Paul Flemming

Writing on Two Wheels

Writing on Two Wheels
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Ride along for cranked posts on cycling and cycles
A from-the-wheels-up view of rides, builds and fixes.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Cooking up what's next

Our ride to Pensacola last summer was a smashing success. Things went precisely to plan. Contrary to my usual practice, I did not plan too much, did not reach beyond our grasp, did not overdo. We were lucky in weather, mechanics and traffic.


So why push it?

Because I can. 

There's a long stretch of focused, concentrated effort ahead at work, but at the end is the promise of spring break in mid-March. It got me plotting for something to focus on.

Avery and I pedaled the Old Spanish Trail at the end of June, a fake name used as marketing to sell a contrived route -- though its false claims to an explorers' provenance does not diminish its actual historic standing as a harbinger of interstate auto traffic.

Now I turn my eyes to another expedition, this one with more legitimate claims to an historical legacy that reaches back beyond the internal combustion engine. Traveling the Natchez Trace Parkway's run through Mississippi has plenty to recommend it, not least the fact it represents, as conceived, a ridiculous overreach and almost certainly impossible to repeat the good fortune of this year's trek.

Why not?

Sun, October 15, 2017 | link          Comments

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tue, September 26, 2017 | link          Comments

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Wahoo Tour Day Four: By the Seashore

Day 4 opens with the promise of a shorter, cooler, flatter day than those before. Not mentioned, but just as true, our final day of riding  is destined to be more dangerous, more terrifying, and more beautiful than we could fathom while fueling up at the Waffle House steps away from our bed in Milton By The Interstate.


We track back to shoot down Santa Rosa County with Escambia Bay to our right and Eglin AFB to our left. Road construction starts. The shoulder is narrow, closer to sand and orange barrels. At a bridge over our second crossing of the Yellow River (our first the day before) the shoulder disappears. We pass over swiftly and, by luck, without same-direction traffic. As we climb out of the drainage on the other side and with the pretense of a shoulder we are successively and successfully passed by dump trucks, oversized loads and various pickups showing a distinct lack of interest to share the road.

We do arrive at the shore, within sight and smell of the Gulf, turn right and gird for the assault on the Navarre Beach Causeway, a misnomer for the high span across the protected water of the bay.

Despite a game if ill-considered attempt, the walkway is too narrow to pedal across. As soon as I rub to a halt I should back it up and ride and over in the roadway but this I fail to do. Instead the narrow path becomes a catwalk of metal grillwork, disconcertingly clanky and all to easy to see-through to the whitecaps below ever-retreating as the height and anxiety both grow in lockstep.


But over I get, and the reward is a distant horizon of beautiful dunes and surf to focus on and make my way across aided by a distraction of distinction. I shake the stress out of my fingertips and down Gatorade at the island Tom Thumb, prelude to the delight on its way.

Here we are on the final map of our adventure with benefit of cloud cover, stiff tailwind, and jade green waves. Dunes to our right. Breaking surf to our left. Straight on through the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Santa Rosa Island, a fascinating anomaly to fee-simple property ownership and, within memory and my own witness, overswept by the surge of Hurricane Ivan, a storm that left sand taller than I across the roadway on our current track.

On into Pensacola Beach and past familiar iconic sites from Palafox towers to spaceships to beach ball water towers. The sun burns through cloud cover. Traffic amasses at speed.


I propose a sprint to the end and Avery agrees. Two lanes-full of vehicles speed by. We pedal up and over Santa Rosa Sound to the isthmus of Gulf Breeze, back into Santa Rosa County, and then over Three-Mile.

Our ride ends with a cruise along Bayfront Parkway and into resurgent downtown and still further to our final courthouse.

Avery and I pedal 213 miles. We have no mechanical problems, not even a flat tire. We have no physical problems besides sore bums. I do not bonk once. We take our time and do as we wish. The weather is perfect for time of year and location on planet. We get better along the way. We learn more about the world immediately surrounding us in these four days than many of its residents and virtually all of its visitors ever do. We understand the sadness of the closed business, weeds growing up through cracks of a disused parking lot. We share the joy of a family restaurant in a country town and feel in our bones the hard work and long hours these ventures require. Pine resin and tannin mix with heat and salt to waft through honey-bright yellow light of high summer. We know the plants in bloom, know the weight of the air we roll through.

There is no sense denying the treacly truth, either: It is an adventure both of us will remember and talk about the rest of our lives. Until the next one.
Thu, August 10, 2017 | link          Comments

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Wahoo Tour Day Three: Friction Evaluation Unit

Day 3 starts at Waffle House. I don't know it now, but today is our speed day along flat stretches of U.S. 90, the triumph of the tandem.

There is going to be a surprising amount of friction today, but we are innocent of that over our waffles and bacon and coffee.


We visit in morning light Lake DeFuniak and wonder anew at the Edwardian homes around its mile-long perimeter, the anomaly of the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood (not a Marvel set piece, an actual relic of a time so, so very different from our own) and its preservation in Florida where stuff is torn down as civic duty, economic necessity and scheme-preserving matter of course. There's the library, born of the virtuous Chautauqua movement as well. The stage and amphitheater, too, pose a conundrum against rural Florida expectations where mass delusion colludes to tell a story about annual live theater festivals of exceeding popularity. Pull my other leg.


We leave DeFuniak Springs. Our paths cross in Mossy Head with Bill Conner, a man so clearly grieving a darkening cloud seems to park above his head. He is riding from Madison, Wisc., to Fort Lauderdale to meet the transplant doctors who harvested his 20-year-old daughter's organs to save multiple lives. "Enjoy him while you can," he says to me about Avery without evangelizing.

Before we reach the city limits on our way out of town a pickup passenger is the first and only to yell at us. "Get on the sidewalk," he offers, though not in a way inviting further dialogue.

In Crestview we see steel girders rising, lifted by a crane into place outlining a defined embryonic courthouse. We aim at lunch in Holt down the road. Susan's restaurant proves worthy of the pedal.

We fill our bellies, cool our jets and refresh our legs for a swift afternoon.


On the far side of Holt we bolt down the highway, moving at pace. A new white truck idles between the Old Spanish Trail and the CSX tracks to our right. We race on along this flat, straight stretch. Soon the truck and its hitched trailer passes in the far lane. Twenty seconds later I am jolted into lever-grabbing reflex when the truck, now 100 yards ahead, squeals and smokes its tires as if braking to avoid a crash.

Here we go. I brace for impact. I scan frantically for the cause of the impending crash and any dangers nearing us. None come. Pedal on. In a minute, again the tires of the truck lock up and squeal, raise white smoke and just as suddenly roll on again. Realization dawns. This is on purpose.

Friction Evaluation Unit. The truck and the apparatus it hauls behind it brake purposefully and skid the tires. Water sprays simultaneous with the braking.

My tax dollars at work. 

Tue, July 25, 2017 | link          Comments

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Wahoo Tour Day Two: Choctawhatchee Chariot

Day 2 begins in the wrong direction, heading a mile east to retrace our route to the courthouse. It's amazing what a new coat of paint will do for what had been a serious contender as least attractive courthouse in the state.


The requisite photos taken, we re-pedal our way back along U.S. Highway 90 -- past Marianna's Spanish revival post office -- to the Hinson House and, soon enough, our eggs and bacon, pancakes and coffee for fuel. It makes for a late-ish start. Our rain on Day 1 was dispiriting in the moment but proves a harbinger of this temperate morning left in its wake.

A delightful morning starts straight and flat through Cottondale and soon enough the last of Jackson County rolls beneath our tires. Our first foray into Washington County delivers us swiftly into Chipley, the town FDOT made. The Washington County Courthouse is new and puts a prosperous sheen upon Chipley.

Onward we go, spanning Holmes Creek and, as a consequence, into Holmes County. In Bonifay is an unpresupposing courthouse marked by a flagpole and flag, humble monumentary and steady walk-up business from the angled-in vehicles parked curbside.

We scour our way back to Holiday Restaurant. Friendly lunch-goers chat us up. A waitress prompts us to grab the open end of a long occupied table in the bustling restaurant. Avery has a 10/10 bacon cheeseburger and I have chicken fried steak, black-eyed peas (promoted as lima beans), carrots and gravy-laden rice. Other diners engage us in conversation.

We are in the county seat of Holmes, the Florida jurisdiction with the highest percentage Trump vote, 89 percent of the ballots cast in November. It's only 8,300 actual votes, but that's still an LBJ-in-King-County level split. I stress I do not question for one second the legitimacy of the vote. I am, in fact, surprised it's not higher for Trump.


After lunch we pass back into Washington County for a spell, then again enter Holmes. Next we complete a crossing of the out-of-its-banks and silt-brown Choctawhatchee River, aswirl with eddies downstream of railroad trellis piers.  Over Red Slough, Little Reedy Creek, and Big Reedy Creek our ride goes on flat in these bottoms through Westville and into Ponce de Leon proper.

We are now a formidable team of pedalers and we spin from 84 feet above sea level in Ponce De Leon and gear up the 7 miles of winding U.S. 90 to the heights of 267 feet above sea level.

It's not the highest point in Florida, nor even the highest point along our ride. Florida's peak is to the north, at Britton Hill where the land rises to 345 feet. Our ride's highest point is behind us, near Mount Pleasant on mile 22 of Day One when the plateau took us to the dizzying height of 325 feet above sea level.

Now the outskirts of DeFuniak Springs appear and we hit our final courthouse of a four-courthouse day. Avery declares it the best of all. 


On this day, 18 years since I purchased it -- an expense I celebrate every moment of this ride -- the Santana tandem carrying us earns a moniker. The two-seated bicycle has never had a name, but it sure does now.

The machine we pedaled 60 miles this day and 96 miles thus far on the Tour de Wahoo does now and shall evermore recall and mimic the name of the first library bookmobile in DeFuniak Springs.

I give you the Choctawhatchee Chariot.

Sun, July 23, 2017 | link          Comments

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