Miles, kilometers and junk food

Yes, I do believe that the metric system is a socialist plot to destroy America.

I’m not sure if I heard that from Rush or from Glen Beck, but either way you can take it to the bank.

Still and all… I have this secret, albeit unpatriotic, vice.

I love kilometers. I lust after kilometers.

For cyclists, kilometers are the junk food of distance measures. Gobble down one and, well, you just want to keep eating those suckers up.

As opposed to miles. Which are what you are obliged to consume because they are “good for you.”

Like Brussel sprouts.

Check it out. If I want to ride a century in the states, that’s 100 miles. That’s a lot of broccoli, pal.

But a metric century in one of those socialist countries? That’s only 62 miles or thereabouts. Like pigging out on Cheese Doodles.

And my wife likes to run a 5K. That’s 3.1 miles. Do I hear the sound of potato chips crunching, dear?

Anyway, that’s why I went to Canada –  Nova Scotia to be more specific – in the summer of 2015 to cycle the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton.

Yeah, there were stunning seascapes to contemplate and admire. And very unFlorida-like mountains to get over (“Low gear, everybody down.”). And wonderfully cool and crisp weather to savor at a time when it’s 104 in the shade back and 100 percent humidity back in Gville.

But it’s all in kilometers, man! Talk about icing on the cake. And none of that sugar-free icing either.

Listen, there’s nothing more thrilling than racing down a steep, winding road off northern Cape Breton’s French Mountain – the sparkling blue water of the Atlantic spreading out on one side, sheer cliffs dropping away on the other – and glancing at the bike computer on my handlebars…

…and realizing that I’m going a freaking 64!

No, not 64 miles per hour, that would probably have killed me. But 64 kilometers an hour. And that’s still pretty freaking fast.

How fast? I’d tell you but Sanford isn’t paying me to write this so I’m not going to bother to do the math for you.

Let’s just say it’s fast. Really, really fast.

Still, the thing about junk food and socialism is that they both have a way of viciously turning on you when you least expect it.

Take our first day of touring on Cape Breton.

According to the cue sheets helpfully provided us by our tour company, Backroads, the first day was to be a relatively short shakedown ride of just 45 kilometers (that’s 28 good-for-you miles in American) from the lovely lakeside community of Baddeck, over Hunter’s Mountain (elevation 500 feet, you figure it out, Mike) and down into the beautiful Margaree River Valley to a pleasant lunch on the shore of scenic Lake O’Law.

But alas, my Gainesville cycling buddy Bruce Stechmiller and I went astray. First taking this wrong turn. And then that one. And then retracing our routes and crossing Hunter’s Mountain not once, but twice. And finally showing up at Lake O’Law long after everyone else (and the food) had decamped for our nearby lodgings.

Before it was all over, our computers were registering 88 kilometers (ask Mike) and I was writhing on the ground at lakeside with severe leg cramps, having not hydrated myself properly for an epic ride of that distance.

As far as Stech and I can figure, this unfortunate kilometer malfunction occurred for two primary reasons.

  1. Florida guys – well, let’s just admit it, all guys – are pretty much incapable of asking directions and unwilling to actually read the cue sheets. And
  2. Contrary to my presupposition, it turns out that you actually can get lost on an island. Who knew?

Ultimately we ended up bumming water off a very nice farmer in an authentic straw hat, and subsisting on emergency Snickers bars purchased at a roadside cafe.

And in desperation we finally did break down and ask directions, only to get conflicting advice.

First, the elderly woman in the antique store assured us that Lake O’Law was just down the road about 5 miles. “You can get there in about 20 minutes,” she said.

About half an hour down the road later, the aforementioned straw-hatted farmer told us he thought it was still more like 15 miles away.

So what have we learned from this friends and neighbors? Well, most obviously, both of those “locals” gave us distances in miles, not kilometers. Presumably because we weren’t fellow travelers, if you catch my drift.

I’m just saying, if they had told us in kilometers we probably would have arrived in 10 minutes and made lunch in plenty of time.

But, no, they made us do the ride in miles. Because it’s supposed to be good for us. Like eating cauliflower. We’re lucky to have made it at all.

All of which goes to show you that socialism isn’t entirely bad. Sorry Rush, sorry Glen, but you had to be there.

(Originally published in the Gainesville Sun in 2015)

 

 

Mobility power to the people

The last time I was in San Francisco I rented an E-bike and spent six hours zipping up and down its roller coaster-like landscape.

It was sinfully fun and shamefully easy.

Two days later, either from guilt or ego, I did the same thing on an old fashion two wheeler just to prove to myself that I can still climb hills under my own pedal power.

But if I’m personally agnostic about E-bikes, they are a thing.

Some 35 million electric bikes and scooters were sold worldwide last year. Walk into most American bike shops today and you can probably buy a battery assisted version.

But this isn’t about E-bikes.

This is about America’s urban mobility revolution.

This is about docks, dockless, “bike clutter,” the scooter “apocalypse,” and other more of less dreadful urban myths about how we get- or will be getting – around town.

Docks: Right now, most bike share programs in America are dock based – you have to pick a bike up at one dock and drop it off at another. This limits their practical utility, especially when it comes to the “last mile” dilemma of giving commuters a convenient way to get from their bus or subway stops to their homes or offices.

Not to mention that docked-bike share is an alien concept in most low income neighborhoods.

Enter dockless: Start up companies with names like LimeBike and Bird are beginning to pop up in cities around America. Dockless bikes can go pretty much anywhere you need to go at the swipe of a credit card, and you can drop them off where you want.

Which is starting to drive people crazy. From Frisco to Denver to Austin city officials are issuing “cease and desist” orders to force dockless bikes and scooters off the public streets and sidewalks.

Why? Because of…

“…bike litter. Undocked bikes are cluttering up the urban landscape. It’s chaos, bicycle anarchy. Not to mention…..

“….the scooter apocalypse. E-Scooter “bros” are scaring pedestrians on the sidewalks and ticking off cyclists in the bike lanes. E-scooters are a “disruptive technology” in the true sense of the term.

But then there’s this about all of that.

If you want to really talk about what’s “littering” the urban landscape you can’t ignore cars. They are everywhere you look in autoAmerica.

And it’s not just visual pollution. Urban auto traffic poisons our air, makes us sick and kills more than 5,000 pedestrians a year. Scooter bros are pesky gnats by comparison.

Right now urban America is caught up in a competition over who gets to use the public right-of-way and with what form of mobility. And it’s not just a competition between pedestrians and cyclists and scooter bros. There’s also a “bikelash,” going on, with angry motorists pressuring their elected officials to remove newly installed bike lanes so they can get back to driving as fast as they like.

Can’t we all just get along?

Eventually I believe we will.

Bike and scooter litter can be solved if cities provide “corrals” (you can fit about 10 bikes and scooters into one standard car parking space). Urban rules of the road for both street and sidewalk use can and will be established and enforced by social mores and law.

But the bottom line is this: Individual automobile use is the most wasteful, dirty and dangerous form of personal urban mobility. Anything cities can do to induce people out of their cars to bus, bike, walk and, yes, even scooter, will ultimately improve the quality of urban life and save human lives.

Revolutions are messy.

Mobility power to the people.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial writer for The Sun. This column was published in The Sun on June 17 2016.

 

 

 

 

Twisty trail through the timber

When I met Gene on the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway he was riding for his life. Literally.

The former Ohio coal miner turned corrections officer turned Florida retiree was slowly but surely pedaling away from the inevitable heart attack that would have almost surely put an end to his world.

At one point, he told me, he weighed in the neighborhood of 400 pounds. “I would lie in bed and gasp for breath,” he recalled.

Then he and his wife Jane, started to ride bicycles. First on the shorter Rainbow Springs Trail, and then on the recently paved 15-mile section of the Cross Florida Greenway that runs east to west from U.S. 441, just south of Ocala, to SR 200, not far east of Dunnellon

Nothing dramatic. Just a few miles here. Five miles there. But his miles on wheels have begun to add up to a life-changing experience for Gene. He’s already dropped considerable weight, “and I still have a long way to go.”

When I passed him Gene was doggedly making his way up one of the greenway’s modest hills. “When I can’t go up any more I just get off my bike and push it the rest of the way,” he said. Pushing or pedaling, he’s still getting the exercise.

Gene was hardly alone on the trail on this spring-like Wednesday. There was also a young mom and her daughter riding in tandem, both singing at the top of their lungs. And a bunch of guys putting about a dozen horses through their trotting routines. A man on a recumbent sporting a Navy jersey. Couples on hybrids, and hikers clad in kakis and broad brimmed hats, and joggers….

It’s fair to say that in just the few months that the paved portion of the Cross Florida Greenway Trail has been open, it’s gained quite a following. And for good reason.

This is easily one of the most scenic and fun to ride trails in Florida. Scenic because it runs almost entirely through oak-and-piney wood forests, – rather like riding in Endor – occasionally broken up by palmetto scrub lands. And fun because, well, unlike most of the state’s paved multi-use trails, this one is not a rail-trail.

That’s an important distinction because rail-trails tend to be straight, point-to-point affairs that seldom vary in course and direction. And why would they? The railroad tracks they replaced were also built on the straight and narrow.

But this a nicely engineered trail that winds its way through the trees in near serendipitous fashion  – call it curvaceous, twisty and serpentine as the mood strikes (Here’s a Ride with GPS link: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/22932797).

Oh, and those modest hills? Sometimes you hardly notice the long, gradually upward sloping slogs until you start to wonder whether you’ve got a flat tire. How else to explain why you’re suddenly moving so slowly and breathing so heavily?

And then the next thing you know, you’re suddenly gaining momentum. Then you glance at the computer on your handlebars and see it’s nudging 30 mph.

Yeah, a fun trail to ride, both for the uphill slogs and the downhill runs.

And in the few instances where the trail encounters major roads, it dips down into bypassing tunnels, so crossing traffic is not a problem. The exception is when you cross over I-75 on the greenway’s nicely landscaped “Land Bridge.”

Oh yeah, and the trailhead at Santos park, just off U.S. 441, has ample parking, rest rooms, picnic tables and camping facilities.

The Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway has been around for years, and has long been a favorite destination for hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers and others who don’t necessarily require asphalt to negotiate the landscape. The addition of this 15-mile section of trail opens the greenway up to cyclists, casual pedestrians, runners and families that need something more than dirt foot paths to get around.

If you haven’t ridden this trail yet you should. It’s a twisty trip through the tall timber.

Discover The Loop

Listen, I want to tell you about the prettiest mile in Florida. 

Seriously, you can trust me on this, because I’m a trained observer. But don’t go blabbing it to everybody, because it’s still one of Florida’s best kept secrets.

It starts on High Bridge Road, just off U.S. A1A south of the Volusia County line and about half a dozen miles south of Flagler Beach. You can leave your car in the parking lot at North Peninsular State Park east of the bridge and hop on your bike. (Sure, you can drive The Loop, but why would you want to?). 

First you cross the low, aging drawbridge (a charming  infrastructural relic of the last century) where it spans the Halifax River. And suddenly you are on a two-lane road lined with tall, wind-bent palm trees and shady spreading oaks. 

To your left the road follows Bulow Creek, a primeval Florida marsh alive with all manner of water fowl, flitting things abuzz in the air and swamp critters of wondrous variety.  Soon the road begins to twist and turn, and you’d almost swear you’ve pedaled into a jungle. If not for the narrow strip of asphalt under your wheels, you might think you’d slipped back in time to an age when the only way to navigate this kind of terrain was afoot or apaddle. 

And here’s the really amazing thing about this short stretch of paradise: It’s just part and parcel of The Loop, a 24-mile elongated route that runs up one side of the Halifax and back down the other between HIghbridge and the Grenada Bridge, in Ormond Beach. 

I’ve cycled The Loop many times, as recently as just a couple of weeks ago, and it never fails to inspire. Plus, I keep discovering new things about it that I hadn’t noticed before. Its got miles of oak canopy – a veritable tree tunnel. Its bridges cross savannas and winding creeks that reveal epic views of water and sky.

And it’s not all about nature. Ride south from Highbridge to Ormond on John Anderson Dr. and you’ll get a serious case of house (waterfront mansion?) envy? Cross the Grenada heading west and duck into Bailey Riverbridge Gardens, under the bridge on the western side, and you can take a stroll on an impressive boardwalk that juts out into the Intercoastal. Or visit the delightful, morbidly named James Ormond Tomb Park, site of an old cotton and indigo plantation, and search out the ancient tree. Or maybe stop off at Tomoka State Park and look at the absurd wooden statue of the legendary chief who never was. And don’t forget the Dummett Sugar Mill Ruins, or follow the Woodham Trail. 

And if you’re an especially ambitious cyclists, you can extend your ride several miles by heading north on John Anderson to Flagler Beach (I recommend the roof deck of the Golden Lion for lunch) and then head south again on A1A past Gamble Rogers State Park. Among other things you’ll have about six miles of spectacular, uninterrupted Atlantic Ocean vistas to hold your attention on the way back to Highbridge. (if you’ve got a Ride With GPS account you can access this extended route by clicking on (https://ridewithgps.com/routes/27381323).

I keep telling people that there’s so much more to our little peninsula than just Disney and South Beach. Case in point: The Loop is a different Florida  entire.

(Feature photo by John Moran courtesy of Bike Florida.)STJR2C.069-2