Monday, December 19, 2011

Keeping it Short

Gonna make it. Yep. That 2011 goal I set? Back in January? You know, to keep the overall mileage for the year to less than 10,000? Yep. That one.

Gonna make it.

Wasn't all that hard, really. Cold winter. Then crashing on my hip. Kept going, of course, but the hip ... Well, you know.

Still did a bunch of long rides. January 200Ks. A windy 300K in February. A really fast 400K early March. North Florida makes that easier, even going over the highest point in the state. Then tried to do another. Hip held up okay but ... well, other things acted up.

Then May and June. Cut back some to race. And come July and August I was busy getting ready to move to Naples.

Then late September was The Move. And getting the house ready for furniture. Had to cut back on miles as I figured out some routes. The mileage started getting back to normal.

It actually got back enough that I was tempted earlier this month. Looked at the log. Did the math. Ride 400 miles a week for the last four weeks, and I'd be there. Five-digit-bike-mileage. Fourth year in a row.

No freakin' way.

Don't wanna. Just don't. Don't wanna do it just for the sake of the number. Gotta break the chain, you know? Gonna happen sooner or later. Do it now, and it won't sting as much when I fall short the year I turn 85.

9,700 miles for 2011 will have to do.

'nuff said.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Judge Dread

I've told you before that, in my experience around cars, you can't judge a book by it's cover (although you can book a judge to read excerpts from her book cover). The BMW that swerves over on you today will look just like the one that stopped to offer help last week while you were fixing a flat. Your best bet is to instead watch for driver behavior that indicates that he/she is under the impression that their time is more valuable than anybody else's. To these people, you are nothing more than a speed bump ... sometimes literally.

One thing that I've discovered here in Florida, however, is the wonderful way that the state has of offering insight into the soul of the being behind the wheel. They do this by offering 120 -- yes, 120 -- specialty plates. And you may think that this is a lot, particularly since Tennessee only had 90 (and still no Share the Road plate), but I've read that Maryland has 700 specialty plates. One for every resident.

Florida has 36 for its various colleges and universities, and nine more for professional sport teams. There's one for every branch of the service, and for the Boy Scouts. There's not one for Girl Scouts, although I hope that somebody gets that going. Maryland is laughing at us.

Most specialty plates promote the driver's private passions. Mine is, of course, predictable:

And, as befits a half-flooded peninsula, there's stuff for the fishermen:

This one says, "I catch fish but don't kill them. Torturing them is enough for me."

This one says, "I catch the swordfish that the last dumb peckerwood tossed back, and I eat the hell out of that mother."

This one says, "I like to eat fish that thrive on nuclear waste from Cape Canaveral."

This one says, "Shoot, man, the ones eatin' poop from Sarasota are much tastier."

This one says, "Y'all are too picky. I like to catch and eat fish from anywhere. They're yummy. Nom, nom, nom."

Now, if you think that these plates are only on the back of extended cab Ford F-350's, you are wrong. They're on the back of Chevy trucks, too. From a cycling perspective, however, I find that these guys usually pass when it's safe, and move over enough. One thing about fishing -- you gotta have patience.

Other plates, however, I watch out for. Like this one:

Most of these people are psycho. Not the Alfred Hitchcock kind of way, but the way in which people say one thing when they mean something entirely different.

"Choose Life." Okay. I like life. I like to live. As best I can recall, I've enjoyed living a whole heck of a lot more than I ever enjoyed being dead. I plan to keep on living for as many years as I can.

I also like to "choose." Take me to Shoney's big breakfast buffet and I am all about the choice. Being able to choose means that you are free, right? And people like freedom ... well, except maybe the Taliban. From what I hear, they are "anti-choice" on a lot of stuff.

Now, if you look into the organizations behind these specialty plates, you'll find that the money from the sale of the plates supposedly goes to support adoption services for unwanted pregnancies. That's a great idea. If people would just stick with that, they'd be literally helping people "choose life."

But we get a lot of nut-jobs down here in Florida who tend to take it a little further, and these folks all have this specialty plate. They don't just want you to choose life -- they want you to choose not to have a choice about life. We've seen them picketing on the side of the road for literally miles. Most of them were really old, waving signs, yelling at the cars.

They were probably the scariest bunch of foaming-at-the-mouth old farts that I have ever seen in my life. Virulent grandmas ... worse than zombies. Definitely against freedom. Might even have been some Taliban in there.

These are the kind of folks that love nothing more than to judge.

"Look at that hussy! That skirt is barely below her knees!"

"Look at that bum begging for money! He's probably not even a veteran. I'll bet he lost his legs by getting drunk and falling asleep on the railroad tracks."

And, of course, "Look at that idiot on that bicycle. Wearing tight clothes -- it's of the devil! He should get a job so he can afford a car."

So I watch out for cars whose plates say "Choose Life," but who really mean "Choose My Way Or Die." They believe (oh, boy, do they believe!) that their time is much more valuable than mine -- and not just because they don't have much of it left. They have Important Things To Do, rather than frivolously pedaling along the back roads of this gorgeous planet on a slow bicycle, intimately enjoying every moment to its fullest.

That's not the life that they would choose for me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Restorative Powers of Toffee

You think to yourself, "Self: You've been riding long distances for a few years now. You know a few things. You know what a tire feels like when it's going flat. You know when you need to take a layer of clothes off, or put a layer on. You know to drink regularly, even when you're not thirsty. And you damned sure know to continuously eat so you don't bonk."

Self chuckles and says, "Yep, yep, I know all that stuff. Gosh." And chuckles again.

In case you haven't noticed, Self is a moron.

So, Wednesday was another excellent weather day here in southwest Florida. Temperatures would stay in the mid-70's all day, with a light breeze out of the southwest. I had a lull at work again (odd how I seem to manage those once a week), and few enough tasks around the house that I could get out just after 9 am.

I went north on the bike lane in my neighborhood, enjoying the last of the morning chill. That morning, the weather report had been of snow showers back in Nashville. Poor things.

After a couple of miles of neighborhood bike lane, I continued north through Pelican Bay. Although there is no bike lane here, traffic is light on the divided four-lane roads, and the speed limits are strictly enforced. The cars are used to seeing all kind of cyclists in here, making for a hassle-free setting.

On one side of the road you get manicured golf courses and villas. On the other side are high rises lining the beach. Not a bad place to ride a bike or take a walk.

From there, it was back to a bike lane on Vanderbilt Beach Road ...

 ... and then turn in to the bike lane on Livingston ...

... which becomes Imperial Parkway when you cross into Lee County ...

.. and then Three Oaks Parkway before it ends at Alico Road. That's almost 19 miles of bike lane. At this point, Self would say, "Jeepers."

You can see on the other side of Alico where they're building more. Eventually, this thing may go all the way to Fort Myers, which would be pretty cool. If there's a downside to this, it would be that it's pretty mind-numbing. I mean, take another look at the last four pictures. Bike lane next to two or three car lanes. Straight. Level.


As I've said before, it is ridiculous that Florida is one of the states where it is illegal to ride a bike while listening to Primus's live version of "Tommy the Cat" on your iPod. I've never heard of anyone getting a ticket for it, of course, but if it ever happens I hope they protest it to the Supreme Court. Doing a solo century is one thing, but doing it while being forced to listen to nothing other than noisy cars passing you is cruel and unusual punishment.

Anyway, from Alico you cross under I-75 (again, with a bike lane) and continue north on Treeline Avenue. I would show you a picture, but it's almost identical to any of the Livingston pictures.

For fun, I stayed on one of the standard routes there and went east towards the airport.

There's about a mile of this route where you're on the shoulder with cars rushing to make their planes, but it's a wide shoulder so it doesn't suck that much. Then, you turn on an access road that goes towards the freight terminals, putting you on a much quieter road. There are some trucks here, but truck drivers are folks who drive for a living (I guess that's why it's part of their job title), so I've rarely had any problems from them.

I think UPS had more planes going in and out than any of the airlines did. Santa Claus must be coming to town.

The road markings got a little hazy at the end of this stretch, thanks to construction on Daniels Parkway. Once I figured it out, however, I was back on Treeline. At this point, I'd been about 40 miles, so I stopped to refill my bottles. I had not eaten much for breakfast, so I also got a candy bar. Had I just bought three candy bars, things would have been better.

Topped off, I continued north on Treeline, following the marked route again. It cuts east through a huge planned community, where I saw natives riding strange contraptions past ancient burial mounds.

Actually, I think these were more examples of the "people want to live by the water" style of development prevalent here in Florida. The developers give the homeowners what they want by moving a few hundred tons of dirt. Where the dirt was, water pours in. You can then use the dirt to eventually build up the road beds. It's really so simple that it's smart ... although you do have to wonder how the animals that used to thrive on those miles of flatness are adapting to their new aquatic and mountainous terrain. Judging by the volume of dessicated tortoise shells littering the bike paths, I would guess that it's not going well for them.

This took me to the planned community of Gateway.

There are bunches of developments and office complexes in Gateway, so I think that this is supposed to be the Gateway To Prosperity for the area between Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres. I just kept thinking that it was a gateway drug to golf addiction.

As I went north through Gateway, I started to get hungry. I also started to lose the road markings. If there was a turn for the airport route, I never saw it. I did find a new set of arrows, so I used them for a while. When they continued to coax me further east and inland, I pulled out the GPS and found the quickest way back to Treeline. It wasn't fun or pretty, but it worked.

After a few miles of busy roads without bike lane or shoulder, I was glad to be back in the land of mind-numbing simplicity.

But now I was really hungry. I considered stopping at a convenience store, but kept thinking how good a sandwich from Panera would be. There's one at Coconut Point, just off the route, and it's so nice. Why waste time and calories grabbing another 100 Grand bar from that 7-11? Sure, it's right next to you, and you're hungry, but you can hold out until Panera.

That was Self talking again. I'm starting to hate that guy.

I continued south, enjoying bike lanes through Miromar Lakes and past Gulf Coast University, then taking another bike lane on Estero Parkway back to Three Oaks. I finally got to Panera about 1:30 ... 70 miles in to my ride. I parked the bike at the rack and went in, getting more than the usual stares from the lunchtime crowd (What? Everyone doesn't walk in here wearing spandex?). It was not until I went to the rest room later that I realized why: My face was covered in crusty salt and dirt. I looked like Lawrence of Arabia ... but without the blue eyes.

I was kind of woozy standing there, so while they made my sandwich, I scarfed down a big toffee nut cookie. Then I found a table outside where I could eat my sandwich and drink lots of Diet Coke. Half an hour later, I was restored and ready to destroy your puny planet.

Well, maybe not that restored.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ah, Yes. This is Why We Moved Here.

I've been whining a lot lately about bike lanes and cranky drivers ... so much that I may have given my loyal reader (hi, Mom!) the wrong impression about cycling in Naples. It's really very nice -- you just have to pick your routes carefully. Of course, ask any one who's ever tried to ride a bike down Old Hickory Boulevard in Brentwood, or Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta, or Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa and they'll tell you the same thing.

For example, I finally figured out a decent route from Naples east into farm country. This is a good route to have when the wind is out of the north -- which it often is -- because it means that you can do a century that doesn't require 50 miles of pain.

Thursday, the wind was out of the north. A cold front had blown through, so it was almost chilly ... perfect riding weather. Since I didn't have any work commitments -- at least, none that I could work on until some other issues were resolved -- it was the perfect opportunity to try out my inland route.

Between the cold and trying to get some things lined up for later in the week, I wasn't able to leave the house until almost 11 am. This meant that I would only have six good hours of daylight to ride my century ... and I somehow needed to stop along the way for lunch. Since the wind was not my enemy for most of the route -- at least, not my mortal enemy -- this was not too tricky. Another plus to riding Florida's flat terrain.

My route started as most of my developing routes do: North through Pelican Bay to Vanderbilt Beach Road. On Vanderbilt Beach, you can go east for 10 miles to the end, with a bike lane the whole way. Then, you cut south towards Golden Gate Boulevard through the Estates. Golden Gate also has a bike lane, plus it's interesting to go through the Estates. If you've never been there, I think this is where all of the really rich folks in Naples live. They must be rich, since they don't waste a lot of their money on their houses or cars.

When the bike lane ran out, I turned back north on Wilson Boulevard to Immokalee Road, then almost immediately hung a right on Randall Boulevard. I was following the orange "T" markings of the local Thanksgiving route at this point, and they had picked good roads.

A left on Everglades Road took me up to Oil Well Road. Things finally quieted at this point, and I was able to get some pictures. There's still a lot of construction there, since this road is being widened to six lanes. Here's a picture of the piles of dirt that they were scooping out of a field nearby, and which they are then slowly grading into the new roadbed to build it up.

Just past this there was a huge steam shovel at work.

As with any digging in Florida, where the dirt had been there was now a lake. When they finish the wider road, it should have a multi-use trail on both sides. It will probably be very pretty since there will be a lot of new lakes.

It was nearing 1 pm when I finally got to Ave Maria.

They've put out their Christmas landscaping there, as you would expect. Publix was even using Christmas colors on their sign.

One thing about Ave Maria: There is no premise of political correctness about "the Holidays." It's Christmas. Period. Lots of Santa stuff, sure, but it's mostly about Jesus's birthday ... or, at least, the date to which they moved Jesus's birthday to draw in the folks that worshipped the winter solstice. And the Druids come in there somehow, too. I don't know. But, hey, who am I to knock anyone for moving somebody's birthday? RandoGirl's birthday is the day after Christmas, but I once had a surprise birthday party for her in June! We wanted to do a pool party. Boy, was she surprised!

Anyway, I stopped for lunch at a place off the town square, across from the big church. Here's a picture of the nave of that church.

Kind of looks like the Pope's hat, don't you think?

I had a really good toasted turkey wrap at the restaurant there. The owner came out and talked to me a bit, and said that she gets lots of cyclists coming up from Naples.

I took Camp Keals Road back down to Oil Well Road. The east side of this road is literally miles of orange groves. I am so looking forward to biking past this when these are in bloom and the air reeks of orange blossoms.

There are always birds at the spillway at the end of this road, and they always fly away when I stop there.

I continued east on Oil Well Road, crossing Florida 29. Past there, you move into cattle country.

A lot of folks don't know this, but cattle is a major industry in Florida. My grandfather's uncle -- I think that makes him my Great Uncle -- was a cattle baron in the 19th century in Florida. His name was Captain Francis A.Hendry, and Hendry County is named for him. My dad used to have some great stories about him, and if half of those were true he was a rapscallion in the grand southern tradition.

Later, I spooked a few more flocks of birds.

I was a little over 50 miles when I was given a sign.

At some point, I had left Collier County. It was time to turn my life around ... or, at least, my bike. Otherwise, I was not going to get home by dark.

As befits anyone leaving prison, I took the straight and narrow path. I could see the few vehicles that were out there long before they caught up with me, and they all gave me plenty of room when they passed. You could tell that this road was mostly used by nice Florida farmers, who tend to take the "live and let live" approach to driving.

I stopped to take off my arm and knee warmers just before I crossed Florida 29. The wind was now mostly behind me, making the 70-degree day very comfortable. The roads along here were all full of flowering purple clover, and the day had turned perfect.

Ordinarily, I don't like out-and-back routes, but I pretty much stuck to the same roads on the way back. The wind stayed slightly behind me, making it easy to cruise along at over 18 mph. Soon, I was back in Naples, stopping at Panera for a big recovery cookie, and back in my driveway before 5 pm. It had been an excellent day to be out on a bike, and I had ridden an excellent route.

I may have to go back to prison again.