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Postcards from Florida: The Randonneuses Roll in the Sunshine 1200k

I’ve started and thrown away this report at least twice.  There were simply so many things going on that writing all of them down was at least 15 pages long for the first day….  So this will be a different kind of ride report.  In the spirit of Florida in general, I’m going with a post card approach.  Sure not so much detail, but hopefully it will hit the highlights.

On a more somber note, this ride was the first where I personally encountered multiple riders in what was/could have been life-threatening situations.  I myself never held any illusions about how hard it would be as a northerner to ride in Florida heat and humidity.  The wind forecast turned what was an easy ride for the pre-ride into essentially a 200-mile “hill”.  I saw many strategies for dealing with the heat and wind on Day 1, some successful, some not.  It’s a warning about knowing yourself and always “respecting the miles”, not matter how flat or easy you might think they will be.

For the record, my strategy for this ride was to absolutely use as little energy as possible on Day 1 and sacrifice sleep to avoid overexertion.  I trained in an indoor cycling studio at high intensity all winter for this ride to simulate the flats (which require constant pedaling with few to no breaks).   I also chose what turned out to be a rare strategy of always keeping moving at a lower exertion rate instead of trying to go faster and take longer breaks to cool off.  I’ve used this strategy for years riding in cold; it actually works well in heat as well.  The headwind then became my ally in defeating the heat.  I also never poured water on myself to cool off unless I was at a control or a place where I could immediately refill.  Better to drink it and have it emerge as sweat; double usage of a precious resource.

May 12, 2015

Postcard #1: Arrival In Fort Myers

Walking off the plane, it’s 75 and still feels hot to me.   The bike goes together pretty well and I meet a multitude of riders that I will see in the coming days.  Jennie Oh Hatfield identifies herself as a randonneuse by showing me the tan line on her thigh.  Her thighs are better than mine – I won’t be using that approach myself in the future.  Dan Driscoll is taking pictures of everyone.  There is an impressive one of my butt as I try to wrestle my fenders on.
Ken, Melanie and Wayne at our pre-ferry ride dinner

Nice conversation and dinner with Melanie Ashby, Wayne Phelps, Ken Bonner and Peter from Britain.   Bikes are loaded on trucks after the Kraken shows up with a prize winning lightning display.  I am grateful I have fenders for this ride - but it turns out it will never rain.

May 13, 2015

Postcard #2:  All Aboard for Key West

I pound the anti-nausea meds which make me much more talkative than normal.  We gather and load onto taxis bound for the Key West Ferry.   On the ferry, I eschew the sun and hide far below decks.  Having had skin cancer already, I vow to avoid sunburn by slathering regularly.

View from the ferry
Calista - likely sizing up how fast she will pass me
Werner Huss
Peter from Britain - he would later face the gators

The ferry ride is fun talking to John Smith, Calista Phillips, Michael Walli, and Werner Huss.  I realize that there are two native speakers of Afrikaans on this ride.  What are the odds?

Post Card #3:  Don’t Worry, Be Happy

If Key West got any more laid back, it would be underwater.  I meet my roommate Marti Du Plessis, the other native of South Africa.  She’s a former racer and I realize that everyone on this ride has better thighs than I do!  We head for Blue Heaven where shrimp and key lime pie are accompanied by a rooster that has the hots for my bike.  A band plays relaxing music.  We visit the ride start: the Southern Most Point that is actually NOT the southernmost point – but the advertising makes that not matter.
The ride inspection that night gives a taste of the next day’s headwind.  I give away my beer ticket to Don Gramling who I will see frequently on this ride.  A SPOT tracker is attached to my bike – I will have two on this ride.   Dave and Dick, the epic organizers, who will be constant cheerleaders on the ride, give the Summer Knight a big thumbs up.  Marti and I retire early; I am useless at parties anyway.   I sleep really well, best ever before a 1200k.  Might have been the posh surroundings of the La Concha.
Key lime pie - can't leave without it
Bike Inspection - At the bar

May 14, 2015

Post Card #4 Ready, Set, GO!!!!

Dave and Dick - the van is currently full
Marti and I are up at 2:30AM and are the first to arrive at the start for breakfast.  We get there before breakfast, take pictures talk to other riders and mill around.  Finally a drunken woman on a hybrid leads the mass out at 4:00AM.
Stop signs and lights mean nothing to a happy pack of randos at 85 degrees and a dew point in the 60s already.  I wind up in one of the more sedate pacelines at the back with Marti , Vickie Backman, Charlie Adams, Rus Hamilton, Vincent Muenoke, and a bunch of others that I can’t see in the dark.  We happily pedal through islands and bridges against a beautiful crescent moon, clouds and stars.  The route is spectacular!
50 people standing around
50 people following a drunk woman down the street at 4:00AM

Post Card #5 Wasting Away in Margueritaville

Not a Buffet fan, but the song is stuck in my head at dawn near Bahia Honda Key.
Sunrise at Bahia Honda Key

Beautiful sunrise, mangroves, crystal waters abound.  Everything I came to Florida to see.  Our group has been reduced by half.  Eventually, we hit 7 mile bridge and split further.  I wind up with Marti and Bill Olsen.  Marti and I stop for Key Line Smoothies at Mile Marker 95.  It’s hot and the sweat erupts out of every pore when we stop.  Love the smoothies!  If you can’t stop for them, why be on a randonnee?

Keys Kitsch

Beer vs Sugar?
The control is only 7 miles later.  We meet Steve from St Petersburg.  People are starting to suffer from the heat.  Bill Olsen is trying to beer-drinking strategy at controls (that one wasn’t so successful in this situation).  I eat potato chips and have a V8 and my own food.  Ken Bonner warns us there has been an accident, someone is being life-flighted, and to be careful.

Post Card #6: Disco Inferno

I chill out with my first ice cream
Marti and I get to the secret control after passing Crocodile Lake.  The wetlands are beautiful and very remote too.  At Florida City, Marti and I have ice cream and push on.  She’s feeling the heat, but constant nibbling, electrolytes in small, frequent quantities and ice in the water is really energizing me.  We pass palm plantations, so remote, and enter expensive neighborhoods.  School lets out and we are treated to high school students all over the road some of whom wave.
Marti on the way to Crocodile Lake

I stuff ice pretty much everywhere I can think of.  Steve, Marti and I continue on.  The temperature swells to over 100 degrees.  At least I have a different song stuck in my head!

Post Card #7 Miami Vice

First Gator sighting
I lose Marti to the heat as she rests and recuperates at an Exxon Station and I am pedaling alone.  It’s 5:00pm – rush hour!  This rush hour is pretty tame, after San Diego rush hour and Minneapolis rush hour in winter, people are polite and I pedal along in the street waving cars by as I can.  Coral Gables is fun and beautiful and I get to downtown Miami without a problem – seriously busy.

Here, there be traffic!
Pausing with some cue sheet confusion, I ask a ritzy couple for directions.  Though their outfits cost more than my car, they have no clue how to find McDonalds on 17th Street and neither does SIRI, but they are very nice and I probably smell terrible.  I pedal on and eventually cross my first bridge to Miami Beach.  I find a host of people: Susan Gryder, Lisa Portelli, Vincent and Charlie, and Don Gramling all at Starbucks.
Charlie Adams and Lisa Portelli

Bikes are piled inside.  I do a turn and burn to join them stuffing a slice
of banana bread down my throat and following up with an entire bottle of water.  My
whole stop is 5 minutes long.

Miami Beach At Last

Susan and Vincent
Don Gramling

Post Card #8: South Beach Sunset

The sun is setting to the west, so beautiful, and I dropped off the group early as they ride a bit faster than I do.  Vincent and Charlie are behind me.  I finally slow up to have some company.  Both are having issues with the heat.  I give Vincent a number of my electrolytes and we stop at Denny’s for a soup revival.  It doesn’t work.  Vincent goes to find a hotel and Charlie and I leave alone.  My legs are filthy – I even take a picture!
Wow, my legs are a mess!

Post Card #9: Where in the heck are we?

Charlie is a great companion, but saddened to lose his friend.  It’s now sometime around 11-12pm and we pedal through Fort Lauderdale, stopping to try and help Rus Hamilton who is severely sick from heat.   Wish we could have done more for him.

Stop for a bathroom at a million dollar hotel in Boca Raton.  I’m concerned they will throw me out and that I am so dirty that I’m going to leave a stain on the porcelain.  Thank goodness, I sneak out in time and the night valet gives me a salute – a fellow cyclist.  It’s late now and we stop for a couple naps in Boca then for water and ice cream at the all night surf shop.  I hear a really good story of how Charlie went from a couch potato to a randonneur - I love stories like that.

Back and forth across the causeways past multi-million dollar homes we travel.  The wind continues to impede us and I am amazed at how urban an area can be without a gas station!  There is certainly a camera on every tree here.  We finally cross the last causeway and roll into Jupiter at 4:00 AM.  I tell Charlie I will be out at 7:30 to start back up.  He is undecided about what to do.  A number of people have DNF’d; Rus Hamilton is in the hospital.

Marti is already in our room.  I shower and the dirt is amazing!  I fall asleep easily for 2 hours.

May 14, 2015

Post Card #10 The “Easy” Day starts

Vickie and Marti
I’m down to breakfast at 7:00 and do my best to eat reasonably.  Today is not as hot and the wind will be a tail-cross most of the day.   Charlie is nowhere to be seen.  Marti is almost ready.  Vickie Backman offers to ride with me.  The three of us roll out of Jupiter at 7:45AM to be joined by Steve from St Petersburg.

This winds up being my favorite day of the ride.

Steve and the Atlantic

Riding is so much easier.  Low traffic roads, older homes and one turtle rescue mark the first 25 miles.  We maintain a steady 15mph pace chatting and having a generally good time.  Stops for ice and drinks break up long stretches (50-70 miles) between controls.  It almost looks like it may rain at one point.  Houses harken back to the old days of the grapefruit groves along the Indian River.  Not million dollar mansions like Palm Beach, but old world charming.

Old World Charm.....
The Atlantic is on the right most of the time and the wind absolutely howls.  We all say thank you to Mother Nature for not making that a headwind.  Dave and Dick have a water stop and secure our SPOT trackers (apparently one has been lost) and we pause to see if we can quiet Marti’s derailleur; it’s making a fearsome racket.  I do some yoga, mindful of fire ants.

Post Card #11: Melbourne and a brush with Doom

The day is half done and we are happily pedaling along when I hear a horrible crunching sound behind me.  Vickie caught a wheel on bad pavement and went down.  At least 3 cars stop to help.  She is fine, picks herself up, fixes her bike and we roll without ado.  I’m impressed!  In case you were wondering, she also has better thighs than me.

We continue on along canals and along more low traffic roads.  Finally we get to the control.  It’s the only big meal I eat on the entire randonnee and all I have is a sandwich and some Naked juice. Then on to Titusville!

Post Card #12:  The Space Race ends here

We turn into a still headwind onto Cape Canaveral.  Since it has been shut down, it’s a huge nature preserve.  Straight roads with wetlands all alongside us; suddenly the GPS’s all point left into the swamp.  We wonder if genetically improved crocodiles have absconded with the missing SPOT tracker and have modified it in an attempt at an easy meal.  I spot a Chuck Will’s Widow (bird) in the tree singing.  This section is amazing and I wish there was light.  We all ponder what we would say if calling 911, “I passed a dead armadillo 3 miles back”.

Post Card #13:  Daytona Beach

We are briefly confused and stop for drinks at a BP where I fall in love with Aloe Vera juice.  Who would have thought?  Some pleasant conversation later we finally cross one of our last causeways into Daytona Beach to find the Oceanside Inn.  We get a group shot of the 4 of us; we stayed together all day.

Homemade Jambalaya and a Honeybaked Ham are on the menu.  I’m pretty hungry, but Lisa Portelli’s hair looks like it might eat me.  You can’t pay for a ‘do like that.

May 15, 2015

Post Card #14: Departing Daytona – Some Like it Hot, Hot, Hot

Another sunrise - Daytona Beach
I still manage to look decent when clean
We will have a tailwind all day as we head east to Lake Wales.  It’s a bit drier inland -that makes the shade feel good.  But temperatures are going up quickly and we know it will be a scorcher.  Marti is elated at having finally oiled the derailleur in the right place and her drive train is nearly silent.

Deep - the other rider amongst us
I post off my seat in pain as I start: a bad case of 3-day ass.  Jeff, another rider and friend of Vickie, next to me smiles, “and on the third day – aeeehhhhhh!!!!!”

We have a mass picture taken at the first control of the day.  15 randos all in one shot!!!!  Amazing that so many people are together this far into a 1200k.  Worried about my front tire that I have now re-inflated 3 times, a volunteer helps me put on my spare tire.  I also move my seat forward a tad.

Off we go into the wild inland yonder!
The terrain today is rolling, so welcomed after 2 days of the flats.  We are all sure that by the end of the day, we’ll want the flats back.

Post Card #15:  I’m passing on those gizzards

It’s really hot and at 90 miles we pull into a gas station promising food and ice.  I leave my bike in the sun by accident and the thermometer swells to 139 degrees.

Please, someone try these before me!

Our foursome is loosely together and Vickie orders chicken fingers.  Not so sure, I wait until she eats hers, then order some myself but leave off the fries.  Chicken is pretty good – I go for breasts rather than gizzards.  I’m just that kind of girl.  Next stop is Sugarloaf Mountain!

Post Card #16:  The Hill is Sort of Alive

Vickie and I both think climbing Sugarloaf Mountain makes our legs feel better, but I have to admit it isn’t the hardest climb I have ever done.
Sugarloaf Mountain - All of it.
At the top is a great water stop and I drink an entire cup of pickle juice provided by Marion.   I hate pickles, except when it is really hot - only a few miles to the next control!

Marti - Cool

Vickie - She's serious about turtles

 It’s hilly still and the hills break us up.  Vickie and I roll into the control after another turtle rescue.   We split an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s Toffee Coffee Crunch ice cream.

Post Card #17: Gator Country

The next few miles take us through sleepy areas of trailers and Spanish moss.  We finally get to a bike trail where everyone is stopped watching alligators and taking pictures..  After the gators, Vickie and I pick up the pace and cruise along to the final control at the end of the day.  We fill up on ramen noodles and refill bottles.  As it closes, other riders are coming in.

Peter with Gator

Vickie - you make it look so easy!
There will be no services for them.  With about 10 very tired people some of which have limited water, we all band together and ride to the overnight as an ensemble.  The night is a little sticky and some bad pavement shakes cue sheets loose.  The group waits and we roll into the last overnight at 11:30 PM to Italian food.

Vickie and I wind up together.  Marti winds up with her own room.  Dick and Dave advise leaving early.  The consensus is to regroup at 6:30 AM.

May 16, 2015

Post Card #18:  My lungs take a dive

At 3:30 AM, I wake very short of breath.   After 3 perfect days, asthma is acting up.  I take all my asthma meds together – even the ones I don’t usually take together.  Oral steroids, inhalers, Sudafed, Singulair – the complete cocktail goes right down.  No way will I sleep now and if it worsens, I’ll need time in the bank.  I dress quickly and slip out of the room certain that everyone will catch me anyway.  I even tell the fast groups to make sure I am coherent, as they will shortly pass me.  My stomach is a little queasy so I pack some extra for breakfast and take off.  I know that pedaling will generate cortisol so I reason that stopping as little as possible will help as well.  Only 150 miles to go!

Post Card #19:  Orange Grove Country with Michael Walli

Last Sunrise
I am alone for the first few miles then some fast guys pass me asking if I am okay.  Then Michael Walli comes up behind me just before the info control at mile 11.  We ride together through rolling orange groves and high humidity chatting away.  The orange groves remind me of visiting my grandparents in Florida as a child.  My chest feels much better now and I am pretty relaxed as we roll into Avon Lake.

There are Dave and Dick.  Vickie and Marti are just behind me and will likely catch me in the next few minutes.  Michael advises me to go ahead as he has some emails to send.  So I cruise downhill with a tailwind!  Little do I know, I won’t see any other riders for miles.

Post Card #20:  Parnell Road: How many sentences can you create with it and a 4 letter word?

This road is only 10 miles long, but 4.5 miles of it is sandy gravel.  Cars and trucks pass me kicking up dust.  My lungs feel like 2 rocks in my chest and I start using my inhaler as my chest tightens again.   Finally, I exit the gravel and have a tailwind in the heat.  No choice but to generate my own wind and cool off.

Parnell Road Gravel - nice and silty for asthmatics like me!
At this point, I run into Marion, a volunteer, there is no official water stop for 20 miles.  I’m almost out.  She has nothing left in her vehicle.  So I continue on.  I make the most of the tailwind and finally turn onto a busier road.  3 miles later I spot the tandem at a fruit stand.  I pull in and nearly start coughing up a lung.  More albuterol, a bit of water and a lot of watermelon later, I feel better and roll out with Melanie and Wayne just as the California group pulls in.  They look parched as well.  I hear the guy at the stand was getting $10 per watermelon.

Post Card #21:  Arcadia – the penultimate control!

I leap frog with the tandem against a fierce cross wind all the way to Arcadia.  Melanie loans me some extra water since I’ve been out for miles and there wasn’t much at the fruit stand (the owner had given me his own small bottle).  Clouds are out and we start praying for rain.  Finally, we reach the control and split water and ice.  Many are going to McDonalds next door.  I pass and continue on.  Only 100k left.  The tandem rolls out with me, but we again leap frog.  I start eating the ice that I stashed in my jersey.

The next 40 miles are straight into the wind.  I run out of water again and the tandem drops behind me.  Fortunately, I kind of like a good headwind and I just keep going straight on into it.  It’s hot, but eventually it clouds over.  Just as I am starting to really be concerned about water a pace line shows up behind me.  It’s Lisa, Susan, Don and Jonathan on his recumbent and they offer to slow up so I can join.  A volunteer is only a short way off with ice cream and drinks.  The traffic is unpleasant and avoiding it sends Susan over a rumble strips on her tri-bike.  Wow, I could almost see the stars over her head and almost feel some other things too.  While we stop for ice cream, Calista sweeps by without stopping at all – she’s clearly on a mission.  The tandem falls in and stops as well.

Post Card #22: Fort Myers At Last

We only have about 30 miles left.  I can’t stay with the line and stick with my own pace.  It looks like the Kraken is assaulting Fort Myers ahead and the sun disappears.  The winds pick up and change into a fierce headwind.  I count down the miles to the turn: 7,6,5,4….   I pass the Florida pace line who have stopped at a gas station.  Maybe I was channeling Calista – I go right by with nothing to stop me.

Kraken - out of my way you can rain someplace else

The turn onto Palm Beach Drive doesn’t come fast enough and for 4 miles I have a tailwind.  The pace line passes me for the final time but I am too withdrawn inside to join.  My brain goes into a fugue state.  I turn onto Orlitz Road.

I realize quickly this is not a nice part of town.  Thoughts of using a bathroom evaporate.  At a light, a decrepit, skanky man glares at me from the crosswalk and yells “You look terrible”.   My mild-mannered self makes a complete break as I finally lose it.  “Do you have any idea how hard I worked to look like this!” I shout in a rasping voice.  He looks like he is pondering coming into the street.  I run the light and don’t look back.

Post Card #23: The FINISH!

I keep thinking someone will catch me, but no one does.  The last 5 miles are a race to see if I can get to the finish before the sun comes out.  Dick is outside at the entrance to the hotel and congratulates me.  I’m elated and yet still in a fugue state else as I receive my medal.   I try calling a number of people, but somehow no one is home.  This is the first time I have ever finished a grand randonnee by myself and the experience is somehow lonely in a way.


Dave and Dick deserve organizer of the century for putting this ride together. Their efforts were a big part of everyone’s success.   Marion and the other volunteers whose names I don’t know also were awesome.  I can’t believe how welcoming this ride was, even with the heat.  And such a gorgeous route, it was worth the last 25 miles of headwind.  And the scary dude who clearly has no appreciation of my physique.

It was a stretch to do this ride being from the north as I am.  I’d never have made it without the help of Lisa Nicholson, who was there in spirit, if not in body and got me in shape early in the hills around San Diego and LA this winter.   I owe her some major pulling at PBP.  And I couldn’t do anything without IronK (my Kathy), who finally convinced me to have a long overdue wedding as a prerequisite to going on this ride.

To all the randonneuses on this ride: ALL of us finished.  Congratulations on a job well done.  It isn’t every day we get a chance to shine.   I hope to ride with all of you again someday (Vickie and Marti in particular – don’t think you will escape seeing me again someday).

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Guest — Dave Thompson
Finally catching up on people's blogs. Thoroughly enjoyed it and thanks for the thanks ! That makes it all worthwhile !
Friday, 19 June 2015 02:21
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