A Blog About Brian Albritton's September 2012 Cycling Ride Across Britain

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Am Ready for the Hills

After months and months of training, I still had some question about whether I was ready for the hills of Great Britain.  I can, of course, ride a long way and many hours  on "the flats" of Florida, but hills --that's a different matter.  Joel, cyclist guru in residence at Flying Fish Bikes, mentioned to me the other day that he thought I was ready:  "all that riding in the wind" he said "has prepared you for the hills."  By this, he meant riding against the wind, and yes these last few months I have done a lot of riding against the wind.  During the winter months, my friend Wayne and I used to ride up the Suncoast Parkway every Sunday, 60-70 miles, often with a strong cold wind blowing in our faces.  It was more like crawling up the Suncoast than cycling up it.

Based on my 5 hour ride last Sunday to Ft. DeSoto and back, however, I think I'm ready for the hills.  Last Sunday, Tropical Storm Isaac was off the coast of Florida.  We were getting a very strong wind out of the East. On my way riding to Ft. DeSoto, I was riding like Superman:  20+ miles an hour.  I flew over The Gandy and to the Park in record time.  On the way back . . . well that's a different story.

There was a sustained 20 mph headwind in my face for much of the ride back. You know the wind:  all the palms on the palm trees are horizontal, all flags are fluttering and straight out, long grass and trees bend against the wind.  Just getting off of Tierra Verde, for example, I had a strong cross wind and rain.  I pedaled at between 11-13 mph.  When I got to Gandy Blvd to go over the bridge, the wind was straight in my face.  I pedaled over at 12 mph.

In the past, I would have "blown up" or flamed out fighting the wind.  Stated another way, I would have exhausted myself trying to fight it and go faster.  This last Sunday, I didn't fight it; I just kept on riding.  I rode 38 miles in that kind of wind.  And, at the end, I felt fine.  Pretty good actually.  I think my coach, David Ertl, will be pleased, as he has been telling me: ride within yourself and you can't win against the wind.  He is right, of course.

And, that's what I plan to do on the End to End ride:  don't fight the hills, just gear down into my triple chain ring, and peddle.

I leave on Tuesday, September 4th.

A. Brian Albritton
August 30, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Bridge of Fear

On the way to Ft. DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg, you have to drive through an small island community known as Tierra Verde.  To get to Tierra Verde and the Park, you have to cross what I call, the Bridge of Fear.  It is roughly 38 miles from my house in South Tampa to Ft. DeSoto.  I have to cross The Gandy, ride through downtown St. Pete, areas south of there, and along the Pinellas Bayway.  Most of this ride is pretty safe, and there are bike lanes for much of the trip, including before and on the other side of the Bridge of Fear.  The single most dangerous point of my ride --of most any rides I do-- is this bridge.

I named it the Bridge of Fear because this is the kind of place where cyclists are truly afraid.  The four lanes of road and bike lanes entering each side of the bridge are squeezed into a narrow two lane bridge, with no bike lanes.  Cars driving at 45 mph on either side of the bridge (the apparent minimum speed limit) reluctantly slow down a little, but it is not unusual for them to go roaring by at full speed.  Apparently, the three foot rule between car and driver is aspirational on the bridge as well.

When the bridge narrows going up and over, there is rough and dangerous broken road surface just outside the lane when heading over the bridge from the north.  Cars driving behind you in the road as you're cycling over are impatiently wondering, "Why is this guy cycling in my lane?"  Well, that's because just to the side of the road is a dangerous, rutted surface that has no resemblance to a road.

And once you get to the top of the bridge, what awaits is a metal grating.  Not the dense kind that easily upholds a bike.  No.  Rather, the grating is quite broad apart, and it is hard to ride over.  In fact, I noticed on Sunday when riding back over the bridge heading north that there is a sign which says something to the effect of:  Warning:  Bicycles Walk Over Grating.  So, I'm not sure which is worse:  trying to quickly ride over this grating with cars right beside you or slowly walking over the grating, in cycling shoes, with cars right beside you.

At Flying Fish Bikes, my local bike store, I mentioned the bridge to two of the people who work there:  they knew immediately what I was talking about.  They told me, "Cycle in the middle of the lane; drivers will be upset but it is the only way to cross."  One guy told me, "It's very slippery when wet," and "keep your hands on the handle bars when you go down."  That's a strange request, I thought, but he explained that with a metal grating, if you go down with your hands out, they'll get split on the metal grating.

Finally, I can hear some of you ask:  why not ride on the sidewalk?  A sensible suggestion but almost always impossible.  People fish from both sides of the bridge, sitting on the sidewalk with their poles and equipment. On the west side of the bridge, the sidewalk is closed as well.

Thus, I have come to believe that cyclists deserve some sort of medals for the scary traffic and road conditions they endure.  Me, I want a medal for "Crossing the Bridge of Fear."

A. Brian Albritton
August 20, 2012

What Cyclists See When They Look at The Flag

Here is a picture of flags flying at the toll booth as I was cycling to Ft. DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg.  When cyclists look at flags such as these, of course they see the proud flags of the United States and the State of Florida.  But, what they also see --what I saw-- is the direction the wind is blowing.  Does the flag show that the wind is in my face (it was) or will it be at my back (as it was on the way back)?  And more than that.  If the flag is straight out, unfurled in the wind, then it means hard slogging ahead if I am heading into the wind.  It means misery and riding at less than 15 mph.  If the wind is behind me, however, then I feel like Superman, easily hitting speeds of 20+ mph.

The year's Deloitte Ride Across Britain is going from south to north, which is, I'm told, the general direction of the prevailing winds.  Hopefully, there will be a tail wind much of the way.  It will be a long, long trip if the flags show that the wind is in our faces.

A. Brian Albritton
August 20, 2012

Monday, August 13, 2012

Florida's Cycling Gem: the Withlacoochee Trail State Park

I rode six hours on Sunday --92 miles.  Where can  you find a good, safe place to cycle for such a distance?  At the Withlacoochee Trail, part of Florida's greenways and trails park system. The trail is 46 miles long, and runs from just north of Dade City, in Pasco County, to just south of Dunnellon, in Marion County.  The trail is a smooth paved surface, with not too many cross streets --really only one that is busy, and it too is safe and easy to cross.  Depending on what time of day you ride, a large portion of the trail is shaded, either from the trees on the sides or simply because of the canopy overhead.  Although there is some development on the sides of the trail in places, it is largely wooded and in places it is quite rural.  There are only a few places where there is traffic noise from nearby roads --in contrast to the Suncoast Trail which runs 42 miles along the Veterans and Suncoast Parkways and is extremely noisy.  The largest town through which the trail runs is Inverness

There are two centuries which are held on the trail:  the Rails-to-Trails ride in October and the Clean Air Ride in March.  I have ridden both.  The trail is flat for the most part, with only slight elevations here and there.  It is an enjoyable ride.

A. Brian Albritton
August 13, 2012

Sunday, August 5, 2012

San Antonio Area Is Beautiful

 Here are some pictures of the area around San Antonio, Florida.  As you can see, it is still very rural  --and beautiful.  It really is a great place to cycle.  Apparently, it has a reputation with motorcyclists as well: every Saturday that I am out there, I see groups  of "bikers" riding around.

I rode 50 miles in the San Antonio area on Saturday.  I was the guy in the Ride Across Britain jersey riding up the hills at 10 mph  --but I made it!

Questions About the Ride

A number people have asked questions about the End to End ride and why I'm doing it.  I want to take a moment to answer those.

Why the End to End ride and how did I hear about it?

I first heard about the End to End ride reading Cycling Plus magazine, a leading British cycling magazine.  Sometimes referred to as the LEJOG ride (Land's End to John O'Groats), lots of different organizations, many of them charities, sponsor End to End rides.  There are different routes and some rides even go north to south.  A couple of years ago, I read about the Deloitte Ride Across Britain in Cycling Plus, and I was just taken by it.  I signed up last October.

When did I start to prepare for the ride?

I have been training for this ride since September 2011.  Except for a handful of weekends, I have been riding 4 days a week: intervals on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and long rides on both weekend days.  Since December 1st, not counting most of the intervals, I have cycled 3,675 miles so far in preparation for this ride, more than the distance between Tampa and Vancouver, which is 3,263 miles. 

Why the "End to End" and not some other ride here in the US?

I was just struck by the End to End.  It is the iconic ride in a nation that appears to love cycling.  There are other famous multi-day rides, though most of them are in Europe and some are timed, such as Paris-Brest-Paris which is 1200 kilometers.  Of course, there are also rides across various states, the most well known of which is the RAGBRI or ride across Iowa.  Great rides, but there was just something about the End to End that struck me.

Where will I sleep?  Eat?  How many riders?

The ride organizers say there will be 500 riders, but I've heard the number 700.  We will be sleeping in tents, except for one night.  It is not a race nor is the ride timed.  There is not even a mass start, and I hear some riders will leave as early as 5:30 AM --I won't be one of them.  There is a sweep vehicle that goes at 10 mph that we need to stay in front of in order to keep riding.  Overall, the ride appears to be well organized as this is the third year that the Deloitte Ride Across Britain is being held.

How am I getting to/from the ride?

I'll admit:  the logistics have been a challenge.  I am flying from Tampa on British Air, and I'm bringing the bike with me in a bike bag.  That's the easy part.  The harder part is getting me and my bike from London to Penzance and then to Land's End.  Apparently, you have to reserve a place on the train to take a bike (there are only a few spots) and when I called, all the places were full.  So, I am taking a 9 hour bus to Penzance.

On the way back, I along with a few others are getting a cab from John O'Groats to Inverness.  The ride organizers are taking most bikes back to pick up points in England, but that doesn't do me any good.  I called the airline that is flying me from Inverness to London, and they said "only rarely" do they not have room for bikes.  That was comforting.

Is anyone else going with me?  Are there others from the US who will be riding?

No one else locally is going with me.  To my knowledge, I only know of one other person from the US who is going and he lives in San Francisco.  The ride organizers told me there was only one person from the US on last year's ride.

Is this a charity ride? 

Apparently, most End to End rides are done in conjunction with a charity or to raise money for a charity, and this one is no exception.  The "official" charity of the ride is ParalympicsGB, but the ride encourages all riders to support the charity of their choice.  The ride estimates that £1.5 million has been raised by riders for charities, including ParalympicsGB, over the last two years.

I am raising money for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Tampa Bay.  It is a great organization with four "houses" in the Tampa Bay area:  one near Tampa General, one within All Children's Hospital in St. Pete, and two others in St. Pete.  These houses serve a critical need as they seek to provide a "home away from home" for the families of children who are hospitalized in the Tampa Bay area.