Peter Pan’s directions to Neverland is a fitting description of our bucket list worthy, bike ride this weekend, not only because we started under a star filled midnight sky, but also because like Peter, we refuse to grow up. And what better way to shrug growing up, than cycling 150 miles overnight with some amazing friends.
Century rides, riding a hundred miles in a day, have always been a right of passage for cyclists of all ages. It’s a cyclists marathon, a benchmark we all strive to hit and hold bragging rights to for many years afterwards. Like a runners marathon, it becomes somewhat addictive, as we repeat it time and time again to either better our previous performance, or ride in support of a worthy cause. With time, this benchmark ultimately becomes routine, something that would have been hard to believe while building up ones own endurance for that first century ride, leaving you looking for loftier extreme endurance goal like say a double century.
Luckily, I have some friends which, like Peter, refuse to grow up and are crazy enough to push their limits to reach this new Neverland. Larry, our ride leader and veteran of many extreme distance rides, joined Mel, Jerry, Denise and myself on Saturday night…technically Sunday morning…to take our first step at reaching the double century mark, with a planned 150 mile overnight route.
We wisely chose a midnight start for multiple reasons, chief among these being, lower temperature, less traffic, and better visibility. At first I was a bit concerned about riding at night, but with energy saving being a big part of all extreme endurance tests, avoiding the energy robbing Florida heat and sun as much as possible would be key. The midnight start also meant the roads would be devoid of traffic, and for those few cars which did approach, our Christmas tree-like lit bikes would be easily seen from a mile back. In fact those few cars we did see at night gave us extremely wide berths when passing, as they did not know exactly what we were from a distance…if you have ever seen Larry’s bike from behind at night you’d think you were having your first UFO encounter.
Our route was to take us from our starting point at Bell Tower in Fort Myers over to Tree Line and head south all the way Naples Gordon’s Loop, then reverse directions hugging Naples’ Gulf coast, swing out onto Bonita Beach and ride through the barrier islands of Lovers Key and Estero Island, then head back inland to Summerlin road turning westward towards the barrier island of Sanibel, riding up till the end of Captiva, reverse directions, cross back over to the mainland, and then head back due east to Bell Tower. All were familiar roads which we have traveled on many times before, but never had we combined them all into a single 150 mile ride.
We loaded up with provisions, food, water, tubes, patch kits, etc, switched on all our lights, and headed out under a perfectly still, starlit night. We couldn’t have asked for any better weather, ok perhaps it was a bit hot and humid, but it was far better than the previous attempt a few weeks back that was cut short at 110 miles by heavy rain. We had the roads to ourselves, riding three, four, five abreast over all the lanes of traffic. The few times we encountered a car, we’d just collapse to a double file in a single lane…we avoided riding in the bike lane/close to the curb giving ample room to any nocturnal critter out there, which curiously are the biggest danger out there. As I mentioned before, all drivers were extremely respectful of the group, slowing down and providing a wide berth when passing, well all except one car out on Imperial Parkway which decided it was humorous to pitch a beer can at us when passing…it sailed between Larry and Denise, skipping harmlessly off the pavement between Mel and myself. It’s a good thing they didn’t stop, as Mel had his “enforcer” on board…on second though, I wish they would have stopped.
We kept our pace below 20 MPH not only to conserve energy, but also to not outrun our headlamps which easily put a cars high beam to shame. It’s amazing how powerful LED lights have become! We methodically made our way down our route, stopping occasionally at predesignated convenience stores for a refill and a quick bite to eat. Speaking of food, our ride was powered by Denise’s delicious banana bread…damn near the perfect cycling food! Each stop was always met with bewilderment on the part of the shopkeepers and whatever patron we ran into. Shocked not only that we were riding at night, but also that we were riding 150 miles.
We made our way through all of Estero, Naples, Bonita Beach, and Fort Myers Beach under the cover of night. It wasn’t until we were at the 100 mile mark, near the Mighty Mount Causeway, our highest point here in SW Florida, that the sun started to peak it’s head above the horizon. While climbing the causeway bridge we were treated to a spectacular sight, an infinite horizon. Since the night was completely still, the Gulf waters were mirror flat making it nearly impossible to distinguish where the water ended and where the sky began. Needless to say, it was the perfect spot for a photo-op…I think that was the first time I have ever been able to freely walk around atop the bridge without any cars flying by.
We raced down the bridge and onto Sanibel island greeted by the sounds and activities of the early morning. The still of the night had been replaced by the sound of birds chirping, people out running, and unfortunately, the sounds of cars. Luckily traffic is always light bright and early on the island, and speaking of bright, cycling in the dark was so personal and comforting that it was a bit of a shock getting used to being out in the sun again.
We stopped at the northern most end of Captiva for our penultimate break to refuel and finish off the banana bread. We were over 120 miles into our journey, yet we were all still smiling and feeling surprisingly good, knowing we were going to finish our goal strong. No one was suffering any discomfort. In fact my biggest discomfort was the bright sun…I had forgotten to bring my dark replacement lenses leaving me squinting through my high-vis amber lenses for the remainder of the ride.
Larry lead us off the islands and over the bridges for one more quick break to top off our drinks and grab some ice. Just a mere 10 more miles to go. We headed inland to Lakes Regional Park for an unscheduled “victory lap” to make sure all our odometers kicked over the 150 mile mark. We rode around the park with big smiles on our faces knowing that we had shared a very special adventure which we all would forever remember. Big hugs and some high fives were exchanged as we parted ways knowing that our double century goal is now easily in our sights.
Kudos and big thanks to my partners in crime, Larry, Mel, Jerry and Denise. May we never grow up and forever keep trying to reach Neverland!
Sunday, Jul 28
Route: Century and a Half 150 miles of SW Florida
Ride Time: 9:19:06
Distance: 150.5 miles
Average: 16.1 mph
Fastest Speed: 34.6 mph
Cycle This Month: 276.62 miles
Cycle This Year: 3462.91 miles