Thursday, December 27, 2018

The only things worth learning are the things you learn after you know it all. (Harry S Truman)

This past week I spent time organizing my 2018 digital albums and journals. My notes, plans, thoughts, and memories are totally digital these days. While storage space is virtually unlimited, clutter just keeps me from appreciating the good stuff I chose to keep to remember 2018.

As I diligently worked at deleting the junk and trivia, I saw a pattern emerge in the files and photos that remained. During 2018 I had begun doing solitary rides. Riding alone but not being in the least bit lonely. This was something new.

Of course there were still lots of rides with Al and friends.  There are benefits to riding with a group. A group is more easily seen on the road than a single rider, and riding in a group allows you to benefit from drafting, letting you ride farther and faster with less effort. But it requires more disciplined focus. Riding in a group means learning to focus fully on the bikes and riders around you, riding predictably and following group ride rules and etiquette.

But in 2018 I learned the benefits of riding on my own. I get to go where I want and stop when and where I want. I was surprised to find it makes me much more aware of traffic. My eyes are always scanning back and forth across the road ahead of me. I'm hypersensitive to movements around me, as dogs, pedestrians, and crazy squirrels and peacocks have been known to appear quite suddenly. I do have one small confession: I have no shame about using my sweetest, sunniest, septuagenarian smile, or doing my best abuelita performance, if I think it might give me an edge with drivers when I'm trying to get through a sticky piece of traffic.

Success at taking long rides alone has built my confidence and has, to my surprise, made me a happier person.

Not a bad thing to learn at any age.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

You must enjoy the journey because whether or not you get there, you must have fun on the way. (Kalpana Chawla)

I took a solo century ride this week. I did it in Miami, and I did it like I was on a trip. Travel style. The idea was to enjoy the scenery and people and not to worry about how fast I was riding or how long it took me to finish the route.

I started out from home, heading to Everglades National Park (ENP) following a route that took me through beautifully landscaped residential neighborhoods, with stops at places with lovely water views of Biscayne Bay, and through the Redland Agricultural District with its miles of exotic trees, fields of tomatoes and beans, and nurseries of tropical landscape shrubs.

My meandering route made the entrance to ENP exactly 50 miles from my home. After a stop at the visitor center, I headed back on the same route I had taken to ENP, enjoying the curious fact that things look different (and that you notice different things) when you are heading in the opposite direction on a ride.

Talking with strangers is an under appreciated amusement of travel. I chatted with a man carrying an unbelievable number of grocery bags on his bike. ("I've got company coming, and I didn't want to make two trips to the grocery store," he explained with a shrug and a shy smile.) I talked with and took pictures of tourists at Everglades National Park and Robert Is Here. I met a couple from Milwaukee, and we talked about Wisconsin.

A solo century like this one is easy. You spend a day seeing your own city as a tourist might. And it is an adventure that even a timid traveler can accomplish. Yes, things can happen. Bikes break down; weather gets weird. But a ride like this is local, and home is just a call away, whether that call is to Uber or a friend.

All I can say is, the best holiday presents are often the ones you give yourself. And this year I gave myself a solo century ride, travel style, and it was great fun.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

If you're not lost, you're not much of an explorer. (John Perry Barlow)

GPS and navigation programs have made getting around a lot easier for people like me who are (ahem) navigationally challenged. I use my bike's Garmin Edge for navigation, but when I'm riding around a town or city, I find the map app on my phone infinitely more helpful. Why? Because it talks to me. "In 1000 feet, turn right onto 22nd Street." And if I wander off my course, it politely nags me back onto my route. "Make a u-turn, then turn right on 11th Street." Way, way better than the "beep" the Garmin makes as I approach a turn. So it's not unusual for me to use both the Garmin and the phone app on a city ride.

I've been exploring Miami on my bike. Now Miami and the close in communities like the Gables, the Grove, Midtown and Miami Beach are pretty easy. But as you go farther afield into the suburbs, things get more challenging.

Take my most recent ride from my home in Brickell to the wilds of West Kendall and back. Kendall and West Kendall are the true suburban wilderness for a downtown dweller like me. Looping side streets, cul-de-sacs galore, elevated freeways with few crossing points, major roads without bike lanes, strip malls randomly scattered about, and other car-centric/bicycle-unfriendly features. I did about a 50 mile ride, at least half of it doing loops on roads while the little navigation voice in my right ear was nagging me to do this and to do that so I'd get back to my designated route. All to avoid route segments I felt were too dangerous for me to ride. (And I am not an overly timid rider.) It was totally insane.

But I had a great time, and I plan to do this a lot more.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

I do not burn bridges. I just loosen the bolts a little each day. (Unknown)

I don't want a divorce, just a trial separation

My clipless pedals are not working for me lately. I need a break from them. I found a pair of studded flat mountain bike pedals among our old bike gear, bagged them, and took my road bike a couple of blocks down the street to our local bike shop. The bike mechanic raised his eyebrows, obviously questioning my request. But I was not going to overshare and discuss the matter with him. In minutes I was leaving, my clipless pedals bagged, the flat pedals installed on my road bike.

The foot and ankle contain a quarter of the bones in the body (26). There are 33 joints, and about a hundred muscles, ligaments, and tendons. I've always had foot and ankle issues. They were complicated in middle age by arthritis. Recently I'd been having problems using clipless pedals. Pulling even a little with the pedal system was painful. I was getting ankle cramps during and after rides. In short, problems from the clipless pedals were outweighing benefits.

This weekend we went to Clermont, Florida, for the Horrible Hundred. We were doing our usual Horrible Hundred kilometers, the 70 mile route. And (cue the drum roll) it went wonderfully. No problems on the flats. No problems on the climbs. And during and after the ride, no foot or ankle pain or cramps.

I'm going to see if the "trial separation" from my clipless pedals lets my feet and ankles recover. I'll do some stretching and strengthening exercises, and I'll spend my Tuesdays out on Virginia Key and Key Biscayne practicing pedaling smooth little circles with studded flat pedals.

I like my clipless pedals. Maybe a trial separation is all that is needed. (Watch this space.)

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Inaugural Florida Tour de Force Southern Leg (Coral Gables to Key Largo)

Everglades Bicycle Club (EBC) member Ruben Fuentes has touted Florida Tour de Force for some time. When Ruben helped EBC bring a new Tour de Force segment, the Southern Leg, to the Miami area, we just couldn't pass it up. A police escorted group ride with a pace car, from the Denny's in Coral Gables to the Denny's on Key Largo with the trip home by charter bus. And the ride benefits the families of fallen law enforcement officers. Nice.

So the second Saturday in November found us with almost 200 other cyclists at the Denny's in Coral Gables, waiting for our pace car, a black Lamborghini no less, to lead us down the road to the Keys.

The route took us to the Miami-Homestead Speedway for a loop on the track. A nice route via Card Sound Road to Key Largo. Rest stops were at Denny's located along the way. The ride was around 67 miles, a little over a metric century. The pace car, ride leaders, and SAG vehicles contained the riders to simplify keeping the route clear of traffic and safe. Riders who had mechanical problems or fell behind got picked up by the SAG truck and transported to the next group rest stop.

What's the One Big Thing to know about this ride? OK. This ride is not about speed. It's the fun being part of a police escorted group ride. Police motorcycles, lights flashing, leapfrogging ahead to hold traffic at stop lights and intersections. While the cyclists just pedal happily along: Traffic waits for the cyclists! That, people, is worth twice the current cost of the ride.

If you missed this year's ride, don't miss the next one. I know Al and I will be there.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Three Rivers and a Submarine

St. Marys is a tiny historic Georgia coastal town just north of the Florida line. Nearby is Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. On the first Saturday of November, St. Marys has a great little bicycle event called the Three Rivers Ride.

Last year I did the ride on my own. (Al was recovering from some tricep surgery.) This year we both got to do the ride. The route is lovely and coastal rural. It stops by the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Crooked River State Park, and darts along the coastal salt marsh. Route marking is excellent. SAG vehicles roam the route attentively. Ride marshals are also on the route if needed. Rest stops are frequent and nicely stocked. And the after-ride meal is pure coastal small-town wonderful: a bountiful array of slow cookers filled with homemade chilis of every description made by bicycle club volunteers. All staged in a charming downtown riverfront park adjacent to the Cumberland Island ferry dock.

We like this ride so much we plan to do it again next year. Including another stop for even more barbecue at Willie Jewell's restaurant. The Sloppy Pig sandwich (cole slaw topped pulled pork) with a side of Brunswick stew is purely wonderful. And next year we'll take some time to catch the ferry to Cumberland Island, too.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Simplicity is making the journey of this life with just baggage enough. (Charles Dudley Warner)

Keeping old bicycle gear is a luxury we can't afford. We live in a tiny home, a studio condominium.

When I got new bicycle travel bags this year, getting rid of our old touring bags became a priority. But it took three attempts before I finally made the old gear go away.

Many years ago we had panniers. I hated them. They were noisy, always needing adjustment, and awkward to pack. We replaced them with several sizes of rear hard-side trunk bags that we used for years. They worked well on trips, but they took up a lot of space when not in use.

It was easier to part with the old bikes than the old bike bags.

The bags held memories. Before I could part with them, I found I had to spend a little time archiving those memories. Then I was ready. We pulled the bags and racks into a pile. Some we threw away. Some we donated.

It was surprising to feel sadness and loss for something as prosaic as travel bags. But of course the sadness was simply the bittersweet feeling you get whenever you deal with change. Stuff changes. If you're lucky, little is lost and some things get better.

And besides, now we have just baggage enough.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Horses and Hills: The Gainesville Cycling Festival

For years people told us about the Gainesville Cycling Festival. They called the Horse Farm Hundred their favorite ride in inland Florida. We kept making plans, plans that got scrapped because of schedule conflicts. This year we finally got there.

We were initially confused about the weekend event. People kept calling it by different names. Then we figured it out. The weekend has two events. The Sunday event (the Horse Farm Hundred) is almost 40 years old. Then about 25-30 years ago they added the Saturday event (the Santa Fe Century).

Saturday's Santa Fe Century has 103, 68, 55, 32, and 18 mile rides. There is the road ride and a gravelers event. The routes stay pretty much in Alachua County where Gainesville is located. 

Sunday's Horse Farm Hundred has 102, 57, 45, 30, 25 mile rides. These routes are in both Alachua County and Marion County to the south.

With around 350-400 riders, this is a perfect size event. (Think Goldilocks: not too big, not too small.) There's something for every type of rider. Short rides for the casual riders. Pace car led century rides for the dedicated. You have pacelines, solo riders, and small groups of two or three. Routes are well marked. GPS guidance is good. SAG support was well organized. They call the Alachua County routes "flat" but coastal cyclists would call them gently rolling hills. Marion County's Horse Farm route is definitely hilly and more challenging. The scenery along the routes is wonderful. It's almost all rural, but you also get to ride briefly through a charming old town or two.

We drove up to Gainesville and did both days. We normally ride the metric century routes at events, and that is what we aimed for in Gainesville. We go to events to enjoy the routes and the scenery, not to watch wheels. While we didn't know a soul at the ride, riders quickly formed paceline groups as readily as well-trained sled dogs. So we rode with a group for a half hour or so each day, enjoying the social mood. Then we let the groups pedal down the road while we stopped for a picture or two. Which then let us ride the rest by ourselves, enjoying the ranches, farms, woods, and, of course, the splendid horses, along the route.

This is going to be an annual road trip for us. It's a winner.

One of the many lovely horse paddocks along the route.

Creeks and a lake or two were worth a stop along the route.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Two wrongs don't make a right, but they make a good excuse. (Thomas Szasz)

I tried to keep to our regular routine. And it worked for a while. Nothing seemed to be going right. Hurricanes tearing up places I love. Sick friends. It had done a number on my mood. I was counting on the comforting routine of four days a week out pedaling my bicycle to get me out of the doldrums.

Tuesday morning we set off for our usual ride on the Rickenbacker Causeway, Virginia Key, and Key Biscayne. Al had his speed zones and intervals and what all. I do my miles, working on my pedal stroke and cadence. But with every mile my mood darkened. My mind kept focusing on my sore back and wooden legs rather than the lovely day and scenery.

Al was waiting for me on Virginia Key. I rolled up to him and just announced, "I'm not having any fun; I'm going home." And I pedaled away.

For the first mile I argued with myself to get with the program. Go back. Tell Al I was a moron. Finish the ride.

But I didn't. I kept pedaling toward the mainland. And I noticed that my mood was getting lighter! My speed going down the bridge was nearly a personal best. Yeah!

I rode home, but by a rambling route that took me past a few of my favorite pieces of public art, a couple of fountains, and (of course) the best garden in the area.

It was silly and childish to need an excuse to use my training day for a fun ramble. I should, but don't, feel guilty. (I only rode 18.5 miles for goodness sake!)

I had fun.

Monday, October 8, 2018

There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. (Josh Billings)

Pies. It started with pies. (Lots of pies.)

We'd discovered the Withlacoochee State Trail (WST) by accident. We returned for the annual Rails-to-Trails October ride. The after ride food tent was a pie lovers dream. Home baked pies of every kind.

Needless to say, we ate too much pie. (And loved every bite.) Our solution: Do more miles. So we started making the WST ride a century ride. It was perfect:
  • A pleasant canopied paved trail.
  • Rails-to-trails, so very gentle grades.
  • Good rest stop and after ride food.
  • A time of year when the weather is generally nice for cycling.
The Withlacoochee State Trail
That was a long time ago. And as always happens, stuff changes. Home baked pies were replaced by store bought baked goods were replaced by more standard after ride food stuff. Still, it remained a pleasant century ride.

So the first weekend in October found us in Inverness, Florida, for the annual WST bike ride. It was a fun ride. We rode with a guy from Tampa. He was a funny guy, and we laughed about some of the things that had gone horribly wrong on the week-long rides the three of us had done over the years. Getting lost. Rain. Unrelenting heat. Freezing cold weather. We decided he had bragging rights for surviving the worst ride ever: 358 riders started; 25 - of which our Tampa friend was one - finished. (The ride was through the mountains of Tennessee, and there was a heat wave.)

Most rides are fun and pretty uneventful. (Especially nice little centuries on trails like the Withlacoochee!) But if you ride enough years, well, stuff sometimes happens. Things a bit more in the "adventure" category than you had planned on. You can share these stories with cycling friends. But you quickly learn that some cycling friends and most non-bikey friends will question your sanity if they learn about your "adventures." These are the rides that require a bit of imagination in retelling. Downplaying the "adventures." Playing up the beautiful scenery, great route, and all the more traditional things one expects on a bike trip.

It's better that way. (Trust me.)
A stop to admire the scenery.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Running Away From Home on a Bicycle, Camping Issues and Fixes

I enjoyed my September bicycle camping trip to Key Largo, but it brought to light some things that needed fixing. They were all simple, and I've already dealt with them so they won't be a bother on the next trip.

  • Since my tent does not have a floor, I needed to get a little groundsheet for my bivy. Solution: The ubiquitous space blanket. (Cheap, ultra lightweight, and easily replaced as needed.)
  • I wear prescription glasses. Guess what I broke on the trip? Yep, my glasses. Solution: Carry a backup pair of prescription glasses. (I found an old pair and added them to my gear.)
  • Camping has you outside pretty much all day, and I was getting way too much sun. Solution: I bought a long-sleeved hooded fishing t-shirt. (Cute, comfy, and works like a charm.)
  • I absolutely must have coffee right away in the morning. Not cola, not tea...coffeeSolution: A little can of Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso. (It also fits nicely into my front handlebar bag. What a super treat at a snack stop!)

I admit I prefer motels to camping, but the truth is, camping isn't just inexpensive, it's fun. I'm glad to have it as an option.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Running Away From Home on a Bicycle, September Edition

So I've got all my new Running Away From Home on a Bicycle gear. Even though September is hot, I had to get out and check the gear. A shake-down trip. I needed a campground 60 miles from home. So it was south to the Keys for a couple of nights.

My front gear (everything for camping) weighed in at around 5 pounds. My rear gear (including my Asus Flip Chromebook and a scad of charging accessories for electronics) was about 12 pounds. That's a couple pounds more than I'd normally take, but I brought along a couple of things I was just trying out. Of course, there was also the stuff like tubes, tools, CO2 cartridges, and locks that are always on the bike in the seat and stem bags.

Needless to say, I took my trusty newly updated vintage slow bike. If you're going to be slow, be stylish.

When I set off the first morning it felt a bit like I was pedaling the Queen Mary down the road. I remembered pedaling bikes with way more gear than this, but that was a lot of years ago. I'm on a carbon fiber road bike mostly these days. It took about 10 miles of pedaling to get used to the feel of the loaded (if lightly loaded) bike.

I made a brief stop and changed the display on my Garmin. I pay attention to the numbers there, so only the ones I need should be there:
  • Distance, 
  • Speed, 
  • Time of day, 
  • Battery level, and 
  • Heading.
Pedal, pedal, pedal. Down the road to Key Largo.

Pennekamp State Park is about 60 miles from home. You have to have reservations, but they always keep a couple of sites available for cyclists on a first come first get basis. I called ahead and told them I was arriving by bicycle and needed a campsite. They said they would fit me in. A regular site was a possibility. The youth camping area was the backup plan. But no problem with having a place to stay.

When I arrived they put me in a regular campsite so I had an electrical outlet for charging stuff right on the site. And there was another bonus: Over 65-year-old Florida residents pay half price. (That's $23 a night. I'm a motel kind of traveler, but I can see the virtue in this kind of thing.)

The bike gets to sleep in the tent, too!
I took my time pedaling down, and I arrived just after lunch. I put together the campsite, made a run to the grocery store, showered, did laundry, and met the neighbors, a German couple from Cologne. A camp host stopped by. He told me about his trips by bicycle down to Key West. He brought me tangerines. In the following hours I met many of the people in the campground. It turned out my bicycle enticed people to stop as they walked by. They asked about the big Jones handlebar, the ISM seat, the electronic shifting, and, of course, its vintage. Many of them talked about how they used to cycle seriously, but now just have the run-around cruisers they carry on their RV. Some stopped in to talk about bicycle tours they had done.

It was interesting camping again after so many years. Wind in the trees. Birds. One night I watched the full moon's glow through the walls of the tent. The next night I opened the tent flap so I could enjoy both the full moon and the stars.

The bug bivy performed beautifully. I was surprised that I was reasonably comfortable sleeping on the ground. Which means the sleeping pad was doing its job. There was a brief pop-up rain storm one afternoon while I was out on a ride.  I was delighted on my return to the campsite to see the interior of the tent, with all my stuff, was nice and dry.

The bike worked out just fine. It is slow compared to my road bike, but, on the other hand, much easier since we rolled right through patches of sand, light gravel, and unpaved surfaces without a bit of concern. I had no problems with the bridges in the Keys. (It was the first time I tried the single chainring setup on a bigger bridge.)

And to my surprise, I hadn't forgotten how to break camp. I took down the camp and packed the bike in the dark no less!

Traveling by bicycle is all about ambience. If I just want to get somewhere, I can take a car at 60 miles an hour. If I want to really see the route and talk to people, I travel by bicycle at 60 miles a day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Island Time

I got a lot of messages from friends after my last post. It seems discovering that we aren't as independent and self-sufficient as we believe is something we've all experienced. (Thank you for the many amusing stories.)

This post started as a post about the bike trip we just took. But Hurricane Florence tore into the Carolinas. Suddenly I didn't want to write about bike rides. Too many friends were in the path of the storm.

I had a friend who confessed she got through her first hurricane in a bathtub, covered by a cot mattress, clutching a bottle of scotch. I thought she was just being funny. Then I lived through my first hurricane. It was terrifying. But the storm was just the beginning. After the storm moved through, there was the clean up. The repairs. The rebuilding. For us. For our neighbors. For our town. For every town in our county.

So Al and I spent last week on beautiful St. George Island in Franklin County, Florida, biking the 20 mile circuit of the island, the area's miles and miles of bridges and causeways, and the scenic coastal highway. The weather was lovely, mostly sunny, a touch of rain, but exactly what you expect for summer in Florida. We enjoyed the sound of the surf and the view of the beach from the deck of our rental place.

And I followed posts from my Carolina friends, feeling sorry for what the storm was doing to their homes and towns, but happy that they, and their families, were safe.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know. (Daniel J. Boorstin'

I'm just a beginner at solo bike travel, but I've already stumbled into some unexpected discoveries. True, they are small discoveries, but there have been a surprising number on each short trip I've taken.

I've learned things I didn't even know I didn't know. Some stuff is (ahem) a bit humiliating. Moments when I realize I don't know how to do some pretty basic things. Most are easy to figure out, stuff I did years ago, but stopped doing myself for one reason or another.

Like getting cash.

So I'm in a coffee shop. I pay for my coffee and snack and realize my cash is running low. Now, I always just use credit cards. But then it hits me. I'm sure I'm going to need more cash before I get home. How do I get cash? Since Al and I retired ages ago, Al has gotten cash for the two of us. When I need more, I just ask him for it. There's a moment of vivid clarity when I know that I don't know how he gets it or how I should get it on my own. Wowzer.

Thank god for the purchase plus cash feature at the grocery store check out.

Like most couples, Al and I long ago divided work up between the two of us. So every day on these solo trips I bump into little things that totally baffle me. Oh, I figure them out quickly enough. (Some are no brainers.) Actually, discovering and relearning these things is kind of fun. But it takes the ego down a notch or two. (Trust me on this.) It doesn't make me feel stupid. Just temporarily incompetent.

It is a lesson in humility, but also a lesson in the nuances of our relationships. Self-sufficient independence is very much an illusion. We are part of a family, friendships, community, groups, clubs, and teams. We too often take for granted how much we truly depend on each other for the little things in life.

The little things in life are pretty darn important to us all. No matter how self-sufficient we think we are, we don't do it all ourselves.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping. (Gertrude Stein)

So I couldn't and didn't buy a new bike for bike travel. But, since Al and I sold our old bike travel gear before moving to Miami, some shopping was necessary. The last time I did this was years ago, and shopping for bike travel gear was a real hassle. Not anymore. With online shopping, it is just plain fun.

Before I could buy anything though, I had to set some guidelines for myself:
  1. I decided to keep it simple: lighter is better; less is more
  2. I would get things specifically for travel in Florida, a place where heat, humidity, random showers, and bugs rule. 
  3. Finally and most importantly, when not in use, all my bike travel gear had to fit on two 30" wide cabinet shelves in our tiny studio condominium.
That settled, I set about adding a rear rack to my bike. We already had a couple of seatpost mount rear racks, but I decided against them. I admit that I picked the Thule Pack n Pedal Tour Rack because I liked its looks. It matched the look of my bike, and it lets me keep using my existing seat bag which holds tubes, tools, CO2 cartridges, and the like and fits perfectly around the Thudbuster.

Next I set about putting together the camping gear. I wanted everything to fit into a handlebar pack. I already owned an Apidura Backcountry handlebar pack with a detachable accessory packet. It fits nicely on the Jones loop handlebar. Here's what my new camping gear consists of:
The whole handlebar pack with all the camping gear weighs less than 6 pounds.

I use a top tube bag for snacks, my phone, and a backup battery. There are two water bottles mounted inside the frame. I use a Camelbak Skyline LR backpack with a 3L/100oz bladder. (I've worn it in the full heat of the South Florida summer without finding it uncomfortable.) I stash small items like my tubes of electrolyte tablets and a first aid kit in the backpack's pockets.

On the rear rack I use either of two bags as my "luggage."
  • An Arkel Trailrider trunk bag, or
  • A 19" gym bag. (Ha! Unconventional, but it works.) More spacious than the Arkel. It has functional compartments and has proven itself sturdy. While it is reasonably waterproof, I have a backpack rain cover for it. I attach it to the rack with elastic cargo netting, which gives yet another spot for putting stuff.
You may have noticed that there is no cooking gear. I carry a teaspoon, a salad fork, and a folding fruit knife. I don't do restaurants much. I do grocery stores. I've been doing this for decades while traveling, and I actually eat rather well.

While it isn't what many like, need, and use, it will work nicely for me for a week+ of biking around Florida. And it all fits on those two cabinet shelves when I'm home in Miami.

A special thanks to my friends who gave me suggestions and advice. It made the job a lot easier. You made adding a camping option to my credit card/motel style of travel easier to do than I ever expected.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Running away was easy; not knowing what to do next was the hard part. (Glenda Millard)

OK. So a while back I decided I wanted to do some bike travel again.
  • Not the car/bike/motel style of bike travel that Al and I do all the time. 
  • Not adventurous bike travel around the country or world. 
  • I just want to leave the car in the garage and pedal away from home for a week or two. 
Al is unexcited about doing this kind of bike travel again. We did it years ago. (Been there, done that, sold the special gear a long time ago.) Eventually I realized that trying to talk him into this kind of bike travel was just (1) annoying him and (2) wasting my time.

What to do? Well, I will do the bike travel, but solo. While going on a trip without Al isn't the bike travel I want, it is the bike travel I just gotta do.  Not to whine, but I'm not getting any younger. The clock on this kind of stuff is tick-tick-ticking.

But then I had another problem to work out. I'd been using my road bike for overnight trips. It was fine but limited. We live in a tiny studio condominium. Buying a another bike on top of the two I now own was just not an option. I decided to use my retrofitted vintage mountain bike for these slightly longer trips. Soft ride. Stable. Goes anywhere. Flat, grippy studded mountain bike pedals. A comfy carbon Jones loop handlebar.

I figured I wouldn't have to buy all new bike bags and gear, but some shopping was definitely going to be necessary. Now outfitting your bike for travel is quite personalized. Some people do ultralight. Some pedal heavily loaded bikes. Some pedal only on paved roads and trails. Others pedal down virtual goat trails. Different styles of bike travel have spawned a wide variety of bike bags and gear. Traditional stuff. Randonneuring gear. Bikepacking gear. Tents. Shelters. Hammocks. There are guidelines, of course, and friends have been great at offering advice and suggestions. I've thought about all the advice, and I've decided to mix and match stuff from different styles of bike travel for the best fit with my style of travel. Also, based on advice from friends, I've decided  to carry camping gear. It's not the most comfortable way to spend a night at my age, but I've got to admit I love camping none the less.

Solo bike travel is actually a good avocation for an older cyclist, especially ones like me that love the ambience of bike travel. Going solo lets me ride at my own pace and follow my interests. I like to ride around 60+ miles a day, but I really don't keep a tight schedule. I have a route, a destination, and a time I need to be there. So I track distance, time, and route on my Garmin. All the other data fields can be happily ignored. I'm seldom in any hurry. I meet people. I see things. I get to eat a lot of ice cream cones. I'm busy all day and never bored.

I have no idea whether this is going to work out. But what the heck. To borrow a worn meme, I'd rather say "oops" than "what if."

(I'll show how I outfitted the bike in my next post.)

Monday, August 6, 2018

EBC Paved Trail Weekend Away Adventure, Orlando

One of the perks of Everglades Bicycle Club (EBC) membership is being able to go on planned group cycling trips during the year. And EBC is lucky to have member Ruben Fuentes who puts together the Paved Trail Weekend Away Adventures. Paved trails, which means these trips are suitable for road bikes! And it's a road trip! What could be nicer?

We spent this past weekend with a group of friends riding paved trails in Orlando. It was a great weekend. Now while Al and I travel around the state by ourselves with our bikes, here's why the Paved Trail Weekend Away Adventures work for us:

  • It's low fuss. There is a designated motel for the group. (You don't have to stay there, but that is where the group will gather.)
  • Someone has taken the time to plan the route for you. When I talk to people about taking their bikes with them on trips, the thing they ask about most is "How do you find routes to ride?" What could be simpler than going on a trip with someone in charge of route planning?
  • Having meals out with cycling friends.
  • Hanging out with friends at the motel pool after the ride. Get wet, have an adult beverage, chat. Sweet.
  • Traveling and riding with people you know, other EBC members.
  • As Ruben says, you are riding with "framily." It's not just a no-drop ride; these people look after you. They definitely have your back.

So if you are an EBC member, think about doing a Paved Trail Weekend Away Adventure sometime. (Pssst: I heard there may just be another one in the spring.)
A photo stop by a really big, really old tree.

Monday, July 30, 2018

A New Life for Old Mountain Bikes, Part 2

This summer Al and I made it to 50 years of married life. Updating our old mountain bikes was our anniversary present.

The bikes' titanium frames are custom ones made for us by the folks at Seven Cycles. We've ridden them in some pretty great places over the years. We now live a tiny studio condominium in Miami. Moving into our tiny condo from a more traditional large house meant we could keep only 4 of the 8 bikes we used to own. (Our only table is outside on our balcony, but we have two Thule free-standing double-deck bike stands inside. You have to decide what is really important to you.) We chose to keep road bikes and these old 90s era vintage mountain bikes. While they are beautiful bikes, we didn't use them much because they were heavy and had gearing that was brilliant off-road in actual mountains, but was just a royal pain anywhere else. While they are slow, their strength is that they are lovely, nimble, stable, and really comfortable to ride.

The bike shop called last weekend. One last part they'd been waiting for had finally arrived. The bikes were ready for us to pick up. A couple of the things we wanted didn't work out, mainly because of the bikes having the old style 26 inch wheels and issues with the custom frames. The big changes all got done, so now each bike has:
  • A single chainring up front (AKA 1x, so no more front derailleur);
  • Shimano Di2 (electronic rear derailleur); and
  • A rigid carbon fiber front fork
We took them out for a nice Sunday ride, about 50 miles or so. The shifting is a delight. The new gearing works well. They rolled along at a reasonable speed (16-18 mph) quite comfortably and without undue effort. And the bikes are lighter, much lighter. Gone are the old suspension forks. Even dialed down for pavement use, the suspension forks made steering "mushy." Now the steering feels crisp and responsive.

Yep, the rebuilt bikes are really comfortable and fun to ride. They're going to get a lot of use.

Anniversary presents don't get any better than this.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Highlands County

We lived for 13 years in a tiny rural community on the south side of Highlands County, a county located almost exactly halfway between the east and west coasts of Florida and at the southern tip of the Lake Wales Ridge. Lots of lakes. Orange groves. Ranches. Wildlife refuges. Large pristine areas of Florida scrub. And, oh yes, rolling hills.

The summer in inland Florida feels hotter than summer in the coastal areas. There is always some wind in Miami where we live now. Inland, the heat can wrap around you like a miserable fur coat. The summer is also the rainy season. Water flows in the ditches along the roads. Acres of land that are dry in winter become pond-like. Which keeps the humidity nice and high.

So we make sure our water bottles are full, and we know where we can go to refill them along our rides. We know where the rural convenience stores are, places to get water and maybe even an ice cream bar snack on a longish ride.

We were in Highlands for just two days of riding, but it was worth the drive from Miami. We heard the booming call of alligators in the marshy woods. We saw sandhill crane everywhere. Osprey. Scrub jay. Vultures. Cattle. Llamas. Miniature goats. Burros. Horses, colts, ponies, and mules. Gopher tortoise. Deer. Even a golden mouse. Critters galore.

We stopped into Archbold Biological Station for water and chatted with some staff who proudly showed off the conference center's mass plantings of native Florida grasses and flowers. Then, not long after leaving Archbold, we ran into one of the standard summer inconveniences of the area. There had been a lot of rain in the past week. We were headed to Venus, but the road was covered in water in spots for a couple of miles. Not a problem for a pickup truck, but not something we wanted to play in on bicycles. We detoured around the water and continued our meandering ride.

Someone once asked me how rural bike riding differed from urban bike riding. The difference I said was simple. Urban riding has scads and scads of destinations, but few good routes. Rural riding has limited destinations, but there are good, scenic routes whichever way you head.

Both are fine by me.
This ranch is now conservation land.
Rainy season problem along some secondary roads.
The old main road to Venus can be tricky for bicycles in the summer.
These signs on the rolling hills never fail to make me laugh.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Running Away from Home on a Bicycle, June Edition

Sometimes you need to find time for yourself. Sometimes all you need is a bicycle. Last month I ran away from home on my bicycle and spent a night down in the Keys. June is full-on summer, and motels are cheaper. Time to splurge and spend a couple nights down in the Keys.

I decided to stay at one of the old cottage-style resorts in the Upper Keys. I like riding 60-70 miles a day which is just about the mileage from my home in Miami to the south end of Key Largo. I wanted a place with a beach, tiki huts, kayaks, and paddle boards. And a guest laundry. I made my reservations before leaving home, snagging a kitchenette unit on the water with a king bed. Here's how the trip played out:

  • Day One. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Took the route from Miami to the Keys via Card Sound Road. Traffic was light. The sun was relentless. Shade nonexistent. It was really hot and humid. The wind picked up and was a gusty headwind as I got down to the Keys. Tragedy! My ice cream shop was closed so I didn't get my key lime pie ice cream cone. Got to my motel, checked in, dumped my bike luggage in the room, found a cold soda, and chilled in a tiki hut on the beach. Pedaled over to Publix and picked up the makings for lunch and dinner. Then I changed into swim wear and splashed around in the water before cleaning up for dinner and the ritual viewing of sunset.
  • Day Two. Coffee and a pastry at the breakfast tiki hut before a ride south to Layton. Loved the tailwind on the ride home. Changed into swim wear and set up in a tiki hut on the beach. Read the papers on my phone and had lunch. Two middle aged German tourists joined me, then a couple from Naples. The German tourists were particularly amusing. Played catch with a small boy who appeared on the beach. Went out on the paddle boards with the German tourists. We weren't very good at the paddle board thing, especially in a gusty wind, so we swapped the paddle boards for kayaks and went for a nice outing. Dinner. Sunset. Packed the bike for the trip home.
  • Day Three. Coffee and a pastry at the tiki hut and goodbyes to the German tourists and the couple from Naples. Pedaled north to the mainland via Card Sound Road. A film crew was set up on Card Sound, and police were making lots of people unhappy with long delays. Many northbound people turned around and rerouted back to US 1. I got waved through. Police "traffic control points" were set up at regular intervals for the southbound lane. I pedaled happily along with almost no traffic in my northbound lane. Pedal, pedal, pedal. I was home. Lunch with Al and a nap.

Running away from home on a bicycle is awesome.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

A New Life for Old Mountain Bikes

We have mountain bikes that we love. But they are a little along in years. They came into our lives in the '90s. They're hardtails with front suspension forks, titanium frames made custom for us by Seven Cycles. We put these bikes to very good use for many years.

Eventually we realized it was time for us to give up off-road and technical stuff. It was bone-jarring, just too much for our aging joints. We decided to keep the ti mountain bikes, making minor changes to them so they were more suitable for gentler rides on trails and pavement. They're slow but very comfortable, sturdy but elegant as mountain bikes go. In other words, nice second bikes for us.

This month we decided it was time to bring the old mountain bikes forward in time, to modernize them a bit and give them some new life.

So we walked over to our local bike shop and had a conversation. Could he make some changes to our old bikes?
  • Replace the front suspension fork with a rigid titanium or carbon fork; and
  • Replace the outdated triple chainring mountain bike setup with a single chainring (1x) groupset, one with electronic shifting.
We talked about how the bikes would be used, and he made suggestions about the chainring and cassette sizes. He took notes. He wanted to make some calls and pull together an estimate. We agreed on a time to get back together.

Walking home from the bike shop I realized that this is almost more fun than buying brand new bikes. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Running Away from Home on a Bicycle

My favorite bicycle rides all start and end at my home. But since my preferred ride length is a metric century, Homestead/Florida City is as far south as my rides from home usually go. Key Largo, the northern end of the Florida Keys, lies about 25-30 miles south of Florida City. Too far for an ordinary day ride for my tastes.

One day recently, however, I just wanted to run away from home, to be by myself, to be unbothered by chores and routines and obligations. So I packed a few things into some randonneuring/bikepacking bags. Then I set off and rode to the Keys.

Before I left home I did have the foresight to make reservations for lodging in Key Largo. (You can do this run-away thing without reservations, but, hey, why invite chaos and drama into your day.)  Since I didn't have to ride home until the next day, I could max out my miles for the day. So I pedaled past my lodgings and kept going south for as long as I wanted before finally stopping for a quick snack. Then I circled back and checked into my motel.

I had picked a motel on a canal near a marina. It looked to have been originally set up to cater to divers. For a price significantly below the nearby chain motels, I had a condo-like unit with a master bedroom and bath upstairs and a living room, bath, and kitchen downstairs. (Clean and freshly painted and pleasant despite the worn furniture and the wonky but functional drapes.) The place's best feature was a great screened balcony overlooking the adjacent canal. I sat out there and watched dive boats go in and out with their loads of tourists. And the African Queen (remember the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall movie?) chugged in and out of the canal, too, tooting its horn and making tourists happy.

It was a relaxing, successful trip. I stopped for a bunch of photos. I watched hundreds (yes, hundreds) of motorcycles roll by me on US 1 by Lake Surprise. They had an escort of dozens of motorcycle police. (The cascade of sound from the motorcycles was stunning.) I noodled about in a residential area or two, once finding myself in a delightful conversation with a very funny little woman about her newest gardening project. I chanced into Jon, the Cycling Viking, and rode and chatted with him for a while. (Jon's currently working on a Guinness world record for the longest triathlon. He's quite an interesting guy to know.)

These are the serendipitous little things that make traveling on a bicycle so entertaining. It just never gets old.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

St. Augustine and the 27th Annual Tour de Forts Classic

St. Augustine is a historic old city dressed as a tourist town, its timeworn but stately downtown embellished with wonky museums, weird shops, and popular but plebeian tours. A spot perfect for spending some time by yourself or with family. (Something for everybody.)

Each year the North Florida Bicycle Club holds the Tour de Forts Classic. 2018 marks the 27th year for the event. It's a well organized event from top to bottom. The routes are excellent.

Our 70 mile route included all the best features of the area:
  • The forts and historic St. Augustine;
  • Lovely Anastasia Island with its lighthouse;
  • The inland agricultural areas;
  • A section of the area's terrific trail system; and
  • The road along the river with its huge live oaks draped in Spanish moss.
With 800+ riders, there weren't the congestion problems that trouble the really big event rides. Police support was excellent.

There was something special at the last rest stop. People were hot and getting tired. And there it was: SNOW CONES! Total genius.

A view of St. Augustine and the Bridge of Lions from the base of the Castillo de San Marcos.

Riding in the agricultural section of the county.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Everglades National Park

Riding a bike through Everglades National Park can be an easy adventure with some basic precautions. The simplest way to take a ride is just to go along the highway from the entrance near Coe Visitor Center to the campgrounds at Flamingo. It's just 40 miles, but 40 miles with stunning scenery and lots of wildlife. Alligators, vultures, roseate spoonbills, hawks, egrets, herons, swallow-tailed kites, and wood storks were just part of the critters we spotted on recent rides.

We aren't hardy souls. The Everglades can be very hot and humid. The biting insects are fierce during the summer months. We pick our time for rides in the Everglades with care. Here's our list of things to keep in mind if you plan to go:

  • The first 8-9 miles of highway after entering the park are old and bumpy. Really bumpy. Graveler bumpy even though it is pavement. Beyond that the road is newly surfaced and excellent riding.
  • There is no water between the entrance (Coe Visitor Center) and Flamingo. That's 40 miles, so bring lots of water or make arrangements for a friend to meet you along the way with some water. (Or use a hydration pack in addition to the water bottles on your bike.)
  • Don't count on calling anyone on your cell phone. Most of the area does not have cell phone coverage. (Just remember to tell someone where you are going and when to expect you back.)
  • There's always a light but steady amount of traffic on the road to Flamingo. In other words, you aren't leaving civilization, so it's a pretty tame adventure as adventures go.
  • Bring a camera. The place is beautiful.
  • Is 80 miles a bit too much? Consider driving in to spots 10 or 20 miles from Flamingo for a shorter bike ride.
  • Still wanting something even tamer? Bike or drive to Royal Palm Visitor Center down a side road just a few miles inside the park. From there you can ride over to a relic of the Cold War, the historic Nike Hercules Missile Site. Not as much wildlife as the road to Flamingo, but if you are a history buff, you have the chance to see a well-preserved relic from the Cold War era.
Just remember it is the little things that make this ride enjoyable: carry lots of water, wear sunscreen, and don't forget the insect repellent, just in case!

Thanks to Tom Burton for taking this picture of Al and me last week on a ride with him in ENP. We have Tom to thank for introducing us to bike riding in ENP.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I love it when the coffee kicks in and I realize what an adorable badass I'm going to be today. (Anonymous)

Coffee is dandy, but what I crave on bike rides is the perfect biking fuel: espresso. But a good espresso can be hard to come by on a ride. Sometimes it's because a convenient coffee shop isn't in the area. And sometimes it's because we want a snack break at scenic spot like the beach, a quiet park, or a pretty view on a quiet rural road.

Well, our caffeine problem has been solved. Recently while picking up a few things at our local Publix grocery store we spotted a treasure: tiny thermoses made just for carrying espresso.

Al makes our espresso in a traditional stovetop espresso maker. He likes his espresso black with sugar. I like mine lightly sweetened and laced with steamy almond milk. Which means we own two little espresso thermoses for our bike rides so that we each can have exactly the mix we crave. Each thermos holds the perfect amount for a mid-ride break. The little thermos cap serves as your cup. (As you can see from the photo, it's the size of a typical espresso cup.)

Espresso. It can really do wonders for your attitude.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

If you're old enough to have a job and to have a life, you use Facebook exactly as advertised, you look up old friends. (Jaron Lanier)

The Facebook kerfuffle sent me scrambling to keep in touch with old friends, friends who abandoned Facebook in protest. It turns out, finding easy ways to stay in touch (without Facebook) is difficult. Facebook is simple. For Facebook-adverse friends, I now use email, Whatsapp, Signal, and (gasp) snail mail to chat, gossip, and share a laugh or two. Impossible? No. Inconvenient? Kinda.

When I stopped posting Florida by Bicycle to Facebook, I started getting messages from friends and family checking to see if everything was OK with Al and me. Now I understand that they kept up with what we were doing in retirement by reading Florida by Bicycle. It was convenient and easy. Just watch for a blog post and check it out. Could they still keep up with us? Sure. Had I made it more inconvenient for them? Yep, I had.

So Florida by Bicycle is coming back beginning this month. And, yes, I will share the posts on Facebook.

I want to say here for the record, we may be thousands of miles apart and visit each other only online, but to the many friends and family who messaged to check on us: thanks, it meant a lot.