Sunday, July 29, 2012

Quadzilla Day 4: Chaotic Systems

On the morning before a big ride -- and sometimes the evening before that -- I entertain myself the same way that many randonneurs do. I watch the Weather Channel.

So, maybe it's not really entertaining, but it does give us an idea of what to expect. It tells us what we should wear, what we should pack, and what we may need to find out on the course. Riders can control how we've trained, where we ride, and what our equipment is like, but weather is always a variable in a brevet.

It is also a chaotic system, with near-infinite moving parts. You've heard of the "Butterfly Effect," wherein a butterfly flapping his wings in Malaysia determines whether or not the tornado in northern Alabama skips over your house and kills your neighbor's dog? No? Okay, how about the Ashton Kutcher movie? Well, it's like that.

Friday night, the weather looked pretty good for Saturday. When I turned The Weather Channel on that morning, however, things had changed a bit, with a 30% chance of showers until 2 pm, and 50% afterwards. When I looked outside, of course, it looked even more dire.

That's the Auburn Correctional Facility, which you could see from my hotel window. Periodically during the night, the lights would dim and screams could be heard. (Just kidding -- this is New York, not Texas.)

The rest of Auburn, by the way, is very nice. We got to see the prettier part of it on the way out of town. I had pulled the rack and big heavy Arkel bag I often carry from the back of the bike, hoping that going lighter would make me climb better. Again, my friends from Tennessee -- Vida Greer and Mary Beth Chawan -- were with  me as we rolled out, along with ride organizer Mark Frank.

Mark had wheel troubles in the first couple of miles, however, and soon it was just the Tennessee contingent. We had just left Auburn when the rain began, and it stayed with us as we entered the lovely town of Skaneateles. Passing through the little downtown there, I saw that they had a wooden boat show going, and could smell fresh-baked goodies and coffee percolating somewhere. It made me want to get out of the rain for an hour and take a break, but 127 miles and over 10,000 feet of climbing made that a bad idea. We rolled on.

The rain continued, and soon we heard rumblings from the low clouds. At about 30 miles, we went up another one of the famous Quadzilla hills, with the pitter-patter of rain and deep basso profundo of thunder forming an entertaining back-up for my deep, labored breathing.

Crista Borros and Chuck Wood -- who weren't allowed to ride after Chuck had chest pains on the first day -- were at the top of this hill. Vida, Mary Beth, and I quickly ate some food and drank something, while Chuck showed us the current weather map.

It did not look good. Basically, the rain that was supposed to be south of us had moved up, so that the 30% chance of rain for the morning was now 100%. That would make the afternoon rain chances 120%.

After missing Thursday, I really wanted to do this route -- but not enough to stay soaked and freezing for the entire day. Also, the lightning was not letting up, and many of the descents were of the "clamp down your brakes" variety. I kept envisioning my brake pads getting worn down to nothing, and flying out into a street right in front of a dump truck.

Vida, Mary Beth, and I talked about it a bit, and decided that we didn't need this. As I said, "Right now, the ATM of my life is flashing 'Insufficient Funs.'" We decided to stay with the route to the next control and -- if the weather had not improved -- call Vida's son, Justin, to come get the ladies and their bikes. Since they didn't have enough room in the car for all of us and our bikes, I would just take a more direct route home and ride the storm out.

The weather was, if anything, worse at the control. We had also somehow missed a turn on the course, picking up an extra mile and skipping one of the hills that makes Quadzilla what it is. When Crista and Chuck pulled in, we told them our plan and made some phone calls.

I drank a big cup of coffee and ate two big cream-filled donuts trying to get warm, then left Vida and Mary Beth to wait for Justin. The roads that I took headed more or less towards Ithaca, but stuck to the valleys instead of criss-crossing the ridges as the Quadzilla route did. The route was lined with little farming communities loaded with character.

Obviously, the rain made it difficult to take pictures of things. If I pulled out my camera, the lens got wet. There was no part of my clothing and nothing in my bags that was dry enough to wipe things off.

After five miles, the rain stopped. I thought about heading back and getting on the course, but was pretty sure it was just a momentary lapse and the rain would return. Besides, with the missed turn it would have meant almost 20 bonus miles, and even if I had the miles in my legs, I was pretty sure that I would miss the next cut-off time.

After rolling south for another 10 miles, I headed west on Hwy 90. The clouds were now breaking up as noon approached, and I realized that the chaotic system was having fun at my expense today.

Stupid Malaysian butterfly.

Hwy 90 is apparently the Yard Sale Capital of central New York. Cars were constantly pulling on and off the shoulder, slowing down, turning around, and generally making for some interesting cycling.

At one point, I came to a road with this sign on one side ...

... and this on the other. I looked it up, and apparently this really is the birthplace of our last Whig president, Millard Fillmore.

The Whig Party was notorious for being nudists. This is why they threw Ben Franklin out of the party -- let's just say you did not want to see that man naked.

This road was across from a restaurant that advertised barbecue chicken, where dozens of trucks full of Yard Sale plunder were parked, with rather rotund natives waddling their way inside. You would not want to see any of them naked either.

A few miles further on was something that I was frankly surprised not to have encountered before on this road.

Obviously, somebody had been unwilling to slow down in their rush to either get home or find that cheap used snowmobile. Although two ambulances and a tanker truck showed up, everyone seemed okay. It gave me a chance to eat the bananas that had been sitting in my jersey pocket for 70 miles now.

Another few miles brought me to this:

Twelve percent?! You put up a sign for 12 percent?! This wouldn't even count as a hill on Mark's course.

The bottom of this brought me to a little town where I could check my bearings. I decided to continue on west on 90 for a few more miles. Guess what? More yard sales.

I wish that I could have done it justice, but that thing to the right of the love seat is some kind of tracked vehicle -- like an open-cab snow cat -- but painted for jungle camouflage. It would almost fit in back in Florida.

I soon turned off onto a side road that went through quiet cornfields, and towards the end began to see the top of Cayuga Lake, north of Ithaca.

The road ended on Hwy 34, which was busier but had a good shoulder. 

I have to say that, in general, the roads in upstate New York are superb for cycling. Many of Mark's "Hill" roads on the Quadzilla route were not in great shape, but those were obviously secondary roads impassable to cars during the winter (and barely passable to cyclists at any time). Most of the state roads had good shoulders, and the drivers took appropriate care when going around me. Also, each of the towns that we went through seemed to have enough cyclists that cars did not see us as an impediment. I would definitely come here again, particularly to do a longer tour.

I entered Ithaca from the college side, so took a little side trip into Cornell.

Eventually, I headed back to the hotel, with over 90 miles and about 6,000 feet of climbing for the day. It was not what I had planned, but it was better than nothing. I had just finished getting cleaned up and packing away my bike when John Bayley and Pamela Blalock came in on the tandem. Just to finish that route on a tandem was huge, but I think that they did it in under nine hours. They both seemed fresh and ready for more, making them my new heroes.

The other riders soon came in, and we had a great time eating pizza and drinking various beverages.

Everyone had great stories from the road, and it almost felt like I had gotten to climb the last 2/3 of the route with them.

Except, of course, that my legs felt good.

Two days did not go as I had planned, but I really had a great time on this trip. I want to thank Mark for designing the route and organizing everything, Marcia Swan for taking vacation to provide support, Chuck and Crista for supporting us when health issues curtailed their rides, and all of my fellow riders for entertainment, camaraderie, inspiration, and nice long pulls.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Quadzilla Day 3: Transition Stage

During the Tour de France, there's a point where the race moves from the Alps to the Pyrenees. Of course, there may be years when it moves from the Pyrenees to the Alps, but right now I'm too tired to look it up.

Anyway, there's usually a stage or two during this period that they call "transition stages." The sprinters, who have been suffering in the Alps (or the Pyrenees ... whatever) get to sit in for 100 miles or so, then go all fast leg-whacky during the last few hundred yards and make weird salutes -- like the Slovenian funky chicken dance or pretending to talk into a phone.

Today was our transition stage.

We started out in a light drizzle, heading east from Canandaingua. I was feeling frisky, so about five miles in I rode off the front on a little hill and time trialed a few miles. This was why I missed the turn for downtown Genessee, and got my first four bonus miles.

Once through Genessee, I was rolling north alongside the canal that connects the lake there to Lake Ontario. It was beautiful country, fairly flat, and I was making good time. Mostly, it reminded me of the Tennessee area, and made me homesick for some of my old permanent routes.

I was getting hungry about 30 miles in, and thought about pulling out an energy bar. For some reason, however, I thought that I would wait until I got to Waterloo and find a bakery there.

The one that I found, oddly enough, was also the one that my friends from Tennessee -- Vida Greer and Mary Beth Chawan -- had stopped at, along with the super-nice John Bayley and Pamela Blalock. John and Pamela were riding a Seven tandem, and they are easily the strongest tandem team that I have ever seen.

After a quick cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll, we headed back onto the road. We were all enjoying the laid-back pace of riding audaix style, and glad not to be battling up horribly steep hills. We even managed not to joust with the windmills.

In one of the little towns, we hit a secret control manned by Marcia Swan. She is everybody's hero on this trip, getting things signed and keeping us fully fueled. She was one of the key members of the support team on the Natchez Trace 1000K from 2010, as well.

Back out in the country, we crossed over another canal ...

... and caught up with the riders ahead of us.

We saw lots of tractors. And I mean lots of tractors.

And when we got to Lake Ontario, we saw beautiful boats.

The control at the lake was a park, and Marcia again filled us up with food and drink. Then we all rode out onto the pier ...

... and then back past the folks frolicking in the sand.

We headed south for a bit into some rolling hills, then came back north to the lake at another spot for the penultimate control. During this time, I was pretty much staying with Vida, Mary Beth, John, and Pamela, and we all ate a bunch of ice cream while watching a sailboat race.

As we were about to leave, a guy came in with an exact replica of the car that Paul LeMat's character drove in American Graffiti. If you're a George Lucas fan, you may want to take a closer look at the front license plate.

The route headed back into farm country then, along more roads that made me think of Tennessee.

That included the road where the bridge was "out." It was only out, of course, if you were not on a bicycle, and you weren't willing and able too carry that bicycle over the concrete barricades.

Somehow, we all ended up together again for the last 10 miles in to the final control in Auburn.

I was, of course, thinking of food.

We got to the hotel control just after 6 pm, and I quickly checked in, cleaned my bike, lubed my chain, removed the rack from the back, and grabbed a shower. We had 7 pm dinner reservations at a great Italian place in town, and it was a blast to have dinner with all of these extraordinary cyclists. We ate a lot of food and told outlandish stories for two hours, and then I zipped down to the grocery store to get tomorrow's breakfast.

Saturday is the last day, and it's supposed to be the toughest. Look for the blog about that adventure on Monday morning.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quadzilla Day 2: I Am an Angel

I learned a new word this morning: Derecho. In Spanish, it means "right" -- like "on your right" -- but in Weather, it means damaging straight-line winds.

It's been a dry summer here in upstate New York, so the folks who live here may not have been looking forward to the derechos or potential tornadoes or possible hail, but they really needed the rain that came in during the night. And they were ecstatic that it was forecast to continue throughout the day and into the night. As we all hung out in the hotel lobby watching the drops fall, the Quadzilla riders seemed to be the only folks who weren't smiling.

Mark Frank opened the 6:45 am rider's briefing by saying that he did not recommend that anybody ride today. Although none of us would melt in the rain, and our bikes would probably be fine, and he trusted all of us to get under shelter when the lightning and hail and winds came in during the afternoon, he said that today's route had even more steep ups and downs than yesterday's, and that a 50-mile descent with a Stop sign at the bottom was hard enough as it was and could be impossible with wet breaks.

Of course, I know a secret for stuff like that. If you put Kool Stop brake pads on your bike, they'll actually grip when the road is wet, unlike regular pads that don't so much grip as kind of hold on while they get rubbed down to nothing after 50 miles or so. Yes, Kool Stop brake pads would be just the trick for riding in weather like this.

Too bad I didn't have them.

They say that "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread," and so I was an angel today. A nice, cowardly, lazy, mostly dry, but at-the-end-of-the-day-alive angel.

Five riders opted to go, and I wish them well. We don't expect any of them back before evening, and sitting here in the hotel lobby watching the rain fall outside I do not envy them. They are better, braver, stronger riders than I (which doesn't really take much), and I look forward to hearing their tales from the road.

However, since we were kitted up, Mary Beth, Vida, and I took advantage of a lull in the rain to ride the 50-mile loop around Lake Candanaigua.

We started out following the official route, with the lovely but blustery lake on our left and some gorgeous summer vacation homes on our right. The route soon turned rolling as we entered farmland with climbs that allowed us to look down towards the water. About 15 miles in, we came to Bopple Hill Road, which Vida really wanted to climb since it's one of the two tough hills that we would have done today.

It did not disappoint, with the kind of pitch where you have to get out of the bicycle saddle and shift your weight forward to keep your front wheel down. Fortunately, the road was almost dry in enough spots that the back wheel wasn't slipping out on the wet pavement. Any of that would have forced me to walk ... and that seemed like an easy option to fall into as my quads screamed on the steeper parts.

At the top, we looked south towards the clouds at the bottom of the lake and Vida opted to retrace her route back to the hotel. Mary Beth and I went on, enjoying a few more sedate climbs, zippy descents, and beautiful rolling farm country. Near the top of the lake on the other side, we started to see more summer mansions and realized we were nearing the end.

After dropping Mary Beth at her hotel, I went back to the Super 8 to take a shower and do my laundry. The rain had stopped again, so I ran across the street for a salad at Wegman's, then came back for a nap.

We'd gotten a few sprinkles, but not enough to dampen our enthusiasm, wear out our brakes, or cause calamitous crashes. I would have liked to see the rest of the course and test myself against it, but not enough to risk doing something that would have ruined the rest of my weekend ... or my life.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quadzilla Day 1: That Which Doesn't Kill You

There was a point today when I thought, "I think that I used to be able to climb."

Of course, that's like "I used to be handsome," or "I was popular in college," or other stupid misconceptions that time gives us. Then you show an old picture to somebody and they don't recognize you and say, "Wow! Who's the dork?" Or you run into an old friend from college and get to talking and they point out that, no, you weren't popular then. Nor were you considered handsome by anybody other than your mother.

So, maybe I never could climb. Either way, I sure as hell can't do it very well now.

We started with great weather this morning -- just cool enough for light arm warmers. Mark Frank, who designed the Quadzilla routes, briefed us all. He gave us one last warning that there were hills, and tough descents, but beautiful scenery.

He kind of undersold it, but there was no way that he couldn't. There just aren't words in any language to cover it.

I stuck with my Nashville friends, Vida Greer and Mary Beth Chawan, for most of the route. It was good to catch up with them and talk about past rides and future plans.

Everything was great for the initial couple of long climbs and going through the first control. The roads were good and the views truly spectacular as we rode through vineyards and farmland. Each of the finger lakes that we went past were full of boats and people enjoying the incredible weather and a summer vacation. This was my first time up this way, and I can see why it is so popular.

Marcia Swan had set up a secret control following one long climb, and everyone hung out and ate a sandwich. I laid down on the hillside for a while -- my back was not used to this much climbing -- and watched the clouds go by. The sun felt warm on my skin, and life was good.

For the time being.

About 80 miles in, we bore left and started up a road that I have since learned is called "Bully Hill." I shifted down to the granny gear and settled in to climb it slowly, when suddenly my right leg cramped in the quadriceps and abductor. I immediately stood up and forced the legs to keep going, and after a minute the cramp subsided.

But it had come once, and I know from experience that meant that it would come again.

We all stopped at the top of the hill to get a picture of the lake below, and I told Vida and Mary Beth that my leg was cramping and I would be slower for a while. The key to ultracycling is to ride your own ride, so I told them to go on and not wait for me.

I caught up to Mary Beth and Vida at a store about 10 miles later, and got a jar of dill pickle chips along with more Gatorade. Quickly eating half of the chips and drinking the juice, I headed out with everyone to the start of the next big hill, then waved them all goodbye. I continued to take it easy for the next 15 miles of rolling country, and even saw some windmills on a ridge.

Along this stretch I passed through Naples ... but not my Naples.

By the time I got to the last control, everything seemed okay again and I was ready to resume a more brisk pace. Vida and Mary Beth were there with a few other riders, and I left with them and Mark to do the last nine miles to Canandaigua.

I felt pretty good when I got to the hotel, but I felt even better after a hot shower and washing out my kit. By the time we all finished a huge dinner of cheap Mexican food, I felt ready to take on the world.

Hopefully, that will be enough to take on the next 200K. Mark says that it's the toughest of the routes. I'll let you know tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Quadzilla Day 0

Sometimes, the toughest part of the journey is getting to the journey. This is probably more true of ultracycling events than anything.

First, there's the training. Regular cycling events require months of training, but a lot of ultracycling events actually take years of training. You don't just jump on a bike one day and say, "I think I'll go ride a 1200K next year."

Well, most people don't.

Of course, Quadzilla isn't a 1200K. Normally, it's a 500-mile race that you have to finish within 40 hours -- and by most accounts it's hard to make that time cut. What we're doing this week is even easier -- four back-to-back 200Ks, most of them with over 10,000 feet of climbing, starting tomorrow in Ithaca, NY. That means that you may not have as much saddle time as you would on a 1200K, nor the potential sleep-deprivation issues that you would with a 1200K or the "normal" Quadzilla, but you'd still better have some good stuff in your legs.

So getting ready for the staged Quadzilla means months of hard riding. Fortunately, I've been doing that, so I may be prepared. It also means getting your bike ready, which I've done with the help of my friends at The Bike Route back in Naples. Finally, it means getting up horribly early, driving to the airport, and paying U.S. Airways another $200 to put my bicycle in its case on their plane.

Now that is what I call pain.

I had a short layover in Philadelphia, then landed in Ithaca before noon. I retrieved my bike case from the Island of Misfit Luggage -- where it was very sad, since it was the only thing there -- and opened it to check the contents. That's when I found that the TSA had once again protected me by going through my bike case and not closing it back properly, so that one of the catches was now broken.

Of course, if they don't do that, the terrorists win. I'm always happy to take one for the team.

I sealed the case back up as best I could, caught a cab to my hotel, then walked to the college for lunch. When I got back to the hotel, I took the case to my room and began putting my bike together. That's when I discovered that, when they went through it, they apparently decided not to put my pedals back in the case. Maybe the lube that I had sprayed on them had flammable tendencies.

Or maybe the terrorists are winning. The terrorists in the TSA, at least.

Fortunately, there's a bike shop just over a mile away, and they had pedals that would work. They weren't the same as the pedals that I had, of course, but the next level down. Functional ... just not optimal.

Thanks again, TSA.

But at least that was the end of the journey. I got the bike together, went for a spin to make sure everything was good, and then checked in with ride coordinator Mark Frank. Other riders were coming in, some of whom I had ridden with before, and it was good to catch up with everyone. Then, my friends from Nashville -- Vida Greer and Mary Beth Chawan -- got in, and we went out with Vida's son, Justin, for big burritos.

Now my stomach is full, and I'm exhausted. Time to sleep ... perchance to dream ... nightmares stoked by spicy food, wherein the zombie apocalypse of TSA agents begins climbing out of my bike case. Oh joy.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Rant: When Something is Under Construction, Why Is It That the Bike Lane is the First to Go?

I was on US 41 a few weeks ago, going south from Ft. Myers, when I came to a few miles of construction. First, of course, they took away the bike lane and the shoulder (which are often one and the same), so now I'm in the car lane.

This is a busy road with few alternatives, so it's not a fun spot for a cyclist. Cars are zipping past my shoulder, not slowing down a bit for the construction zone. This is probably because -- like most construction zones -- there ain't much construction. It's easier to do massive construction projects like the US 41 expansion in big chunks, and this one is almost five miles. The workers were in one spot that day, working with a couple of backhoes.

So, my three lanes of southbound cars and a bike lane have become two lanes of southbound cars and one dumb son-a-gun on a bike. The posted speed limit went from 55 mph to 35 mph, but cars usually do 60 mph on this stretch and the only concession that they are making for the construction is to now slow down to 55 mph ... and to watch out for cops.

Basically, we're still pushing 100 gallons per minute through the pipe, but the pipe is now a garden hose. In case you don't know, that's a good way to scrape the plaque off the inner walls of a hose. And, in this analogy, I'm the plaque.

Then we get to the mile that's really under construction -- where the guys with the backhoes are -- and we go to one lane. The cars slow down now, since otherwise they would hit one another, so we're now doing 45 mph.

The garden hose is a straw. Which, for me, really sucks.

A couple of miles later, the construction ended and my bike lane returned. I was able to ride blithely on, just having to be ever wary of crap in my lane and people turning across it and not watching out. In other words, the usual deadly things.

The bike lane was there before and after the construction, so why can't the powers that be consider that -- logically -- cyclists might be traveling in that lane? They could at least put in a sign before the construction saying "Cyclists: Bike Lane Gone in Construction." Even better would be to identify a bike detour and put out signs for that, or post signs to cars telling to share the road with us.

Of course, the best solution would be to build the new bike lane or multi-use trail before they begin tearing up the road. Then cyclists would be able to cruise through the construction, and maybe folks in cars would see this while they're stopped waiting for a backhoe to cross the road and think, "Hunh. I've got a bike, and I'm only going a couple of miles."

Until then, however, I'm going to keep doing what I did on US 41. When we went to one lane where the backhoes were, I took that lane. For almost half a mile, there were a bunch of cars stacked up behind me doing just over 20 mph. When the road finally widened, they were able to get past, and they all honked and yelled encouragement to me for my bravery and ecological sensitivity.

At least, I think that's what they were yelling. It was hard to hear over the backhoes.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Paradise Lost?

In April of last year, RandoGirl and I flew down here to Naples to look around and see if we might want to move here.  She spent a day meeting some of the folks at what would end up being her new job, and I tried to get a feel for whether we could fit in down here. Obviously, part of that was checking out the local cycling scene.

We saw bicycles everywhere. Lots of people riding to the beach, or noodling over to the ice cream shop, or getting about on what was probably their sole mode of transportation. We saw kitted-up racing cyclists of all ages in the bike lanes and the few more quiet roads -- some in groups and others riding solo -- and even more hanging out at the local coffee shops.

There was a group at Panera when I stopped for breakfast one morning, and I listened to them talking about new gruppos or wheelsets, yesterday's power levels, and where should we go next? From there, I went to one of the bike shops to ask about routes, and the owner showed me some of the standard ones that they use. I told him that I usually do distance, and he said that it's easy to get in a training century down here.

When I explained that RandoGirl and I might be moving there that summer, he said, "You'll love it. Welcome home."

I'm sorry to say that he was wrong.

Much of the past year has been great. I've ridden a ton, and feel that my legs are probably as strong as they have ever been. It's given me a chance to ride in ways that I hadn't before, sitting on someone's wheel in a sick-fast paceline, so that I now feel much better about my bike-handling skills.

And there's the weather, and how beautiful so much of Florida is, and some of the really nice folks that we've met and regularly ride with, and the beach, and ... well, just suffice to say that Florida has a lot of pluses.

But it never became home.

I knew there was something wrong the first time I tried to ride long here. As I said, it was beautiful scenery the roads were quite nice, but I didn't know yet where the empty roads were here or exactly where they would come out, so I put my unease down to that. Frankly, it also took me a while to get used to riding in a land without hills, where your legs never stop going and you always have to worry about the wind.

Eventually, I found the best roads to take and that helped for a while. Then I found that there were only so many good roads, and the really quiet ones were at least 40-50 miles away. About the same time, I found some folks to ride with here, and that helped as I learned how to almost keep up with them on the rides that they had virtually every day here.

But those rides were always on the same routes, so the only surprises became who would show up that day to either take the workout to a new level, or make for a skittish nerve-wracking group. It's hard to ride day after day when you're regularly moving beyond the edge of your comfort zone.

I loved the touring that I was able to do here -- long rides on my own into new country, tweaking and refining my equipment in different ways. But, again, the irony is that the fun really began when I got away from the hustle and bustle of the southwest Florida beach communities.

Then, in early June, we returned to Nashville for the Harpeth River Ride. We got to see some old friends and ride some old roads, and we realized just what it was that we had left behind.


So, that's what we're going back to.

RandoGirl, the RandoDaughter, and I are leaving the first week of August, as soon as I return from Quadzilla. I'll help them get settled, them come back for a few weeks to get the house here ready to sell.

We've had great times here and made some good friends. We love our house and our neighborhood, the beach and many of the great restaurants and coffee shops here. It was wonderful riding in just a jersey and bibs in January, going over bridges where you could look at at the Gulf of Mexico, surrounded by a rainbow of fauna and exotic wildlife, and then recovering with a fresh fried grouper sandwich and a piece of key lime pie.

I wish we could have made it work, but I think something happened during the six years we lived in Nashville. Some part of Tennessee -- the people and that strange country pace of living, the blistering hot summer and bone-chilling winter days, the meandering roads climbing quiet shady hills to open up on a field of bison or llamas, the country stars that briefly were or never were or sometimes still are but you wouldn't recognize them at Starbucks any way ... it got into our DNA.

Maybe we aren't meant for paradise ... I'm not sure that we ever will be. But I know that we're going back to something that -- though imperfect -- is comfortable, and friendly, and where we are supposed to be.

We're going home.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Friday Rant: Don't Coddle Me

This week, I'm going to rant like Aretha. I want R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Not from my friends and family -- they think I'm a dork. And I doubt that I'll ever get the respect of my dog, since the Alpha in any relationship is obviously the one who picks up the other's poop and carries it around in a plastic bag like some kind of dork.

Hunh. Guess I am a dork.

No, I want respect from vehicles when I'm on my bike. I want them to treat me as if I was just another car.

Maybe it's too much to ask for that when they pass me, although the law is at least pretty clear on it. And I'm certainly not going to count on them watching out for me when they pull out into the road right in front of me. Really? Would you assume that I would happily slam on my brakes if I was a two-ton Ford F250?

I long ago reconciled myself to the plain fact that, when I'm on a bicycle in traffic, I am the 90-pound weakling on the beach of life. I don't regularly expect consideration and care from cars when they're trying to get to work or the mall or the bowling alley and I'm in their way. But I would like them to stop assuming that I am either an idiot or a scofflaw.

For those that have never heard the term "scofflaw" before, it's basically someone who breaks laws willy-nilly. For those that have never heard the term "willy-nilly," go ask your grandpa.

Damn, but I must be old.

Anyway, here's my rant to cars: Stop assuming that I don't know how to stop. When I get to the four-way stop, assume that I know how the rotation works (hint: yield to the vehicle on the right, even if that vehicle is a bicycle). When you're already at the stop, don't wait and wave me through. You had the right of way, so take it.

Actually, it's that whole "wave through" thing that often gets me. People are always waving me through intersections where I'm making a left turn, just assuming that the Hummer behind him isn't going to zip around and squash me flat. You two are the only ones at the light, and if you had treated me like a car you would have already gone and I could make my turn without breaking the law. Meanwhile, I slowed down to time my turn just so, and then stopped because that's what the law says to do, and four more cars have now come up and the Hummer honked so you went on, and now I'm not going to make it through the intersection for another five minutes.

I've had cars wave me through at yield signs, red lights, and into the "Exit Only" lane at Burger King ... and I didn't even want to eat at Burger King. Sure, they're just being nice, but there's a good chance that they could kill me with their kindness.

So, starting today I'm going to have a couple of signals of my own for drivers inviting me to break the law. First, I'll give them a nice friendly wave of my own, accompanied by a firm, negative shake of the head. If they insist, I'll give them a two-handed wave and an even more firm head-shake. If they still don't get it, I'll use that special one-handed wave -- the one that doesn't have the wave motion and only uses one finger.

That'll teach them not to be so damned nice.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Do Things Look Different Counter-Clockwise?

Wednesday, I did the same route as last week -- more or less -- but in reverse. You'll have to tell me if it looks prettier this way.

Yeah, it's dark at 5:30 am on Tamiami Trail. But the road is nice and empty.

By the time I got on Golden Gate Boulevard, the sun was coming up. It was maybe 6:15 am, and everybody was heading towards town for work. I felt a little guilty to be out riding ... but just a little.

I took Randall Boulevard out to Desoto Boulevard. Once on Desoto, it was much more quiet.

They've about got the paving done on Oil Well Road, including a bike lane for almost five miles to Ave Maria. The sun was shining on Ave Maria, as if Cecil B. DeMille was their director or marketing. And maybe he is.

I stopped at the Sunniland Store and re-filled everything. I had thought that it might be hot, so brought a small Camelbak and filled it with ice. It turns out that was all I needed, thanks to the could cover I had for the first 70 miles.

This was one of the few times that the sun came out, as I was heading through the panther refuge.

Although this was the "windward" stretch of the route, it was easy to maintain a good speed. I actually averaged 19 mph for the full 110 miles.

This guy obviously went faster. I kept seeing this Collier County Sheriff's Deputy, and he and I would wave at one another. It really makes you feel good knowing that there's a cop out there keeping an eye on you ... or, it made me feel good.

I love these trees just north of Jerome. They may be cypress, but they look more like fir trees. If I had access to the internet, I would look them up.

Last time, I just stopped at the store on the corner of US 41 and Florida 29, but this day I went on into Everglades City.

This is such a neat town. I spent 20 minutes talking to John at the Marathon store. We decided that it's just a slower pace of life down there, which makes things a heck of a lot more fun.

Unfortunately, the sun came out while I was talking to John. When I started north on Florida 29, it was definitely getting warmer.

Of course, related to this was the return of the wind. It was at my back, making it easy to cruise along at over 21 mph. I saw my cop friend again, but he didn't give me a ticket.

I skipped Marco Island, since that would've gotten me a full 200 kilometers and I needed to get back home. Besides, 110 miles -- with a tailwind for the last 30 -- was plenty.