Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Lost City of Palataka and the Night Whistler

I came out of a deep sleep to a very insistent sound of someone blowing a whistle. As in many occasions in life, context was everything. If I were home in bed, it could have been many things, but I was deep in the woods, wrapped up in a mummy bag, inside a tent, enjoying the cool-enough but not cold evening after a long day of bicycling up and down the Palatka trail. The whistle trailed off, and I thought it must have been part of some strange dream of unknowable significance. About 15 minutes later, I heard the whistle again and opened my eyes wide. It was full dark, and according to my watch, about 4am in the morning. Was somebody lost in the woods and trying to call for help? Usually, our camping trips include me and my 2 brothers, but on this trip there was actually a decent-sized group of people camping near us. Could it be one of them lost while making a midnight trip to the latrine? I worried about them for a moment.
There seems to be an often-said thing: 'those millennials!' as if a generation of us is responsible for something wrong. Truthfully, we did not know how old those folks were that were camping near us, but they definitely wanted different things from the experience of tenting in the wild than us old dogs. They had pulled up in 3 fancy Jeeps with so many accessories that I was hard pressed to understand the functions of all of it. One had the fancy array of LED lights across the roof, a snorkel just in case it had to drive through deep water, and giant tire jack, capable of changing one of the huge mud tires that looked cleaner than the tires on my little car. And that was the more normal-looking jeep. The fancy one also had a tent on top, and this is where brother Steve decided that millennials didn't get everything wrong, because he liked those rooftop tents and had one on his Punisher truck. In fact, at one point during the previous day he was admiring the snorkel and wondering aloud if they made such a thing for his pickup truck. Aside from the jeeps, the group of friends had a really nice layout on their picnic table and were preparing a meal that seemed much more along the lines of healthy restaurant food than our hamburger and baked bean dinners. All of this was accompanied by board games, some kind of beanbag toss game and very loud 1940's big band music. I'm not sure who told them that camping was something other than long political discussions around a campfire, but that particular night, the politics at our fire seemed to swerve to about how little millennials were doing to fix the mess we had created in our lifetimes. I suggested at one point we might consider ourselves lucky if they don't invent some kind of ninja game for oldsters on television where if we win, we get to live, else we get to help fertilize the soil for future crops. We spoke a bit more quietly after that, to make sure we were not heard over the loud blare of the Glenn Miller orchestra.
Finally, at one point, we gave up and headed off to our tents to the sounds of our neighbors swing dancing around their campfire. I knew I would sleep well in spite of that, because of the hard biking done during the day, plus we had another long day coming up. Somehow I drifted off to sleep, in some kind of dream where I was the solitary French horn player in the Glenn Miller band, and counting 500 bars through the sheet music until I got to play my two notes in the piece, somehow knowing that I would get it wrong, and Glenn would stop the band and say 'let's hear just the French horn this time...'.
Suddenly, the whistle sounded again, and then again quickly. I was starting to get alarmed and got out my flashlight. I got out of the tent and saw another light on by Steve's truck and went over quickly to see who needed help. In the end, it turned out that my gadget-happy brother had gotten one too many electronic toys. Instead of the little sissy bell that most of us have on our bikes to warn someone that we are approaching, he had purchased an electronic version that could make many different sounds. And he loved to use the sounds, if we were coming up on a group of people walking abreast on the trail and oblivious to us, he'd treat them to the full range of sounds at his disposal. I think it included everything from an 'ah-ooga' model T horn to the sound of a bomb exploding (not sure why they included that, but Steve liked it a lot). Apparently he had been using it too much and the whistle sound was to let him know the battery was running low. He was really embarrassed about a piece of gear failing on his watch. He yanked it off his trike, pulled the battery and tossed the mess in the trashcan. He said that now he knew why people used the simple stupid bells.
All I know is that the next night, we didn't have any big band music...…..

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Blue Lady And The Lost City Of Palatka

Sometime early in 2018, the brothers Perkins decided to morph our monthly camping trips into something besides eating too much and sitting around the campfire talking politics. We started walking and then trying to bike around the dirt roads of the Princess Place Preserve and finally got to riding recumbents down A1A. Being who we are, we started to find out just how much we could really do. Paul, the planner brother, started mapping out all of the trails in Florida, while Steve, the professor, started researching just how much gadgetry you could use while doing this. Me? I started worrying...about how I was going to keep up. As Steve says, "It's not a race unless you are in last place".
Steve has back issues and needed to ride a trike. He quickly found out just how much it costs to get one of those that isn't slow. He now owns a Catrike 700, which is only slow going up steep hills. Paul and I are still going through recumbent bikes that we find for sale used, trying to find the one that works perfectly for us. In my mind, the world of recumbent bicycles is like the world of Harley Davidson choppers: it seems that there are so many variations that it's hard to know what you want until you've ridden it.

Excitement prevailed in early January 2019, when it was announced that the Palatka trail was now open, which is near our camping place. The official grand opening is supposed to be in April, but they are letting people on there early to test it out. The trail is open, but there is still a gap that prevents it from being the truly epic ride that it will be in the future. As of now, you can ride about 50 miles of really nice paved trail with few road crossings. There are restrooms, and parking along the way.

We got up early on a Saturday morning, Steve insisting on cooking his "Man breakfast" of eggs, bacon, sausage and hash browns. Paul was shaking his head and saying he would prefer some organic oatmeal, with perhaps a dash of uncut brown sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon. I was saying "I really shouldn't", while holding out my plate for seconds on the bacon. I saw no reason why good cooked food should go uneaten.

We piled into our vehicles and started the 40 minute drive to the trailhead, me chugging coffee and blaring bluegrass music to get me in the mood for riding into the town that time forgot.

We met Paul's neighbor, Tim at the trailhead and got going in the bright, cool morning air. It was one of those days that made you glad to live in Florida, and have hope that the real estate developers will all choke before they reach the Palatka region. We rode through canopied woods, farmlands, and pastures. At one point, we had a perfect line of derelict boats on our left and a herd of Long horn cattle on our right. I was never able to figure out the boat collection. Was the farmer waiting for some city slicker to come by and offer him a large sum of money for an old rusty boat with a hole in it? If so, he needed some 'edumakatin' about the resale value of boats.

The ride didn't just go through woods and end in Palatka, there are some little towns in between and it looks like they don't quite know yet what's coming. If things go like they did in Winter Garden Florida, they will have rednecks in pickup trucks driving down main street with Hip Hop music blaring, while road bikers in spandex watch from little outdoor cafes, enjoying a little cup of latte before heading back on the trail 

Near the halfway point of our ride, there is a great bridge that spans the St. Johns river and takes you into the town of Palatka. That is a decent climb and I have seen people walking their bikes over that bridge, but we all made it. Lunch was on the other side and that was an inspiration for me. I had visions of some really cool Mom and Pop restaurant, that served fried green tomatoes, sweet tea, and grits done just right...but Paul made the call and it was 'Subway' for lunch. And that went pretty much as I thought it would. A giant line of people filled the little place, gawking at these people in strange clothes and unusual bicycles. I stood tall in line and tried not to stink of sweat as I waited patiently behind a well-dressed elderly woman with blue hair, thinking how strange it was to feel this out of place in the state I grew up in. At one point, she turned and looked up at me and said, "Excuse me young man, are you boys riding the Palatka trail today?". I replied that yes I was, and kind of puffed up my chest as I told her that we were going to do 55 miles in a single day. She smiled back and said, "It is a great trail, but that section at Hwy 100 isn't working yet. When we get that done, you'll have a 120 mile stretch. Now THAT's a ride!"
She then went on to telling me about websites and travel groups in the area...fortunately, she did not go into detail about how fast she and her group ride...which I felt was quite charitable on her part... 


Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Camping Trip In Which We Find The Lost City Of Palatka

We found a sweet spot of good weather in January where Paul, Steve and I were off and able to take a few days for the woods. It was Princess Place Preserve, that primitive Florida wilderness where you can pretend that you are way back in time. No electricity, no fresh water and the restrooms are port-o-lets. We've learned how to deal with this because there is just about nowhere nicer in Florida than this place if you enjoy nature...this time of year anyhow. 
Steve had his trucktop tent, while Paul and I had our large family tents, which are like mansions compared to what we use backpacking. We had decided that this was to be the year of epic cycling, and had our eyes on the newly opened section of the trail in Palatka, which is about 40 minutes from Princess Place, and we were excited about spending a day going for a record of 65 miles on our recumbent cycles.
Of the 3 of us, Paul is the minimalist, and comes only with what he needs. Most of that will fit in 3 boxes in the back of his truck. Steve comes with a truckload of new toys and backups for each one.
Me? I'm like a rocket capsule loaded with experiments. First job of the day was to stop by the Sunglow pier in Daytona Beach and see what I could do in the small glassy waves on my inflatable paddleboard. It was a very interesting morning. I had on my light wetsuit, which was quite warm in the morning foggy air, but the minute I put my foot in the water, I knew why I had to wear it.  The surf was okay, but I got out there, got wet and proved that my inflatable board could catch waves.
The big score was I found the secret little beach spot in south Daytona that had showers, bathrooms and free parking...near the Sunglow Pier!
Next it was on to Princess Place Preserve and our secluded spot right on the water of the marshlands. Even the drive into the park was awesome as deer bounded around my car, as if to welcome me back. I met up with the boys, got my stuff set up and we took off towards the exotic community of Palm Coast to get a 20 mile warm-up bicycle ride in before the big ride the next day.
I decided a really good lunch was necessary, while Steve and Paul wanted fastfood. I split the difference with Paul and Steve when they spotted a place that had BBQ in large letters on the front. It looked more like a fancy café from the outside, but I figured fancy BBQ worked for me. Little did we know that this was a Portuguese BBQ restaurant and it was packed with the upwardly mobile retirement crowd. Fortunately, the hostess found a small table for us, and we proceeded to pour over the menus, trying to find something that sounded good, and that wasn't as easy as you might think. I basically tried to find something under $15 in the sandwich section and settled on "cheeseburger". My brothers pretty much did the same thing, picking the simplest items they could find on the menu. We placed our orders with a pleasant and patient waitress that didn't seem to mind Paul's interrogation about whether pickle juice would ever get near his plate in the foodmaking process and if she could swear that the cook would not use pepper for anything the rest of the day. Things were relaxed and we had a great time, talking about what we were going to do, until I finally realized that we had been waiting for almost an hour for time I'm going to pay attention when a restaurant is really busy and everybody is drinking and nobody is eating.
Later, Paul had his best I-told-you-so moment when I admitted $4 spent at Wendy's would have beat the Portuguese BBQ place by a mile...It's going to be a long time before I get to pick a restaurant with this group!