Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I wake up feeling the effects of lactic acid having swept through my body like ants swarming a neglected picknick basket on a hot summer day. Even the closed containers have been infiltrated. Every muscle, every joint aches. I assume it must be my having tried to get aerobic workouts using something other than my bicycle. Since arriving in Florida, I've run, I've swum, and I've tired all before my cardiovascular system even begins to kick in.

So, what to do? I decide to go rent a bike down in Key West and then to ride. We hop into the car and head towards the very beginning of US Route 1. At mile marker 4, I spot a massive sculpture of discarded bicycles stretching toward the sky with a sign to the left that reads, "Recycle!" I make a u-turn into the parking lot, the wheels of our rented Ford Flex churning up dust in the warm Florida morning, slide to a stop and wander in to the store.

Chris the owner/partner/mechanic/sales guy who bought a one-way plane ticket from Nebraska to Key West back in 2000 asks how he might be of assistance. I tell him that I'd like to rent a bike for a week and he pulls out a list of bicycle types, configurations and prices. As Iris and I look at the list, he asks where we're staying. Neither Iris or I can recall the address, but we mention that it's at mile marker 23. Chris says, "So, you gonna be riding all the way up there?"

I nod affirmatively.

He walks beside me, quickly scans the list and then points to the two bicycles that would fit the bill. Ten minutes later, Iris, her dad and his girlfriend are back in the car and I'm on my bike. We're heading down to mile marker 0. I'm still feeling aches and pains, but it feels good to be doing something where I can get my lungs working a bit.

Riding My Pains Away
After a couple of hours zooming up and down Duval Street, I decide to ride back "home". The sun is now high in the sky, but I figure, "What the heck, it's just another twenty-three miles."

I make my way up Route 1, crossing out of Key West onto Stock Island (I still don't know the difference between an island and a key) heading toward the air force base. Clearly there is some Floridian law regarding conservation of thought when applied to bicycle paths. So much thought went into providing bike paths within Key West that not a lot was left over for ones outside Key West. I manage to get past the air force base without getting hit nor running off the road nor clipping another bicycle as I squeeze past.

A couple more miles and I soar onto a bike path that puts plenty of distance between me and the passing drivers. I'd been particularly concerned about the drivers whose constant gaze to either the left or right indicated their never having seen the color of a Caribbean sea. The bike path is smooth and the riding goes easier. However, without the distraction of avoiding becoming road pizza, I notice that it's hot, and, uhh... hmm... I'm thirsty. Like really thirsty.

Heat, Sun, Thirst
Better get something to drink stat! I pedal faster leap-frogging from bridge to bridge certain that there will be a place to get something to drink soon. As I land on yet another bridge, I pass through a shaded area that is noticeably cooler. I stop, dismount my bike, roll it back to a strategically placed park bench that immediately transforms itself into a landing pad.

My arms stretch out to either side of me, I notice that I'm surrounded by mangroves and palm trees. The air feels delicious. I lean deeply into the bench and breathe. My own private oasis. I'm not sure how long I sit there... seconds ...minutes ...hours?

My revery is interrupted by the roar of an oncoming car making time. I look up at the road in time to see Iris blow by me sans Pop and Ina. I consider the unthinkable: maybe it would be smart to call Iris and see if she'll pull over so I can ride the rest of the way home with her. Hmmmmm....

I try once, but no answer. I try again, deciding to leave a message. Five words into my plea, I hear a beep, look at my phone and see that Iris is calling me. She'll pull over after the next bridge.

Hopping back on my bike, I kick into high gear seeing the next bridge just a mile ahead. As I cross the third next bridge, it occurs to me that car-time and bike-time measure distance quite differently, one of the more subtle variations on relativity.

Five miles later, I catch the turquoise of Iris' straw hat highlighted by a shaft of light poking through the mangroves under which she's standing. She has her camera pointed at me as I glide in for a landing next to her. We walk over to the car, I wrestle the front wheel from the fork and toss the bike in back. Words alone cannot describe the sense of gratitude I feel for air conditioning as I slop into the driver's seat.

Soaking in the cool, no longer distracted by the heat and the cars and the sun, the lactic acid cries out, "Don't forget about me!"

Damn, I thought I'd had that licked!

We drive home, pull into the parking space and walk into the rental house. Emerging from the shower, I flip on the TV, walk over to the couch and sit down lilting a bit to my left. Within thirty-seconds, nothing remains that could be called posture. I pull a blanket over me and notice that I have chills. Hmmmm... this lactic acid is a bitch.

Then it dawns on me: "Topeka! This ain't lactic acid, this is fever!"

Just recognizing it, I feel a thousand times better. I ask Iris if she's brought any aspirin; she disappears and returns with a couple of Advil. I close my eyes shivering, but happy.

Some time later, I open them. The sun has almost set and Iris is heading out the door to pick up her dad and Ina. She kisses me on the head an leaves. I close my eyes again and wake up to a drop of sweat rolling into my ear. The fever evaporates with the sweat; well, more accurately, the fever gets wiped away with the sweat (as does the sense of lactic acid build up).

It's kind of amazing how freeing it is just to know what's going on. Confronted by a challenge, it's not always clear, well at least not always to me. But, just knowing what it is makes it better, even if nothing else has changed. Thirty mile rides through summer heat without water might be good for... OK, they're not really good for much of anything. However, a couple of Advil works pretty darn well for fever.

Happy Wednesday!

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