Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ride wrap up

First of all, to those who made a donation to NARFE Alzheimer's Research, thank you so much. While I was typing this, I was halfway listening to National Public Radio and it was discussing the coming health care crisis that Alzheimer's poses. It is frightening. We need to solve this disease and solve it soon. If you haven't made a donation, please read the profile under my picture at the left side of this blog and send a check to that address.

To Horseshoes: Went through one tire, two tubes, didn't wear out any shorts, scraped left elbow twice, right calf twice (both times while trying to walk with my left bike shoe still locked into the pedal -- don't recommend that). Yes, the bran worked!

This final posting is primarily addressed to those who might want to ride the Southern Tier ride with WomanTours or have already signed up for the ride. If you're thinking about it but aren't sure, my advice is just do it. You won't be disappointed.

Tips for future riders: Before I get to my own tips, I highly recommend that you read, re-read, and continue to re-read everything WomanTours sends you about the ride. After the ride, and before I started my critique of the ride, I re-read everything I was sent or given at the pre-ride meeting. Most of my comments were already addressed in their literature. WomanTours really knows what it is talking about with this ride!

Now, on to my personal comments:

1. Although the sag wagon is available for assistance, be self-reliant. Through most of the West (including the hill country of Texas) there was no cell phone service. This means that the sag driver won't know you need help unless word gets to her through other riders or when you don't show up at a sag stop. It easily may be over an hour before the sag driver can get to you to help you.

2. Be familiar with your bike and especially know at the very least how to fix a flat on your bike. Bring tire irons and allen wrenches that match your bike as a minimum. We had a few riders whose wheels were next to impossible to fix when they had flats. It took an act of God to get the tire back on the rim. Bontrager rims were the most difficult. That said, the riders with Bontrager rims fortunately had fewer flats. If you can't fix a flat on your own bike, work with your bike shop to find a wheel you can work with. If you can fix your own flat you won't have to wait for the sag wagon to come back to you to help. One day it took three of us to get a tire back on a difficult rim after replacing the tube. On another day we had two pinch flats trying to get the tire back on one of these difficult rims. At that point, the bike and rider went into the sag wagon for the rest of the day. If you want to spend more time riding, know how to fix your own flat.

3. Cell phones are great where they work. It is a great way to get information to the sag driver -- like information on road problems (dogs, wrong directions, etc.) and calls for help. Unfortunately, cell phone coverage was sparse to non-existent west of Louisiana. Don't rely on being able to contact the sag wagon with your cell phone.

4. Remember that the good sag driver will be looking for you. If you don't show up at a sag stop, she will backtrack (hopefully) to find you. So, it is important that you stay on the route. If you need to go off the route, if you have cell phone service call the sag driver to let her know. If you are lost and can't find your way back onto the route, call the sag driver. If you go into a store, or into the woods, leave your bike in a place visible to the sag driver. One day I drove 40 extra miles (which took an hour) because a rider went off route to ask for assistance finding the route. Had she called me I could have told her where she could pick up the route. Had she left her bike where I could see it, I could have helped her on the spot.

5. If you get off route, call the sag driver to let them know you are not on the route. Then try to backtrack onto the route. Believe it or not, in most instances the sag driver has never been in that area and doesn't know the roads. The only maps in the sag wagon don't have back roads on them. If you ask the sag driver how to get from where you mistakenly are to where you need to be, she probably won't be able to tell you other than to say backtrack to where you made the wrong turn. One day some riders made a wrong turn and asked a local resident how to get to the overnight town. I was the sag driver that day. They called and left a message letting me know that they were riding the rest of the way off-route. It was one of those days when cell coverage was hit or miss. I knew they were off-route when they didn't show at a sag stop. I figured out where they had made a wrong turn, and drove 15 miles down that road, at which point I got some cell service and retrieved their message. Around that time, one of those riders, having arrived at the overnight town, called and asked me which way she should turn to go to the hotel, because she was tired and didn't want to make a wrong turn. I had never been to the town, didn't know what road they had been on, and didn't know where the hotel was myself (other than where the cue sheet said it would be). Needless to say, I couldn't help. (After she had something at a nearby Dairy Queen she was able to find the hotel just fine.)

6. If you don't have a rear view mirror, get one and get accustomed to using it. We were often on busy roads with no shoulder and it is important to know where traffic is and whether it is making room for you! Especially use one if you want to ride two abreast (which WomanTours discourages). Sometimes we were on lightly traveled roads and could ride two abreast for a while. Having a rear view mirror and regularly checking it helped to know when to go back to single file to let traffic pass.

7. Ride responsibly and courteously. Yell out to let someone know you are passing them BEFORE you start to pass them. Don't pass other riders on the right!!! One windy day a group of riders came up behind me. I wear a rear view mirror on the left side of my sunglasses so that I can see traffic coming up behind me. (Most people only have a rear view mirror on the left, because that is the side traffic is usually traveling past them.) I could see the two who were passing me on the left, but didn't know there were two passing me on the right. None of those riders on either side said a word to let me know they were passing. I started moving over to the right to give the riders on the left some room, and fortunately another person behind me yelled that there were riders passing on the right. If she hadn't yelled that, we would have had a 3-bike pileup.

8. Don't be in a rush to get to the next overnight town. We had one rider who would always be the last one out in the morning and last one in at night. She wasn't a particularly slow rider. In fact, she was a pretty good rider. She would take into account the daily conditions (weather, terrain, distance, suppertime) and would take the full day riding. She took lots of pictures and stopped in places along the way. She made the days a little more involved for the sag drivers, who sometimes had to backtrack long distances to make sure she was okay, but that's just part of the sag job. In retrospect, I think she had the right attitude. Even taking the sightseeing attitude, you will still have plenty of time to shower regardless of when you get in; you'll be able to do laundry; and you will be in before supper.

9. Don't hesitate to take a ride in the van or sag wagon for all or part of the day. The trip is long. There is no need to bicycle when you are sick or hurt if a day or two of rest will help you. There is no need to endanger yourself if the weather conditions are atrocious. There is no need to miss something you want to spend extra time seeing along the way -- just get a bump up so that you don't have as many miles on the route to ride that day. There will be those who have the drive to bicycle every mile, and that's fine. If you're not one of them, don't worry about taking a bump or sitting out a day.

10. Your crotch and butt will hurt - really hurt in some cases - at some point along the way. You will have areas where friction and pressure cause problems. There are lots of things which riders use -- Chamois butter, Udder butter, Bag balm. Most people managed to get through it and after a few weeks they were okay. It's just part of the ride.

11. If you have favorite snacks or energy tabs or recovery drinks, check with WomanTours to see if they will be providing them. The stuff the sag wagon carried included water, Gatorade powder, V8 juice, Payday bars, PowerBar Protein bars, Kashi bars, granola bars, Oreo cookies, Fig newtons, Doritos, potato chips, Cheetos, M&M's (plain and peanut), fruit chews, cashew nuts, almonds, mixed nuts, bananas, oranges, tangerines, apples. In general, the sag wagon carried stuff available at Sam's Club or WalMart on the way. If you want anything more expensive or elaborate, you'll probably have to bring it or buy it along the way yourself.

12. Use lots of sunscreen multiple times during sunny days and carry a small amount of it on the bike with you (in the event the sag wagon isn't around when you need it). The sag wagon carried a couple of types of sunscreen. Again, if you insist on using a particular type of sunscreen which is more expensive than a generic type found at Sam's Club or WalMart, you should bring it yourself.

13. Unless you really like peanut butter sandwhiches for lunch, plan on buying lunch on the road.

14. Plan on spending roughly $12 per day if you buy your lunch on the road. There are also some places where previous WomanTours bicyclists found great stuff to eat -- like root beer floats, apple turnovers, ice cream, whatever. You may also want to get postcards or gifts or t-shirts or books or whatever along the way -- $12 per day should give you enough for that depending on your shopping proclivities.

15. You will have days when your emotional energy is low. You will be cranky, tired, and just want to go home. Recognize this and just let it go, or warn others that you're feeling this way!

16. Keep a journal or blog, take pictures, because the ride will be over before you know it and it will seem like a dream.

17. Really pay attention to the WomanTours recommended list of things to bring and minimize. Notwithstanding WomanTours requests to motels for ground-floor rooms, you will have some places that put you on the second floor and you may have to haul your luggage and bike up stairs. No one seemed to care whether you wore the same 2 t-shirt and shorts for 7 weeks. Most motels had laundry facilities and riders would combine laundry loads. (WomanTours provided the laundry detergent.) Mark your clothes so your stuff won't get mixed up with someone else's. You may also be one of those early departing/ early arriving riders who has to unload everyone else's bags to get to yours. You'll appreciate lighter luggage as you unload, then reload bags!

18. There were some riders who didn't have a bike bag, and instead had a very small saddle bag or put stuff in their pockets. I really recommend a back rack and bag so that you can carry at least two tubes, tire irons, allen wrenches that can be used to tighten the seat post and saddle and other important connector points, a basic first aid kid, lots of snacks/lunch, extra water bottle (if you don't use a Camelbak), sunscreen, crotch/butt relief cream of choice. You may not need to use these things, but if you do need them you have them and don't have to wait forever for the sag wagon to show up to provide them.

I'm sure there are lots more things I'm forgetting, but if I'm forgetting them they can't be that important. I also apologize if all this sounds daunting. The ride really was great and not a worry at all. But, I tend to err on the side of caution.

If you want to contact me with questions about the ride, please feel free to do so. My email address is

Ride well, live life.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

What next????????

Well, it's over. Now what do I do???? For starters, get up early tomorrow morning, have some cereal and yogurt, then hit the road (driving) back to Vermont. First stop is my sister Kak's home for a visit tomorrow night and Saturday. We'll be home Sunday night, and pick up my furry buddy Brody on Monday morning. And NO, Six Loose Ladies, I will not plan to be in the store on May 9. Please give me a week at home (I will pick up the store computer and get stuff entered and squared away).

So, today, as usual, Elisabeth asked, "Anyone want to go for a bike ride?" and everyone was out and on the bikes slightly before the butt crack of dawn. We had 40 miles to cover (according to the cue sheet) before 10:30. I found myself in the lead at one point, and it was awesome to see a whole long string of bicyclists behind me! We made it 19 miles to the first sag stop by shortly after 8, so relaxed and took it easy the rest of the way.
The road was flat, with more farms and riverside homes, and then we were at the firehouse meeting place, or were we? The firehouse was at about 37 miles, but on the cue sheet it was supposed to be at 40. There was considerable confusion at first, but finally the firepersons confirmed we were supposed to be there, the female motorcycle cop showed up, and we started getting ready, lining up in twos. Two police cars joined the motorcycle cop and we were off, sirens blaring. It really was a fun 6 mile ride to the beach. We sailed through intersections with our escorts. At the same time, I was choking back tears thinking of dad and thinking of how happy I would be to see Peter. I can now understand why guys don't understand girls -- we cry when we're sad, and we cry when we're happy.

At the beach there was quite a welcome contingent of friends and family. I found Peter and cried for joy! It was so, so good to be with him again. Peter walked with me and Bessie to the edge of the water and I dipped her wheels in the Atlantic. After the perfunctory picture-taking, we had a nice picnic lunch of a wrap, chips, fruit, and a drink. Peter and I then went to the hotel, I showered, and we spent the afternoon wandering the old town section of St. Augustine. Saw enough to know that it would be fun to come back and spend a few days seeing the museums and walking the beautiful beach.

I'll add more in a few days when I'm back home and can look back on this experience a little more objectively.
Bike stats: 44.58 miles; 3 hrs. 17 minutes riding time; 2,011 total trip miles.

Food stats: Last night we had salmon, garlic mashed potatoes, spinach leaf salad, and assorted goodies from friends and family. This morning was cereal, yogurt, and a banana. Lunch was a turkey wrap, and some pineapple and melon chunks. Since the ride ended for me at the beach, I don't need to tell you the details of the dinner at the A1A Brewery restaurant (and no - I didn't have a beer -- I needed to stay awake to post this entry). I skipped the traditional end-of-ride banquet for riders.
Let's see -- when is the Northern Tier first half ride next year????

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Last night of the ride - in Palatka

Today was our last long ride of the trip. It's hard to believe that it is pretty well over. Tomorrow's ride will be a "token" ride. I started the trip out west riding alone, and after the halfway point started riding more consistently with Patty. Most riders pair up with others who go at a similar pace and personality. We have 3 trios, four duos, and three singles who ride alone or occasionally with others. Today the "duos" all rode together -- Janet Bee and Marni, Mary Jo and Donna, Elisabeth and Peggy, and Patty and I. We had a pretty noticeable headwind, so took turns pulling at the front. We didn't have a real paceline, but having someone at the front helped make the ride easier. It was a nice change of pace riding with these ladies and they were lots of fun through the duller part of the ride!

Didn't stop to see the 13 foot gator. Had some rolling hills and pretty scenery for the first half of the ride. Once we got onto SR100, the traffic increased. Still had some hills, but it wasn't as enjoyable because of the truck traffic. In one town we were told that the beautiful bike path we saw went quite a ways to Palatka. It didn't. A local bicyclist told us the plan was to run a bike path to Palatka, but it just hasn't been finished. So, after that pleasant interlude we were stuck on the busy SR100 for 20 more miles. It at least had a shoulder which was in pretty good condition. Once we got into Palatka, the shoulder filled with road debris and eventually disappeared in the town proper. Went over one high bridge right before the hotel, and Patty didn't hesitate one bit. We sang "99 bottles of beer on the wall" starting at 42 bottles and working backward by 2's to make it harder since we were pretty hot and tired. I'm so proud of her overcoming her bridge phobia.

When we arrived (a little before 2 p.m.), there were some families and friends at the hotel cheering the riders. That was great. We can feel the excitement of the last day building. Had lunch at the restaurant next to the hotel. There really wasn't much of an option over the last half of the ride until we got to Palatka. The food was really good and reasonably priced. Hate eating lunch so late -- I'm not hungry for dinner.

Bike stats: 78.2 miles; 5 hrs. 54 minutes riding time; 1,967 total trip miles. Yahoo!!! I'll make 2,000 tomorrow. Most riders (non-sag drivers) are over 2,500 and some over 3,000 miles.

Food stats: Last night had a spoonful of curried broccoli and chicken over a spoonful of noodles. Had cereal and a banana for breakfast. A protein bar on the road. Had blackened shrimp, broccoli au gratin, a couple of hush puppies and fruit salad for lunch. Don't know what Linda is cooking for dinner.
Called Peter and he was still on the road to St. Augustine (near the South Carolina/Georgia border). He's a saint to drive all the way to pick me up. Can't wait to see him tomorrow!!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

High Springs here we are

The ride from Perry to High Springs was the prettiest ride yet in Florida. It was another pretty flat day. Lots of pretty wildflowers, cows, goats, and sheep along the way. Once we moved off the main road onto the back road to Ichetucknee Springs state park the scenery became prettier. The maps said it was a 76-mile day, but even with a side trip to the springs most riders were at the hotel (a throwback to the Sheffler hotel out west -- will do, but...) by 3 p.m. Another slight headwind day, but the slight headwind feels good in the heat!

The springs at the Ichetucknee Springs state park were really pretty. The spring closest to the parking lot is the one most people swim in. A spring further back was more isolated and elemental. Both are worth the visit, especially on a hot day.

This was my last sag driving day. The day included hauling an ailing rider to the hotel, riding interference at a spot where a pack of dogs were chasing riders, setting up 3+ sag stops, and backtracking almost 40 miles to find a rider (she had trouble with the cue sheet directions and wasn't where I could see her when I initially passed her), filling up the gas tank, and restocking the snacks and water.

I have enjoyed the sag duties most of the time. Everyone says they are so happy to see me. That may be the last time I hear that!!This group of riders has been so easy to sag because they usually change their own flats and ride together in predictable ways. Every now and then they got lost, but were resourceful enough to find their way home. Sometimes they would frustrate me by getting too far ahead of the bulk of the riders or too far back, which makes helping everyone more difficult, but everyone has to ride his or her own ride as long as it doesn't jeopardize the safety of the others.

Tomorrow is my last day-long ride of the trip. We'll travel to Palatka -- approximately 72 miles or so. On Thursday we have a very short day, with a police escort the last 3 miles to the beach in St. Augustine. Given how widely we tend to spread out during the course of the day, the trick will be getting everyone to show up at the designated spot by the time we have to assemble for the final 3 miles. Some riders will be there early. We have one rider who has been the last one out every day but one, and sometimes by 20 minutes or so. She will have to be up and moving quickly.

No bike stats today. Food: cereal, yogurt and a banana for breakfast. Had some oreos, half a banana, and a milkshake on the road. Had some curried broccoli and chicken over noodles for dinner. A rice krispies bar for dessert.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pedal on to Perry

Reluctantly left the Wakulla Springs Lodge and rode to Perry, Florida. This was an even easier rolling rest day than the previous easiest rolling rest day. Flat, flat, flat. And yes, Patty (with whom I was riding) had a flat tire. That was the excitement of the day. She has the worst combination of rim and tire -- it is impossible to re-mount the tire without using tire irons. And, I am the queen of pinch flats (which result when you don't use the tire irons just right). Ann, the sag driver du jour, came to our aid, and it took the three of us together, with Ann wielding the tire iron, to get the tire back on.

Any prospective distance riders reading this, please, please, please do yourself a favor and practice changing tubes with the rims and tires you will use on the ride. If you can't do it yourself, get to your bike shop and find a set of rims and tires with which you can work. Otherwise, you may find yourself alone, in the middle of nowhere, with no one to help you, and can't change it by yourself. Makes for a wasted day.

The route was not only flat, but, aside from one turn around mile 8 and one around mile 49, and a small curve in between 8 and 49, it was absolutely straight. It felt like we were in a tunnel with no end in sight. Not a lot of scenery either. Just miles and miles of trees, saw palmettos, and swamp. The small curve had a cow ranch and some bald cypress trees in a field.
We got kind of excited over the bright orange "Dip ahead" sign. We stopped to take a picture of the dip, which had been paved over so it really wasn't much of one. Had neat numbering on the road where some cores appeared to have been drilled or some such. Oh, well, so much for that road attraction.

Got into Perry around 12:30, so had lunch of grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, split orders of onion rings and fries, and tried swamp cabbage. Swamp cabbage is the core of small palm-type plants. The core is chopped up and cooked in bacon grease and cloves (Patty thought it had a clove taste). I think it is an acquired taste.

Will spend time this evening plying up what I spun yesterday, and then start spinning the last ounce of fiber I have. Have almost finished my stash of spinning fiber. I'm looking forward to getting home and using the wheel for a while and doing some rug hooking!
Bike stats: 51.68 miles; 4 hrs. 4 minutes riding time; 1,888 total trip miles.

Food stats: breakfast was scrambled eggs and a banana. Had some oreos on the road. For lunch see above. Am actually getting tired of eating!

Waking up in Wakulla Springs

The layover day in Wakulla Springs was fantastic. Went to sleep to the sounds of frogs and birds, with windows open. Woke up without a headache to the sounds of songbirds. Had a genuine sit-down restaurant breakfast of french toast and scrambled eggs. French toast is my second-favorite breakfast, after the breakfast burrito at the Blue Benn in Bennington. Noplace can beat the Blue Benn!

Decided to do the 2.6-mile nature walk. Was a little concerned that the first sign was a poster of the most common biting insects. Didn't take the insects long to find me, and I had no insect repellent. Walked briskly, wishing my speed-reading skills were more proficient when I approached signs explaining the plants along the way. Forgot about the other bane of early morning woods walks -- spider webs. Walked face-first into a big one that covered my head and glasses. After untangling myself, I found a long stick and waved it in front of me as I walked. After about 2 miles of this, I got tired of feeding the insects and high-tailed it back to the lodge via the paved road.
Took the boat ride again after my walk and saw more birds, incluidng a wood duck with very freshly-hatched ducklings paddling behind her. The guide had to spoil the moment by advising us that many of those cute ducklings will likely become alligator appetizers. The springs was the site of filming some of the Johnny Weismuller Tarzan movies, "The creature from the black lagoon" movie, and other scary movies. Spent the afternoon plying some yarn I had spun, and spinning another spindle full. Ended the day with a nice fried shrimp with fries and tossed salad dinner.

We begin our last week on the ride. Hooray!

Waltzing to Wakulla Springs

We had probably the easiest ride of the trip today from Quincy to Wakulla Springs Lodge. The lodge is in a state park next to Wakulla Springs and Sally Ward Springs, which are the source of the Wakulla River, which flows to the St. Marks River, which flows to the Gulf of Mexico. There is swimming at the springs and boat rides to see the wildlife around the springs and river. The lodge has a restaurant, which is handy because the next closest restaurant is 8 miles away! Tried to swap my bike for one of the motorcycles at this stop, but had no takers.

The ride was a mixture of rolling hills and flat, with lots of bugs. We've been eaten alive by bugs at dinner the past couple of nights, and at the sag and pee stops along the road. Lots of incentive to keep the sag stops short and keep moving -- incentive we really didn't need Saturday because we were told that check-in time at the lodge was 2:30. So, we didn't start rolling until after 8 a.m., but were still at the lodge before noon. So, had a nice lunch at the lodge restaurant, after which we were told some of the rooms, including mine, were ready.

Changed clothes and took the boat ride which was simply wonderful and relaxing. Saw ospreys, egrets, herons, moorhens, turtles, leaping mullet, and alligators. After supper we had a talent show/variety show. Some riders made up songs, some read poetry, some handed out awards, some did skits. I chose to watch. Didn't inherit any kind of performing arts gene.

So, will wrap up this post for now with the usual bike stats and food stats. Haven't slept well the last couple of nights -- sinus headaches from being out in the 90 degree and 90 percent humidity, then into 68 degree air conditioning. I can open the windows here and plan to do that to see if it helps. I noticed that west of Kerrville I had no headaches or arthritis aches. Ever since we hit east Texas, the arthritis is back and headaches too. I'm not the only rider who says the arthritis is kicking in now that we're in hotter, more humid weather.

Bike stats: 40.82 miles; 3 hrs. 12 minutes riding time; 1,837 total trip miles.

Food stats: Last night had a burrito. Had cereal with yogurt and a banana for breakfast. Lunch was a club sandwich with fries. Dinner was a barbeque sandwich with macaroni and cheese and melon, and some cake made by a friend of a rider.

Only 3 riding days left to go for me, and one sag driving day. I should just barely top 2,000 riding miles for the trip, about 900 sag driving miles, and about 240 miles of riding out bad weather or flat tire in the van.