Sharing the Joy of Cycling

Discovering something new and interesting is exhilarating.  Sharing that experience with others is special and memorable.  That’s how getting involved with cycling has been for me.  I graduated from the Cycling Savvy class in Orlando in November 2010.  Since then I have participated in a number of group rides throughout the Orlando area and made new friends along the way.  I’ve gained confidence in driving my bike and that has allowed me to feel comfortable riding in other parts of the country (see my article “Bi-Coastal Bike Ride“).  This past month I have had the pleasure of sharing my new-found love of cycling with good friends who were visiting Central Florida from far flung parts of the world.

I met Roger Barr in 2005 at the Central Florida Highland Games.  As soon as he started talking, I realized that he wasn’t from “around here.”  In fact, Roger and his wife, Margaret, live in Scotland near Glasgow.  We struck up a friendship based on mutual interests in Scottish Heritage which led to my wife, Laura, and I visiting the Barr’s in Scotland in 2006.  We’ve kept in touch and when they mentioned that they were coming to America for a month I hatched a plan to drag Roger along on a “wee bike ride.”  He owns a bike at home and I knew that he would be up to the idea.  One of Roger’s primary interests is “walking and climbing” (as he might put it).  Putting that in perspective, he is one of less than 4,000 people who have climbed all 283 Munros (defined as a mountain in Scotland over 3,000 ft.).  That basically took a lifetime.  In addition, he has hiked the entire distance of the Pennine Way, a 267 mile trail extending from Scotland to England.  This June he plans to complete the Coast to Coast Trail, 190 miles across England, much of it on mountain ridges.  So I figured that the “Sweet Ride” sponsored by Commute Orlando and the Bike/Walk Central Florida groups would be a “piece of cake.”  In addition, I talked Reg Lyle into joining us.  Reg is the Pipe Major for the Rosie O’Grady Highlanders Pipe and Drum Band and played at both my daughter’s wedding rehearsal dinner in 2007 and Roger’s son’s wedding in Scotland in 2008 (quite an honor for an American to be invited to play in the homeland).  Reg has some serious cycling experience as well, having ridden from Cincinatti, Ohio to New Orleans, LA a few years ago.

Setting off on the "Sweet Ride"

Tooling Around Town and Out to Sea!

The “Sweet Ride” took place on Friday, March 18th.  It was a perfect spring evening.  The ride started at the Cady Way Trail across from Fashion Square Mall.  Diana Steele helped me out by loaning not one, but two bikes – one for Roger, one for Reg.  That was so kind of her.  Once the adjustments were made, the group was off for a tour around Orlando’s north side, down Orange Avenue through downtown, parallel to the 408 Expressway and back up the Cady Way Trail, finally arriving at Delish Yogurt Shop in Baldwin Park.  Our wives – Laura Alexander, Margaret Barr, and JoEllen Lyle – didn’t take part in the ride but met us to celebrate our accomplishment.  Roger said several times, “This is marvelous to be riding around town as a group.”  However, while savoring his dessert, he realized that we still had four miles to ride to get back to the car.  While he had the legs for the 14 mile ride, he decided that he would primarily stick with walking and climbing since his “bum” was a bit sore.  I was excited to celebrate reaching my goal of riding 200 miles since my Cycling Savvy Class in November.

Shipboard Spin Class

A couple of days after the “Sweet Ride,” Roger, Margaret, Laura, and I set sail on the Norwegian Dawn for a five day cruise to the Western Caribbean with stops in Grand Cayman and Cozumel.  I did take  spin class – a first for me.  The legs held up well, but I was surprised at how much pressure it put on the shoulders and upper body.  My shoulders have been tender for a while due to a torn rotator cuff and impingement, so I only took the one class but it was a blast to be pedaling at full tilt watching the deep blue Caribbean pass by.  I even thought of renting a bike in Grand Cayman, but two reasons held me back – being a British Colony they drive on the left and all the drivers I observed were insane.  Not a good combination.  Cozumel didn’t appear to be any safer, so no international riding.

Margaret Barr, John Alexander, Laura Alexander, Roger Barr

After our return from the cruise, Roger and I took another 10.5 mile ride along the Seminole Wekeiva Trail.  That is the trail that I ride most frequently and was pleased to show it off.  We combined that ride with a bit of “geocaching” – the popular treasure hunting activity using GPS coordinates.  I’ve had an interest in learning about that activity but hadn’t gotten around to doing much about it.  Having a seasoned Geocacher along for guidance, I identified several potential locations along the trail and we set out.  Stopping to search for the hidden treasures makes a ride more relaxed.  We successfully found three containers – a “nano,” a film canister hidden in a rock, and an ammo box full of goodies.  A fourth site eluded us, so I’ll have to go back and track that down another day.  Sharing these rides with my good friend from “across the Pond” was a highlight of our visit.  Now it’s Roger’s turn to drag me to the top of a Scottish Munro.

The Lakeland Rides

I received an invitation to attend a lecture that a friend from my college days (Miami University – Oxford, Ohio) was delivering at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida.  Anita Clevenger is a Master Gardener and Manager of the Sacramento Historic Rose Garden located at the Sacramento’s Old City Cemetery.  “The Historic Rose Garden is dedicated to the preservation of California’s heritage roses.  It contains nearly 500 antique and old garden roses with particular emphasis on those roses found in abandoned sites, homesteads, cemeteries, and roadsides throughout Northern California.”  In 2009, the garden was inducted to the Rose Garden Hall of Fame by the Great Rosarians of the World organization.  Anita is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Heritage Rose Foundation, devoted to the preservation of old roses.  At the request of Professor Malcolm Manners, chair of the hoticultural science department at Florida Southern College, and the Central Florida Heritage Rose Society, Anita would be delivering a presentation on the Sacramento Historic Rose Garden on Saturday, April 9th, and another on “Rose Rustling (Rescuing) in the California Gold Country” on Sunday, April 10th.

While I could easily be described as having a “brown thumb” when it comes to gardening,  I looked forward to catching up with my friend and hearing her speak on topics that are truly her passion and current life’s work.  I was already booked on the Saturday attending the Dunedin Highland Games and representing the Clan MacAlister Society as its President.  Sunday was the best choice.  We could have opted for Sunday Brunch, however Anita suggested a bike ride since she had heard that Lakeland was a bike friendly town.  She rides regularly around Sacramento – running errands, going to the gym, visiting the Farmer’s Market, and occasionally across town to the Rose Garden.  I went to work on planning a ride that would be interesting, reasonable in length, and fun.  The first task was to line up a set of wheels.  Once again, Diana Steele stepped forward and kindly provided the transportation.  That was a challenge in itself since Anita is 5’1″ and had specific requests for the type of bike that would fit her.  This request was not a problem for Diana at all, pulling a Topanga Diamondback out of her array of bicycles and outfitting it with a pink handlebar bag.

The next step was to map out the route.  I use as a quick way to plan bike travel.  It is easy to navigate and provides map views as well as satellite views of any area that you choose.  Simply click along the desired route and the distance is automatically calculated.  I mapped out a route that was exactly 10 miles overall.  Everything seemed in order.

Lakeland Route April 10, 2011

I mentioned my plans for the ride in Lakeland to Roger Barr, since he was still in town during my planning phase.  He asked a great question, “Are you really going to take someone for a ride around a town that you aren’t personally familiar with, have you ever ridden that route yourself”?  Hmmm, there could have been some unforeseen problems – so on Sunday, April 3rd, I strapped my Electra Townie to the car and drove down to Lakeland for a “test run.”  The weather was perfect – crystal clear day, temperature in the low ’80’s.  While I’ve lived in Florida for a long time and mainly driven past Lakeland, this was the first time that I would get an up close and personal look at the area that I planned to ride the following week with my friend.  I was pleasantly surprised all around – Lakeland is a great community with an abundance of lakes, historic parks, beautiful homes and swans everywhere – in fact it’s nickname is the “City of Swans.”  Taking the ride by myself, I was able to calculate travel time between points, look for any challenging traffic patterns, and generally determine if the plan made sense.  I did learn that Lakeland has a few hills, nothing out of the ordinary but a couple that left me breathless – perhaps less so for some others.  On the south side of the ride, for example, I enjoyed coasting up to 20 mph while cruising down Cleveland Heights Blvd.  Simple geography, however, meant that I would have to navigate a long, slow climb back up Buckingham Rd. past the golf course.  Also, S. Ingraham and McDonald Street bordering the Florida Southern College campus were a bit steep.  Overall, the plan checked out.  That ride put me over my 250 mile goal as well.

The morning of the official “Lakeland Ride” had arrived.  I met Anita at the Shaw House B&B on Orange Avenue at 9:00 am with the bikes in tow.  After making some adjustments to the seat height and a spin around the parking lot to test out the shifting patterns of the loaner, we were off on the journey.  I had printed out a map and clipped it to my basket with a large spring clip – nothing fancy, but that served as a useful “navigation station.”  Since Anita had already been in town for a full day and been shown around by Professor Manners, she had acquired quite a bit of information to share with me along the route – particularly about special gardens in the area and the history behind the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture that is prevalent at the Florida Southern College campus.  We reviewed the route and made a couple of slight modifications, dropping off a spin around Lake Buelah and eliminating the tough climb past the golf course.  That dropped the distance down to 8 miles, but the goal was a leisurely ride and stops wherever we wanted to rest or take in the scenery.  Another consideration was that although April 10th was another perfectly clear day, the temperature was already about 10 degrees warmer than the week  before and was predicted to end up in the low to mid ’90’s.  Off we rode.

Our first area to visit was Lake Mirror Park. which was originally built in the 1920’s and more recently restored in 1999.  It offers a beautiful promenade which had plenty of space for bikes and pedestrians to share.   Anita had visited Hollis Garden, part of Lake Mirror Park, the previous day so we didn’t take that in, but she described it as a beautiful location to see.  The streets of Lakeland were virtually empty but there were some people preparing for an art festival schedule for later that day.  The next place that we passed was Lake Mirror, a medium sized lake with several swan sculptures on display.  Lakeland is known as the “City of Swans.”  In 2003 a fundraiser was held and large ceramic swans were painted and decorated with many still available to view.  We rode past my accommodation, the Lake Morton B&B on South Blvd.  The hosts, Daniel and JoAnna Jimenez couldn’t have been nicer – even allowing me to park the bikes in my room the night before the ride.

Soon we were cruising down the west side of Lake Hollingsworth and provided with magnificent homes to view.  On my test run I had tried using the bike/ped path around the lake but found it very difficult to maneuver around the walkers and joggers.  So we used the two lane road, which was plenty wide enough for us to ride single file and allow cars to pass.  We looped past Veteran’s Park, a very nice playground that was full of families and saw this sign demonstrating that Lakeland was, in fact, “bike friendly.”  This part of our route was a section of the “Lake to Lake Bikeway.”   It’s very helpful when a town “gets” the value of biking for its community and makes an effort to promote it.

Anita googling

We took a break at the park on the south side of Lake Hollingsworth and enjoyed a view of Florida Southern College across the way.  Anita used part of that time to google up some facts about Frank Lloyd Wright and the construction dates for the various buildings on the campus.  The ride along the east side of Lake Hollingsworth took us past more spectacular homes.  One of the benefits of traveling at bike speed is the ability to stop whenever you want to look at the sights or take photos.  Anita was fascinated by all the live oak trees with the dangling Spanish Moss and the abundance of waterfowl – egrets, swans, geese, and duck along the lakeside, often nesting in trees. In fact, when she left Lakeland the next day she spotted a bald eagle and its nest along the roadside – not realizing that Florida has the second largest population of nesting bald eagles, second only to Alaska.

Lake Hollingsworth Home

Completing the Lake Hollingsworth loop brought us to the Florida Southern College campus.  We entered the campus on the west side which contained several of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings.  Our first stop was the Water Dome, a fountain that was originally constructed in 1948 and rebuilt in 2007.  While we take huge water displays such as the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas for granted these days, this must have been rather amazing when it was first built and is still beautiful to see today.

Anita and John at the Water Dome

Over one and a half miles of Esplanades or “covered walkways” wind through the western side of the campus.  Most of them were trimmed with copper which aged to a greenish tinge over time.  The Esplanades were built between 1941-1958, so a few sections were painted green when copper was not available during the War.  The walkways provide protection from the hot sun or rain.  Frank Lloyd Wright was only 5’4″ and he didn’t allow a great deal of head clearance through this area.  Even the doorways to several of the buildings were really low and would require a person 6′ tall to duck when entering.  I doubt the the famous architect was a bike rider.  There are steps everywhere.  We had to carry the bikes up and down multiple sets of steps to get around that side of the campus.  Rarer still were bike racks – I didn’t see any at all.  Since this was a Sunday there weren’t many students making their way around campus, but the bike racks, if they existed must have been hidden around the back of the buildings.  I took the photo to the right in the Esplanades.  It’s a bit of an optical illusion.  It appears that someone else took the photo and we are standing on the other side of  a passage way.  In fact, we were standing in front of a highly polished reflective glass with the Water Dome behind us.  Made for an interesting “Through the Looking Glass” effect.


Danforth Chapel

There are two chapels on campus.  The larger one is the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel and began construction in 1938.  It contained squares of colored glass embedded in the walls, some about 4″ and some only about 1.”  We were able to take a peak inside just before the morning service began and the effect of the colored glass is quite stunning.  The majority of the sanctuary was taken up with electronic musical instruments, so it looked like the students were about to be treated to a rockin’ good service – probably quite different from the building’s early days.  The smaller chapel, the William H. Danforth, was completed in 1955.  A lead stained glass window on the west side is the main feature.  This chapel only seats 75 people.  The concrete floor of the chapel is painted a deep maroon color, which is apparently the color used in the college’s logo as well.  As a coincidence, I posted some of the photos on Facebook following the ride and another friend wrote that he’d attended a wedding there just a couple of weeks ago.

There are two rose gardens on the campus.  The primary one is the Jane Elizabeth Jenkins Rose Garden.  It was created in 2007 and was a gift from Dr. Charles Jenkins, former president and chairman of the board of Publix Supermarkets in honor of his daughter, Jane.  The garden, with its brick walkways, planters and gazebo, features a variety of rosebushes propagated in the College’s greenhouse by FSC horticultural science students and their faculty mentor Dr. Malcolm Manners.   The rose plants come from cuttings that trace back from the late 1500s to the pre-Civil War era, as well as from contemporary varieties.   The garden and gazebo have been designed to accommodate weddings and other ceremonies.  Another rose garden is located closer to the horticultural sciences building.  Quite a few roses were in full bloom and quite fragrant, the the increased heat was taking a toll on a few of them.  One interesting feature around the campus was sections of sidewalks that contained the signatures of students.  We found one couple looking for theirs and were excited to find it still in place thirteen years after they wrote their names in the wet concrete.  They said that new sections are made available for students to sign each year.

We completed the ride by heading north on Ingraham and turning left on Orange.  The original plan had been for a 10 mile ride.  With the adjustments, we completed exactly 8 miles.  We certainly saw a great deal using that route.  The ride provided a terrific opportunity to visit and learn a bit about the town and the college.  The Lakeland ride also put me over my next milestone – 275 miles ridden since taking the Cycling Savvy class back in November.  It was a treat to share this success with a fellow rider and good friend.

Rose Arrangement

Anita’s presentation went very well.  Her topic on Sunday afternoon was “Rose Rustling (Rescue) in the California Gold Country”.  Members of the Historic Rose Garden organize trips to various places in the Gold Country – the towns that gold miners created around 1849, the height of the gold rush.  Unique varieties of old garden and antique roses were planted in these communities or the cemeteries in those towns and have since been neglected or abandoned.  While old garden roses (OGR) tend to be quite hardy to withstand their lack of care over the years, many have disappeared altogether.  These expeditions allow endangered roses to be replanted in locations, such as the Sacramento Historic Rose Garden, that will provide them with the care that they need to live on for many generations.  Anita’s first hand knowledge of this rescue process, combined with a lighthearted and often humorous presentation style captured the interest of those attending from the Central Florida Heritage Rose Society.  She was kept very busy answering questions throughout the reception that followed.

Where to Next?

It’s hard to say where my next bike ride may be or with which friends.  I’ve certainly learned that exploring new places by bicycle is a lot of fun and very rewarding – and quite simply, a “joy-filled” experience.  Planning out a route allows you to visualize what the ride will be like.  There are quite a few resources to draw upon for ideas and suggestions, including your local bike shop (or one in the town that you plan to visit), local riders, websites like “Bikely” which helps riders share knowledge of good bicycle routes.  If you plan to ride on the road, take a course like Cycling Savvy first to build your skills and confidence.

Finally, find some people to accompany you on the ride.  They may not be from as far as California or Scotland, but the experience is so much better when it’s shared with good friends.  Mention that you are involved with cycling  to co-workers, classmates, and others in your circle – you’ll be surprised how many ride or would like to take it up again.  You can see so much more and appreciate the ride better when traveling at “Bike Speed” and in the company of your friends.  Get out there and ride!

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