The Mule Abides – Again

After ragging about the mechanical delays in getting The Mule back on the road, I thought it would be a good idea to take it for a ride and see if the darn thing works.


I rode to Arlington by way of Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood. The weather was splendid. The Mule and I get along about as well as bike and rider possibly can. All the shifts were true. All the braking was bueno. (I had severely toed-in my brake pads. They were silent, but they were rather lame in the stopping department. Now I have stoppage.)

I even gave the granny gear a good work out by riding up South Walter Reed Drive, a steep hill that never, ever ends. I took a couple of big gulps of water before I started up the darned thing. Bad idea. Nearly saw that water again near the top. For the last 50 yards all I could think of was “Who’s idea was this?” It would have been wise to take a couple of hits of albuterol but clearly my brain function was not at optimal levels. Near the top I was hurting so bad that I didn’t even notice any pain in my ribs.

(Ribs update: the exterior bruise is gone but the area is still sore to the touch. At least I can roll over in bed without pain waking me up. I think I will begin doing my back and physical therapy exercises again tomorrow – oh, how I hate them. They are yoga-ish. Also, Monday I have a date with the weight machines at the gym.)

The rest of the ride felt a little off. I had moved the saddle forward just a touch because I noticed that I was riding on the nose of the saddle during my tour. I addition to stretching the leather on the saddle, I was compressing a nerve in my perimeum causing sharp stabbing pains after about 30 miles. This doesn’t float your boat when your riding 80 miles in a day, believe me.

Today I rode 32 miles and had no pains but now my lower right back isn’t happy. My working theory is that moving the saddle forward resulted in a slight up-tilt causing my back to bow a bit. So I adjusted the nose down one click on the saddle adjustment mechanism.

I did notice one thing that was off about the bike. The stem (the piece that connects the handlebars to the bike) is on crooked. I probably knocked it off line when The Mule and I took a tumble in La Belle, Florida. It’s pointing about 5-10 degrees left of center. This is easy to fix, except that I need to loosen the stem but and the stem bolt is rusty. Won’t budge. I sprayed it with some oil. Maybe it will free up.

Long story short, the bike is in pretty great shape. No additional work is needed. I might take Rando Mike up on his offer to install a generator hub/light system on The Mule. He’ll do the work. I pay for the parts. And buy the beer.

This could get expensive.


Tropical Depressions Are Well Named

During my recent ramble to Key West, I spent nearly a week dealing with a tropical depression. This was a storm off the east coast of Florida that cranked rain and wind at me. The wind was coming from the east and northeast. It carried with it fine grains of sand. By the time I got to Key West, my 24-speed bike would not shift into the big ring, making it a 16-speed.

I managed to make it home without difficulty. At the first opportunity I took the bike to a local bike shop. They worked on it and told me it was ready. Not even close. It shifted into the big ring on the work stand but not on the road. And the shifters required real elbow grease to actuate.

So I gave it back to them. While I was there they made three different adjustments to the shifting. None worked. In fact, the last adjustment made the chain rub on the derailer when I shifted into the (lowest) granny gear. They told me they’d work on it some more.

(Side note: last night I reviewed my ride by going through the maps I used. The map segment from Florida was impregnated with tiny grains of sand. The pages of the maps were almost glued together.)

Having already paid for the repair, I am not surprised that they showed little urgency in getting to it. I called on Sunday. “It’s in the workstand.” I told them I’d call on Monday. It wasn’t ready. So I called today. It still wasn’t ready.

“I’m coming to get the bike.”

“We’ll play around with it some more.”

In the half hour it took me to drive there, they managed to get the darned thing working. They sprayed the shifters and cables with lube, essentially flushing out the sand that the depression had injected into the works.  It’s  not perfect but it’s greatly improved. Once winter does its thing, I’ll probably start fresh with new shifters and cables and housings.

I really can’t blame them for the difficulty. (Although I am less than thrilled that they called me and told me the bike was ready when it was not.) Local bike shops around here don’t have a lot of experience with bikes that have been sandblasted. I had similar experiences with this sort of thing on my 2003 and 2005 tours. They were both on the GAP Trail in Pennsylvania on rainy days. The limestone grit on the trail became a kind of cement when mixed with the rain water. My 2003 tour ended when I lost my brakes and my shifting. My 2005 tour was saved by Nate, a mechanic at Volpattti’s Bike Shop in Washington, Pa. (A bike mechanic at a trailside shop in West Newton wouldn’t even look at the bike.)

With my bike and my ribs (thankfully) nearly healed, I am back to normal. I am trying not to eat too much junk. I like the fact that my clothes grew while I was away. I’be neen doing some day rides.

Tonight I do some volunteering. I have a stack of books and magazines piled up for reading once the World Series is over. I bought a gym pass at our local rec center so I think some (very cautious) weight training lies ahead. And I am probably going to apply for an Irish passport soon. (Not for any high minded reason. I can. So I’m gonna. Any readers who complain about it will be hit over the head with Nana’s sheleighly.)

And then there is the planning for next year’s tour. My current thinking is to ride to the Pacific Northwest. There are so many other places in the U.S. I’d like to ride. The Natchez Trace. Route 66. Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Katy Trail. The National Parks of Utah. Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Bar Harbor. If you connect these dots you get a 10,000 mile bike tour. Hmmm…..

And on a final note, the Southernmost Point buoy that was damaged by hurricane Irma is back in shape.








No Way So Hey – Surreal Morning


I wake up. Still dark out. I’ve got time to sleep some more. This bed is so comfortable. Odd that I am in bed at Renee’s house. Didn’t I sleep on the sofa? Someone else is in the bed.


I wake up again. Really need to get up. What’s Mrs. Rootchopper doing in this bed? I roll over and face the alarm clock. My ribs ache from the slightest movement. Going to be a tough day. How far am I going today?


I wake up again. I’d better get up. There’s a fan standing in the corner, droning as it blows air. And a window above a dark brown bookcase. And an alarm clock with the big red numbers. I’m in my bed. At home. My ribs ache. Nowhere to go. And plenty of time to get there.

No Way So Hey – Thoughts

No bike tour goes quite as planned. Somehow the surprises on this tour worked out in my favor time and again. One could attribute this good fortune to God or the universe. I’d rather go with Shit Happens.

  • On Day 4 I deliberately overshot my camp ground only to find myself miles from the next known source of food. I called a second campground not far away and learned it was 1 mile from a gas station with a little grill inside. And the campground was quite nice too.
  • I decided to try out Warmshowers and lucked into a fun evening at Ken and Dani’s house outside Jacksonville, NC. Dinner, laundry, beer, bed, breakfast, and great company. I had hoped to try other Warmshowers hosts but it didn’t work out.
  • My pre-tour itinerary called for a near-100 mile ride from Conway to Charleston SC. It was hot and I was burned out on rumble strips and passing trucks so I quit early at a motel in Andrews. Two hours later a thunderstorm raged through the area for hours. Had I continued I’d have been riding through the Francis Marion National Forest with no opportunity for shelter from the rain and wind and lightning.
  • The tropical depression that I rode through for four or five days in Florida had a silver lining, a strong tailwind. It put the kibosh on a trip to see the manatees and Cape Canaveral but made for long, enjoyable miles in the saddle.
  • I decided to press on from New Smyrna Beach FL after getting my brakes fixed at a bike shop. This was a bit of a risk but it paid off with me finding a terrific little inn in Mims FL. What a great experience.
  • I stayed in five hostels. What a great bargain for a bike tourist. Richmond’s was the best. Miami Beach was pretty good too. (Both are part of Hostels International.) Much like motels the vibe in each hostel was different. I was disappointed that the hostel in Saint Augustine was full. I skipped the one in Fort Lauderdale after reading some very negative reviews online.
  • I didn’t camp out nearly as much as planned. The tropical depression and hurricane Irma made Florida a camping no go. I could have camped in South Bay FL on the next to last day but I chose a motel so I could catch the Nats game on TV.
  • Staying with friends old and new was a big highlight. Wendy and Brian, Jackie and Ed, and Renee were fantastic hosts and cooks. (Props to Renee’s daughter Julia for her breakfast wizardry.)
  • Speaking of Renee, I had not seen her for 39 years. I remember her as a laconic girl from northern Maine. After decades of living in Florida she can talk the antlers off a bull moose. And she knows where to go for excellent fried chicken and waffles. (Yeah, I know it sounds disgusting, but I’d have eaten moose antlers that night.)
  • I booked three nights at the hostel in Key West only to learn that the ferry I was going to take didn’t run on the fourth day. So left a day earlier than planned. This gave me three days to cross Florida. Doing it in two days as I originally planned would have been a death march.
  • Meeting up with Melissa and her husband in Key West was pure serendipity. We ate and drank way too much.
  • In addition to the folks mentioned above, there are some people back home that deserve some mention:
    • Andrea from Friday Coffee Club who advised me to get a silk sleeping bag liner and to try for overnight accommodations. Both worked out very well.
    • Amanda Martinez from my old office for scouting out locations for dinner and drinks during recent trips to Key West and (I think) Charleston. I am especially indebted for the grilled cheese idea in Key West.
    • Mrs. Rootchopper and daughter Lily for getting Lily off to school in London after I left. Truth be told, they had this totally covered without me.
    • Mike Ross for scaring the crap out of me about Florida drivers. I think cycling conditions in South Carolina were far worse but his warnings spurred me to buy a mirror. Indispensable.
    • Amtrak for actually offering decent bike transport for a low price ($20). No disassembly required.
    • All the people who read my blog posts, and followed me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Your comments and “likes” kept my spirits up and gave me a laugh, often when I needed one badly.

No Way So Hey – Day 33

The day was taken up by a long train ride. I wondered why the train takes about 25 hours to go from Ft. Lauderdale to DC. The reason is that instead of going straight up the coast, it cross crosses Florida. I should have packed some food for the trip. I subsisted on Cafe Car food, mostly hot dogs.

I managed to get about 4 hours of sleep. I could have gotten more but for the chatterboxes sitting in the row behind me.

When I got to DC it was a simple matter to take my bike from the conductor in the baggage car. My checked bag contained my tent, sleeping pad, clothes, bike shoes, and one big pannier. One of my small panniers was nested in the other big pannier as a carry on. I also carried on the second small pannier and my handlebar bag.

My front tire had a slow leak since Key West. It was quite soft when I was all loaded up so I took the bike to the Bike Station run by Bike and Roll just outside Union Station. They let me fill up the tire with air and a water bottle with water. And away I rolled.

My sore ribs were giving me a hard time. Every bump caused a jolt to my chest. I stopped to take a picture a few miles from home and the pain almost kept me from dismounting. I am considerably thinner than when I started this tour a month ago.

Image may contain: 1 person, sky, outdoor and nature

Riding the bike on familiar ground, proved two things to me. First, this bike was a tank, And, second, I am a MUCH stronger bike rider than when I started.

After a final 15 1/2 miles I made it home. For the entire tour, door-to-door mileage was 2,127.5 miles.

No Way So Hey – Day 32

I’m sitting in the railway station. Got a ticket for my destination….

Last night I stayed up late to watch my Nats defeat the Cubs in the baseball playoffs. They were behind by one run in the top of the ninth when the cable channel went dark.  NOOOO!!!!!

The Nats lost. At least I didn’t have to endure watching the final three outs.  I had fun watching baseball this year. I attended about a dozen games. April can’t gone soon enough.

This morning I rode to the Amtrak station from my hotel during a break on the rain. The road leading to the train was flooded, a fitting coda to my days here in Florida. The Mule is going to get beaucoup maintenance when it gets home. The cables and bolts and nuts are rusted. The chain has been exposed to blowing sand for two weeks. The Mule just has to make it from Union Station to my house and this trip will be finito.

To celebrate the end of the tour I drank my emergency water bottle. I carried it from the start in a front pannier. I’ll probably eat the last energy bar too. 

I’ve never ridden a long distance train before. It’s supposed to arrive before 3 pm tomorrow. I’m in no hurry. 

The local intrastate trains have roll on bike cars. Like in Stockholm and Sydney. Florida, there’s hope for you yet. 

My cheapo bike gloves are soggy and torn. A good sign of along bike tour is when you gloves die a hero. Like a broken bat that provides a game winning hit.

It feels strange to be speeding past the landscape that I covered at 10 – 12 miles per hour. 

No Way So Hey – Day 31

Well the dumpy motel choice could not have been better. My Nats beat Chicago. When the much under appreciated Michael A. Taylor clubbed a grand slam into a stiff wind I yelled and jumped straight into the air. Do the Cubs raise a white L flag when they lose?

Tonight’s game is the deciderer. No hostel for me. I’m staying in a La Quinta five miles from the Amtrak station in Ft Lauderdale. 

So today was my last day of touring. The weather forecast last night called for thunderstorms. Oh joy. My route would take me straight through the Everglades with no available services or shelter for 45 miles. 

I had a sammich, an apple, and a spare bottle of water. I was on the road at dawn. 

There were storm clouds in the distance but no rain on me. I boogied. I was cruising at 16 miles per hour. The Mule was bringing it today. I suspected a tailwind – which was not in the forecast – and that’s what I got. 

For the first half of the jaunt, I rode past Domino sugar cane fields. The four lanehighway  would occasionally expand to eight lanes to accommodate cane harvesting trucks. This gave me a lane of my own for miles. 

When the cane gave way to swamp I was back to a paved shoulder. You know you’ve been in Florida too long when tractor trailers blasting by you at 60 miles per hour don’t bother you at all. Of course, I had my eye on the beasts through my trusty mirror. (Best purchase ever!)

It rained on and off but I welcomed the cooling effect. I could have done without the road spray from the trucks though.

I was riding on a road referred to as Alligator Alley. The alligators were all wearing invisibility cloaks until one of them met the wrong side of a truck and ended up dead on my paved shoulder. I did not stop to take a photo. Even alligators deserve dignity on death. Also I didn’t want to waste one second of my tailwind.

I did get to see one of those Everglades propeller boats. Those things make a serious amount of noise. 

When the 45 miles were up I was jubilant. I had eaten all the food and drank only half the water so I celebrated with a Gatorade and some cookies at a 7-11. As I was snarfing, the skies opened up. Wet cookies.

The last 17 miles were a straight line toward the Fort Lauderdale airport. My iguana friends came back. I also saw some colorful geese that were really pissed off at a man riding a horse along the irrigation canal to my right. 

My maps routed me to the south but the Amtrak station is to the north so I turned on the Google and searched for hotels that would allow me to ride to Amtrak in some semblance of peace in the morning. The winner was a La Quinta about five miles west of the station and beyond all but one of the nasty intersections on the way there.

Did I mention that the most common billboard advertisement is for personal injury lawyers? This is because Floridians drive like they have spent way too much time in the sun. I dropped more f bombs today than anytime in the last six months. 

I walked to the grocery store up the street to get late lunch and dinner. I tried to cross the street but a stop light runner and a U-turner both nearly took me out. I just stopped and waved for them to go. Everything in this area I am staying in is designed for cars. Let them kill each other. It’s just thinning the herd.

I managed to survive the trip and came upon an iguana of a certain age.

So with 62.5 more miles in the books, I have only 5 miles left in Florida. If all goes well, I’ll ride to the station, give Amtrak The Mule, check a bag full of stuff, and spend 30+ hours on a train reading and sleeping. I plan on riding home from Union Station. It’s not over til The Mule’s in the shed and I’m in my own bed.

My total mileage so far is 2,168.

Go Nats!


No Way So Hey – Day 30

I woke up feeling achy so I had Advil on my Cheerios. Getting on The Mule was painful. I have an ugly bruise on the side of my torso under my right arm. Deep breaths hurt a little. Good thing it’s not hilly around here,

The day was miles and miles of highway riding through the agricultural area of south Florida. The roads had a paved but rough shoulder. And the wind blew steadily in my face all day. Double digit speed was not gonna happen today. 

Cattle ranches in Florida seem odd. The cattle are thinner than up north yet they have hundreds of acres to graze on. With the wide open empty spaces and occasional palm tree in the distance you’d swear you were in South America somewhere. 

I reached Moore Haven by 11. After 25 miles I could have taken a break and ate something. Instead I pedaled. The next 15 miles would be on a bike trail atop a levee overlooking Lake Ocheekobee. Big fun coming up. 

Until I encountered the closed gate at the trailhead. The levee and trail were being repaired. Curse you Irma.

So it was back to the highway with the heat and the headwinds and the narrow bumpy shoulder. After about five miles I was hurting. The temperature was in the low 90s and the humidity was tolerable. My comfort level increased whenever a cloud blocked the sun. Sugar cain was the crop now. Many fields were being prepared for a new crop. The endless irrigation canals gave me done dark blue water to look at between trucks. 

I arrived at Clewiston parched and tired. I pulled into a Wendy’s and ate and drank and ate and drank. The air conditioning felt great, too. 

45 minutes later I was back on the road. I looked at the levee and imagined the view. 

You’d think that a tractor trailer passing close by would be a bad thing. For me it was something to look forward to. The air wake would give me a shove and increase my speed a bit until the headwind reasserted itself. 

There was nothing to do but grind it out. So I did. 

I chose to pass up a county campground for a dumpy motel in South Bay where I am watching the Nationals play the Cubs in a playoff game. 

After the game there is five dining to be had at the gas station across the road. 

Another 57.5 miles today brings the trip to 2,105.5.

Tomorrow it’s alligator alley to a hotel near the train station in Ft Lauderdale.

No Way So Hey – Freefalling

I had this great idea. Since my motel room was really an efficiency apartment, I decided to go to the grocery store for dinner and breakfast. On the way I stopped at McDonalds because 50 miles of biking had left me starving. Late lunch. 

The grocery store was one of those bargain places. Surprisingly the first thing I saw was s ready-made salad display. Chicken Caesar salad for me.

Next up was Cherrios and milk since I found a bowl in the kitchen and I brought a spoon. And then some bananas.

Finally beer and chips for the baseball game. The beer came in pints in a four pack for $3 and the chips were in a big bag for only $1. Batter up!

I rode back to the motel with my rear pannier full of the heavy stuff and the light stuff hanging in a plastic back on my handlebar. There’s a step to get to a small porch leading to the door of my room. I pushed The Mule up to the porch, fiddled in my pocket for the key, opened the door, and promptly tumbled backwards off the porch. The bike landed on top of me as I hit the pavement on my back. I am seriously lucky that my back didn’t fall across the parking curb. 

Still there was blood from where my right elbow hit, blood on the back of my left hand, and a pain in my upper right rib cage either from hitting a lawn light or getting speared by the handlebar.

There’s only one thing to say in circumstances like this: Fuck me! I know that even unloaded The Mule is hard to maneuver. I attribute my poor judgement to fatigue. My balance is probably genetic. (“If only he had done yoga like we told him to.” STFU!!!!)

So I medicated with Cheerios and chips and salad and Rolling Rock. And turned on the game. 

It was rained out. 

Fuck me.

I will now end the night reading the book I’ve been carrying for a week. It’s Stephen King’s Misery

No Way So Hey – Day 29

My hotel room was super comfy. I didn’t get to my room until after 10 pm so comfy mattered. 

The free hotel breakfast also matters when you are fixin’ to eat everything in sight, which I did. Next up was a trip to the WalMart next door for the never ending search for a duffle bag to consolidate my stuff for Amtrak. I almost gave up when an employee out of central casting walked me over to the baggage display and pulls what looked like a small bag off the top shelf, unlike all the other long bags this one was displayed short side out. It was perfect! I think it will hold my tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and more. For riding purposes I put my tent and pad in it and bungled it down on my rack. 

The ride out of Fort Myers involved lots of bike trails, which were not much more than  extra wide sidewalks. I was riding into a headwind as it was but the sidewalk thing was really slowing me down. After a stop to guzzle some Gatorade, I decided to just ride in the road. You’d think that with three lanes to use, drivers could figure out how to pass me, Not in Florida. 

One lovely pick up driver laid on his horn for a good ten seconds. He was in a hurry to catch the next red light. 

In a town called Lehigh Acres I turned onto back roads soon I was in the country mooing at cows and admiring orange groves.

 It wasn’t until I was 25 miles away from the coast that I started seeing damage from hurricane Irma. All the canopies above gas pumps seemed to be missing chunks of their structure.

After 50 miles I made it to the town of LaBelle and decided to call it a day. The next town is 25 miles away. I’m only 120 miles from Ft Lauderdale. 

I booked a room in a motel that is actually a small apartment. I have a back porch over looking the Caloochahatchie River. Maybe I’ll see some gators. 

I’ll probably add a couple miles to my 50.5 mile trip total as I search the environs for chow. That means by the time I lay me down to sleep I’ll have covered 2,048 miles.