Saturday, March 24, 2012

COWS Wrangler Ride in Alabama

Friday, March 16, 2012–Day 1

The rental van was packed and ready to go by 4:00 a.m. Friday morning. Our goal was to reach Horn Lake, Mississippi by 5:30 p.m. for happy hour at Drury Inn & Suites. A rental van was a last-minute necessity when we realized that our Chevy would not be healthy enough to make this trip. The Dodge rental was just large enough to pack our three bikes along with luggage and all necessary bike gear. The stow n’ go seats were a worthy amenity.

We entertained ourselves by using my smartphone to research noted people and historic events during today’s 13-hour trip. We were fortunate to slip through St. Louis, Missouri when traffic was slight and we enjoyed the beautiful flowering crab trees that lined the streets. We saw the famous Katy Bicycle Trail as we drove over the Missouri River. We then relied on our GPS to find an Arby’s for a lunch stop. We were directed to Arnold, MO. The area looked familiar as we followed the GPS directions only to remember we had been down this path in the past—Note to self: DO NOT try to find Arby’s in Arnold, MO! It does not exist. We drove on to Festus where we found the Arby’s signature sign luring us to the drive up window.

Arkansas was the next state we crossed into spending only a short time along its boarders before rolling into Tennessee near Memphis for our overnight stay. We checked into Drurys at 4:30 p.m. after driving in the five states of MN, IA, MO, AR and TN. We were just in time to enjoy the evening happy hour and allow plenty of rest for Saturday’s drive to our final destination of Orange Beach, Alabama.

Saturday, March 17, 2012–Day 2

We were anxious to get the party going and looking forward to meeting up with ride hosts, Kathi and John Johnson. We had only seven hours to go before we saw the sandy beaches along the gulf shore, deep in southern Alabama–to some it might seem like a lot of driving just to bicycle a few days with members of our Wisconsin tandem club but there is just something special about being with this happy group of tandem riders.

We reached the Alabama border by 10:00 a.m. and were in Mobile, AL by 11:00. The traffic from here on out was extreme. Many villages were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day slowing traffic to a crawl as green-clad Irish fanatics enjoyed an organized pub crawl along the shores of the gulf. We finally found the Cotton Bayou Condo Complex where we would spend the next six days enjoying the sunshine and company of nine other tandem teams. Kathi and John toured us through our condo and the complex which included a trip to the Cotton Bayou. We were very impressed with the living quarters arranged for us. This 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom condo included a kitchen, living room and deck overlooking the pool, very nice! We shared the condo with friends Alan and Michelle Andersen from Minnesota. This was their first COWS tandem event using their Rans Screamer recently purchased from Joan and John Laabs.

imageOur first social event was a pool-side pizza party followed by our first visit onto the sandy beach along the Gulf. We enjoyed meeting each team that would be riding with us this week as we explored the southern shores of Alabama. We were glad we extended our vacation as we browsed through the materials Kathi and John gathered for us—lots to see and plenty of opportunity for biking—let’s get started.


Sunday, March 18, 2012–Day 3

Today Kathi took those interested in shopping to the Fairhope Annual Arts & Craft Festival while John escorted a group to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. I chose to go shopping and Dennis decided on the naval museum. We both got some biking in but not together—Dennis and Alan took the tandem to Pensacola and I pedaled my Bacchetta on the Orange Beach Backcountry Trails. It didn’t fully register that I would not be putting the first Florida miles on the tandem nor would I be on the back of the Rans when it rolled over 16,000 miles. The guys had some fun reminding me of these facts so I gave them a writing assignment—they needed to journal the events of their day. The weather was beautiful today with temperatures in the 70’s and included plenty of sunshine.

TANDEM: Ride Time was 2 hours 32 minutes, average speed: 15.1, trip miles: 40.59

Two guys on a bike pedaling towards the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL created quite a stir. One curious vehicle actually filmed this spectacle by holding his laptop out his car window getting almost too close to the guys on the bike. They did make it to the museum safely and enjoyed the free 2-hour self-guided tour. Lunch was served at the Harbor Bar at the Florida/Alabama border.

imagePhotos courtesy of Gary Solomon

BACCHETTA: Ride Time was 1 hour 30 minutes, average speed: 10.3, trip miles: 15.68

Biking the Backcountry Trail system was very enjoyable. The trails go on for miles along flat, paved surfaces under the canopy of numerous shade trees. Kathi, Gary, Marilyn, Michelle and I travelled together for the last few miles and enjoyed the added surprise of seeing a mamma alligator in her natural habitat. We were able to get close enough to actually touch her but were warned to stay back—when these animals feel threatened, they can do harm.


Supper was scheduled for Cosmo’s Restaurant & Bar. Cindy and Carl Craig drove from their home in Chatom, AL (a 2-hour trip one way) to visit with us this evening. A busy work schedule kept them from spending more time with us this week. Cosmo’s was great fun and the food was tasty.



Monday, March 19, 2012–Day 4
Backcountry Trails: 31.83 miles

TANDEM: Ride Time was 2 hours 32 minutes, average speed: 12.4

The first official biking day of this event started out with a breakfast ride to Cobalt’s along the shores of the Gulf. The teams gathered outside of the Condo Complex for a 9:00 a.m. mass start. We headed east into the wind on this sunny, Monday morning. Cobalt’s served a delicious buffet and we ate in preparation for the riding day ahead.

imageFollowing breakfast and a short visit to the beach, we headed towards the Backcountry Biking Trails. The Trail complex consists of six trails, totaling nearly 11 miles of paved surface and is home to six distinct ecosystems. The Trail is also home to many reptile species and has two excellent viewing locations for American alligators.

imageOur nine tandem teams enjoyed the thrill of seeing the resident alligator, Lefty, and her babies resting along the bank of Middle Lake on the Rosemary Dunes leg of the Trail. After biking the complete trail system, we stopped at Yogurt+Plus for our first taste of this fabulous treat. We would return here many times before leaving the area.

imageimageimageOur evening activities included another pool-side social where each couple provided an appetizer to share. It was then decided that we had enough new couples at this Wrangler ride that we should have an official initiation ceremony. The COWS hand shake was demonstrated and our three new couples played along. After the silliness was over, we drove to the Hangout for some beach entertainment and cocktails. The evening ended with an entertaining game of Spinner Dominoes.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012–Day 5

The day started out with a walk to St. Thomas By the Sea to light a candle for my Dad having surgery back in Minnesota. My thoughts would be with Dad throughout the day, praying that all was going well. A walk on the beach followed and gave me some time to reflect on the wonderful life my parents gave me, full of love and caring.


Orange Beach Area: 30.93 miles
TANDEM: Ride Time was 2 hours 26 minutes, average speed: 12.6

A full day of biking in Orange Beach was planned for today. Kathi lead us on a tour through a few residential neighborhoods and we had fun circling and re-circling these tree-lined, cul-de-sac properties.

imageJohn could not join us on his tandem during this Wrangler event because of a back injury he suffered while biking prior to our arrival. We sure did miss him each day as we toured on our bikes. However, he would join us for lunch stops and other social activities. He also morphed himself into this photo with a little help from Photoshop. Get better soon, John!

imageimageNext we biked through the Wharf which was intended to be an upscale attraction with shopping, restaurants and entertainment. Many plans for this resort area were squashed when hurricanes Ivan and Katrina came through and caused escalating insurance premiums followed by a coastal real estate crash. It was very quiet as we biked through on this Tuesday afternoon.

imageFurther down the road we began to see the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Canal. The Canal was authorized by congress in 1919 and runs from Texas to Florida, approximately 1050 miles.

imageLunch was scheduled at Tacky Jacks in Orange Beach. John joined the group here and we all enjoyed lunch at this waterfront restaurant.

imageThe wind began to pick up as we pedaled towards the Gulf State Park Pier. We spent some time exploring the pier but the winds prevented us from going too far out onto the pier.

imageThe purple flag today warned of dangerous marine life along the beach area and the red flag indicated a high hazard — high surf or strong currents.


imageKathi and John did a wonderful job planning today’s ride. We ended with another visit to Yogurt+Plus followed by some pool time and supper at the Shrimp Basket. Raw oysters were the special entertainment here–can’t say I will be trying them again anytime soon. Our meal here was good and a walk back to the condo helped settle those oysters.

imageA late night call from my family confirmed that Dad was recovering from surgery and would remain in the hospital until our return–prayers for a speedy recovery, Dad.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012–Day 6

Florida and Big Lagoon State Park: 41.60 miles
TANDEM: Ride Time was 3 hours 11 minutes, average speed: 12.9

Dennis and I awoke early on this sixth day of our vacation to bike solo before the rest of the teams joined up for the planned route. I still needed to be on the bike as it pedaled into Florida and the group was planning a bike trip to Dauphin Island, Alabama. I didn’t want to miss my bike trip to Florida. We made it back to the condo in time for the mass start and the announcement that the ferry to Dauphin Island was down due to mechanical issues thus causing a change in the biking plans today—we would be biking to Florida and spending time at the Big Lagoon State Park, so back towards the border we went.

imageThe visit to the Big Lagoon State Park provided another ideal bicycle journey. The park gets its name from the bordering body of water along its southern shore. A charge of $2 each to bike through the park was worth it. The scenery was quite different than we are used to seeing in Minnesota and wild birds and animals could be seen by watchful cyclists as they toured the park.

imageWe stopped for Lunch at the Oyster Bar in Perdido Key, Florida. We pedaled back to the condo after lunch and enjoyed the wind at our backs. We had another very enjoyable riding day and could now officially add Florida to our list of states we biked in.

Back at the condo, we made plans to tour an upscale condo on the beach just to see how the other half lives. We all had a great time enjoying a moment of first class atmosphere.

imageSupper was planned for Lambert’s CafĂ© in Foley, Alabama—a short drive from our condo. Lambert’s claims to be “the only home of throwed rolls”. The food here was THE BEST and there was lots of it. The staff kept us dodging rolls and the side dishes were passed around often. No one went home from Lambert’s hungry.

imageThursday, March 22, 2012–Day 7

Backcountry Trails: 19.28 miles
SINGLES: Ride Time was 1 hour 47 minutes, average speed: 10.7

Today we returned to the Backcountry Trails with Kathi, the Solomons and the Andersens. Our plans to take the ferry to bike on Dauphin Island would not be happening on this trip to Alabama. The wind and threat of rain kept us close to the condo. Dennis and I pedaled our singles along with Kathi on this last day of this gulf shores vacation. This had been our fifth straight day of biking and I grew tired so I headed back before the others only to find out when they returned that I just missed the Dolphin sightings.

All teams were invited to Don and Nancy Zietlow’s condo for a farewell pizza party and a wild game of Spinner Dominoes. We would be parting from the group early Friday morning with plans to return to the Natchez Trace near Tupelo, Mississippi for more biking and to add another new biking state to our growing list. Thanks Kathi & John for a wonderfully planned Wrangler Ride—we had a blast!

imageAlabama Wrangler Ride Attendees:

John & Kathi Johnson---------------------------- Dorchester, WI
Alan & Michelle Andersen------------------------ Spring Valley, MN
Carl & Cindy Craig ------------------------------ Chatom, AL
Chuck & Nancy Garber -------------------------- South Haven, MI
Rolf & Barb Garthus ----------------------------- Amherst, WI
John & Joan Laabs ------------------------------ Waupaca, WI
Bill & Marsha Peters ----------------------------- New Lisbon, WI
Gary & Marilyn Solomon-------------------------- Pickerington, OH
Dennis & Deb Veerkamp ------------------------- St. Charles, MN
Don & Nancy Zietlow ---------------------------- Berlin, WI

Friday, March 23, 2012–Day 8
Natchez Trace Parkway, Tupelo, Mississippi: 21.70 miles

SINGLES: Ride Time was 1 hour 42 minutes, average speed: 12.6

We drove out of the Orange Beach area at 3:00 a.m. heading northwest towards Tupelo, Mississippi for a return visit to the Natchez Trace Parkway. It was exciting to be back on the Trace and this trip would add the biking state of Mississippi to our list of states we biked in. It rained as we were driving to Tupelo but stopped as we neared the Trace. We began biking at mile marker 266 and continued to marker 277 before we turned around. We have now biked a part of the Trace in each of its three states—Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. Along this stretch of the Trace are the gravesites of 13 unknown Confederate soldiers. We stopped for a short visit here and walked along an original section of the Old Trace up to where the Confederate graves rested. It is always a special treat to experience history while out on the bikes and I will remember this trip for the many firsts we experienced, some as simple as peacefully biking on my own along the Trace.

imageimageimageimageWere they some of Shiloh’s wounded who retreated here in 1862 to die beside the Natchez Trace? Did they serve under the daring General Nathan Forest who passed this way in 1864? Or were they guarding the Tupelo headquarters of J. B. Hood’s Army of Tennessee near the end of the Civil War? We may never know.

imageFriday Continued–Day 8
Big Dam Bridge, Little Rock, Arkansas: 8.00 miles

imageSINGLES: Ride Time 37 minutes, average speed: 11.3

Noticing our closeness to Arkansas, we just had to find somewhere in this new state to put our rubber to the pavement. I found such a spot in Little Rock—The Big Dam Bridge which spans the Arkansas River and is a pedestrian/biking bridge that was built in 2006. We reached the trails at 4:00 p.m. and were amazed at the beautiful bridge before us. The miles we biked here are an estimate as my bike computer was not working correctly at the start of the ride. We will have to return to this area some day when we have more time but it was getting late and we still had to get to Joplin, Missouri for our overnight stay at Drurys. We were happy to have biked in two new biking states today adding a total of three new states for this trip—will there be a fourth tomorrow? Let’s see what biking opportunities there are in Kansas.

imageimageWe packed the bikes back in the van and continued our trip north towards Joplin, Missouri. At one point we looked into the distance and thought we saw mountains. Checking the map closer we found we were in the Ozarks—what an amazing discovery. It was late as we checked into our hotel so following a quick meal at Applebee’s, fell fast asleep in the comfort of Drury Inn & suites of Joplin.

Saturday, March 24, 2012–Day 9
Crawford State Park, Kansas: 6.59 miles

SINGLES: Ride Time was 41 minutes, average speed: 9.5

We did it—we added a fourth state to this biking journey. We drove to the Crawford State Park in Kansas just to put a few miles on the bikes. The park was very nice with quiet roads winding along sparkling waters. Some flooding was evident as we rolled along. We were warned to use caution if biking through the flooded spillway connecting the park sections. Our ride ended by 11:00 a.m. and we were back in the van with the GPS set for home. At 7:00 p.m. we were back in Minnesota after nine days of travelling and home by 8:00. What a fabulous journey this has been.

imageimageMemorable Highlights: The company of 9 great tandem teams, Walks on the beach, Many games of Spinner Dominoes, Picking up 4 new biking states—Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas and Kansas, Returning to bike the Trace and of course, Yogurt + Plus!

Total Vacation Biking Miles: 216.20 (Tandem=144.95 / Singles=71.25)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

To Dover for Supper

Dover Loop: 21.44 miles
: Ride Time was 1 hour 32 minutes, average speed: 13.9

This was our first after-work bike ride for this season. The time change the previous Sunday gave us just enough daylight to make a supper trip to the Roadhouse in Dover and get back home before the lights turned out. The extra hour of light combined with the unusually warm temperature—in the 60’s throughout this evening—has made us very thankful for the record-breaking miles we have been experiencing.

It’s amazing the sights you can see in your own neighborhood when you take the time to look. We passed many flags blowing in the wind, Amish buggies going about their daily business, hawks flying circles around the sky and friendly drivers smiling behind their steering wheel as they passed us by, always delighted to see the Veerkamps back out on the bike.



Sunday, March 11, 2012

Early Spring Wyatville Loop

Wyatville Loop: 40.58 miles
Stats: Ride Time was 3 hours 27 minutes, average speed: 11.7

We set out into the SW wind knowing that the route would not get the best of us today but the wind sure might. The Wyatville Loop was quite a challenge on our spring legs so we did some modifications via gravel roads to shave 5 miles off the loop. At mile 10 we encountered a lengthy chase from two German shepherd dogs and the Halt spray had to come out to keep them from crossing our path and flipping the bike. We did out run them and enjoyed the rest of the route until the winds picked up for our last 10 miles.

We decided to cut across the gravel road to make a more direct route back home as our legs were running out of power. We made it back home after 3.5 hours of cranking with minimal breaks. The weather was beautiful on this early spring day with temperatures ranging from 51-81° making it hard to adjust our clothing for comfort but it’s all good and we are enjoying the opportunity to bike the extra miles this spring.


Tandem 2012 Miles: 98.76              Rans Tandem Total Miles: 15952
Singles 2012 Miles:  40.33              Bacchetta Total Miles: 1177

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Saint Charles Loop

St. Charles Loop: 12.78 miles
Stats: Ride Time was 58 minutes, average speed: 13.2

With temperatures climbing into the 60’s we just had to get the tandem out on the road. We biked into St. Charles for a few groceries and then turned back for home before the sun no longer provided light for us to travel down our county road. We are happy to have such a great start to our biking season and hope we can continue setting monthly mileage records.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Biking the Neighborhood

Amish Market and Home: 9.23 miles
Stats: Ride Time was 51 minutes, average speed: 10.7

Just a short bike ride to the Amish Market and back home to get our legs ready for our upcoming Wrangler ride in Alabama. We have been getting out biking every opportunity we get and between each winter storm prediction.