American Road Cycling

[ Home | Rides | Chatter Box | Comics | About | Fees | Join | Members | FAQContact | Dedication ]   


Classic Version | Safari Reader Friendly

Article #10
Moving Target

- SlingShot

"That was quick!" the Black Widow screeched.

'That's where the term 'blast off' comes from," I gasped.

I guess we had been waiting for a musical fanfare to cue us on its departure.

The Black Widow (my wife Mary) and I were standing by our bikes in the cool gray air looking across the motionless water from Titusville towards Cape Canaveral with a group of early risers gathered to watch the Space Shuttle launch.

It was from about five miles away that we'd seen the silent Space Shuttle light up in the early dawn then flare through an incredibly large flat cloud, light it up like a rock-concert and pop out the top...all before the immense rumbling roar reached us, apparently coming from all directions along a wide horizon.

Billowing waves of light expanded through the cloud like the rings around a pebble thrown in a puddle. Then the rocket appeared above it. You could see the compression rings of the atmosphere pushing before it...though the Shuttle itself was too small to see. Only its aftermath was visible.

All the TV photos we saw afterwards didn't even come close to capturing what that cloud flare looked like. Plus nobody even tried to report on the giant plume that followed it up, lofting so high it turned brilliant white as the full sun hit it. As the plume curled breaking up, you could trace the stages of sunset back down from white, to crimson, to a burnished bronze on into the gray dawn. Incredible.

Fortunately I took a tip from my brother who reported seeing a Shuttle launch about 20 years ago. Through his tiny video camera lens, all he got to see was the same thing you can see on television, even smaller. I knew enough to NOT try to photograph it or use binoculars.

How many tens of cubical miles of cloud formation got illuminated? Space shots are HUGE.

I just kept thinking about the unimaginable number of highly skilled fabricators that it took to put that event together...from engineers to hands-on welders?everybody working together toward a common goal of uncommon proportions. "Just like the OCBC members and the Country Roads Ride," I thought.

Behind us stretched a four lane highway with a suitable shoulder for a great 40 mile loop we'd ride later that day. Riding on it you could convince yourself you were on Route 17 (the Quickway, not 17M) between Chester and Goshen in NY, if it wasn't so flat and surrounded by palms, marshland, swamp buggies and alligators.

You get used to the cars whipping by at 80 mph. They've got plenty of room to move over and can see you from afar. It's Route 50 from Titusville to near Orlando, easy access from the Days Inn near 95.

Florida is full of biking opportunity.

Here's another.

"Prenez gauche y droite. C'est 'left' y 'right'. Tiens!?

It's the leader of a group of about 30 French cyclists who've shown up for the Saint Petersburg Bicycle Club's Sunday ride.

He's explaining how the "A-may-hi-ca(n)" call the ride.

He tells them in French to be careful for traffic on the cross routes. There's a lot of French chatter from these young and strong Euro riders. 

I almost take the opportunity to practice my French but only become mesmerized by the sparkling eyes of anticipation peering out from every face as they wait to take on the locals.

I knew it meant trouble, then the fast group took off without warning (as always), and the Black Widow and I jumped in behind the leaders pronto.

Out from the parking lot behind us the French came  with a vengeance. Sometimes there are a few miles of leisurely warm-up.  Today the French had triggered a "drop-them-now" attitude.

Later, Mary asked if I had heard the guy on the yellow Colnago with no helmet and bleached buzz haircut (apparently one of Saint Pete's lead riders) say, "After the next stop sign, HAUL ASS!"

I hadn't, but we still managed to hold on for awhile before getting dropped.

The Saint Petersburg Club has regular Saturday and Sunday rides. Both begin at 8:30 a.m. to avoid traffic. The rides start earlier in the summer, to avoid the heat as well.

The Sunday ride starts from the Saint Petersburg Library on 9th Avenue and 37th Street. The fast group winds its way up to Clearwater Beach for one of the few "climbs" in Florida. It's about a half mile of large arching bridge that slingshots the group into a long and fast straight section south along Gulf Boulevard.

There are no major roads that ingress from the right along this section, so I think stopping at lights may be optional, though not a recommended option if you want to stay with the group.

One week I managed to take four turns at the 30+ mph front before realizing, "I'll get everybody behind me dropped if I try to get to the front and pull again."

I pulled off and let them go, but not before noticing that the person who took my place at the front was at least breathing hard. I don't often get to hear that. Someday I might even get to hear Twin George breathing. I don't think anybody ever has.

Once on a Hawk's Nest ride somebody breathing hard passed me on the long climb before Mike Fraysse's Bicycle Resort.

Of course the operant fact here is that they were passing me. Even so, I will not mention their name because it would be too mortifying for them, but their initials are Dangerous Dan.

But That's in NY.

Back in FL, the Sunday ride is about 50 miles; the Saturday ride is about 40. I'm somewhat guessing since I'm always dropped and have to find my own way back, or bail out close to home and come back for the truck later.

I haven't been able to find cue sheets. I was told these aren't official club rides due to insurance. Maybe they could institute a policy of "No Helmet, No Ride" and start passing out sheets. I'd still get dropped, but at least I could tell you how long the rides are.

The Saturday ride starts at the parking lot of the Municipal Swimming Pool in Saint Petersburg. That probably has you guessing that there are a lot of tri-athletes in the Club and you are right.

Take Central Avenue east to the end, turn left, go to the end (at the Vinnoy Hotel), turn right; follow the rough brick road around to the parking lots?pretend you're doing the Paris-Roubaix.

The Saturday ride goes south and loops around both the North and South Beaches at Ft. De Soto Park?which is a great ride all on its own. There's a 20 mile loop in which you can either incorporate the trail or make it all road and nothing but road.

If you take the paved trail it winds a path that alternates through palms, beach grass and tree covered parking lots. Be sure to go through the pristine Old Florida palm forest leading to the boat docks.

There's a monster American Flag in the center of the park that gives you wind speed and direction?it's always bad news.

Using Bayway Boulevard as part of the loop and going north out to Tierra Verde puts you on a perfect, marked bike path.

There's plenty of room to let you forget about the cars. Be careful of the fishing rods on the bridge being swished back over the roadway while you get distracted watching the pelicans giving you the eye from the safety wall a few inches from your shoulder.

One Saturday we skipped the Club ride to make our own ride later in the day.

Starting from where we were staying, we could get in a 40 mile loop around Ft. De Soto and back.

Except that day I found myself having a little discussion with a local gendarme, instead of going over the drawbridge leading to the approach to Ft. De Soto.

"But he can't stop me from biking can he!?"

"He's the President of the United States. He can do a lot of things."

We had just been told that although the cars were being allowed across the bridge, right now bikes were not.

The Presidential Motorcade would be coming through soon. The officer couldn't tell us how long bicycle traffic would be blocked, so we turned back to find another way out to the park.

I tried to figure out how a bike could be more of a security risk than a car but couldn't quite get it.

I figured we could go back to another bridge and circle around to the other side.

I imagined there'd be a report filed with the FBI regarding questionable cyclists causing trouble around the President's route. but I shrugged and thought, "We'll just keep moving and weasel our way back to the park somehow."

There was a helicopter going over.

We went north to where another bridge might have less security. We found one and as we went over I noticed an odd character just past the draw-bridge center grating. He was in a yellow road-crew jacket with a bucket that had nothing in it.

"Hah!" I thought, 'From the cars passing this guy probably looks like a bridge worker. Only from a bicycle would you notice something's not right--probably an FBI or Secret Service Agent. He's probably forwarding another report about those relentless probing cyclists."

I heard the chopper overhead, out of sight.

We ended up lost in Saint Petersburg trying to blaze a path to Fort de Soto Park while attempting to avoid further detection by our nation's security forces.

I mean really!

I know there's a supposed war on. I know there's the President's wellbeing to consider and all?but we had a ride to complete.

Actually I love being lost. I stop pushing and get interested in "where are we" and actually start to enjoy the ride. It's an odd sensation...enjoying a ride.

We finally made it to the park and had a great sunny afternoon.

But the helicopter was always overhead sometimes close, sometimes far. Rarely out of sight.

On the way back from the park Mary had a flat. We stopped at a quick mart and had a snack while I replaced the tube.

"Have you noticed that helicopter," Mary quizzed.

'Yes, I think they're watching us. I probably shouldn't have been flip with that cop. We'll just keep moving. Maybe the motorcade will have passed by the time we get back to the bridge and we can get across."

Soon we arrived at the last major intersection near the bridge just as a flashing cruiser pulled into it and traffic was being stopped.

As the final cars were directed off the road, we weaved through to the front of the line and waited. The helicopter pummeled across just overhead.

Out of nowhere some guy, very much too perfectly arrayed in beach-bum garb to be an actual beach-bum, appeared beside us and started having some choice words about the event.

"Is 'George' coming through?" he asked the cop.

"Yes, soon.?

"I wish I could get traffic stopped for me!" he said to us, "Must be nice."

I felt ill at ease hearing this sort of talk from this sort of guy. It was almost as if his statements were actually queries, opening an interrogation into our own thoughts, not an expression of his own. Where did this guy come from?

The helicopter churned overhead.

All of a sudden, a motorcycle cop appeared over the horizon... followed by another, then another, then another. Then a few long black limousines with flags on the fenders.

 Immediately behind them came an odd black "Hummer" type vehicle with black tinted windows exactly like the limos.

Behind that an ambulance and several vans, all full of men in black.

The helicopter swirled.

Our 'perfect example of beach-bum dress' started on a rant beside us, "And an ambulance? Wish I had an ambulance to follow me around."

It still sounded more like a question than a statement, as I tried to decide which car held the President.

If I was a terrorist and wanted to take him out, which one would I target?

I scanned the limos and caught glimpse of what appeared to be a mechanical device waving like a hand in the back window of one limo. Maybe he was in there. or maybe he wasn't even with this group but went instead around by the guy on the other bridge.

You remember: the guy that had been standing on the bridge pretending to be a maintenance worker.

Who was this guy beside us?

The helicopter hovered.

Then I got lost in the pure gleaming precision of a whizzing pace line of splendor.

Of course I wanted to try to jump on the back and get dropped like always. I yelled to the cop over the helicopter's drone, "How about if we chase it?"

"They don't stop for anything, even if there's a problem it goes on like that to their destination."

I guess he didn't quite hear me.

Mary swears she saw the President waving at her. I swear there was nothing at all about what we saw that we could say was anything at all for certain.

As we got on our bikes to turn left and move off toward the bridge, I stammered, "That was...was..."

"Presidential?" asked Mary.




Classic Version | Safari Reader Friendly


this page last updated:
02/01/2015 11:18:05 PM

A Def Unc T Publication