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)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we'll find it. (Sam Levenson)

We have many bike routes around Miami that we enjoy. Some, though, are special.

Take the route north along the beaches between Miami Beach and John Lloyd Beach State Park. At its southern end you have South Point Park and Pier, South Beach, and all that charming Deco. You wheel past mansions, modest homes, and lots and lots of amazing highrises. The route is dotted with beachfront parks. At the state park at the route's northern end you can look out across the narrow Stranahan River channel and check out the gigantic cruise ships at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Depending on where you pick up your friends and your choice of destination, you can ride from 30 to 65 miles. 

We like it by ourselves or with a small group on weekends when the traffic is light. There are bakeries and restaurants all along the way. Or you can pack some snacks or a light picnic and enjoy one of the beachfront parks. A personal favorite destination is the Hollywood boardwalk with its stores, restaurants, bakery, and ice cream store right on the beach. A nice Sunday outing.

This past Sunday we met a few friends at Miami City Hall and pedaled down Biscayne Boulevard, over the Venetian Causeway to Miami Beach, and headed north to Hollywood and the Hollywood Boardwalk. We wanted breakfast on the beach. We had an excellent ride, a great little breakfast, and capped it off with a frozen lemonade at A.C.'s Icees in Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove.

Life is good...

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Weekend In Highlands County Florida

Highlands County is just a 3 hour car ride from Miami. It sits at the very southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge. The Lake Wales Ridge is the remains of a chain of ancient islands. It starts in Highlands County and runs north about 150 miles. At its northern end, near Clermont, lies Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest point on the ridge and a climb famous among Florida cyclists. But at the southern end, in Highlands County, the hills are gentler. They are challenging to cyclists from the flatlands of coastal Florida without being intimidating. The area is picturesque with a myriad of lakes, oaks dripping with Spanish moss, cattle-filled pastures, endless orange groves, and mile upon mile of quiet roads. The perfect place for a weekend of cycling.

We drove to Sebring, the largest of Highland County's three cities, for the Everglades Bicycle Club (EBC) Spring Break Weekend. The event has a history spanning back to the 80s. It is a three-day event. The routes are easy to follow thanks to excellent route marking by Highlands Pedalers Bicycle Club. (And this year they provided GPS for the routes, too!) There is a barbecue one night. The historic Kenilworth Lodge in Sebring is the base for the weekend.

Friday morning we pedaled from our motel to the Kenilworth Lodge. We were going to ride the 62 mile route. A sizable group of cyclists was gathered in the front parking area. Greg Neville, past-president of EBC and host for the event, said a few words and the group formed up for a ride around Lake Istokpoga. The Highlands Pedalers led the group out, and we were off for a great day of riding. Our route led us through town, past pastures filled with cattle, past fields tilled and ready for planting, past nests of osprey (the heads of the chicks sometimes peaking up into view), and finally through miles of orange groves on our way back into Sebring. Wonderful ride.

Saturday we again pedaled over to the Kenilworth Lodge. We were planning to join the group riding the 55 mile route north to Lake Reedy in Frostproof. Again, great route marking. Lovely glimpses of lakes as we pedaled along. We saw a beautiful swallow-tailed kite near Lake Reedy. Lovely route. We debated whether the route had more hills or whether our legs were just a bit tired from Friday's ride. (More likely the case.) Al and I slipped away from the group on the way back to Sebring so I could take a couple of photos. My plan for the end of the ride was to stop at an ice cream and soda store we'd spotted near the old downtown circle in Sebring. Which we did. (I can report that Cappuccino Kahlua ice cream is delicious.) Afterward we headed back to our motel for a shower and nap before the Saturday evening barbecue at the Lodge.

Gathering for a picture in Highlands Hammock State Park.
Sunday was the day for the traditional group photo in Highlands Hammock State Park. We gathered at the Lodge and pedaled over to the park. There were lots of photos taken. Some people were headed for a loop through the park, then back to the Lodge to check out and drive home to Miami. A few (us included) were planning to make it a 45-mile day by following today's southerly route down Henscratch Road to Lake June with a loop back to Sebring. We did it as a leisurely photo tour with a break for an ice cream sandwich at a convenience store in the little community of Leisure Lakes on the north side of Lake June. The critter count was excellent: a turkey with 6 chicks, numerous families of sandhill cranes, a large snapping turtle, horses, and cattle, including my favorite, Brahman cattle.
Brahman cattle
There was a bit of humor out in a pasture. There were wonderful vistas of orange groves. Quiet, canopied roads next to lake (after lake, after lake), picturesque old structures, and winding, slow-moving creeks.
Bigfoot sighting in a pasture.
Vistas of miles of orange groves.
Stop at a creek.

This is definitely a weekend event we will do again.