Thursday, December 31, 2009

St. Johns Tour: Final Day, Deltona to New Smyrna

The original plan for the last day (12/29) was to work our way southeast to Titusville, then head north back to New Smyrna. That would have been close to 80 miles.

We woke to a sparkling clear day, but with temperatures in the 30’s and a forecast of north winds. I was pretty beat, and everyone agreed that a late start and a shorter route was a good idea. We therefore took the Maytown road east to the coast, 30 miles, had some lunch, then rode directly into the head-wind back to Harris’ house in New Smyrna.

It was cold, and I was tired, so whenever I could not hide in someone’s draft, I went at a slow, easy pace. At times Harris and Steve charged ahead; at other times they stayed pretty close. For the most part Fred rode with me. The ride turned out to be a shade over 46 miles, taking 3 hours and 25 minutes.

All in all, the trip was fun in spite of periods of challenging weather. We ate well and enjoyed each other’s company, had no bike or mechanical issues of consequence, and no injuries. In retrospect, it went a bit too smoothly for any really good stories, but sometimes that’s ok, too. I consider it a success in that I got Steve to come along, and he pronounced it fun and something he would consider doing again, given the right route.

Here are some more photos:


Above: Top of the bridge leaving Palatka, with Fred and Steve in the foreground, and me, breathing heavily, in the back. Harris is behind the camera.


Above: Me, Fred, and Steve at the turn north into the wind on the last day. I am thinking at this point, “OK, Harris, where the hell is the warm restaurant you promised me?” Turns out it was just a mile or so up the road, complete with life-saving mugs of hot chocolate.

This will be the last picture of my touring bike prior to sending it off to be retrofit with S&S couplers and repainted. Once I get it back I will be able to pack it into an airline-compatible suitcase for easy transport to and from remote tour locations, just the way we do with our tandem. Over several years that should end up saving money and adding considerable convenience.

[Once I get the photos from Fred and Steve, I’ll post the best of them here.]

Monday, December 28, 2009

St. John’s Mini-Tour Day Three: Palatka to Deltona

My concerns about conditions today (both my condition and the weather conditions) turned out to be unnecessary.

At breakfast I warned my friends that I would have to stay within my comfort zone and therefore would probably fall behind almost immediately, and they should just go on without me, and I’d catch up at planned stops in Crescent City and Deleon Springs, and blah, blah, blah… Well, I was able to ride better than I expected, and they were content to ride a little slower, so in the end we rode together almost the entire way. That is, except for Harris, who had periodic attacks of second-childhood exuberance that put him out front by a quarter mile or so.

In addition, we actually had a tail-wind for the first 25 miles or so, and we had a good windbreak of vegetation to our right that shielded us from the west winds once they cranked up. By 11 AM or so the earlier “partly cloudy” turned into plain old “sunny” just as Weather Underground said it would. The difference that sunshine makes is most remarkable, especially after two days of riding in cloudy, not-quite-raining conditions.

Another thing that undoubtedly helped me is that I ate and drank regularly and amply throughout the day – before, during, and after the ride. Today’s ride was significantly longer than yesterdays, but seemed much easier and was far more enjoyable.

We met for post-shower drinks and dinner at 5:30 but didn’t head back to our rooms until four hours later! We had lots of fun and even took time for Harris’ powerpoint presentation regarding the old Spanish fort in New Smyrna. Fred sent back a couple of glasses of after-dinner wine that tasted like “swill” to him, even though our oh-so-tolerant waitress assured him that both glasses were from different, freshly opened bottles. Harris ultimately offered a theory about how seafood contains a protein that basically spoils red wine, at which point Fred decided to give a glass of white a shot. Bingo! All of the above was done in good spirits (pun only half-intended) and there was nobody left in the restaurant for us to annoy by that time anyway.

A couple of small downers today: I realized that somewhere along the way I lost a nice titanium earring that Kathy just gave me. Also, the Multiple Sclerosis rubber bracelet that I have been wearing constantly for the past four years finally gave way. I have more reason than ever to support MS research, services, and awareness, so I’ll definitely replace it.

We had our first minor road repair today, a flat tire offered up to the bicycling gods by Harris at the very end of the ride. Today’s mileage was 71.8, in about 5 hours, for an average speed of 14.4. We rode on some pretty roads that caused all of us to slow down and enjoy. On the other hand, the last bit was on busy 17-92 and Enterprise Blvd between Deland and Deltona, which nobody enjoyed. That said, we all had a great time today.

First flat: Five miles from our Deltona hotel

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Okay, okay, so maybe I should’ve trained!

My three tour-mates are kicking my rear. I got through today, but it most definitely wasn’t easy. The final half-mile was the bridge over the St. Johns into Palatka, The three of them took off, attacking the climb for the fun of it, while the best I could do was search for a gear that would allow me to keep turning the pedals.

We left Flagler Beach, headed north on A1A at around 10 AM into a head wind of around 10 mph, gloomy skies, and chilly temperatures in the low 50’s. Those conditions held constant the whole way to St. Augustine --approximately 30 miles. Fred yelled, “Go Gators!” as we passed by the Alligator Farm tourist attraction in town. Any excuse. We stopped in town for a nice warm lunch, then bundled up for what we expected to be another 45 miles or so to Palatka, located to the southeast. This leg was definitely easier because there was no more head wind, but I was already bushed.

One truth I have discovered about bike touring is that weather conditions always trump scenery. As a result, we ended up taking a more direct route, ending up with 65 rather than the 75 miles on the planned route. I wasn’t about to complain!

When we arrived at the hotel, we found that the hotel’s bar and restaurant, both of which overlook the river, were closed. Given that they were the reason that Fred and I wanted to return to the Quality Inn, this was distressing news. We got a beer in a bar a couple of blocks from the hotel, then took a way-overpriced taxi ride to a restaurant near the OTHER hotel that Harris had originally set up for us. My brain is too addled to remember the name of the restaurant at the moment, but it seems to be the most recommended seafood place in Palatka. After dinner, we briskly walked the mile and a half back to the hotel. It was chilly, but not too cold. I am hoping that the walk may have served to loosen up my legs for tomorrow.

Tomorrow is now forecast to be strong (15 to 20, with gusts to 30!) west side-wind rather than the tail-wind that had been forecast for the past few days. This is potentially very bad news, especially for me and my already wasted legs. A side wind does not permit effective drafting of the rider in front of you unless there is no traffic so that you can use a technique called echelon. It is unlikely that we will have no traffic, so it may prove to be a very, very hard day.

Today was, by the way, 61.5 miles that took us 4 hours and 54 minutes (average speed, 13.3 mph). I didn’t take any photos. Steve took a few at the restaurant tonight, but I don’t have access to them right now.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

St. Johns Mini Tour: Day 1

We left Harris' house at around noon, as planned (surprise!!). It was cool, almost but not quite cool enough to request a stop to put on some warmer stuff. All of us were just wearing shorts and short sleeve jerseys. I assumed that I would warm up after a bit, but that did not actually happen -- at least not for me.

We stopped for lunch at an Irish pub in Daytona after about an hour on the road. Lunch was slow in coming, but pretty tasty.

Fred and I both put on light jackets before getting back on the bikes; Harris and Steve, being "real" men, or perhaps just insane, continued with bare arms and legs. After dinner I asked and both claimed that they were comfortable. Well, more power to 'em. Tomorrow will be similar to today, with some possibility of a little rain, so I plan to be dressed WARMLY.

Tonight we are at the world famous "Si, Como No" motel (see photo). All of us noticed the For Sale sign out front when we pulled up. I figured that was, literally, not a good sign, but we were immediately greeted by a pair of large, friendly dogs, and the proprietress was equally friendly and solicitous. Apparently this place is noted for welcoming visitors with pets. The rooms are clean and more than satisfactory.

Dinner was at The Turtle Shack Cafe. As usual, Fred found common ground with the staff, especially the manager, in approximately 30 seconds. Turns out they went to rival high schools in Miami back in the day. The manager was funny in that everything Fred said resulted in the promise of a surcharge to his bill. In the end, the bills were a bit of a fiasco, but not for that reason. Everything we ordered was on the bills, just not on the right bills. We got it sorted out and nobody went New York over it.

Oh, yes, today's stats: about 41.5 miles in 2 hours and 55 minutes. That comes to an average speed of a hair over 15 mph into a mild headwind. It looks like the wind will be out of the north for the entire trip, which will be great once we make the turn in St Augustine and head south. Tomorrow we do a full day -- somewhere between 75 and 80 miles. I hope my current lack of fitness won't be an issue. We'll see.

The first photo is the view from the bridge coming into Flagler Beach. The second one is our motel's sign.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Second Annual Mini-Tour - St. Johns Loop

The day after Christmas, two days from now, Fred and I will embark on our second annual winter mini-tour. This time we will be accompanied by regular riding buddy Steve Katzman, and Harris Samuels, who, with his wife Debbi, often comes along with us for our tandem trips.

This trip is based on Bike Florida's St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop tour. We'll be doing it over three and a half days, starting at Harris' house in New Smyrna and heading north. Our plan is to go through St. Augustine, Palatka, Crescent City, Deltona, and Titusville before returning to New Smyrna. The weather outlook at this point is very favorable, with temperatures in the 50's and little chance of rain. Of course, this is Florida, so anything can happen.

Stay tuned for daily posts and photos!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Playbike Centerfold

I was listening to the current episode of David Bernstein’s Fredcast podcast earlier today. It starts with an interview with the owner and chief engineer at Renovo Bikes. An hour later I had changed the wallpaper on my computer to a photo of a Renovo bicycle and had announced to Kathy that I had found my next bike!

Of course, that’s just lust talking. I have road and touring bikes that I like very much and that have many years of service left in them. Assuming our office Powerball pool is not going to pay off any time soon, I don’t see any new bikes for me in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, if I were shopping for something now, there is no doubt that I would start at Renovo. After exploring the Renovo web site, check out this Social Biking blog entry about a Renovo test ride. There is a nice photo of the right and left halves of a Renovo frame before they are bonded together. There is also an interesting discussion of how the bottom bracket is handled on these bikes.

Based on the everything I have found on these bikes, the performance-oriented frames yield 16 to 20 pound road bikes that perform extremely well and feel great on the road. Not to mention that they are drop-dead gorgeous!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hoosier Pass: August 23, 2009

In spite of my best efforts to the contrary, yet again I was the last one ready to roll. At least I was only a couple of minutes behind the other guys this time. We left the cabin at 8:40, all three of us dressed for cooler riding.

When we reached the main road, we turned left toward Hoosier instead of right toward Breckenridge. Although the gradient was shallow, we were climbing immediately, and kept climbing all the way to the top of the pass. After about five miles we pulled off the road to remove our outerwear and take a good slug of water. From this point to the top, roughly four miles, the road would be significantly steeper, especially when going through the four switchbacks.

Back on the road, I told the others that I was going to take it as easy as possible, so they should not worry if I fell back. Fred immediately volunteered to stay with me. I found a satisfactory pace and, with the exception of one short stretch where I slowed down even more to take in a particularly pretty vista, we stayed close together for the rest of the climb. Based on my internal effort-meter I would estimate that the grade was between five and eight percent, though when we drove it later on the way back to Colorado Springs, it looked steeper than that. At about 11,000 feet my breathing, cadence, and effort fell into perfect equilibrium; I felt like I could keep going like that all day if I had to.

All too soon, Fred announced that we were about to do the final switchback. When we rounded the last curve, I still had plenty of energy. On impulse, I upshifted, got up and sprinted the last hundred yards or so. I swear it was not something planned, or intended to mess with Fred, but it took him by surprise. Of course, he responded in kind, and we hit the parking lot at the top at virtually the same time. I was winded from the effort, but once again, I recovered very quickly. I am still amazed at how much difference the interval training has made.

We lounged around up there for twenty minutes or so, chatting with another cyclist who was at the top when we arrived, and taking turns taking pictures for groups of tourists who were stopping for photo ops. 

Hoosier Pass is 11,540 feet above sea level. I took some photos to insert right here, showing the view and the sign, but sometime between leaving Breckenridge and now (the next morning) I managed to lose the camera! I know I had it with me in the truck – we stopped to take a picture on the road while driving back. It is possible, I guess, that it was in my lap and fell out of the vehicle on one of our two stops on the way back to Fred’s house. It has a sticker on it, so perhaps I will still get it back. We’ll see. In the meantime, Fred has promised to send me the photos he took with his phone while we were up there. I’ll post them when they arrive.

Our Hoosier ride was 8.9 miles up and 8.9 miles back down, with 1,700 feet of climbing, almost all on the way up. Elapsed time was roughly 90 minutes. I greatly enjoyed the challenge of the climb, and Ray and I had a ball on the descent. Fred rode down very conservatively in accordance with a promise he made to his wife Pat. This weekend is the anniversary of her first husband’s death in a motorcycle accident, some 27 or so years ago.

So ends a fantastic weekend of cycling fun, laughs, amazing scenery, and delicious dinners (prepared by Pat, who loves cooking at least as much as I love cycling). I no longer have any anxiety about doing the mountains on our tour next summer, so the trip was, most definitely, a success.

(Fred sent me his photos. Here they are:)


Excellent cell phone coverage. Called Kathy and Steve to share my joy, and pass along a heartfelt “I wish you were here.”


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Breckenridge to Vail Pass (and Back): Aug 22, 2009

Before I get to today’s account, I want to share some dramatic views of the high plains as we drove from Colorado Springs to Breckenridge at sunset yesterday.




Fred says that you can frequently see buffalo and antelope grazing in the fields. We did not see any buffalo, but I believe that I saw a handful of antelope.

We arrived at Ray’s beautiful cabin in Breckenridge just before 9. It sits on a hillside just above the Blue River, which can be seen and heard through the trees behind the cabin. We sat around telling stories, drinking beer, and laughing until around midnight. It was great to see Ray again.

Here is the thermometer on the deck as it looked at 7AM this morning:


Actually, it did not feel that cold, but we had already decided to wait until 9 or so to leave. When we rolled out at around 9:15, it was already in the 60’s and none of us even bothered with arm warmers.

From Ray’s place, which is at about 9,800 feet, we coasted down a couple hundred feet to the town of Breckenridge. I followed the other guys through town to the starting point of the bike path that we would be taking all the way to Vail Pass (except for a little section in the Copper Mountain complex).


This being Saturday, the path had plenty of bikes, walkers, and runners on it. Given that we were not in any particular hurry, that was not really much of a problem. The first portion was downhill, and as a result, very easy. That was followed by a relatively flat middle section that continued until we got through the Copper Mountain area, at which point the path starts climbing and keeps going up until finishing with a short, steeper section right before arriving at Vail Pass.



Entrance to Copper Mountain, which was hosting a half-marathon today, adding to the traffic on the path:


Top of Vail Pass:



Trail-side mountain walls on the way back to Breckenridge:


As might be expected, a narrow, curvy trail with a great many users, combined with some downhill sections that invite faster speeds, inevitably results in accidents. Here we wait with other cyclists for an ambulance to come back down the path after picking up a casualty:


The guy in the center of the photo is an older, very fit, German rider. Fred and Ray got out in front of me right after this picture. I grabbed the German’s wheel and had a good deal of fun catching and passing my friends. After a little while, though, I started to feel my lack of high-altitude hemoglobin, and dropped back. By that time we were only five miles or so from Breckenridge. When we reached town I was pretty well wrung out. I settled into my lowest gear and slowly ground my way back up to the cabin, trailing Fred and Ray by several hundred yards.

All in all, I am very satisfied with how I did today, less than 48 hours after arriving in Colorado. I have not had headaches or any significant altitude-related issues, beyond feeling slightly out of breath. Obviously, I am unable to ride the way I do at sea level, but I did well enough. So far, it looks like it will be sufficient to fly out here a day or two before we start our tour next summer. Tomorrow we will ride up Hoosier Pass, which is almost 1,000 feet higher than Vail Pass and on our route on the second day of the tour next summer. Stay tuned!

Today we rode 48 miles in 3 hrs 42 minutes on the bike (average speed just under 13 mph) and climbed 2400 feet.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Greetings from Colorado Springs

After my arrival yesterday, I went to work on Fred’s mountain bike, switching tires, pedals, seat, and seat height. Uh, oh. At full extension, the seat was still about 3 cm too low for me. We hopped in the car and headed to Fred’s favorite bike shop, Old Town Bike Shop in Colorado Springs. The kind folks there searched around and came up with a suitable seat post, but the price was about $54. Adding that to the money I spent on tires and tubes, the total would be more than what Criterium (another bike shop in town) had quoted me a couple of months ago for renting a nice Specialized Roubaix Elite for the three days here. We called, and they still had one available in my size. I decided that’s what I would prefer. I’ll send the tires and tubes back to Performance when I get back to Florida. We jumped back into the truck and headed down the street to the other shop to pick up the Roubaix.

This morning I got the bike set up and we headed out for a short ride. After a few miles warming up, we headed up to the Zoo, one of Fred’s favored training rides because it is close to his house and offers a challenging climb. Given the new bike which is not geared as low as my triple crank bikes at home (this model features a compact crank and an 11- 28 SRAM cassette), and my cautions regarding altitude, I took it easy. The climb is approximately a half-mile with an altitude gain of around 300 feet. Theoretically that should be harder than Sugarloaf back home, but I found it significantly easier. I am guessing that it probably is a constant eight percent or so for the entire distance. By contrast, Sugarloaf’s center section is 10 to 13 percent, but has a less severe grade at the bottom and top. Below is a shot in the parking lot at the top of the climb up to the zoo. The enclosure in the center is the Orangutan habitat.


Looking the other direction, you can see down to town, where we started. Kansas and the American Great Plains are on the horizon. Colorado Springs sits right at the Eastern edge of the Rockies. Look East and it is flat; look West and the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains are RIGHT THERE!


After admiring the view, I told Fred that I was feeling fine. “I feel good. Let’s do the real climb.” The optional climb on this jaunt was Old Stage Road, which my Delorme Topo maps at home showed with grades over 30%. Fred is in good shape, but I could not believe that the grade could be anything like 30%. I figured it might be 20% though, and I wanted to have a look for myself. Stage is actually a spur off the road we had just taken. We glided down to the turn-off, geared back down, and started grinding up the road. No question that it was steeper than the climb we had just done, and perhaps longer. Fred figured that it climbs about 100 feet more, in about the same distance. I did not have any way to measure the grade accurately, but based on effort, I don’t think it was more than 15%. I was a bit winded at the top, but not badly, and my pulse and breathing were back to normal very quickly. I was very pleased, to put it mildly. Fred says that Hoosier Pass has nothing that is any worse than the climb up Old Stage Road, so my only concern is, of course, the altitude.

Today we rode 15 miles, with 1300 feet of climbing – a nice prelude to the remainder of the weekend.

Fred will be back from his meeting at the University in 90 minutes or so, at which time we will drive up to Breckinridge. Tomorrow we are planning to do a 50 mile ride including Vail Pass!

Here are a few more photos from Colorado Springs:




Sunday, August 16, 2009

Away and Up, Up

Thursday morning I leave for a weekend of riding in the thin, thin air of the Colorado mountains. I’ll spend Thursday night at Fred’s house in Colorado Springs. On Friday night we’ll drive up to Breckinridge, where Ray (of Tour de Fred fame) and his wife, Jeanne, have a very nice place.

The plan is for Fred, Ray, and me to ride from there to Vail (10,600 feet) and back on Saturday. That’s approximately 50 miles and purported to be one of the most beautiful rides in the universe. I plan to take plenty of photos. On Sunday, assuming I am able to handle the altitude, we will ride up Hoosier Pass, 11,500 feet (!!!).


I’ll be on a borrowed mountain bike, so I’ll have the gearing to go as slowly as I want/need. I am in optimal condition, but the altitude is still a big question mark. I am VERY excited about this little trip!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Accidental Horrible Hundred Preview

Every year in November our bicycle club, The Florida Freewheelers, puts on a great ride called the Horrible Hundred, offering a challenging collection of the Central Florida hills near our home in Clermont. There are generally three route options, ranging from 35 to 105 miles. Shortly after Kathy and I got our first tandem back in 1999, we did the short route, which was about all we could handle at the time. In the five or six years after that, I rode the 70 or 100 mile route every year on my road bike. Since that time Kathy and I have been managing one of the rest stops for the event rather than riding.

Yesterday we met Steve and Debi Katzman for what we expected to be an easy 30 to 35 mile ride. Instead, we let Tom Bargnesi, the Horrible Hundred event director for 2009, talk us into doing a test ride of the 35 mile route, which incorporates a couple of new route changes. Off we went, our two tandems and three very strong guys on singles. Consistent with our last two weekend rides, Kathy and I rode a brisk pace on the flats and handled all the climbs without any difficulty at all. We may be ten years older than the last time we rode this route on tandem, but we found it to be a great deal easier. I would stop short of calling it an easy ride, but it certainly was not very hard.

We are, without doubt, suddenly riding on a different level than we have for the past ten years. It is very, very nice to be able to do these rides, stay with the group, even on hills, and not feel totally wasted at the end.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Crank Phase Change Followup

We have done two “regular” rides now on the tandem after configuring the cranks in phase (front and back pedals fully sychronized). IP = “In Phase”; OOP = “Out Of Phase”. For most of the past ten years we have ridden in various OOP configurations, mostly 90 degrees out of phase, in order to provide some power to the drive train pretty much all the time. Note that more than 90% of tandem bikes are set up with the pedals IP.

It has been shown that even pros, the riders with the smoothest pedal strokes, still provide most power to the pedal on the down-stroke. Pedaling circles is certainly helpful, but nobody can pull up with the same force as they push down.

Now, when you have two people turning the cranks, as you do on a tandem, the theory is that with the cranks in phase, you end up with an exaggerated surge twice each revolution (right leg, left leg). The last time Kathy and I tried IP, we tried to pedal up our first hill while standing on the pedals, and experienced this surge big-time. By the time we reached the top of the hill, we both wanted to immediately change back to OOP.

In a recent post I explained that we decided to give IP a serious trial because an initial test resulted in much decreased upper body movement for Kathy. We were concerned that her rocking back and forth was exacerbating lower back pain she was experiencing.

On our two rides since going back to IP, we have found ourselves riding significantly faster. During this same period of time, I have been training hard, but I cannot believe that I suddenly became so much stronger; it has to be the phase change. I am very surprised, and can’t quite explain it, but there it is.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tandem Tour 2009 Is a Wrap

Friday we did our final ride of the trip, a 32 mile roller-coaster loop to the north and west of Monticello. It was a pretty ride – all our rides in North Florida have been – but the humidity the last couple of days has been off the scale, so even a short ride like this one left us pretty wrung out.

I forgot to mention: toward the end of Thursday’s ride, Kathy decided to see if setting our pedals in phase, the way most tandems are configured, might help control her rocking upper body. Steve and I were both skeptical, but lo and behold, it really seemed to have a significant effect! Friday we did the entire ride with the pedals in phase and it really seemed to help. On the other hand, standing is more difficult for us with the in-phase setup, so we will have to unlearn/relearn our standing technique. We are committed to staying in phase for at least a couple of months to give it a fair try. At the end of that test period, we will weigh the pros and cons and decide to stay IP or return to OOP, as we have been for the past nine years or so.

Well, we are now back home after another fine bike vacation. Both locations, Apalachicola and Monticello, have unique attractions for cyclists. The contrast between the two is quite dramatic, so it made for a week that had it all. Either place might have gotten old if we had stayed an entire week, but a half-week in each location worked out perfectly.

After a day of relaxing (if you can call two and a half acres of mowing relaxation) I will begin several weeks of serious training for my next bike event: a long August weekend climbing high mountains with Fred in Colorado. That will be an entirely new experience for me. I am looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Spoke Curse Strikes Again

After a great breakfast at our wonderful B&B (Avera-Clarke House in Monticello), we set out for what we expected to be a 40-ish mile loop ride up toward Quitman, Georgia. It turned out to be a 49 miler, the last hour or so being too hot for comfort. I was pretty much wrung out by the time we finished up.

Maybe eight miles or so into the ride, I decided to drop back to see if maybe Steve and Debi were having a problem holding air in their rear tire. (They had a flat on yesterday’s ride and the tire was flat again this morning.) They were lagging way back, and Kathy and I were not riding hard. Something had to be wrong. As soon as we fell in behind them, it was obvious that they had a problem with the rear wheel; it was way out of true. Steve quickly identified the problem as a bad spoke. It was not broken, however. This time it was the nipple that had cracked! In short order, he did a great job of securing the spoke and truing the wheel. In my opinion it ended up more true than many intact wheels I have seen. There were no further problems and we completed the ride without further incident.

After lunch at a little coffee place called Starducks (really), Steve repaired the wheel. Below he re-inflates the tire after the repair. The location pictured is the breakfast room of our B&B.


Dinner tonight at Three Sisters was our best in Monticello.

In our down-time I have been reading Ghost Trails by Jill Homer, available through in either paper or ebook form, about her adventure riding her bike in the Iditirod in 2008. I found this 188 page account to be very compelling and I highly recommend it. She also has a blog here on blogspot called “Up in Alaska”. You can also find Jill’s book, and the Kindle version, on Amazon.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wacissa Spring Loop

Kathy was back on the bike today for a 42 mile loop south from Monticello to Wacissa Spring. This was a real nice rural route with rolling terrain and lots of five to eight percent grades. At the end of the ride, she felt pretty good. In fact, her back felt better than it did yesterday, when she did not ride at all.

A couple of days ago Steve pointed out that Kathy has a great deal of motion in her upper body and wondered if maybe that was contributing to her back troubles. It seems a bit unlikely, as that is a pretty established habit and she does not normally have back pain after riding. At best, however, it is wasted energy that we would like to put to better use, so today we made some adjustments to her position to try to minimize the extra movement. Nothing we did made much of a difference, however. We’ll try a couple of other things over the next few days, but we may well go for a professional bike fitting for her after we get home.

Wacissa Spring itself was beautiful. We spent 30 minutes or so admiring the crystal-clear water and pretty setting. There was a group of young girls swinging from a tree or jumping from a high platform into the spring. Apparently the water over there must have been pretty deep, because nobody got hurt and they seemed to be having a great time.

P1507090007 P1507090000 P1507090002 P1507090001

We had a delicious, if not ample, lunch at Tupelo’s Cafe on our way back from our ride. Later in the afternoon we toured the two Dollar Stores in town, a bike tour tradition. The best deal, hands down, was a Steve Martin DVD that featured a photo of Steve and a dog on a tandem bicycle on its cover. The Katzmans paid 50 cents for it!

In keeping with the bargain theme of the day, we gobbled down two 18 inch pizzas for $18 at the pizza place in town. This was certainly our least expensive dinner of the trip, but it was pretty good.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Leaving Antalachicola

As expected, yesterday Kathy was in too much discomfort to ride. Instead, we (Kathy and I) spent the day at CVS, the massage therapist, and in the car traveling to and fro a bedding store in Panama City where we bought a memory foam mattress topper. When we got back, the remaining three couples (Linda and Neil having already left for home) had dinner at Up the Creek Raw Bar, which is the place at which we ate on last year’s stay in Apalach. Was just as good this time around.

Today she woke feeling much better, but still not ready to ride. Debi was ready for a day off, so Steve and I went out for a fast 27 miles on the Katzmans’ tandem. The rear compartment is pretty cramped for me, but I was able to hang in there for the short ride. With the two of us on board we clipped along at 20 to 25 mph for virtually the entire ride.

I’ve neglected to mention that, at least currently, Apalachicola is overrun with ants. Everywhere you look there are huge armies of six-legged soldiers on the move. They are inside, outside, in the bathroom, in the dresser, in the streets, in the grass, in the gardens, on the trees, and IN THE CAR!!!

Today we left Apalachicola for phase two of our trip. When we arrived in Monticello, Florida, about 120 miles northeast, we got out of the car… and Debi cried out in horror! Around every door seal of the van there were thousands upon thousands of Apalachicola ants rushing back and forth! We were in front of a supermarket, so we hustled inside and bought a can of insecticide. Steve assumed the role of Terminator and systematically drenched all visible ants and all the door seals. When we got back into the car all four of us were swatting and scratching at now-imaginary ants.



Steve makes the traditional Victory salute.

Monday, July 13, 2009

We Swerve For Gators

Sunday, July 12

Today we rode a loop from Apalachicola to Port St. Joe and back. For whatever reason we ended up riding the 53 miles at a pretty brisk pace, right up to the time that Kathy’s back went from aching to spasm. She seems to be a bit better now and claims that she’ll be able to ride in the morning. We’ll see.


Highway 98 outside of Apalachicola


Highway 30A along the coast

We were on the road shortly after 8AM as planned. We headed west on 98 then took the long way to Port St. Joe on 30A. Route 98 has nice wide shoulders but 30 has none at all. It hardly mattered because there was barely any traffic until we got close to Port St. Joe… unless you count the five foot alligator who was cutting a perpendicular path across our lane of the highway as our train approached. It was pretty funny to see him suddenly switch into reverse and start backing up into the grass. Kathy and I were at the front, but word from the rear was that our prehistoric friend was hissing at them by the time the last bike went by. Linda was careful to point out to Neil that there would be no stopping to fix any flats if they were to get one! (I wish we had gotten some photos, or even better, some video.)

The plan was to find a cafe or little local place in Port St. Joe to take a break and get something to eat. We didn’t factor in the fact that it is Sunday and Port St. Joe does not have the tourist orientation of Apalachicola. The only places that were open were McDonalds and Burger King. Now, you would have to look pretty hard to find a group of eight people who are more antagonistic toward fast food that this one, so this was not a happy turn of events. In desperation, however, we pulled into Burger King. Harris was first into the buiding, but emerged quickly, declaring that the interior literally smelled like shit and that he could not eat in that environment. The others who had gone in followed shortly thereafter, and we moved next door to a convenient convenience store, where we took a short break.

Back on the bikes, we picked up where we left off, heading back to Apalachicola at around 18 mph – a straight shot on Highway 98. Just outside of town we stopped for lunch at the Red Top Cafe, across from the Best Western where the Tour de Fred crew spent the night last year. Once inside I remembered that I had found the food to be just fair and expensive. I will say that they are consistent, as this year the food remained just fair and expensive. So far it has been the only meal we have had that was not very good or better. I should be more positive than that. The food in the restaurants in town has been remarkable in taste and creativity. Everyone has been very happy with their meals.

By the end of lunch, Kathy’s back was significantly worse. Earlier, Neil had passed on lunch and had ridden back to the house, promising to return in the car to pick up Linda. Kathy caught a ride back to the house with them and I rode back solo.

Tonight we had dinner at the pub in the Gibson Inn. We had a great waiter/screenplay writer, and wonderful food (again), this time along a primarily Japanese theme. Most of our group had sushi-style dishes of one sort or another, but I opted for a goat cheese and carmelized onion “pizza” and garlic fries. The fries were good, but the pizza, which was more like a round flatbread kind of thing, was really excellent. Many of us finished the meal with ginger ice cream, also wonderful. To top it off, it was very reasonably priced.

On the short walk back to the house, Kathy was clearly uncomfortable, so I am prepared to forgo riding in the morning if it should be necessary. Tomorrow we are planning to go back to St. George Island. We enjoyed that ride and want to share it with the Samuels.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Apalachicola: Day 1

Saturday, July 11

We arrived at around 7:30 last evening at the Raney Guest Cottage, where we are staying here in Apalachicola. It is a charming two bedroom house that we are sharing with our friends Steve and Debi Katzman. It is just a block from the downtown area where all the shops and restaurants are located, and two blocks from the river.

[Unfortunately, there is no internet here in the cottage, so my entries here will probably be posted a day late.]

We attempted to have dinner at The Seafood Grill, but all we got there was attitude in lieu of a table and food. We finally gave up and went a block away to That Place in Appalach, which was very good. I had by first taste of Sweetwater Blue beer, from a microbrewery in Atlanta, and enjoyed it very much. Then I enjoyed a second bottle very much.

(Last year Fred, Ray, Mike and I overnighted here during the Tour de Fred. We ate at Up the Creek Raw Bar, a few blocks from here. Fred and Ray enjoyed dozens of fresh-off-the- boat oysters there, but we did not explore the town to any significant degree. It still made an impression, though, so I suggested we do a few days of tandem touring here this year.)

As usual, I had trouble getting to sleep last night, so I finally took an antihistamine, which did the trick and then some. Kathy had to pull me out of bed around 7am. She had the opposite problem, falling asleep easily, but waking early. By the time I started moving around, she had already prepared coffee and oatmeal. I finally shook out the mental fog after about 20 minutes and swallowing a large cup of coffee.

We had hoped to be riding by 8, but actually rolled at around 8:30, which wasn’t too bad, considering we had to put the front sections back on the tandems, reconnect the cables, pump tires, etc. (Both tandems have S&S couplers to break down the frames for travel. By removing the front section of each bike we are able to put both tandems, plus four people and all our luggage in the back of the van. It works really well.)  

Our destination for the day was St. George Island, about 11 miles from Apalachicola. Of the 11 miles, approximately 9 are on long bridges! We had a little headwind on the way out, so we were not going very fast. The island has one main road that runs the length of the public part of the island. There is a nice bike path that runs right alongside it, except within the state park on the eastern end. We rode the path as far as we could to the west, about three miles, then doubled back and went all the way to east, and into the park. The park is all sand dunes, sea oats, and bird sactuary. A good deal of it is marked as nesting area, with signs warning people to stay out. It was really very nice. A slight overcast and the breeze, which continued to freshen, kept it quite comfortable.


View from one of the bridges between Apalachicola and St George Island.


Steve and Debi riding along the dunes in the St George State Park.

Once we turned around, the wind was behind us, so we suddenly found ourselves going 19 or 20 mph with little or no effort. In no time we were back at the main intersection with the road back across the bridges. We stopped for lunch at Harry A’s on St. George. The food was good, and there was a musician playing excellent light jazz arrangements of familiar tunes while we enjoyed our meal. There were only a few occupied tables, so we made a point of clapping. It seemed like he was playing mostly for his own enjoyment, though, and would have played just as well if there were no people there at all.


A few of the many beach houses on the Gulf side of St. George Island. Our tax dollars subsidize the insurance on these homes that are regularly destoyed by hurricanes.


St George Lighthouse


Harry A’s features a very large menu.

We were blown back into Apalachicola in no time. After getting cleaned up and resting a little bit we headed into town to do some more exploring. Actually the exploring was done primarily by Kathy and Debi. Steve and I located a shady spot, poached some wi-fi bandwidth to check our email, then sipped a couple of beers and talked for a while before wandering into a book store, where we located our women-folk. Kathy presented me with a carved wood figurine in memory of the successful Pirate Tour.


Complete with peg-leg and hand-hook

Our friends Linda and Neil Samuels and Debbi and Harris Samuels (who put us up the second night of the Tour de Seth/Pirate Tour) decided to join us for a few days of this trip and showed up this afternoon. They are staying next door at the House of Tartts. We all had dinner together tonight at Veranda’s. Another wonderful meal. Very creative menu, and our server, Rick, did a terrific job. I tried another microbrew, this one called Orange Blossom Pilsner, which was very bland. I followed up with Abita Turbodog from Louisiana, one of my favorites – a very tasty dark beer that I discovered last year on the Tour de Fred.  

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Yield for Tractors

It’s funny the kind of stuff you miss once it is gone. Just up the hill from our house is Cherry Lake Road, a favored weekday ride, or part thereof, as it includes nice scenery, very little traffic, and rollers that make for modest climbs that allow you to feel like you are not a total slacker, but aren’t real challenging either.

At any rate, I have been going up and down Cherry Lake Road ever since I started riding again about ten years ago. I would estimate that I have done that ride at least a couple hundred times. Although I don’t think I ever said anything about it to Kathy or any of my riding buddies, a special feature of the road on the return trip back home was a mysterious five foot groove in the surface, parallel to the direction of travel, on the right third of the lane, and just wide enough to trap a standard 23 mm road tire. Mind you, I have never heard of anyone catching a tire in it or taking a spill on its account, nor have I noticed any blood stains or helmet fragments in the area, but long ago I took careful note of its location (at the bottom of the hill, just before the tractor caution sign as you approach the tree farm offices) and I have always taken due care to avoid getting too close to it. As with venomous snakes and spiders, as long as you give these road menaces a respectful amount of space they won’t hurt you.


Well, when I wasn’t watching, the county slipped in and re-surfaced most of Cherry Lake Road, burying the groove under a few inches of fresh asphalt! Who would have thought that anyone would miss a potentially murderous road hazard? I have to admit that I do. It contributed to the road’s unique character. Cherry Lake Road is now a blemish-free, fast-rolling ribbon of smooth blackness, with crisp yellow center lines, like so many others. It will be a good match for the subdivision that will replace the lovely tree farm once the economy picks up. Ah, well…

Speaking of venomous snakes, last weekend we visited the Reptile World Serpentarium near Kissimmee. The facility is supported by the sale of venom milked from many, many common and exotic poisonous snakes on the premises. Worth the trip!


Friday, June 12, 2009

Pirate Tour Retrospective

Here’s the final GPS track of the 590 mile Gainesville to Key West tour:


I had a great time, even with the wheel problems, the heat, the headwinds, and what was mostly an unpleasant route. 

A further note on the last of these: The route from Gainesville to Palatka and on to New Smyrna, and the first couple of hours from New Smyrna toward Palm Bay were delightful. With the exception of some brief interludes here and there (including a magical morning riding A1A in the rain from Boca to Fort Lauderdale), the rest of the way to Key West left a good deal to be desired. Mostly it was on high traffic roads. Although it never felt particularly unsafe, the constant sound of cars passing by, and the need for heightened awareness and vigilance in those conditions, was quite fatiguing. Admittedly, if we had been willing to take a longer route we would have spent more time on A1A and less on US1, making some sections a bit more pleasant, perhaps.

The bottom line, however, is that I would not recommend riding the lower East Coast of Florida if other tour options are available. As an example, in a few weeks Kathy and I will join several other tandem-riding couples for a week of riding in the area around Apalachicola and Monticello in North Florida. Between the two, they represent wonderful options for rural, Florida riding. The former offers the Gulf waters, beach, and quaint fishing towns; the latter offers beautiful, rolling, wooded terrain with lots of canopied country roads. I am very much looking forward to it.

Fred and I have already started thinking and talking about the mountains waiting for us early next summer! It is sure to be another adventure, and quite different from the past two tours. Ray, our companion on the Tour de Fred (Little Rock to Gainesville), has already promised to rejoin us. It will be great to have him back!

I have been off the bike since last Saturday. Tomorrow morning we’ll be back on the tandem doing one of our regular local rides with our friends Steve and Debi. It was fun being away on an adventure, but it also makes me appreciate all the more the “regular” activities, people, and comforts of home.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

June 6, 2009: Marathon to Key West

Ride Statistics
Distance: 55.3 miles
Duration: 4 hrs 44 mins
Average speed: 11.7 mph

I started the day by being startled awake by Fred’s pounding on the door at 6AM. There he was, in my doorway, with his (Kathy’s) bike in hand, telling me about how he found his tire flat this morning. Gradually my wits began to assemble into a useful pattern, and we quickly got the flat repaired. Fred went back to his room to finish getting ready and I did the same. We were on the road by 7:15, headed for Seven Mile Bridge, a mile or so south. In spite of overnight thunderstorms, the sky was clear.

Even before we got to the bridge, it was obvious that we were not going to enjoy the relatively still early morning air of the previous day. In fact, with the exception of maybe 15 minutes, we rode into a stiff head or side wind, which is why our average speed was so low today. In addition, I was being particularly gentle with my rear wheel in hopes of avoiding yet another broken spoke. There were no rapid accelerations or exaggerated rocking of the bike when I stood to give my rear end a break. Whether for this reason or just plain luck, the wheel held up and there were no additional incidents today, thank heaven.

Both of us got to see our first Key Deer! There were two of the little guys standing in the open just as we crossed onto the island set aside for their preservation.

When we finally reached our hotel, some 17 miles north of Key West, we checked in so that we would be able to leave our baggage behind while we completed the ride to our destination. Riding into the wind was hard enough without the extra weight and wind resistance of the panniers, though, to tell the truth, neither of us felt a huge difference without them.

When we got into Key West we stopped for a photo...


… then we headed toward the airport, which is where we thought the car rental company was. Turns out they are on the other side of the island, so we continued down US1 to get a photo at mile marker zero:


That done, I programmed the address of the car rental place into the GPS and off we went. For once, it took us exactly where we wanted to go, without any extra side trips. As we made our way through downtown, neither of us saw anything that we particularly wanted to check out later. Even in the summer heat, the downtown streets were packed with over- and under- dressed tourists. We loaded the bikes in the rental car and headed back to our hotel on Sugarloaf Key.

Fred owns a lot on Sugarloaf key, on which he may or may not ever build a house. He has therefore visited the Key several times, stayed at our current hotel, and eaten at a nearby restaurant called Mangrove Mama’s. After cleaning up and changing into civilian clothes, we headed to the latter for lunch. Fred had a fried grouper sandwich, that he declared to be “the best sandwich I have ever eaten.” I had a salad topped with perfectly seared slabs of yellowfin tuna, which might just have been “the best salad I have ever eaten.” It was really, really good.

So, the Tour de Seth, aka the Pirate Tour, comes to a conclusion. It met all my expectations, including lots of laughter and my hope to have just enough adventure/adversity to make it unique and memorable without anyone getting hurt. (I do have some mysterious scratches on the outside of my right leg that Fred believes will result in some righteous scars, but I am guessing there will be no trace of them in a few months.)

We rode 590.5 miles and spent 41.92 hours in the saddle over the course of nine days. Including last year’s Tour de Fred, we have now covered approximately 1,800 miles of our goal to ride from one side of the US to the other (and then some). Our current plan is to continue next year with the Mountain Goat Tour of the Rockies, riding half of the 1,600 miles between Colorado Springs and San Francisco. We’ll finish that section in 2011, then do the final, middle section (Colorado Springs to Little Rock) in 2012. The whole thing will be something like 4,600 miles when we are done.

I had a vivid fantasy as we started across the bridge into Key West this afternoon: It is 2012 and Fred and I wheel up to the Comfort Inn at the airport in Little Rock. We enter the lobby and find Cathy, the wonderful clerk who helped us get this thing started by bending the rules to accept our shipped bikes, standing at the desk to welcome us at the end of the long road. Stranger things have happened.

Fred Says: I was imagining ahead of time, back in Colorado, all the wonderful bridges we’d cross and all the clear water. Surprise! 7 mile bridge was a bear! The water was white capped and often murky. But at many points, the water was wonderfully clear, and I saw another bigger shark cruising the shallows. It was at least 5 or 6 ft long. Seemed to be another bull shark. I’ve been to Key West a bunch, even recently, and it’s lost its soul. Just crazy crowded touristas, me included, so I had no desire to stay and go to Jimmy Buffet’s bar. Even Jimmy Buffet in his prime, way back when, would NEVER have gone to a bar like that. There are no dives left. At $2 million a commercial building, who can afford a dive? I did get to visit my property with 200 ft of water on the corner of two canals. It’s a real jungle with Australian pines and Jamaican poison pepper trees. I did get jabbed, cut, and bit, but it’s a pirate’s tour …. arrghhh. But all the anticipation, planning, preparing, training, and riding is now over. It was great, tough, and manly (personly?). It was a great adventure. And probably the best thing is, it continues. We’re already talking about next year and the Colorado mountains.

Friday, June 5, 2009

June 5, 2009: Key Largo to Marathon

Ride Stats
Distance: 57.3 miles
Duration: 4 hrs 29 mins
Avg Speed: 12.8 mph

Temp: low 75; average 86; high 128 (probably when bikes were sitting out in the sun while we were eating the first of the “worst sandwiches in the world.”)

Today’s ride followed an annoyingly familiar, though not unexpected pattern: headwinds and wheel trouble. We did not, however, spend the day dodging thunderstorms, as predicted by last night’s Weather Channel forecast. It was clear and hot all day.

We left Key Largo at 7 at a good pace, covering 32 miles in the first two hours. We expected to stop within those first two hours for a hearty, sit-down breakfast. Our best hope for that was the Little Italy restaurant south of Islamorada, but when we pulled up in front, we found it closed for remodeling! We stopped for some emergency rations but continued to look for something better. We never found it. Yours truly tends to get a wee bit cranky when hot, tired, and deprived of breakfast.

When I broke yet another spoke at about 42 miles of our 50 mile ride, I just stopped, removed the broken spoke and got back on the bike. There was nowhere to attempt a roadside repair in any comfort, and I figured the rim was already so screwed up that it wasn’t worth the effort. We finally got into Marathon and found a place to cool off, and get some cold liquid and a lunch of sorts, though Fred declared his to be “the worst sandwich I have ever tasted.” I had the same thing, but I didn’t think it was that terrible.

While at the restaurant, we got directions to a bike shop approximately 60 blocks down the road that might be able to help with the wheel. We had no trouble finding it, and after a bit of stalling, the fellow minding the store decided to help us. I wasn’t very impressed with his approach to the task and sure enough, I noticed later that he did not lace the new spoke correctly. I called my bicycle authority, Steve Katzman, who offered the opinion that it was not worth trying to correct the error for the one short ride I had left. If the wheel is going to fail again, it will do so whether or not I go to the trouble to fix the spoke. I am not at all keen on doing Seven Mile Bridge with the compromised wheel, but I don’t really have much choice. If they had had a wheel of the proper size at the shop, I would have rented or even purchased it, but they did not. The best shop in the keys is, of course, about 15 miles from here, on the other side of the big bridge. If we make it that far, we’ll just keep going. I do have a plan B, which is that Fred would finish the ride by himself, pick up the van in Key West, and come back to get me. I hope it won’t come to that!

I mentioned earlier that Fred had his worst sandwich ever at this little place when we first got to Marathon. Well, that was only until he took a taste of the Cuban sandwich he ordered at the restaurant across the street from our hotel, The Blue Waters Resort. After one bite he traded it in for some black beans and rice. At the moment he is out behind the hotel trying to catch some fish. The proprietress hooked him up with bait and a proper fishing rod and reel, but when I last checked he was not having any luck. Earlier this afternoon we watched as pelicans, terns, and a big tarpon shared the bounty as a couple of fisherman cleaned and filleted the day’s catch and tossed the refuse into the water.

Pelican-Tern Feeding

Egret watching closely from a safe perch:

Below is a photo of the back of hotel. Almost everyone here is here to fish. From what I gather, a good number of them come back to this hotel regularly. This place really takes me back to Krieger family trips to the keys.


Oh, Jim will like this: I finally saw another touring cyclist, the only one I’ve seen so far. He was riding a recumbent trike! From where I was standing, it looked like he had some kind of mask across his face. Maybe a shield to protect him from flying road debris! If there is anything you can say about the keys, it is that there is litter EVERYWHERE!

Fred Le Gourmand: It’s been three days of memories. Bad sandwiches aside, Miami Beach, Miami, South Miami, Homestead, and the Keys just flood me with memories of growing up (age 0 to 18) in South Florida. This afternoon, I went behind the hotel on the Gulf side, and used a borrowed fishing pole and my drop line to almost catch a 2 pound barracuda. The first time he took my bait and cut the line surgically. The second time, I lifted him from the water, but again the line snapped. This time there were jagged cuts just before where the hook used to be. I was fishing behind some hurricane damaged docks. It was like ghost docks. Quite eerie. And then to make it more weird, I saw two big, 3 ft long iguanas roaming the docks like prehistoric creatures. Wait, they ARE prehistoric creatures. And I saw another large one last night while fishing under the Adams Canal bridge. 

For months, I have been picturing riding my bike along the many Keys bridges. It was as beautiful as I imagined, but it was hotter than my imagination could picture. It is great, though, to be in such good shape, such that we can crank, mile after mile, hour after hour. I kept getting distracted by the clear waters. I was always looking over the sides of the bridges for places to fish. One final fish story: As I was fishing off the end of the coral rocks behind the hotel, a 4 ft plus bull shark came swimming right through my bait along the rocky shore. He must have weighed 100 pounds or more. That was exciting, and then just as quickly, he swam away.

Marathon sunset