Monday, January 25, 2016

Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness. (Ray Bradbury)

The Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) is unique, a recreational trail on top of the dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobee, Florida's largest freshwater lake. It is the way you feel, pedaling on top of the dike, looking down at the lake on one side, looking down at the surrounding roads and homes and fields of sugarcane on the other side, that make this our favorite inland trail.

The LOST runs all the way around the lake. Portions of the LOST are paved. Other sections are just hard-pack trail. Navigating the whole thing is complicated by locks and water control structures. And then there are the dike repairs. This work by the Army Corps of Engineers has closed whole sections of the LOST, especially on the south and west sides of the lake.

We planned to spend two days on the LOST. This wasn't a trip for long rides or miles. We wanted to nose around the LOST, learning how the construction and repairs were affecting riding the trail, and gathering ideas for future trips.

Our first day of riding the temperature was 48 degrees. When we returned to our motel after a few hours of riding, the temperature had soared to 49 degrees, our high for the day. At Clewiston there was an unpaved section heading west but construction had left only a 4 mile stretch of paved trail open to the east. (Large locked chainlink gates blocked the trail when they really, really didn't want you to go farther.) The second day was a bit warmer. We roamed between Clewiston and Port Mayaca locks. If you didn't mind unpaved trail and detours off the trail around large strips of construction, you could put together a decent day of riding.
Paved sections of the trail are perfect for road bikes. The section between Okeechobee and Port Mayaca is best.

Unpaved segments are easily handled by mountain or gravel bikes.

Rubble boulders, part of the dike repairs, lend an exotic beauty to some areas.

In some areas bridges take the trail over canals. 

A sugar cane field being burned near the lake fills the air with smoke and ash.

Some water control structures have a rustic beauty. This one was particularly striking.
An unexpected sight in an RV camp on the lake's edge in Pahokee was a tiny Casita trailer colorfully decorated by its owner.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Our Tour de Cape Becomes The Tour de Pelican

A year or so back, a friend introduced us to the Tour de Cape, an annual ride in Cape Coral. We decided to do it again this year with the same friend.

During the week before the ride, things were looking grim. Rain and severe storms were predicted for Saturday night. (The ride was Sunday.) The organizers had tentatively canceled the 100 mile ride and delayed the start of the other rides to mid or late Sunday morning.

We had our motel room and had paid for the ride. What to do?

Another look at the weather forecast gave us our answer. Saturday was going to be a beautiful day. We'd take a long ride on Saturday. If Sunday's ride worked out, it would be a bonus, a two-ride weekend.

So we agreed to meet at the motel at noon Saturday. Al and I wanted something that was hard to come by in Miami: A long ride with few interruptions. We noticed that our motel wasn't too far from Pine Island Road. There were plenty of stores along it for snacks and drinks. While it was a fairly busy highway, especially in the middle of the day, it had a bike lane. And it went out to Pine Island which is, after all, the largest island in the state of Florida. Unlike it's famous neighbors, Captiva and Sanibel, Pine Island doesn't have big sandy beaches. It's mainly agricultural. There is also a state-owned wildlife refuge there.

Saturday was a wonderful day for cycling. Light wind. Sunshine. Temperature in the mid-70s. Pedal, pedal, pedal. The first part of our ride was typical coastal suburban. Pine Island Road was busy, but the bike lane was adequate. Soon we reached the bridge to Matlacha (pronounced "mat-la-SHAY"), a small village known for it's Old Florida cottages, all painted in a rainbow of bright colors. Pretty. The village hugs the highway, luring tourists to its galleries, shops, and restaurants.

Pedal, pedal, pedal. We crossed another bridge, and we were on Pine Island. The highway cuts through the wildlife refuge. Lovely. In a few miles, you reach the island's other main road, the north-south highway that runs from Bokeelia on the island's northern tip to St. James City on its southern tip. We turned toward Bokeelia.

Near the northern tip of the island, we followed the signs to the ferry. The ferry takes you to Cayo Costa State Park. Not our plan today. We stopped for a break and a snack. To our delight, there was a large group of white pelicans swimming nearby. There was also a group of common brown pelicans. One immature brown pelican waddled about just a few feet from us, boldly begging for a snack.

We left the ferry's dock and headed back to the highway, turning north and following it to its end. Then we turned about and pedaled the same route home. A lovely ride on a beautiful day.

The storm came through as predicted overnight. It cleared by 8 AM. There were standing puddles in low areas. The ride start was set for 10 AM. No more rain, but lots of wind. The weather guy said the winds would be sustained at about 25 mph with gusts of 35+ mph. We checked in at ride headquarters and picked up our ride T-shirts.

Ride? Wasn't going to happen. We said our goodbyes, smiled, and headed home to Miami.

We'd had a delightful Tour de Pelican.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Fun gimmick: Add the word "apparently" to any sentence and it splashes a little sarcasm into the mix.

This is very handy for for social small talk when you need a gently snarky comment. And it is handy when you need to describe a ridiculous experience without blatantly whining.

Take a bike ride we took this week.

It started out as long, easy ride on a beautiful morning. Near its end we treated ourselves to a couple of big blueberry muffins and cafe con leche. We sat at an outdoor table enjoying the restaurant's pleasant garden. We fed muffin crumbs to the sparrows living in the shrubbery. We were having such a great time we didn't notice the rain clouds coming in.

It started to drizzle.

We quickly rolled our bikes to the street, clipped in, and pointed them towards home. Which was about 8 miles and two bridges away. Al took the lead. He set a very brisk pace. It was getting darker. The drizzle was now a light rain. Al kicked the speed up. We started taking turns pulling. The speed kept inching upward. It was about this point that I told Al I had to get on his wheel. I was at my maximum down-the-road speed. I couldn't hold this effort without drafting. He lost me going up over the bridges, but I caught up by pedaling wildly on the descents.

Two miles from home the rain notched up again. Al, not one who enjoys getting wet, pushed the speed up yet again. My heart rate was soaring, my breathing ragged, but I stayed glued to his wheel. I got absurdly happy at intersections, traffic circles, and traffic lights since they briefly slowed us down so I could recover a bit. I unclipped rolling up to our building, hopped off my bike, and pushed it across the slippery painted sidewalk and up the handicapped ramp to the side entrance to our building. We dripped through the elevator lobby, squeezed us and our bikes into an elevator with 6 other people, and headed up to our floor and home.

When the elevator doors opened on our floor, we said goodbye to the other people, and rolled the bikes out of the elevator. The elevator doors closed.

"Well, that was a fun ride," Al said smiling widely.

"Yes, our sprinting is apparently improving," I said, feeling water dripping off my helmet and down my nose.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Lake Placid, Day 3

We woke to what looked to be another gray, chilly day. But the weather guy said it would clear up and get warmer. OK. Back to yesterday's original plan: leisurely breakfast, ride north around Lake June, to and around Sebring, then circle back. A nice long ride along favorite old routes. Some sections are from rides years ago with our old bicycle club, the Highlands Pedalers. And from the Dan Henry markings along the route, they are still being used.

The ride started gray, chilly, and somewhat windy.
 But it got a little better.
 Then the gray clouds lifted, and we had one beautiful day for a bike ride.
When we got back to the motel, we stopped next door at a bright yellow food truck, Eats. It's our big discovery of the trip. Now this food truck does country food typical of the area such as gator nuggets as well as the usual burgers and hotdogs. But the owner said he kept getting requests for Cuban sandwiches, so he gave it a try. And his interpretation of a Cuban sandwich is marvelous. The bread is more of a hoagy roll than Cuban bread, but it works. He uses two kinds of roast, pulled pork. There's a long slice of pickle. Lots of gooey melted mozzarella cheese. The whole affair is toasted and pressed to perfection. A wonderful example of fusion cuisine. We liked it so much we had the Cuban sandwiches two days in a row.
 Post-ride meals don't get any better than this.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Lake Placid, Day 2

We had a plan. We would have a leisurely breakfast, then do a loop ride north around Lake June to Sebring and back. Coffee and a snack in Sebring. A simple plan.

The weather did not cooperate. It had rained overnight. It was windy and chilly and gray. The weatherman said we'd stay dry if we got back to the motel by early afternoon.

He lied.

Two miles north of the motel it began to mist. In a while it was a light drizzle. The pattern of a mile of drizzle followed by a mile of mist continued for a good while. Then the clouds over Sebring got darker.

It was time to rethink our plan. Continue north to Sebring? (Don't think so.) The clouds were lighter to the south. Go south? (Of course.) So we made a u-turn and started a loop to the south.

It worked. We did a Tour de Lakes in south Highlands County. And we stayed fairly dry.

And we got to feed peanuts to scrub jays. It always pays to carry peanuts when you bike in Highlands County.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Lake Placid, Florida (Starting The Year With A Peek Backwards)

From 2000 to 2013, we lived 5 miles southwest of Lake Placid, Florida. Lake Placid is a small rural town, known mostly for its murals and caladiums.

Highlands County's main town, Sebring, is 20 miles to the north. South of our old home there are mainly ranches, lakes, wildlife preserves, the 5200 acre Archbold Biological Station, and orange groves.

We lived there for water skiing. We biked on days when the weather wasn't good for skiing and in winter.

We have not been back to the area since we moved to Miami. We don't spend much time looking backwards. But we wanted to take just a peek at our past before we returned to the area for the Sebring Spring Break Weekend with the Everglades Bicycle Club this year.

So we booked a room at the old Ramada Inn south of Lake Placid. We threw our duffel bag into the car and put the bikes on the bike carrier. Three hours after leaving Miami, we pulled into Lake Placid. Not long after that we were out riding our bikes. Today we used bikes to do the usual tourist things (gawk at murals) in Lake Placid. Then we took a pedal over our favorite rolling hills southwest of the town. Nothing long, just a fun ride to stretch our legs.

There are murals everywhere in Lake Placid. Clusters of tourists walk from one to the next. The murals depict local sights, local history, and the area's wildlife. Here are pictures of just a few of them:

 Near the center of town, a popular shuffleboard court was filled.

We made a stop at a community park on the lake near our old home. It was cold and windy, and not even fishermen were out on the choppy waters. We looked for a minute, then pedaled back to our motel.