Sunday, January 1, 2017

Fakahatchee Grind: sufferfest Part II

The start was an informal rolling start and with a shout it began.  We hit the road and withing 200 feet I knew we were in for a painful day.  The road was washboard and the shoulders were very soft sand so there was not mild areas.  After a couple of miles, I adjusted the air pressure in the kids tires to try to eat up some of the chatter.  

Speaking of chatter, the kids were nearing mutiny.  The first 7 miles took just over an hour with all of the little breaks to adjust.  At that rate, we were moving at the speed of smell and were not going to be done anytime soon.  We arrived at a small bridge and I decided it was a good place to lean our bikes for a few minutes.  
Nothing but blue sky....

Trying to look motivated....sort of.

Managing fluid and calorie intake is not always easy with kids.  I understand the concept, however, getting them to eat every 40 min or so is challenging.  They snacked a little and then we hit the road, it seemed to smooth up a little bit and attitudes changed slightly.  We cruised for while when off in the distance I could see the I-75 interstate overpass.  I seemed like an eternity to get there.  This is actually one of the most challenging aspects of riding in Florida.  

Whether it is trees like this or open glades, the view doesn't change and the roads tend to be long and straight.
We certainly know that mountains  or even small hills, are not an issue in Southern Florida, but the strait line and distances of the roads kind of messes with the mind.  I was beginning to get frustrated, you actually don’t feel like you are going anywhere.  The horizon, it is a place, you can see it, but you can never get there.  That is how it feels to ride in the hinterlands of Southern Florida.  

It was the best shade we would have for a long while so we stopped under the I-75 overpass and had some decent food.  I broke out the fruit and nut mix, hoping they would eat more than power bars and gels.  This ended the first round of the Grief Cycle.  It was a short distance from there to the Bear Island, Big Cypress Campground area and the roads were in great shape.  

As we turned into the Bear Island Campground, there were three rednecks fishing.  Textbook coveralls and all.  A man had just reeled in what appeared to be an Oscar.  I had friends groing up that had Oscars, I never thought to fish for them….  Anyway, I asked the man and he confirmed that is what it was.  He stated that they are invasive and easy to catch, especially with bread.   Then the lady approached me and said they tasted really good too, not as good as bass, but good.  Then another man said, “there is another fishing spot just around the corner, there is more room for the kids, but whatch out for the one eyed alligator.  If it comes near, just get the kids out of the way.”  Always nice to get good life hacks like this.

 Smooth as glass........

We started turning the cranks again and found that this stretch was the best we would encounter all day.  Shade and a packed sandy road that was smooth and hard packed as any asphalt road.  We enjoyed seeing lots of alligators, but this stretch came to a quick end.  It was time to start the return and we got onto highway 29 and began heading South, I thought that the kids would love being on pavement for a while, however this turned out to be the beginning of the second bout with the stages of grief.  

Sometimes it is necessary to taste the bitter in order to know what sweet is.  This was hero dirt.
 It is Florida, in the middle of a huge swamp.  We met the biggest alligator we have seen to date!

Off course there was a grass in front of my face.  Oh well, nobody wants to look at me.

After this stretch, it was about 15 miles of pavement and it would turn out to be the no fun.  The road runs through a panther preserve and it, like just about every other road is straight and the view doesn’t change much.  As stated earlier, this also leads to a certain amount of frustration, especially since it was warming up to the low 80s.  The no shade was becoming an issue and the crosswind was annoying.  The grief cycle began again, for a second time.  We eventually sought sanctuary under a large tree and sat in the shade a little while.  Then we took off for the only water stop on the ride.  
When we arrived at the designated water spot, we found the ice chest full of ice and water.  It was cold and refreshing and we filled hydration bags and water bottles.  I planned on taking a longer break there since the grass was mowed and the area was shady.  We were a few minutes from leaving when Karlos showed, he offered us sandwiches and cold Coke.  
This truly saved the afternoon, thus ending the second grief cycle.  We hit the road for the final few miles of pavement.  Then it happened again, we turned East onto the final 15 mile stretch which included the first 7 miles of the route.  Fortunately for us, the other 7 or 8 miles was just as bad with plenty of washboard and prepared us for the final stretch.  It was at this point that the kids began their third iteration of the grief cycle.  Their was denial that the last 14 miles would be bad, then there was anger.....intense anger, followed by bargaining, then depression, and finally acceptance that they still had to get to the car.

 Last stop before the finish, only 7 miles left!

We took our final break at the intersection that would take us South on our last seven miles.  It was rough and slow.  The kids continued to crank through quietly focused on finishing.  I tried to pump them up with some music from the Rocky IV soundtrack (to no avail).  In the distance I saw a car stopped and a guy hanging out with a camera, no big deal, probably an alligator sunning on the road.  As we got closer I saw that it was a snake and Diga was heading right towards it.  I yelled for him to move over, he looked back at me and asked "what."  Just as I yelled snake, it opened it's mouth hissing at him from about one foot away.  Nothing like a close encounter with a cottonmouth to liven up and re-energize the last three miles.  This closed out the third cycle of grief.

The event ended with us spending a total of 7-8 hours on the course (total time moving and resting).  The kids completed 59 miles, their furthest and no doubt hardest to date.  Carlos from the Single Track Samurai put together a great route, that was no doubt a challenge for anyone who participated.  Next year, we will do the back country version and we might even train.  

An honorable mention from Karlos.

 I wiped away a bit of dust (below brake cable) to demonstrate the layer of dust on Chick's bike.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Fakahatchee Grind: another sufferfest in the books.

This is too long for a single post so I will break it into two posts.  Our latest FFO (Forced Family Outing) was the Fakahatchee Grind in Southwest Florida.  The ride had three options, full century, half, and a backcountry that was roughly 79 miles.  Truth be told, the half and full were a little longer, the half coming in at 59 miles.  We chose the half, which took us through the Big Cypress National Preserve and along the borders of the Panther Preserve and Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve.  The other rides went through all of the above.  
As with most of the great FFOs, little planning and preparation went into this event.  Don’t get me wrong, it takes some effort to maintain bikes and load them in the truck, but training.......we did none.  While not the preferred method, it can be done.   So I loaded up the truck the night before to make sure everything would work.  Then I took the bikes back to the garage, we live in Miami after all.  I went to bed way later than I wanted too.  I still needed to fill the truck with fuel so I planned on getting up early to do that.  
After four hours of slightly refreshing sleep, I jumped out of bed, got dressed and ran out to load bikes and get gas.  As I loaded the first two bikes, “I thought, why am I doing it this way?”  I have a redneckedly engineered system using 2x6s with bolt on fork mounts.  One in the front of the bed and one in the rear that sit in slots for such a purpose.  Then I ratchet strap those down to make sure the bikes don’t fly out when I hit a massive pothole.  It works, it is far from pretty but it works.  So back to my thought.  I had the bikes alternating front-rear-front but I didn’t want to have to crawl into the bed of the truck so I pulled the board near the cab of the truck out, took the mount off and bolted it to the board near the tailgate.  Then I remembered why I had them alternating.  The flare on my off road drops is such there is not room for three bikes all pointing the same direction.  
So there I am at 4:15 am determined that I am going to.....wait, wrong story.  We took the suburban….never-mind.
So after four hours of slightly refreshing sleep, I went to get gas.  I filled up then decided that I wanted to get some donuts for the kids.  I drove down the street to Dunkin’ Donuts where I saw people inside making the donuts.  They didn’t open until 5 a.m. and it was 4:40 am so I listened to a radio show called Coast to Coast.  I you haven’t listened to this show you are missing out on people who wear tin-foil hats and call in about conspiracies, Alien Stuff.  In my case, it was a lady who called in to discuss this recent trend with ancestry and getting your DNA tested.  According to her, this is a government conspiracy to collect and consolidate everyone's DNA into a central database.   Hhhmmnnn, I just thought it was a ripoff……  So then at 5:00 am, I went to the door which remained locked with the lights off inside.  People were cooking and putting out donuts, I waited about 10 more minutes before I realized they didn’t open until 6 am on Saturdays.  
Undetered, I went into a gas station to get donuts, apparently even though we are in America, donuts are not stocked in not so convenient stores owned by Columbians or Venezuelans, not even the little hostess white powdered donuts.  So I went to the gas station across the street and there were three 15 passenger vans for a highway construction crew with about 20 people in the store in line to purchase one or two items each.  So I drove to another corner store where they also didn’t have donuts.  By this time it was 5:30ish am so I went home sans donut.  
By the time we got the kids and bikes loaded it was almost 6:00 am and I had been up nearly two hours and  still hadn’t got donuts.  So we hit the road.  About 1/8th of a mile later I realized that I hadn’t tighthened the hitch rack cinch bolt and it was wiggling around and I left the special wrench needed to do so.   So we turned around and I ran into the house, grabbed the wrench, tightened it and we were on our way.  By that time Dunkin Donuts was open and we grabbed a dozen for the road.  So began the day.   

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Camping Adventures with the kids: Or Camping Part I and Camping Part II

Louisiana is hot, so our adventures have been reserved mostly for the winter.  My boys love camping.  I think the word love is an understatement!  All I have to say is camp and they all have their backpacks packed and are ready to go.  They are also full of energy so I decided that we would ride to the campsite.  Some call it bicycle touring, some call it bikepacking.  Call it what you will but we loaded up our rides and went.  The first attempt was a little over the top.  But I wouldn't expect anything else from the Tsunami.    

A little over the top!

To begin with, Newbie keeps track of camping by number, as in Camping part 1.  He is up to camping part 5.   Camping part I involved me loading up the BOB Yak trailer.  The BOB trailer is a great way to haul gear.  It is very stable when moving, aside from the weight of the gear, I barely notice it is there.  The trailer can haul a lot and I pushed it beyond reason.  When loaded properly it is smooth.  It was not smooth.  The draw back is when stopped, it is hard to park and tough to turn around in tight places.  

It just so happened that when we arrived at our destination, I put my foot down on a fire ant home.  I will spare you the gore and detailed photo of what fire ants can do.  In a panic I lost control of the BOB and bike.  Needless to say there was some carnage there with a bent deraillure hanger.  There was also a need for benedryl and some days of pain to follow, the swelling of my ankle was intense.  But this isn't about me, so I powered through.

Vance is a lucky young man with a Porcelain Rocket Booster to haul his sleeping gear.  A shout out to Glenn Charles who donated it to the cause

The boys are great sports.  Nine miles can be a long way with little legs.  It typically involves a stop at the 5 mile mark where we get some refreshments at a gas station.  A snack and a shared soda, sometimes a slice of Hunt Brothers pizza.

Diga loves the out doors.  He finds toads and bugs fascinating.  I personally hate catching grass hoppers.  Diga, no issues.  This is why we do it though.  I would rather have them running around outside exploring nature than sitting around the house.  

Vance found a stick bug.  It is hard to see but it is there.  The boy loves bugs.

Camping part two was a little different.  I loaded up the Mukluk.  Admittedly a slower ride with a 1x10 30 tooth crank.  But I was riding with an 7 year old and 10 year old.  I carried almost as much stuff and it is extremely stable.  The Mukluk is an amazing bike and the Old Man Mountain Phat Rack and Porcelain Rocket handle bar bag are delightful.  I have always loved the Jeff Jones Loop H-Bar on that rig.

The area we went camping had done some tree maintenance and there were some large limbs strewn about.  They were green still and wouldn't burn well but the boys didn't know that.  They spent time gathering these limbs.

Team Work!

I suppose in a few years, if they read this, they will find out these wouldn't burn.

And more team work.

House Hold 6 brought Newbie out.  They all ran around and then we started the fire.  I allow them to poke at it.  I don't know anyone that isn't mesmerized by a fire.  In case you are wondering, she brought the chairs, those were not in the panniers.  The run around until they absolutely crash.  Newbie  is usually the first to tap out and go to bed.  

On morning of Camping part two there was a soul crushing wind so only Diga and I rode home.  Nater and Newbie hitched a ride.  I really only think Diga did it for the snack at the half way point.  He is an easy one to bribe.  A slice of pizza and some root beer and he is in.

Using the drops to get out of the wind!  I love this guy!!!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Summer Vacation 2015: Destination #2, Hilton Head Island, SC

The second phase of the trip was Hilton Head Island, SC.  A good “mid-way” point between Orange Beach and Richmond, VA.  So we hit the road, after loading a metric short ton of crap in the car we drove off.  We were about out of the parking lot when House Hold 6 “Seriously?”  I replied  “What?”  She replied “Chick??”  I looked in the rearview and saw Chick standing by the door of the hotel……. “yeah, I was just messing with her?!?”……Yeah that’s it.

                     Don't judge, it is easy to leave a child when you have to keep track of four hippos!
With all of the kids in the car we hit the road and made it to Tallahassee where we stopped for lunch at you guessed it.....Chipotle.  I love their food.  Then somehow my daughter conned me into letting her buy a $6 cupcake at some gourmet cupcake place.  We hit the road and we finally made it to our destination for a couple of days.  

Hilton Head Island is an odd place for a good old Montana hick.  Just about every square inch is used, however, it is an active place and there is a lot of foot and bike traffic.  It didn't seem as packed as it is.    Some of the roads look like bike paths and are paved around trees.  But….there are bike paths everywhere.  You could ride from one end to the other on bike paths.  Now, that said, we picked up are key and looked at the map.  It was a maze and you have to go through all of these little private area security booths.  Again, bizarre for someone like me.     

We got there late in the evening and the finally found our way in the maze of small sub-divided areas.  The kids went and swam in the pool after we unpacked.  The following morning I woke[up and decided I would explore before we made an attempt to go to the beach so I pulled out the Blackborrow.  I found my way to the beach and cruised a little bit.

   A totally different experience.  The beach is a hard packed sand and the Surly Lou tires were overkill.  

The beach was a totally different experience than Orange Beach.  The sand is packed, you could probably ride a Pinerello with 22mm wide tires on it.  I enjoyed the fresh salt air and rode into the wind so I would have a push back.  I didn't put a ton miles in because I knew the tsunami would be stirring back at the room.  

I headed back and making my way to the bike path.  As I cruised down the path I noticed something.
                                  I was unaware that there were alligators everywhere.

When I got back to the room everyone was stirring.  Especially House Hold 6's hair......almost as frightening as the alligator.
The South Carolina humidity was taking it toll!
Then it was time to get dressed and do some tourist stuff.  For the record, Chevy Suburban and Hilton Head Island do not go together well.  We went to the beach and walked around for a little while. The kids played in the ocean for a while and then we went to lunch at a place called the Salty Dog Cafe.  The food was great and reasonably priced.  I ordered a crab cake burger and it was outstanding.  

       This is one for the record books, every one looks reasonably happy and we are all looking in the right direction!
We did a little more sight seeing and then went back to the room and back to the beach.  The water was very different from the clear blue water of the Gulf Coast.  It was warm and muddy in appearance. Probably due to the large river outlets.  The tide was out and the ocean was flat as a dance floor.  The kids dug in the sand and played for a couple of hours.  
Our goal is to wear everyone down so they sleep at night.  Sufficiently baked in the sun and worn out, we found all of the kids and headed back to the house.  We made a run for dinner, I picked up Chipotle.  Have I mentioned that I like Chipotle?  We ate at the room and the kids played in the pool for a while and then it was bed time.  I am not sure if they were tired, HH6 and I were.
The next day the weather was going to turn for the worst.  So I charged my headlamp and I got up at 5 a.m. so I could get a decent ride in.  I was going to shoot for 20 miles round trip since we had a realy long drive ahead of us.  I love to watch the sun rise.  As a Montana boy, the beach is an amazing place.  When the sun rises, it goes from dark to light in what seems like a flash.  In the mountains, it could be light before the sun crests  the mountains in the horizon.  Same with sunsets on the beach.  The sun just disappears and it is dark.  

It was cloudy so it wasn't a stellar sunrise.  But it was a sunrise on the beach.  
I ended up riding to the southern tip of the island and turned around at the 9 mile mark, making it 18 miles round trip.  That was largely due to time since I spoke with a local for 1/2 an hour about the Salsa Blackborow and the Army. 
As I made my way back I was passing by a golf course when I noticed something lurking in the distance.  A big alligator was walking across the fare way.  When it saw me it lay flat.  I was glad, I have been chased by many a dog over the years.  I have been shot at (or at least in the direction of) by bird hunters....
The last thing I wanted was to be chased by an alligator.  
When I got back to the house, HH6 had packed all the bags and we loaded up.  It was time for the 3rd destination, Virginia.  House Hold 6 and I agree that we could live there.  The community is very active, with people walking the beach and riding bikes on the paths and beach.  It was a great place for a fat bike like the Blackborow, though the Lou tires were definitely overkill.  I would do this again.  


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Summer Vacation 2015: First Stop, Orange Beach, AL

I love summer vacation.  When I take time off, we try to pack as much fun in as possible.  In fact, I usually come back more exhausted then before.  Summer of 2015 was no exception.  I decided that I would bring my new Salsa Blackborow and I designed the vacation to please the entire family.  The agenda took us to Virginia by way of Orange Beach, AL; Hilton Head, SC; Richmond, VA area.  The trip home was a little more direct through Brevard, NC for some serious mountain biking.  

We loaded up 4 kids with all of their stuff, a cooler packed with Monster energy drink, and a five inch tire clad mountain bike and hit the road.  I plugged in my iPhone and started my vacation drive playlist consisting classic 80's like Def Lepard added to my newer synth pop alternative.  As soon as Def Lepard started, HH6 immediatly activated our satellite radio.  I think her exact statement was   I can't take this for 2,000 miles!" So there was that. 

While not the most fuel effecient (the bike or the Suburban), it hauls the six of us and all of our stuff very comfortably.

The first goal was to stop at Chipotles for a burrito in Baton Rouge.  I love Chipotles and there is not one within 100+ miles of my location and it was on the way to our first destination, Orange Beach, AL.  After eating we hit the road and immediately hit Interstate 10 stop and go traffic.  So getting tired of hitting the brakes constantly, I diverted and we ended up driving along the Gulf and enjoyed the view.  As we drove through Gulf Port, MS I saw another sight I haven't seen in some time.  A Krispy Kreme with the "Hot Now" sign on.  So I swung a hard U turn and sped in.  I forget that many of my kids wouldn't remember eating at Krispy Kreme so I ordered a dozen flaming hot donuts.  We all savored the sweet goodness.  Seriously, there is nothing quite as good as a flaming hot Krispy Kreme.

We got back on the road and soon found our way back to the interstate.  Between the traffic jams and Krispy Kreme, it was dark when we finished our drive to Orange Beach.  We hauled our short ton of crap up to the room.  Of course the kids fought over who got to push the button on the elevator, so it was the stairs for the next two days.  
   Nater enjoying the salty morning air.

After eating breakfast we all went to the beach to swim.  The sand was deep and very loose and I couldn't wait to ride my new Salsa Blackborow and test the larger profile tires.  It was hot and the water felt great.  After a couple of hours we took a break and drove down the main strip to buy some food for the room.  

             It is hard to determine the true width of the tires in this picture but they are amazing.
That afternoon we went for a walk down the beach and looked for shells.  My kids love the beach and it is a great way to burn energy.  I did a touch of riding just to scratch the itch.  It rained the first night but cleared by morning.  It helped pack the sand a little and cooled it off a little (but not for long).  

The second full day we were there was going to be my ride day.  I was going to ride to a state park about four miles down the beach, turn around and ride back.  This turned out, like most of my adventures, poorly planned and completed through brute strength.

To begin with, Orange Beach, as for the entire stretch of beach is extremely crowded.  It is not some Lost Coast ride where only a daring few take it on.  There were people everywhere.  It didn't take long for them to stir up the nicely compacted sand.  The divots the foot prints made were deep, creating a surprising bumpy ride.  The solution was to let a little more air out to absorb some of the shock.  Of course that comes at a price, a little extra work.

The Blackborow is an amazing bike.  It handled the loose sand like as designed.  But the people......they were everywhere.  And it was hot, very hot.

                                        Where I am from, 99 degrees by 10:00 a.m. is hot.
I worked my way down the beach dodging people and chairs.  Of course I got plenty of stares as I rode by.  Did I mention it was hot?  Of course there was no shade and all I had was one water bottle in the cage.   Eventually I made it past hotel/condo row and the beach opened up.  The water was beautiful and clear.

Finally, a quiet stretch of beach.
I made it four miles down the beach to a public beach that had a rest area and some shade.  I was burning up and stood under the shower to try to dump some heat.  I drank a ton of water, filled the bottle and hit the sand again.  My legs were feeling it, it took a long while to get four miles.  That is one thing I have learned over the years of riding in the snow, you don't use energy the same way and it takes way more time and effort to get somewhere than normal.  

I was beginning to not enjoy the ride, the heat and humidity was unbearable.  I was crawling at a snails pace in the loose sand.  I stopped and jumped in the ocean.  I didn't think it would cool me off, just a break from the cramping in my calf.  I didn't bring much nutrition and I had sweat a ton.  I climbed back on and began cranking.   

Then the people, there were even more.  Everywhere.  I had about two miles to go and I was done.  No water, except for the ocean of course, and the heat and humidity was crushing me.  So I tried to make it to the road.  Here is the catch, Orange Beach is private.  I didn't realize this until I was on my way back.  When you get to the hotels/condos the beach front property belongs to the respective building.  That means codes to get through the hotel property and to the road.  I finally made it to a small road that I assume is emergency/service vehicle access with about a mile and a half left.  Of course the Surly Lou tire is not overly efficient at low pressure on roads, but it was better than the people and divots on the beach.  Plus, there was some shade.  When I got back to the hotel, I showered and drank a bunch of water, then crashed in the room trying to avoid cramps.

Orange beach for the family to go to the beach and swim, yes.  Orange beach to fat bike......NOPE!  Definitely a compromise.

Next....Hilton Head Island, SC.