanciful colors. Some are detailed by squares and rectangles, others by sinuous curves.

Each ride brings a new discovery. Change is rapid. Like insecure middle-aged humans, older buildings get face-lifts to keep them looking younger. 

Cycling keeps us interested in what the future will bring.
The new high rise city on one side of the street; the older low rise city on the other side.
The city rising above a pocket park on the Miami River.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Suburbs To The Sea Ride

We popped the bikes into our car's bike carrier and headed off for a Saturday ride with the West Side Sunset Bandits.

WSSB had posted its weekend ride schedule. We did a little happy dance when we saw it. A new route! And an early start, too, which in South Florida in the summer is a very good thing.

The new route was from West Kendall Lakes Park in the west Miami suburbs to Key Biscayne out in Biscayne Bay. An east west route, close to 50 miles. Suburbs to the Sea.

We arrived at the start point. After some pre-ride chatting and a picture or two, we clipped in, formed into a nice double paceline, and pedaled toward the glowing clouds in the eastern pre-dawn sky.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. The route was a nice one. Urban, but with long stretches without the stop-and-start of many urban routes. We moved along at a nice pace. Soon we were wheeling along streets of the close-in Miami suburbs.

We swung north as we rolled through the Grove. It was past dawn now and sunlight sparkled off the windows of high rise buildings. Traffic was blissfully light. We were heading for the William Powell Bridge and the Rickenbacker Causeway. That would take us across Biscayne Bay to the islands of Virginia Key and Key Biscayne.

Part-way up the bridge...and the top still seems far, far away.
Crossing the William Powell Bridge is fun. For flat land cyclists, the bridge seems like a fair-size mountain with the top of the bridge way high and far away. The group took the bridge well. Like any climb, those who love climbing looked happy as they charged over the bridge. Most of us, though, found our rhythm and rode up and over, pleased that we were keeping up with the pack. Then the best part: a fun descent down the bridge! Once everyone was over the bridge and on the Rickenbacker, we reformed and enjoyed the beautiful causeway ride out to the islands.
Out on the Rickenbacker (Photo by Alex Pruna)
Our destination on Key Biscayne was the Oasis Cafe, a favorite rest stop for cyclists visiting the Key. Living in Brickell, Al and I go there regularly, but this was the first time we were there with all our friends from WSSB.
At the Oasis Cafe (Photo by Alex Pruna)
West over the William Powell Bridge.
Break over, we rolled out for our ride back to West Kendall Lakes Park. We wheeled down the causeway. This time turning onto Virginia Key for a loop of that little island. Then back to the causeway and over the bridge to the mainland. We regrouped at the bottom of the bridge.

Heading back.
We pedaled on through the Grove. Our route gave us lots of canopy from the sun as we rolled down residential streets on our way west. It was a sweet urban route that kept the group on low-traffic roads but with few turns and a minimum of stops.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. Now we were heading west. There was more traffic, but the road was a good one for bicycles. And we had a tailwind. We were having a great time. There were long stretches of road where we could get into a good rhythm and enjoy the flow of the ride. Delightful.

Then we were pedaling the last miles to West Kendall Lakes Park. I looked at the time, pleasantly surprised that we had been to Key Biscayne and back, and it was just mid-morning. We were all smiling. What a great ride!

A good east-west cycling route through Miami is hard to come by. This one is outstanding.

Can't wait to do it again!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Self-delusion is pulling in your stomach when you step on the scales. (Paul Sweeney)

It is July. We are watching the Tour de France and remembering that in just a few months we'll be riding again in hilly places.

Bummer. I probably need to get ready for that kind of fun.

A couple of years ago we got power meters on our bikes. I used to think power meters were just for younger, talented, competitive types. Luckily, someone explained to me how a wimpy older rider could get her money's worth from using one. And he was really, really right. I love my power meter!

When I first started using a power meter, I was seriously humbled by the power numbers I could crank out. We are talking seriously tiny power numbers. Humiliatingly tiny power numbers. I spent a bunch of time figuring out how far I could push those numbers up without a melt-down. It was wonderful and useful. I learned how to track my average power numbers for rides. I also learned that because I was a fairly small rider, I didn't need big numbers. It was all about the power-to-weight ratio (PWR).

This year I was determined to use the power meter to get better at chasing Al up and down the hills. The thing I needed to do was to improve my power-to-weight ratio. I did intervals. And more intervals. And more intervals. And my average power output slowly got a bit better. (I loathe training, but I will admit it does help.) But my numbers were still humiliatingly tiny

This month I realized that getting stronger was just part of what I needed to work on. There is another way to make the PWR thingy better. Lose some weight. I'll admit that I've gained a few pounds in the past year. Less than 10 pounds, but I'm just 5'2". A few pounds is a big deal when you are just 5'2".

While there have been no changes to our nutrition plan for rides or for eating at home during the past year, we have been eating out a lot. And I have been over-indulging my love of ice cream cones. Losing a few pounds would be an easy-peasy way to make that PWR look sweeter for the hills. All I really need to do is rein in the total number of ice cream cones consumed and be a bit more sensible when eating out.

It may not make me charge up the hills. But at least I'll be able to slowly crank my way up climbs with a little dignity. (Even as I watch Al happily charge ahead, leaving me in his dust.)

Lose a few pounds. Easy-peasy. I'll miss the ice cream cones, but I'll smile as I pedal up the hills at Mt. Dora and the Horrible Hundred.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company. (Mark Twain)

Naples' street art
It was the 4th of July weekend. Which, in Florida, means hot and humid. Floridians can generally deal with hot and humid. What made this weekend a bit different was the heat index. It was going to hover at 100 degrees.

We were off to the Gulf Coast with a friend for a Sunday cycling event called Wheels and Wings. It's an annual July ride in Punta Gorda. It's a well organized event with-marked, pleasant routes for both road cyclists and gravel grinders. You spend the morning pedaling, then end the ride with beer and wings at a local sports bar, with the Tour de France on all the bar's big screen TVs.

Ride to Naples
On Saturday we decided to ride down to Naples. A ride to Fifth Avenue in Old Naples would give us a 45-50 mile ride through a variety of lovely neighborhoods. There was little traffic. Bike lanes and sharrows were everywhere. We saw a good number of cyclists. We stopped for a rest and a chance to fill our water bottles at a coffee shop on Fifth Avenue before pedaling back. By the time we finished the ride, the temperature was barely 90 degrees but the heat index, as predicted, was almost 100 degrees.

Al and I checked weather for the Sunday event. It was going to be mostly sunny and a little hotter than Saturday. We decided that we needed to get creative. OK. So we had maps and cue sheet for all the road routes, and there was some overlap among them. The roads were marked well. We knew where the SAG stops were. So why not just create our own route from the ones put together by the Wheels and Wings folks? We could do an early "pre-start" loop, then return to for the regular "start" for a second loop. It sounded like a good plan. The three of us would use the same ride style as Saturday's ride: single-file paceline with 5-mile pulls, everybody sharing the pulling equally.

Punta Gorda bicycle path
Old Punta Gorda
So by 7:00 am we had parked our car, picked up our ride t-shirts, clipped in, and pedaled off. The short 15-mile family ride loop was the perfect length.

It turned out to be the highlight of the day for me, a quirky little spin down the type of route I hadn't ridden in a long time. On the plus side it made excellent use of Punta Gorda's bicycle paths. We pedaled along the water and through parks. The scenery was lovely. But paths of this kind aren't that long. The path linkages went across parking lots and even down the service alley of a retail strip. All safe, of course, but not the type of route you normally follow on a road bike at an event! It was, as they say, a hoot. In a few miles the route moved to a low traffic road with a bike lane. But even that segment of the route had a bit of weirdness peppered over it. The most conversation provoking were the speed bumps we encountered on just one side of some bridges over canals. They were placed right where the road tipped upward to cross the bridge. Why? Why? Why? We couldn't puzzle that one out. Except that maybe someone in the road department had a wicked sense of humor. Pedal, pedal, pedal. The rest of the short pre-start loop was uneventful.

It was getting very hot.

We made it back to the start. The horde of riders had left. We topped up our water bottles, clipped back in, and wheeled down the road.

Our second loop took us out into more rural areas. We rolled past cattle grazing in pastures. There were dozens of small ponds and lakes, sparkling in the morning sun. Yellow wildflowers were sprinkled along the roadsides. Stalks of purple pickerel weed poked up from ditches and along the edges of ponds. The route turned and looped into small communities where the roads were lined with trees, providing cooling shade. We passed riders standing in the shade, taking a break from pedaling in the heat. We passed pastures with horses and one with ostrich and goats.

Finally we pulled over. Exactly where were we and where was the SAG stop we needed so badly? We all agreed it should have been at the corner we had passed a half mile back. Another rider stopped, asking the same question. She was out of water. ("No problem," she said, "There's a grocery store not far down the road.") We pedaled on. Three miles down the road we came to the SAG, munched and filled bottles. Then we were off again. Pedal, pedal, pedal. It was really, really getting hot. We descended on the next SAG stop (strangely close to the previous SAG stop) glad to munch some snacks. It wasn't many miles more to go.

As we headed down the final miles to the finish of the ride, we noticed that the all the riders in front of us were ignoring the route markings that turned them from off the main avenue. We followed the markings...and discovered what the others knew. The marked route went through the historic district and brick roads. Undulating, bumpy brick roads. It was a lovely historic district, but on a day this hot, it was something we could have done without!

And then, sweat dripping off our noses, we pedaled to the end of the ride. Our bikes were packed for the ride home, and we settled down to our post-ride wings and beer. The sports bar hosting the post-ride event was filled to capacity with a sweaty lycra-clad clientele. Everyone was enjoying the air conditioning and watching Stuyven nearly manage to win stage 2 of the Tour de France with a strong solo ride (only to be caught by the peloton just 450 meters from the line).

It was a hot-as-hell day for a long bike ride, but the company was awesome.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things. (George Carlin)

This past week I found myself talking with friends about the pros and cons of different places to ride around the metro Miami area. I finally concluded that the difference between cycling in urban, suburban, and rural areas is essentially the contrast between routes and destinations.

The more urban the area, the more diverse the destinations you have to pick from for your rides. The more rural the area, the more numerous the pleasant routes you can pick among for rides.

Urban routes are a challenge. You have to know traffic patterns. There can be a lot of stop-and-go because of traffic lights, stop signs, and traffic circles. But urban rides have a wealth of parks, bakeries, restaurants, coffee shops, places of interest, and landmarks to serve as destinations and rest stops. And there are more structures and landscaping that block the wind and provide shade.

Rural routes have a different set of challenges. Shade is harder to come by, and wide open spaces mean little protection from the wind. While there are more long stretches of uninterrupted road and more low traffic roads, destinations are fewer and often have to be fabricated. A convenience store where you can get ice, water, and Gatorade. A fruit stand or grocery store if you are lucky. Any state or county recreational facility. You have to get pretty creative sometimes.

So what is our favorite Miami area ride? Well, if I made a list of my favorite urban bike rides in Miami, the ride to Hollywood from Coconut Grove would be near the top. We like going to the Hollywood Broadwalk beach. The ride is long enough (50 miles) to be satisfying. The route is pleasant: A handful of small bridges to cross. Beautiful highrise buildings. Glimpses of beaches. Glittering morning sun on the ocean. Mansions and small older buildings and homes. Strips of retail shops. Ocean front parks.

Traffic is light on Sunday mornings making it a perfect time for a ride by ourselves or with a small group of friends.  There are lots of groups out on the Hollywood route on Sunday, so you can count on seeing friends along the way.
Sometimes we go beyond Hollywood to John U. Lloyd State Park. You can take a break at a pavilion on the beach or go look at big cruise ships across the Stranahan River. Sometimes we just stop at a roadside picnic area on the Stranahan River outside the state park. Sometimes we go to one of the many Atlantic beach parks all along A1A. (Choices, choices...)

We ride all summer in Florida's heat and humidity. Urban, suburban, and rural areas all work for us. They each have their challenges and virtues. Wherever we ride in the summer, it is going to be hot and sweaty.

I can handle sweaty summer pedaling as long as I can look forward to an occasional ride to Hollywood, crossing from island to island along the way, shaded by the glittering highrise buildings, cooled by the ocean breeze, watching the morning sun on the ocean and intercoastal, and happily enjoying the best of bicycle.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Adventure is just bad planning. (Roald Amundsen)

There is nothing like planning trips and vacations to light the imagination. You start batting around some ideas. You kick around logistics and such. We've been doing this enough to know you shouldn't believe the trip will happen according to plan. Trips never do.

Which is fortunate since that is how adventures happen. Trips are fun. Adventures are wonderful.

We are planning some trips for the summer and early fall. Our trips are never big ones. The destinations are not glamorous. Their interest comes from seeing them by bicycle, something that took us many years to understand. We took trips to ride our bicycles in places thousands of miles away only to realize we had just as much fun visiting places by bicycle that were much closer to home.

When you are on a bicycle, people talk to you. You may be a stranger, but you are an interesting stranger. All you really have to do is be very polite, be friendly, and listen as much as you talk. People love to talk about the place where they live. The novelty of meeting a bicycle tourist is fun for them. And you can learn all sorts of odd tidbits about the places you visit. Who needs a travel guide when you can talk to the local people?

So we research our destinations, make our hotel reservations, check out the GPS sites to see routes being used by cyclists, and sketch out our trip plans. It all looks so sweet and simple and flawless.

With luck the rides won't be that sweet, simple, and flawless. With luck we'll have some adventures.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

When I eventually met Mr. Right I had no idea that his first name was Always. (Rita Rudner)

We are celebrating our anniversary this week.

We wanted to celebrate by doing something different. We finally decided on taking a trip without taking our bikes. That's something we haven't done in probably a couple of decades. And what better place to have this strange adventure than the Florida Keys. We've ridden our bikes up and down the Keys countless times. But a trip to the Keys without bikes? We haven't done that since the 70s!

Our travel bikes have never been selected for speed. Travel bikes need to be stable. They need to be able to carry the weight of luggage and gear. They need gearing to allow you to climb with a fully loaded bike. They need to be comfortable for day after day of long distance rides. They need to be rugged and easy to repair. We've had yellow Bike Fridays. We've used our trusty old Seven titanium mountain bikes. Travel bikes have a lot of the same qualities you look for in a spouse.
Very tame Key deer

This trip we have no bikes. Here we are on Big Pine Key, looking at the ocean out the window of our room, a room without bike gear or bikes, without bike clothes hanging to dry before tomorrow morning, without the faint sweet smell of bike lube lingering in the air. Instead a kayak sits beside our patio, paddles and gear propped nearby, with swimsuits, flippers, and snorkel gear filling spaces where bicycles usually are parked.

This trip will keep us off our bicycles for five days.

I'm happy, but I'm already missing that wonderful smell of bike lube!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes. (Jim Carrey)

Before we moved to Miami, we didn't know many couples who rode bicycles together. And all those couples were touring cyclists.That has changed. We ride with couples all the time in Miami.

Cycling is a very time-consuming sport. You can sit on the sidelines...or you can join the fun. Joining is much, much better.

It can be frustrating to be the slow-poke novice when your spouse is fit and speedy. If you want your spouse to take the time to ride with you, you have to commit to working your butt off.

I remember when Al and I first started riding together. He had a road bike. He found one for me. Problem one: I just couldn't learn to shift all those gears. I "solved" my problem by going to K-Mart and buying a cheap 5-speed. It had skinny-ish tires, hand brakes, big fenders, and a huge kickstand. It weighed a ton. But I could shift the gears. Al hung his head in dismay, but he sucked up his pride and rode (and rode and rode) with me. In time I got a better bike. (And another and another.)

At first I was slow, and I couldn't ride very far. He got me faster. He pushed me to ride farther (and farther and farther). The big family rule was no whining, no bitching, no bellyaching, no quitting. (I did, however, sometimes cheat and vent in some blog posts.)

I was lucky. Al knows me well. I can be bribed. Shiny new bikes. Nice bike clothes. Fun trips. Lots of good times together. At the end of long, hard rides, I was sore and exhausted. But I felt wonderful. And I really got hooked on that feeling wonderful part of cycling. Cycling keeps us both fit and healthy. It keeps us busy and involved. And it gives us a circle of cycling friends. Fun people who like being active.

We ride a lot. We see a lot of wonderful sunrises. We wander Miami's neighborhoods. We pedal barrier islands, causeways, bridges, and parkways. Best of all, we are riding together.

My recommendation if your spouse rides a bike: Don't let 'em pedal off without you!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memorial Day Weekend, Miami

We woke up and carried our cups of coffee out to the balcony. It was long before dawn. Miami sparkled with lights. City sounds drifted up from the streets below. The cat wandered around our feet, peering through the balcony grating, monitoring the movement of traffic and early morning pedestrians. We sipped coffee and planned the weekend ahead. And there was a lot of planning to do. We were spending the Memorial Day weekend in Miami. Three days of biking and enjoying our beautiful city.

History trivia: Memorial Day originated in the years following the American Civil War. A day to honor those who died in military service. Back then it was called Decoration Day. On one of the very first Decoration Days, 5,000 people gathered to decorate the 20,000 graves of Union and Confederate soldiers buried in Arlington National Cemetery. It is hard to wrap one's head around the huge number of soldiers killed in the American Civil War: 620,000. That's around half of all the American soldiers killed in all conflicts and wars up to the present day. This in a time when the country was just ten percent of today's size in population.

Fast forward to the present day. Memorial Day is still a holiday honoring those who died in military service. But it is also a three-day holiday filled with gatherings of families and friends kicking off the start of summer: Enjoying the freedom won by all those who died protecting it.

We had bike rides with friends each of the three days of Memorial Day weekend. We had a road bike ride both Saturday and Sunday with the West Side Sunset Bandits (WSSB). Monday we did a road bike ride with some friends from Everglades Bicycle Club (EBC) and WSSB. And we found the time in between to try out a new restaurant near our home in Brickell.

A red, white, and blue weekend in Miami.
Photo by Alex Pruna

Monday, May 23, 2016

Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

A week ago summer descended on Miami. One day we were enjoying delightful late spring weather; the next day the hot, humid weather of the summer rainy season arrived.

Saturday we set off on a long ride. Al and I do 50 to 70 mile rides four mornings a week. Every couple of weeks we do a long ride on one of those four mornings, upping the mileage to about 80 miles. This week we were joined by three of our cycling friends, which turned out to be very, very lucky.

Now there are things you need to do if you take long rides during Miami's hot months:
  • Try to avoid the hottest part of the day by starting early. (Very early.
  • Stay well hydrated. Use electrolyte drinks on long rides. 
  • Acclimate to the heat and humidity by gradually increasing the length and intensity of rides. (In other words, a distance or intensity level you can easily do in the cooler months can be a stretch when the weather gets hot and steamy. Ease into it.)
Saturday I got a little stupid. (Al might say a lot stupid.) I ignored the importance of acclimating to the summer weather. We pedaled from home to where our friends were parking their cars and chatted a bit as people got ready to ride. Then off our little group pedaled. We wheeled down to Black Point Marina, then continued on to Robert Is Here for a break and snack. The weatherman had promised some clouds, but instead it had been mostly hot sunshine so far. We all finished a couple of water bottles each on the first half of the ride. At Robert Is Here we refilled and added ice. After a nice break we got back on our bikes, clipped in, and headed back. Pedal, pedal, pedal. About halfway back we stopped at a convenience store for more water and Gatorade. We were really hot and sweaty but OK.

At 66 miles I had a minor cramp in my left hamstring. We stopped for a minute. After a quick stretch the cramp went away. We dropped the pace, and I moved to an easier gear. At 67 miles we crossed a bump of a bridge over a canal. I was in my easiest gear, but within a couple of blocks first one hamstring then the other started to cramp...a lot. I couldn't believe it was happening. Just a week ago Al and I had done 80 miles with nary a problem. I got off my bike, stretched out the cramping muscles, and, well, stood there feeling really, really stupid.

We weren't that far from where we'd met our three friends at the beginning of the ride. They went to their cars, returned for Al and me, and ferried us and our bikes home. They went way out of their way to do this...with smiles and some jokes.

Good cycling friends like these are truly one of life's treasures. When you go off the rails in a moment of stupidity, they lend a hand (in the nicest way) so you can roll again another day.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Call us butter 'cause we are on a roll. (Stuart Scott)

When you live in a rural area as we did for a couple of decades, cycling on unpaved roads and tracks isn't that big a deal. You do it all the time. I will admit I never expected to be going off pavement on a bicycle, with friends no less, after we moved to Miami.

When more and more of our Miami cycling friends started buying bikes to ride off pavement, we had to give the matter some thought. It turns out there are lots of gravel trails suitable for biking around Miami. Coastal Florida has a substantial system of canals needed for water control. Atop the low dikes that border the canals is double track for use by the people and vehicles that tend the system,  manage wildfires, and do, well, whatever else needs doing. Which means miles and miles and miles of gravel riding opportunities.

Some routes aren't double track; they are full-blown gravel roads. Other routes are more like wide hiking trails. Lots of different moods to choose from.

When we are riding by ourselves, we treat off-pavement riding as the cycling equivalent of hiking. Enjoy the quiet. Frequent pauses for nature watching or taking photographs. In other words, a ramble. We've done several rambles by ourselves and several with friends. When you do an off-pavement ramble, the route frequently determines the distance. Speed? Whatever. Time? Depends what time you absolutely need to get back. A few hours? More? Whatever.
Note the bicycle road sign.

Many of our cycling friends aren't fans of rambles. They want a more energetic experience. They want to ride faster than a ramble. Breaks are at designated intervals. Time and distance are factors, not "whatevers". In other words, a gravel grinder ride. Because these rides do gravel with some speed, they rattle and shake your joints and bones. The right bike and the right gear make a big difference in enjoyment of this kind of gravel riding. So does gradually acclimating yourself to it.

Our friends are enthusiastic about riding off pavement. We are too, but our little studio condominium simply cannot hold more bikes. Al and I each have road bikes, and we each have 90s-era hard-tail mountain bikes, now rigged for city riding and touring. So we are tweeking our old hard-tail mountain bikes for gravel riding. We did lots of mountain biking and off-road riding on these bikes years ago. They can do gravel just fine. But we are making changes to the old bikes to make gravel riding on them more enjoyable. New handlebars and grips for vibration damping. Slightly wider semi-slick tires to replace their current 1.5 inch slick tires.

Our hearts are with gravel rambles: enjoying nature, taking photographs, spending time with a few cycling friends. But we like the variety of more energetic group rides on gravel, too. We'll just watch the length and speed.

We're on a roll...
Gravel riding at dawn with the West Side Sunset Bandits (WSSB) in Miami-Dade (Photograph by Alex Pruna)