LEADING UP TO THE RALLY
Unlike previous Southern Tandem Rallies (STR), this year Debbie and I would be on the tandem instead of the triplet with our friend Lisa. Given STR was being held in Venice, Florida, making it the furthest we’ve ever travelled for a Southern Tandem Rally, not having Lisa along was both a good thing and a bad thing. It was a good thing because the logistics would have been a bit complicated, but it was a bad thing because we do enjoy riding with Lisa and the dead-flat roads around Venice, Florida, would have been a place where the triplet would have ‘owned the road’ unconstrained by elevation changes.
However, even with the somewhat simplified logistics, we had a lot on our plate we needed to attend to before we headed off on Thursday for the 550-mile drive:
- At the top of the list were some pressing family matters that were weighing heavily on Debbie’s mind and that could require us to either cancel or cut our trip to Venice, Florida, short.
- We had a massive hurricane heading into the Gulf that was expected to wreak havoc along the Gulf Coast and then move through other parts of Florida and Georgia which could also cause a change in plans.
- Our “tandem hauler” was having more suspension issues and needed to go into the shop for repairs before the trip and, fingers crossed, those repairs and the replacement of a sensor that I had on order would enable us to have a reliable vehicle for the trip.
- Our tandem still had an unresolved issue that was either something serious or simply an annoying nit.
- And there were half a dozen other balls in the air as well.
It suffices to say, we had a very busy few days ahead of us before making the long drive. I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I was still working! Anyway, by the end of day Wednesday, we were still planning on making the drive down to Venice, Florida for the Southern Tandem Rally; this assumed: (1) Debbie’s family had a some issues under control and there wasn’t anything else Debbie could do to help, (2) Interstate I-75 through Georgia was still open following Hurricane Michael’s passing, and (3) Venice, Florida remained unaffected by the hurricane.
I had a sleepless night, as I always do before any trip: why is that? I finally gave up attempting to sleep around 5:00am and came down to work on my weekly journal and access at the damage from Hurricane Michael as well as the plunge in markets on Wednesday.
After confirming there weren’t any major obstacles to making our trip, we began our 550-mile / 8-hour drive down to Venice, Florida around 11:00am and it was an uneventful drive, for the most part.
We made a short stop for lunch at a Subway in Unadilla, Georgia, where there was some visible wind damage, mostly to signage. We saw a lot of wind damage around Cordelle, Georgia, and multiple caravans of utility and Emergency Response Team vehicles headed north on I-75. The electronic message boards warned of I-10 begin closed West of Tallahassee, Florida, but the rest of the drive didn’t suggest there had been devastating damage just 150 to 200 miles away.
We arrived at Hotel Venezia around 7:00pm, checked-in and then visited a bit with other guests at the hotel bar where a social hour was in full swing. We didn’t stay too long noting it had been a tough day for Debbie as she was monitoring the situation with her family back home and it was not good news; a family member passed later that night.
Sadly, on a night when we were both in need of some rest, our room was next door to a couple from a wedding party who came “home” at 11:30pm pretty much drunk out of their minds. The room walls were paper-thin and allowed just about every noise above a whisper to pass into our room. We called the front desk and alerted them to the problem and even the hotel staff was unable to get them to quiet down. The loud voices and outbursts went on until 1:00am, and began again around 3:00am. It was not the restful sleep we both needed.
Following our fitful night, we go ourselves up around 7:20am which didn’t give us a lot of time to get breakfast and be ready to ride by the 8:15am rider’s meeting. However, we did our best and made it to the ride start on time. However, before heading out we let the hotel staff know we’d need to change rooms if the same couple would be spending the night in the room next to us on Friday. They said no problem; we’d sort it out after we returned from our ride.
We headed out on the 50-mile route well-back in the pack and quickly found ourselves with three strong teams: Paul M. & Jennifer K. from New York, Peter & Karin D. from New Jersey and Michael & Nancy G. from Florida. However, as we headed north on a 6-mile multi-use path cruising along at 22 mph we realized we’d eventually have to fall off the pace of the three couples we were riding with who were clearly stronger cyclists than we are. Moreover, we knew we had friends not too far behind so we fell off from the faster group and eventually fell-in with our friends to finish up the 50-mile route. Our group of seven included long-time friends & GTR co-directors Roger S. & Eve K from Georgia, Reg & Michelle U from Florida, Earle & Laura R. from Florida, Walt & Kathy C. from Texas, Jeff & Judy C. from Illinois and Thompson & Susan M. from Florida (photo below by Steve K., using Eve K’s camera).
It was a good day on the bike for us, but we do struggle with the dead flat riding vs. our rolling hills back at home: somehow, we find the rolling terrain to be more enjoyable and less fatiguing.
Back at the hotel we checked in with the staff who began working on the room swap while we grabbed showers and then headed to the hotel bar for lunch. The prime rib wrap and Caesar salad was perfect! If only we had a view of the Gulf! Perhaps we’ll be able to swing that for dinner.
After lunch we were given our new room keys and moved our belongings to the much more remote room with just one common wall to another room: it immediately felt more relaxing as soon as we entered the room. Debbie stayed behind to relax while I headed out to the pool to get some sun and work on the journals.
Around 4:30pm we headed off to find Fins at Sharky’s a restaurant and bar adjacent to the South Venice Pier and on the Gulf so we could get in some coastline therapy. Fins was perfect! We didn’t get to sit at the bar, but our server at the 2nd floor outdoor lounge was awesome and right on top of things. We enjoyed our cocktails with a wonderful view of the Gulf and ended up having a very light but elegant dinner from their appetizer menu: Oysters Rockefeller and a small serving of hand cut Waygu beef seared at our table on a Hot Stone.
It was a much-needed, very relaxing and luxurious afternoon topped-off with a lovely sunset. And, well, the market came back a bit, so that was good news too!
We headed back to the hotel after our sunset and joined the rest of the rally goers for the ice cream social before heading on to bed. Thankfully it was a quiet night for us. Even still, we both didn’t sleep as well as we’d hoped.
We got ourselves up a little after 7:00am and headed down to breakfast, noting we’d need to leave the hotel around 8:15am for the short drive to today’s ride start… at Sharky’s.
I did a little investigating on the tandem before the ride and finally found what I believe was the source of the creaking: the lockring on the cassette. It appeared to be a hairline crack so I swapped it out with another lockring from a spare cassette and sure enough, the creaking noise was gone on Saturday’s ride!
We started out the ride (photo at left by Eve K) thinking we’d be doing the 60-mile route, but about mid-ride decided to join the other 6 or 7 teams in our group from Friday and do the 42-mile route instead: it was the right call for several reasons.
We really enjoyed being out with several other teams for the past two day’s rides, as opposed to getting out too fast too early and finding ourselves riding alone at large rallies. It would have been the perfect rally for the triplet, had our friend Lisa been able to attend. Alas, that was not the case. But, still… it has been a really nice event. And Saturday’s ride through the Canopy Drive and along the coast was delightful, the sag stop was at just the right place and the lunch back at Sharky’s may have been one of the top-five we’ve ever had at a rally: it was very simple with burgers, pulled-pork, salads and soft drinks.
As mentioned, the 42-mile ride was the right call as we weren’t so worn out by the dead-flat riding and hot sun and, well, one of the two rails on my saddle failed just after we took the turn at the 42/62-mile route splitting point. After a quick check I decided I could ride the final 7 miles with the broken saddle by sitting on the nose. But, I’d have to stop at a local bike shop and buy a new saddle for Sunday’s ride, that was for sure.
We spent the afternoon relaxing at the hotel bar after making a stop at the local bike shop so I could pick up a new saddle to replace the one that broke on the ride. After getting cleaned up and replacing the broken saddle we parked ourselves at the hotel bar to relax and watch college football until it was time to get ready for the Saturday night banquet. We ended up sharing a table with Art & Deborah T., from Wisconsin whom we’d met at the hotel bar on Friday night and Venice Florida locals Randy & Nancy Hurley. Sadly, I’m drawing a blank on the other couple whom we met at our table, but we had a great time and hopefully I didn’t run my mouth too much as I seemed to be in a very chatty mood.
Given that Debbie really needed to get home as early as possible on Sunday as she needed to check in with family on the final arrangements for her family member’s viewing on Monday and funeral on Tuesday. With that in mind, we opted to ride the short, 21-mile route vs. the 31-mile route that most of our friends would be riding.
We had a great start to the ride, spending the majority of our time riding and chatting with long-time friends Greg & Angela K. from Florida. In fact, we were so engrossed in our discussions that the the turn-off point for the 31-mile riders caught us by surprise. Sadly, we never really finished our conversation, so we’ll have to catch up with them somewhere else in the not too distant future to do that.
Anyway, now that we were clearly on the 21-mile route we sprinted ahead to make quick work of the ride and found ourselves riding with Paul, Jennifer, Peter & Karin again, just as we had on Friday. We stayed with them for several miles but Debbie finally said “enough, it’s time to back off” and we parted company about 1/3 of the way through the ride. We finished up the ride by ourselves and were back at the hotel just before 10:00am. We had ourselves cleaned-up, packed and on the road by 10:30am for the 8-hour return drive to Atlanta.
The drive home was almost uneventful, if you can ever call driving along side Floridian’s uneventful: I swear, they’re some of the worst interstate drivers we’ve ever encountered. Regardless, we lost a good 30 minutes sitting in a traffic jam about 3-miles south of the I-75 / Florida tollway interchange were apparently a couple of drivers got together. However, once clear of that it was relatively smooth sailing. We did our best to stay connected to the NFL games via local radio stations and finally arrived back in our neck of the woods around 6:40pm, stopping at Loco Willy’s to have some dinner before heading home.
It was a good trip, and in some respects, a much-needed distraction for Debbie. We’ll have a couple very busy and emotionally draining days at home with Debbie’s family member’s viewing on Monday and funeral on Tuesday before meeting with our financial advisors on Wednesday and then heading to Daytona Beach, Florida early on Thursday morning on our Harley for the fall motorcycle rally through Sunday.