Brain Fart: Winter Vacation

florida bike 1Winter in the northern latitudes is just long enough to make this aging cyclist more than a wee bit cranky. Yes, it is possible to grit one’s teeth and meet winter head-on. In fact, the Dirt Rag staff shared a gunny-sack-full of bright ideas in our Cold Weather Riding blog series: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. But my favorite coping mechanism is the tried and true road trip. Due south.

The joy of riding my new Trek Top Fuel test bike in the Florida sunshine in mid-February is more than ample pay-off for the minor inconvenience of piloting my mini-van for 950 miles. A blend of mental toughness and planning is all it takes.

I wanted to arrive at my Florida campground around noon on Saturday. The Google driving directions estimated 15 hours drive time. For safety’s sake I planned on taking short breaks during refueling stops, catching a four-hour crash at a rest stop from 2-6a.m., and taking one-hour breaks for both dinner and breakfast along the way. A simple math calculation set my departure at 2p.m. Friday afternoon. Despite a bit of rush hour traffic and a front wheel bearing that started to howl along the route, the long drive went according to plan. Fortunately, I found a garage a few miles from my destination that was able to replace the wheel bearing while I waited, and I ended up setting up camp a few hours behind schedule. I’ll take that.

The next morning, after a hearty camp breakfast, I pedaled an easy 20-minute warm up to the mountain bike trailhead at San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park. On these trails momentum was my friend. The relatively-flat, swoopy-fast, singletrack was a delightful departure from my steep up-down hometown trails. Thanks to the paper maps available in the parking lot (click here for pdf map) and ample on-the-ground markings, I managed to string together a 2+ hour ride with no repeats. I had so much fun on the San Felasco trails that I decided to stick around and ride them for the next two days. I managed a 2.5 hour trail ride the next day and a shorter get-away-day ride on my third day.

Then off to visit the parents in the greater-Daytona area. My legs appreciated a day off the bike hanging with the family, sipping coffee and catching up on emails (not quite 100% vacation) thanks to the WiFi at the Java Jungle, a relaxing coffee shop that’s decorated like a tropical rain forest.

florida bike 2On Thursday I swung by the Orlando airport to pick up Dirt Rag alum Carol Clemens, and we headed to Ocala’s Santos mountain bike trails, in preparation for Saturday’s 12 Hours of Santos race. We had time for a short leg-stretcher ride on Thursday before dark.

On Friday morning we set up our race pit along the course, right next to fellow Pennsylvanian and visitPA.com rider Rob Lichtenwalner and his wife Sarah. It turned out that IF Pro Harlan Price, another PA racer, was also on the scene. Quite a few Pennsylvanius Snowbirdicus sightings to be had.

Carol and I headed out to pre-ride the course and found it to be nine miles of mixed bag. The beginning and ending sections consisted of short stretches in the steep, tight Vortex trails—which sandwiched the flat, fast and furious mid-section of the course, where the speed limit was set by how fast one could rail the corners.

Saturday turned out to be a sunny 60-something degree day—delightful for racing mountain bikes for 6 hours (me) or 12 hours (Carol). I accomplished my goal of riding at a sporty pace until I felt like stopping. I cranked out five laps in five-ish hours of racing, and then my knees started barking on the steep Vortex climbs, and it was time to shut ‘er down for the day. Carol was there defending her 2008 women’s 12-hour crown, but 2009 would not be kind to her. This year Carol had a few crashes on her dual-rigid 29er in the technical sections—which led to a couple mechanicals, which led to lengthy pit stops and a fourth palace finish. Under the circumstance, her 9 laps represented quite an accomplishment. PA racers fared better in the men’s 12-hour solo category, with Harlan Price finishing first followed by Rob Lichtenwalner in second. Speedgoat racer Ernesto Marenchin took third place in the men’s 12-hour solo. Complete race results here.

After a couple days of post-race relaxing at the parents place, including a windy and brisk day at the beach, it was time to point the mini-van north. With Carol, my dad and I tag-teaming the drive back to Pittsburgh, the 15 hour return trip was just a blur.

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