Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jan '09 Mini-Tour: Day 3

(Monday, Jan 12) 60.3 miles; 4 hrs, 9 mins.

Mitch was late again, and the weather was not getting any better, so Fred and I took off from the hotel in Ocala at around 9:45. As on the night before, the GPS seemed pretty much clueless about the roads in the area. It repeatedly directed us to non-existent roads. I guess it is possible that the roads were there before the area south of SR200 was converted to residential enclaves and shopping malls. We continued back west on 200 until the GPS routing matched up with a significant highway. We did all right for the next 20 miles or so, but it was chilly and rain was threatening, so after a rest stop at a convenience store we decided to take our chances on US-27 -- the shortest way home. We left the safety of the local roads just north of The Villages and Lady Lake. We carefully made our way through that very congested area and finally broke out onto decent shoulder with a decent tailwind, allowing us to make many miles at 16 to over 20 mph.

The only other problematic area was Leesburg. To get through while remaining on 27 we had to ride slowly on the sidewalk. Riding on the shoulder-less, crowded roadway was out of the question. Past that we were able to drop the hammer once again, making very good time until stopping for lunch at Beef O'Grady's, just south of Leesburg. As usual, Fred struck up a conversation with the people at the next table, a very nice older couple who have a daughter with very advanced MS.

After lunch we resumed our tempo for the final leg. We slowed down a bit as we got close to home. By that time I was pretty tired. Fred still had some pep, though, and attacked the last hill, but he faded about half-way up. The tortoise (me) caught up with him right at the top and we did the last mile together at an easy pace.

Wrap-up: This trip was meant as a shake-down cruise for the 600 miler to Key West that we have planned for the end of May. In that regard it was most worthwhile. I got to test out carrying my panniers on a front rack and write these blog entries using my Palm and bluetooth mini-keyboard. (Of course, I was still foiled by lack of internet access. The best solution would be to carry a little netbook computer.)

Fred had more significant benefits. Firstly, he did this trip on my wife Kathy's aluminum Giant OCR road bike. The geometry and fit is almost identical to Fred's own carbon Giant, so he was completely comfortable on the borrowed bike needing only to swap pedals and seat. He will therefore probably just do the same thing for the Key West trip. I like that idea because I can personally service the bike to be sure that it is in condition for the tour. Perhaps even more satisfying for him was the fact that he was more than physically capable of doing the long rides. He credits the past two months of daily workouts on his Kreitler rollers with his success in that department. There is no question that his riding is far ahead of where it was last summer.

The last thing we discovered is that Mitch is not a compatible touring partner for us. We may well decide to just do the trip without any additional people at all.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Lows and Highs

Sunday, January 11: Inverness to Ocala, 66 miles, 5 hours, 22 minutes riding time.

After checking the weather forecast, wind in particular, we switched back to the original plan. Again, the ride start was delayed, and again Mitch was the culprit. We had agreed to meet at the restaurant in front of the motel at 8am, but Mitch fell back into a very deep sleep after waking up for a couple of minutes at 6:30. Fred eventually roused him by pounding on his door at 8:45. It was probably close to an hour before we were under way.

A few miles up the trail we helped an older woman who had gotten a flat, then continued to the north end of the Withlacoochee trail. The gps had us routed onto non-existent roads, but after a few minutes we figured out an alternate and before long we were moving north on SR 41, a busy two lane highway that took us into Dunellin. At 22 miles we stopped at an Italian place for lunch. Apparently they were seriously short-staffed in the kitchen, so it was at least 90 minutes before we were back on our bikes. At this point it was already 2:00 PM, so we figured there was no way we could do the planned 70 miles.

We came up with what we thought would be an alternate route that would save us about 15 miles. It was actually quite beautiful and meandered through non-stop horse farms for 25 miles or more. I am sure that it was at least as good as the route I had originally planned.

The problem arose when we could not find the B&B where we expected to spend the night. In retrospect, it was probably set back off the road and we rode right past it, but it was quickly heading toward dark and raining lightly so I began to get pretty concerned that we were going to end up riding in the dark with just rear flashers and no headlights (except for Mitch). After a brief roadside discussion we decided to make for a Courtyard hotel at SR 200 and I-75. We were doing OK, until again the GPS tried to route us on non-existent roads. A local gave us general directions about how to get to SR200. His faith in the GPS still intact, Mitch took a left down a dirt track while Fred and I followed the directions, returning to GPS guidance only after it was clear that it was safe to do so. It was now quickly getting dark so we picked up the pace, pushing along at 18 to 22 mph, and pulling up to the hotel doors at 5:59, just as the day's last light disappeared.

The high point of the day was completely unexpected. At the lobby bar we met Carol, a lovely woman in town to check on some race horses that are being boarded in the area. We ended up talking for a good hour -- a little about horses, but mostly about her 19 year old daughter, who has Aspergher's Syndrome but went undiagnosed until relatively recently. We encouraged her to read Temple Grandin's books, as Dr. Grandin's descriptions match her daughter's experiences precisely. I also learned that the masks that we see over the eyes of horses from time to time are used to prevent fly infestations! I have been wondering about that for 20 years or so, and finally have an answer. Anyway, it was a wonderful exchange and a great end to a day that was less than ideal in other respects.

January '09 Mini-Tour Day 1

Saturday, Jan 10: First day of the mini-tour with Fred and Mitch got off to a slow start as Mitch misjudged the time it would take him to get ready. Instead of rolling at 9:00 as planned, we finally got on the road at around 11.

Mitch WAY overpacked, with his rear rack piled high with panniers stuffed to bursting, plus the fold-out panniers of his rack trunk also packed full. He wisely decided to leave his jeans behind, but that hardly made a dent. Propelling all this weight eventually took its toll, especially in light of the fact that he really has not done any significant riding in quite a while.

We rode from Clermont to Inverness, taking a somewhat circuitous route that added around 10 miles to what the direct route might have been. This route of about 60 miles took us approximately five hours. The weather was spectacular and the last 15 miles or so on the Withlacoochee trail were particularly nice. I have ridden that trail many times before but almost always in the summer. The pleasant temperatures and the thinner winter foliage allowed me to see things along the trail that are hidden in the summer, such as the camel sharing a fenced in field with some goats!

Fred's back, specifically sciatica, was troubling him by the end of the ride, and Mitch had a rare set of matching cramps in this thighs. We found our hotel in Inverness without any difficulty at all. The clerk in the office was less than hospitable -- almost rude, barking out the rules, which included no bikes in the rooms. That was not so bad because they have a covered locked area specifically for bikes, but the deliverary of the information was off-putting, at the least. Mitch ignored the bike rule, but Fred and I did as we were told, locking our bikes in the provided bike-jail overnight.

After getting cleaned up we walked up the road to an all-you-can-eat Chinese place called Evergreen that was actually quite good.

We have decided that we will head south tomorrow, scrapping our original plan to tour the horse farm country up near Ocala.