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.