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.