Monday, April 11, 2016


Where Am I?
Don't ask how it happened.  You don't have to ask; as usual, I will explain everything in exhausting detail but in the meantime just try to bear with me.  My typing fingers have atrophied and seem to be semi-frozen in a half grip around a phantom hammer (but on deeper pondering I suddenly realize that a hammer grip is not much different than that of a handlebar grip) and this of course could easily start me down a trail of a different pondering, but no:  this story is about a trail named Flatwoods.  It is directly behind my hotel room and here, out my fourth floor window, I am stunned to see a deep new old Florida swamp.  It's out there, just feet away.

Cypress and fern and palmetto and water, this is the real deal and I am amazed they let it live...this is a young swamp, the cypress trees are small and unsure of themselves but they are here all the same and this wacky place called New Tampa or North Tampa (they can't seem to decide) is one of those god-awful Florida places where the invasive ruination is so strenuous that one certainly never expects to see anything primitive anywhere nearby but here it is:  Flatwoods Nature Preserve.

Tired Superman
Having driven about six hours across the state (a normal person could make it in three hours but I stop alot to pee and I have a habit of turning down side streets because of a big tree I saw or because I just forgot where I was going) but ultimately arriving more or less where I was headed,  I checked into the hotel and then went out to the van and pulled out my new bicycle.  I lept gracefully into the saddle and fell into a small grassy knoll next to where I was parked.  I lay there a minute, pretending I did it on purpose.  Then I looked around, found no witnesses watching and, righting myself and my bike, did a proper old-man left side pedal mount and headed off.

"I'll just pedal to the trailhead and look around,"  I said to myself.  I have to talk to myself because I am alone. The Voice has been gone for a long time.  "I haven't ridden (rided? rode?) over two blocks in the last six months and my butt can't take too many miles."

Yeah, Right 
Problem is, this hotel is situated (ironically) off the beaten path and by Trailer Park Luck I entered from a back way.  There was a sign, of sorts, and my previous research had told me that the trail was a seven mile loop so what could go wrong?  Well, my research, for starters.

Almost immediately I was immersed deep in the middle of a fathomless maze of trails both paved, gravel, and dirt.  Now, in the interest of honest reporting, the truth probably is (as near as I can ascertain) that if I had stuck to the paved portion, I wouldn't have found myself two hours later pedaling REALLY hard in traffic as the sun started becoming more of a glow than a shine.  My legs most likely (if I had stayed on the paved part) would not right now be soaking in a hot tub of epsom salts to ease the slings and arrows of inadvertedly blundering through a hedge of stinging nettles.

And that was the easy part.

Lost and Lonely Child
Somehow I got turned around.  I kept having opportunities to blast down some kind of clean white gravel road, only to find it taper off  to a pine needle trail going into an abrupt turn.  When these turns erupted I was usually looking at a hawk or a gopher tortoise or, truth be told, just pedaling hard and paying no attention.

And my research (questionable, at best) says they have singletrack!

                                      Goodnight, Irene
This place is several square miles and I managed, in my tentative foray to "check out the trailhead" rode pretty hard for a couple hours.  I exited the park ten miles from my hotel, pretty much lost and now, after two hours in the wilderness, pedaling with all I had left in me in commuter traffic, the sun below the horizon and my water bottle empty.  No lights, of course.

What's it all about?  Man, you tell me.  I really did this.  I really did drive over here in my usual Family Circus fashion of getting around, then go for my first ride in a long time.  It really was an epic three hour ride involving a new bicycle, three wetland crashes and a one hour blast through dangerous traffic.

Fourth Floor, Please
I'm in the elevator.  I've been awake for 24 hours and my legs are bleeding a little, the blood isn't much but it's draining into my socks. I still have on my construction clodhoppers.  The door is about to close but then a pretty old couple approaches and I hit the "Hold" button.  They hesitate.  

"Come on in," I say.  "Are you going up?"

"Yes," says the gentleman.  "I've never seen a bicycle on an elevator," he says.  He and his wife get on.

"My brother Peter rode a bicycle all over the place," says the lady. "He had epilepsy and couldn't get a license to drive a car."

"He was a lucky guy,"  I say.  The elevator doors close.  We're headed up.  

La Quinta Inn, North Tampa