This is a longish entry (2,800 words), on par with some of the travelogues you’ll find in TCA’s DoubleTalk and crazyguyonabike.com, so you’ve been warned.
A small group of long-time friends whom we’ve come to know while attending tandem rallies throughout the southeast gathered for a 3-day weekend of socializing and tandem riding near Saint Augustine, Florida on March 11-13. I believe there were 16 couples on hand all told, most of whom are “regulars” at the Georgia & Southern Tandem Rallies each year.
The trip down: Because of work commitments we weren’t able to make the 6hr drive from our home northwest of Atlanta to St. Augustine until Friday morning, noting this is one of those point to point trips where you can’t get there from here… at least in a relatively straight line. All of the major highways head to either Savannah, Georgia or towards Orlando, Florida and require an 80-mile dog-leg journey along I95 OR I10 that adds at least an hour or more to the trip. Well, that or you can split the difference on Georgia state highways, which is what we did for the trip down.. just to see if it would save any time. It didn’t, but it was a lot more scenic (noting ‘a lot’ is relative).
Finding our friends: We arrived at the Condo complex where we’d be staying around noon to see if anyone was home so we could get ourselves unloaded and dressed for an afternoon ride, but didn’t find anyone about. So, having seen a map of the Friday ride in an Email, and knowing several of our friends were staying at a Hampton Inn & Suites along the coast in St. Augustine, we decided to take a drive down and cruise the out-and-back ride route to see if we could find them. If we found them, we’d decide at that point if we’d join them for lunch, or do the Friday route solo. As luck would have it, we were able to find them out on the road — all bundled-up and hammering along in a drafting line with a nice tailwind. We doubled back and somewhat surprised them by pacing along side in our truck while Debbie tried her had at taking her first-ever photos of people riding bikes from a moving car (or in any other situation, for that matter). It took our friends a few moments to figure out who the idiots in the black truck were pacing them and taking pictures since Debbie’s lovely and familiar face was hidden by the camera. However, I believe it was Eve or Roger who finally recognized the shiny black behemoth of a truck as ours as Debbie clicked off a few more photos and as you can see, she got a little better at centering folks with each successive photo.
Below, moving from lower-right to upper left: In the first photo we lost a stoker (Sara of Sara & Bill) but caught the derrière of another. The 2nd photo was a non-photo where we lost the rest of the team attached to the aforementioned derrière (Roger & Eve). In photo #3 Al & Heidi were almost all in, and we got two good ones of Smith & Claude (red & yellow jerseys) and Duncan & Laura (yellow & black), with a pretty good final shot of the lead tandem… Greg & Angela (white vests).
Whoops… we lost a team!
Our afternoon: After greeting our friends and pissing off a following motorist who was in a hurry to get to the next red-light, we motored ahead to where their cars were parked at the Hampton Inn where we’d meet up with them when they rolled in perhaps 20 minutes later. We decided to kill time by taking a walk on Vilano Beach, only to find it wasn’t a sandy beach, per se. Instead, bazillions of shells covered what would have been a beach making for an interesting and crunchy walk. That kind of killed it for me, but Debbie was has happy as could be wandering along the shore and taking in the ocean view. It was actually a sunny but cool 60ish degrees with a stout breeze blowing which somewhat helped us in our decision to forego an afternoon ride along the shore, well that and the steady stream of traffic that we’d have to deal with based on what we observed on our own drive. As we walked back towards the Hampton we saw our friends roll into the parking lots, then headed over to say hello and figure out what their plans were for lunch. We ended up ditching the idea of an afternoon ride and went on to lunch with them at Cap’s on the Water along the Intercostal Waterway. It was a great move as we had a very nice and relaxing lunch and then headed off to our host’s Rick & Debbie’s in-land condo where we found many other friends and acquaintances socializing and getting lodging instructions for the weekend. We found our condo and I had to quickly do some work before the afternoon got away from me: electronic leashes and 24/7 work life as a 1099 slave kind of sucks at times… But I digress.
The condos we stayed in were huge and luxurious, and also put us in close quarters with other guests, which made for a really nice experience. We also liked having a home-like place to relax, a full kitchen, big bathrooms & closets and time to get to know our condo-mates a little better. However, a bit of the “rally-like” experience was lost without having that group gathering for breakfast and or at a hospitality suite, so there were definitely some trade-offs.
Dinner & goodnight: The group of 32 met for dinner at a the Outback Crab Shack at Six Mile Marina. It was an interesting place that’s popular with the locals and seems to get mixed reviews. I thought the chainsaw sitting in the food prep area was a bit interesting and also got a look at the kitchen crew in action: I had a salad with blackened chicken and a couple of Coronas and passed on the more exotic fare. I think Debbie had a burger. Reviews along our end of the table were, well… mixed. Huge quantities of food, mostly tasty but not all and the server seems a bit overwhelmed. But, the company was awesome and it was nice to have a place that was able to seat all 32 of us on a Friday night. We retired to our room for the evening where I was able to finish up some work before calling it a night and shutting down the laptop for the rest of our visit.
The Morning: Our condo mates — Duncan & Laura and Bill & Sara are partners in crime from North Carolina who really know how to live life with gusto. They were up and atom, dressed and ready to go and working on breakfast when we finally emerged from our room. Debbie had a bowl of cereal for breakfast and I did the breakfast of champs: caffeine free Diet Coke & Pop-Tarts (double fudge, I believe). Yeah, just not much of a breakfast person… I’d just assume have a BLT or turkey melt as sausage and eggs and seem to do just fine on a soft drink, junk and a fistful of vitamins: I’ll pay for this later in life… wait a minute, this IS later in life!!!
The Ride: It was a lovely, sunny day with a coolish start that ended up in the mid- to upper- 60’s. The blinged-out Calfee made it’s debut, resplendent with its yellowish Kevlar & carbon black spokes, Ti-nitrate (gold) drive and sync chains, and our new SRAM X.O rear derailleur with — yes — gold accents. As mentioned in another posting last week, the shifting performance of the Campy 10 speed ergo levers, & SRAM rear derailleur aided by the JTek Shiftmate Straight 5S was nearly flawless so from a bike standpoint, it was a great weekend. We headed out en mass as a group for the first leg of our 52 mile ride with the 32 mile riders and it was a really great group ride. Everyone stayed together, played nice and motored along at a reasonable pace.
The Mechanical: A few miles into the ride one of our friends who shall remain nameless had a major equipment failure. Or, rather, a recurrence of an earlier failure that they experienced while a tandem cycling holiday in Italy last year: their right rear drop-out and chain stay weld failed. In Italy, it was most likely a broken rear axle that contributed to the drop-out and chain stay break which was spot-welded as a temporary repair on their tour. While they’d planned to send the damaged frame off for repair, the spring riding schedule just hadn’t allowed for it and, noting it was a matter of when and not if the weld would break, some rumble strips did it in on this ride. Several of us surveyed the broken frame and thankfully, someone had a small strip of some Gorilla or super-sticky Duck Tape that we were able to use to make a field repair that would be good enough to get them back to the hotel, so long as they rode easy and avoided any big bumps in the road. Amazingly, good fortune smiled upon our friends as another one of the couples at the weekend gathering had brought along a second, spare tandem! So, our friends were able to return to the condo’s with another couple as their escort “just in case” the duck tape repair didn’t hold, retrieve the spare tandem (which actually fit pretty well) and salvage most of their weekend without missing much more than 12 of the 52 mile ride on Saturday… Yes, the frame is now en route to a frame builder for repair and we’ve loaned them our spare road tandem to fill the void.
Getting back to the ride, once we had our friends turned around and headed back to the condos we hunkered down for a really great, somewhat vigorous ride on the very flat Florida terrain. I think we may have gained 125 vert. feet over the 52 miles… which is a little less than what we get in 3/10’s of a mile when we ride from home up our community’s 8% entry road. Everyone took turns pulling and we were able to spend a lot of time chatting with Greg & Angela whom we only get to see about 2 or 3 times a year, as well as yucking it up with the rest of our riding companions. We had one short stop at a small landing for potty breaks. We hammered along the coast for a few more miles until we hit the official store stop around 40 miles or so. Some of our riding companions from the morning opted to add-on some extra miles, while some others had lunch plans of their own that also took them on down the road for some bonus miles. We opted to finish up the day’s ride with our hosts and their posse on the 52-mile “official” route. As we headed back towards our condo’s and lunch stop we ran into our friends on the borrowed tandem and their escort who turned around and fell in with our group. We had a lovely remainder of the ride and ended up a the Murray Brothers Caddy Shack restaurant and Looper’s Lounge as our lunch stop.
Lunch: GREAT RESTAURANT! No kidding, the Caddy Shack was a wonderful experience. The service was outstanding, all of the food looked spectacular (heck, I even fell prey to the allure of a food cam shot or two), our meals were delicious and the portions were large. Add in the great company of our weekend hosts and other riding companions, and it was right up there as one of the best en route lunch stops I can recall, all things considered.
At left, Rick & Debbie’s club sandwich and at right, my authentic Chicago-style hot dog: ymmmm good.
The Afternoon & Dead Battery: The ride back to the condos was a short 1.5 miles or so. We bid our friend adieu and got cleaned up before attempting to head down to Saint Augustine for a couple of hours. I say attempted as I inadvertently killed the battery in my truck and had to get a jump from a kindly neighbor. In the morning and before heading off for our ride I’d discovered that Debbie’s Garmin 305 had not fully charged. So I jumped into the truck using the passenger door, plugged her Garmin into a DC charging port and then goosed the ignition to the on position to juice up the DC port and then turned the ignition back off and pulled out the key. Well, that’s all fine well and good if you do that on the driver’s side of the truck, as our ’06 Toyota Tundra has a nifty little deal where by you can leave the headlights on all the time so that they function a daytime driving lights. Then shut themselves off when you kill the ignition and open the driver’s door. But, they ONLY turn themselves off when you open the driver’s side door… not the passenger door. So, my headlights were left on for about six hours and that was that for the battery. Ah yes, it’s always something. Anyway, our trip to Saint Augustine also turned out to be a non-event as we found ourselves swamped in a sea of tourists and bumper-to-bumper traffic as there were all kinds of festivals going on over the weekend. We quickly found our way out-of-town and back to our condo complex where we decided to chill until we had to leave for dinner.
Back to Saint Augustine For Dinner: Around 5:30 we headed back to Saint Augustine where we were meeting with most of the weekend crowd for dinner at the Columbia in the heart of the old city. The city was still packed with traffic but I was able to get Debbie dropped off at the Columbia and within about 10 minutes found a parking spot not too far away. As it was with lunch, dinner found almost everyone from the weekend at the same table for some wonderful and lively conversation, story telling and short bios as we learned a bit more about some of our new friends. The meals were excellent as was the service. I think we spent the better part of 90 minutes at the restaurant before heading back to our condo to watch coverage of the emerging crisis in Japan following the Earthquake and Tsunami. What a tragedy…
The Ride: Sunday was another BEAUTIFUL sunny morning, still not hot but also not cold. We rolled out of the parking lot around 9am for a brisk 36 mile ride in something of a box pattern that would take us down and eventually back up International Golf Parkway (aka, 9-mile road), an amazing two-lane road covered by a canopy of cypress trees. Once again, the large group played nice and took turns pulling which made for a fun, fast and spirited ride. We had a brief store stop and were back at the condos before 11am.
The trip home: In that we had a 6hr drive ahead of us and I had some work to do when we finally got home, we took a quick shower, got our things packed, bid our farewells to our hosts and other friends and headed for home before noon. We opted to take the dog leg west out the I10 freeway towards the I75 and were making great time until we hit Atlanta and found that all of the major highways headed north and west were backed up with traffic from road work and/or accident. No kidding, I275 east had delays due to an accident, I75N through Atlanta put us into 20 minutes of grid lock, and as we bailed west on I20 to end-run the mess on I275 west we found it too had back-ups from an accident. So, we decided to try I20 west to Thornton Rd. and son of a gun if the I20 didn’t back-up to stand still at Six Flags! We finally negotiated our way home through some back roads, having lost the 30 minutes we’d gained on the way to Atlanta.
Well, that’s it kiddies. If you read this far… maybe YOU need a hobby! Seriously, thanks for reading. I had to kill an hour while waiting to have tires installed on Debbie’s car at Costco yesterday morning and this seemed to be a good way to do it. I was the envy of the other early risers who wanted to be first-in / first-out sitting in my folding chair with my Diet Coke in the bevvy-holder working away on my laptop at the entry door to the tire installation center from 8:30am to 9:30am.