quick!" the Black Widow screeched.
the term 'blast off' comes from," I gasped.
I guess we
had been waiting for a musical fanfare to cue us on its departure.
Widow (my wife Mary) and I were standing by our bikes in the cool
gray air looking across the motionless water from Titusville towards
Cape Canaveral with a group
of early risers gathered to watch the Space Shuttle launch.
It was from about
five miles away that we'd seen the silent Space Shuttle light up in
the early dawn then flare through an incredibly large flat cloud,
light it up like a rock-concert and pop out the top...all before the
immense rumbling roar reached us, apparently coming from all
directions along a wide horizon.
waves of light expanded through the cloud like the rings around a
pebble thrown in a puddle. Then the rocket appeared above it. You
could see the compression rings of the atmosphere pushing before
it...though the Shuttle itself was too small to see. Only its
aftermath was visible.
All the TV
photos we saw afterwards didn't even come close to capturing what
that cloud flare looked like. Plus nobody even tried to report on
the giant plume that followed it up, lofting so high it turned
brilliant white as the full sun hit it. As the plume curled breaking
up, you could trace the stages of sunset back down from white, to
crimson, to a burnished bronze on into the gray dawn. Incredible.
took a tip from my brother who reported seeing a Shuttle launch
about 20 years ago. Through his tiny video camera lens, all he got
to see was the same thing you can see on television, even smaller. I
knew enough to NOT try to photograph it or use binoculars.
How many tens
of cubical miles of cloud formation got illuminated? Space shots are
I just kept
thinking about the unimaginable number of highly skilled fabricators
that it took to put that event together...from engineers to
hands-on welders?everybody working together toward a common goal of
uncommon proportions. "Just like the OCBC members and the Country
Roads Ride," I thought.
stretched a four lane highway with a suitable shoulder for a great
40 mile loop we'd ride later that day. Riding on it you could convince
yourself you were on Route 17 (the Quickway, not 17M) between
Chester and Goshen in NY, if it wasn't so flat and surrounded by
palms, marshland, swamp buggies and alligators.
You get used
to the cars whipping by at 80 mph. They've got plenty of room to
move over and can see you from afar. It's Route 50 from Titusville
to near Orlando, easy access from the Days Inn near 95.
full of biking opportunity.
"Prenez gauche y droite. C'est
'left' y 'right'. Tiens!?
leader of a group of about 30 French cyclists who've shown up for
the Saint Petersburg Bicycle Club's Sunday ride.
He's explaining how
call the ride.
He tells them in French to be careful for traffic on
the cross routes. There's a lot of French chatter from these young
and strong Euro riders.
I almost take the opportunity to practice
my French but only become mesmerized by the sparkling eyes of
anticipation peering out from every face as they wait to take on the
I knew it
meant trouble, then the fast group took off without warning (as
always), and the Black Widow and I jumped in behind the leaders
Out from the
parking lot behind us the French came with a vengeance.
Sometimes there are a few miles of leisurely warm-up. Today the
French had triggered a "drop-them-now" attitude.
asked if I had heard the guy on the yellow Colnago with no helmet
and bleached buzz haircut (apparently one of Saint Pete's lead riders)
say, "After the next stop sign, HAUL ASS!"
I hadn't, but
we still managed to hold on for awhile before getting dropped.
Petersburg Club has regular Saturday and Sunday rides. Both begin at
8:30 a.m. to avoid traffic. The rides start earlier in the summer,
to avoid the heat as well.
ride starts from the Saint Petersburg Library on 9th
Avenue and 37th Street. The fast group winds its way up
to Clearwater Beach for one of the few "climbs" in
Florida. It's about a half mile of
large arching bridge that slingshots the group into a long and fast
straight section south along Gulf Boulevard.
There are no
major roads that ingress from the right along this section, so I
think stopping at lights may be optional, though not a recommended
you want to stay with the group.
One week I
managed to take four turns at the 30+ mph front before realizing, "I'll
get everybody behind me dropped if I try to get to the front and
I pulled off
and let them go, but not before noticing that the person who took my
place at the front was at least breathing hard. I don't often get to
hear that. Someday I might even get to hear Twin George breathing. I
don't think anybody ever has.
Once on a
Hawk's Nest ride somebody breathing hard passed me on the long climb
before Mike Fraysse's Bicycle Resort.
course the operant fact here is that they were passing me. Even so, I
will not mention their name because it would be too mortifying for
them, but their initials are Dangerous Dan.
But That's in NY.
FL, the Sunday
ride is about 50 miles; the Saturday ride is about 40. I'm somewhat
guessing since I'm always dropped and have to find my own way back,
or bail out close to home and come back for the truck later.
been able to find cue sheets. I was told these aren't official club
rides due to insurance. Maybe they could institute a policy of "No
Helmet, No Ride" and start passing out sheets. I'd still get
dropped, but at least I could tell you how long the rides are.
ride starts at the parking lot of the Municipal Swimming Pool in
Saint Petersburg. That probably has you guessing that there are a
lot of tri-athletes in the Club and you are right.
Avenue east to the end, turn left, go to the end (at the Vinnoy
Hotel), turn right; follow the rough brick road around to the parking lots?pretend you're doing the Paris-Roubaix.
ride goes south and loops around both the North and South
Beaches at Ft. De Soto Park?which is a great ride all on its own. There's a 20
mile loop in which you can either incorporate the trail or make it all road
and nothing but road.
If you take the paved trail it winds a path that alternates through palms,
beach grass and tree covered parking lots. Be sure to go through the
pristine Old Florida palm forest leading to the boat docks.
monster American Flag in the center of the park that gives you wind
speed and direction?it's always bad news.
Boulevard as part of the loop and going north out to Tierra Verde
puts you on a perfect, marked bike path.
There's plenty of room to
let you forget about the cars. Be careful of the fishing rods on the
bridge being swished back over the roadway while you get distracted
watching the pelicans giving you the eye from the safety wall a few
inches from your shoulder.
we skipped the Club ride to make our own ride later in the day.
Starting from where we
were staying, we could get in a 40 mile loop
around Ft. De Soto and back.
that day I found myself having a little discussion with a local gendarme, instead of
going over the drawbridge leading to the approach to Ft.
"But he can't
stop me from biking can he!?"
President of the United States. He can do a lot of things."
We had just
been told that although the cars were being allowed across the
bridge, right now bikes were not.
The Presidential Motorcade would
be coming through soon. The officer couldn't tell us how long
bicycle traffic would be blocked, so we turned back to find another
way out to the park.
I tried to
figure out how a bike could be more of a security risk than a car
but couldn't quite get it.
I figured we could go back to another
bridge and circle around to the other side.
I imagined there'd be a
report filed with the FBI regarding questionable cyclists causing
trouble around the President's route. but I shrugged and thought, "We'll
just keep moving and weasel our way back to the park somehow."
There was a
helicopter going over.
We went north
to where another bridge might have less security. We found one and
as we went over I noticed an odd character just past the
draw-bridge center grating. He was in a yellow road-crew jacket with a bucket
that had nothing in it.
thought, 'From the cars passing this guy probably looks like a
bridge worker. Only from a bicycle would you notice something's not
right--probably an FBI or Secret Service Agent. He's probably
forwarding another report about those relentless probing cyclists."
I heard the
chopper overhead, out of sight.
We ended up
lost in Saint Petersburg trying to blaze a path to Fort de Soto Park while attempting to
avoid further detection by our nation's security forces.
I know there's a
supposed war on. I know there's the President's
wellbeing to consider and all?but we had a ride to complete.
love being lost. I stop pushing and get interested in "where are we" and actually start to enjoy the ride. It's an odd sensation...enjoying
finally made it to the park and had a great sunny afternoon.
helicopter was always overhead sometimes close, sometimes far.
Rarely out of sight.
On the way
back from the park Mary had a flat. We stopped at a quick mart and
had a snack while I replaced the tube.
noticed that helicopter," Mary quizzed.
'Yes, I think they're watching us. I probably shouldn't
have been flip with
that cop. We'll just keep moving. Maybe the motorcade will have
passed by the time we get back to the bridge and we can get across."
arrived at the last major intersection near the bridge just as a
flashing cruiser pulled into it and traffic was being stopped.
the final cars were directed off the road, we weaved through to the
front of the line and waited. The helicopter pummeled across just
nowhere some guy, very much too perfectly arrayed in beach-bum garb
to be an actual beach-bum, appeared
beside us and started having some choice words about the event.
coming through?" he asked the cop.
"I wish I
could get traffic stopped for me!" he said to us, "Must be nice."
felt ill at ease hearing this sort of talk from this sort of guy. It
was almost as if his statements were actually queries, opening an
interrogation into our own thoughts, not an expression of his own.
Where did this guy come from?
helicopter churned overhead.
All of a
sudden, a motorcycle cop appeared over the horizon... followed by
another, then another, then another. Then a few long black
limousines with flags on the fenders.
Immediately behind them came
an odd black "Hummer" type vehicle with black tinted windows exactly
like the limos.
Behind that an ambulance and several vans, all full
of men in black.
example of beach-bum dress' started on a rant beside us, "And an
ambulance? Wish I had an ambulance to follow me around."
sounded more like a question than a statement, as I tried to
decide which car held the President.
If I was a terrorist and wanted
to take him out, which one would I target?
I scanned the limos
and caught glimpse of what appeared to be a mechanical device waving
like a hand in the back window of one limo. Maybe he was in there.
he wasn't even with this group but went instead around by the guy on
the other bridge.
You remember: the guy that had been standing on
the bridge pretending
to be a maintenance worker.
Who was this
guy beside us?
The helicopter hovered.
Then I got
lost in the pure gleaming precision of a whizzing pace line of
Of course I wanted to try to jump on the back and get
dropped like always. I yelled to the cop over the helicopter's drone,
"How about if we chase
stop for anything, even if there's a problem it goes on like that to
I guess he didn't quite hear me.
she saw the President waving at her. I swear there was nothing at
all about what we saw that we could say was anything at all for
As we got on
our bikes to turn left and move off toward the bridge, I stammered,
"Presidential?" asked Mary.