Monday, March 28, 2016

A Three Team Ride

We saw the event posted on the WSSB Facebook page. The West Side Sunset Bandits, Cycling Family Broward, and Dutty Ridas were getting together for an Easter Sunday ride, Miccosukee Golf Course to Robert Is Here and back, with a pot luck tailgate affair afterward. It would be about a 50-mile ride. We checked our calendar. We would home in Miami that weekend. Would we go? Darned right we would. We'd be fools not to: It sounded like a lot of fun.

Al and I hadn't done any rides with Cycling Family Broward or Dutty Ridas. We knew a couple of their members, heard a CFB presentation at a recent EBC club meeting, and we'd seen posts on Facebook. We knew that a lot of these guys are fast. But Saturday is usually their day for fast riding. A Sunday ride was our opportunity to meet some of them for a more casual group ride. Perfect for us.

So Sunday we drove over to the west side of Miami and Miccosukee Golf Course. We pulled into the parking lot in the dark pre-dawn. As the sky lightened, we saw that there were a lot of people getting their bikes ready to ride. We wandered about chatting with friends. It wasn't long before it was light, and the ride could begin.

One note for my non-bikey friends. The West Side Sunset Bandits don't just ride bikes. They are heavily armed with GoPro cameras. When you ride with Alex Pruna and Joe Cruz of WSSB, you can be sure you'll never have to worry about having photos for your Facebook profile picture. And, most importantly, their pictures are good! We gathered for the beginning of the ride and the traditional group photo. Alex Pruna had outdone himself this time. He brought a super tall tripod, one tall enough to get even the guys in the very back into the group photo!

We clipped in and wheeled out. It was a great turn-out for an Easter morning. 50 to 60 riders. Within a block we heard a loud BANG! Someone's tire had blown. That was the one and only mechanical for all of us for the whole day. That, in and of itself, was a message that the cycling gods were smiling on this inaugural three team ride. The tire issue was quickly sorted out, and we were on our way again.

The weather was good. Nice temperature. A bit of wind, but only enough to make sure we'd get a decent workout. The teams rode well together. There were plenty of strong riders, many of whom did the bulk of the pulling for the group. Which let riders like me tuck in the middle of the group and save energy. For the first part of the ride the wind was either a headwind or crosswind depending on the road. I had a strategy and I stuck firmly to it. I found a nice steady strong rider, and I stuck to his wheel. At intersections and such, I'd watch a gap start to open in front of I'd shift to a bit easier gear, spin faster and catch back up to that wheel.

We had a short sociable stop at La Casita, then continued on to Robert Is Here for another short break. Lots of photos, snacks, ice and water refills, chatting with old friends and new acquaintances. Then we all rolled out and headed back to Miccosukee Golf Course. Now, of course, the wind was more often a tailwind, always a good thing.

We navigated through the crowds that are Easter Sunday at the two large churches on our route. Soon we were on the road that circles Miccosukee Golf Course. Then we were back at our cars.

The Cycling Family tent went up, coolers appeared, and food put out. We chatted and nibbled and lounged about, enjoying the day and speaking a bit with people who will, for certain, become future friends. This was the first time the three teams had come together for a ride of this sort. It was definitely fun. I certainly hope it will happen again.
Many photos and videos were posted by people on the ride. Alex Pruna posted many of them. He also put together a video I really like. I'm including it in this post because it captures the ride better than words. Alex, thanks for all you do.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Let us not be too particular; it is better to have old secondhand diamonds than none at all. (Mark Twain)

We have done a bunch of windy rides this week. Long rides that leave the legs feeling drained and wobbly.

While we were traveling in North Florida, we came across a sign on a bridge warning about an 8% grade. Somehow I think most trucks won't find a short grade like this a problem. But I'm sure tourists from other states get a laugh when they see the sign.

Most of Florida is a curious place for pedaling a bicycle. You can argue that it is easy because there are no hills. You can also argue that it is hard because there are no hills.

You have to work harder to pedal up a hill. But you get to recover while you are going down the hill. If you are lucky and riding in rolling hills, you can get in a rhythm. Work to climb, rest as you descend and swoop into the next climb, then work again, swoop again.

Our cycling friends in places with actual mountains can laugh all they want. Mountains are interesting. But I've yet to have one of these friends come to our flat lands and laugh after they've spent a few days riding the coastal flats. Hour after hour of steady pedaling, no downhill coasting, just pedal, pedal, pedal. Your only variety comes from the wind and an occasional bridge. It builds a surprising amount of endurance.

We take long rides in Florida's flat lands. Bridges and wind aren't mountains, but we are't particular. They worked just fine for us this week.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring Breakers, Bandits, And A Snowbird

Spring Breakers have arrived in Miami. While the majority flock together in beach hotels, some come to roost in less rowdy places. Like the highrise condominium building we call home. They hang out at the pool during the day, go clubbing at night, and provide us with some amusing moments. A condo unit down the hall from us has a group of young men on spring break.

Saturday we drove over into Miami's western suburbs to ride with the West Side Sunset Bandits. We know many of the team through our mutual club, the Everglades Bicycle Club (EBC). They do rides with EBC and with other Miami area cycling teams. They like to do road trips to cycling events, too. There is a nice mix of men and women in the group. They're strong, safe riders, and they are fun. Saturday's ride was from Miccosukee Golf Course to Black Point Marina and back with a loop around the golf course. A pleasant brisk 50-mile pedal, with just enough wind to give us a good workout. A winner.

Sunday we drove south to Homestead for the Everglades Bicycle Club spring charity ride, the Snowbird. The weatherman was calling for rain, but that didn't keep a huge group of riders from setting out for a morning on the rural roads of Miami-Dade's agricultural district. We set out on the 62 mile route, pedaling with a group of riders from several teams including the Bandits and Cycling Family Broward. We left part of the group at the first rest stop; they were doing one of the shorter routes. The sky was threatening, the roads wet, but we were dodging any real rain. Pedal, pedal, pedal and we were halfway through our metric. Which was about where some deranged malcontent had strewn tacks on the road. Al rode through unscathed, but I wasn't as lucky. By the time we got back on the road, we were down to one tube left for the two of us, which meant we needed to cut our ride short and head back to the start. So it was a 45 mile day for us. We put the bikes on the car and walked over to ride headquarters for a light meal (tacos!) and some chatting with friends. The Snowbird is always a great ride. Even with wet roads and tacks, this year's ride was fun.

Then we were at home and back to the business of being amused by our little group of Spring Breakers. Like I said, we had a group down the hall from us. Late Sunday afternoon there was a knock on our door. Al opened the door to find a young man holding a large, but empty, blender jar. "There are nine of us, and we've run out of ice. The ice machine can't keep up with us. Can we get some from you?" asked the young man politely. We invited him in and filled the blender jar with ice. He thanked us profusely, returned down the hall to his condo, and announced his successful return with an exuberant cheer...which we could hear from inside our unit.

Ah, youth...

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Ride To Cedar Key

Cedar Key's colorful waterfront.
In case you didn't know.
A bicycle themed motel on Cedar Key.
The back roads to Cedar Key are pretty quiet.
The main highway to Cedar Key has a wide bike paved shoulder and not a lot of traffic.

These days Cedar Key is known for being a quaint tourist town and a place that farms clams. But it started out as a lumber center, a source of cedar lumber for pencils. There was a railroad line that went to Cedar Key so the lumber could be shipped to pencil factories in New York.

Our ride companion today was one of our companions from yesterday. He is a retired musician who spends his time playing the piano and organ and being the choir director at his church in North Carolina. He's a long-time cyclist whose cycling resume is pretty intimidating. And, oh yeah, he's 80 years old and a really nice guy. Like he did back-to-back metrics on two days with us. And tomorrow he's doing another one when we leave and drive to Miami. This man is a walking advertisement for the value of vigorous exercise as you get older.

Friday, March 11, 2016

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. (Hunter S. Thompson)

Chiefland, Florida, is a small town 40 miles east of Gainesville and the University of Florida. Culturally, this is Deep South, Southern in its most concentrated form. Add a bunch of Midwestern snowbirds and, Voila!, you have Not-Miami Florida. In fact, for all practical purposes Chiefland is the epicenter of Not-Miami Florida, in every way Miami's cultural opposite.

We are staying in a pleasant older chain motel. Across the street is one of the cultural touchstones of Not-Miami Florida, the flea market. This flea market has a big tent with a tacky-cruel roadside zoo complete with a tiger, monkeys, a kangaroo, and an assortment of other poor creatures all locked in too small cages. It is surrounded by RVs. The shoppers all are very white and have gray hair. Down the road a half mile is Chiefland's main shopping area, two strip malls, one anchored by Walmart, the other by Winn Dixie and Bealls Outlet.

In the midst of all this, there is the Nature Coast State Trail: 32 miles of beautiful and quiet recreational trail. It connects Cross City, Fanning Springs, Trenton, and Chiefland. The trail crosses the Suwannee River on an old railroad truss bridge. (Yep, the river in that really, really Not-Miami song, "Old Folks at Home.")

We wanted to ride the trail and go out to Cedar Key. There's a guy that runs an annual ride that does just that. Nothing fancy. He drives the SAG vehicle for his small group of riders, his van filled with coolers of drinks, snacks, and gear. The SAG can't go on the trail, but when the trail intersects a road, the SAG is there waiting for the riders. A more relaxed way to explore the area than either a big event ride or just doing it ourselves.

The weather was perfect for the ride today. We did a metric on the trail. It was a very Non-Miami ride complete with a colorful cast of a good old boy, a good old girl, a minister-in-training, and a church choir director pedaling along on bicycles.

Do we know how to have fun or what?
Riding on the Nature Coast Trail to Trenton
Bridge over the Suwannee River

Friday, March 4, 2016

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. (Albert Einstein)

A few weeks back I was looking for an old picture. In the process, I checked some flash drives. I never did find the picture. But I found a 20 year old spreadsheet of bike ride statistics. I spent a few minutes scanning the old file. It was both interesting and funny to look back at what we once considered very important.

Six months ago our bike travel options blossomed. I have a boring chronic condition, and I have to take medication to keep it in remission. Six months ago my medicine got changed to one that is travel friendly. Were we excited? You bet. In fact, we have spent the past 6 months seriously talking about every aspect of our bicycle travel. We're reinventing how we tour, making sure it continues to work for us as we age. While we enjoy bike events and our travels with groups and friends, we want to continue to do a lot of bike travel by ourselves.

We made some age-related changes three years ago. We sold all our bike camping gear. Panniers, sleeping bags and mats, tent. Everything. You can do strenuous bike rides, but the older you are, the longer it takes to recover. And recovery means getting enough quality sleep. And when it is hot and humid, like it can be in Florida, it also means getting enough time in air conditioning to adequately cool down. Instead of camping, a nice air conditioned motel room is the way to go.

Now we are working on logistics. The GPS sites make finding cycling routes a snap. Al likes circle tours from a motel base. I like tours that start and end at our home's front door. The first compromise decisions we made were easy. Many short tours (1-3 nights) can be done from home. But longer ones will always be circle tours from one motel using the car to get us there. (I conceded that moving from one motel to another was cumbersome.)

Other things we agreed upon:

  • No bed and breakfast lodgings. (Too much socializing with chatty hosts and other guests.)
  • We must have in-room wireless and a decent TV.
  • No rentals that don't have maid service.
  • Eating out is fun, but we need to have restaurant dining as an occasional treat rather than a regular practice. (Too hard to maintain good nutrition when you are constantly eating out.)

But what is the one thing that counts the most in making our bike travels happy? Good coffee! And getting good coffee can be a real problem in many areas. That issue got taken care of last week. We thought back to the years we were hauling our mountain bikes around the North Georgia mountains with our trusty old Jeep. Back then we had a tiny suitcase that held a coffee pot and coffee making gear. We even had a power inverter so we could plug the coffee maker into the Jeep's cigarette lighter to brew a cup in the middle of nowhere.

So we got another little coffee maker and a tiny suitcase for it and the coffee gear: Some things just count more than others.