So there was this dead armadillo in the middle of East Gobbler Road. Clutching an empty can of Lite beer in his cold little paws.
“Definitely alcohol-related,” chuckled John, the retired Army master sergeant from Indiana who drives me around the back roads and country lanes of wherever it is that Bike Florida happens to be having its annual spring tour. In this just-concluded tour, that meant the best bike routes we could find in the Brooksville and Inverness area.
Anyway, we left the tipsy little guy where he lay for our riders to see. Presuming the turkey buzzards didn’t get to him first.
But I cannot tell a lie. John himself put that beer can in the critter’s paws. Because he’s acquired a bizarre sense of humor honed over years of drilling and terrorizing raw recruits. And because when you are driving endless miles in the wee hours of the morning, any little diversion is welcome.
Oh, I’m the sign guy.
I’m that guy who rises at 5 a.m. each day during BF’s annual spring tour – setting out in the predawn darkness with a pickup truck full of bright blue-and-yellow directional, cautionary and information signs.
Some hours later hundreds of cyclists follow in my path. Many will be riding the day’s metric (60-miles plus) route, some the shorter (usually 40 miles or so) route. And one day of the tour there will be century riders going the distance – presumably for the smug satisfaction of being able to say “Yeah, I rode 100 miles today, what did you do?”
Regardless of which route they choose, those riders will find the appropriate directional sign strategically positioned at each turn they make.
Or they might notice the cautionary signs I often line up alongside of the road in traditional Burma Shave fashion. One announcing “Riders On The Road.” Another saying “Watch For Cyclists.” Intermixed with “CAUTION,” and “Three Feet Please” signs for good measure.
All of the above signs placed to be seen, not by our cyclists, but the motorists who are sharing the road. I’ve noticed that while guys in big pickup trucks can blow by one of our signs in complete oblivion, they tend to take note when there are five or six in a row.
I have “Rest Stop” signs. I have “Obey All Traffic Laws” signs. I’ve got “Oncoming Traffic” signs. “Road Work,” signs, “RR Xing” signs, “Wrong Way!” signs, “Route Change” signs, “You Can Do It” signs, “You’re Not Lost” signs and more and more and more.
We’ve got several oversized triangular bright orange placards proclaiming “Mass Cycling Event.” The better to let motorists know that something special is happening on this road on this day.
And on the odd occasion when I encounter a road condition that we hadn’t planned for, I’ve got blank white sheets and black Magic Markers on which I can write my own warning signs. “Bad Road Ahead” maybe.
Signs, signs everywhere a sign.
Listen, I’ve posted signs in the driving rain. My flimsy signs have been bent over double and flattened against the ground by punishing winds. Once a roadside maintenance guy shredded several of my signs as he ran his giant mower up and down the roadside. And of course, our signs are often stolen by people who think that if they simply remove them, it will keep bicyclists out of their neighborhoods. It won’t. It’ll simply cause lost and confused riders to linger longer than they otherwise might have.
Then there were the teenagers (probably) in Hastings who kept moving our signs around for the fun of it because – well, what else is there to do in Hastings?
Once my driver and I had to think fast and improvise when, on a dark, dark morning in the Florida Panhandle, we suddenly ran into a thick wall of smoke and realized there was a forest fire blazing. We had to summon the police to head off cyclists already on the way and then reroute the entire tour in a different direction.
We’ve encountered horses and cows asleep on rural roads. In Port St. Joe I was repeatedly swarmed by no-see-ums each time I stepped out of the truck to plant a sign. I’ve had dogs howl and growl at me, a suspicious stranger, as I’ve gone about my merry signage ways
Sometimes its hard, dirty and even dangerous work. One morning in St. Augustine I was putting out signs well before sunrise when I began to notice blood smears on several of them. What I hadn’t noticed, at first, was that the blood was mine. Seems I’d stabbed myself in the arm while pulling a wire tine-side up sign from my truck.
Oh yeah, and after spending four or five hours in the morning putting all of those signs out, I get to go out again late in the afternoon and pick them up.
At my age, 71, I’ve often considered that being a sign guy is a young man’s game. But I’ve been putting them out and picking them up so long that I’ve come to consider route signage more an art than a science – and certainly not a routine, plant by the numbers affair.
Question: How do you position a turn sign so that outgoing riders can see it but inbound riders cannot? Answer: Artfully, very artfully.
So I keep signing because, well, I fancy I’ve gotten pretty good at it and I want to make sure our riders get where they are going safely and without incident.
I hate it when, on that rare occasion, placing sights gets so unexpectedly complicated that riders begin to catch up with me. And I’ve never understood the cyclists who rise before dawn and set out in the darkness to get a jump on the day.
Once near High Springs I discovered several of our cyclists riding on a road that simply wasn’t on the route. When I stopped and asked them why, I was told they had stopped at a local restaurant where somebody assured them that our route was too dangerous and there was a much safer way to go. And never mind that we had spent months in planning and exploring, and consulted with plenty of experienced local riders, before deciding on a route.
On the other hand, technology is making the job easier than it used to be. No more following paper maps or calculating distances by odometer. GPS now tells us exactly where we are and shows us exactly where the route turns are.
Oh yeah, and I hate the DOT.
Most of the time I hate the DOT because its traffic engineers habitually supersize our roads and highways so motorists can drive as fast as they want – and kill as many pedestrians and cyclists as might happen to get in their way.
But on spring tour week in particular I really really hate the DOT for its fiendish alchemy – it’s uncanny ability to turn roadside grass and dirt surfaces into almost concrete like surfaces.
Really, I don’t know how they do it. All I know that that half the time when I’m trying to drive the wire tines of my Share The Road directional signs into ground the wires just crumple under the unyielding resistance of the rock-infused roadside grassy strips.
I have an impressive collection of bent, mangled and mutilated wire sign supports.
Which is why I use a prodigious number of zip ties. I just find a strategically placed stop sign or route sign, or even a utility pole, and, zip!, my signs are on securely affixed and on prominent display.
Also, duct tape tends to come in handy as well.
But that’s pretty much true of all of life’s situations. Right?