Thursday, May 27, 2021

We're all mature, until someone pulls out some bubble wrap. (Anonymous)

We wanted rolling hills with a little climbing on every ride. Usually that means we head up to the Clermont, Florida, area. But believe it or not, the highest point in Florida is Britton Hill (345 feet). It's in Walton County near the Alabama-Florida line. The Florida Panhandle west of Tallahassee is a great place for hills. 

This trip started very windy and ended with calm winds but very hot. The riding was great. Here's our highlights list:
  • We saw Two Egg, Florida. It's just a tiny community at a crossroads. Not even a convenience store or gas station. But with a name as cool as "Two Egg," what more do you need?
  • One ride included, I swear, the longest stretch of 3-7 percent grade road I've ever pedaled. It went on mile after mile after mile. But then the 25+ mph gusts of headwind may have affected my perception.
  • Riding some interesting hills on a particularly windy morning, we struggled with a headwind for miles. Then the route made a turn and the headwind became a tailwind. Things got a little exciting. We got faster and faster, We crested the next large hill at 24 miles per hour, and things just got wilder on the descent. I didn't have the nerve to check my speed, I just kept off the brakes and tried to keep up with Al. It was wicked fun for the next few miles, till the road turned again. 
  • We rode into Alabama one day. It was one of the prettier rides of the trip.
  • And then there were the stampedes. Cattle in a lot of rural areas are accustomed to cars and trucks, but bicycles spook them. They're fine with us if they are way back in the pasture. But if they are hanging out near the fence by the road and we stop to check them out? Well, stampede!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Small towns make up for their lack of people by having everyone be more interesting. (Doris "Granny D" Haddock)

There's an art to cycling in rolling hills. It's a game that never gets old. The game is to maximize your your descent of a hill so that you minimize the work needed to crest the next hill. When conditions and the hills are right, it feels like you are just floating over the hills. It's a lot of fun. 

Highland County, at the southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge, has rolling hills. It is the closest place to Miami with hills. We drove up to Avon Park, a tiny older city in the northern section of the county.

Al and I lived in southern Highlands County for over a dozen years, but I can count on one hand the number of times we pedaled in north Highlands County. We checked into the Jacaranda Hotel in the sleepy downtown historic district. The hotel was built in the 1920s and occupies a full block of the downtown. It's owned and operated by South Florida State College which uses a large part of the building as dormitory space. It has an old cage elevator that is operated by hotel staff. (It was just big enough for us, our bikes, and the operator.)  

On Saturday we discovered the Rotary Blueberry Festival in the city park a block from the hotel. It was a quintessential small town affair. We checked out the craft booths, saw the raffle drawing for fresh blueberries and coupons from local businesses, and watched folks queuing for the Rotary's boxed barbecue lunches. People were gathering in small groups at the park's picnic tables with their barbecue.  

We had three days riding our bikes. The best day was a ride that took us through the rolling hills, all on rural roads, pedaling through orange groves, protected environmental areas, and cattle ranches. It was quite windy, so we did the headwinds first so we could enjoy some tailwinds on the way back to town. 

Another day we decided to ride the backroads to Lorida, a tiny community on the northern end of Lake Istopoga. Lorida is east of Avon Park. The eastern section of Highlands County is off the Lake Wales Ridge. It's on the flood plain of the Kissimmee River. We can now say that we pedaled to Lorida, but what I learned from that ride was that rolling hills are way more fun than flat roads.

The kids you meet while pedaling are the best. They wave to you. They want to know about your bikes. One young boy came up to us in a convenience store parking lot to ask about the wheels on our bikes. Are they hard to balance on? Why is the rim so big? How far can you ride on a bike like that? Can you ride on sand? Do they make wheels like that for kids' bikes? His mom rescued us in a bit, but she was smiling and enjoying the moment, too.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Normal is nothing more than a cycle on a washing machine. (Whoopi Goldberg)

The basics of bike travel are simple: Eat, pedal, eat, sleep, repeat. The length of the trip determines the number of repetitions.  Easy peasy, right?

After a year of the pandemic, getting back to doing it again was not as easy as I expected. Routines and stuff that used to be second nature were rusty from disuse. Everything just seemed to take longer or have more complications than I remembered. 

We started by doing a short, easy trip, a weekend getaway to Okeechobee to ride the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. (Baby steps.)

Our days of adventure travel are behind us. That said, I find it reassuring to remember those past adventures because they taught us that there's very little that goes wrong on even the most adventurous trip that can't be handled. We've handled serious stuff and pedaled on. By comparison, getting out in our mid 70s, for some simple credit card bike travel, after a year of pandemic restrictions, well, that is my definition of easy peasy.

We're planning on visiting small, out-of-the-way places in Florida this year. You know, those places with funny names you see on a map but never seem to drive through. Places that aren't on the tourist trail. The kind of places that have an old wood-frame convenience store with a shady porch that just plain invites a couple of cyclists to come have an ice cream sandwich or a cold soda before rolling on.

That is my kind of normal.