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.