Friday, February 24, 2012

A Dryer Run

Last month, I did an overnight camping trip up to Alva, FL, on my bicycle. I wanted to try out this kind of touring in preparation for a longer trip this September (more on that in a couple of weeks). It was fun, but I identified a couple of areas of improvement.

Monday and Tuesday of this week, I tried it again with the improvements in place. It was even more fun, and I identified a couple of other areas to improve. (To those who think that this constant tweaking is just an excuse to go off camping ... well, you may be right. Please don't tell RandoGirl.)

I worked Monday morning, and thus was not able to get started until 11 am. By then, the wind was blowing nice and steady out of the northeast -- basically, the direction that I was headed. Fortunately, I knew that this would be the case, and had even (reluctantly) planned for it. If you're going to wrangle a fully loaded bicycle 65 miles day after day, you might as well see how well it does in a good headwind and crosswind.

The bike actually handled quite well, thanks to the fact that I had added a rack to the front for this trip. With small panniers up there, it handled better than it had in January with all of my luggage on the rear rack. I stopped once to tweak things, moving the back panniers up a bit and the front panniers back a bit to put everything closer to the center of effort. After that, the bike barely shimmied in the 15 mph crosswind.

Stopping for lunch at the Chick-Fil-A on Alico Road, a few people again asked where I was headed with all that stuff. It's probably natural for people to be curious about bike tourists -- I just wish more of them would do it.

The route was roughly the same as January: The usual bike lanes east and north past the airport, then cut over through Gateway and Lehigh Acres to Buckingham. The wind was blowing harder, and cars zipping closer, as I headed northeast on Hwy 80. I stopped to drink a Coke and see if the manatees were out at Manatee Park (they weren't), and then continued to the Publix at the intersection with Hwy 31. I bought groceries for dinner and breakfast, fresh drinks, and a box of Girl Scout cookies from the kids at the table on the way out.

My plan this time was to try a different park than January. Caloosahatchee Regional Park was nice, but I wanted to see what the State Park down the road was like.

It was really cool. But it was also full.

The website had led me to believe that there were spaces for RVs, but also campsites for idiots like me who can't tow a camper behind their bike.

Maybe there were campsites, but they were full of RVs, too. They did have docks, as well, so you could take your boat there. That would have been just as cool, if not more so.

After the lady at the gate said that they were full, I asked if it would be okay for me to look around. She said it would be fine, so I checked out the locks for which the campground is named. The picture above shows how the water level is different upstream from downstream.

In case you didn't know what locks on a canal are all about, they control the water flow and make it possible for boats to "go uphill." Since Lake Okeechobee is about 12 feet above sea level, there are a few of these locks to pass through as you head inland from Fort Myers on the Caloosahatchee River.

Boats enter the lock at the far end of a chute in the picture below. The door at the end of the chute is closed, and water is let in to raise the boat. Then the door at the front of the chute is opened, and the boat continues east. Easy breezy.

While I was there, folks from the RVs were fishing from the lock and looking at more manatee. It looked like a great place to camp. Some day, maybe I will.

It was after 4 pm when I finally got to Caloosahatchee Regional Park. Since it was a school holiday, many of the campsites were taken, including one large area that was full of boy scouts running amok ... or, at least as amok as boy scouts will usually run. I found a site as far away from them as possible, got set up, and took a shower. I had gotten a cuban sandwich and a can of soup at Publix, and I cooked the soup while I ate some Girl Scout cookies. By the time the sun was setting, my belly was full, my dishes washed, and I was ready to take it easy.

Bill Glass had recommended that I get a Big Agnes inflatable air mattress and a fitted sheet. This was more comfortable than my old Thermarest pad, and much easier to carry. I decided during the night that it needed to be about 10 inches wider, since I regularly rolled off of it. I also wished that I had brought some warmer clothes, as during the early morning hours the temperatures plummeted into the upper 40's -- a "freeze warning" compared to our recent 80-degree days. These were the two main areas of improvement that I identified during my trip.

Other than those issues, I slept pretty well. The boy scouts had been telling ghost stories or something until almost midnight, but that only woke me up once or twice. Come daylight, the birds started in, and I eventually poked my head out into the cold to fix some coffee. I also heated up a can of corned beef hash and a bagel. This trip gave me a good chance to test my cooking and eating gear, and I found very little there that needed improvement.

By the time I had finished breakfast, cleaned up, broken down my camp, and packed everything up, it was warm enough to put on bike clothes and get moving. Retracing my route back North River Road, I stopped to get a good picture of some donkeys, just for my friend Vida.

A little further west, somebody was raising llamas.

The wind had shifted during the night, and I had a headwind on many of the early stretches of road. Fortunately, it was a little lighter than it had been the day before, and was mostly blowing across me by the time I passed through Gateway and the cattle fields beyond.

I managed to get to Bonita Beach before needing a stop at a Walgreen's, where I refilled my bottles with lemonade. The day had gotten warm, and it felt good to sit in the shade and drink a bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper while eating a box of Hot Tamales candy. The sugar rush gave me the power to cruise the rest of the way home with ease.

All in all, it had been a successful test. I think that I've got a solution for the narrow bed problem, and it will be easy to bring some warmer clothes for cold nights. Although the bike handled well, I still think that I'm going to convert my single-speed Salsa Casseroll to a geared touring rig, since the all-steel frame and fork will make me worry less about any carbon-fiber cracking, as well as accommodating wider tires.

I promise to let you know soon the trip to which all this is building. It may even be possible for some of you to join me.

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