The Long Ride

The Immokalee gang. We look more like an arctic expedition than a group of cyclists.

Oops I got caught up in all the NFL playoff excitement and forgot to write up yesterday’s ride. By the way, who is pulling for an all Harbaugh Bowl? It would really be great to see the Niners and the Ravens, two proper teams who play defense, go at it on the big stage…sorry Green Bay and New Orleans…there was no way you were going to survive having such lowly ranked defenses…hopefully my hypothesis holds and the Pat’s lose next week. What can I say, call me old fashioned, but I enjoy defense…80+ point games are for arena football, not the NFL. Ok back to cycling.

Yesterday Young Pup, or should I now call him “Not as Young Pup” as he celebrated a birthday last week…Happy Birthday Adam…invited Señor J and myself to ride with him and some friends, Frank and Joel, out in Immokalee, a small agricultural town best known for its Seminole Indian casino, tomatoes and being the birthplace of Pro Bowl running back Edgerrin James, instead of our regularly scheduled Vanderbilt-70.

Always looking for new cycling routes, as well as group rides, we both jumped at the opportunity. The planned route was to take us south of Immokalee through Ave Maria then due west down Oil Well Road and Immokalee Road turning south on Livingston Road and eventually hitting the mid ride point at the Fit & Fuel Cafe off of Vanderbilt beach. Total planned distance was approximately 76 miles. This all looked great on paper, but we quickly learned this was going to be a rather challenging ride, especially for Frank and Joel.

Right from the onset, we knew this ride was not going to produce that many smiles to the miles as it was rather cold, mid forties, completely overcast and very windy, 12-15 mph with higher gusts. In fact the outlook had the temperature dropping a few more degrees over the next few hours. But hey, we had a group of five abled bodied cyclist ready to grind out the miles.

We headed southward through what I guess is the center of Immokalee. Being an agricultural town with a strong Mexican influence, it felt as if we had left the cozy confines of the US and were visiting a small town south of the border. We passed the casino, which was unusually quiet, at least to my eyes as my only experience with Indian casinos was out in Palm Springs, which was always hopping 24/7, and then rode through what seemed like endless miles of tomato fields.

The Roman Catholic oratory at Ave Maria

Eventually we reached the community of Ave Maria, a planned, self contained, Catholic, college town founded by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan. The town is very picturesque, slightly resembling Disney’s Celebration, although not as Stepford Wives-ish. It’s quaint old fashioned town square is dominated by a bishop hat shaped oratory as well as the Ave Maria University. The community has six neighborhoods and a host of amenities, but you could definitely tell the housing crunch/lousy economy really set it back a bit as many surrounding retail centers were either incomplete or vacant.

Once through the community, we headed due west down Oil Well Road. Like parts of Ave Maria, the road was “incomplete” and under heavy construction. Fortunately it had a completed cycling lane adjacent to the highway for us to travel on. Smooth wide  dedicated pavement for bikes and pedestrians…..nice touch there Ave Maria. Too bad you couldn’t have had a say over the weather as it was rather inhospitable. The sun had still not broken through and the wind was whipping us at an oblique angle, making it feel colder than it actually was. We were all feeling the drain of the wind and cold, particularly Young Pup’s friends, as they had both been a cycling hiatus for a bit.

We took a little break at a corner gas station before heading down Immokalee road, giving Frank and Joel a chance to rest their legs a bit. Cycling can be a very cruel sport as any break from regular riding results in big setbacks in performance. Although these guys had plenty of cycling experience and had been on long cross state rides before,  their legs were getting pretty beat up.

After the short rest, as well as some very colorful story of those cross state rides, we continued the westward trek down Immokalee Road and finally catching a tail wind for an all too brief two miles down Livingston Road. The mid point, as well as some food, drink and rest, was a short four miles away. Well short for most of us, but not Frank, as he was basically running on fumes now. Señor J stayed back with him and nursed him to the Fit & Fuel Cafe.

We refueled there, yes I had another delicious parfait, and warmed up a bit. The temperature really had not risen since we started, in fact it actually felt colder. We rested, ate, chatted and watched some amazing footage of the half sunk Italian luxury liner. Curiously it felt as if I could have been a passenger on that ship as I was soaked through and through from sweat. Although my cold weather riding layers are warm and excellent at wicking, my atomic yellow colored outer shell is not, basically becoming a self contained mobile sauna. I removed it and tried to dry off a bit while at the cafe, but I knew I’d have to put it back on for the return trip to shield all my wet layers from the elements.

We started our return leg, now with a very gusty direct headwind…funny thing, no matter what direction we traveled, there always seemed to be a headwind, save for that two mile stretch on Livingston, and it was getting progressively worse. In just a handfull of miles Frank had been thoroughly beaten by both the distance and elements and had slowed to a crawl. I stayed back with him spurring him on as the rest of the group pulled away. Frank was barely maintaining an 11 MPH pace, weaving often and actually having to stop and walk for a bit. In hindsight it perhaps wasn’t the best idea for him to have tackled 70 miles after his cycling hiatus, especially with the crapy weather, but he’s a hell of a trouper and was determined to finish.

Frank and I caught up with Señor J and Young Pup at the 53 mile mark. Joel had continued on to his home and was returning with his vehicle to pick up Frank, putting a merciful end to his ride. Kudos to Frank for managing to hold on so long. He’s gong to be very sore for the next few days, but with a few shorter rides under his belt, he’ll be back up to riding long miles again.

The interior of the oratory featured spectacular architecture.

Señor J, Young Pup and I soldiered on. The further we went, the windier it became. That combined with a very dangerous construction filled road made for an extremely unpleasant 12 mile stretch. Ave Maria provided a little rest from both the crappy roads and wind. All three of us were rather tired, not physically per say, but tired of the overall nasty conditions, especially the never ending wind and cold. Curiously I was felling just the opposite. Since my outer shell doesn’t breathe well, my rolling sauna had me overheating. Although it was cold and windy out, my body felt as if it was a 90+ degree day. We unanimously decided to take a little break and get in some sight seeing, checking out the oratory’s architecture as well as take a badly needed nature break at a corner cafe.

We reluctantly mounted up and fought the wind for the remaining 10 miles or so. I know I cursed the wind many time over those those 10 miles in every language I know…heck I probably even invented some words. Eventually we made it back putting an end to what seemed like an endless ride. Now before anyone calls me out as a sourpuss, all rides are good rides, especially when others are around to enjoy it with you. The company was great and the route, although it had some less than ideal segments, was ok. It was really just the crappy weather that made it tasking. But, truth be told, I’d rather have tasking weather on an ideal route than a less than ideal route, so although it was fun taking in new sights, I’ll stick to the friendly confines of the Vanderbilt-70.

Route: Immokalee Run
Ride Time: 5:03:32
Stopped Time: 1:59:10
Distance: 76.06 miles
Average: 15.03 mph
Fastest Speed: 26.52 mph
Ascent: 1044 feet
Descent: 1049 feet
Calories: 4276

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