Thursday, November 20, 2014

Two Wheels, One Key: Git Yer Mojo On

Key Largo by Bicycle Old Settlers Park

Err… so the wheels are unmotorized, and the key is an island, but I’m making the best of it.   Marooned in Flastistan again, I am.  So today, after deciding I might possibly manage to not get rained on, I tossed a stale arepa* in my pocket and headed south.

There is nothing pleasant about bicycling the Key Largo segment of the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail.  I did not catch even a single glimpse of aquamarine waters as I pedaled next to the heavy traffic of US 1.  Five miles, 10, 15… still nothing but dive shops, gas stations, and restaurants with names like "Tower of Pizza." By the time I reached Tavernier Creek and the little bridge leading to Plantation Key, I knew enough to give up on tropical island scenery. Next time, I’ll pick a better starting point.  But for today, it was time to turn around. I’m only pretending to be a bicyclist, and 30 miles is plenty for these legs.

I could have easily ended up eating some “World Famous” Key Lime Pie, constructed from bottled lime juice and a tasteless hydrogenated oil crust, and gone home fully disappointed.  But no. I wouldn't have it.  The establishment I was looking for wouldn’t have a neon sign advertising its superlative status, or flags, or offer discounted snorkeling tours, or cater to tourists at all. It would be a little ratty, and no one inside would speak English, and…

BINGO: a Cuban grocery with a food counter.

Sunrise Cuban Cafe and Market Tavernier Key Largo
Sixteen miles pedaled by this point and $3.23 paid.  Arroz amarillo con chorizo y unos maduros. Que rico!!  If you happen to notice the unremarkable sign, you’ll learn this place is the “Sunrise Cuban CafĂ© and Market.”  Sounds way fancier than it is.  But oh my, this was positively delicious.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is mostly under water, but if you are not equipped to snorkel or dive, don’t want to shell out the money for a glass bottom boat tour, and left your kayak at home, you can, instead,  get your toes wet, walk some short nature trails, gaze upon the little aquarium, and watch a dated but fascinating movie about the coral reef.  The last activity will give your legs the opportunity to cramp up marvelously.  Plus, if you enter by bicycle, the fee is only $2.50!

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Far Beach Area

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Aquarium (1)

On the drive back to Miami, I hobbled out of the car to stop at the Robert Is Here** Fruit Stand (discovered last spring) for a Mamey Sapote Batido (milkshake). Honestly, this thing was magically custardy-creamy good.  Scrape the bottom of the cup even though you’re shivering violently from the cold in your belly good.  Superlatively World Famous good.

Robert Is Here Fruit Stand Mamey Sapote Batido

If riding a bicycle 30 miles and change gives you an excuse to carbo-load the night before, boiled yuca with a Cuban Mojo will serve nicely.  Get yourself a yuca root (sold in every grocery in Miami), peel it (more like chip off the thick rind with a knife), cut it into big chunks, pull out the thin string of a core, and boil it until tender and translucent***.  Now get some mojo on it: a simple Cuban-via-the-Canary-Islands sauce of olive oil, bitter orange juice, garlic, salt, and perhaps some cilantro or cumin or... Sit down and eat the entire plateful.  I did exactly that last night.

*Arepas should be eaten still hot, or not at all, so don’t follow my example here.
**So named because Robert’s father (also named Robert) had Robert sit on a street corner to sell some cucumbers. When it didn’t work, Robert Sr. constructed a large sign proclaiming “Robert is Here” to attract customers.  It worked. More than 50 years later, Robert is still selling fruit (and shakes) on the same corner.
***Disclaimer: Don't eat it raw. They can have traces of cyanide if uncooked.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Humble Beginnings

You’ve got places to go, there’s gas in the tank, you set out your gear last night, and have your stuff in a heap by the door… you are ready to go!  But admit it.  It’s happened to you, too, rider-readers. The clock read nearly 11pm by the time you got home from work last night, you couldn’t quite wind down, the alarm went off before the sun lit up the sky, there’s a bit of a chill in the air this morning, and…  as much as you love to ride, despite the street cred you stand to earn by arriving at this particular destination on a red Ducati, well, 80 miles of super slab just doesn’t sound inviting this groggy, foggy morning.

So, yeah, I put on my lazy pants and took the car.  Make that, rode in Pilot Guy’s car.  He was driving, anyway.  It was just so… easy.  I even sort of dozed on the way.

But something about rumbling down Ak-Chin’s Regional Airport runway 04, tethered to a Dragonfly Ultra Light Aircraft by a slim cord, with face only feet from the pavement, woke me up.

My God, but we’re flying!

Sonora Wings Aerotow Take Off
The obvious question: could we be launched by Ducati?  I believe the answer might actually be yes.*

We’re not connected to the Dragonfly for long. Soon, the tow rope is unceremoniously detached – poof! - and our tow plane playfully spirals and spins down to earth below us.  We’re left to soar in silence on our own…

Sonora Winds Tandem Discovery Flight

I get to maneuver the hang glider a bit myself (“just like steering a shopping cart”), but the Sonora Wings instructor, strapped in a few inches below me, takes care of some “mild acrobatics,” and the surprisingly gentle touchdown.

A nearly 90 degree lean angle is not generally characterized by motorcyclists as “mild.”

Lean Angle
Me: “Whoa.”

Lunch? I think I forgot to eat.

I humbly dedicate this post, and our exuberant day of soaring, to Mark Knight, who died the very week I had hoped to meet him; to all those that lose their lives in pursuit of flight, whether it be skimming across the earth’s surface on two wheels, or flying a bit higher up, amongst the clouds; and finally, to those, including Marla VandenBerg, who are left behind to grieve their loss.  Some people’s hearts insist their bodies join them in flight.  Joy belongs to those that heed the call.

* It seems it is possible to “self launch” (code for “run off the side of a mountain”) in a tandem arrangement. But, not surprisingly, the first timers tend to stop running before it’s time, leaving the instructor in quite a predicament.