Saturday, October 22, 2016

Best Bike Lock Ever?

I saw a feature for this new bike lock idea that's being crowdfunded right now.

It looks like a regular U-lock but contains high-pressure skunk gas. Anyone trying to cut through the lock will release the foul smelling gas all over themselves and it will make them vomit and ruin their clothes. I love the idea.

The lock costs $100 and obviously has to be replaced once the gas has been released but I think it's exactly what I want on my touring bike.

The project is being crowdfunded by and they have already reached their target of $20,000.

Their website is

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Cracker Swamp 1200k

"Me and Billy Joe drove down the Circle-K 'tother day to get some boiled green peanuts and there wuz this fella layin' on the ground in front 'o the store moanin' in pain. He was wearing some greasy old clothes and fingerless gloves and he looked and smelled like he hadn't showered in a month. We asked him if he were alright but I couldn't understand what he said, he musta bin that drunk. He mumbled somethin' 'bout a bicycle and I sees he has a bike with all bits of stuff tied on it. Poor old fella was livin' offa his bicycle, he so poor he can't even afford a car to live outa. Then he rolls over on hims stomach and tries to stand up but it took two attempts and even then he staggers a bit and has to hold on to the wall. It's sad to see what some folk have come to. I blame Hillary."

On Oct 13th through 16th I rode the first Cracker Swamp 1200k randonnee around Tavares, FL. It was my first 1200k since my disastrous attempt at the Last Chance many years before. I DNFed at the Last Chance because of lack of research, so I researched the **** out of the Cracker Swamp.

I spent the months leading up to October testing equipment and nutrition and riding hot, flat 400k brevets and permanents.

The route was published only a couple of weeks before the ride which made that part of the research more difficult. I quickly copied the routes to my ridewithgps account and went through them carefully, fixing any errors I found. I also enhanced the default ridewithgps cue sheets and matched them back to the official cue sheet. My copies of the routes are at

My navigation system is my Galaxy Note 4 bungeed to my aerobars and powered by the USB converter on my Luxos U front light. I turn the screen off and simply listen to the cues read to me by the ridewithgps application. It works extremely well and I only went off course four times in the whole ride, and never by more than fifty yards. That's why I spent the time fixing up the ridewithgps cue sheets. The only concern I had was that it wouldn't get charged enough at night and on hills so I wrote an Android app that periodically speaks the battery level. During the ride it never got below 72%,

For nutrition I packed Perpetuem in two-scoop ziploc bags with some Endurolytes to stave off cramps. I had enough for one bottle per 30 miles ridden. The idea wasn't to replace solid food, but to have something for when I couldn't eat enough solid food.

I traveled out and back and roomed with Doug Church who lives about an hour from me. He already has three successful 1200k randonnees this year so he chose the 1000k option. I had hoped we would be able to ride together but our speeds are too different for that to work.

We arrived at Orlando airport late because all of our flights were delayed. I had purchased a Trico hard shell bicycle case which got inspected both ways but TSA did no damage and repacked the case correctly both times. So that was good.

We jumped into a rented SUV at SixT rentals and drove to the Inn on the Green in Tavares, FL, arriving late on Tuesday. That gave us a whole day to fix any problems caused by the flight, buy anything we had forgotten, re-assemble the bikes, get through the bike check, and get a full night of sleep for the 04:00 start.

On Wednesday, Doug and I assembled our bikes and took them for a spin to make sure everything was OK. We rode the first ten miles of the course, then headed back to Lake Dora for lunch at Las Palmas Cuban restaurant. I ate my first Cuban food there, and I love it. Then we rode back. No problems with the bikes.

When we got back to the hotel check-in was in progress so we got all the paperwork done, got an unexpected hoodie with the Cracker Swamp logo on it, and also a satellite tracker attached to our bikes. I emailed my wife and daughter with the link for my tracker. They really appreciated being able to track me. That was a great idea. Then back to our mosquito infested room and an early night at 21:00.

Tracking units

Day 1 - 270 miles around Orlando.

At 03:00 the alarms went off and we shambled downstairs to a generous breakfast and before I knew it we were off at 04:00. I somehow found myself able to stay with the lead group and we headed East at a fast pace. I stayed with them for the first forty miles but had to stop to refuel so they left me behind. The first official control is at a gas station at mile 62 very close to the Atlantic coast and then we headed South with a tailwind alongside Mosquito Lagoon. I don't remember any mosquitoes here - turns out they were all in my motel room.

The next forty-five miles were along the coast which had recently been hit by Hurricane Matthew. All the palaces and mansions were piling mounds of refuse from the storm along the road, to be picked up by people who lived in much smaller houses but drove much bigger trucks.

After a manned control at Nance Park (I still don't know what to do if caught in a rip-tide) we headed inland with a cross/tail wind. I rode on route 192 with Mitsuaki from Japan but this section was very long and tedious. Eventually he decided to take a nap so I kept on going. I passed through Kissimmee during the rush-hour and the narrow county roads that looked so nice and quiet on Google Street level were jammed by impatient, angry motorists. This was one of the more dangerous parts of the route.

Livin' offa my bike

Off of Dean Still Drive we took a delightful bike path for fourteen miles. It was starting to get dark and the sounds from the swamp on either side were fascinating. I couldn't help but notice how well maintained that path is. I was riding with Michele Brougher and a couple of others whose names I forget. This was the best part of the day. We kept an eye open for alligators but didn't see any :-(

Not Michele's best angle

It got a bit climby towards the end of the ride with hills I was to become all too familiar with before the end of the ride. I thought Florida was supposed to be flat but for some reason we traversed the one hilly region four separate times. As expected, the last fifty miles dragged but I got back to the hotel at 23:30 - more than two hours ahead of schedule.

Day 2 - 180 miles to Cracker Swamp and back

After eight hours of solid sleep and another great breakfast I headed out at 8:30 into the prevailing wind. Vince wanted to ride with me but he took off before me. Most of the route is through the Ocala National Forest on narrow, relatively quiet roads. It was pretty. I caught up with Vince for a while and then pulled ahead. I met Charlie doing SAG in Palatka and he told me Vince was having a rough time. It got hot on the Cracker Swamp loop so I took it easy. My plan was to reduce the effect of the heat between noon and 16:00 by taking longer breaks and maybe napping in the shade. That loop was hot but fun. I later heard that Vince's wallet and lights had been stolen at a control.

Vince has had better rides but he is a trooper

On two separate stretches, of several miles each, FDOT had ripped up the shoulder as if in preparation to repave them, but there was no sign of any paving equipment so it looks to me as though FDOT had simply committed acts of wanton vandalism in order to endanger the lives of cyclists. In fact I saw a lot of evidence that FDOT simply does not consider the needs of cyclists in any way.

On the return trip of the loop there was a long section under construction that was extremely dangerous to ride along. It didn't have to be that way - it's just that FDOT didn't give a damn about cyclists when planning the construction.

Thirty miles from the end of the loop I ran out of water - the last control being sixty miles from the end and I failing to take advantage of a store twenty miles later. So I kept an eye open for a church and - Hallelujah - I found a church five miles later. Now I've never seen a church without a drinking fountain or at least a faucet outside and this one was no different. I filled my bottles, including one of perpetuem, and completed the days route.

I completed this loop around 23:45 - close to my target - showered and went to bed.

Day 3 - 185 miles to the South West and back.

I started this loop at 7am after getting about six hours sleep. This was advertised as the hilliest day of the ride and I failed to predict how much it would impact me. The first thing I remember is a gratuitous climb up Sugarloaf mountain road which was a 150' climb at 11% to an unnecessary info control. I guess some people just love climbing.

One of the highlights of the day was Lake Lindsay Deli at mile 65. It's the most run-down hole-in-the-wall place yet I had a great Cuban sandwich there. It was hot so I took an hour long nap behind the deli and woke up wonderfully refreshed.

Lake Lindsay Deli

The route then heads South to a Public House which serves beer and good pub food. I wanted a beer but I have a zero drink/drive policy so had to stick with pub fries. Two outstanding controls in a row! I really must re-evaluate the controls on some of my rides.

At mile 107 we entered yet another lovely bike path at Trilby, only leaving it thirteen miles later at Nobleton. Again, it was well maintained and scenic, unlike so many of the bike paths in Southern California.

Too brain-dead to find the stickers at the control so I took a photo

Then we headed back to Tavares, through the dreaded Howey-in-the-hills area for the third time. I managed to repeat the same mistake as I had the previous day and ran out of water. Again I found libation at a church. The hills and the heat slowed me down and I got back around 02:00 - about two hours behind schedule. It had been a hard day and I had trouble standing upright when I got to the end.

Day 4 - 130 miles to the North West and back (this bit gets kinda gross).

However, I had some buffer built into my schedule so I was able to start the last loop at 9:00 after six hours of sleep and had to hold an average of ten miles an hour to complete the ride in time. This loop heads out through the Howey-in-the-hills area a fourth time (yay hills!). It's quite a complex route so I was glad my navigation was working so well.

Now this is easily the nicest loop of them all (not just because it's the shortest) and I almost felt sorry for the 1000k riders who didn't chose to ride it until I remembered they were probably all in bed sleeping.

Now for reasons I don't understand I hadn't had a bowel movement in six days even though I'd been eating like crazy. Around mile seventy that came to an end with some urgency. I clearly wasn't going to make it to the next control seven miles up the road but I was lucky to find a Columbian restaurant called "Rice and Beans" at mile seventy two and ordered some oxtail soup before bolting to the restroom. When I came out there was the most wonderful bowl of oxtail soup on my table with boiled potatoes, cilantro, onion, rice and avocado. The address there is 1660 County Rd 475, Summerfield, FL 34491. It would be a great place to stop on a bike ride.

Oxtail soup - best food of the ride

Heading back to Tavares was lovely although the headwind put me down on the aerobars a lot. The roads are mainly quiet and pretty with the exception of Leesburg. Leaving Leesburg on route 25A the mosquitoes were thicker than I'd seen them anywhere else on the ride. It was just like I was riding in my hotel room.

The last control was at the BP gas station in Okahumpka (I kid you not) where I saw they had boiled green peanuts for sale. Boiled green what? I passed, but remembered it for later. The last twenty miles after the control was on smooth shoulder with a tailwind and almost no climbing. What a great way to finish a ride.

I got to the end of the ride with one hour to spare and people were clapping and there was valet parking for my bike. I went inside and got my medal and a logoed beer glass full of delicious home brew. They were grilling steak so I had some and a baked potato and sat down with Vickie Backman and Doug Church and Geoff (spelled correctly) and drank my beer and felt pretty pleased with myself. I got to bed around 23:00.

The day after - Packing up and alligator hunting

The next day we set out to find those boiled green peanuts. We tried one place, nope, we tried a second place, nope. We stopped at a German deli for a lovely, though slow, lunch. Finally we drove all the way back to the BP gas station where I had seen the boiled green peanuts. There was a cauldron of warm water with some peanuts floating in it. We tried one each - they were disgusting - just like chewing on wet cardboard. Oh what a let down. At least we hadn't bought cans first. The store owner told us they were "very good" but I didn't see him offering to eat one.

Breakfast the following day (yes, both of them)

One of the things I really wanted to do was to see an alligator. I hadn't seen one on the ride, sadly, so on the day we flew back, Doug and I went back to Lake Dora to look for alligators and eat one last time at Las Palmas. We went walking along the shore of Lake Dora and sure enough we saw two alligators, a little three footer and a bigger eight to ten footer. Then we ate at Las Palmas, each of us buying two Cuban sandwiches to go - one for the plane and one for our wives. I don't think our wives will ever understand how difficult it was for us to bring them a sandwich all the way back from Florida without eating it on the way.


I think there were several reasons why I found this ride to be so much easier than I expected. First and foremost is the design of the route. The four loop format meant I was back at my hotel room each night. I didn't have to carry more than I needed for the day, I didn't have to worry about sag bags, and I didn't have to share a gym floor with a hundred snoring riders. Every multi-day brevet should have this format.

Second, despite my whining, there really wasn't much climbing on the route. Paul claimed it was 14,000', my rwgps app counted 24,000', and I suspect the truth was close to Paul's estimate. In general the road quality was good although there were some spectacularly bad sections. Floridian drivers, despite having a bad reputation, were uniformly polite and considerate.

Somehow each day was more enjoyable than the previous one. I don't know if I had some kind of mental thing going on, or if each day's route truly was better. Taking time to rest between each loop helped a lot too. I never got tired, or depressed, or too sore. I had an enjoyable ride - four, separate, enjoyable rides.

This was my first 1200k so I have nothing to compare it to. I can only say that I felt this was exceptionally good value and the support was faultless. I want to give a special shout-out to Charlie Fournier who had a knack for showing up with water and stuff just as I was thinking "I wish the SAG wagon was here".

Flashing that swag

Of course Paul Rozelle organized the whole thing and managed to pull it together despite Hurricane Matthew pounding part of the route just a few days before the ride. What a great ride and what wonderful memories.