Cycling Sarasota By Tandem

While we were in Florida a few weeks ago, Crow and I picked the hottest forms of transportation. We decided to rent a convertible for normal travel. Said convertible turned out to be a banana yellow Chevy Camaro with just a couple hundred miles on it! We decided also we to rent a tandem bicycle to see how we felt about being the same bicycle together.

Our vehicles: A Camaro and a tandem.

Driving along in the Camaro.

Crow at the helm. (Note: No photos were taken when I was driving... Mwwuhhahaha!)

It wasn’t a road tandem; therefore, it was, shall I say, a bit on the heavy side. A tank. But good enough for tooling around town and attempting our maiden voyage on a tandem. It was a little shaky at first. My previous experiences riding as a stoker on a tandem was with an experienced tandem rider. As Crow and I first attempted to mount the tandem, I realized I would actually have to help teach him how to get on the tandem. It had previously seemed so easy! It took us a bit to get the hang of it.

Our maiden voyage was a nine mile ride from the bike shop on Siesta Key back to Crow’s grandma’s house in Sarasota. We managed to somehow get out of the parking lot on the bike, but we had to stop at a stop sign and wait for traffic. We had difficulty at getting back on the bike at that point, and what made it harder was the fact that we were stopped on the street in front of two restaurants with outdoor seating where the patrons jeered and giggled at our efforts. We ended up walking the bike to side street and practicing getting on and off the bike, making turns, changing gears. We made it the rest of the way home none the worse for the wear, except for the back of my right calf which ended up getting hit a few times by the pedal when I didn’t get into the saddle fast enough while getting on the bike… I pretty much had a permanent bruise there for the rest of my time in Florida as this was a repeated problem even as we got used to the tandem (maybe this probably could have been averted by clipless pedals?).

A stop at the beach on our maiden voyage.

We rented the tandem with the express purpose of getting out to ride at least one of the days we were in Florida. Crow came up with a route to follow the coast on the way down to Venice and take the Legacy Bike Trail back. The trip out would go along Siesta and Casey Keys with a questionable mountain bike-like drive on a section of Casey Key that no longer had a road. That was the adventurous part because we really didn’t know what to expect. Road maps and satellite photos on Google Maps seemed to indicate that there might be the remains for a road or trail through that section… But we wouldn’t know the condition of it until we got there. Fortunately, our bike had some pretty hefty wheels so I was (sort of) up to the challenge.

Two goofy would-be tandem cyclists on the beach.

We had a late start of about 11am. Hey, it’s vacation. Why get up early? The point of our ride was to amble, enjoy the scenery along the way. We were in no hurry. Which is why we ended up stopping at a plaza on Siesta Key to grab some post card stamps (I’d bought some post card earlier in the week) and I discovered a Birkenstocks store… A cute basset hound stared out me from the window, beckoning me to enter. How could I refuse?

Nevermind that I’ve been looking to buy a new pair of Birkenstocks since my last pair (bought in Germany in 2005) disintegrated under my feet. I couldn’t help but browse the racks… and the fact that there were a number of shoes on sale, sure made it all the more attractive. Needless to say, we were delayed for about 45 minutes as I hemmed and hawwed over which of two pairs I was going to buy (though they were both on sale, is it really practical to buy two pairs of shoes?). Also, I had to stop and pet the dog every few minutes as he thrust himself at my feet and proceeded to roll onto his back with his feet in the air, demanding a belly rub. What a ham!

The canine proprietor of the Birkenstocks store.

I’m so glad Crow willingly indulges my distractions… I stop for shoes and earrings. I don’t want to mention how many of each I’ve bought in the last two months. Eh. Sometimes I can be such a girl. Fortunately, our bike also had a basket on the front so we could take carry the spoils of my whim without a problem.

We got back on our way, following the beach until the road ended at an apartment complex by Turtle Beach. We had to walk the tandem down to the beach and walk it for a bit until we found the entrance to a locals’ beach access path. It was worn down enough that we could get back and ride past the apartments and condos into the shrubby wilderness beyond.

Walking the tandem along the beach.

By that point, the sun was beating down pretty hard so it was starting to feel quite hot. We rode on a path that was at times a bit sandy. It was a bit nerve-wracking for me as I’m not used to riding non-paved surfaces, but Crow felt comfortable and would probably have pushed all the way through that part of the ride without any trouble on his own mountain bike. Even on my own mountain bike, I might have felt a bit unstable.

The shrubby wilderness between Siesta and Casey Keys (and new Birks in the bag in the basket!).

The land we were riding in was really empty and grown over. Originally, a road had gone through the two keys, but a hurricane wiped it out a number of years ago and nothing was ever rebuilt in its place for whatever reason. From the small traces of a path, I gathered maybe dune buggies or some such beach vehicle occasionally made use of the land. It’s a shame that the local government never made it into a park or something. It was maybe a mile in length and would really make a nice park for the area residents on each key.

We ended up walking the bike the last several yards and then carrying it over a boardwalk that extended out to the beach from one of the houses at the end of residential North Casey Key Road where we continued our ride.

Crow and tandem in our mountain biking section of the ride.

Casey Key is exclusively residential and highly upscale. Excluded in a beach paradise, our eyes were dazzled by the unique architecture of these opulent homes. It was amazing to see what people did with their property. The road was quiet. The north end of the road seemed the most remote. As we traveled south, we encountered landscaped areas on each side of the road.

One home we saw was being constructed in an Asian style. A partially built gazebo resembled a temple or something in you would see in Japan. We actually wanted to stop and take a picture of this structure, but felt a little sheepish about it as the construction crew were on site working on it. I felt a little like I was prying.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to own one of those homes. I couldn’t though. I’m not sure I really want or need one of those homes. But it was certainly fun to look at. I wouldn’t mind a tour inside one or two.

Water meets sand...

We rode Casey Key to its end at a public beach so that we could lay claim to having ridden the entire length of the key. Of course, we got off the bike and dipped our feet in the water for a bit. I was a little disappointed with this beach, however, because it was the most crowded beach I’d seen since I’d been in Florida. I’d forgotten how odious that can be. I guess the beach was kind of small for the number of people trying to sunbathe themselves there. It was also the hottest day I’d experienced since arriving in Florida–about 80 degrees–so I think everyone was taking advantage of the summer-like heat.

My attempt to be an artistic photographer with a shot of my shadow against the waves on the beach.

Playing footsie in the sand?

I filled up my water bottle and we retraced our tracks about a mile and a half to Albee Road which took us back to the main land. It was another two miles along a busy road to downtown Venice. This town had a completely different feel to it than Sarasota–a little less modern with an older crowd. There were some antique  and souvenir shops. Of course, no town in Florida is complete without an obligatory ice cream shop as well. I resisted to fragrant lure of the ice cream and we stopped to eat outside at a restaurant called T. J. Carney’s. It was about 3pm at this point. Which caught my attention because I kept forgetting it was in fact winter–not summer–and the sun would be going down around 6. We neglected to bring a head light. (My fault–I told Crow we wouldn’t need it and he listened.)

Crow poses along the public beach on Casey Key.

The shore line of the public beach on Casey Key.

After eating, we browsed a few shops but suddenly realized we were a little pressed for time. We headed out again for our return route up the Legacy Trail. We totally hauled some butt. Which was a real shame because I would have liked to have stopped to take pictures and enjoy the scenery as we did on the way down. When will I ever learn? I’ve got myself caught in the dark without a light on many occasions when I’d underestimated the amount of time it would take me to do a ride… Learn from me: always bring a light in case.

We took the trail to what we thought was its end at McIntosh Road (apparently, it now goes further than the last time Crow had been on it for we could see it follow the road for a couple more miles). We made our way back on mostly safe streets–and a few busy, terrifying ones without bike lanes–the last seven miles back to Sarasota. It was maybe 6:30pm when we arrived home–well past dark. Oops! Only one driver chastised us for not having lights, shouting, “You guys really should have lights.” Um, yeah. Thank you, Mr. Obvious. Yes, we really do enjoy riding our bike on roads in the dark.

We felt really beat after the long day on the heavy bike. We didn’t know it at the time, but we’d actually done 43.79 miles!! That’s pretty awesome considering the challenge of riding together for really the first time on a tandem. Plus, I hadn’t been out on a bike since November (Crow, however, had been out as recently as a week before, climbing Oak Hill in the valley on a Tuesday night. He’s such a die-hard.)

We considered our tandem adventure a real success. Perhaps one day we’ll get a nice road bike version for ourselves…

PS: I apologize for the lack of pictures from Venice and the Legacy Trail… We were a little pressed for time!

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