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.