Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why It's Not Crazy to Go Long Here Now

Apparently, May is when the last of the madding crowds abandon southwest Florida and return to their homes up north. Maybe it's because the "feels like" temperature climbs into the low 90's before noon, or the letter from the Home Owners Association finally catches up to them and it's either take down that Rick Santorum for President sign in the front yard now or pay a $100 fine.

Whatever the reason, the result is that I can again ride my bicycle up to Fort Myers Beach without getting buzzed going over every bridge and stuck in stop-and-go insanity when you hit the high rises. Monday, I celebrated this new-found freedom by riding long.

I took the usual way, up through Pelican Bay to Vanderbilt Beach, and then up through Bonita Beach into the state park. All of the maladies that had kept me off the bike for the past two weeks were gone, and my legs felt springy. That wouldn't last, of course, since I ended up asking a lot of them.

Other than being a little warm, the day was perfect for a long ride. Winds were light in the morning, and only got up to a steady 5-10 mph in the afternoon. This gave me a tailwind for my ride north; coming back, the wind was more against me, but never really harsh.

The last time that I had done this route, I had turned back before the bridge over to the mainland. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper for a mile before, and it just made sense. This time, the roads were almost empty, even though it was about 9:30 am.

The Naples Velo bike club does this route up to the bridge and back on most Saturday morning. For them, it's a 25-mph speed limit ride for the pack. Yes, that's not a typo -- we often have to yell at the guys in front when they take the pace up to 26 or 27 mph. Coming back, the speed limit is off, and it's usually 28-30 mph. There's a big sprint going over the bridge, and you're never going the kind of pace where you can slow down enough to pull out your camera and get a picture of all of the boats at anchor in the river.

Since I was having this much fun, I kept going. The next couple of miles are not really pleasant, as you have to ride on four-lane San Carlos Boulevard. Traffic was still light, though, and cars had no trouble moving over and leaving me a lane. Some did so grudgingly ... including one Lee County Sheriff's Deputy who failed to follow the three-foot law.

Summerlin Road also has no bike lane, and cars zip by at over 60 mph here. You can get on a multi-use trail on the other side of the road, but again traffic was light enough that I just took one of the lanes. After a couple of miles, you get to McGregor Boulevard -- which has a bike lane -- and climb the bridge towards Sanibel.

I'd ridden up here a few times, but never really explored the islands. First, I headed up to the southwest end, where a beautiful beach overlooks the pass. You can just see the high-rises all the way down to Naples from here.

Next, I went over to the lighthouse. It was about this time that I began thinking, "This might make a nice permanent ... but only during the off-season."

While I was taking this picture, another tourist asked if I had been to Captiva, too. I admitted that I had not, and she said it's also lovely. Who am I to argue? I headed north.

It's just over 10 miles from the south end of Sanibel Island up to Captiva Island. There is a multi-use trail, but it gets a lot of tourists on beach cruisers and even some of those big four-wheel pseudo-bikes with awnings and seating for four. I stuck to the road for most of the trip north -- again, with no trouble.

If you blink, you'll miss the pass where you cross onto Captiva Island.

Captiva opted for bike lanes instead of a multi-use trail. Also, the road moves closer to the beach for most of its length, making for better views.

I went as far north as I could, although I think that I could have snuck past the guard shack and into the resort at the tip to go another mile or two. I stopped at the public beach, instead, for a quick picture.

There's a ferry that you can catch up here that will take you to North Captiva Island, or even Cabbage Key, neither of which is connected to the mainland via a bridge. Someday, I'd like to catch this and explore one or both of those islands.

I was just over 50 miles at this point, so I stopped by the Island Store for a bottle of Gatorade and a candy bar. Folks were out here, now, but mostly getting by via foot. The vibe was nicely laid back.

Going south put me closer to the beach. The array of plant life along this stretch was incredible, with lots of sea oats and various varieties of cacti and succulents. You're almost happy that the wind is now making you move a bit slower.

This time, I took the multi-use trail. It was fairly empty, and the few folks that I encountered moved aside to let you by as soon as they knew you were there. Unfortunately, a lot of them had headphones or ear buds in, and didn't know you were there unless you yelled.

I really hated to leave the islands, but the view of San Carlos Bay made it worthwhile.

The color of the water in the sunlight was spectacular. This, my friends, is aquamarine. Nothing other than water should ever be called aquamarine -- it's instead just some variant of blue or green. From now on, reserve aquamarine for use only when referring to a body of water.

Thus let it be written.

On my way over the bridge earlier, I had noticed a television crew filming some sort of event. Coming back, the crew was just leaving, and I realized that this had been something commemorating the one-year anniversary of the death of Tracey Kleinpell -- a cyclist who was hit by a motorist here. As part of the ceremony, the ghost bike here had been decorated.

The mixture of tragedy and beauty made for a poignant scene.

Traffic was up a bit by now, so I opted for the multi-use trail on Summerlin this time. San Carlos was also a bit more hectic, but the huge bike/bus lane on the bridge when you cross into Fort Myers Beach gives you a break ... not to mention an excellent view.

I stopped for a quick lunch at the McDonald's just over the bridge. The break took some of the pain from my legs, which were feeling my recent lack of miles. Earlier, my back had been bothering me as well, but it had gotten in line. My speed was down considerably as I headed on down through Fort Myers Beach and onto the bridges through Lover's Key.

Some minor cramps were starting to set in as I passed through Estero, which usually means that I have not been drinking enough. Once back in Naples, I stopped at Publix for a few groceries.

The Almond Breeze was for sugar and calcium, and just because it tastes good. The Vitamin Water was to top off my bottles, which were mostly ice from my stop at McDonald's by now. The pickles were my standard remedy for cramps -- I drank the juice and ate about a third of the jar. I'm sure that I was a sight, sitting on the curb out in front of the store with my picnic, but it did the job and the cramps never took hold in full force.

It would have been really nice to have ridden this route back in January, when the weather was cooler. It's strange that you have to wait for the heat here to set in before you can safely ride some of these roads. Maybe more people driving car will see the ghost bike on San Carlos Bay and think carefully about their interactions with bicycles on the road.

It's probably foolish to think that anything good can come out of something so bad, but that's what a day like Monday does to me. Hope springs ... particularly in the spring.


  1. Looking at those pictures, I can't imagine why everyone heads north - it looks amazing, the perfect place for a long ride. I travel with my folding bike fairly regularly, and I've never visited Florida, but I might have to make a trip down soon!

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    1. Yeah, someone else suggested a recumbent. I'm just not ready to buy another bike this week.