Monday, April 9, 2012

... And the Universe Laughed and Laughed

A callus is like a co-dependent girlfriend -- if you don't abuse it, you'll lose it. And endurance cyclists depend on calluses much more than we would care to admit. In particular, we are forced to harshly treat -- and thus maintain the toughness of -- the calluses on our taint.

It was the great Eddy Merckx who told us how to toughen our nether regions years ago: Take speed. No, wait, I meant to quote his much more misquoted line "Bite lots. Particularly lots of cake."

Just kidding, Eddy (hey, you're Belgian ... you're surrounded by chocolate ... and you're a grandfather now, so go ahead and pudge up a bit). What Eddy really said was, "Bike lots."

All of which is a meandering and confusing way of explaining why I went out last Thursday and rode a 200K by myself. Part of it was to burn off a little fat of my own (Eddy ain't the only one fond of chocolate), part of it was to see if I still could, and a big part of it was to see if my bottom was up to the task.

I was smart about this 200K. So, so smart. You see, first I looked at the weather forecast and saw what the wind was supposed to do. It was going to blow out of the south at 8 mph early, and then SSW at 10 mph in the afternoon. Based on this forecast, it would be stupid of me to do my route up to LaBelle and back; thus, I decided to do my Chocoloskee - Ave Maria loop.

The sun came up just after 7, but it was still cloudy from last night's rain when I started going southwest on Tamiami Trail. Traffic was fairly light, but there were more cars when the road went down to two lanes just past the turn for Marco Island.

Once past San Marco Road, traffic was thinner, but faster. Frankly, I hate this stretch of road. The speed limit is 60 mph, and few cars stick to that. Also, the shoulder is almost constantly rumbled with strips warning you of the next bridge.

So, how many bridges are there? Well, we're going into the Everglades. It's a swamp. Basically, 10% of the Tamiami Trail down there is a bridge, so you're perpetually weaving in around those strips, or hoping to get by them before the next semi roars past.

After 25 miles of this, I was glad to see these two radio towers.

Those are the heralds that you are approaching Carneston, which basically has a gas station and the Everglades Information Center. But it's the turn for Florida 29, too, and that meant I was done with the Tamiami Trail. A little down 29, I passed my first alligator road kill of the day.

He must not have known how to weave through the rumble strips.

I went all the way down to where the road ends in Chocoloskee, and then immediately came back to the Marathon station in Everglades City. I quickly topped off my bottles with ice and Gatorade (I wonder if that would have saved the little guy in the picture above?) and got a couple of candy bars.

Back on the road, the wind was doing what it was supposed to do: Blowing from the south.

They were flying the Swiss flag at half-mast in honor of Fabian Cancellara's collarbone.

At this point, my insidious plan was working, and I began to ponder my chances of doing a sub-eight-hour solo 200K. I was over 50 miles in after barely three hours, and the wind was now cruising me along at an easy 20 mph. If the weather forecast was right, when I turned west at about mile 80, I should just have a light crosswind.

And that's when I think I first heard the universe chuckle.

It must be alligator-mating season or something, because I saw two desiccated corpses off the road, and then came upon a more fresh specimen.

The turkey buzzards were loathe to give way to my approach. A truck had gone by just before me and he blew the hell out of his horn on the birds. They were nonplussed.

Just after crossing Alligator Alley -- the stretch of I-75 that runs between Naples and Miami -- I passed a canal that had live alligators. I took their picture and told them to stay away from the road. They, too, were nonplussed.

Just before my turn, I stopped again at Oil Well Park. Coming at this from the south, this was the first time that I had noticed the following:

Yeah, it's an Oil Well. You see, the road out to Ave Maria is Oil Well Road, but I always thought it was just named after the Oil Family (you know, Olive, Cole, and Nana of Popeye fame). Apparently, there used to be oil here, in what they called the Sunniland field (gotta be a story there). As often happens with oil, people sucked it out of the ground, and now it's gone and it ain't coming back.

Somebody please tell that to all of the RVs that passed me on Florida 29.

When I turned west on Oil Well Road, I expected a mild crosswind. My speed immediately slowed to 15 mph, and I was working pretty hard. I felt like Richard Dreyfuss's character from Jaws looking at more roadkill, saying "This is no crosswind!"

But denial ain't just a river in Egypt -- it's one of the stages of dying and a standard legal defense. I told myself that I must be going a little south, but that the road would turn more west after Ave Maria.

And the universe laughed out loud.

A cookie and a couple of flatbreads from Tropical Cafe, and I was ready for anything. Well, anything other than my worst fear -- the zombie apocalypse. My second worst fear was just that the forecast was wrong, and that the wind would be blowing between 10-15 mph out of the west ... the way that I had to go to get back home.

When I got to Oil Well Road, my worst fears were unrealized ... I think. Zombies are cagey. But my second worst fear was beating me in my face, and may have eaten my brains. Mmmm ... brains.

For those of you who live down here, you can see from the above picture that the expansion on Oil Well Road is almost finished, at least down by Ave Maria. I had my own little orange-barreled lane for half of the way down to DeSoto Boulevard, where I briefly turned south and out of the wind.

But soon I had to turn on Golden Gate Boulevard heading west again. I stopped at the store there for more drink, and then quickly continued. The wind was blowing even harder on Vanderbilt Beach Road, since I was getting closer to the coast.

I apologize for being a crappy photographer, by the way. I wanted to get a picture of one of the trees getting flapped about by the wind, but I didn't want to stop to do it. You see, I still had that "sub-eight-hour-solo-200K" thing going through my head, and was riding as hard as I could. Meanwhile, the universe was laughing at me so hard that it got the hiccups.

Serves the universe right.

By the time I hit Pelican Bay, I was over 120 miles in, my bottles were empty, and it was 2:45 pm. If I could finish by 3 pm, I would be under eight hours.

Close enough.


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