Monday, February 11, 2008

Making New Friends in Central Florida

The past week has seen us bike 200 miles from Naples, on the Gulf Coast due west of Miami, to Sebring, about 50 miles northwest of Lake Okeechobee and pretty much midway between the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. For the next week we'll head right up the center of Florida, our only extended period far from salt water until some time in May. The original plan was to visit a Seattle friend with a guest house in the small central Florida town of Lake Alfred, but she was unable to make it to Florida this year. But investigating the area got us interested in it, so we decided to explore here anyway.

They came a serendipity. A few blog entries back, we mentioned meeting a tandem couple who had a blog page on (where, by the way, a LOT of cycle tourists have trip blogs, for anyone out there interested in the genre). We read their blog several times since they are heading up the coast through much of the same territory we will be seeing in a few weeks. One day a fellow named Gary Speary sent them a message that posted on their blog, inviting them to contact him if they were heading near Sebring, for routing down bike-friendly roads and a place to stay. As it turns out, the other couple took a coastal route nowhere near Sebring, but we had decided to go through there so we got in touch with Gary and his wife Carol and were given the same offer.

The Spearys are retired teachers who are as deeply into tandeming as we are, and in some ways more intense. Last summer they rode 6200 miles from here to Colorado and back, not by the most direct route, visiting family and friends. Okay, sounds like something we might do. But they did it in 85 days of riding (plus 18 rest days), i.e. over 70 miles per day! Definitely something we have both done, but no more. That's one of the hills we're over!

We've now spent two nights with Gary and Carol at their beautiful home on the outskirts of Sebring, having been met on the way into town yesterday for a bike-friendly guided tour through town, and a day ride without the luggage today. Tomorrow they will ride half-way to our next destination with us, and have even offered to carry two of our four panniers that far, a generous offer as we are now in a surprisingly hilly part of Florida.

Did we imply that Gary and Carol were hard-core? Today's ride went 40 miles through the countryside, with a 15 mph wind
out of the northeast that occasionally had us easy-pedalling at 22 mph, but more often pushing against a head wind or side wind. Our average speed was 17 1/2 mph. More important than the pace was the good fun we had riding through the attractive countryside around lakes and over to Highland Hammock State Park, where we took the photos above, including the "catwalk"
through a marshy area past a variety of birds and at least two alligators that we knew of, and perhaps a few more that watched us unseen. As the only tandem team in town, the Spearys were very happy to have "one of their own kind" on a ride, and commented on one downhill that they almost NEVER get passed on the downhill. We did some math and figured out that, even unloaded, Team Davis has about 35 pounds more going for it on the downhills than Team Speary, but they generously attributed our downhill biking abilities to strength and skill. We like friends like that.

Earlier in the week we spent a day touring Naples while our luggage rested in a motel. It was the first time either of us had seen the Gulf of Mexico, and the beach itself looked much like the beaches on the Atlantic coast. The birds look similar too. Hopefully this pelican doesn't read English, and the municipal ban on diving off the pier.
Looking at the human flocks on the beach or at pedestrians and drivers we passed, however, and you could see it is a much older crowd. Consequently we've had much less glass litter on the roads. They just don't put Geritol and Immodium D in glass bottles like the Buds and Millers we saw shards of on the hard-drinking Atlantic coast, or maybe the drivers over here don't toss their empty med bottles out of cars like the youngsters over there with their ethanol-rich "medications."

That's not to say we've had no flats. We got "screwed" one day,
and that ruined a tube, and caused other difficulties when our "Mister Tuffy" flat-protecting liner gouged a small hole in the tube a day later at the spot where the screw had gone through it and created a rough spot. We patched that flat and removed Mister Tuffy, then got another flat from tire-booting material we had put on the inside of the tire where the screw had gone through. Fixed that, and got another flat there, so remove the tire boot and glued a regular tube patch on the inside of the tire, since it has smooth edges. All told, we actually got 5 flats from that one screw. We THINK we've got it all under control, check back in our next blog.

Two other places worth mention are Sanibel Island and the Edison-Ford Estates. Sanibel and neighboring Captiva Islands sit right off the coast near Ft. Myers. We chose a motel landward of the bridge at the fairly pricey rate of $154/night after finding nothing on Sanibel or Captiva Islands at less than $200/night.
Even with lodging costs like that and a bridge toll of $6 per car ($2 for motorcycles, $0 for bikes), they were raking in over $2000 an hour at the toll booths both when we rode onto the island and when we rode off. That's the pricey bridge behind our long-necked friend.

Sanibel had bike trails alongside every major road, and miles of gorgeous lightly-peopled beaches. It also had Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, named for a popular editorial cartoonist who was a major voice for conservation in the first half of the 20th century, and for a time a conservationist in FDR's government. This is one example of his humor on display in the visitor center that the golfers in our readership will no doubt enjoy (the original was run Easter Sunday weekend).
The refuge also provided excellent opportunities to see wildlife, and Jeff and Louise had new "lifers" (birds to add to our non-existent "life list") in the form of roseate spoonbills, the pink birds in one of these pictures.

On the otherwise trafficky route through Ft. Myers,
we stopped at an oasis of invention, the winter home of Thomas Alva Edison, and the adjacent winter home built by Henry Ford specifically for the purpose of spending two weeks every year feting Edison on his birthday. Seems Edison had been one of the first people to encourage Ford, and he adored Edison for the rest of his life.
Edison only semi-relaxed there, dabbling always in his large laboratory with numerous lab assistants to assist, and also grew all sorts of trees and shrubs on the grounds, trying to find a natural source of latex that would grow well in the U.S.
BTW, that is a single banyan tree, with hundreds of vertical "roots," behind Tom and Jeff. It now covers over an acre. It started as a single cutting 80 years ago. As for the search for latex, when the Germans began to develop good synthetic rubbers in the 1920's and 30's, the effort was abandoned, though it did continue a few years after Edison's own death in 1931. We learned much about gracious early-20th-century Florida living and about Edison's amazingly diverse interests and inventiveness there.

We have a southeast wind promised for tomorrow. Hooray, another tailwind. May all of our readers have their own personal tailwinds to look forward to as they read this!


Cyclingscribe said...

Howdy. Sorry I didn't get a chance to meet you during your brief stay here. Gary and Carol speak highly of you and enjoyed your stay. I heard you were "recognized" during what was supposed to be an incognito trip to a used book store.

Gary & Carol said...

Jeff & Louise,
Sure enjoyed your visit, especially the time together on tandems. Good food, good fun, good fellowship! We look forward to our next visit! Best wishes for the remainder of your trip.