Road biking, dirt road riding on Frankenbike, tandem riding, group riding, time trialing, randonneuring - I love to ride, and I love to write. As I've traveled along on two wheels, I've learned one thing: Expect Adventure. Join me on the journey!

Betty Jean Jordan

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Athens 200K Permanent: The Palindrome Ride

I would have done this month's Audax Atlanta brevet, the Little White House 200K, but it was last weekend, the same weekend as the Deer Festival and Deer Dash.  I always like to support my local community.  So, instead I did the Athens 200K permanent yesterday.  It had been a while since I had ridden a 200K by myself, but I didn't mind.  Besides, it was the twelfth ride to complete my fifth R-12!  The R-12 is awarded by Randonneurs USA (RUSA) to a member who completes a RUSA event of 200K or more in twelve consecutive months.

Sunrise was at 7:01 AM.  I'm sure I would have been fine with a 7:00 AM start, but I set it for 7:30 instead just to make sure I had plenty of light.  I certainly didn't mind another half hour of sleep either!  I drove to the usual starting location for the Athens 200K, which is a motel in Watkinsville.

My stomach had been rather unsettled that morning.  Maybe it was the remnants of a bug I had a few days before.  On Wednesday I wasn't feeling great and lay down as soon as I got home from work.  I wound up taking a three-hour nap and didn't even cook dinner.  I had a slight fever, too.  The next morning I felt much better, though.  On Friday I felt more tired than usual at the end of the day, but I attributed that to my 14-hour day of teaching.  Regardless of whether I was still recovering on Saturday, I wasn't exactly sick, but my stomach was bothering me just enough to be an annoyance during my ride.  A randonee, even a "short" 200K, is challenging enough without extra worries.  However, I was determined not to let my stomach stop me.

It was my coldest ride of the season so far, but I was dressed well for it.  Although I'm a heat lover, I still enjoyed the beauty of the bright fall morning.  The Athens 200K route follows quiet, lovely roads through the exurbs and farms between Athens and Madison.

My Trek, which I use for randonnuering, has a detachable bike bag, i.e., the Yogi Bear picnic basket.  Usually, I use my Yogi Bear picnic basket only on 300Ks or longer.  Yesterday, however, I had a particular use for it on this 200K.  As soon as possible after teaching a class, I have to mail my students' certification exams to be scored.  Because Monday is a holiday (Veterans Day, observed), I didn't want to wait until Tuesday morning to mail the exams from my Friday class.  Therefore, I carried the exams in my Yogi Bear picnic basket.  I stopped at the post office in Madison.  The timing was perfect, and my students are taken care of.  There's more than one way to skin a cat (although I don't know why you'd want more than one way).

I wasn't feeling particularly hungry during the ride, but I made myself eat something about every 25 miles.  At the control in Eatonton, I got a can of Coca-Cola Classic (the magic elixir of randonneuring) and some dill pickle-flavored peanuts.  Those both hit the spot.

I'm glad I refueled at that point because the next 25 miles were the hardest of the day.  The headwind was significant.  I hoped it wouldn't set me back too far on my goal of finishing before 5:00 PM (close to sunset).  Although the going seemed slow, my speed didn't seem too bad as I checked it on my Garmin.  I was performing OK despite my still-wonky stomach.

On one of my Garmin checks, I was just over 82 miles.  Ooo, if I kept a close eye on it, I could watch when it turned to 82.28 miles - a palindrome!  It was a minor thrill when those digits appeared.  I could do it again at 83.38 miles.  Oops, I was thinking about something else at 83.38 miles, but I had plenty more palindromes after that.  (Hey, I'm easily entertained, and entertainment of most any kind is welcome on a solo permanent.)

Palindromes became the theme of the rest of my ride.  My rides frequently acquire themes.  I can't predict them; they just happen.  That reminds me of one of Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts:

"If you get invited to your first orgy, don't just show up nude.  That's a common mistake.  You have to let nudity 'happen.'"

After 100 miles, my Garmin display changes from two decimal places to one.  Therefore, once I got to 100 miles, I'd have only a few more palindrome opportunities: 100.1, 111.1, and 122.1.  I was determined to see these three.

At mile 97 I stopped at an intersection.  It was only a few miles to the next control, but I wanted to go ahead and eat something.  I sat in a nice grassy area and ate a Clif Bar.

When I got to the next control, a convenience store control in Rutledge, I got some Powerade.  Certain Gatorade and Powerade flavors can be kind of icky, particularly well into a long ride.  I selected some kind of "frost" flavor.  I hoped it would be something like grapefruit, which appealed to me at the moment.  I definitely didn't want the cherry flavored glacier/frost flavor, but this one didn't say cherry.  As I opened the bottle, I thought, "Please don't be gross.  Please don't be gross."  It was gross.  But I drank it anyway because I needed the liquid and calories.

Between the Clif Bar a few miles earlier and the gross Powerade, I felt much better.  In fact, I felt better during the last 25 miles of the ride than I had the previous 25 miles.  I knew there was a steep climb shortly after Rutledge as I exited Hard Labor Creek State Park.  That climb didn't faze me, nor did the two or three others between there and the finish.  I was grateful to be feeling so much better.

During the remaining miles, I transitioned to word palindromes.  There's redivider, the longest single word in English that's a palindrome.

I also thought of Madam, I'm Adam.  If my name were Adam, every time I met a woman, I'd introduce myself this way.

Dammit, I'm mad.  Not really, because when I thought of that one, I laughed.

A few miles from the end, I was riding on a sunny straightaway.  I glanced to my right and saw my shadow.  Just at that moment, two other shadows of bicycles approached my own!  A friendly couple greeted me and asked if I was having a good ride.  I said yes, but I was about ready for it to be over because I had been on the road since 7:30 AM.  They asked how far I had ridden, and I said 122.5 miles so far.  The woman asked if I was training for something.  I didn't want to take the time, and I didn't think they were really interested anyway, to tell them about my fifth R-12 or next year's PBP, and so I simply said, "I'm just crazy."  She smiled and replied, "That's our kind of crazy!"  Ride on!

I rolled in at 4:50 PM.  It was before sunset.  Also, I was satisfied with my finishing time, especially considering that my stomach had felt less-than-optimal all day.

I went inside to the motel restroom to change clothes.  My legs didn't feel too spry as I walked across the parking lot.  Then, when I went inside, my quads felt like they were about to seize up!  That's only happened to me once before, at a 5K run several years ago.  Fortunately, yesterday my legs soon felt better, particularly when I went back outside.  I suspect it was some kind of muscle reaction to the significant change in temperature between inside and outside.

Before I headed home, I had one more stop - the Quick Trip next door.  My friend Julie had clued me into their hot, soft pretzels, which she said are good post-ride food.  She was right!  It was perfect for the drive home and also sat well on my stomach.  I didn't even mind that I had forgotten to put mustard on it in my eagerness to get home.

To close, I'll leave you with the best palindrome ever: taco cat.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sautéed Green 25

For about the past 10 years, my friend Monte has hosted the Fried Green 50 (FG50) on the first Sunday in November.  I've ridden most years, and I really look forward to this annual mostly dirt-road ride in the Piedmont Wildlife Refuge (PWR) and surrounding area.  It's one of my favorite places to ride, and the weather is usually exceptional on this particular weekend.  So, I was sad to learn that Monte wouldn't be holding the FG50 this year.

Because the FG50 wasn't happening, I agreed to teach Sunday school.  I team teach with my friend Barbara.  She had filled in for me the past few weeks, and so I was definitely due to spell her.  Then, a few days ago, Monte put the word out that he was getting together a last-minute FG50 after all.  Drat.  Sometimes it's hard being a responsible person.

I came up with a good plan after all.  I packed my cyclocross bike, kit, and gear in my car.  I taught Sunday school as promised.  Then, I bailed on bricks-and-mortar church and headed to the PWR for bike church.

I parked at Allison Lake toward the eastern side of the PWR.  Monte and whoever else showed up had left at about 10:00 AM from the regular starting point at the boat ramp in Juliette at the western side of the FG50 route.  I got on the road about 11:15 AM and picked up the route partway through.  I hoped my timing was such that I might see some of the other riders.

The portion of the FG50 route that I rode took me on the south side of the PWR.  This is a beautiful section that I don't get to ride nearly as often as the northern side.  From Allison Lake I rode west on Round Oak-Juliette Road (paved) and turned left onto Little Rock Wildlife Road (unpaved).  Local off-roadies call this the "wildlife loop."  It winds through breathtakingly picturesque woods.  The angle of the sunlight on a bright fall day somehow makes this section especially stunning.

I completed the wildlife loop and came back out on Round Oak-Juliette Road.  Right after that turn, I came up to a couple on gravel bikes.  Yep, they were doing the FG50.  I was glad to finally find some other riders!

Easy come, easy go.  I was riding a little faster than they were, and so I continued on solo.  A short distance later, I turned onto Caney Creek Road for the next dirt section to the south.  After about a mile and a half, I turned left onto Pippin Road.  Somehow I had forgotten just how hilly Pippin Road is.  It's got several significant climbs, particularly for dirt road riding, including one that's about 11.5% for a short distance!  I managed just fine, though.  The fact that I wasn't going at my usual FG50 race pace helped.  In fact, today I quite enjoyed a lot of scenery that I'm usually riding too hard to be able to notice.

I checked the time and decided I would ride half the FG50 distance, i.e., a Sautéed Green 25.  If I took the most direct route from there back to my car, I would be about 4 miles short.  So, I decided to go to the next dirt section and add a short out-and-back distance to get my 25 miles.

I rode north on Highway 11.  As I approached the fire tower at the intersection of Highway 11 and Round Oak-Juliette Road, there was another group of cyclists!  It was my friends Chris, Jake, Monte, Van, and three other guys I didn't know.  Cool!  Now I could ride with them for a while.

After they finished their break, we continued a little farther north and turned left back onto dirt at Westvaco Road.  This section was a prime example of what great shape the roads were in.  The dirt was well-packed with minimal gravel.  I've never seen the PWR roads look so good.

Alas, I got to ride with my recently found cycling buddies only a few miles.  The regular FG50 route headed northward for a while, but I didn't want to add that many miles.  I could have done a predictable out-and-back section on Westvaco Road, but I changed my mind at the last minute.  Instead, when we got to the first intersection on Westvaco Road, I turned south onto Mussleman Road.  Expect adventure.

I had never ridden this road and didn't know exactly how it connected, but I figured it had to somehow.  (The fact that Monte didn't discourage me from taking that turn also gave me confidence that it connected.)  I knew the direction I needed to go, and so I simply had some fun exploring.  After about a mile, the road came to a T intersection.  I thought the road to the right might connect to some other PWR roads that I would be familiar with, but I had a feeling the road to the left would take me out toward a cluster of houses on Round Oak-Juliette Road.  I took the road to the left.

My hunch was right.  I came out right where I thought I would.  From there, it was just a couple of miles back to my car at Allison Lake.  Actually, when I got back to my car, I was about 1/4 mile short of 25, and so I rode back and forth on Allison Lake Road to top it off.

Monte has plans to bring back the FG50 next year.  I sure hope it happens, but even if it doesn't, I know where I'll be on the first Sunday in November.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Georgia Neuro Team Camp 2018

Another Georgia Neuro team camp has just concluded.  It was a wonderful weekend.  This year we went to Alabama.  We rode near Lineville and Wedowee as well as up Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama.  With this trip, our Georgia Neuro team now has visited all of our neighboring states during our annual training camps: Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee as well as our own state of Georgia.

Robert did most of the planning, including finding a great Airbnb rental house on Lake Wedowee and mapping our riding routes for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Most of the team was able to go to camp: Allen, Bill, Cal, Chad, Cody, Jeff C. (a.k.a. Stoney), Jeff K., Robert, Van, and me.  Additionally, our cycling friends Chris and Doug joined us as well as Stoney's wife Jodi.  It was a fun group!

Most of us were able to get away from work early enough on Friday for a ride.  We gathered at a country church north of Cheaha to approach the mountain from the north.  It was an out-and-back route of 26 miles with significant climbing, over 3,300 ft.

I had thought the hills would work to my advantage, but that wasn't the case.  Our group spread out as we went up and down the climbs.  I really didn't mind falling behind on the descents because that allowed me to take them at a pace comfortable to me.  I hoped I would be able to keep up better the rest of the weekend...

We finished the ride with just enough daylight to spare and started the half-hour drive to our Airbnb lake house.  A few miles later, we passed the most triumphant roadside attraction I've ever seen:

I SO wanted to go!  I proceeded to read about it online.  It's all human actors with no animatronics.  As if that weren't great enough, it benefits the Hollis Volunteer Fire Department.  Maybe I could talk everyone into going the next night...

We arrived at the Airbnb house on Lake Wedowee.  It was perfect for our group, sleeping 15 people and having a spacious kitchen and common area, grill, and even kayaks!  The only downside was that it was a couple of miles of driving on super muddy dirt roads to get from the main highway to the house.  We would have to find an alternate location for the our ride starts on Saturday and Sunday because we wouldn't be able to ride our road bikes on these dirt roads.

When we arrived at the house, Cal said that we ought to go to the Haunted Chicken House the next night.  Yea!  An ally!

On Friday night we went out for dinner.  This is a remote area of Alabama, and so there weren't a plethora of restaurant options.  However, the owner of the house had recommended the Mexican restaurant in Wedowee, about 12 miles east.  It was pretty good, and it amply fueled us for the next day's ride.

All of us woke up early the next morning, partly because we're all used to getting up early and partly because we had gained an hour going over to Central Time.  I had volunteered to cook breakfast both mornings.  Saturday morning's menu included Cranberry Stuffed French Toast, sausage, and fruit.  Cranberry Stuffed French Toast is convenient because it's assembled the night before.  I had done so Friday night when we got home from the restaurant, and then Saturday morning I simply put it in the oven.  The original recipe calls for blueberries, which are delicious in it, but I like cranberries in it this time of year.  I also add some chopped walnuts with the cranberries.

Blueberry (or Cranberry) Stuffed French Toast

1 loaf thickly sliced bread (I use a 1-lb. loaf of French bread)
1 lb. cream cheese
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (or substitute cranberries)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (add if using cranberries)
10 eggs
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 cups milk

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups blueberries (or substitute cranberries)
1 tablespoon butter

The night before, cube bread.  Spray the bottom of a 9 x 13" glass baking dish with vegetable spray and place half the bread cubes in the dish.  Top with cream cheese (cubed), then blueberries (or cranberries), walnuts (if using), and remaining bread.  Beat eggs; add the maple syrup and milk.  Pour mixture over bread, cheese, and berries.  Cover dish with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, place dish in oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for 30 more minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce.  Heat water, sugar, cornstarch, and 1 cup of blueberries (or cranberries) until mixture thickens.  Add butter and 1 more cup of berries.  Pour over individual servings.

Yield: 9-12 servings (I made two batches for our big crowd of hungry cyclists.  There was a little leftover, which was good reheated the next morning.)

I had also brought some homemade pumpkin muffins on the trip.  I got this recipe from my cycling friend Jen, who got it from Triathlete magazine.  She says it's one of the most popular recipes they ever published.  No wonder - they are really delicious and calorie-rich, perfect for long rides or runs.  The recipe makes a big batch.  Therefore, I offered them to the team to take on our rides and planned to serve whatever was left with Sunday's breakfast.

Pumpkin Muffins

4 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil*
1 1/2 cups sugar
14 oz. pumpkin pie filling (the kind with the spices, not plain pumpkin puree)*
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
2 cups chocolate chips (Jen recommends dark chocolate chips - good recommendation!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Mix eggs, vegetable oil, sugar, and pumpkin pie filling.  In separate bowl combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and baking powder.  Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients.  Stir in chocolate chips  Spray muffin tins with cooking spray.  Spoon batter into the muffin tins and bake for 15 minutes.

*Jen uses a large can of pumpkin pie filling.  (I think it's 30 oz.)  I did the same but then reduced the vegetable oil to 1 cup because I didn't want the batter to have too much liquid.  It worked perfectly.

Yield: about 30 muffins

Robert scouted out a nearby church on a paved road just off the main highway.  The church became our staging location for Saturday's 64-mile ride.  We headed west to Lineville and then north toward Cheaha Mountain, approaching it from the opposite side as the day before.

After only one mile of riding, I was already averaging close to my threshold power.  Uh oh.  That didn't bode well for me to hang with the guys.  I managed to stay with them for about 10 miles, but then I rode solo the rest of the way.  I was disappointed, but I made the best of it and had a good ride.

I took a shower back at the house and settled in for a relaxing afternoon - something I hadn't had in quite a while.  I read a little, napped a little, had a little wine, sat by the lake with Robert for a little while, and had a large amount of gratitude.

Van was in charge of Saturday night's dinner.  He made his famous pasta dish with grilled chicken.  I love pasta, and it's a treat for me to get anything from the grill because Robert is missing the male gene for cooking over an open flame.  Because I was enjoying hanging out with everyone, I didn't notice that dinner was substantially later than the originally announced time of 6:00 PM.  Apparently, Van had trouble getting the grill going.  Jodi joked that the chicken was delayed getting roasted because the cook was roasted.

But at last we had a delicious meal, including the pasta with chicken, salad, potatoes, and corn.  Also, Jodi had made a couple of apple pies while the rest of us were riding earlier in the day!  She even made special crusts: our team logo on the left and a bicycle wheel with spokes on the right.

It was about 8:30 PM when we finished dinner - still plenty of time to go to the Haunted Chicken House!  Alas, everyone bailed on me, even Cal.  I'll admit that it would have been hard to stay awake for the drive over there and back, but sometimes you're presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  And I missed this one.  (sniff)

We all were up early again the next morning.  I cooked breakfast, which included scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, fruit, pumpkin muffins, and some leftover Cranberry Stuffed French Toast.  Then, we headed out for our final ride of team camp.

Because it was Sunday, the church where we had staged the previous day's ride wasn't a good option.  So, we went a short distance farther to a volunteer fire department.  From there we headed east toward Wedowee.

Sunday's route was significantly less hilly than the ones on Friday and Saturday.  I went into it optimistically, thinking the relatively flatter terrain would help me stay with the guys.  Nope.  I lasted about six miles.  I was bummed, but there wasn't much I could do but ride as best I could.  The route was kind of T-shaped with an out-and-back section to the north and and out-and-back section to the south.  I rode a slightly shorter distance out each "arm" of the route, estimating how far I could ride and still finish about the same time as the others.  My calculations were right on; Stoney got back to the fire station about 30 seconds after I did, soon followed by everyone else.

Back at the house, we showered and packed up.  Georgia Neuro team camp 2018 was drawing to a close.

Overall, I had a great time at camp, but I was feeling down about not being able to keep up on the rides.  I talked with Robert about it on the drive home.  I hadn't been able to keep up with my teammates for most of the season of Tuesday Worlds that just ended; they had ridden in the A group, and I had ridden in the (often squirrely) B group.  At team camp, however, I thought it would be more like Peach Peloton, our winter training rides that are intentionally more of a group ride than Tuesday Worlds.  Now I have doubts about being able to keep up during the upcoming Peach Peloton season.  I'll try, though.  And if I get dropped on the first few Peach Peloton rides, I'll either form a B group if others are interested, or I might just stay in Monticello and do long rides from home while Robert goes to Macon for Peach Peloton.

I'd like to think I'm having trouble keeping up with my teammates because they have gotten so much stronger.  However, it's also partly because I've done so much ultra endurance training that I can't ride with as much intensity as I used to.  Robert helped me put it in perspective.  Even if I were at my peak form intensity-wise, I likely still would have gotten dropped at team camp because Robert and several of the other guys had a hard time keeping up.  Also, I love randonneuring, and endurance is my strongest suit.  I wouldn't want to sacrifice doing well on long brevets just to stay with my teammates for a few more miles.

Having said that, I still plan to work on intensity simply for overall fitness (and maybe it will help me hang a little longer!).  Robert outlined some good anaerobic intervals that I'll work on in the near future.

One last note: I must acknowledge the horrific shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which occurred Saturday during team camp.  My heart breaks, I'm outraged, and yet I don't have sufficient words to address the hatred that has emerged to the surface in our country.  I suppose such sentiments have always existed, but currently people who harbor them seem much less inhibited about expressing them.

Before I even heard about the shooting, I had already been thinking about the injustices we inflict on each other.  My team was riding in a very rural part of eastern Alabama.  There were a significant number of Confederate flags.  We passed the Dixie General Store; if I were African-American, I wouldn't feel very welcome there.  In fact, if we had been a black cycling team, there's no way we would have chosen this area for our team camp because it would be foolhardy.  I dream of the day when no one has to take such things into consideration.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Excursion to the Georgia Coast: a Juxtaposition of Barrier Islands

Vacation!  Woo hoo!  Robert and I took several days off a couple of weeks ago.  It's taken me this long to write this report because as soon as we got back, it was back into the frying pan.  It already seems like our trip was a long time ago.  But I'm so glad we got to go!

A few months ago, we started discussing where we might go.  We decided on the beach because we haven’t been there in a long time.  But which beach?  We considered everything from Baja California (not conducive to road biking) to somewhere along the Gulf coast.  Finally, we decided to visit Georgia’s barrier islands, which are relatively close.

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution did an excellent series of articles on Georgia’s barrier islands a few years ago.  I remembered reading about how varied they are in their accessibility, available activities, etc.  After some research, we decided to spend a couple of nights each on Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island.  It was an interesting juxtaposition.  (Heh heh - juxtaposition.  One of my favorite words.)

Georgia's barrier islands include eight major islands/island groups.  They formed over a number of centuries because of wind, tides, and sedimentation.  They protect the mainland from hurricanes and other major storms.  Georgia is further protected from such storms because of its position in the South Atlantic Bight, a significant inward curving of the shoreline along the Atlantic coast.

Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island have similar geology and physiography, but when it comes to vacationing there, they are like night and day.

Little St. Simons Island
I loved Little St. Simons Island.  It’s like an all-inclusive state park.  There are all kinds of outdoor activities and opportunities to learn about the island’s uniquely beautiful ecosystem.  At the same time, the accommodations are rustically plush, and the food is outstanding.  Beer and wine are even included in the price.  It’s like someone tailor-made this vacation destination for me.  Robert said we’re luxurious ruffians.

Little St. Simons Island is accessible only by boat from St. Simons Island.  Robert and I headed out from home at o’dark thirty on a Wednesday morning for the 10:30 AM ferry to Little St. Simons.  Most of the other guests were transported on a small boat.  Robert and I were led to an even smaller skiff – fun!

I generally stay very busy at work, and it’s always a scramble to tie up loose ends before going on vacation.  I was still pretty tense when we arrived at the marina.  However, Little St. Simons Island began working its magic on me immediately.  As we made our way down the Hampton River toward the island, the stress started melting away as I felt the wind in my hair and the sun on my face.

After about 20 minutes, we arrived at Little St. Simons Island.  Kelly, the office manager, greeted us.  She and all the Little St. Simons Island staff were extremely friendly and helpful.  Kelly gave our group a brief orientation and then started showing us to our rooms.  While she took the first few guests to their cottage, Robert and I looked in the museum at the Lodge.  I was happily surprised to see that Little St. Simons is a UNESCO site.

Soon Kelly returned and took Robert and me and two others to our cottage.  It had four bedroom/bathroom units and an inviting common area with a fireplace, sink, mini refrigerator with plenty of Cokes, and a screened-in porch.  There were even books and board games.
We had time for an outing before lunch.  Nate, one of the naturalists on staff, loaded a group of us into the back of a pickup truck that had viewing benches.  First, we went to Goose Pond.  Right away we got a taste of the exquisite wildlife on Little St. Simons.  Several species of birds congregated at the end of the pond.  I was especially excited to see roseate spoonbills, beautifully distinctive birds.  They are pink because of the beta carotene in the shrimp they eat.  They also have distinctive spoon-shaped bills - hence, the name roseate spoonbill.
We also saw - count them - 31 alligators!  Mostly we just saw eyes and tips of snouts poking out of the water.  Nate explained that these were fairly young alligators.  Alligators keep growing as they age.  When a male alligator gets large enough, it takes over a territory and drives out other alligators.  Nate also described how an alligator's lungs are fairly mobile within its chest cavity.  The alligator can inhale or exhale to adjust its buoyancy.
Next we made a brief stop at Norm's Pond.  Norm is a very large alligator that claims this pond for his own because it's a prime spot.  Although we didn't see him, we did see a number of wading and marsh birds.

It was time to head back to the Lodge for lunch. Every meal we had on Little St. Simons was excellent.  They have a chef, and much of the produce is grown right there.  That first lunch included homemade cheeseburgers and French fries, some kind of delicious salad with cauliflower and pesto, and freshly baked cookies.

Each morning and afternoon have a choice of two activities led by naturalists.  Alternatively, you can do whatever you like on your own, whether it’s fishing, cycling, taking out a skiff, or going to the beach.  They’ll even pack you a picnic lunch if you want to stay out all day.  I wonder if the picnic lunches are as delicious as the regular lunch at the Lodge?  Probably.

On our first afternoon on Little St. Simons, Robert and I opted for the excursion to the north end of the island.  It was a fairly big group, and so we split between two trucks.  Nate took one group.  John, another staff naturalist, took the other group, which included Robert and me.

As we rode through the maritime forest, John filled us in on some of the Little St. Simons’s recent history.  He started with Pierce Butler, who owned the island in the late 1700s and used it for a rice plantation.  In the early 1900s, the Engle Pencil Company bought the island because of the numerous cedar trees, the preferred wood for making pencils.  However, the trees were too twisted by the coastal elements to be suitable for pencils.  Meanwhile, Philip Berolzheimer, the president of Engle Pencil Company became enchanted by Little St. Simons and purchased it for his own personal retreat.  In 1979 the island was first opened to the public.  Henry Paulson, former U.S. Treasury Secretary, and his wife Wendy bought a majority interest from Berolzheimer's descendants in 2003.  Since then, the owners of the island have donated a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy to permanently protect Little St. Simons Island.  How fortunate for us!

There's so much to learn about the natural world that it can be overwhelming.  I like to focus on one or two tidbits from each experience, which seems to help me retain information over time.  John taught me how to differentiate between several common wading birds that are white: the great egret, the snowy egret, and the white ibis.  The great egret is the largest of the three birds, but that doesn't always help if the other two species aren't also there.  Therefore, the better distinguishing feature is its distinctive yellow bill.  The snowy egret has a black bill and black legs.  Finally, the white ibis has a red bill that curves downward.  Once I learned these different traits, I easily identified the species of the white birds I saw the rest of our time on Little St. Simons.

We stopped at North Pond.  We saw an alligator nest and then, out in the water...baby alligators!  They were a few months old and only about a foot long each.  Then, someone in our group spied mama alligator.  The top of her head and tip of her snout were just peeking out of the water.

Next was a stop at River Beach.  We could see Egg Island and Little Egg Island across the Altamaha River.  These islands are even more secluded than Little St. Simons Island.  At River Beach, hundreds of fiddler crabs scurried across the sand near the spartina (cordgrass).

John picked up a couple of the fiddler crabs so that we could see the difference between a female and a male.

Female on the left in the photo, male (big claw) on the right in the photo

A bigger claw on a male is generally more attractive to females.  However, the bigger the claw, the more slowly the male moves.  This is a typical evolutionary trade-off that helps explain individuation within a species. 

John loaded the group up again to head southward.  While we were driving, Nate radioed John to tell him that Nate's group had seen manatees!  However, they were already gone.  Bummer.

Our group then went to Barge Landing for more wildlife viewing along Mosquito Creek and simply to relax at a beautiful spot.  John was about to take us to one more site (the island airstrip), when we got word that the manatees were at the dock!  We hightailed it over there.  We saw them!

Several staff naturalists were at the dock.  They counted five manatees and surmised that four males were pursuing a female.  One of the naturalists said that they have only a few manatee sightings a year, and so were especially lucky to have this experience!

As we headed back from the dock toward the Lodge Compound, I stopped to take a photo of 
the living shoreline.

A living shoreline is a more natural form of erosion control than a hard barrier such as a seawall.  Comprised of native grasses and bags of oyster shells, a living shoreline maintains a connection between the creek and the upland.  It provides both erosion control and habitat for live oysters, fish, and other creatures.  The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has several thousand feet of living shorelines on several of the state's barrier islands.

I was tired from accumulated work fatigue as well as the day's wonderful activities.  I had time for short nap before dinner.  The screened porch at our cottage had a super comfortable sofa that was perfect for catching a few z's.

Each evening a staff naturalist hosts cocktail hour from 6:00 to 7:00 PM.  That evening the naturalist was Rock, and the hors d'oeuvre was a corn and tomato salsa, featuring ingredients grown on the island.  This was also one of the best times to visit with the other guests.  It was such a nice group of people.  It included a mother and daughter from Augusta, a semi-retired couple from Rome (GA), and a large group of siblings with spouses who take a trip together every year.

The Little St. Simons Island chef created an excellent dinner that night: salad, lamb shanks, mushroom risotto, brussels sprouts, and individual lemon lava cakes.  Following dinner, Rock presented the evening program, in which he dissected an owl pellet.  We could see remnants of what the owl had eaten, like tiny vertebrae from a mouse.

After a restful night's sleep, Robert and I walked around the Lodge Compound before breakfast.  We saw E the armadillo.

Nate had explained that nine-banded armadillos are a non-native but not really invasive species on the island.  Wildlife biologists are studying them.  A female armadillo always gives birth to four identical quadruplets, the result of a single egg splitting twice.  Several months ago, baby armadillos A, B, C, and D were born.  Then, the staff found E and F from another mother.

Time for breakfast.  At home I eat oatmeal almost every morning.  With this being vacation, I decided to mix it up a little and partake of the spectacular breakfast array: fried eggs, chicken and apple sausage, potatoes, fruit, and croissants.  Several homemade preserves were served alongside the croissants.  One of them turned out to be my favorite thing I ate on the whole trip – blueberry preserves with smoked tarragon.  I have no idea how one would smoke tarragon or think to put it in blueberry preserves, but it was simply delicious.  Of course, there was coffee (Robert happy) and a selection of teas (me happy).  Other available items were homemade granola and steel-cut oatmeal.  I wish I could have sampled it all.

At the end of breakfast, Rock told us about the morning’s activity options.  One was kayaking – yea!  Kayaking was one of my must-do items while on Little St. Simons Island.  A little while later, we kayakers met up with Katie, yet another staff naturalist, and Nate to be transported to the south end of the island.  The plan was to paddle one-way on Mosquito Creek back to the Lodge, mostly going with the tide.

While we were waiting to load up, Robert and I checked out the beach cruisers in anticipation of the ride we planned for that afternoon.

And I saw the cutest baby racoon in the spartina!  It wasn't very scared of us humans.

Nate transported our group with kayaks to the South End Launch.  It was just beautiful there.

We saw the manatees again!  They were right near our launch point.  We think they were the same ones we had seen the previous afternoon.

Nothing is more relaxing than paddling, and it was an extra special treat to get to paddle through the marshes.

We paddled for a couple of hours and arrived back at the Lodge for lunch.  It was another delicious one: grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches, gazpacho, potato salad, and more freshly baked cookies (oatmeal craisin this time).

Besides kayaking, the other activity I definitely wanted to do while on Little St. Simons was go for a bicycle ride.  That afternoon Robert and I headed out on beach cruisers for some exploring.  First, we headed to the north end of the island, which we had visited the previous day.

The dirt road through the maritime forest was shady and pleasant.  When we got to the marshy area to the north, the going wasn’t so easy.  We had to navigate a number of patches of deep sand.  Robert was able to ride through them, but I had to walk my bike.  I was huffing and puffing, and my coating of bug spray was barely keeping the mosquitoes at bay.  But it was a good workout, and it became more fun once we turned onto Marsh Road, where the ground became much more ridable.

Marsh Road was beautiful and peaceful.  We could see evidence of an earlier shoreline next to a treeline.  Later, we found out that this shoreline dates to the Civil War era.  Little St. Simons Island has grown seaward by accretion, or the deposition of sediment.  The rate of accretion has greatly acceleration since the arrival of European settlers.  This is because they started farming on a large scale.  Large quantities of sediment from farming and timbering have washed down the Altamaha River, which empties into the Atlanta Ocean next to Little St. Simons Island.

We also saw an unusual deer.  At first, I thought it was albino, but then I saw that it was mostly white with some brown markings (piebald).  It was stockier than a whitetail.  Robert thought it looked a little sheep-like.  Later we learned that we had seen a Eurasian fallow deer, a species that was imported by Berolzheimer in the early 1900s for hunting.  In fact, this deer figures prominently in the logo of Little St. Simons Island:

The ducks represent the "Eight Bandits," a group of prominent New York policymakers who joined Berolzheimer for getaways on Little St. Simons Island. 

The Eurasian fallow deer thrived so much that it drove out the native whitetail deer.  In more recent years, biologists have determined that the island’s carrying capacity of the fallow deer is about 30.  The population has been managed to maintain that number, and whitetail deer have reappeared, swimming across the channel from a neighboring island, St. Simons and/or Egg Island.  Did you know that whitetail deer are excellent swimmers?

Robert and I then rode to the beach.  Katie was there, waiting until pickup time for the afternoon beach group.  He and I gratefully got some water and then went for a dip in the ocean.  Ahh…how refreshing!  The group was gone by the time we got out.  As I put my clothes back on over my bathing suit, I found that they were soaking wet.  I hadn’t realized just how drenched with sweat I had gotten from the bicycle ride.

Robert rode behind me as we pedaled back toward the Lodge.  I reflected contentedly about what a wonderful day it had been.  All of a sudden, Robert started cussing up a storm.  What in the world?!  Was he having a heart attack?  No, it was a huge Eastern diamondback rattlesnake!

The rattler was at least five feet long.  Unknowingly, I had ridden within a few feet of it.  It didn’t act aggressively toward us all, but we still made sure to keep plenty of distance from it.

We got cleaned up back at the cottage, and soon it was time for cocktail hour, hosted by Nate.  That evening’s hors d’oeuvre was sweet potato green dip.  When I read the description on the day’s menu, I thought it was going to be mashed sweet potatoes with something green in it.  However, it turned out to be a cheesy dip with greens from the sweet potato plant – fascinating and delicious! (and also from the island garden)

It would be hard for me to pick a favorite meal during our vacation, but that evening’s dinner may have been it.  We had perfectly cooked thick pork chops.  I like pork chops fine but don’t go out of my way to order them.  That just goes to show how good these were.  We also had an excellent salad with flash-pickled radishes.  The radishes were from the garden.  The flash pickling took about 24 hours and involved heated vinegar and spices.  I think we had two other vegetables.  Maybe the butternut squash was so good that it makes me forget what the other one was.  The chef told us how he cooked it: roast the butternut squash; scoop out the flesh; and mix it with cream, lemon juice, and salt.  I can hardly wait to try this at home.  Oh, yeah – we had mini pound cakes with berries for dessert!

For that evening’s program, we went to the barn.  Nate let us meet Mr. King the king snake.  Mr. King is a retired 4H snake, and so he’s used to being handled.  We all got a chance to hold him.

Mr. King’s reward for being such a good presentation snake was three mice (not live).  Whoa!  It was amazing to watch him eat them whole.

The next morning, I took a brief walk before breakfast, savoring our final hours on Little St. Simons Island.  We had one more delicious island meal, and then Robert and I took a last walk around the Lodge Compound.

Decorative and functional roof drain that also prevents erosion
There are so many places in the world that I’d like to see, but I loved Little St. Simons Island so much that it’s one of the few places that I definitely want to visit again.

Jekyll Island
Although I was sad to leave Little St. Simons Island, we had phase two of our vacation to look forward to.  Once back on the mainland, Robert and I began the 45-minute drive to Jekyll Island.

Jekyll Island is a favorite destination of a lot of people I know.  When I was around five to seven years old, my family visited Jekyll a handful of times.  I remember enjoying going to the beach but don’t remember many details.  Then, a few months ago, I made a brief trip to the coast for some continuing education classes.  The classes were based in St. Marys, but we did spend one afternoon on a beach ecology walk on Jekyll.  It was wonderful but not long enough to get much of an overall sense of the island.  I looked forward to spending time there with Robert.

The first place we visited when we got to Jekyll Island was the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.  I enjoyed it very much.  It has a number of interactive stations and a video center where you can learn about the plight of the world’s seven sea turtle species.  The number of sea turtles of all species has declined dramatically in the past 50 years, particularly in the past 10 years.  Sea turtles are a keystone species of the oceans; as they suffer or become extinct, numerous other species are critically harmed.  One of the best ways to protect sea turtles and other marine life is to reduce your use of disposable plastics, e.g., straws and plastic shopping bags.  At the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, you can also watch as veterinarians perform surgery on turtles, both land and water species.

That afternoon Robert and I went for a ride.  We decided to ride around Jekyll Island rather than go back to the mainland.  A lap around Jekyll is about 14.5 miles.  We completed two laps, making a decent vacation-style ride.

I was ready for some seafood that evening.  We ate at Eighty Ocean, a restaurant at the Jekyll Ocean Club where we stayed.  It was pretty good.

The next morning Robert and I walked on the beach and then headed to the historic area of Jekyll Island, which is on the inland side.  After a tasty breakfast in a coffee shop adjacent to the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel, we went on a guided historic tour.  A trolley transported a fairly large group of us tourists among the “cottages” where some of the richest Americans spent their winters in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Members of the Jekyll Island Club had their own living quarters, but the club agreement required them to take all their meals in the common dining room.  It’s estimated that when the Jekyll Club assembled for meals, approximately 1/6 of the world’s wealth was in one room together.  Interestingly, members of the Jekyll Island Club came up with the Federal Reserve during their time on the island.

By the Jekyll Club members’ standards, their “cottages” were roughing it.  It still was quite swanky though, especially considering the numerous servants they had.  I told Robert that I would have felt guilty about living as high on the hog as the Jekyll Club members did while all the servants waited on them.  He responded that I feel guilty about everything.  True.  I would have made a good Catholic.

One other note about the historic area of Jekyll Island: the Georgia Sea Turtle Center is housed in the old power generating building from the Jekyll Club days.  What a great way to repurpose the building!

Robert and I made a couple more laps around Jekyll Island on our bicycles that afternoon.  Then, we went for a swim in the ocean.  The sand where we waded out was much stickier than the ocean sand on Little St. Simons Island.  Even so, I really enjoyed the calming rhythm of the ocean waves as I relaxed in the water.

That evening it was time for more seafood, this time at The Wharf, back in the historic district.  I had made our reservation for 6:30 PM, the perfect time to watch the sunset as we dined outside.  I enjoyed the Wharf Boil, a variation on Low Country boil.  In addition to shrimp, corn, and new potatoes, the Wharf boil also had clams and crab legs.  Good eats.

On our final morning, I went for one last beach walk.

Although Jekyll Island hadn’t fed my soul the way Little St. Simons Island had, I was still sad to see my time at the coast coming to an end.  I hope I can return to Georgia’s barrier islands soon.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Back to Schoolin' Ride

This past Saturday's ride was primarily a celebration of International Pie Ride Day (IPRD) and a chance to go back to Tienda Tarimoro, the wonderful Mexican market in Eatonton.  However, when I took into account all the fun and interesting aspects of my ride, I had touched on most of the major subjects we get in school.  In the words of Led Zeppelin, "I'm gonna send ya back to schoolin'."  (Want a whole lotta love...rayhr...)

Several years ago my friend Benny made me aware of IPRD.  It was once a tradition of the 50+ subforum of bikeforums.net.  According to the tradition, on the third Saturday of September, forum members would ride at least 15 miles to someplace they could get a piece of pie.  Fresh blueberry pie was the preference, but variations according to availability and personal preference were common.

I've celebrated IPRD the last few years.  As it approached this year, Robert suggested I ride pi miles to get my piece of pie.

(mic drop...)

Why hadn't I thought of this before?  I typically go to The Vanilla Bean on the Monticello square on IPRD.  The square is just under three miles from my house.  Therefore, I devised a slightly longer route on Google Earth to get pi miles, adding a detour along a couple of in-town streets.  Saturday morning I rode this route from my house and stopped my Garmin at 3.14 miles just as I approached The Vanilla Bean.

The Vanilla Bean always has a sumptuous selection of baked goods.  Saturday morning they had several cakes available but only one pie, key lime.  I wasn't disappointed.  I enjoyed my slice of pie with a cup of Earl Grey tea as I sat at an outside table, reveling in pi and pie on the late summer morning.

I rode pi miles to eat a piece of pie on IPRD.  My life is now complete.
Two women sat at the other outside table at The Vanilla Bean.  I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but I couldn't help but overhear part of their conversation.  One commented on the "weird" clouds.  I looked up and saw some cirrus clouds in a bright blue sky.  They were lovely but not what I would consider weird, just maybe atypical for summertime.  They probably were a result of the outermost edges of tropical storm Florence.

They definitely were talking about Florence, and the same woman said she had heard that one river was supposed to rise 40 ft!  Somebody better get Noah on speed dial.  40 ft didn't seem possible to me.  I did a little research later and read that tropical storm Alberto in 1994 caused the Ocmulgee River in Macon to rise by about 17 ft; no one knows the exact measurement because the stream gauge washed away.  That was about a 500-year storm.  Not to downplay Florence's impact, but I doubted it would cause a river to rise 40 ft.

Then I specifically researched flood elevations due to Florence.  I couldn't determine the datum used in the figures I found (base flood elevation, I assume), but I was more interested in the net increase.  The Cape Fear River in Fayetteville was expected to rise from 12 ft on Friday afternoon to more than 62 ft early the next week.  That's an increase of more than 50 ft!  The woman at The Vanilla Bean had been in the right ballpark after all.  Considering that the topography in North Carolina is much steeper than in Middle Georgia, it makes sense on further consideration that such sharp increases in river elevations certainly would be possible during a tropical storm.  I was reminded that I shouldn't jump to conclusions too quickly without having sufficient data.

After finishing my delicious pie and tea, I got on the road for the bulk of my ride.  Heading south on Highway 11, I switched from the physical sciences to biology.  A red fox ran slightly ahead of me for about 10 seconds and then crossed the road in front of me.  It was a true delight to get a good look at such a beautiful, elusive creature.

Foreign Language
I rode some of my favorite rural roads in Jasper and Putnam Counties to get to Tienda Tarimoro.

It's such a friendly place.  The owner recognized me and greeted me with a big smile.  I took a seat at one of the handful of tables, and he brought me some chips and salsa - the real deal.  They make their own chips from fresh corn tortillas.  Si!

I ordered some horchata, a traditional Mexican beverage that started in North Africa, spread to Spain, and made its way to the New World.  I learned about horchata several months ago from Papi's Tacos, a food truck that periodically visits the Monticello square.  Papi's horchata is made with coconut milk.  According to the Interwebs, Mexican horchata is often made from rice.  Cinnamon is usually added.  I'm not sure what the liquid base is in the horchata at Tienda Tarimoro, but it's delicious.  I'm glad I was served a big cup, which helped quench the fire from the salsa and the various hot sauces on the table.  (Of course I had to try all the hot sauces.)

I had already eaten most of my salsa by the time I took this picture - ha ha!
I had been jonesin' for the sopes, but when I saw they had not one, but two, types of tamales on the menu, I changed my mind.  Tamales are one of my favorite foods.  They have tamal de oja de platano (wrapped in a plantain leaf) and tamales Mexicanos (wrapped in corn husks).  I went with the tamal de oja de platano because I don't find tamales wrapped in plantain leaves very frequently.  I knew from experience that one would be plenty.  It was almost bigger than my head!  The description said it had seasoned meat.  The meat turned out to be chicken - including bones!  I suspect that's traditional.  It was delicious regardless.  It reminded me of the rib sandwich - complete with bones - at Fat Matt's Rib Shack in Atlanta.

While I ate, I watched Spanish language television.  Nosotros los Guapos was on.  It seems to be like a Spanish version of Dumb and Dumber.  Also, I found that St. Jude's Children's Hospital commercials are just as sad in Spanish as they are in English.

After getting my Tienda Tarimoro fix, I pedaled a few blocks to the Eatonton square to see if my friend Kim was at her shop.  She recently opened The FolksArt, a wonderfully eclectic store with new, old, and just overall cool stuff.

Kim offers art classes, too.  In fact, not only was she there on Saturday, she also had a couple of art students making Christmas trees out of pieces of wainscoting.  It was fun checking out the store while they were finishing their art project.  I found a retro-looking Spiderman sweatshirt, a vintage Nancy Drew book, neat little Elvis and Marilyn Monroe notepads with magnetic fasteners, Jesus candles, and paintings by our mutual friend Linda Aldridge, to name just a few of the goodies.

Social Studies
One of the best items in the shop is also a good social studies lesson:

I posted this on the Facebook page "Look at My Bike Leaning Against Stuff in the South"
Kim has made a bench like this for each school in Putnam County to facilitate their anti-bullying efforts.  She wishes that benches like this weren't so expensive ($300 is about the cheapest she's found) because she'd love to be able to mass-produce them.

The afternoon was slipping away; therefore, it was time to head back home.  I had about 24 more miles to ride.  Heh heh - by default, my day's adventure was like one long P.E. class.  Wouldn't it have been cool if we had had cycling in P.E. back in school?

So, here I am writing an English composition on my ride.  It's like the cycling blog version of "What I Did Over Summer Vacation."  Although I definitely learned some interesting things on Saturday's ride, it was more like I played hooky all day.