Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Echo Lake Enigma 107k perm populaire

On September 1, as one of my post-PBP recovery rides, I rode the new Echo Lake Enigma 107km Permanent Populaire.

We've all likely ridden every mile of these road segments, perhaps on our way to Mt. Evans, or as part of Catherine Shenk's Squaw Pass Scramble 200k perm. Though little over 100 km, it's quality all the way, starting with the Lookout Mountain climb that starts half a block from clipping in in Golden.

Route map courtesy of RideWithGPS and Google Maps

Climbing up Lookout Mountain Road out of Golden, one is reminded that this five mile stretch is (I feel), mile for mile, one of the most scenic and dramatic stretches in the state ... and right at our doorstep!

Sunrise over South Table Mountain

Dawn brings almost toasty downslope winds to parry as you corner the switchbacks.

Two groups of downhill longboarders [someone will correct me on this term] descend minutes apart, wearing fully enclosed safety and visored helmets and flying downhill in a skating tuck. And fortunately exhibiting plenty of centerline discipline.

Clear Creek Canyon to the north ... the large white vehicle is probably a bus heading to Blackhawk or Central City

We often drive Clear Creek Canyon to and from the mountains, and can gaze up at this very overlook (eastbound).

Windy Saddle TH overlook to Clear Creek Canyon

The Genesee to Rancho Grande path is an improvement over riding I-70, but it offers the steepest pitch of the entire ride.

After transiting the Evergreen Parkway highway and Bergen Park, it's an extended climb up the Squaw Pass Rd. As you ascend, you can get views to the right (north) of the Idaho Springs mining district diggings and tailings.

Climbing higher up Squaw Pass Rd.

Passing the junction to Witter Gulch Road is a reminder of one of the stiffest climbs (or descents) on the Colorado Front Range "Super Six" SR 600 perm. Ah, memories!

This is the high point of the SR 600 perm route, and ours today, over 11,000 ft., but not above timberline.

Near summit of Hwy. 103 / Squaw Pass Rd.

Turnaround at the Echo Lake Lodge!  The only congestion I experienced on this ride was at the Echo Lake Lodge, with proximity to the the Mt. Evans Road entrance. But everyone was congenial. And there are sodas, chocolate, a cheeseburger if you wish, plush toys of mountain species animals, and postcards to purchase in the lodge. The lodge staff is amiable as always.

Echo Lake Lodge
(lowest flag is City of Denver, as this is a Denver Mountain Park)

Lots of riders were heading up from Bergen Park or Idaho Springs for a climb up Mt. Evans. I didn't exactly have to fight for bike-leaning space, but there were plenty of bikes there.

Convenient bike parking at the lodge

Heading back, you get different views from the three-or-so-mile climb out of Echo Lake. 

Upper Bear Creek viewed climbing back up from Echo Lake

CDOT has chipsealed about five miles of the easternmost part of Hwy. 103 (from Squaw Pass). It's well done, but it's still chipseal. They've striped the upbound lane with an ample bike lane. That's something.

New chipseal from MP 18 high point to end of Hwy. 103 
(about 5 miles, to Squaw Pass crossing)

The descent down the Squaw Pass Road used to be hair-raising, with its sudden sharp turns coinciding with ruts and potholes you had to find a line through, but road surface now is just great.

All too soon it's time to plummet down the Lookout Mountain descent of the Lariat Loop, enjoying vistas along the way.

View up the Front Range towards Boulder County
descending Lookout Mountain Road

And our finish in Golden beckons ...

Golden and North and South Table Mountain

It's interesting to compare this, the Echo Lake Enigma 107k, to the Guanella Pass Gambol I rode earlier in the summer. The Guanella Pass ride seemed much more intimidating to me, and lots more work. For sure the Guanella Pass ride had more prolonged steeper grades. But look at the stats ...

 min maxclimbing
Echo Lake 107k   5698'  11157'7662'
Guanella 100k 8025'  11669'7201'

According to RideWithGPS, Echo Lake actually has a tad bit more climbing, and only 500 ft. lower max altitude than Guanella. Echo Lake is more frontloaded, with more climbing at lower elevations. And Guanella Pass gives you the sense you're above timberline. And there is no lodge at the Grants turnaround point. Some of the factors, and I'm sure there are more. I enjoyed both!

You could, too!


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Charlie and the Texans Ride the SR 600!

On July 1, Jeff Newberry, Rob Tulloh, Russell Dorobek, Amy Russell, and Byron Welch from Texas, and Charlie Martin from the Bay Area set out on the Colorado Front Range SR 600. Here is Rob's story with links to his photo galleries. Rob also posted the story on Facebook, if you'd like to see it there.

Colorado SR 600 Day 1 - Niwot to Evergreen

We started our ride at 7AM with a send off from John Lee Ellis at the Niwot control. The ride began in the cool of the morning and we pedaled about 14 miles to Lyons where we encountered the first photo control. Just after this, we started our first ascent of the day climbing up 4200 feet. We stopped in Raymond for water and to regroup. We then continued our way to Nederland and Eldora (Eldora was the next photo control). After this, we followed the detour on dirt roads around Central City and then continued our way toward Idaho Springs which was the last services stop before beginning the climb to Echo Lake. We climbed with concern for Amy Russell who was struggling mightily with asthma and breathing issues at the high elevation. We did get to enjoy a beautiful sunset at the top of the mountain. We also found the descent to be dry and my concern for Witter Gulch was unfounded as the road was dry. I followed Jeff Newberry down to Bear Creek Road. Our only challenge was the darkness as the sun had gone down by the time we began descending into the gulch. We finished the day tired. Byron Welch had successfully reached the restaurant by phone to order us pizza. We ate, showered, and then slept to get ourselves ready for day 2.

Day 1 Photos

Up the Riverside - Raymond Road

Day 2 - Evergreen to Woodland Park and back

An epic day. We rolled out at 5:30 AM to try and reach Subway in Conifer when it opened at 7:00 AM. We climbed up to the photo control at Sandy and waited a bit for Amy Russell to appear. I had no signal on my phone so Charles Martin and I descended down to the Subway in Conifer and found a message from Amy saying she was having more trouble breathing today and she was headed back to the hotel. We had left Jeff Newberry behind to wait and we were faced with a 'what do we do since we cannot reach Jeff. As we were talking about it, Jeff and Russell Dorobek rolled up. Thankfully, Russ got the message and so they rolled down to Conifer to join us. The rest of the day was more epic climbs and incredible descents. We descended quite a bit from Conifer and were thinking how miserable the afternoon was going to be when we returned. One bright spot was the store at Deckers. We had milkshakes outbound and a cold beverage on the return. Woodland Park was misery. The drivers were rude, the Wendy's we used for services was jam packed. Fortunately, I had a Subway sandwich in my bag so I just got a soda and ice water to use for filling my bottle at Wendy's. As we departed, Russ got a flat and pulled out a piece of glass from his tire. The tubeless sealed it well enough. The rain drops were falling sparsely so I put on my rain jacket and helmet cover. As we got to the edge of town it started hailing and we all dodged for cover to escape the pummeling. Russ used the time to patch his tire. Charlie also got a flat and we changed his tire and tube. The temperature had dropped 30 degrees so I put on all my warm clothes as we shivered our way down the road. A few miles along, we hit sun and we stopped to take everything off. We then ht the big descent back to Deckers and I attacked the descent and arrived to Deckers just as Jeff was ordering some food. We fixed ourselves up here and then climbed out of Deckers on the steep mountain roads. It was hot, hot, hot and we just made our best time up the climbs. Russ was ahead of us so it was me, Jeff, and Charlie together until the end. I rode well until the climb into Conifer. I bonked and it was all I could do to reach the C-store control. As we waited at the store, it rained briefly and then cleared. A double rainbow appeared in the sky. We climbed back to the photo control with the sun blazing into our eyes. We finished the ride before it got dark and now are plotting our Day 3 plans to ensure we finish before the time expires.

Day 2 Photos 

Five almost flat miles along the South Platte

Colorado SR600 Day 3

Day 3 started at 3:30 AM. We wanted to be sure we had plenty of time to finish and we knew that the climb up to Echo Lake at the start was going to be a challenge. We had debated the option of eating breakfast at the Lodge, but we decided this should wait for another time and we would simply climb and then descend to Idaho Springs for breakfast at McDonald's. Charles Martin and I got to the top of the Witter Gulch climb first. I was breathing heavy and stopped once to catch my breath as I was about to hyperventilate. Charlie seemed like nothing could phase him and he climbed up to the top where we both waited for Russ and then Jeff Newberry. Jeff had a bottle get loose on the climb and had to stop and retrieve his bottle which put him last to finish with a good story to share. We then continued climbing (at a much better grade) up to the summit of the Echo Lake climb. I took photos of the sunrise and my Garmin showing the summit at 11,122 feet. I also saw a fox and some elk as I climbed up to the top. We put on all our cold weather clothing and then visited the photo control. We then descended into Idaho Springs. Before descending, I noted that the Lodge didn't open until 8AM which was 70 minutes later than our arrival. This would have been a deal breaker for breakfast and we were glad to continue on with more time in the bank. I had a terrible descent as I was shivering. The bike was shaking because I was cold so I braked and took the long descent with care to avoid any sort of mishap. I was the last to arrive at McDonald's, but I was only about 2 minutes behind Charlie. We ate breakfast and then started the hilly ride toward Eldora. Jeff fell off the back as we made our way. At the detour on Bald Mountain, Russ and Charlie decided to wait, but I warned them that Jeff might be ill tempered about their decision. I walked my bike up the 18% grade to a safe starting point and then climbed the dirt roads up to the apex (Charlie and Russ passed me on my way up) and enjoyed a long descent following behind Russ and Charlie. We then exited the dirt roads and made our way up the climbs to reach the Taggarts store. We ate and drank and refilled bottles at Taggarts. The temperature had ratcheted up above 95 degrees and we were all feeling the effects of the heat. There was no sign of Jeff and we learned later he got slightly lost in the detour and fell further behind our group. Charlie, Russ and I continued on to Eldora and snapped photos at the photo control. As we rolled back to Nederland, we spotted Jeff on his way toward the Eldora control and cheered the sighting. We stopped briefly in Eldora and then braved more heat and climbing to reach the apex of the 4200 foot descent which would take us down to Lyons and then Niwot. Charlie and I stopped at Raymond on the way down as I had run out of water and was super hot. We ate ice cream on the porch of the store and enjoyed the shade. We then finished the long descent (glorious!), snapped photos at Lyons control, and then pedaled the last 12 miles to Niwot control. I was finally on flat roads and sat in my 50x11 following Charlie the last few miles. He had been sitting on my wheel much of the past 3 days and I told him it was his turn to pull me to the finish line which he did graciously. At the final control, we found Russ waiting for us. I opened up the van to let it air out (it was hot!) and we waited another 40 or so minutes for Jeff to arrive. We then took our photos and celebrated finishing the ride.

Day 3 Photos

Friday, July 5, 2019

Guanella Pass Gambol 100k

In June, 2018, Paul Foley did the inaugural ride of the Guanella Pass Gambol 100k, and wrote a great report for it, which also appeared in RUSA's American Randonneur magazine.

This June, I got around to riding this, my own route, myself!

To recap, this is an out and back over Guanella Pass - from Downieville to Grant and back - climbing Guanella Pass from both sides. The seven miles from Downieville get us up to the minimum distance, but are also a nice warm-up before the big first climb.

My ride report will be complementary to Paul's, although there is some overlap - both of us took photos of our bikes with Dino the Dinosaur at the ride start. But Paul enjoyed a sandwich in Grant at Al's Pits BBQ, which was closed on the day of the week I rode.

Folks at the Starbucks in Downieville were friendly, as they explained I could park in their lot, just not overnight. A chocolate croissant (pain chocolat in French) immediately upped my energy level and bolstered my mood.

The 7 miles from Downieville to Georgetown are slightly uphill and largely quiet. They are  good warmup for the Guanella Pass climb itself, which aims skyward immediately up switchbacks out of Georgetown.

Soon we're getting good views of snowy landscape above the timberline.

This is a well-engineered road with plenty of attractive stonework to bolster the roadside slopes.

The grade is a steady climb, except for a couple of fairly flat stretches along two reservoirs dotting Cabin Creek. Final grade to the pass increases a bit.

Still plenty of remnants of plowing, after our plenteous snowfall this winter.

At the pass, the "Summit Overlook" on the right is the turn you take to the info control.

There are trailheads on the west side of the pass, to trails across the tundra including to Square Top Lakes. Also the Mt. Bierstadt trailhead on the east side of the road.

Looking east.

The descent starts on rough chipseal at a good grade, but after 3-4 miles and a switchback, reaches silky smooth asphalt, from a couple years ago when this part of the road was paved (from being dirt).

Midway down opens out to an almost stretch of meadows and grazing (bounded by cattle guards), and some equestrian trails.

The road proceeds along roaring and churning Geneva Creek.

Grant - Just before reaching downtown Grant, is Al's Pits BBQ on the right. There is a small arrowed sign; otherwise it is easy to miss. Since they are only open Fri.-Sun., if you bike another day, you can ring the bell at the store-like establishment at the junction of US-285, and purchase liquids.

This plus Al's and a motel are about the only establishments in Grant.

Heading back was work for me, even with the (probably prevailing) tailwind, but the scenery provided a nice distraction.

I like the wooden guardrails, and they're handy to lean bikes against.

Nearing the summit from the south.

Back at the summit. There has been lots of cloud today, but making for a comfortable temperature range, and the dry forecast was born out.

Another snowbank rounding a switchback.

Narrow valley heading down to Georgetown.

One of the two small reservoirs

Herd of bighorn sheep placidly grazing or after salt near the roadside

Georgetown in the Clear Creek Valley, I-70 and the climb to Silver Plume on the left

Dino looks on as the trusty Kestrel rests after another great ride!

One thing I especially liked about this ride was the extreme quietude of the Guanella Pass road. There were almost no vehicles on it, but this was during the week. Peak summer hiking season on a weekend might be a different story.

Either way, try and enjoy!


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Florida Sunshine 1200

On May 16, I headed off on the second edition of the Sunshine 1200k, the first all-Florida Grand Randonnée. Friends had ridden it and liked it in 2015, and it would be new roads and different terrain. There would even be beaches to ride along and sand to walk across!

The route is a horseshoe from Key West, then north along the Atlantic Coast, through central Florida, and ending up at Ft. Myers Beach, on the Gulf Coast. Most riders flew or drove into Ft. Myers and took the ferry to the start in Key West. The route would be the same as the 2015 inaugural, save for three detours uncovered by the pre-riders (a great reason for having a pre-ride!).

With organizer Dave Thompson's caveat on the event website - "We cannot stress enough that if you are not comfortable riding in traffic, DO NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS RIDE." - and various ride reports, I was suitably braced, and planned to accentuate the positive: the Florida sun, the beaches, the orange groves, and general sunny ambiance. I'll tell you at the end of my story how this strategy worked out.

Entire route - 7,680 ft. of climbing, max elev. 535 ft.

I flew to Ft. Myers on the 14th, encountering an assortment of randos at the Ft. Myers Beach host hotel.

Ken Bonner in his BMB jersey - fresh and ready to go!

My "before" picture, in fashionable Sunshine 1200 tee
with high-quality embroidered logo

Vincent Muoneke in a contemplative moment in Ft. Myers

The next morning, we headed down to the dock for our ferry ride to Key West. We took our dropbags, while Dave and his crew drove the bikes down in a trailer, to avoid the bikes' being doused in sea spray on the ferry. 

Dawn and ready for the ferry from Ft. Myers

The ferry was fairly fast, with a cruising speed of 32 knots, making for a three-hour crossing. Dave's overland drive with the bikes took five hours.

A speedy ferry, as clear from the jet wash

Dave had arranged a group lunch at a local seafood-oriented restaurant for riders and volunteers. This was a good way to get acquainted, and enjoy good food.

After a group lunch at a local seafood restaurant arranged by Dave, we retrieved our bikes and settled in to the nicely appointed La Concha hotel, probably too upscale for randos. As evening approached, Ken, Vinny, and I enjoyed a perfect pre-ride meal at Wendy's down the street.

Ken Bonner at pre-event evening meal

Stage 1: Key West - Jupiter - 266 miles

The first day was to be a long one, which (we told ourselves) would then set us up nicely for shorter days to come. There were no hills to slow us down, but there were traffic lights in the urban areas. We rode up the Florida Keys, through Miami and Miami Beach, finishing up the Atlantic Coast into Jupiter, a venue used by local brevets.

Stage 1: Key West - Jupiter - 266 miles

A noisy thunderstorm had blown through overnight, leaving wet roads and big puddles the morning of the start. Earlier, the forecast had been for a soggy day on the Keys, followed by afternoon showers on subsequent days. By the time we headed out, however, the forecast had brightened, and we only encountered wet roads and two brief showers on the first day. By the time we reached Miami, brilliant sun was out, and that would accompany us the rest of the ride (except at night).

Temps were moderate, too, 70's or 60's for the lows to 80's for highs (low 90's on the final day). The pre-ride had been toastier.

Obligatory Southernmost Point Buoy photo moments before the start.
I could have brightened this up, but left it murky for effect.
The smart riders biked down the day before for a daylight shot.

After a calm start, turbulent crosswinds from the north accompanied us over Seven Mile Bridge. We could see a shower ahead of us at the next town, but it receded as we got there (at least for us moderately paced riders). The old bridge, which you could see to the left, is being reworked as a long fishing pier. It used to have a drawbridge to let ships through (not necessary with the new road, which has an arch).

The cycling experience through the Keys was reasonably good, with some maritime views, successive transits of towns that look like most others (plus a succession of billboards offering sandals and beach gear).

Also a few park and beach areas, the bike paths in places deformed and torn up by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

On many roads, you can choose between a path and a bike lane. 
The paths could be the shadier option.

After the second blustery shower, in a region of palm groves we're met by the course monitoring staff, who've encountered a detour they've determined we can just ride through. Think how many minutes that saved and joules of worry!

Weather started to brighten up as we reach Old Cutler Road, a rustic-sounding road through what are now upscale suburbs, wooded and landscaped with interesting homes, and also with a succession of schools letting out (as Dave had predicted). This is a busy road with no shoulder ... but with a bike "trail" - and suddenly we are transported into another ride entirely, a ride of twisting pavement over tree roots, splitting as it winds past giant trees, and makes sharp turns through stone wall entrances. 

By this time I have joined up with Josh Haley and Scott Manning which makes all of this more pleasant. Scott on his John Schlitter recumbent found the weaving, the right-angle turns, and the trail forkings around giant oak trees a special gymnastic challenge. 

Organizers had suggested for the ride through Miami that we group up for added visibility, so I was glad to be riding with Josh and Scott. We we also joined by Jim Solanick, who is not only a Floridian like Josh and Scott, but lives in this South Florida area and transits these roads on a regular basis. 

I have to say that hitting Miami pre-rush-hour was one of the most concerning aspects of the Sunshine 1200. But in our group of four, with the right lane of the main thoroughfare marked with sharrows, and drivers who were used to seeing cyclists, and who weren't traveling any faster than we were, it wasn't bad at all, and allowed us to enjoy the ambiance.

We wait for a ship towed by a tugboat past a raised bridge, giving us a chance to glance up at the skyscrapers.

Waiting at a drawbridge in Miami: Josh Haley
with town cyclists and e-skateboarders
who were happy to socialize during the wait

McDonald's checkpoint in Miami Beach:
Jim Solanick and a collection of rando bikes.
Rider in background is wearing a Florida Tip-to-Tail 1600k jersey from 2018.

One of the local high points near Ft. Lauderdale.
Jim pointed out typical shipping traffic for that area.

It was nice biking along Vero Beach and others as evening approached. Folks were out and having fun, a relaxed atmosphere. As night fell, the route continued up the Atlantic coast, through upscale neighborhoods with impressive spotlighted mansions. 

Since these are some of Jim's local roads from his home, he could give a virtual tour as we passed abodes of rich and famous people. Off to our right, we could hear the waves wash in from the Atlantic, and spy breakers through the shrubs and bushes.

A pause after midnight, on the home stretch to Jupiter.

Amazingly late as it seems, we glide into the Jupiter control at 1:06 am. We are the 7th riders to arrive. Shab Memarbashi and Chris Benkly have tasty chicken marsala and rice for us. 

Stage 2 - Jupiter - Daytona Beach - 187 miles

Our second day continued ... after three hours' sleep ... with omelets made to order by Shab, and then we were off, already daylight outside.

Dave said that this second stage would be basically a "cruise" ... which it was, and generally delightful. Breezes were east- to southeasterly, onshore. This moderated the temps, and Jim pointed out that the Atlantic sea temps were in the 70's. A big help. 

We started with more quiet miles through upscale neighborhoods, dotted by homes of golf legends and other celebrities. Jim pulled over at a convenience store / deli he knew, for more breakfast before it got too hot and we would lose our appetite. Jim ordered an omelet, and I had a cuban sandwich, properly toasted in a sandwich press, making it crusty on the outside, and mellifluous on the inside.

Jim and Vinny breakfasting in the sun, while it is still mild.

Much of the day will be spent with the Atlantic on our right, and the Intercoastal Waterway on our left. Good company.

Atlantic coastal view

Tropical Way bordering the Intercoastal Waterway

(way in the background)
The VAB is the largest single-story building in the world, 
and was constructed to assemble the Saturn V moon rocket.

The Sunshine route originally visited Merritt Island, a nature preserve and home of the Kennedy Space Center, but the pre-riders were told that cyclists weren't allowed on the roads after 6 pm. So the route was altered to take the Eastern Coast Bike Path and the Maytown Spur, 36 miles of path in all. If anything it was more delightful than Merritt Island. But wise to stock up on liquids for those 36 miles without services.

Welcome shade and tranquility 
on the Eastern Coastal Path

Night fell as we headed from New Smyrna Beach to Daytona Beach. A full moon reflected in ripples on the Halifax River. The event prospectus said we might dip our feet into the ocean at day's end - and the beach was clearly a hand's throw away - but we contented ourselves with pulling directly into the Oceanside Inn for refreshment.

Stage 3: Daytona Beach - Lake Wales - 162 (+16) miles

On the map, today's inland route looked like it could be the quietest day of the event. That was true for the most part. But look at those spikes on the elevation chart!

I headed out half an hour before first light, greeting the same full moon now setting to the west. The route went through small towns full of large trees and small buildings, reminiscent of many in the South, including in North Carolina where I spent good cycling years.

We stopped at the first checkpoint, at the town of Paisley. Things seemed to be going just great. We turned out to have stopped at the wrong store, but they had friendly service and the best snacks, which only buoyed my spirits further. Then Dave and John Ward Smith pulled up to advise us there'd been an unfortunate vehicle crash just up the road - at about 7:30 am according to the reports - which would close the road for hours. We'd have to retrace our steps a few miles, an inconvenience, but much more than that for the victims of the crash.

The reroute looked straightforward, and cost us only a net 16-17 miles extra. (It cost later riders nothing, because they hadn't passed that fork yet, and were intercepted by officials. Still, only a modest extra credit mileage for us, which was fine.) The thing was that although Hwy. 44 had a great shoulder up to that point, we soon learned that the shoulder had been milled down for construction. It was the most "focused" white-line riding of the event, but motorists were alert and courteous, as I found they were everywhere on the Sunshine 1200.

What followed was a desultory visit down rustic roads past pastoral farms.

There were two juveniles in tow just around the trees.
Folks out West (like us) travel to see flocks of migrating Sandhill cranes.
Here they are just standing around,
unperturbed by passers by.

At some point, I turned a bend to face a vertical-looking wall of a climb up Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest elevation of the event. But it wasn't that long a climb, there were parts in the shade, and there was a quarter-mile cool down until you reached the control at the top and could look casual and refreshed.

– Sugarloaf Summit –
Under a shady awning, John W. Smith looks on as Dave
either discusses RUSA business
or encourages me to eat more watermelon.

We're now into the rolling, restful interior, with plenty of fields dotted by small towns. It was not unlike biking through areas of South or North Carolina when I lived in Charlotte.

Spanish Moss on trees and fences

Another pastoral scene with shade and trees.

By mid-afternoon, it was time for another bike path treat, the Van Fleet trail.

The Van Fleet Trail is another delightful experience.
Although, incredibly, I turn onto it in the wrong direction!

Delightful nonetheless, 
with the minor point that the forest sheltered us from the cooling breeze.

This and other gopher tortoises line our path.
It's not an alligator, roseate spoonbill, or tricolored heron,
but a nice animal to encounter all the same.

Headed the right way on the Van Fleet path, I encounter Vinny taking a break.

Vinny enjoying a shady moment at a shelter

We rode the rest of the path together chatting, a welcome break from the tranquil solitude of the last several hours.

The day drew to a close through rolling orange grove terrain at sunset, finishing at dusk (with lights but in sunglasses, a victory of sorts).

Jim Solanick discusses ride strategy with Scott
while refortifying and then heading into the night.
He will finish towards noon the next day.

Stage 4: Lake Wales - Ft. Myers - 150 miles

A chilly, calm night-time start on quiet country roads. The chilliness (low 60's?) wouldn't last, as this would be our warmest day, but was welcome for the moment.

This was a continuation of the quiet agricultural landscape - a few orchards, mainly pastures - but with a return to the hill-free theme.

As midday toastiness built, I was rationing my water and calculating the ounces remaining in the water bottles, when a hydration oasis appeared on the horizon, set up by Susan Gryder at a fork in the road.

Lorin Fowler not expressing ennui to Charlie Martin
at the Susan's highly appreciated hydration stop

There was yet another detour possibility, which the volunteers had determined we could ride through without issues - a bit of dirt and gravel, but on a nice, quiet road.

Sandy and welcoming sideroads -
not part of the route, just a pause to refresh.

From there it was onto Highway 31, a road with some traffic but a good shoulder.
For me its biggest challenge was flatness and heat at the warmest part of the day. I was counting down the 25½ miles as a kind of exercise (no complaints about the road itself!).

Midway through, Susan had set up a shady spot to pause. I greeted the departing riders, and welcomed those who were just rolling in.

I had met Susan when she rode the Colorado Last Chance 1200 in 2017 and kind of sheparded another rider. Susan had done the Sunshine pre-ride, like most of the volunteers, and then was an ebullient volunteer on the event!

Josh Haley with Sunshine 1200 jersey
behind my trusty Kestrel with blue drink from the previous control

Susan Gryder

The traversal through Ft. Myers was fairly pleasant, on wide roads that were quiet on a Sunday afternoon, then heading into quiet neighborhoods as we reached Ft. Myers Beach. It also helped that a cloud bank rolled in just in time to give some shade.

Dave collecting finishers' cards with congratulations and pizza provided by the RBA

Central Florida RBA Paul Rozelle,
with his daughter Sally, RUSA #9965

Dave told me my friend Larry Midura and I were the only riders to use cue sheets. I had reformatted mine a bit to my own style, and highlighted wildly. Riding with others, it seemed that cue sheets had their advantages in some ways, GPS tracks in others. Oh, and, yes, I had downloaded all four stage maps to my cell phone just in case.

Cue sheet plus helmet light as cue-sheet light
on aerobar of the De Rosa.
Yes, extra miles brought this ride to 790.97.

The Verdict?

This was indeed a fun ride, and extremely well organized (of course).
  • Miami and Miami Beach turned out to be fine to bike through, vibrant, and interesting. Other built-up areas were reasonable, too. Looking back, I have experienced as much or more traffic stress on "non-urban" 1200k's (which were great events, too).
  • Motorists were careful and courteous.
  • The flatness was highly manageable.
  • We lucked out on the weather. (Temperature-wise, we had seasonal conditions. Sometimes "average" is lucking out.)
  • The beach and pastoral scenes were evocative.
  • The cuban sandwich was delicious.
  • The ridership, though fairly small, was full of friendly, engaging fellow randos. As one always hopes, there were some friends of many years and some great new acquaintances.
  • I did not see an alligator or a manatee, but we'd seen some on our visit last year.
  • I am thinking of adding a caveat - like Dave's about urban riding - to the High Country, something like, "If you like oxygen, bring extra along."  :-)
A thunderhead at sunset signals a colorful end to our event

Many thanks to Dave and his volunteers for a fun, good 1200k, and to my fellow riders for good company. You can find out lots more on the Sunshine 1200 website, and see lots more photos on their Facebook page!