Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mad Maxx Watzz: Surviving the Autocalypse

Dear Reader:

I'm going to try something a little different with the blog for a while here. Let me know what you think. I promise to return with my normal blather when I ride somewhere worth telling you about, or when my participles stop dangling.

Captain's Log. AGRO (After Gas Ran Out) Date 843.

I gave myself a battlefield promotion today, all the way to the rank of Captain. I considered being a General, but that seemed a bit much ... even for my ego. Colonel always makes me think of corn, and Major makes me feel too old to be a minor.

All right. To be honest, the Star Trek nerd inside of me just wanted to start titling these things "Captain's Log." Sue me.

About an hour after breaking camp this morning I ran into a band of wandering skateboarders. They were foraging for food at a Costco, but not having much luck. All they seemed to have found were big flat screen TVs and office supplies. They'd hauled the TVs into the parking lot and taped them together to make a skate park, and seemed to be trying to kill themselves there.

I stayed about 100 yards away. They ignored me at first, but then asked what I had in my panniers and trailer. When I told them it was mostly food and water, they began moving my way whining, "Hey, uh ... hey, bicycle man, uh ..." I slowly climbed back on the bike and began leisurely pedaling away.

In a world without gas, bicycles rule.

I played with them for a couple of miles, letting them get a little closer, and then dropping them again. When they stopped in exhaustion, I circled back and searched the Costco for stuff that I could use. I found some cheap bikes in the back, and took the tires and tubes.

On my way out, I got a big bag of spicy Cheetos and a couple of Red Bulls out of the trailer, leaving them in the middle of the makeshift skate part. The poor kids were doomed, but maybe it will keep them going for a few days. Besides, I needed room for the tires and tubes.

Soon I was back on the interstate, headed north. I plugged my iPod into the DynaHub for a while to listen to some music. The weather was good, and the wind was at my back. I was another great day to be out riding a bicycle on another smooth empty road.

Late in the afternoon, I stopped at an abandoned car in the middle of the road. The corpse of the driver was still at the wheel -- an all-too-common scene over the past couple of years. In the last days of gasoline, people would drive aimlessly until the gauge hit empty. When their car stopped running they would just sit there, staring into space, hands on the wheel, slowly starving to death.

Maybe they were waiting for OnStar to send a tow truck. More likely, however, is that they just didn't want to live in a world without cars.

Some earlier scavenger had already popped the hood. That was common, too, as people desperately scrounged for the last drops of gasoline. I pulled the dipstick and checked the oil -- good and fresh. I removed the oil filter to get a cup full, and then lubed my chain and the rest of the bike's drive train. I put the car in neutral and pushed it off the road before I left, so that future cyclists would not hit it.

Cars belong on the shoulder in this world after the Autocalypse.

Tonight, I'm camping in some woods near an overpass. Dinner was a can of corned beef hash, seasoned with wild onions that I picked nearby. The air here is fresh and clean, smelling of pine trees and dandelions. The stars are getting brighter, too, now that there is no car exhaust and less noise pollution from towns. I barely need my little LED lamp to write this entry, even though the DynaHub topped off the batteries during the ride.

Tomorrow or the day after, I should reach the first of the farms up north. I've got some good stuff to trade, and am looking forward to fresh fruit and vegetables. Then, I may head east again.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Promises are Made to be Eaten

I have a tactic that gets me through the tough times on long, tough rides. It's one of the tools that I pull out about two-thirds of the way through the ride, when my spirits sink and I need that classic carrot on a stick ... incentive to continue to pull the overloaded cart that my ass has become. And "carrot" is an apt allegory, because the thing that drives me to the ride's completion is often food. Glorious food.

Of course, a real carrot would not do. I can honestly say that nothing that still qualifies as a vegetable has been enough to make me finish a ride. I do love me some french fries, but those are about as much a vegetable as ketchup is (and the ironic thing about that episode is that the tomato is a fruit).

No, for any honestly epic ride, I am a junkie for junk foods.

On hot rides, I scream for ice cream ... although ice cream only acts as the foundation. Two scoops served over brownies, with slices of banana and pineapple, and liberal doses of chocolate and caramel sauce poured on top. Oh, and some nuts ... and maybe I can put some crushed Butterfinger pieces on top. Ooh, whip cream!

On triple-digit temperature days, that's the kind of carrot that will get you home.

When it's cooler I am craving pizza. I actually designed a permanent route to start and end from downtown Franklin, TN, just so I could easily get to the Mellow Mushroom there. I start planning my toppings around Snow Creek Road at mile 100, fantasizing about spicy sausage and onions ... or maybe ham and pineapple.

Lately, however, I've been going straight to the gutter -- a restaurant that makes few, if any, presumptions of haute cuisine. Man Food for Real Men.


Now, you were probably thinking Hardee's or McDonald's, but Puddy of Seinfeld fame liked Arby's, and Puddy was definitely a Man's Man.

About mile 100 this past Saturday, I promised myself Arby's. I don't break promises, especially when I make them to someone as important to me as I am, so I quickly got cleaned up and loaded up after the ride, pulled out the GPS, and looked up the nearest one.

It was not particularly "near." I had to get on the Turnpike, go south 20 miles, get off the turnpike (and pay a toll), and then drive three miles west to get to an Arby's. But, a promise is a promise.

When I finally got there, my needs were fulfilled. Two Beef 'n Cheddars: Thin slices of (what I can only assume is, and frankly don't care if it is not) roast beef and thick orange gooey cheese product served on a mass-produced bun that makes no pretense of artisanal bakery and such frivolities as "taste." The bun is merely the delivery system for the twin bombs Beef and Cheddar, much like a Titan rocket for an ICBM.

And Arby's Sauce -- a spicy sweet tomato-based concoction that brings out the best tastes of the Beef and the Cheddar. For years, Arby's placed large bottles of this sauce on all of the tables, so you could slather it on your food with abandon. They've cut that back, now, so that you have to dispense your own sauce into little paper cups. Tedious, true, but not nearly as difficult as opening a whole slew of those little foil packets that Taco Bell uses to make their condiments inaccessible.

For two Beef 'n Cheddars, I need nine little cups of Arby's Sauce. The cups must be moderately full, too -- don't just give it one shot from the squirty dispenser, but take care to fill to the brim. Also, make sure that you get 12 paper napkins.

You're then ready to begin ...
  1. Open the sandwich, pour half of a cup of Sauce inside, close it, and take a bite. This initial bite creates a valley into which you can then pour the next layer of Sauce.
  2. Apply sauce and bite. Make sure that you are leaning over the table, since if you are really applying enough sauce then it is going to drip on your fingers and chin.
  3. Wipe your fingers and chin after every other bite. Again, if you're doing this right then a napkin will only last for two wipes, tops. The last bite will be particularly messy ... but it is so worth it since all of the gooey cheesy goodness is now properly saturated with Sauce.
Inevitably, I make little mouth noises while eating my Beef 'n Cheddars. Yes, it's often kind of slurpy sounds, but there's also a lot of "Mmmm..." going on. It rarely bothers anybody sitting more than two booths away.

I ate both of my Beef 'n Cheddars, but could only finish half of my Curly Fries. I refilled my drink for the long drive back to Naples, and headed out to my car. My hunger had again been appeased, and I felt as I would explode in rapturous rupture.

I felt like a happy tick. Mmmm ...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bringing a Steel Knife to a Carbon Fiber Gunfight

In Monday's post, I told you about doing a 200K out of Jupiter hosted by the Florida Central region. As I mentioned, this 200K was not like Tennessee 200Ks. For one thing, 84 starters is four times the normal turnout there ... particularly in January. Another difference was the pace, since the lead group finished in under six and a half hours.

Of course, I'm pretty sure that there were a lot of riders that rode at a more conventional pace. Out of 84 randonneurs and randonneuses, there had to be some getting in near the final control closing time ... and some that didn't finish at all. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in the course of 130 miles, even if the terrain is pancake flat and the temperatures absolutely perfect. Also, fighting a headwind for the 60 miles back to Jupiter must have taken a toll on a few folks.

Another difference between Florida and Tennessee brevets was the equipment being used by the riders. For example, the front pack was lead most of the way by four of these:

Of course, a recumbent can be a very fast bicycle, particularly over flat terrain. Getting under the wind is great for Florida brevets.

If you doubt the speed of a 'bent, check out the records at the Sunrise Century in Clarkesville, TN. This ride has been called the fastest century in America. Although the route is not as flat as Florida, the winds are lighter. Doyce Johnson, a friend of mine from the Gran Fondo Fixies 2008 RAAM crew, currently holds the record time on that century at 3:44:55. He did this riding a recumbent in the elite peloton.

I only counted half a dozen recumbents Saturday. Most of the bikes looked more like this:

Now, I'm used to showing up at brevets with a bicycle that hits the middle range on randonneuring convention. I consider my titanium Lynskey touring frame the perfect mixture of comfort and speed, particularly riding on Continental GatorSkin tires on my 32- and 36-spoke count Mavic Open Pro rims and Shimano Dura-Ace hubs. My handlebar bag on the front holds all of the stuff that I might need on a 200K, and I can always put my Arkel TailRider on the rear rack for longer rides when I might need more tubes or room to stow spare clothing. And I may not need that little chainring on my triple crank often, but when I need it then I am really glad to have it.

There were usually a couple of aggressive racing frames at Tennessee 200Ks, but you also had a lot of lugged steel frames with down-tube or bar-end shifters. Most bikes had GatorSkin or Armadillo tires, and 700x25c was considered narrow. Riders might or might not have brought their lights and reflective gear on these rides, even if they were sure that they would finish before nightfall. Stuff happens, but above all you finish the ride. It's usually better on a brevet to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

The riders Saturday were not as concerned about this, and instead focused on speed. Slip through the wind. Ride light ... although this probably only mattered when we were crossing bridges. Most frames were carbon fiber, as were many saddles. I didn't see a single Brooks B-17 saddle out there. Racing wheels were prevalent, although most of them had good stout tires mounted on them. Frame pumps were rare. Almost everybody had a fairly large saddle bag -- as in the above picture -- to carry the tools and tubes we typically need. About a third of these had a folding tire attached, which was smart given the poor condition of Florida bike lanes and shoulders.

Taking a back seat was self-sufficiency. Given the turnout, this was logical. If something broke that you couldn't fix, odds were that another rider with the right tool or part would be along in a minute. The faster you were, the better your chances of encountering that helpful rider. And, probably more important, the faster you were the easier it was to stay with a group for those 60 miles back into the wind. Riding three hours at 20 mph in a paceline is much easier than riding four hours at 15 mph all by yourself ... but that does fly in the face of the whole "self-sufficiency" thing.

So, these bikes were probably good choices for Saturday's ride. I was happy with the comfort of a touring frame and good Terry saddle ... but then, I wasn't out to break any records. If I want to do under 6:30 at this event next year, I'll bring the Bianchi and a Max Watzz mindset.

It will be interesting to see what everyone brings to the 300K and 400K, if I ride them. With the right group, a 300K without lights here is possible, but a 400K in less than 14 hours is hard work. Personally, I would not want to do 250 miles listening to the hum of a carbon fiber wheelset.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A 200K Like No Other

It had been four months since I last rode a brevet, and it was time for me to get back into "real" randonneuring ... as opposed to just going out and doing an ad hoc 125-mile-plus ride. The Central Florida region of Randonneurs USA was holding a 200K this past Saturday out of Jupiter, FL -- just under three hours drive on the east coast -- so I headed over there for the fun.

Since I turn 53 this Friday, a 200K brevet also allowed me to get in that "twice-my-age" mileage ride that I've been doing for about 10 years on the weekend before or after my birthday. I may still get in another 106 miles this coming Sunday by doing a t-shirt century here in Naples, but now it's entirely optional.

When I got to the hotel where the ride began, I could not believe the size of the crowd.

Tim Bol, the Regional Brevet Administrator (RBA), told me later that there were 84 starters. In Tennessee, we never had more than 20 starters for any brevet that I could remember.

As I rolled up await rider instructions, I talked briefly with a bevy of Bachettas. I was wearing my Gran Fondo Fixies jersey, and the leader of this group remembered us from RAAM in 2008, where he had raced. As you would expect from someone of that caliber, he pulled the lead group for most of the ride, finishing in six hours and 29 minutes.

Since it was a big crowd, there was a big fast pack at the front as we started. The sun had been up for almost an hour, but traffic was still manageable.

As we rolled north, we had a light wind at our backs. The pace remained high at the front, and the group thinned down to about 30 riders or so.

Tim had put together an excellent route, going through some lovely state parks and secluded residential areas. Since the route paralleled Hwy A1A most of the way, cars didn't much bother with the secluded smaller roads that we were on.

We even had some shady spots, biking beneath the boughs of beautiful Banyan trees.

The speed remained fast, as you would expect in a group seeking a sub-seven-hour 200K. While it was not too difficult to sit in on this pack at this pace, it was a little unnerving when we would blow through red lights and stop signs, and barely miss little old ladies in pedestrian crosswalks. Obviously, I was able to still enjoy the view -- or I wouldn't have taken all of these pictures -- but moving along like this was not what I did brevets for.

The lead group split about two miles from the first control, since about half of us were not willing to run the red light over US1. A few of us nonetheless hammered our way up the road after the light changed, and had just about caught back on when we got to the control.

All of the controls were at parks manned by RUSA volunteers. This was also very different for me, as Tennessee typically used convenience stores for controls, staffed by clerks who have to find pens. Tim had coolers full of cold Gatorade, water, and soft drinks; bags of chips and pretzels; and lots of cookies. It was pretty easy to get your card signed, top off bottles, eat something, and get back out. Other than the card-signing thing, it was more like the rest areas of a fast t-shirt century.

I purposely did not jump out with the recumbents and the fast group when they soon went back out. I was not looking for that kind of personal best ride, and wanted to enjoy the view instead. I pulled out on my own, and slowly formed a group of riders who had missed or fallen off the pace of the lead pack.

About a mile from the control, we passed the four recumbents fixing a flat. Soon, we entered another state park as we passed a nuclear power plant.

Suddenly the recumbents came by us, having fixed their flat. I thought that we would all jump on as we rolled through the park, so I did. In a few minutes, I realized that I was the only one from my group to do so.

Team Bachetta cruised north at about 27 mph through the park, and caught back up with the lead pack just before Fort Pierce.

As we hit the Fort Pierce Inlet (where you can just see the small container ship in the above picture), I decided to go back to my plan from the previous control and slow down a bit. This gave me a chance to enjoy the scenery.

Obviously, Fort Pierce is a boat town. The route went past a huge dry stack marina. Note the bow of the speed boat sticking out of the wall in the picture below.

There were also lots of boats in "real" docks ...

... and sailboats on moorings.

Of course, I had to stop and pull out my route sheet for the first time that day, since I now had no idea where the turns were. At least in this way it was more like a normal brevet, since I had to actually navigate for a while instead of looking for arrows on the road.

We went past the National Navy UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) SEAL Museum. I had to get a picture of this for the RandoDaughter's boyfriend.

About here another group of riders came by, and I jumped on.

They were still doing a fast pace, but were not as driven as the lead group. For example, they would slow down for pedestrian crosswalks when we got to the beach.

That was good, because there were a lot of pedestrians out by this time. It was almost 11 am as we hit the top end of the route -- almost 70 miles in three hours -- where the control was.

We pulled in just as the lead pack was pulling out. There was a lot of scrambling to catch up -- unlike the SEALs, there was none of that "No Man Left Behind" crap here.

Again, the control was manned and fully stocked. I drank a Diet Coke, ate a bag of pretzels and a cookie, filled my bottles, and grabbed another bag of pretzels for the road. When the next big group rolled out, I went with them.

We started out with a pretty large pack, most of which was a randonneuring group that called themselves the Crazy Amigos. They were a lot of fun. Even though we were working pretty hard trying to maintain 20 mph into a headwind, they still joked and chatted some at intersections and stop signs.

This group was also a little better about slowing down in congested beach-town areas.

Although it was a fairly calm day by Florida east coast standards for January, the wind made us work pretty hard as we rolled alongside the Indian River. Fortunately, the beautiful water on one side and the stately homes on the other made for great views.

We had picked up some folks from the lead pack on Indian River Road, and thus had from 15-20 cyclists. Apparently, this was frustrating to a lot of the cars here. I felt a little bad for them, but this should not have been a road for anyone trying to get anywhere fast, since it's really an exclusive neighborhood of older homes on a secluded, scenic road. Eventually, a Sheriff's deputy passed us with his lights flashing, hollering something at us.

I found out later that they will tickets cyclists for not riding single-file on this road, and by Florida law they can do that if you're impeding traffic. As you can see, we were single-file. After he got ahead of us, he pulled over and got out. As we were passing, he was calling at us to "Get off the road."

We didn't. Maybe he wanted us to get on the shoulder ... or better yet the sidewalk. The above picture gives you a good view of those options. He probably meant for us to all pull into somebody's yard and wait for the cars behind us to go through, but that can be even more dangerous on this kind of road.

Pretty soon we came to an intersection with US1, and a dozen cars swept past us to return to the speed that they considered their right. This is the downside of living in paradise: You get blind to the beauty that is around you every day, so you spend your time scurrying instead of meandering and gawking. Slow down. Enjoy the view.

Not far past this we came to the penultimate control, where Tim had boxes of pizza. I scarfed a couple of slices and sat for a minute, watching a lady play with her dog at a nearby fountain. The dog was trying to bite the columns of water shooting up, and it was a hoot.

I also drank two more Diet Cokes and refilled my bottles. I knew that I was a little dehydrated, since it had taken far too much work to eat a bag of pretzels on the road earlier. I wasn't making enough saliva, and ended up having to swallow lumps of chewed pretzel mush. The break gave me a chance to drink and chat some with Tim -- we were trying to remember what ride we had done together where we had previously met. I also got a little more information about the upcoming Florida brevets.

Soon, the Amigos were ready to go again, and off we were off to climb over some more bridges.

Ten miles out from the control, we were just on the pace to finish the brevet in under seven hours when some debris in the road caused the pack to swerve and hit their brakes, and two bikes went down. Both riders had only minor scrapes, but one had blown out his tire badly enough to need a boot. Half of the pack went on, in search of that fast time, but I stayed with the Amigos who were helping the downed rider boot and repair his tire.

As we got going again, we slowed down a bit to make sure that the boot would hold. We were retracing our northbound route at this point, and everyone -- not just cyclists -- was out enjoying an extraordinary day.

As we neared Jupiter, the pack was just down to the Crazy Amigos and me.

About two miles from the finish, I fell off the back to spin my legs out and rest. This also gave me a chance to get a decent picture of the Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum, which I had seen early in the route.

From there, it was up and over one last bridge to cross the Intracoastal Waterway.

My finishing time was still under 7:30, and I felt pretty good about it. My legs were tired, but not unbearably so. Most importantly, I had met some really nice folks and had my first introduction to Florida randonneuring. Of course, if this is what a normal brevet is like in Florida, it may take me a while to get used to it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Most Incredible Bicycle Route Ever

I found a new route Monday that has got to be the most fun thing that you could possibly ever do on a bicycle ever. And those two "evers" are not a typo -- it was just that good a route.

Even better, it was SOPA-compliant. It didn't use anybody else's intellectual property at all ... and that's tricky around here where every decent cycling road has markings from being on somebody's t-shirt century. I avoided that problem by making it a ride done only in my own mind, and while you would think that the limited size there would make for a very short ride, I found it was quite roomy. Like it's barely been used and almost free of clutter. Who'd of thunk?

Obviously, not me.

I would love to tell you about the ride, but that would force me to use things called "words." Other people have probably already used these words, so that might constitute a SOPA violation. Instead, just imagine that best ride in the world in your own head, and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Imagining it now? Hmmmm ... isn't it nice? Watch out for that ... oh, never mind. You saw it.

Wow. Wasn't that fun? And my legs still feel fresh. I may ride this route every day, from now on. Or at least until I get a saddle sore from sitting on the sofa.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What I Want for My Birthday

I was talking with someone the other day about one of the causes of the problems that cyclists here in southwest Florida have with cars. It all came down to a lack of predictability.

"They have no idea what we're going to do," my friend said. "They see racers run red lights and stop signs. They see guys on beater bikes on their way home from work at 8 pm with no lights, getting on and off the sidewalk. They see retirees on beach cruisers going to the coffee shop, pedaling against traffic as if they were out for a walk."

"To people in cars, we're just idiots on bicycles, and we're unpredictable."

This is even more true here during the tourist season. Friday was a great example. I was on my bike, noodling around and running some errands. I came to a four-way stop where there were already cars waiting to my left and right. They all stopped and looked at me as if I might roll through without stopping, so I made a point of being a good citizen. I came to a full stop, and even put a foot down. The car on my right then went through, which is how four-way stops are supposed to work.

At this point, I had the right of way to go through the intersection. But, rather than stick to the rules, the car on my left went, followed immediately by the car behind him. He wasn't going to wait for anybody. Then, the second car on my right started inching forward, so I just jumped on the pedals to roll through and around everybody.

If I hadn't, I might still be there. But, in doing that, I probably left a couple of drivers shaking their heads saying, "Stupid bikes. Can't follow the law. Grumble. Grumble."

A couple of blocks further, I came to another four-way stop. Again, I stopped completely. There was a car coming up to the stop on my left. I assumed that he was going to obey the sign and stop, so I started up. He did a "California rolling stop" through the intersection and just missed me, and then he honked at me as he sped away.

It was then that I got a brilliant idea for what I want this year for my birthday: A hologram projector.

Now, my birthday is still a couple of weeks away, so you've got some time. I couldn't find one on Amazon, but I've seen them in lots of computer games and in Star Wars. You may have to invent it, but how hard could that be?

All I know is that I want one.

It's got to run on DC power -- preferably with "AA" batteries, since I need to mount it on the bike. And I would like to be able to switch between about half a dozen projected images. When turned on, it would cloak me and my bicycle, making us look like something else.

When noodling through neighborhoods, I want to switch on the hologram projector so I look like this:

People expect these to be moving slowly ... maybe stopping at each mailbox. They wait to pass until it's safe. They behave nicely, because that may be their postal person at the controls, and if they are mean to their postal person then they may suddenly stop getting those Victoria's Secret catalogs.

Here's another one that would work nicely:

Again, frequent stops. When cars pass these, they give lots of room. Folks also don't tend to tailgate them, since these trucks don't tend to leave a pleasant aroma in their wake.

When riding out in the back country, I would use this one:

Most country folk are patriotic, so they might just pull over and salute. Others would be worried that I was a scouting group from the Feds investigating that recent massive purchase of nitrate-based fertilizer. Hopefully, they would then lay low, since I can't put up much resistance to an armed response from my bicycle. Best I can do is Shock and Ouch.

For most of my riding, however, I would use this one:

You think anybody's going to pass this bad boy too closely on Vanderbilt Beach Road? You think anybody's going to pass this bad boy at all on Vanderbilt Beach Road?

Friday, January 13, 2012

RandoBoyScout Part II: Return of the Middle Ring

I was just kidding yesterday. There's no bear in this story, although there could have been since Florida has Black Bears. They're protected, of course, so if one had wanted to eat me it would have been my ecological duty to be devoured. This is why you're supposed to sleep with a sprig of parsley on your belly when camping in Florida.

Last post, I described my trip up to Caloosahatchee Regional Park to camp overnight. I didn't say this outright, but you hopefully read between the lines: It was a blast! About the only way that it could have been better would be if somehow there had been no cars on the road with me, but even that was only an issue on a few of the busier roads when someone would pass me close enough to rock the bike. Otherwise, the weather was great, the people were nice, and the country was beautiful.

I slept fairly well Tuesday night. The ThermaRest is not quite as cushy as the worst hotel bed you've ever been in, but is better than a rock wall next to the Trans-Canadian Highway. I awoke a few times, and even got chilly after midnight. When I got up to use the (very nice) bathroom at the campground about 5 am, I briefly considered packing up and starting south. I had gotten a good eight hours of sleep at this point (if you put it all together) and felt good, but opted to wait until daylight instead.

I almost regretted that decision when the wind started moving the trees a bit just before sun-up, followed by a brief rain shower. I went ahead and began packing inside the tent, however, and the rain ended before I got out. It was only after I had begun breaking down the tent when I remembered that I had not yet taken a picture. So, here's a shot of the partially disassembled tent:

After a hot shower, I got dressed and finished loading everything back on the bike. I was on the road just after 8 am.

The wind had died down, so I made good time to the convenience store on Hwy 31. I had a quick cup of coffee and a sausage croissant, and then continued south.

Hwy 80 wasn't as busy as the day before, and Orange River Boulevard was quiet but for school buses heading back to the barn on Leonard Boulevard. As I was going the same way, I saw a lot of these buses. Fortunately, they all passed nicely -- a good thing, since when you're on a bike a school bus passing you at 60 mph has more "road suck" than just about any vehicle.

It was also on this stretch that I saw more markings for another club ride. Apparently, there's a route just for some guy named Ike.

The wind came up as I got to Gateway, but it didn't really begin blasting until I returned to Treeline Avenue. I was ready for "Second Breakfast" anyway, so I stopped for a break at the Dunkin' Donuts just past Daniels Parkway.

As I headed towards Southwest Florida International Airport, the wind was mostly in my teeth. Passing cars pushed the wind around, so I was forced to maintain a pretty tight line in the right-most third of the bike lane and grip the handlebars more than I care to do while trying to stay low under the wind. That evening, my shoulders were as sore as they get from a tandem tour.

I was glad for the half-mile break on Estero Parkway, where I cut over to the west side of I-75.

On a clear day you can see ... well, about as much as you see from here.

Then it was another 20 miles into the wind on Three Oaks Parkway. I looked down at the bike computer to see that I was going 12 mph and thought "I may not be working hard, but I'm working hard enough to go faster than this."

So I did something that I haven't done in months: I shifted to the middle chain-ring. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the front derailleur still worked.

Now, this did not make me faster. In fact, it probably made me slower. But I knew that I had two hours to ride less than 30 miles, and a few of those would be going west on Vanderbilt Beach Road where the headwind would be gone. Shifting chain-rings was almost like shifting my brain. This wasn't a race, or even a brevet. There was no closing time for the next control -- I was just riding home. If I was late for my 2 pm conference call, it was no big deal.

I was a bike tourist, with big panniers and a bedroll on the back of my bike to prove it. This gave me the right to go just as slow as I wanted.

Of course, I was still happy when I finally saw this sign:

From here it's a few miles going west (off the wind), followed by more sheltered roads south through Pelican Bay. I was home in time for my conference call, but was glad to be able to use the mute button. Otherwise, everyone would have been treated to the sounds of RandoBoy devouring a bunch of food.

So, was it fun? Yes! Will I do it again? Damn straight! I may have to change the front fork on the Lynskey so I can put a rack on it (it's carbon fiber, and that's supposedly a no-no), but otherwise I felt like I had the right gear in the right place on my bike, and enjoyed a generally comfortable ride. The tour that I'm considering will have a few more hills, but I think that if I keep my daily mileage requirements down to a proper level I will be okay.

I may have to figure out a way to carry a small cooler, however. The parsley got a little wilted on the way home.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I've been thinking about what kind of "goal event" to do this year, and one of the options is a long self-supported tour. It will differ from other tours that I've done in the following ways:
  • It will be really long. Like maybe 1,000 miles all told. Thus, it will probably take at least two weeks.
  • Since two weeks of hotels is expensive, there will be camping. That means sleeping in a tent probably two out of every three nights.
  • Since RandoGirl does not like to sleep in a tent and doesn't get much vacation in her new job, I may fly solo. We will save her two weeks for more plush destinations (i.e., ones that don't require inflating mattresses and fending off marauding mosquitoes).
To be honest, this is something that I have been working up to for a few years -- buying the camping gear when it goes on sale, targeting my bicycle purchases towards something that can handle the load. This is actually why my Lynskey has mounts for a rear rack.

While route scouting last week, I discovered that there is a campground up near Alva, about 65 miles from our home. Since the weather has been perfect (even by southwest Florida January standards) and I had an open "day" in my schedule, I decided to try out my bicycle camping setup by riding up Tuesday afternoon, camping overnight, and riding back Wednesday morning.

I say "day" because I actually had two half-days. Tuesday morning, I had meetings and work up to noon, and Wednesday afternoon I had more meetings. That's how semi-retirement works.

OK, first, for all of the bike nerds that read this blog, I've got to show you my setup.

Yep, that's the DynaHub on the front. I brought my E-Werks to charge my cell phone, although I didn't need it. Didn't need the headlamp, either, but I really wanted to bring all the stuff that I might need. Real-world test and all that.

Does the ThermaRest make my bike's butt look big?

The side view. If it looks back-heavy, it was. Pretty quickly, I decided that I've got to find a way to put a rack on the front of this bike, and move some of the load up there. Any time that I would stand, I had to be very careful not to rock the bike much or it would get more swishy in the back than a hootchie-cootchie dancer. Gee-haw, you betcha!

I took the usual way north, using the bike lanes on Vanderbilt Beach and Livingston. The wind out of the south pushed me briskly along, and I was soon into Lee County.

Just beyond this, I passed a group of cyclists headed north. Two of them were actually not with the rest of the group, and they joined me in riding up to Coconut Point. They were interested in where I was going and what my plans were, and I found myself riding a little harder than I needed to while with them. I enjoyed the company, but was glad to turn off for lunch at Panera.

While parking my bicycle at the restaurant, a lady came by to also ask about my bike setup. Her teenage granddaughter was with her, and she told me that the granddaughter's mother had once done a summer bicycle tour of New England, camping along the way. "You just can't do that kind of thing any more," she said. I hope that she's wrong.

Fed and rested, I was soon back on the road going north. Just past the airport, I cut east to go through Gateway, as I had done a few weeks ago. This route is a little longer, but avoids a couple of truly horrible roads that lie on the direct route.

From there, I picked up the Everyone Rides route through Lehigh Acres and Buckingham. You have to get on the shoulder of Hwy 80 -- a speedy six-lane -- for a mile or so of this, so I took a break and stopped at Manatee Park.

I even went over and looked at the manatees (manati?). All you can see is their noses when they poke them up in the air. They hang out here because there's a power plant just upstream, and this time of year they like the warm water that comes from the cooling towers.

A little further up the road I stopped at Publix and bought a sandwich, snacks, and fresh drinks to go. I jammed all of this into my panniers, and then went up 31 to North River Road. There were all kinds of road markings here.

There are two parks up here where you can camp. The first one has campsites on the river, and they've got a bunch of facilities. But it's $24/night, and I was trying to keep it simple.

As you can tell from the shadows, it was getting late by now. Another four miles finally got me to Caloosahatchee Regional Park about 5:30 pm. I quickly picked a campsite, signed some papers, paid my $12, set up my tent, slathered on some bug repellent, get everything off the bike and into the tent, and zipped myself in. It was dark then, so I don't have any pictures of the campsite. Trust me when I tell you it was very nice.

After calling RandoGirl to tell her that I had arrived unscathed, I finally ate my sandwich and settled in with a nice book. The campground was so quiet that you could hear cows lowing in a field almost one mile away. I laid back and watched 1,000 mosquitoes attempting to batter through the netting of my tent, feeling like Sauron under seige by a bunch of puny humans.

I fell asleep early, thinking that if the forecast was right, my ride back would be against a fierce headwind. Would I make it back to Naples before the rain came? How would the traffic be in the morning? Little did I know that these were the least of my troubles, as the feral eyes of a two-ton brown bear silently watched me from the woods.

To be continued ...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hanging Out With a Fast Crowd

I had a couple of New Year's resolutions regarding this blog. First, I'm going to try to write more regularly this year. Second, I'm going to keep the posts shorter.

The end.

Yeah, you knew I couldn't keep it that short.

Anyway, I haven't written much lately because, frankly, there hasn't been much to say. Not that I haven't been riding my bike -- I have. I ended up with 9700 miles for the year, as planned.

But the rides have been short, by RandoBoy standards, and didn't take much time. Most of my riding at the end of the year was fast because I was with the Naples Velo group -- a super-strong crowd -- doing some well-known routes.

Now, the upside of this kind of hammer-fest is that I now feel really strong. Mostly, I can now hang with these guys for most of the route, although it hurts ... sometime a lot. My inner Max Watzz is ecstatic.

Downside? The rides themselves don't feel real. It's almost like when you travel somewhere in a car on an interstate highway. You cross hundreds of miles of plains and forest, but it all blends together. You remember crossing the Mississippi River, or seeing the Chicago skyline, but they're almost postcard images. You have no recollection of the smell of diesel from the barges or the sun glinting off a skyscraper.

Riding with a fast crowd on a bicycle like this is not as intimate a form of travel. It's almost as if it gets Doppler-shifted into something else.

This past Thursday highlighted the difference. I headed north for 20 miles with the Naples Velo folks, zipping along between 22 and 24 mph in the early morning chill. At Coconut Point, I left them to get breakfast at Panera Bread. At that point in the ride, the scenery was mostly the back wheel of the guy in front of me.

My legs were sore from the hard work, so I took my time eating a scone and coffee. By the time I got back on the route north, the Naples Velo riders were probably back at Fit & Fuel. With nobody to pull me along, I spent the next 110 miles by myself. This meant that I didn't have to keep myself six inches behind the next wheel, but it also meant that I could sit up a bit and enjoy the view.

The wind was blowing a steady 10 mph out of the northeast, so it was slow going up to the end of the bike lane, over a couple of busier roads, and on into Lehigh Acres. From there, I picked up the Everyone Rides route which I had done in December, following the markings on more sedate roads up to the Caloosahatchee River.

I headed east on North River Road to Alva, stopping at the park on the way there. They have campsites available, and I think that this would make a great place to use as an overnight destination to test my bike camping rig setup.

Eventually, the route brought me back to busier roads, and I was soon rolling south towards the airport again. The wind was fully at my back, so it was easy to cruise at 20 mph. If I was still with the fast crowd, we would have been doing 30. But if I was with the fast crowd, I would not have been able to stop at McDonald's 20 miles from home to eat a sorely-needed burger and fries.

The fast rides are really fun, and the Naples Velo members are super-nice. But, on the road with them, it's generally all-out go-fast riding. They may pause at the top of a bridge and admire the view, but otherwise you stop for a few minutes at the turn-around point, or sit afterwards and enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning sun while you talk about the ride or what's going on in life.

It's a wonderful world, and we owe it to ourselves to experience it as fully as possible. Ordinarily, a bicycle is the best way to do this ... but not when all of your rides are wrapped in a cocoon of paceline-powered speed. Even if it means riding solo, I plan to regularly break free of the pack and get intimate with the road again.