Sunday, November 27, 2011

This Lane is My Lane

Naples and the Florida beach towns nearby have a lot of bike lanes. They are a blessing and a curse.

Obviously, it's nice to ride your bicycle in the bike lane. You feel safer there, as if that solid white line -- or maybe the dorky little sideways cyclist icon -- will somehow keep motorists from running you down. And the bike lanes here actually go somewhere, unlike those in other states that get you  halfway down a busy road, and then leave you there with cars zipping by at 55 mph. Here, you can use lanes to bike into old downtown Naples, out to the beach, or even to the airport.

But, being along the edge of the road as they usually are, is a bit of a curse. That is where the pavement is usually worst, and where bits of broken glass and other junk collects. In Tennessee, I used to get a flat tire about every other month. In Naples, it's at least once a week.

Bike lanes get bicyclists. That's a big blessing ... and a small curse. Naples has pretty much hit that "critical mass" point at which bicycles are sufficiently ubiquitous that motorists cannot ignore us. We're here, we steer, get over it.

But we sometimes get a traffic jam in those bike lanes -- or maybe a better word for it is culture clash. We have the hammerhead triathletes pushing the 30 mph speed limit trying to pass the beach cruisers going so slow that they would fall over if they weren't tricycles. We also get a lot of bike salmons -- people on bicycles that think that they are pedestrians, and insist on riding against the flow of vehicular traffic. A head-on altercation between these and the guy in the speedsuit doing 30 breaks at least one collarbone and dings the hell out of someone's handlebar basket.

And then there are the pedestrians in the bike lanes. Naples gets as wide a spectrum of runners as it does cyclists -- from marathoners who look like they were carved from a leftover beef jerky to hefty power-walkers cradling Sony Discmans (Discmen?) keeping time to Olivia as they Get Physical.

Sometimes the runners don't have a sidewalk, or don't want to run (or power-walk) on the sidewalk. Usually, I have no problem with this. There are just a few bike lanes in Naples that are labelled "Bike Only," and those seem to be on roads that are busy enough that it would be truly treacherous for the bicyclist to have to weave in and out. So long as runners stay out of those Bike Only lanes, we should all be able to get along. Of course, I've heard a lot of other cyclists yell at runners to "get out of the lane," but I think that's analogous to cars yelling at us to "get out of the road." It just goes to show that you don't have to drive a car to be a dick.

However, the biggest curse of the Naples bike lanes is that they are gilded cages.

You see, between the bike lanes and bike routes with "sharrows," it's relatively easy to ride somewhere ... so long as you just want to get coffee, ice cream, or stop at a convenience store. But if you want to ride your bike to Home Depot or the dentist, you're going to have to get back on the "real" road.

When I leave the bike route and get back on "real" roads here, however, I get a bad feeling from the cars. "What are you doing out here, you idiot," they seem to say. "Why aren't you on Gulf Shore Boulevard where there's a bike lane?"

Because my dentist is over here on Immokalee Boulevard, I want to tell them. And I need a package of stainless steel self-tapping 5/16" screws. Or maybe it's just because I am RandoBoy, and I've got to ramble a little further from home than the bike lane will allow.

Now, it's possible that I'm just being over-sensitive. Maybe the bike lanes and Share-the-Road signs keep cars further away than I'm used to, so that when I go out on other roads the cars feel closer than normal. Maybe it's no different than it was on Franklin Road in Brentwood -- I've just gotten spoiled.

But it doesn't feel that way. It sometimes actually feels openly antagonistic.

I appreciate the bike lanes. Honest I do. I appreciate that the fine taxpayers of Florida were willing to give up a little bit of pavement just for cyclists -- well, us and pedestrians -- and paint a line and the dorky icon. I'm one of those taxpayers now, and am more than willing to have my contributions go to build bike lanes, along with whatever other pork program our fine elected officials deem worthy.

But my taxes also go to build those "real" roads, and I have just as much right to those roads as the cars do. Keep your car out of my bike lane, and I'll keep my bike off your interstate. But don't go acting as if I should limit my cycling to a few hazard-filled hand-me-downs, and that I should then thank you for not running me down on those.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Me Show

I tried something Thursday, just for fun. I feigned Facebook diarrhea.

To be honest, I was being a bit of a smart-ass ... well, maybe more than "a bit." Like far too many people, I am "on" Facebook, which means that I have a log in and go in there every once in a while to see what folks are posting. However, I have a theory: 100 years from now, when America is talked about as "that once great Empire," much as we consider the British and Romans today, there will be dozens of History doctoral candidates writing papers that place the blame of our fall squarely -- and rightfully -- at the time that we wasted on Facebook.

"Yeah, I had a sustainable energy solution in 2012, but I had to post this grainy video I shot with my phone of this dude eating 25 Cadbury eggs in an hour."

We will be like the Greeks then: Broke.

Anyway, here's my Facebook posts for the day.

Someone needs to do a t-shirt ride for Restless Leg Syndrome. I am so there.
 Thursday at 3:59am near Naples, FL

Woke up. Saw some sunlight. Out of bed.
Thursday at 6:24am near Naples, FL

I also posted some pictures, with the following captions:


I need a haircut

Calendar is clear this morning. Looks like a good opportunity for a long bike ride.
 Thursday at 7:28am near Nashville

Until I get the espresso machine fixed again, it's French press or nuthin'

Fed and walked the dog. Now she's happy.

Coffee with Carol on the lanai. Not sure if that tree is supposed to die -- but it seems to be its destiny.

Why do FB posts from my iPad think that I am in Nashville, while posts from my iPhone know that I am in Naples?
 Thursday at 7:32am near Nashville

Hmmm ... which bike to ride this morning?

... and what to wear?

Getting some cash. My bank is less than a quarter of a mile from our house.
 Thursday at 8:10am near Naples, FL

Nice pumpkin muffin at Fit & Fuel Cafe to feed my ride.

Wild pig road kill. Welcome to Florida.

Grabbing a Twix and fresh Gatorade at the 7-11. Didn't they have a team once?
 Thursday at 10:47am near Estero, FL

Nice little morning metric. It's not the heat - it's the humidity. Actually, it's both.
 Thursday at 12:13pm near Naples, FL

Hanging out with my lovely wife at the Collier County government center. We want license plates for "Share the Road." We also have to pay our property tax.

Share the Road plates for our cars

The day went on from there, of course, but I just couldn't keep posting stuff to Facebook. I obviously lack the level of narcissism required for chronic Facebook diarrhea.

Thinking about it later, however, I came to the realization that Facebook is every individual's opportunity to write, direct, and star in their own reality show. You only air the highlights, of course. Does anybody really want to watch you sleep ... other than creepy people? And, you edit out the stuff that reflects poorly upon you. Nobody ever posts something like, "Just spent half an hour sucking up to my boss, pretending to be fascinated with 'Dancing with the Stars.' He says he might give me a bigger cubicle."

Then I thought more about it, and decided that the only thing that could possibly be more lame would be to regularly write a blog about yourself. You'd have to be a real loser to do that.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I Don't Have to Be Faster Than the Bear ...

... just faster than the mosquitoes.

Sorry that I've been away so long. Moving chores and work finally quieted down sufficiently for me to do a ride worth telling you about.

One of the first rides I did while we were moving here was to take US-41 down to Everglades City and Chokoloskee. It was scenic, but kind of boring and the traffic was not pleasant. Also, when you ride almost 20 miles in any direction in Florida and then retrace your route back, you're going to have a headwind for at least half of the ride ... maybe the whole way. It's just the way Florida works.

But I liked Everglades City as a destination, and wanted to plan it as part of a 200K loop from Naples. So, when a couple of riders here told me about a route to Ave Maria, I pulled out the maps and found an easy way to plot what I needed. Thursday, I was finally able to test it.

A lot of rides around here use Vanderbilt Beach Road to go west. It's busy, of course, but has a good bike lane.

There are also so many routes that use this road that the drivers are fairly accustomed to bicycles.

I'm not sure what the "M" route is, but it mostly followed my way to Ave Maria. You would think that, if it was the Ave Maria route, it would be "AM," but that might confuse people into thinking that they can only go that way in the morning. They might not have wanted to do just "A" since people would think it's only for the A group riders, for clubs that split into A, B, and C groups.

After going well inland on Vanderbilt Beach Road, I zipped north a couple of miles on Collier Road. Here, you have a multi-use trail, but Collier Road was not horribly busy and would have been fine.

Collier took me to Immokalee Road, which has six lanes for cars and two for bikes. It also has a multi-use trail at points, but there were enough car lanes that I never felt crowded in the bike lane. I get the impression that this road serves partly to get produce out to the coast from the inland farms, but is primarily to get people in to the casino on the reservation in Immokalee.

Traffic finally quieted down when I turned on Oil Well Road. This looks like it will soon have six lanes for cars and two for bikes, but is currently nice and quiet once you get away from Immokalee Road.

For miles, you get the feeling that you're out in the middle of nowhere. Then you get a break between the trees and realize that just beyond them are huge farms and orchards. At one point, I could see at least a full square mile of orange trees.

Eventually, you turn off Oil Well Road and enter the manicured realm of Ave Maria.

I won't go into the history of Ave Maria or what the plan for it is. Suffice to say that somebody has a vision, and it's one of those "If you build it, they will come" kinds of things.

But if you come, you'd better bring a full tank of gas, since this station ain't open yet.

This is the huge church in the middle of the town square. All around it were shops and condominiums. Just off to the west is the college campus. You can see this church from a mile away.

Fortunately, they had a full-service, operational, Publix. It was just like any other Publix in Florida, right down to selling beer and wine ... although the Catholics have never been as sticky about alcohol. I bought a fresh bottle of water, used their bathroom, and went on my way.

I took Camp Keais Road back south to Oil Well Road, then continued east to Hwy 29. I'm not sure whose route that I was on, but there were still road hickeys out. For some reason, however, they did not apparently want to ride the 35 miles on Hwy 29 down to Everglades City.

There is a store where Oil Well Road hits Hwy 29, and the above marking was indicating that I should go to that. I probably should have, because once you head south on Hwy 29, you are on your own for a long, long way.

Fortunately, the road has a good shoulder. It has these weird raised spots on the white line for much of it -- probably to keep cars from running off the road. Instead of rumble strips, they're like rumble pimples.

At one point I actually came across some trees that were changing color. In Florida! Imagine that.

Much of the road goes through the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. There are miles and miles where the road is fenced off, so that panthers don't wander into the road. There are also some nice underpasses, just so that they can get from one side to another.

I didn't see any panthers, of course. But at least I didn't see any road kill panthers.

The wind was somewhat behind me on most of this stretch, so I was doing 22 mph and barely working. I knew that I would have to pay for it eventually, but sure enjoyed it while I had it.

When you come to I-75, you're almost halfway down this long stretch. There are some trucks on this road, but they seem to be heading for the interstate. South of it, the road is more quiet.

There's a nice sign to remind you of how far you have to go before you can fill your bottles.

There are also signs to tell you to slow down for panthers. I was very careful.

The further south you go, the swampier it gets. When you can see the radio tower, you know that you're almost to US-41.

I got to Everglades City about noon -- almost 70 miles in less than four hours. Eating a sandwich at Subway, I began to think that it would not be difficult to do this 200K in less than eight hours, even riding solo.

The wind, however, had other ideas. It made them very clear to me as I began my way northwest on 41.

Those of you who know how to read clouds probably recognize that as the leading edge of a high pressure cell. That usually means that winds are roughly out of the north down my way. So, I slogged along at 15 mph for the next 18 miles, doing my best to tuck low.

I did pass through some pretty spots, of course. This is a planned community along one of the canals that manages the water flow in the Everglades.

There are even some good-sized sailboats at the marina, so there must be deep-water access.

Finally, I got to San Marco Road. I stopped at the store for more water, and then headed southwest for a few miles. It was a nice break, and allowed me to work my climbing legs as I headed over the bridge on to Marco Island.

The marina on the far side of the bridge still has lots of room for the snow birds.

Past the bridge, the road started north again. You get a quiet stretch for a few miles -- other than those crazy gopher tortoises -- and then stop at a convenience store for one last bottle fill. Then, it's dead north on busy Collier Road for about 10 miles, followed by mostly dead north on busy US-41 for 10 miles.

After that, I felt like road-kill tortoise myself.