Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Florida

In December of 2015 I headed to Florida for a few days to escape the cold in Reno. I stayed in Orlando, but drove over to Cocoa Village to ride the Intracoastal Waterway Century route.

Florida Route
Strava Link

Florida has a reputation for bad drivers and leads the nation in deaths of cyclists, so finding a good route was important. Unfortunately, this trip was sort of a last minute thing and I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to research. Good routes seem a little bit difficult to find. Most of the information out there is related to "bike paths," which most of you might know as MUPs, which are really not much more than glorified sidewalks.

I flew into MCO and rented a bike from Bikes and Blades. The bike was a Raleigh RX 1.0, which was listed as a road bike but was actually a cross bike with slick tires. No big deal. It was worthy for the road. The crank was a 46/36, but (a) this is Florida, so there was no need for a smaller small ring and (b) I'm not a strong guy, so the 46 didn't hold me back. In general I hate renting bikes on vacation, but Bikes and Blades made everything easy and their hours actually fit my schedule very well. The price was reasonable, too.

The rental bike and the rental car. They almost match.
The rental shop was right on the West Orange Trail, so I got in about 50 miles before I headed off to the hotel. It's been a long time since I've ridden on an MUP and this ride reminded me why I hate them so much. Riding the MUP really is like riding on a sidewalk. Pedestrians aren't paying attention and every street crossing becomes more dangerous than it would be if you were riding on the road. I was actually considering doing my century on a different bike path, but this ride made me reconsider.

I came across the ICWC website and it seemed like a decent route. Often times when I'm out of state I'll just find a local organized century and ride the route solo. This has worked well for me in the past, but obviously isn't a foolproof solution. Just because a route is good for an event doesn't mean its good on its own. You never know if portions of the route have a police escort, are closed to traffic, have a ton of warning signs, etc. On top of that, there's an increased perception of safety when you're riding in a huge group. I say "perception" because there's no way of knowing for a fact that riding in a group is safer. However, there are portions of the RAIN (Ride Across Indiana) route that I wouldn't necessarily choose to ride on my own but feel perfectly fine on event day.

Anyway, I decided to just go for it. As bad as Florida's reputation is, I'm simply not one to be afraid of riding in traffic. The route ended up being a decent one. I would say it was good, but not great. For the most part I felt safe, but there was one section towards the end (somewhere around miles 60-70) on S Tropical Trail that was narrow and had a lot of traffic. Maybe I was just hitting it at the wrong time. Looking at the map, I doubt there's an alternate route that would have been any better.

My biggest complaint would be the portion of the ride near Cape Canaveral. Talk about a tease. There I was, riding on NASA Parkway on this neat little stretch of road in the middle of the river. It was super windy, but I could see these neat looking NASA buildings off in the distance. As I got closer I even saw an old rocket straight ahead. Maybe all of this riding in the wind was going to be worth it. All of the sudden there's a right turn and the route leaves all of that stuff behind. What a disappointment. I wish I would have kept going on NASA Parkway. Then again, maybe it just ends at a parking lot and you can't really see much. This is probably one of those places that's better seen off the bike.

The last 25 miles or so were great. Highway 1 had a bike lane and that final stretch on Rockledge/Indian River was very scenic and had almost no traffic. Best of all, the weather was fantastic. It's been a cold winter here in Reno, so I was happy to be riding in just shorts and a jersey again.

For some reason most of the pictures I took didn't get saved. Here are the ones I do have, plus a turtle and a gator I saw while riding west of Orlando the next day.




Turtle (blurry phone image)
Gator. I was coming from the other direction and almost ran over its tail. I wasn't expecting a gator in the road.

Gator

Alabama

In the summer of 2015 I rode across the country. As part of that, I rode across Alabama. Here's an overview of the route.

Alabama Route

Here are the Strava Links for both days: Petoji Day 20Petoji Day 21

Day 20
Day 21
Both days included portions in other states, but more than 100 continuous miles in Alabama. Here are the logs for each day.



Day 20

Welcome to Alabama. Only 2 states left to go. The day started out hot, but rain came rolling in later on and things cooled off considerably. More importantly, there was less of a headwind along the way. I was coming off of a short (83 miles) day on day 19, so I was feeling pretty fresh out there. However, Day 21 was the last big day left at 168 miles, so I was careful to save a little energy for that.



Another waste of a good shoulder




Day 21
This was the last long day and once it was over I knew I was actually going to achieve my goal of riding across the country. I had a few long days before this- 178 on Day 5, 175 on Day 7, and 180 on Day 13. The same rules applied on all of them: don't fall behind nutrition and hydration.

It was foggy early, which was fun and added to the scenery. As the day went on the fog wore off and it got hot and humid. By the end of the ride there were storm clouds in the distance and I saw a rainbow. There was a little bit of everything on this ride. It seemed fitting that the day would end with a rainbow. Petoji was almost over and my pot of gold was just within reach. I only had 121 miles on Day 22 and 60 miles on Day 23.














Welcome to Georgia


It's been on my mind for a long time!





Rainbow

Rainbow

Monday, December 15, 2014

Arkansas

In August of 2014 I took a short trip and rode 3 states in 3 days. This was the third day of that trip.

Strava Link 



I started the ride at the Cove Lake campground, which is in the western portion of the state.

Cove Lake Campground, Arkansas
The Arkansas century route
The Cove Lake Campground was great. There was hardly anybody there and I got a nice spot right next to the water.

My spot at Cove Lake Campground
The plan for the day was to ride about 35 flat miles towards Dardanelle, tackle Mt. Nebo, then ride another 40 flat miles and tackle Mt. Magazine. However, when you're a dumb guy like me, things never quite go as planned.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first 35 miles to Dardanelle. I actually managed to get an early start on the day, so temperatures were cool, traffic was light, and everything seemed calm and relaxed. My legs weren't feeling too bad (the 2nd day is always worse than the 3rd for some reason), either.

Mt. Nebo was a killer little climb: 2.5 miles at 10%. It starts out difficult with some super steep switchbacks, then it eases off for a little flat section before it kicks up again towards the end. There's a nice park at the top with a few campsites (water!) and a pool. There was some kind of running race going on while I was there, so the place was packed. I wish I had more time to explore the park, but I had other plans for the day.

After Nebo it was on to Mt. Magazine. What I didn't realize was that my route took me on a short gravel climb to get there. I thought I did my research on Google Maps with satellite view and street view, but obviously I missed something. My GPS was telling me to turn on the gravel road, but for some reason I wasn't trusting it. I even went 3 miles in the wrong direction before I broke free from my denial and turned back towards the dirt road. There really wasn't another option that didn't add a lot of extra mileage, so I took the dirt road and hoped for the best.

As luck would have it, the dirt road wasn't all that bad. According to Strava there's a section of 0.7 miles at 7%, but the surface was good enough that I was able to keep traction on my road bike. I took it slow on the descent and everything was fine. These kind of things are annoying when they happen, but once they're done they're over you're glad they happened. They add an extra element of excitement to the ride.

Mt. Magazine was a good climb. My legs were tired at that point so I wasn't exactly flying, but the scenery was great and there was hardly any traffic out there. There's an easier section towards the top of the climb and then it was mostly downhill back to Cove Lake Campground.

All in all it was a great day to ride a bike and a good way to end my trip. After 3 days I was finally getting used to the humidity, so it was a shame that I didn't have more time to ride and explore the area. I definitely hope to return to Mena and ride more of the Talimena Byway. I'm sure there are other nice areas that Arkansas has to offer. As always, it's difficult to pick one route in a state and feel satisfied that you know what the state is all about.

Update: I rode across the southern portion of Arkansas during my 2015 ride across the country. Here are the relevant days:  16, 17, 18. You can find more pictures there, plus the Strava links for all routes.

Oklahoma

In August of 2014 I took a short trip and rode 3 states in 3 days. This was the second day of that trip.

Strava Link



The ride was in Poteau, OK, which is in the eastern portion of the state.

Poteau, OK

OK route

The day started with the Cavanal climb, which is 3.4 miles at 9%. It manages to reach that 9% average despite a downhill section midway through the climb. I thoroughly enjoyed the climb. It was early in the day and wasn't super hot yet, but I was still soaking with sweat when I made it to the top. There was a nice viewpoint area at the top, which must be a really nice place to visit in the Fall.

After Cavanal, I made my way through some flat country roads towards the Talimena Scenic Byway. The plan was to take the Byway over to 259, then take 250/59 back to Poteau. However, I was having trouble adjusting to the heat and humidity. I'm used to the heat (high of 99), but the humidity (~50%) was killing me. I was drinking a lot more than normal and couldn't find anywhere to get water. The good thing about scenic routes is that they're scenic. The bad thing is that it can be difficult to find water.

There was a funny moment when I turned from 271 on to the Talimena Byway. I was dying for water at that point and right at the corner is a welcome center with restrooms and water fountains. Unfortunately, the welcome center must not be in the budget anymore as the bathrooms were closed and the water fountains were turned off. It all seemed like a cruel trick.

I continued on Highway 1 for a little while, and a few miles down the road was an area with restrooms. Those were just pit toilets and there was no water to be found. I was 20 miles of up-and-down road away from Highway 259, and even if I made it to 259 who knows how far the next water source would be from there. I was already feeling the effects of dehydration, so I made the decision to turn around and head towards Talihina, which was about 8 miles away. It turns out that Talimena State Park was only about 2 miles away, and I got water there.

I just rode the 30 miles straight back to Poteau on Highway 271 from there. Fortunately, 271 wasn't all that busy and actually had a shoulder most of the way. Physically I didn't feel all that great, but at least I knew that water was never too far away. I was drinking at least 2 bottles an hour, which is a lot for me. The most I'll drink at home in Nevada is 1 bottle an hour, and that's on hot days with lots of climbing.

It was a shame that I had to skip the best part of the ride, but I still enjoyed Oklahoma. The Cavanal climb was a nice, difficult little climb and I enjoyed the quiet roads outside of Poteau. I hope to make it back some day so I can ride the whole Talimena Scenic Byway.

At the top of Cavanal Hill
A view from the top of Cavanal. It's too bad it wasn't a clear day.






Update: I rode across a large portion of Oklahoma during my ride across the country in the summer of 2015. Here are the relevant days: 13, 14, 15, 16. You can find more pictures there, plus Strava links to the route I used.