Saturday Trail Ride @ Bike Speed

Tall Bikes also known as High Wheelers on Seminole Wekiva Trail

Saturday – July 9, 2011

The last thing I expected to see on the Seminole Wekiva Trail was two tall bikes, but there they were.  The passed us on our southbound ride and approaching us again on the return.  In the best spirit of “Bike Speed”, I stopped and snapped a photo with my Blackberry (sad, but true, I don’t own an iPhone).  The picture turned out fairly well in spite of the need to access the phone quickly and simply point and shoot.  No sooner had I posted this on Facebook, I received a comment from Keri Caffrey stating, “Diane Blake and her daughter, Michelle.  Diane builds bikes – http://www.victorybicycles​.com/ .”  So feel free to look them up, perhaps you could invest in one, or better yet – get two so you and a friend could ride together in style.  I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how they get on and off those bikes.  The vintage bikes are mighty stylish. Congratulations Diane and Michelle for mastering these nostalgic rides.

I usually ride the Seminole Wekeiva Trail by myself.  My standard route is from the Peach Valley Cafe / Panera Bread off Lake Mary Blvd. to 434.  I’ve gotten that down to about an hour round trip ride.  I had extended an invitation to Doug and June Murray to join me on the trail months ago.  They have recently returned to cycling.  This particular Saturday, our calendars matched up.

Before we started, Doug mentioned that his bike was making a “funny noise.”  He spun the rear tire and it looked a bit wobbly.  He wasn’t too concerned, saying that it had been that way for a while.  As we rode, the wheel gave off quite a bit of noise. I suggested that we stop by a bike shop that is located along the trail for a consultation.  No Limit Cycles is located on E. E. Williamson Rd. and is only about 100 yards from the trail.  They were glad to look at the wheel and suggested that the bearings were shot.  Their recommendation was a new wheel for about $ 35 and $ 15 in labor. They said that it wouldn’t hurt to ride the bike, but to get the work done fairly soon.

Doug and June Murray on the Seminole Wekiva Trail

Doug and June have been riding in their neighborhood lately and doing about five miles at one time.  We rode down to SR 434 and through the tunnel under that road.  Altogether, the round trip worked out to 11 miles.  Other than breaking a bit of a sweat – more due to the heat and humidity than the riding, they both felt great about doubling their distance.  There’s a very good chance that they will begin stretching out their regular rides.  I have encouraged them to consider taking the Cycling Savvy course to improve their skills and confidence.  Once they do that, they can start taking part in the First Friday and Ice Cream Social Rides.

It’s great to see people rediscovering cycling.  Doug and June did very well on this ride.  While the route is fairly flat, there are a few hills – fun to coast down, but they do require some effort on the return.  Doug rides a 21 speed and felt quite comfortable.  June has a cute beach cruiser bike with just one speed and coaster brakes.  I led the ride and kept expecting to see her drift behind, but every time I took a glance back – and especially on the hills – June was staying right in line.  Congratulations to both of them – hope to see them out on the trail often.

Doug Murray and John Alexander

By the way, Doug got a second opinion on his wheel at the Spin City bike shop at the Apopka Outpost on the West Orange Trail .  It was, in fact, the bearings and that he didn’tneed to replace the entire wheel.  The new bearing will only only run about $ 3.50.  With labors, adjustments to both wheels, brakes, and an overall inspection, it came out to about $ 65.  Probably worked out the same for either bike shop.  Certainly more reasonable than car repairs. Glad that Doug will have his bike in tip top shape.  That is bound to make his rides safer and more enjoyable.

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Welcome to Bike Speed

Cycling has had a huge impact on my life during the past year.  Most of all, I’ve discovered the benefits of traveling at “Bike Speed” – not too fast, not too slow, just right!  When you are taking in the world on your bike, you have the ability to pause to talk to a friend, take a photo, and observe your surroundings.   Everyone’s in such a rush these days – maybe we all need to view the world at a different pace.

When I “dusted off” my bike at the beginning of 2010, the first thing that I did was to crash!  Not quite as dramatic as it sounds, but I underestimated my speed while approaching a narrow bridge and smacked into the guardrail.  Didn’t help that the shoulder which made contact with the steel upright had been undergoing five months of rehab for a torn rotator cuff – Ouch!  My bike didn’t fall over, but my garage door opener flew out of my basket and landed at the bottom of the creek.  Then and there I decided that I needed to improve my bike handling skills.

I was very fortunate to locate the Cycling Savvy program, based close by in Orlando, FL.  The program focuses on “traffic cycling,” helping riders to become comfortable, capable, and confident riding in any situation.  The full course consists of three parts: “The Truth and Techniques of Traffic Cycling” – a three hour classroom session on traffic laws, crash prevention, bicycle driving principles, and unique traffic management strategies developed for this course; “Train Your Bike” – a three hour on-bike skill-building session held in a parking lot; and “Tour of Orlando” – a 3½ hour experiential, on-road learning experience.  Cycling Savvy Founders, Keri Caffrey and Mighk Wilson, analyzed current bike training and found it lacking.  Their program improves the skills of every one of its participants.  This “in the saddle” training is designed with adult learners in mind and incorporates the best in social and experiential features through face-to-face and real-world instruction.  It is quickly becoming the most respected form of bike training in the country.

So I picked up some skills – where did that lead me?  I began having fun riding my bike.  I took part in First Friday rides organized by Bike / Walk Central Florida and Commute Orlando.  I participated in Holiday Light Rides, where the cyclists enjoy riding through neighborhoods to admire the houses, while the homeowners are appreciating the decorated and lighted bikes.

Next I started a “tradition” of renting bikes during business trips.  Rather than wasting time sitting in my hotel room, I do some advance work to find bike friendly areas to ride, find a good bike shop and set out at “Bike Speed” to explore.  So far I’ve ridden around Coronado (near San Diego), San Antonio, Atlanta, and Chicago.  I’ve already written some articles about these “adventures”, but will be posting more on this blog soon.

I’ve met many new friends through cycling.  It’s a social activity.  During the First Friday Rides or Sweet Rides (which end at an ice cream or yogurt shop), the pace is leisurely enough to carry on a conversation.  Those friends have encouraged me to ride even more and advised me on many aspects of cycling to improve my experience.

In one of my posts entitled “Sharing the Joy of Cycling“, I described getting together with friends from as far away as Scotland and California to enjoy riding together and discovering new places.   I plan to add all of my previous articles to this new blog in order to consolidate them in one location.

I have recognized the importance that cycling can play in my overall health and fitness as well.  Since taking the Cycling Savvy class in November, 2010, I have logged about 628 miles.  Not necessarily huge by some standards, but fairly sizeable for a 59 year old, “pleasingly plump” gentleman.  Who, by the way, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a year and a half ago.  One of the most important things that I’ve learned about this illness is the direct correlation that research has proven concerning the benefits of exercise – particularly cycling – on helping PD patients to minimize their symptoms and live life fully.

Ride With Larry - front row view

In June of 2011, I rode just under 200 miles.  Most of that was training to prepare for a ride in South Dakota to create awareness about Parkinson’s disease.  My longest training ride leading up to it was 45 miles on the West Orange Trail.  On June 25, 2011 I participated in the “Ride With Larry”, led by Larry Smith – a 20-year Parkinson’s patient riding a Catrike.  Over five days, Larry, his wife Betty, and a core group of followers covered about 300 miles across South Dakota.  Others were invited to take part on the final 65-mile leg.  I was honored to have my son, Brian, riding along with me.

I plan to keep riding.  I plan to keep writing.  I plan to keep having fun and living life to the fullest.  This blog is one outlet to share some of my adventures and journeys.  I hope that you visit from time to time.  If our paths cross – let’s go for a ride together at “Bike Speed”.

The Most Exhilarating Ride of My Life

57th St. Hill - Sioux Falls, SD

Saturday – June 25, 2011 – Sioux Falls, South Dakota – approximately 7:20 am.

Less than 15 minutes after leaving Yankton Trails Park and heading westbound on 57th Street, I was struggling to maintain momentum.  An image flashed through my mind of a T-shirt that I’d seen a month or so before during the Mayor’s Ride to Work Day in Orlando.  It read, “DLF > DNF > DNS – Dead Last Finish is greater than Did Not Finish which greatly trumps Did Not Start.”  We were barely out of the gate on the final 65 mile leg of the “Ride With Larry” and I was sucking wind.  They simply don’t make hills like this in Florida – and it wasn’t just one hill, it leveled off for a moment and then the angle steepened as it approached Minnesota Ave.  Up front, leading the pack and gliding effortlessly around the first turn was Larry Smith – a 62 year old, 20-year Parkinson’s survivor, who had already ridden over 240 miles over the past four days on his Catrike – and he’s moving along like his hair’s on fire!  The training that I’d undertaken back home simply didn’t prepare me for a hill of this size, especially without any advance warm-up.

So, I did one of the last things that I wanted to do – I put my foot down, dismounted, and pushed my bike the last 30 yards to the top of the hill.  At that point, I remounted, caught my breath, turned to my son, Brian, who was riding along with me and said, “Let’s Ride.”  Very motivational, until I glanced up Minnesota and realized that we had one more hill to conquer before the road flattened out.  It was going to be a looooooooong day!

For those who have read my postings before, you know that I love capturing every detail.  I’ve been told that my motto should be, “why use one word when five will do.”  I simply don’t want anyone to miss any part of a story.  And this day was quickly turning into one heck of an adventure.  I’ll try my best to “high point” my Ride With Larry experience, because – and this is called a “commitment” – I’ve realized that there were so many lessons learned both leading up to this day and all throughout it, that I will be writing a book to chronicle, process and synthesize this event.  For now, enjoy the “Cliff Notes” version.

John with Electra Townie 21-speed rental

The road did level off and Brian and I got into a pedaling rhythm.  We had rented bikes from Harlan’s Bike and Tour.  http://harlansbikeandtour.com/ They’d come highly recommended and with good reason – their staff are some of the most knowledgeable that I’ve ever encountered.  They made sure that our bikes fit us perfectly and that we were completely confident in the equipment.  Brian was riding  sleek Bianchi Iseo – whch he noted several times throughout the day as being “much nicer” than his bike at home.  In spite of several warnings from cycling friends, I had rented a 21-speed Electra Townie.  Why you ask?  Simply because that’s what I ride at home and it’s easier on my back and shoulders.  I know the limitations for climbing due to the bike’s weight and unique “flat foot technology” design, but I figured it was better to go with the beast that I knew than try to undertake this journey on something that I hadn’t ridden.

Brian with Biachi Iseo at SAG trailer

The goal for the day was to ride from Sioux Falls through Beresford (about 35 miles) and continue on to Vermillion (another 30 miles).  Larry and Betty Smith live in Vermillion and a celebration was planned for 1:00 pm sharp.  Everyone later agreed – even for most of the experienced cyclists – six hours to cover 65 miles was “aggressive.”  For a 59 year old, pleasingly plump rider on a less than ideal machine, it was going to be a “challenge.”  That led to my decision to humbly take advantage of a few SAG rides.  I later named the drivers of our support vehicles my “angels of mercy.”  I had broadcasted to the world that I was undertaking a 65 mile bike ride – a number that is impressive, in fact it would have more than qualified for a “metric century” since 62 miles equals 100 kilometers.  My last training ride in Florida I had completed 45 miles with 95 degree temperatures – thought this would be a piece of cake with the cooler weather.  Due to the time constraint and certainly wanting to take part in the final push into Vermillion, I accepted the SAG’s hospitality.  In fact, the rides gave me an opportunity to get to know Leland Smith (Larry and Betty’s son) and his girlfriend, Sarah – both of whom do great work with non-profits in Washington, DC; as well as get to know Emi from Hawaii – also known as the “fifth” Theiss sister (Betty’s family) who is President of a non-profit health support group.  Betty even rode with us at one point.  She’s a strong cyclist but as the primary organizer of this event, she had to stay ahead of the pack.  I had a very meaningful conversation with her about Larry’s DBS (deep brain stimulation surgery) – part of my networking effort to catalogue PD information that I may need one day.

For anyone that is now reading this that may be disappointed to find out that I didn’t have my “cinderella day” and stay in contact with the pedals for the full 65 miles, I extend an apology – but the sum total experience of the day made up for it.  I “offically” logged 34.68 of the toughest miles that I’ve ever ridden.  There were several more serious hills to climb throughout the day which I scaled without ever setting my foot down again.  The 8 – 10 mph breeze at the beginning of the day ramped up to 18 – 20 mph as we clawed our way into Vermillion proper along Highway 19.  I feel very pleased with my physical accomplishment and know that I could have done more time in the saddle given additional training (though I did log 150 miles in June in high Florida heat, but just not enough time on hills), a more appropriate bike, and sufficient time to complete the route.  But just like dealing with PD, you simply have to play the cards that you are dealt.

Bring up the Catrikes

A highlight of the day was when we met up with the lead group about five miles outside Beresford.  Many of the riders had stopped for a rest break.  When they started back up, Caroline (one of Betty’s sisters) called for me to ride to the front next to Larry.  We had a blast, just chatting away and joking – he’s a really funny guy.  After our “private moment” – difficult to have privacy with the documentary film crew driving ahead of us with the camera and microphone capturing our every word – we were joined by some of the other Parkinson’s patients.  One of those riding a trike was Wendall, who by the way is 95 years old!  He rode the whole route – other than a bit of an assist from one of his supporters who hooked up a rope to help him get up some of the hills by gently pulling him while Wendall continued to pedal.  Shortly after that moment, one of the guys send back the call, “Bring up the Catrikes” and all of the little three wheeled speed demons raced to the front.  They still had 40 miles to go and these guys were playing “dodge ’em” with these nimble little vehicles.  (Professor Steve from the Univesity of South Dakota told me later that he’s been clocked at 55 mph on his Catrike).  When they all moved forward like an attack squadron, I drifted back and swore that I could hear musical strains of “Flight of the Valkyries” playing across the South Dakota plains.

The group stopped briefly in Beresford and additional riders joined us.  In total there were about 80 – 100 cyclists altogher.  We picked up more hills south of town but I was mentally and physically prepared by that time.  Brian and I went screaming down one hill and I glanced at my bike computer displaying 22 mph at the bottom – a new record for me.  We virtually glided up the ensuing climb on the other side.  We passed Betty on the way down the hill and thought it was great that she’d stopped to cheer people on – turns out that she had a flat tire but since she’d already called for a replacement bike, she didn’t want anyone stopping to help her so she played cheerleader instead.

Note to self - clip out first before stopping

Shortly after that climb we crossed over a road and Brian realized that we’d missed a turn and asked me to stop.  I obliged and pressed on my brakes – forgetting one important thing, I was clipped in to my pedals.  I frantically tried to unclip, but started to sense that I was falling.  I only began using clipless pedals a few weeks ago and had been warned by many people that “you will fall over.”  Already having bad shoulders, I’d said that wasn’t an option.  But now it was happening to me.  I simply decided – rather quickly – to just “go with it” and completely relaxed.  I twisted enough that I “executed” a perfect stunt fall – landing first on my butt, then my back and finally my helmet tapped the ground but protected my head.  I did realize that I’d scraped my left calf (proudly brought home some South Dakota “road rash”), but otherwise felt fine.  I was actually rather amused by the whole situation.  Not so for poor Brian who had to helplessly watch this take place right before his eyes.  He was naturally concerned but I informed him that I was perfectly fine, wasn’t seeing stars and was ready to continue.  He said, “But your whole head is bleeding.”  Turns out that was a bit of an overstatement – the bridge of my nose had sustained a cut from my sunglasses and I was bleeding, but it was quite temporary and we were able to resume riding.

Back on the right road, we enjoyed about a half hour of virtually no wind, no cars, a fresh stretch of asphalt, and a slight downhill grade – pedaling effortlessly at a steady 18 mph.

Highway 19 shoulder

Then came Highway 19 – a major two-lane thoroughfare.  For my Cycling Savvy friends, this wasn’t a road where one “controlled the lane.”  Doing so would have almost immediately been met with eighteen wheels rolling up your back.  The traffic was screaming on that road 70+ mph.  We had a 6 – 8 foot section to ride in, but the strong headwinds combined with the wind gusts from passing vehicles made this a very slow, arduous portion of the journey.  To add insult to injury, there was “one more hill” to conquer as we approached Vermillion.  The slow grade down to it was pleasant, in spite of what I nicknamed the “mine field” – lots of rocks and pebbles in our lane due to spring rain runoff.  In the process of steering around the rocks, I had come to a full stop at the bottom, so had to start the climb with no momentum (shades of 57th St. all over again).  I worked my gears down to the second to the lowest – the first had me simply spinning and didn’t do any good.  I ended up naming that second gear the “Little Engine That Could” gear – because with every pedal stroke I was telling myself, “I think I can, I think I can.”  It was slow, it was gritty, but I made it!  Just after reaching the plateau, we saw Emi parked to the side of the road with her SAG truck.  Her one question was, “would you like a peanut bar?”  While I did manage my hydration and nutrition well throughout the day, my “fuel tank” was plumb empty at that point.  I think the first bite was half wrapper and half bar, but it tasted great.

We knew we were getting close and after crossing  major highway, we noticed many of the riders assembled in a parking lot.  As we rode in, a cheer went up from the group, signifying that we’d “done good.”  They’d held Larry back a ways, so he rode in with a police escort.  The group reassembled and prepared for the final trek into Vermillion.

Clock in Vermillion town square

The whole town must have come out with entire families lining the roadway with signs and flags.  As we passed one sign that said, “only 1 more mile to go” a combined sigh of relief and a groan went out from the riders.  Just fifty feet later, however, another lady had a sign that said, “only 2 more miles to go” – nice one!  The group turned down Main St. and hundreds more people were assembled to greet us.  A live band was playing, food stands were set up, and a crowd was waiting for Larry’s victorious return after his 300 mile adventure.  One of his good friends handed him a beer as he took to the stage and enjoyed the well deserved adulation of all gathered.  People talk about Ironman competitions, what Larry accomplished was simply mind boggling.

Brian and John - "Every Victory Counts"

I was so very proud of my son, Brian.  He watched over me like a hawk all day long.  When we decided to do this ride together, he didn’t even own a bike but got one a month out and was able to fit in a reasonable amount of advance training time out in California.  He encouraged me every step of the way.  I’m very sorry that I scared him when I fell, but I was emboldened to accomplish my ride by his love and support.  In addition, I could strongly sense the virtual good wishes coming my way from my wife, Laura; our daugher, Jen (soon to be “Mommy Jen” to Baby Lilly – July 13 due date!).  Thank you to Brian’s wife, Jessica, who shared him for several days to participate in my dream.

I appreciated all the advice from my team of cycling coaches (Anita, Lisa, Diana, Jason, Kittzie, Stix, Rodney, Mighk) and many other friends from around the world who offered support and encouragement on topics ranging from training plans to nutrition to hydration strategies.  Huge thank you to Keri Caffrey for creating Cycling Savvy, the best bike skills training program in the coutry – I used every one of the lessons on this ride and truly felt “empowered for unlimited travel.”  I’d very much like to thank all of the “virtual Cycling Savvy Riders” who contributed to my webpage over the past week.  The total is over $ 3,700 and still growing with proceeds going to the Davis Phinney Foundation and Parkinson’s Research Foundation.

John, Larry, and Brian at the finish line

I do now believe in the Davis Phinney Foundation’s motto – “Every Victory Counts” and the end result of this ride was a string of many progressive victories throughout the day.  After getting off my bike on 57th St., when all the other riders were out of sight, I could have just rolled back down to the parking lot.  But with Brian at my side I got back on my bike and kept moving.  It’s all about “just keep moving.”  This was the most exhilarating ride of my life, but far from my last.    A giant “group hug” to Larry, Betty, their families and all the other wonderful people that I met as part of this experience.

I may travel at “Bike Speed,” but look for me out there tooling around.  It’s my personal way of saying, “In Your FACE, Parkinson’s!”  Anyone care to go for a bike ride?

West Orange Trail at Bike Speed

Two old forms of transportation

A few months ago I learned about the “Ride With Larry” project – a bike ride across South Dakota led by Larry Smith, who has lived with Parkinson’s disease for 20 years.  Larry and his wife, Betty, will be riding over 300 miles across their state.  I will be traveling to Sioux Falls, SD to take part in the final leg of the ride on Saturday, June 25th.  Participants may select a 65 mile or 30 mile route to the finish line.  A year and a half ago I, too, was diagnosed with PD.  Since then I have learned about the many positive benefits of regular exercise – particularly bike riding.  I hadn’t ridden for quite a while so I enrolled in the Cycling Savvy class to increase my bike handling skills and knowledge.  Since “graduating” last November I have put over 500 miles on my trusty Electra Townie – a comfort bike that allows me to sit more upright, thus being kinder on my back, shoulders and hands.   While providing those benefits, it’s also heavy, slow, and not so great for climbing.  Regardless, it’s a really cool bike!

My plan is to rent a bike in South Dakota.  While less than ideal, I’ll make do.  Delta Airlines charges $ 200 each way to ship a bike, so cost became a major factor.  FYI – Southwest will ship a bike for free as one of two free pieces of luggage (must be properly packed in a bike box) – but SWA doesn’t fly into Sioux Falls.  I found a reputable bike shop that carries my exact model of bike.  I will be bringing my bike seat and bike pedals.  That will allow me to replicate my current experience as much as possible.  My son, Brian, will be joining me from his home in Los Angeles and I’ve made arrangements for him to ride a Bianchi Iseo.

My goal has been to do the full 65 miles in South Dakota.  To prepare for the big ride, I’ve been increasing my mileage steadily over the past month.  I created a six week training plan.  Even though I was traveling on business during the first week, I rented a bike two times in Chicago and rode along the Lakeshore Trail to get in some miles.  I rode about 30 miles each of the the first two weeks, then stepped up the distance to close to 80 miles the third and fourth weeks.  During the third week I did my first 20 miler ever on the Sunday, a couple of 10’s during the week, and finished out with a 30 mile run the next Saturday.  I was feeling strong.  The West Orange Trail ride on Saturday, June 11, 2011, was planned as a 44-mile route – out and back the complete distance of that trail.  After talking to seasoned cyclists, I learned that I’d need to demonstrate my proficiency with at least this distance to have any confidence about taking on the full 65 miles in South Dakota.  I’ve also learned that 62 miles is a “metric century” since that distance in miles equals 100 kilometers.  For a 59 year old, possessing less than an ideal physique (i.e., pleasantly plump), with bad shoulders, and a heavy bike – a metric century would be a big deal.

John Alexander and Rodney Youngblood on West Orange Trail

The West Orange Trail is popular – and populated – with riders of all skills levels from novices on rentals, to families riding together, to flat out racers.  Even with heavy usage, however, the groups spread out quickly based on skill level so it never felt congested.  If you haven’t ever been before, the West Orange Trail is a very well maintained with full service support buildings called “stations” and limited service “outposts” spaced along the way.  We started at mile marker “zero” at the Killarney Station, which houses a full service bike shop.  This article by Dana Farnsworth (OutdoorTravels.com) does a great job of describing the trail, complete with a video insert.

Rodney Youngblood joined me for the ride.  He is a Cycling Savvy Instructor and, as a I learned, a very patient person.  The plan was to start at nine a.m., but we set out about five minutes late because the parking lot was full and I had to divert to overflow parking.  We crossed a restored railroad bridge which spans the Florida Turnpike, passed the Oakland Nature Preserve and rode around the the Oakland Outpost.  Shortly after that we rolled past the xeriscape / butterfly garden.  When we arrived at downtown Winter Garden around Mile 5, the route guided us onto a medium along Plant St. which doubled as a park with fountains and benches.  Had to slow quite a bit since this was a popular area for families enjoying their Saturday morning.

The Joy of Cycling - kid style. Statue at Chapin Station.

We stopped briefly at the Chapin Station just before Mile 7.  In addition to a full service bike shop, it contains a very nice park, lots of shade and a Peace Garden.   There is a good balance of shade cover and sunny sections along the first half of the trail.  Our next break was at the Apopka-Vineland Outpost.  It contained a nice park and water, but few other services.  We struck up a conversation with a rider who shared that he was just getting back into cycling.  Rodney gave him a Cycling Savvy brochure and invited him to take a class to build his confidence.

Rodney Youngblood on West Orange Trail

We took the spur that runs down to the Clarcona Horsepark and were entertained by the riders practicing their dressage routines with their horses.  It was a nice hill down to the horsepark and a slow climb back to reconnect with the main trail.  While there is a parallel equestrian trail, we did have to pass a couple of riders on horseback at one point on the bike trail.  The section from Mile 13.5 north to Apopka was the least favorite of the day.  Parts of it are in full sun for long distances – that sapped the energy from both of us.  The south side of Apopka runs through some very disadvantaged areas, but the kids in the area enjoyed waving at us as we rolled by and got a kick out of my ringing my bike bell.

As we approached State Rt. 436, we overshot the ramp to a bridge which crosses that major road.  There was no light at the intersection, so we performed a jug-handle turn of sorts – turning left westbound to follow the sidewalk to the intersection of Park Ave. then riding 436 back eastbound to a left-turn lane to rejoin the trail.  Keri would have been proud of us – hmmm, on the other hand she probably would have said, “Idiots, why didn’t you use the bridge”.

North end of West Orange Trail

Our next pit stop was Apopka Station.  Rodney was pleased to see that they had a full service bike shop since he had broken a spoke on his bike and while still rideable, his bike was giving off a screaming sound liked he was choking a canary.  He removed his rear wheel and took it in, only to find that they didn’t stock his specific size of spoke.  After a few adjustments, we were back on the road and the canary was muffled for a while.  The trail goes down a fairly steep hill which was fun to ride down with a slow crawl up the back side of Apopka High School.  From there the “trail” – simply meaning wide sidewalk – goes along Park Ave. and then crosses Welch Rd.  It ends rather unceremoniously a couple hundred yards down from a McDonald’s and Sonny’s BBQ.  Of course, that simply meant that we’d reached our midpoint for the day.

We could have returned exactly the same way that we came, but remembering the fun hill – and the consequences of having to ride back up it – I suggested that we simply take the flat route and ride straight down Park Ave.  Since Rodney commutes daily to his job at Orlando International Airport, this four lane road with moderate Saturday afternoon traffic was a piece of cake.  He lined up in a queue behind five cars exiting the Post Office at a light and I planned to join him as he went past.  I didn’t get “out of the gate in time”, so I had to wait for the next light.  Invigorating to control my lane for the couple of blocks that it took to catch up to him.  It’s always a treat to watch traffic smoothly change lanes behind you with no horns honking.  Well, there was one guy who hung behind me, then came up beside me, rolled down the passenger window and said, “According to Florida Bicycle Statutes, you aren’t allowed to take up the whole road”.  I simply waved, but was amused by the fact that I was in my lane and he was in his – by no means was I “taking up the whole road,” simply controlling the right hand lane – and, in fact, sharing that lane with Rodney.  By the way, he had a bike rack on the back of his car!

That encounter was balanced out during our last rest break back at Chapin Station.  A dad was taking his seven year old daughter for a bike ride.  They were clearly having fun being outdoors and spending time together.  The dad was asking us if we’d seen any deer along the trail, apparently anxious to show his daughter some wildlife.  We had to confess to only seeing a few squirrels and egrets.  He then asked if we had a bike pump.  We were taking a well deserved rest sitting in a pair of rocking chairs on the porch of the station, but we gladly pulled ourselves up and proceeded to pump up his tires.  Turns out he had a brand new bike – in fact, the tag from the store was still hanging off the handlebar.  The front tire was almost completely flat, so after pumping that up we proceeded to inflate the rear as well.  The “ABC mantra” (air, brakes, chain) were running through my head from my Cycling Savvy class, but instead of “lecturing” the gentleman in front of his daughter I simply handed him a brochure and suggested that he consider attending a class to improve the riding experience for both he and his daughter.  It was a refreshing moment after a long day on the trail.

We stopped on the way back at a bench to enjoy a delicious lunch – as in PB&J sandwich.  While I had eaten a good breakfast (cheese omelette, bacon, English muffin), I’d only had a few handfuls of peanuts during other breaks.  The sandwich recharged me, but I probably should have had another later on in the ride because I did begin to run out of steam towards the end.  In fact, I began calculating our time and realized that we’d been riding for quite a while.  I am able to do my “standard” ride on the Seminole Wekeiva Trail in an hour flat, which is averaging 10 miles per hour.  Excluding breaks, we were well below that pace – hence the reason that I said earlier that Rodney was very patient with me.  Some of this was due to encountering more hills than I’m accustomed to, part to less than adequate nutrition, part to my personal level of conditioning, and part to the fact that I have a heavy bike.

My trusty steed - an Electra Townie 7D

Around Mile 35 it dawned on me that my objective of taking on the full 65 mile ride in South Dakota may be a tall order and that I may have to opt for the 30 mile route, especially since the group may be traveling at a faster pace than I’m capable of doing at this time.  One of the goals of tackling the West Orange Trail was to “test my mettle”.  The definition of mettle is “A person’s ability to cope well with difficulties or to face a demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way.”  I do have the heart, soul, and spirit and I am quite resilient – however, all told, I do have limitations.  If I end up (final decision still to be made) doing the shorter route, I will still be proud to have built up the endurance to ride a “strong 30.”  Having my son, Brian, along for the ride will make the day all that much more special.

Total for the day - 45.17 miles

We arrived back at Killarney Station about 3:35 pm – six and a half hours on the trail, with about five and a half hours in the saddle.  I did stay well hydrated which was critical considering that the thermometer registered over 93 degrees.  I started with a full 70 oz. Camelbak and refilled it two times.  As we passed the Oakland Station, I poured a spare water bottle into the hydration system and while it was fairly warm water by that point, it was enough to get me the last three miles.  Mine was the only car in the overflow lot and very few cars were remaining in the main lot.  However, the bike shop was still open and we gladly purchased an ice cold Gatorade to drink in celebration.  My goal for the day had been to “run the full West Orange”.  I accomplished that distance and a bit more to spare.  Final number on the bike computer for the day – 45.17 miles!  If someone had told me last November that I would cover that great a distance in a “week”, much less a day, I wouldn’t have believed it.  In addition, I got to spend time with a great guy and appreciated Rodney’s guidance, encouragement, and patience.  I’d be proud to ride the trail with him again one day.

I’m sure that I’ll have a tale to tell after completing the Ride With Larry.  I know that it will be a special day – no matter the distance covered.  Watch for my next posting – and get out there and ride!

Sharing the Joy of Cycling

Discovering something new and interesting is exhilarating.  Sharing that experience with others is special and memorable.  That’s how getting involved with cycling has been for me.  I graduated from the Cycling Savvy class in Orlando in November 2010.  Since then I have participated in a number of group rides throughout the Orlando area and made new friends along the way.  I’ve gained confidence in driving my bike and that has allowed me to feel comfortable riding in other parts of the country (see my article “Bi-Coastal Bike Ride“).  This past month I have had the pleasure of sharing my new-found love of cycling with good friends who were visiting Central Florida from far flung parts of the world.

I met Roger Barr in 2005 at the Central Florida Highland Games.  As soon as he started talking, I realized that he wasn’t from “around here.”  In fact, Roger and his wife, Margaret, live in Scotland near Glasgow.  We struck up a friendship based on mutual interests in Scottish Heritage which led to my wife, Laura, and I visiting the Barr’s in Scotland in 2006.  We’ve kept in touch and when they mentioned that they were coming to America for a month I hatched a plan to drag Roger along on a “wee bike ride.”  He owns a bike at home and I knew that he would be up to the idea.  One of Roger’s primary interests is “walking and climbing” (as he might put it).  Putting that in perspective, he is one of less than 4,000 people who have climbed all 283 Munros (defined as a mountain in Scotland over 3,000 ft.).  That basically took a lifetime.  In addition, he has hiked the entire distance of the Pennine Way, a 267 mile trail extending from Scotland to England.  This June he plans to complete the Coast to Coast Trail, 190 miles across England, much of it on mountain ridges.  So I figured that the “Sweet Ride” sponsored by Commute Orlando and the Bike/Walk Central Florida groups would be a “piece of cake.”  In addition, I talked Reg Lyle into joining us.  Reg is the Pipe Major for the Rosie O’Grady Highlanders Pipe and Drum Band and played at both my daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner in 2007 and Roger’s son’s wedding in Scotland in 2008 (quite an honor for an American to be invited to play in the homeland).  Reg has some serious cycling experience as well, having ridden from Cincinatti, Ohio to New Orleans, LA a few years ago.

Tooling Around Town and Out to Sea!

Ready to head out on the "Sweet Ride"

The “Sweet Ride” took place on Friday, March 18th.  It was a perfect spring evening.  The ride started at the Cady Way Trail across from Fashion Square Mall.  Diana Steele helped me out by loaning not one, but two bikes – one for Roger, one for Reg.  That was so kind of her.  Once the adjustments were made, the group was off for a tour around Orlando’s north side, down Orange Avenue through downtown, parallel to the 408 Expressway and back up the Cady Way Trail, finally arriving at Delish Yogurt Shop in Baldwin Park.  Our wives – Laura Alexander, Margaret Barr, and JoEllen Lyle – didn’t take part in the ride but met us to celebrate our accomplishment.  Roger said several times, “This is marvelous to be riding around town as a group.”  However, while savoring his dessert, he realized that we still had four miles to ride to get back to the car.  While he had the legs for the 14 mile ride, he decided that he would primarily stick with walking and climbing since his “bum” was a bit sore.  I was excited to celebrate reaching my goal of riding 200 miles since my Cycling Savvy Class in November.

Shipboard Spin Class

A couple of days after the “Sweet Ride,” Roger, Margaret, Laura, and I set sail on the Norwegian Dawn for a five day cruise to the Western Caribbean with stops in Grand Cayman and Cozumel.  I did take  spin class – a first for me.  The legs held up well, but I was surprised at how much pressure it put on the shoulders and upper body.  My shoulders have been tender for a while due to a torn rotator cuff and impingement, so I only took the one class but it was a blast to be pedaling at full tilt watching the deep blue Caribbean pass by.  I even thought of renting a bike in Grand Cayman, but two reasons held me back – being a British Colony they drive on the left and all the drivers I observed were insane.  Not a good combination.  Cozumel didn’t appear to be any safer, so no international riding.

Margaret Barr, John Alexander, Laura Alexander, Roger Barr

After our return from the cruise, Roger and I took another 10.5 mile ride along the Seminole Wekeiva Trail.  That is the trail that I ride most frequently and was pleased to show it off.  We combined that ride with a bit of “geocaching” – the popular treasure hunting activity using GPS coordinates.  I’ve had an interest in learning about that activity but hadn’t gotten around to doing much about it.  Having a seasoned Geocacher along for guidance, I identified several potential locations along the trail and we set out.  Stopping to search for the hidden treasures makes a ride more relaxed.  We successfully found three containers – a “nano,” a film canister hidden in a rock, and an ammo box full of goodies.  A fourth site eluded us, so I’ll have to go back and track that down another day.  Sharing these rides with my good friend from “across the Pond” was a highlight of our visit.  Now it’s Roger’s turn to drag me to the top of a Scottish Munro.

The Lakeland Rides

I received an invitation to attend a lecture that a friend from my college days (Miami University – Oxford, Ohio) was delivering at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida.  Anita Clevenger is a Master Gardener and Manager of the Sacramento Historic Rose Garden located at the Sacramento’s Old City Cemetery.  “The Historic Rose Garden is dedicated to the preservation of California’s heritage roses.  It contains nearly 500 antique and old garden roses with particular emphasis on those roses found in abandoned sites, homesteads, cemeteries, and roadsides throughout Northern California.”  In 2009, the garden was inducted to the Rose Garden Hall of Fame by the Great Rosarians of the World organization.  Anita is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Heritage Rose Foundation, devoted to the preservation of old roses.  At the request of Professor Malcolm Manners, chair of the hoticultural science department at Florida Southern College, and the Central Florida Heritage Rose Society, Anita would be delivering a presentation on the Sacramento Historic Rose Garden on Saturday, April 9th, and another on “Rose Rustling (Rescuing) in the California Gold Country” on Sunday, April 10th.

While I could easily be described as having a “brown thumb” when it comes to gardening,  I looked forward to catching up with my friend and hearing her speak on topics that are truly her passion and current life’s work.  I was already booked on the Saturday attending the Dunedin Highland Games and representing the Clan MacAlister Society as its President.  Sunday was the best choice.  We could have opted for Sunday Brunch, however Anita suggested a bike ride since she had heard that Lakeland was a bike friendly town.  She rides regularly around Sacramento – running errands, going to the gym, visiting the Farmer’s Market, and occasionally across town to the Rose Garden.  I went to work on planning a ride that would be interesting, reasonable in length, and fun.  The first task was to line up a set of wheels.  Once again, Diana Steele stepped forward and kindly provided the transportation.  That was a challenge in itself since Anita is 5’1″ and had specific requests for the type of bike that would fit her.  This request was not a problem for Diana at all, pulling a Topanga Diamondback out of her array of bicycles and outfitting it with a pink handlebar bag.

The next step was to map out the route.  I use http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/ as a quick way to plan bike travel.  It is easy to navigate and provides map views as well as satellite views of any area that you choose.  Simply click along the desired route and the distance is automatically calculated.  I mapped out a route that was exactly 10 miles overall.  Everything seemed in order.

Lakeland Route April 10, 2011

I mentioned my plans for the ride in Lakeland to Roger Barr, since he was still in town during my planning phase.  He asked a great question, “Are you really going to take someone for a ride around a town that you aren’t personally familiar with, have you ever ridden that route yourself”?  Hmmm, there could have been some unforeseen problems – so on Sunday, April 3rd, I strapped my Electra Townie to the car and drove down to Lakeland for a “test run.”  The weather was perfect – crystal clear day, temperature in the low ’80’s.  While I’ve lived in Florida for a long time and mainly driven past Lakeland, this was the first time that I would get an up close and personal look at the area that I planned to ride the following week with my friend.  I was pleasantly surprised all around – Lakeland is a great community with an abundance of lakes, historic parks, beautiful homes and swans everywhere – in fact it’s nickname is the “City of Swans.”  Taking the ride by myself, I was able to calculate travel time between points, look for any challenging traffic patterns, and generally determine if the plan made sense.  I did learn that Lakeland has a few hills, nothing out of the ordinary but a couple that left me breathless – perhaps less so for some others.  On the south side of the ride, for example, I enjoyed coasting up to 20 mph while cruising down Cleveland Heights Blvd.  Simple geography, however, meant that I would have to navigate a long, slow climb back up Buckingham Rd. past the golf course.  Also, S. Ingraham and McDonald Street bordering the Florida Southern College campus were a bit steep.  Overall, the plan checked out.  That ride put me over my 250 mile goal as well.

The morning of the official “Lakeland Ride” had arrived.  I met Anita at the Shaw House B&B on Orange Avenue at 9:00 am with the bikes in tow.  After making some adjustments to the seat height and a spin around the parking lot to test out the shifting patterns of the loaner, we were off on the journey.  I had printed out a map and clipped it to my basket with a large spring clip – nothing fancy, but that served as a useful “navigation station.”  Since Anita had already been in town for a full day and been shown around by Professor Manners, she had acquired quite a bit of information to share with me along the route – particularly about special gardens in the area and the history behind the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture that is prevalent at the Florida Southern College campus.  We reviewed the route and made a couple of slight modifications, dropping off a spin around Lake Buelah and eliminating the tough climb past the golf course.  That dropped the distance down to 8 miles, but the goal was a leisurely ride and stops wherever we wanted to rest or take in the scenery.  Another consideration was that although April 10th was another perfectly clear day, the temperature was already about 10 degrees warmer than the week  before and was predicted to end up in the low to mid ’90’s.  Off we rode.

Our first area to visit was Lake Mirror Park. which was originally built in the 1920’s and more recently restored in 1999.  It offers a beautiful promenade which had plenty of space for bikes and pedestrians to share.   Anita had visited Hollis Garden, part of Lake Mirror Park, the previous day so we didn’t take that in, but she described it as a beautiful location to see.  The streets of Lakeland were virtually empty but there were some people preparing for an art festival schedule for later that day.  The next place that we passed was Lake Mirror, a medium sized lake with several swan sculptures on display.  Lakeland is known as the “City of Swans.”  In 2003 a fundraiser was held and large ceramic swans were painted and decorated with many still available to view.  We rode past my accommodation, the Lake Morton B&B on South Blvd.  The hosts, Daniel and JoAnna Jimenez couldn’t have been nicer – even allowing me to park the bikes in my room the night before the ride.

Soon we were cruising down the west side of Lake Hollingsworth and provided with magnificent homes to view.  On my test run I had tried using the bike/ped path around the lake but found it very difficult to maneuver around the walkers and joggers.  So we used the two lane road, which was plenty wide enough for us to ride single file and allow cars to pass.  We looped past Veteran’s Park, a very nice playground that was full of families and saw this sign demonstrating that Lakeland was, in fact, “bike friendly.”  This part of our route was a section of the “Lake to Lake Bikeway.”   It’s very helpful when a town “gets” the value of biking for its community and makes an effort to promote it.

Anita googling

We took a break at the park on the south side of Lake Hollingsworth and enjoyed a view of Florida Southern College across the way.  Anita used part of that time to google up some facts about Frank Lloyd Wright and the construction dates for the various buildings on the campus.  The ride along the east side of Lake Hollingsworth took us past more spectacular homes.  One of the benefits of traveling at bike speed is the ability to stop whenever you want to look at the sights or take photos.  Anita was fascinated by all the live oak trees with the dangling Spanish Moss and the abundance of waterfowl – egrets, swans, geese, and duck along the lakeside, often nesting in trees. In fact, when she left Lakeland the next day she spotted a bald eagle and its nest along the roadside – not realizing that Florida has the second largest population of nesting bald eagles, second only to Alaska.

Lake Hollingsworth Home

Completing the Lake Hollingsworth loop brought us to the Florida Southern College campus.  We entered the campus on the west side which contained several of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings.  Our first stop was the Water Dome, a fountain that was originally constructed in 1948 and rebuilt in 2007.  While we take huge water displays such as the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas for granted these days, this must have been rather amazing when it was first built and is still beautiful to see today.

Anita and John at the Water Dome

Over one and a half miles of Esplanades or “covered walkways” wind through the western side of the campus.  Most of them were trimmed with copper which aged to a greenish tinge over time.  The Esplanades were built between 1941-1958, so a few sections were painted green when copper was not available during the War.  The walkways provide protection from the hot sun or rain.  Frank Lloyd Wright was only 5’4″ and he didn’t allow a great deal of head clearance through this area.  Even the doorways to several of the buildings were really low and would require a person 6′ tall to duck when entering.  I doubt the the famous architect was a bike rider.  There are steps everywhere.  We had to carry the bikes up and down multiple sets of steps to get around that side of the campus.  Rarer still were bike racks – I didn’t see any at all.  Since this was a Sunday there weren’t many students making their way around campus, but the bike racks, if they existed must have been hidden around the back of the buildings.  I took the photo to the right in the Esplanades.  It’s a bit of an optical illusion.  It appears that someone else took the photo and we are standing on the other side of  a passage way.  In fact, we were standing in front of a highly polished reflective glass with the Water Dome behind us.  Made for an interesting “Through the Looking Glass” effect.

Danforth Chapel

There are two chapels on campus.  The larger one is the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel and began construction in 1938.  It contained squares of colored glass embedded in the walls, some about 4″ and some only about 1.”  We were able to take a peak inside just before the morning service began and the effect of the colored glass is quite stunning.  The majority of the sanctuary was taken up with electronic musical instruments, so it looked like the students were about to be treated to a rockin’ good service – probably quite different from the building’s early days.  The smaller chapel, the William H. Danforth, was completed in 1955.  A lead stained glass window on the west side is the main feature.  This chapel only seats 75 people.  The concrete floor of the chapel is painted a deep maroon color, which is apparently the color used in the college’s logo as well.  As a coincidence, I posted some of the photos on Facebook following the ride and another friend wrote that he’d attended a wedding there just a couple of weeks ago.

There are two rose gardens on the campus.  The primary one is the Jane Elizabeth Jenkins Rose Garden.  It was created in 2007 and was a gift from Dr. Charles Jenkins, former president and chairman of the board of Publix Supermarkets in honor of his daughter, Jane.  The garden, with its brick walkways, planters and gazebo, features a variety of rosebushes propagated in the College’s greenhouse by FSC horticultural science students and their faculty mentor Dr. Malcolm Manners.   The rose plants come from cuttings that trace back from the late 1500s to the pre-Civil War era, as well as from contemporary varieties.   The garden and gazebo have been designed to accommodate weddings and other ceremonies.  Another rose garden is located closer to the horticultural sciences building.  Quite a few roses were in full bloom and quite fragrant, the the increased heat was taking a toll on a few of them.  One interesting feature around the campus was sections of sidewalks that contained the signatures of students.  We found one couple looking for theirs and were excited to find it still in place thirteen years after they wrote their names in the wet concrete.  They said that new sections are made available for students to sign each year.

We completed the ride by heading north on Ingraham and turning left on Orange.  The original plan had been for a 10 mile ride.  With the adjustments, we completed exactly 8 miles.  We certainly saw a great deal using that route.  The ride provided a terrific opportunity to visit and learn a bit about the town and the college.  The Lakeland ride also put me over my next milestone – 275 miles ridden since taking the Cycling Savvy class back in November.  It was a treat to share this success with a fellow rider and good friend.

Rose Arrangement

Anita’s presentation went very well.  Her topic on Sunday afternoon was “Rose Rustling (Rescue) in the California Gold Country”.  Members of the Historic Rose Garden organize trips to various places in the Gold Country – the towns that gold miners created around 1849, the height of the gold rush.  Unique varieties of old garden and antique roses were planted in these communities or the cemeteries in those towns and have since been neglected or abandoned.  While old garden roses (OGR) tend to be quite hardy to withstand their lack of care over the years, many have disappeared altogether.  These expeditions allow endangered roses to be replanted in locations, such as the Sacramento Historic Rose Garden, that will provide them with the care that they need to live on for many generations.  Anita’s first hand knowledge of this rescue process, combined with a lighthearted and often humorous presentation style captured the interest of those attending from the Central Florida Heritage Rose Society.  She was kept very busy answering questions throughout the reception that followed.

Where to Next?

It’s hard to say where my next bike ride may be or with which friends.  I’ve certainly learned that exploring new places by bicycle is a lot of fun and very rewarding – and quite simply, a “joy-filled” experience.  Planning out a route allows you to visualize what the ride will be like.  There are quite a few resources to draw upon for ideas and suggestions, including your local bike shop (or one in the town that you plan to visit), local riders, websites like “Bikely” which helps riders share knowledge of good bicycle routes.  If you plan to ride on the road, take a course like Cycling Savvy first to build your skills and confidence.

Finally, find some people to accompany you on the ride.  They may not be from as far as California or Scotland, but the experience is so much better when it’s shared with good friends.  Mention that you are involved with cycling  to co-workers, classmates, and others in your circle – you’ll be surprised how many ride or would like to take it up again.  You can see so much more and appreciate the ride better when traveling at “Bike Speed” and in the company of your friends.  Get out there and ride!

Bi-Coastal Bike Week


Cruising around Coronado, California

A week ago I didn’t know that I would be having bike adventures on both the West Coast and East Coast. But that’s how it played out. I traveled to San Diego for a conference on Monday and expected to be busy from the moment that I arrived until my departure on Thursday. As it turned out, there was some free time available on Wednesday morning. I’d noticed quite a few bike commuters and relatively light traffic in downtown San Diego, so I started investigating bike rentals. It occurred to me that a great place to ride would be just across the San Diego Bay in the small town of Coronado. I couldn’t have been more right.

Coronado can be reach either by ferry boat from a couple of landings in San Diego or by a tall bridge that crosses the bay. The ferry boat from the convention center didn’t start until 9:30 am, and I wanted to start my ride around 9:00 am. So I decided to drive. There was no toll going into Coronado and I was pleased to discover later in the day, none on the return either. Googling bike rentals, I had decided on “Bikes and Beyond” which is located near the Coronado Ferry Landing, which also is the home to several shops and restaurants. Arriving a bit early, I walked around, grabbed a coffee, and sat on a bench enjoying the view of downtown San Diego across the bay. Precisely at 9:00 am I picked up my bike from Tom who was working the bike shop that day. He provided a great map and explained optional routes to the primary one suggested.

Tom set me up with an Electra seven-speed as my rental, which included a bike lock and helmet. I ride an Electra Townie seven speed at home, so this seemed like the perfect fit. I did have him adjust the seat, but should have been more particular since the seat was a bit low and led to some extra exertion – and back pain – as a result. The area is quite flat, but the gears were nice to have for the slight changes in elevation that I encountered.

The route that I followed started along a trail which followed the bay and went under the San Diego – Coronado Bridge, about one-quarter of the entire route. The trail led to Glorietta Blvd., a very wide street which allowed me to ride to the right with room for at least two cars to my left even though it was one lane each direction. That road went alongside the Coronado Golf Course. Glorietta Blvd. turns into Pomona Ave. and took me right to the Hotel Del Coronado.

The Hotel Del Coronado was originally built in 1888. It has survived all these years and grown over time through numerous remodels. Several U.S. Presidents have been guests of the hotel and countless celebrities. The movie, “Some Like It Hot” with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon was filmed there in 1959. Walking through the lobby feels like stepping back in time. For my Floridian friends, the Grand Floridian Hotel at Walt Disneyworld is styled after this stately old property. I took some time from the ride, locked up my bike and walked around the property enjoying the lobby, the landscaping, the chef’s vegetable and herb gardens, and the views of the Pacific Ocean. One friend responded to my Facebook post that this is his favorite place to people watch in the San Diego area.

Back on the bike, I cruised up Ocean Drive and headed up Alameda and then J Avenue. I passed several beautiful homes along the way and continued along a route that was almost free of any traffic at all. A jog up 5th Street and a right turn back onto Alameda led me to the entrance to the Naval Air Station North Island, one of the eight facilities that make up the Naval Base Coronado. Naturally this is a restricted area. It takes up about 2/3 of the upper Coronado peninsula. There were signs in front of many of the houses that I passed stating “Home of a Naval Aviator”, so much of the community is made up of military and support personnel from the base. This is also the home of two aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan. Across the bay in San Diego is the USS Midway – now a permanent museum which I had the opportunity to tour that evening as part of the conference.

I mentioned going onboard the USS Midway that evening. That aircraft carrier was launched in 1945 and served until 1992 – 47 years in service, including being the lead ship for the assault on Baghdad, Iraq during the start of Desert Storm. After touring the ship which included a look at the Admiral’s quarters, Captain’s quarters, war room, message center, and viewing many restored aircraft from various eras, I took a pedi-cab back to my hotel. The pedi-cab operator was quite amusing, recounting stories of the many places where he has worked including Orlando, Miami, and even Alaska.

Turning south on 1st Street, I headed back towards Bikes and Beyond. Along the way I stopped to chat with a gentleman walking his dog. Turns out he was a retired music teacher, so we talked about that for a while. He asked if I’d recently moved to the area, but I told him that I was just visiting. It would be a great place to live, especially since it was so bike friendly – so I took it as a compliment that he thought that I might be a “local”.

I returned the bike, thanked Tom and drove back to the convention center – arriving with all of five minutes to spare before the afternoon exhibit hours started. The ride was a lot of fun and I’m very glad that I made the time to fit it in. It was a highlight of my trip. I doubt that I would have had the confidence to go out and rent a bike in an unfamiliar city if I hadn’t taken the Cycling Savvy course.

First Friday Ride – Almost!

I woke up back at home on Friday morning a bit stiff from the seven hours cooped up in airplanes returning home from San Diego on Thursday, naturally taking the logical route of San Diego – Chicago – Orlando. I forced myself to do my morning stretches to work out the kinks because I was determined to take part in the First Friday evening ride through downtown Orlando. The day went quickly as I played catch up from being away all week. I kept checking the weather report and around 5:00 pm texted Keri Caffrey to ask if the First Friday ride was still on. She responded that she was planning to go and that if it was pouring at start time, those who showed up would seek shelter and enjoy a beer together.

Not wanting to miss out, I loaded up the bike on my car rack for the drive from Lake Mary to Loch Haven Park in Orlando. As soon as I started up the car, I noticed that the engine felt rough. Driving out of my neighborhood, there was a high pitched noise coming from the engine compartment – not a good sign. I got about a mile from the house, was waiting in a left turn lane and the car flat out died. I still had battery power, so I was able to turn on the hazard lights and roll down the window so I could begin motioning drivers to go around me on the right since I couldn’t move the car at all.

I went down my mental checklist – call AAA, call the local mechanic, call home, call the First Friday right group. Check, check, check, and check. All set, just needed to wait for the tow truck. Interesting to observe humanity when you are “broken down”. Basically, most people simply don’t care or treat you like you are the biggest inconvenience of their day. Most of the time waiting I stayed in the car and waved out the windows for drivers to go around me. Some – those probably texting and driving – still pulled up right behind me, honked when I didn’t move when the light change and honked again after backing up and finally passing, even though I had signaled much earlier. I finally got out of the car and used my lime green neon “Commute Orlando” shirt to get people’s attention and spent my time waiting by directing traffic. There were several people who were kind enough to stop, roll down a window and ask if I needed help or a jump. I thanked each of them and told them that AAA was on the way.

About 30 seconds before the tow truck arrived, a Seminole County Deputy pulled up. He jumped out of the car and instead of asking me, “can I help you”? or “what’s the problem”?, he said, “you can’t be here” – as if I had chosen to have my car stall on purpose. Right at that moment, the AAA truck swooped in and had me hooked up and ready to go. So, Adios Officer, and I jumped into the cab of the truck for the ride to the mechanic. Turns out that the tow truck driver is a mountain bike enthusiast. He said that he missed the hills in Pennsylvania. I was able to share that he should check out the “Meet Up” site for some adventurous rides in this area. Never know where you’re going to run into good people.

After unloading the car at Action Gator Tires, I put on my helmet, windbreaker, and bright green shirt and headed for home. Very handy to have a bike with you when you have to abandon your motor vehicle. Also a good thing to only be about 4-5 miles from home.

I took Sun Drive to the Cross Seminole Trail. That route felt safe, even though it was pitch black out. My lights helped, but I would like to have a stronger headlight. I was surprised to come upon several people walking on the trail in the dark, some for fitness, others were groups of teens out for a stroll. The problem was that all of them were dressed entirely in dark clothes. After passing the first one, I was much more cautious. I could easily see the trail, but could have run into one of these pedestrians if I wasn’t careful.

Since I had to go past Bruster’s Ice Cream along my route, I stopped and picked up a pint of mint chocolate chip to make up for the evening’s inconvenience. That, along with some Thin Mints that I’d purchased from a friend did the trick.

I finished up the ride home along Lake Park Drive, owning the lane and riding big – just like I’d learned in Cycling Savvy. Although the road was almost completely deserted, I still was honked at, but I felt fine anyway. After all, even though I’d missed out on the official First Friday ride – which did get rained out except for the core group which assembled and immediately went to “Bananas” for refreshments – I did get my ride in on Friday evening.

So this week truly was one for Bi-Coastal bike adventures. Very glad that I decided to take a spin through Coronado and see the sights. While I hadn’t planned on the car breaking down (just received the estimate from the mechanic – $1,200 to replace the fuel pump and a new battery – did I say that I hate cars!), I still had a fun time riding back from the shop last night and plan to ride my bike up there today to recover the motor vehicle. Bike riding just puts a smile on my face, so in spite of other challenges it’s something to look forward to and enjoy.

Just Like Riding a Bike

The old expression, “Just like Riding a Bike,” is often used to describe something that comes second nature and should be easy to do. It implies that we know everything about an activity and can take off where we left off. That couldn’t be farther from the truth when it actually comes to “driving” a bike — we can always learn more and continuously improve our skills.

As a kid I loved zipping around on my bike and was very proud when I saved up enough money to buy twin newspaper baskets, which made me an entrepreneur.  In college I was fearless, easily navigating 4” bike trails through the woods from the dorm to class.  For a long time after that, I put didn’t spend any time on a bike.  A couple of years ago I purchased an Electra Townie bicycle to renew my bike riding habit and improve my fitness.  For the most part, the bike sat comfortably parked in the garage.  At the beginning of this year I finally followed through and dropped 30 pounds by using a treadmill, which also prompted me to dust off the bike and begin riding.  Portions of the Cross Seminole Trail run near my house and I began to take advantage of the fun of short rides.

All went well until I ventured off to another part of the “trail” — really a sidewalk— and experienced my first crash.  An approach to a narrow bridge over a creek consisted of a 90 degree left turn, immediately followed by a 90 degree right turn — after a downhill approach.  I was going too fast and smacked into the sturdy guardrail, reinjuring a shoulder that I had just rehabbed from a torn rotator cuff.  My garage door opener flew out of my basket and into the creek, but I stayed upright, though frustrated and discouraged.  An acquaintance put me in touch with Mighk Wilson as a result of that incident and I began to follow the work that he was doing to improve bike safety.

After reviewing the information on the Cycling Savvy Course, I decided to invest some time and energy into the program to improve my skills and give myself more confidence.  Friday evening was the classroom session.  Even though I am 59 years old, I was nervous as I entered the room and wondered if I was “out of my league.”  Everyone made me feel welcome and included — from the instructors to my fellow classmates.  I quickly learned that the group consisted of a variety of ages and skill levels and immediately began to relax.

Right out of the gate, Mighk and Keri opened our eyes to several myths about bike riding and the new vision for safe and effective two wheeled transportation, which applies equally well to both the novice and the daily urban bike commuter.  They supported their case with extremely well prepared videos and animations to demonstrate each aspect of this “technical” portion of the program.  As a trainer myself, I could clearly see that they had found a way to break through to the adult learner.  My classmates and I were not only being informed, but were being challenged to rethink what we knew about cycling.  It was exhilarating to realize that we were being empowered to “lead the dance” out on the road.

I arrived a few minutes before the designated start time on the Saturday morning.  I had checked my tire pressure the night before, so I was very surprised to discover that I have a flat tire when I removed my bike from the car rack.  One of my classmates, Randy — a UCF professor — immediately sprang into action and patched the flat but it didn’t hold.  Mighk kindly loaned me a tube to use and informed me that the inner band on the wheel had deteriorated and was allowing the end of one of the spokes to pierce the tube.  I followed his advice and promptly folded up a dollar bill to cover the errant piece of metal.  Although slightly embarrassed that I’d held up the group for a few minutes, I felt a sense of camaraderie with both my trainers and classmates.  They weren’t going to leave anyone behind.  This was going to be fun.

And fun it was!  Though not always easy.  The three hour bike handling skills took place in a large open parking lot.  Each drill was carefully designed to improve our comfort, confidence, and command over our “vehicle” — our bikes.  Snail races, using gears for quick acceleration, super slow  tight turns, balancing after stopping, shoulder checks, and evasive snap drills led to high speed turns and emergency stops.  The “building blocks” all came together by the end of the morning, with each of us now possessing a “tool bag” of essential bike-handling skills.

We had ridden several miles criss-crossing that parking lot and next on the agenda was lunch.  Only one thing was standing between us and a tasty burrito — navigating down Maguire and turning right onto Colonial Drive, crossing three lanes of traffic and executing a left-hand turn onto Primrose Ave.  ARE YOU CRAZY ?????   Between the faith that we’d placed in our instructors and the new found confidence that we had in our individual ability, the class ventured out and successfully and flawlessly completed that first “feature” as a group.  Collectively, we realized, “We can do this!”  As with many of the other specific tasks that we would face throughout the afternoon, our trainers mapped out the plan with colorful chalk on the pavement, explained both the hazards and the best approach that would ensure ease and safety.  Getting the first exercise under our belt, followed by a collective “high five” was a glorious moment.

The afternoon was spent analyzing and facing down several other features.  This experiential form of training was perfect for adult learners.  We weren’t being lectured to.  We weren’t being given some meaningless test.  We were part of the learning process and the success of each individual in the class was just as important to us as our own small victories.  We rode together between exercises, but were given the opportunity to personally experience each feature on our own.  From riding through a round-a-bout to learning the proper way to cross diagonal railroad tracks, to seamlessly controlling the center lane on Princeton to avoid the I-4 on-ramp, to navigating the fearsome Ivanhoe Interchange (not once, not twice, but three times), each exercise brought us a new level of confidence.

After making our way through the construction near the new Arena, we had to cross the bridge over I-4 on Anderson.  That climb was a challenge, I downshifted so far that there was only one gear left — my internal “Little Engine That Could” — but I made it to the top and was rewarded with a swift ride down the other side.  I learned a lot about my bike that day too — after cresting that hill, Keri rode up next to me and said, “Yeah, your Townie is great for stopping, no so much for climbing” and then told me she was proud of me for toughing out that hill.  At that point of the day, my competence and confidence were soaring — I wasn’t going to fall behind my classmates in any way.

It dawned on me that I was riding side by side with him just a shoulder width apart and tracking exactly one wheel length behind the rider in front of me — and I was perfectly relaxed, comfortable and having a blast.

One of the reasons I took the Cycling Savvy Course was that I had begun to feel uncomfortable riding on sidewalks to get to the trail in my area.  I learned that there were plenty of good reasons to feel that way — uneven and broken sections of sidewalk, the need to steer around pedestrians and other bikes, the possibility of a wheel getting caught between the sidewalk and deeply edged grass which could lead to a fall and the higher risk of being hit by a car.  I had feared that my balance was an issue.  By going through the course, I had plenty of opportunities to disprove that assumption and build my skills.  As we were riding in a group at the end of the day, I was carrying on a great conversation with one of my classmates, Harry, about cruises that we had taken.  It dawned on me that I was riding side by side with him just a shoulder width apart and tracking exactly one wheel length behind the rider in front of me — and I was perfectly relaxed, comfortable and having a blast.  This program helped me to realize the freedom and fun that comes with being in command of your own bike.  I was a kid again!

Since the class, I have ventured out to the trail several times — now comfortably doing 10 mile routes without breaking a sweat.  I participated in my 1st “First Friday” night ride with several of the Commute Orlando and Cycling Savvy group — a fun, social way to spend an hour or so, and a way to share the message that bikes can co-exist with cars on the road.  This weekend I will be headed out for a Holiday Light ride — what better way to see the decorations?  I’ve begun to set new goals as well.  After hearing about people taking 500 mile bike trips, I’ve begun logging my miles with “500” as my first target.  I might reach it by only pedaling 10 miles at a time, but I’ll get there — with a smile on my face.

The support and inspiration that Mighk and Keri have provided has been tremendous.  She definitely “had my back” while we were riding the final leg back to the parking lot during the class.  While riding along, I felt my wedding ring slip off my finger.  Using a skill that I had learned that morning, I turned around in the saddle and told her that my ring had fallen off.  She said, “I know, I just rode over it.”  She promptly went back and retrieved the now “flattened” ring.  If she hadn’t trapped it under her wheel, it might have rolled off into a gutter.  Nice save!  More significantly, I mentioned to Keri that I was looking for a better way to get to a portion of the trail in my area.  She came up to Lake Mary and helped me evaluate several options and then rode the route with me — capturing it all on a video.  She wrote a fantastic article about that experience, which can be viewed here.

I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the beginning of 2010. I have learned that active bicycling has been proven to reduce some symptoms.

One last little detail that I would like to share is the fact that I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the beginning of 2010.  At this point, my primary symptoms are a “resting tremor” in my left hand and leg which is being effectively managed with a low dose of medication.  I am very much aware of changes to my system and how they may affect my ability to live my life.  I have learned that active bicycling has been proven to reduce some symptoms.  I love my bike.  I love the freedom that I feel when I am riding it.  One of my strengths, according to a survey that I recently took, is “Positivity.”  I am confident that I can take on this “unknown challenge.”  To me, it’s just another “feature” to be mapped out and “ridden” through.  With the new skills that I’ve learned through the Cycling Savvy experience, I will be a safe rider for a very long time.  Michael J. Fox, as a spokesperson for PD, naturally is one of my heroes these days.  While traveling through the Atlanta airport recently I saw a billboard with his photo and the message “Out Fox Parkinson’s.”  That’s my plan too.  I close this post with a link a video he produced — “What is Optimism?”

Also published on CyclingSavvy.org