Friday, December 26, 2008

January MiniTour

It is now official. We will get to do a short, local 3 day tour of around 200 miles in January, starting the year on the right pedal! Accompanying me will be Fred (flying in from Colorado for the occasion!), Mitch, and Steve. Actually, Steve is not a sure thing, but I am hopeful. Our tentative schedule is January 10 - 12, but we have some leeway in case the weather is especially nasty. You never know this time of year.

The plan is to start here in Clermont and head west and north, finishing the first day in Ocala after approximately 75 miles on the bike. The second day we will do a loop north through the horse farms before turning to the southwest and overnighting in Inverness. That should be around 70 miles. The final day we will continue down the Withlacoochee trail for 10 or 15 miles before turning back toward home. That should be a day of 60 miles or so.

This trip will allow me to try out my new panniers -- Orlieb Back-Roller Plus bags -- which will be hanging on a new low-rider front rack. On the Tour de Fred last summer, I ended up using a Walmart shaving kit bag strapped to my rear rack as a place to keep snacks and other stuff I needed to get to on the road. With the panniers on the front rack instead of the rear, I can use one of our rack trunks on the rear to carry a camera, food, sunscreen, and what have you. From what I have read, the bike should handle even better with the panniers in front, though I did not have any issues with them on the back (other than what I just mentioned) last summer.

Next summer we hope to continue where we left off in Gainesville and ride 600 miles or so to Key West. We will spend a night in Inverness on that trip as well, so we can explore places to stay and eat when we are there in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Horrible Hundred 2008

Exactly one week ago Kathy and I were playing host to approximately 1000 cyclists participating in our bike club's annual Horrible Hundred ride.

Seth Krieger

Mobile Blogging

On the Tour de Fred earlier this year I posted using my Palm T3, my cell phone, a borrowed computer, and various hotel lobby computers. Posting using the mobile devices was, to put it mildly, painful. Entering text is just too cumbersome.

I am planning a little three-day tour in a couple of weeks and would like to be able to post blog entries while on the road. I could schlep along the smallest and lightest of my laptops, but that computer is still five pounds or so, and would take up more room in my pannier than I would like. As much as I would like to add one of the new micro units to my collection, there is no way to justify it right now. Instead, I am testing the feasibility of using my Palm TX along with a little foldable bluetooth keyboard I found on eBay for about $35.

I am using that setup to write this entry. So far it is turning out to be workable, but I do have to type more slowly and deliberately than I normally do on my regular keyboards. I am not sure if it is the speed or the keyboard pressure that makes the difference, but if I don't pay attention, there are pretty frequent dropped characters. The keyboard, by the way, is a discontinued item that used to be marketed by iGo. OK, with that adjustment of my typing technique, this does seem tolerable, if not ideal.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Back in the saddle again

During the first seven months of 2008 I rode almost 4,500 miles (around 640 miles per month). In the next two months I rode only 320 miles because of travel, illness, weather, and a variety of other conflicts and responsibilities. Things have finally sorted themselves out, so for the past three weeks I have been riding four times each week. For the most part these rides have not been long or hard, but I am grateful to be back on the bike and to be re-establishing my schedule.

The change in routine has been accompanied by a better mood and a huge appetite. Unfortunately, my sleep patterns are no better, in spite of being pretty tired a good deal of the time. Last night I started my end-of-day routine at 9pm instead of the usual 10 or 11, and probably fell asleep around an hour earlier than usual as a result. I was out of bed at 6:30 this morning, and squeezed in a 90 minute ride before work. I am looking forward to the time change in a couple of weeks so dawn will come earlier and it will be easier to get out of bed at 6 or so.

Kathy and I have a soft plan to drive up to Ocala early next Sunday to ride the Gainesville club's Horse Farm ride. It might be two years or more since we did it last, which is kinda weird, given that it is one of our favorite rides in the area. If we actually do it, I will post some photos.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Drip, sniffle, sneeze

By Friday morning, I had come down with a cold, so along with Dad's sinus infection, which still has him in misery, we are quite the pair. The ride back to Anchorage from Homer was uneventful. There were some periods in which sunlight lit up the mountains around us, but it was mostly overcast with periods of light rain.

At one point the two vehicles in front of us slowed almost to a stop. At the last second I saw the rear end of a black bear disappear into the brush alongside the road up ahead. Dad missed it, but earlier in the week saw a couple of eagles that I missed. I am not sure of the conversion factor, but perhaps one bear butt equals two eagles.

Today, given that we are both feeling relatively crappy, we will probably just kill time until our flight this evening. Perhaps we'll go down to the Botanical Gardens or sit in one of Anchorage's many parks for a while.

I am not looking forward to this long flight...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sept 4, 2008: Unexpected images

The Augustine Volcano, shot from 75 miles away! There is a speck at around 2 o'clock that looks like it is probably a plane or helicopter (Double-click for an enlarged image).

CV Global Sentinel

The reason for this trip is actually to provide my father and me with time and a setting that would provide us with a good opportunity to share personal stuff with one another. In that regard, today was very successful. On the other hand, there was not much action on the secondary front, wildlife photography. My father was not feeling well enough for us to pursue a whale watching expedition today. We did see an eagle or two, but no photos. Nevertheless, there was a surprising, yet dramatic photo op that appeared suddenly this afternoon.

I walked out on the terrace behind my room late this afternoon to take in the view and saw something very strange on the Southwest horizon. Further inspection with binoculars and camera revealed a perfect conical shape, sitting by itself on the water line in the far distance, with "smoke" coming from its peak. It looked just like a volcano! Well, a minute or two of googling established the feature to be nothing other than an uninhabited, volcanic island called "Augustine" at the mouth of Cook Inlet, 75 miles from our hotel. It turns out that there is a chain of dozens of volcanos that make up the Aleutian archipelego and continue into the Alaskan mainland. Augustine is one of these volcanos, and has been active as recently as 2006. It is of particular concern in this area because when pieces of the island fall into the sea during seismic activity, they often cause tsunamis. Portions of Homer, the town in which I am currently sitting, are barely above sea level and would be washed clean within an hour of a large mountain fragment hitting the water.

Possibly related to the local volcanos, for the past 24 hours the cable-laying ship Global Sentinel has been slowly moving back and forth in the inlet near our position. I cannot find any information about her current activity on the web, but in 2007 she was used to install an array of seismic instruments and sensors on the ocean floor near San Francisco. It seems quite possible that she is doing something similar here in the Cook Inlet. Not that I know a whit about laying communication cables, but her pattern seems unlikely if she were just installing fiber-optic comm cable. At any rate, it has been interesting to watch.

Tomorrow we head back to Anchorage, a five to six hour drive. Hopefully, my father will be feeling significantly better.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sunlight peeks through

For the first time since we arrived in Alaska, we saw some sunshine today!
Today we left Seward and drove around to Homer on the other (North) side of the Kenai Peninsula. There was some sun and dry road for around an hour, but as we approached our destination, the temperature dropped 12 degrees or so (from a high of 61) and it started raining again. In fact, the visibility was even worse than in Seward. That was pretty much in keeping with my father's state of health. Since we got up here, he has increasingly bad nasal congestion, which he has been attributing to allergies. It has gotten very bad - to the point that he cannot breath through his nose and can barely hear. His trouble breathing makes it impossible for him to even get the few hours sleep that he normally gets. I was ready to pack it in and head home this morning, but he insisted that we continue to Homer, saying he would see a doctor there if it was no better. Well, it did not get any better, so we went directly to a local physician as soon as we got here. She spent a long time with him and diagnosed the problem as a an infection in his nasal passages. She gave him some a prescription and instructions, both of which had an immediate psychological, if not physical effect. We checked into the hotel and then went out to look around and find somewhere to eat. He is so tired that he could not stay awake for more than a couple of minutes at a time in the car. It is now a few hours later and we have some reason to be guardedly optimistic. For the moment he is able to breath through one nostril.
We will just have to wait and see how he feels tomorrow. It is quite possible that we will cut the trip short. In the meantime, the views out the back of our motel are simply incredible. The photo does not come close to showing the beauty of this spot. As you can see in the photo, the sun broke through here in Homer. Maybe it will be at least partly sunny tomorrow as well -- that would sure be nice.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sept. 2, 2008: Humpbacks, Stellar Sea Lions, Bald Eagles, Puffins, Mountain Goats

We started the day observing a bald eagle sitting on a stump just the other side of the road from our hotel. Over an hour later, when we had our cameras with us, he was still there, so we got some decent shots. Later we saw several more from the water, but we were nowhere near as close.
Today was our last chance to do a marine wildlife tour in Seward, so we did so, in spite of the weather (rainy and windy). Turned out that we ended up with "the best humpback sighting of the season," according to the crew on our tour boat. The final encounter was very close to the boat, as the larger of the two whales we were following sounded right next to us. She was so close that I could not get the whole scene with my telephoto zoomed in as it was (see close up photo of humpback's humped back)! We also saw a good assortment of other wildlife during the five hour trip, but mostly from inside the cabin. During the time the whales were nearby, the water was quite rough, it was raining, and the wind was blowing close to 50 mph. Outdoor photography would have required an underwater camera and safety straps! Anyway, I am certainly not complaining. In addition to the whales, we saw a large group of huge stellar sea lions resting on an improbable rocky hill protruding from the ocean, eagles (as mentioned above), many puffin, and a couple of mountain goats way up a sheer cliff.

Exit Glacier: Monday, Sept 1, 2008

Moose poop. Each nugget is about thumb-size:

Exit Galcier


The rain continues, but that didn't prevent us from having a pretty good day. After breakfast we drove up the road to Exit Glacier, the only glacier in Alaska that you can walk up to (well, within 30 feet or so). My father wasn't up for it, but I took advantage of a half-mile walk up toward the glacier led by a park ranger, who shared a good bit of information about the glacier, local floral, and local fauna, including more than you want to know about moose poop (see photo).

Once I dried out, we got some lunch and headed to the Alaska Sea Life Center, a small aquarium that focuses on -- you guessed it -- Alaskan sea life. There were very interesting and informative exhibits in addition to the important quality of it being primarily an indoor activity. I cheated a bit and took a couple of photos of incarcerated puffins. Cute little devils, though. We then headed down a previously unexplored road along the coast, carefully threading our way through the potholes. This turned out to be an excellent idea because we ran across a group of four sea otters that were within observation distance from shore. These guys are non-stop eating machines and didn't much mind being watched. Video of the action is here:

We had a moment of real excitement as we were returning to our room. Trotting along toward us in the middle of the road was what we both initially mistook for a timber wolf! Turned out to be a tallish sled dog, but it sure had us going there for a few seconds!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Anchorage to Seward, Aug 31, 2008

The thriving Seward commercial district

The small boat marina in Seward. There is a BIG boat, a Holland America cruise ship in the background.

Resurrection Bay

A loose piece of glacier, floating in the water near Girdwood

August 31, 2008: Cycling content after all!

Beluga Point on the Seward Hwy

Today we met one of my customers and his wife for breakfast. Both are delightful, interesting people and as a result both Dad and I had a very enjoyable morning. We returned to the hotel, finished loading the car and started our drive toward Seward under heavy, gray skies. We stopped briefly at Beluga Point on the Turnagain Arm to take a few photos. The wind was blowing at about 30 mph, which made the 52 degree temperature feel far colder. I asked a couple of bicycle tourists which direction they were headed. Luckily, the were headed downwind. Within a few minutes it started raining, and it has been raining, at least lightly, ever since.

Every so often we passed signs saying, "Caution - Bicycle Race", and soon we begain to pass cyclists wearing numbers, pushing along into the wind and rain. Apparently there was a road race today over the same 115 mile route that we were driving. To our surprise, the finish line was literally in the parking lot of our hotel just outside of Seward! This event was close to the complete cycling nightmare: extreme wind, temperatures hovering around 50 degrees, and almost constant rain over a very long, hilly course. I will say, however, that there was a decent shoulder almost the whole route. We saw nobody wearing rain gear, but quite a few wearing just shorts and a short-sleeve jersey! Amazing! I mean, it was COLD! Whenever we left the car, appropriately dressed, we hurried back to shelter as soon as we could; it was most uncomfortable out. Part of me envied the riders, but there is no way I would have been out there without good rain gear.

The rain was unfortunate because it limited our enjoyment of the scenery the photos hint at. I was hoping to take the Alyeska Tramway near Girdwood up into the mountains for a better view, but with such limited visibility, it would have been pointless. Hopefully the weather will be clear when we drive back up the highway on Friday. We didn't bother with any more stops and just continued straight to our hotel, The Seward Windsong Lodge, taking care to give the cyclists plenty of room so that we did not add to their misery.

After settling in, we went for a ride to look around Seward to find somewhere for an early dinner. Seward is a small town -- about half the population of my own little town of Clermont.
There is, however, an active waterfront area. The picture above shows the small boat marina. You can see a large Holland-America cruise ship in the background.
The photos also include a view of Resurrection Bay. You can make out the mountains across the bay.

We checked with a couple of the companies that run boats that do wildlife tours in the bay and area fjords. It was no surprise to learn that the tours were running alternate, less desirable routes today and tomorrow because of the weather. In order to get from the bay to the fjords, it is necessary to get out into the open water for a little while, but the waves are currently ten feet or better. None of the operators will go out there under those conditions. There is a chance that things will be better on Tuesday, so our plan at this point is to stay on land tomorrow and try for a full-day cruise the next day.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not cycling, but worth sharing - Alaska Kenai 2008

August 30, 2008: Flying into Anchorage

My father and I have arrived in Anchorage after a long day of flying -- Orlando to Dallas (a bit over two hours), then Dallas to Anchorage (about six hours). Given that it is way late, this will be a short post, but I hope to have lots to share over the next week. We will be spending several days in Seward, which is on the south side of the Kenai Peninsula, then a couple of days in Homer on the north side. We expect to see and photograph lots of wildlife, from birds to whales.

As on my previous visit to Alaska with Kathy years ago, I was knocked out by the awesome nature of this place before we even touched down. This photo gives you a glimpse of what is visible for the last several hundred miles of the flight. Snow-covered mountains and glaciers as far as you can see. It is just incredible.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Well, duh!

For the past nine years I have been putting up with sweat-obscured vision during summer rides. At rest stops, I have routinely rinsed the sweat off my sunglasses, providing a brief period of clear vision. Today a little light bulb lit up -- what if I took a mouthful of water from my Camelback and basically spit-sprayed it out onto the sweaty lens? This would be an easy one-handed operation that I could do almost any time. Well, waddayouknow! As they say in TV infomercials, "It really, really works!"

Some time soon, hopefully, I will have the time to post a report of our recent trip to Lake Champlain.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

True Fans

I REALLY enjoyed this book. There were many descriptions and experiences that strongly reminded me of our own recent trip, in spite of the significant superficial differences between the two tours. I don't know whether it would be as moving for someone who had not done something similar, but it sure did it for me.

On a recent tandem ride with Kathy I found myself fantasizing about taking another tour and rolling down another perfect road. Suddenly I became aware that I was riding on such a road at that very moment! Kathy and I are fortunate that we live in a relatively rural area with many beautiful roads within an easy ride from our driveway. My cycling mantra is now: "Be here now."

Here's the Amazon link for True Fans:

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Pilgrim's Nirvana, aka Elysium

I have started reading True Fans by Dan Austin. The subtitle is "A Basketball Odyssey". I have no particular interest in basketball, but this book is a chronicle of a 4500 mile, three month bike trip, and that I do find interesting. I just read a paragraph that strongly put me in mind of Elysium, aka Hwy 15. Here is the quote:

Pilgrim's Nirvana happens like that. It comes unexpectedly: in a flash, in an instant, the pilgrim is lost to the road. What does it mean to be lost to the road? It means the world has no hold upon you. No physical hold, because you are everywhere and nowhere; no spiritual hold, because your identity is no longer bound by comparison; rather, it crystalizes into a perfect, incomparable Truth.
You are free. You are in the zone.
Motivated by the above, I queued up Gladiator (one of the dozen or so DVD's we actually own) and wrote down the words of Russell Crowe's "Elysium" speech. I actually remembered it pretty well for my post during the Tour de Fred, but here's the whole thing. The context is that Crowe is addressing his cavalry just before a battle. This scene is within the first five minutes of the movie. Although pretty gory, the battle is a great bit of film, with a phenomenal sound track... ah, but I digress:

If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun in your face, do not be troubled, for you are in Elysium and are already dead. But what you do in life echoes in eternity.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Question: Does a long tour make you a stronger rider?

This morning I only had about an hour and a quarter to ride, so I decided to do one of my regular shorter training rides, a ride I have done many, many times over the years. It is a 20 mile, out and back with some little hills that amount to around 800 feet of climbing. I didn't really start out with the idea of testing myself, but I felt pretty good on the hill right out of my driveway, so after a little while I figured I'd see how fast I could do the route.

I didn't go all out, but I was pushing pretty hard and ended up finishing with an average speed of 18.1. I looked back through my log, which is pretty complete back to 2002, and the next best pace I could find was 17.7 for that route, back in 2002. So here I am six years older, picking up the pace by 4/10ths of an MPH! The only explanation is improved fitness as a result of the tour. The result is pretty surprising when you consider that most of the riding on the tour was at a pretty easy pace, and there was hardly any climbing, other than an occasional bridge, during the last week or ten days. Average heart rate averages were usually around 120. Normally I would consider anything that low to be a "recovery" ride -- certainly not a ride with any meaningful training potential. My reading on the subject would suggest that this kind of riding will make you better at low speed, long distance riding, but that's about it. The normally accepted rule is that you have to do speed work (intervals and time trials) to get faster.

So how do you explain my increased speed today? Could it be that all those hours on that heavy bike improved my general cardiovascular and/or respiratory fitness, even when riding at WAY below lactic acid threshold? I mean, there were periods (like the pumpkin man day, and the early headwind day) when I was riding hard for extended periods, but there were many more days where I was doing an easy pace from beginning to end.

I wish I had complete heart rate records for the entire tour, but I was able to save the complete data on only a few days. I had hopes of being able to dump every ride to my Palm PDA, but the software was very unreliable. Some days I was able to transfer from the Polar wrist unit to the Palm and other days, nothing I did would make the transfer work. When I get a chance I'll bring it up with the software publisher (VidaOne - My Sport Training), but that won't bring back all the data I have lost. [Oct 19 addendum: The problem turned out to be with my Palm T3. Since upgrading to a Palm T/X, I have had no problem at all uploading workouts from the Polar to the Palm.]

On a related topic, today I received a foldable bluetooth keyboard that I bought on eBay. These ThinkOutside keyboards work with Palm and Windows PDA's, as well as many smart phones. It would have been GREAT to have had this thing with me on the tour! You have no idea how much time and effort went into some of those posts, entering them using Palm's Graffiti symbols. Anyway, these keyboards originally retailed for some ridiculous amount, like $150. Now that they are discontinued products, they are available for $30 - $50. I had meant to buy it before I left but I got distracted and never got around to it. Here's a CNet link that shows the keyboard, which is available on Amazon, but if you should want one, be sure to check eBay:

Monday, June 16, 2008


Here it is, five days after we finished the Tour de Fred, and I am finally beginning to feel normal again. Today is the first day that I have not had to fight to stay awake during the day. I didn't ride on Thursday or Friday, but on Saturday I went for a moderately hilly 50 mile ride (Up & Down Lake County) with my bud Steve Katzman at a pretty brisk pace. He later commented that I was climbing better than before the tour, but maybe I was pushing harder. It is pretty difficult to partial out all the variables. The ride was no cakewalk, that's for sure. Saturday afternoon I actually took a nap -- an extremely rare event for me. On Sunday Kathy and I did our usual 35 miler on the South Lake/West Orange Trail to Winter Garden and back. This time the pace was relaxed, but I still dozed a bit in the afternoon, which I believe indicated that I was still recovering from the tour.

Saturday I rode my Colnago, which had been pretty much ignored since February when I started training in earnest. Initially I found it nearly impossible to control! After so many hours on the longer, heavier, and more stable Surley LHT, the road bike felt a bit cramped and positively twitchy. It responds instantly to any input, so I had to work harder to keep the bike upright and going the right direction, especially when standing. I was used to it again by the end of the ride, but the difference is HUGE! The tandem is somewhere in the middle, but closer to the touring bike in handling.

Pushing on the hills on Saturday left my lower back aching. Now that I don't have to put in so many hours training, I plan to work on strengthening my core. I'm going to try to return to stretching and doing some exercises before bed in the evening. Contrary to the commonly held belief, exercising before bed tends to help me fall asleep. We'll see.

* * * * *

Steve left a comment to one of the tour posts to the effect that I am always the last one to be ready to ride when we do our regular group rides. I was completely unaware that this was the case, but Kathy confirmed it, so it must be true. I also have a reputation for fiddling with one thing or another on the bike when we stop, which might contribute to the problem. Anyway, I will make a deliberate effort to turn that crown over to someone else. (On our Saturday ride I left my helmet and gloves on, and I was the one to say, "Ready?")

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tour de Fred: Final Route

Here is the Tour d' Fred route with all revisions. Ultimately we ended up changing the stops on the first portion of our tour and significantly changing the route for the last five days. This is the way it ultimately turned out.

June 11, 2008: Mayo to Gainesville, FL - Arrival at the finish line

Our last day started with several stops to get Mike's rear tire to hold air. We finally succeeded, with the help of some duct tape to supplement the well-worn rim tape on that wheel. From that point on, the ride went very well. Fred, Ray, and I rotated 10 mile turns at the front, arranged so that Fred would be leading us into Gainesville. We even did 10 of the 71 miles on a bike path that showed up unexpectedly along highway 27 near High Springs. Another pleasant surprise was that the last 20 miles into Gainesville on 232 and Millhopper Road was largely under a cool oak canopy. Finally, we finished about 30 minutes before a rather energetic thunderstorm descended on Gainesville. Again, our pace was a brisk 15.4 or so, at least until we slowed down to work our way through Gainesville and take Fred's campus tour.

Arrival in Gainesville, our final destination. 

Fred lived, loved, and learned at U of F in Gainesville for 10 years, and is, let us say, ENTHUSIASTIC about his alma mater. Mike had split off earlier toward the home of his ex-wife, Pam, but Fred insisted that Ray and I ride through campus with him. It was worth it, as he entertained us with a constant running commentary about his youthful exploits at appropriate points along the way. We stopped at Lake Alice for a photo, and again at the bell tower and at the Psychology building. A young woman had just finished defending her dissertation as we walked into the latter. While Fred talked over her future with her, I sprinted up to the second floor to see if anyone I knew was around. I figured I could give them a good scare, fully done out in lycra, helmet, and sweat. Alas, the few people who might recognize me were nowhere to be seen.

Kathy arrived at Fred and Ray's hotel at around three. In the 35 years we have been together, this trip was the longest period we have spent apart. I was so very happy to see her! Mike and Pam joined us for an end of tour celebratory dinner at Harry's (New Orleans-style seafood) in the center of town. Fred picked up the tab, and proved once again that he is a world-class tipper. He would have tipped too much anyway, but when he learned that our waitress is studying toward a doctorate in statistics (one of Fred's specialty areas), the sky was the limit!

Depending on whether you count incidental, off-route miles or not, the Tour d' Fred covered somewhere between 1,130 and 1,180 miles through Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The closest thing to an injury or accident was at the fish camp in St. Marks when I was too tired to get my foot unclipped in time to avoid dropping my bike and scraping the back of my calf. There were no mechanical (not counting ferries, of course) or weather problems of significance. Our one day of rain was a blessed respite from the heat. We met many friendly and interesting people. We got along with one another exceedingly well, with lots of laughter and hardly a cross word in 18 days. In short, we had a great deal of fun. Fred feels that he accomplished his goal of doing something "manly" in celebration of his 60 years. I am thrilled to have been there to share the experience with him.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

June 10, 2008: St. Marks to Mayo, FL

After maybe six days, we are finally off highway 98 and heading inland. Looking back on the trip, we spent much more time on highways that I had expected: 61, 65, 98, and currently 27. If I recall correctly, I think there was a 51 in there as well during the first week. We may be able to divert to the Adventure Cycling route for part of the remaining 65 miles, unless we decide that finishing up is more important than a more scenic route.

We left this morning at first light but there were lots of trucks on the road in spite of the early hour. It seems that they were going to and from a sand or rock mine because once we got past a particular point the truck traffic dropped off considerably.

What differentiated today from other days was the fact that we never got any breakfast. Even 25 miles into the ride, I felt like I could easily go back to bed if there were one readily available. Nonetheless, we managed a pretty good pace, doing almost 71 miles in four and a half hours (average speed 15.7). Mostly Ray and I shared the lead, but Fred stepped up and pulled several times, once for about five miles. I was just told that Mike tried to take the lead once but someone with a beard (he's not naming names) undermined his place. The bearded guy pointed out that he had not completed his 10 mile stint at the front, so he just resumed where he left off after catching up with the other three, who never wait for him to be ready after convenience store stops (so there!). At any rate, no matter how many times you stop at convenience stores, it does not make up for a missed breakfast. The other guys don't agree with me on this point, but that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

We were all kinda concerned about tonight's lodging in Mayo at "Cindy's Motel", but we were delighted to find that it is a major step up from last night at the fish camp in St. Marks. In addition, there is a cafe right in front of the motel, and a Dollar General store just across the street. The cafe opens at 5 AM, so we'll even be able to have a sit-down breakfast before leaving tomorrow morning. We are in bike touring heaven! Ray, Fred, and I did, however, get trapped at the Dollar store for about an hour because a nasty thunderstorm moved in while we were inside. The locals are delighted to have the rain, however, and we are delighted for them. We passed the time with pints of Ben & Jerry's.

Today Ray passed 2,000 miles on the road, and Fred and I passed 1,000.

Monday, June 9, 2008

June 9, 2008: Apalachicola to St. Marks

Not much going on in the sleepy little town of St. Marks. It is, however, one end of the Tallahassee - St. Marks Trail, a bike trail that runs 20 miles from here to Tallahassee.

Today's 70 mile, 4 and a half hour ride (15.4 mph) from Apalachicola was uneventful. My knee was not too bad but I was careful not to overdo it.

On arrival we got cleaned up and headed out to get some food. We found the Riverside Cafe, right alongside the river, and stuffed our faces.

Fred and Mike couldn't help but make a new friend on the way out of the restaurant.

We spent the night at Shell Island Fish Camp.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

June 8, 2008: Panama City to Apalachicola, FL - Smashing Pumpkin-man

We were on the road at first light after an unexciting breakfast at Omelet-World or some such. The GPS wanted to route us on a multi-turn shortcut, but given the early Sunday hour and relative lack of traffic, we all agreed to take the easier option of just sticking to US-98 out of town. We had gone only a couple of miles when I noticed that Mike's rear tire looked low. I suggested he check it at our first stop, but Fred thought it best to stop right away. The tire was, in fact, very soft, but not flat. Ray and Mike got it inflated properly and we had no more problems with it today. In fact, as you might expect, the bike rode so much faster that Mike was happily cruising along at speeds considerably higher than his proclaimed comfort zone. I don't think I mentioned that his bike computer was rendered non-functional during transport from Colorado, so he never knows speed or distance unless he asks someone else.

Just before getting to the bridge out of Panama City, we spotted a cyclist ahead of us, wearing a bright orange safety vest thing. We were feeling a little frisky, so we all blew past him on the bridge. Normally Mike takes it easy on the bridges, but in this instance he hung with the group. As we came off the other side of the bridge, however, I noticed that the other rider had latched onto our line. Pumpkin-Man (PM), as he came to be known, quickly worked his way up the line, exchanging a few words but not showing appropriate interest or respect for our undertaking. Most local riders we have encountered have been friendly and make us feel good with their wishes of good fortune or expressions of amazement or something of the sort. PM continued past us and we settled back into a 16 mph pace for the ride ahead. At this time Ray was at the front and he made a comical, exaggerated motion as if he were going to run down PM again, when he started moving off ahead of us. The guy got maybe two or three hundred yards ahead of us, but that's where the gap stayed.

By this time Ray had been up front for around 15 miles, so I moved up to lead position to give him a break. Ray was focused on the rabbit up the road and noticed him looking back to see where we were. "Oh, he's dead meat. He's done for! We've got him now! NEVER look back!" snarled Ray, apparently detecting the smell of blood in the water. Almost immediately thereafter, he relayed the message, "Mike says to pick it up one mile per hour."

"Really?" I replied. "OK." I picked up the pace to maybe 16.5 or 17, which was enough to slowly close the gap.

A minute later I hear, "Mike wants to pick it up another notch."

"REALLY??" Mike is generally requesting to slow down, not speed up, but I took this as permission -- nay, a COMMAND -- to shut down the disrepectful Pumpkin Man. Now on the aero-bars, I reached down and clicked into the next higher gear and started shoveling coal into the furnace. The boys did the same, and the predator theme from "Jaws" began to throb from the trees on each side of the road as we took to the hunt in earnest. It did not take long before we came up behind and then alongside our prey. Like the spider to the fly, I turned and said conversationally, not at all out of breath, "So, how far are you going?"

Flushed and panting, aware that his destiny (pumpkin pie) was sealed, he choked out, "Just to the next turnaround."

"Oh. OK. Well, see ya'. Feel free to jump on the back, if you want." Hee, hee. Like there's any chance you could!

We surged on past, licking the pumpkin juice off our lips, as poor little pumpkin boy diminished to a dot and then disappeared completely in our rear-views. We continued pumping away at 18 mph for about 10 miles before I gave up the front, someone realized that we were overdue for a break, and we found a shady spot. Ray's claws and fangs were still red -- or should I say, orange -- from the kill and he was still high from the thrill of the chase and the result. I believe he has missed having the chance to humiliate his running challengers while preparing for and participating in the TdF, so today's experience was a special treat for him. (For those who don't know, Ray is a top competitor in his age group in long distance running races, especially the gruelling Pike's Peak Marathon. He is relatively new to bicycling, and it is not his main sport, but his extreme fitness makes him a very strong cyclist nonetheless.)

Back on the road, we kept up a decent pace for the remainder of the 62 mile ride, finishing with an average speed of 15.2 or something like that. There was a price to be paid, however, as my right knee started aching for the first time during the entire tour. I have been dosing NSAIDs and icing it; hopefully it will not be a problem for the remaining three days.

Apalachicola has developed pretty nicely in the decades since my last visit. There are a couple of blocks of nice little shops, some pretty B&B's, and, of course, some wonderful places to gorge on oysters, if that is your thing. We got in pretty early, so our rooms were not ready. We proceeded into town, and found a seafood restaurant on the waterfront to have lunch. Both Fred and Ray wolfed down two dozen oysters ($3.99/dozen) that were literally brought in from the boat after the orders were placed. Both declared them to be exceptional. My salad with grilled shrimp was less so, but we had a heap of fun over our beers, reliving the demise of the pumpkin.

Tonight we are staying at a very new and nice Best Western at the edge of town. It is a welcome change after last night's dreary Motel 6. We are also, at long last, on Eastern time. The end of journey is truly drawing near.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

June 7, 2008: Destin to Panama City

Today's plan was to get on the road at first light so that we could get out of Destin before the traffic started up. Our hotel did not have a breakfast of any kind, so we were rolling at 5:38. I was in front about an hour later when I spotted an open restaurant called The Donut Hole and pulled into the parking lot.

It was great to have a full breakfast -- or, in my case, two breakfasts. I ordered an omelet but when I saw Fred & Ray's pancakes, I ordered those, too.

A couple of miles later we diverted off US98 onto the scenic beachfront route. This turned out real well. Unlike Destin, the beach communities we rode through for the next couple of hours were quiet, upscale towns and we took advantage of the bike path that stretched nearly the whole way. We saw lots of other cyclists but no others touring.

While exploring the waterfront near our hotel this afternoon, Fred met an old fellow who invited us to come by this evening to toast the anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, which he survived but many of his friends did not. We had a most pleasant afternoon with Joe and his family.

Today's 53 mile ride took 3 hrs 55 mins (13.5 avg) with a brisk headwind most of the way.

Friday, June 6, 2008

June 6, 2008: Pensacola to Destin, FL - Mike discovers he should have replaced his tire

We forgot to tell Mike about the uniform.

Fred, on tip-toes, with Paul and Sonny Walker

Today was Mike's first day on the Tour d' Fred. Around 10 miles in, before we had gotten out of Pensacola, he flatted on the approach to the first bridge. A mile or so later, he flatted again. Fred found a hole in the sidewall of the tire that we had missed when fixing the first flat. With a new tire on the rear, there were no further issues.

This stretch from Pensacola to Destin was probably the worst so far in terms of traffic and riding conditions. It appears that everyone in the area who owns an RV or a boat on a trailer was on 98 headed to Destin. In addition, there were areas with no shoulder and many of the drivers have no patience with bicyclists who are delaying their weekend recreation by 30 seconds. Our early departure tomorrow morning will, hopefully, get us out of this area before the traffic starts building up again. We will undoubtedly hit some more congestion around Panama City, but there the weekend may work in our favor. Once we get past Panama City the following day, we will still be on 98, but out of the resort area, so it should be ok.

Today we rode almost exactly 60 miles, but it took 4 hours and 26 minutes of pedalling. Our average speed was 13.6. It may pick back up a little as Mike gets acclimated, but he is used to touring at a slower pace than we have been going recently, so we will probably end up back around 14 mph, as we were doing during our first week. Slow or fast doesn't really matter to me one way or the other, but I want to be out of this traffic -- it is no fun at all.

The sun was relentless today. Even getting in at around 12, and starting out with a heavier application of SPF 50 sun-block, I caught much more sun than I would prefer, especially on my shoulders. I am going to change back from the sleeveless jersey I have been wearing to the short sleeve one, at least for a day or two.

Relaxing in the shade with cold beers in Destin after the ride.

We had a very good lunch nearby, with an excellent waitress. Fred went through his regular stand-up routine ("Perhaps you have heard of the Tour de Fred? No? I decided I needed to do something manly for my 60th birthday. My wife suggested that I work in the garden [makes face and pauses for laugh]. Instead, I decided to bicycle across the country... ") He loves telling the story of how the TdF came to be, even if much of it -- like Pat's telling him to work in the garden -- isn't true, and we all enjoy hearing him tell it.

We were going to try to get a proper replacement for Mike's tire this afternoon, but couldn't find anything in this area. Our next leg is short (51 miles) and there will probably be a good bike shop in Panama City, so we'll try again tomorrow. For now, he is doing fine with his spare. We have nothing else planned for the afternoon. I might even see if I can catch a nap!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

June 5, 2008: Rest day, Lucky Flat #3, Final Section Itinerary

Back of Sonny's house in Pensacola

Dock behind Sonny's house

I forgot to mention yesterday that Ray's rear tire was flat when we passed the bike on our way out to dinner (several hours after our arrival in Pensacola). It is a mystery flat on the inner (rim) surface of the tube, about six inches from the valve. The rim itself is clean and the rim tape is intact. We replaced the tube and cleaned the inside of the tire and rim. We'll be watching it.

During our rest day, we went to a bike shop and I got a used jocky pulley: free, but in just slightly better shape than mine. Hopefully I won't need it anyway. Sonny is putting together a crabmeat quiche for lunch and shrimp stew for dinner. Life on the road sure is tough!

Mike, the last of the "Four Bicycleman of the Preposterous" is supposed to show up this afternoon -- bicycling from the Pensacola airport. This should give him a good taste of Florida afternoon riding. We expect no argument about leaving tomorrow at sunrise.

Here's what's left:

Pensacola to Destin (60 miles)
Destin to Panama City (56.0 miles)
Panama City to Apalachiacola (58.9 miles)
Apalachiacola to St Marks (66.1 miles)
St Marks to Mayo (69.8 miles)
Mayo to Gainesville (64.4 miles)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

June 4, 2008: Duaphin Island, AL to Pensacola, FL - Ferry well done

This morning we slept in (6:30) so that we could enjoy the Cajun breakfast plus pancakes promised by the proprietor of our b&b yesterday. It ended up being a regular breakfast of eggs, grits, bacon, sausage, biscuits and so forth, but it was still a cut above what we had been getting in our hotels. 

Oil rigs in the Bay

Live Croakers???

Fort Gaines, back view

Our ferry was scheduled to depart at 9:30, so we were there well in advance. Nonetheless, 9:30 came and went with no sign of the ferry. We soon learned that it was out of action with a steering problem. The word was that it would be there ASAP if they could fix it, otherwise ferry number two would go at 11:00, as scheduled. We decided to go up the road to have a look at Fort Gaines, a Confederate installation at the tip of the island. We looked around the exterior but decided to pass on a closer inspection. That was a good call because at around 10 the ferry appeared in the bay headed for the dock. Happily, we made it to the other side of the bay without further delay.

On the ferry.

Another of Fred's fashion statements. Note the removable sunscreen mustache.

The problem, however, was that we were now just starting a 50 mile ride under an intense sun with neither clouds nor shade to be seen anywhere. Our pattern was to be close to finished by this time, not just starting out. By the end of the ride I was 'well done'. The usual amount of sunscreen just could not hold up to today's radiation. 

At about the halfway point the pointed the way, but it was a way contrary to the directions given by Paul Walker (Fred's friend, my statistics instructor from 37 years ago, and the brother of our host, Sonny, in Pensacola). Fred insisted we follow Paul's directions instead of the GPS. We were headed in the right direction but the gps was very unhappy about the route and kept suggesting turns or u-turns. That usually stops after a little while when you take a legitimate alternative, so I became increasingly suspicious. We eventually stopped for a little break and I asked a local for some guidance. He told me that our current road dead-ends in a few miles and would definitely not get us to our destination. 

Fred had already taken off down the road, but we knew he'd be back, so Ray and I broke out the map. We quickly determined that the GPS's last ignored instruction was the way to go. Fred finally showed up, and the remainder of the ride went smoothly, guided by the GPS. 

Once at Sonny's place in Pensacola we were able to check to see what went wrong with Paul Walker's directions. He was using MapQuest and unless you zoom in past a certain point, it looks like Route 180 turns north and intersects 98, when in fact it just continues straight as a two lane road and dead-ends. We therefore officially hold Paul blameless for the faulty directions into Pensacola.

Approximately one foot inside the Florida border Fred managed to get into an argument with a guy passing us on the bridge. The passing motorist was unhappy about Fred riding on the left edge of the shoulder. (I am unhappy about the same thing, but have learned to live with it.) 

Maybe 15 minutes later we were stopped at a convenience store when a young woman, chatting with a friend in a running car parked in front of the store, opened her window and dropped her cigarette butt on the ground. Fred turned to Ray and said, "Watch this." He then dramatically walked over, picked up her discarded cigarette, put it out, and dropped it into the trash can. He then walked around to the back of her car and pretended to note her tag number while placing a phone call (actually to his brother, but it looked like he was reporting her to some authority). The end result was a protracted name-calling fest, that rapidly involved Ray as well, whom she instructed to perform a sex act involving extreme flexibility. In return, Ray wished her "a good, short life," having little patience for smokers. He and Fred then mounted up and started down the road while I finished the last swig of my Powerade and donned my helmet. Before I could escape, however, the offended smoker returned and started in on ME! Apparently I deserved it for being "dressed like them." Up to this point I had been an innocent bystander. I refused to reciprocate, dusted off some old crisis intervention skills, and tried to calm her down. She was still upset, though, because she was convinced that Fred had reported her to the police for littering. I assured her that this was not the case, but I don't think she believed me. It's great to be back in Florida! Bring on the yahoos, and let the beer bottles fly! 

Fred had prepared us for a 'rustic' concrete block shelter. Instead, Sonny has a very nicely decorated three bedroom house and gave us a very warm welcome. Paul showed up a little later with Uncle Buck, an 87 year old WWII ace who just lost his wife of 66 years.
We all went to dinner at a local place where Sonny is a favored regular, so we got great service. 

Not counting a couple of miles before the ferry ride, we rode 51 miles in 3 hours, 13 minutes, at a pace of 15.9 mph. Not bad considering the wind and tall bridges we had to climb.

We are looking forward to our first real day of relaxation tomorrow. I plan to do laundry and to try to find a bike shop to get a jockey pulley to have in reserve. (When cleaning the bike after our rainy day last week, I noticed a missing tooth on one of mine. For now it is still working fine, but bike shops are rare on this route so I want to be prepared.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

June 3, 2008: Ocean Springs, MS to Dauphin Island, AL

We left Ocean Springs at around 6:15 and made haste along US-90 before turning south to Dauphin Island. The island is accessed via a long (something like 2.5 miles) bridge, with a high center. Until we hit the coast we had either no wind or a tail wind, but that changed once we got out to the water. I didn't feel like fighting the wind, so I watched Ray and Fred pull away to attack the bridge. They stopped at the top, so I caught up with them there and we rode onto the island together. Today's ride was 62 miles and took us only 3 hours and 50 minutes or so. We easily maintained a 16 mph pace until we got to the Gulf. Fred is really doing well now.

We came upon our second bike tourists today -- two young guys who started in Key West and are headed to Washington State. Fred explained the whole Tour de Fred concept, including that it was a celebration of his 60th birthday. "NO WAY!" they cried. "WAY!" we cried in return. Geezer Power!

We are staying tonight at a wonderful B & B, The Dauphin House. We believe there is one other guest, but we have not seen him or her yet. Tomorrow is a short 49 miles and includes a ferry ride (our fingers and toes are crossed), so we figure we can break with tradition and stay long enough to partake of the included breakfast.

While at the local store to pick up supplies, Fred found a fishing pole kit, which he promptly bought. On our return to the B & B, he headed for the dock and actually succeeded in catching a fish! 

After ten straight days and something like 650 miles of riding, I must admit that I am looking forward to our rest day on Pensacola beach on Thursday.

June 2, 2008: Poplarville to Ocean Springs, MS - Lucky flat #2 & Elysium

Last night we decided to try for a 5:30 AM departure. We would have made it except that Ray's front tire was flat. This one beat even my in-front-of-the-hotel flat in Natchez! We fixed it without incident and were rolling at exactly 6, which was still better than we had been doing. We were checking into our hotel in Ocean Springs at 11:30.

In the opening scene of 'Gladiator' Russell Crowe tells his legions not to be troubled if  they suddenly find themselves transported from the battlefield to a wondrous place of peace -- '...for you are in Elysium.'

When we made the turn from highway 26 to highway 15 this morning, I thought for a moment that a logging truck must have surely dispached all three of us to Bicycle Elysium. One moment we were gripping our handlebars as the tractor-trailers, logging trucks, and pickups blew past us; the next moment we were rolling fast and silently over silky smooth new asphault, pushed by a gentle tailwind, under a canopy of oaks, through a national forest with no other vehicle anywhere around! The previous 32 miles were immediately forgotten. These idyllic conditions remained for the next 25 miles or so. This stretch of road was unanimously declared to be the best we have yet experienced. 

We covered today's 68 miles in under four and a half hours, giving us an average pace of better than 15 mph (significantly faster than any previous day) with a lower than average effort.

After we checked into our hotel, Fred called --- who came over and gave us a tour of the area, including some remaining evidence of Hurricane Katrina from three years earlier. We all enjoyed a buffet at one of the local casino's. It was ample, tasty, and quite a bargain.

Monday, June 2, 2008

June 1, 2008: Franklinton, LA to Poplarville, MS - First Contact

I had no internet access yesterday so I could not upload a post. I wrote one last night, but yet another technology snafu has sent it into the ether. This is therefore a shorter version of the original.

The highlight of yesterday's 53 mile, 4 hour ride from Franklinton, LA to Poplarville, MS was meeting our first other touring cyclists. Eagle Eyes (Ray) spotted Art and Carol riding toward us just west of Bogalusa, LA. They are riding from Atlanta to San Diego on their loaded tandem and camping most nights, so we are really sissy-boys by comparison. In addition, I shudder to think about pedaling that heavy rig over all those hills! Art, by the way, looked to be at least 65.

We took the day much slower for some reason. It was not a conscious decision, but that's the way it went. My legs were hurting -- not muscle soreness -- more like swelling or lactic acid buildup or something. I resolved to elevate them after the ride, which I did.

We stayed in a cute little three bedroom 'guest cottage'. It turned out to be our best and least expensive accommodations to date. We walked in the door to a bowl of fruit, fresh cinnamon rolls, a stocked fridge, and all the comforts of home (except internet). According to the proprietor, there would even have been cold beer if his wife had not been out of town.

On the wildlife front, I did another turtle rescue -- almost identical to the first one.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

May 31, 2008: St. Francisville to Franklinton, LA - And the winner is...

The results are in for today's stage of The Armadillo Invitational. The favorites, the 'dillo squad, pulled out the expected victory with 5 points during the 83.6 mile, 6 hour contest.

In second place were the Snakes with 3.5 points. There was a tie for third, with the Turtles and the Birds each getting 3 points. The Skunks scored 2.5 early in the contest, including an exciting LIVE appearance, but were soon dropped. The Dogs got a single point. In the team competition, the Reptiles took the cup, in spite of the Dillos strong bid on behalf of the Marsupials.

Today's ride was long, quite hilly, and pretty hot, but I felt great all day. When we reached the hotel this afternoon I just kept riding, doing a pass through the strip center next door to check for eateries. I could easily have done another 25 miles, even in the afternoon heat. Fred had faded around 20 miles back, though, so it is good that we cut today's ride back from the original 102 mile route.

At Fred's request, our fourth rider, who will be joining us in Pensacola, has replaced the original final 5 days through North Florida (which included two 100-mile days) with a 6 day tour of the Florida gulf coast, with single day rides no longer than 70 miles. This new revision will delay my return to work by a day, but the easy last week means that I will be fully functional when I do return.

Friday, May 30, 2008

May 30, 2008: St. Francesville, New Roads, and Highway 61 Revisited, Revisited

When we arrived in St. Francisville yesterday we learned that the ferry from the west side of the river had just started running again after being out of service for six weeks. Our original plan had been to ride down from Natchez on the west side and to ferry over to here after a 100 mile ride. It would not have been amusing had we arrived to find no ferry.

This morning we got going at around 8. We rode through a neighborhood of historic homes and then took the ferry across the river. On landing on the west bank we rode north on roads designated as part of the Mississippi River Trail (MRT). Parts of that route are paved bike paths that run along the top of the levee, but here you ride next to the levee on quiet rural roads out of sight of the river. There was very little traffic on the 10 or so miles we rode but the road surface was cracked and uneven (a constant problem because of the underlying geology here). It was a reminder that I must reduce my tire pressure before we start the next part of our trip tomorrow, which will be on similar roads.

Ferry from St. Francisville across the Mississippi River to New Roads

New Roads

After sampling the MRT we headed back south to visit the historic river town of New Roads. We had a great lunch, paid a brief visit to the local Walmart for a couple of supplies, and rode the 5 or so miles back to the ferry. If you look closely at the photo below, you may be able to make out 'Ferry Closed' on the sign in the background. Uh-oh. That's right - in the few hours we spent on the west side, the ferry had developed some sort of mechanical issue and was, once again, out of action. Ray called the ferry people and was told that it might or might not be running again around 5 PM.

Ferry closed!

The gentleman in the photo between Fred and Ray is Len Greene, a most companionable local entrepeneur with a masters degree in biochemistry, who kindly offered to drive us and our bikes around to the other side of the river. That amounts to a drive of an hour or so. Fred and I split the time sitting in back with the bikes. Ray got to enjoy Len's company for the entire ride. Fred tried to compensate Len for the gas cost, but he firmly refused in a tone that discouraged further discussion of the matter. We parted ways a short 10 mile ride up Highway 61 from our destination. Once again Len, we thank you for your kindness and your company.

Sitting in the back of Len's pickup with the bikes.

Returning to our rooms, we found that Fred's new Giro Pneumo helmet and rear view mirror had arrived from Performance, as had the little wireless travel router that Kathy shipped me yesterday. We hope that Fred's new lid will keep his brain cooler. His old, poorly ventilated helmet was causing his ideas to emerge overcooked -- most discouraging because he wanted to try out some new ones on me before sharing them with his academic colleagues who have some idea what the hell he is talking about!

Tomorrow we begin to follow the Adventure Cycling Assn's Southern Tier Route, which we will follow (mostly) all the way to Gainesville.

So for today's rest day we rode only 38 miles! Hopefully our butts won't punish us too badly when we subject them to another 78 miles tomorrow.