Four Men and Their Bikes Coffeeneuring Challenge in Pinellas County, Florida

The Coffeeneuring Challenge has just kicked off, and already people from all over the world have been going out on their bicycles to be part of the action! As the weeks unfold, I’ll be highlighting the adventures of previous year participants. I receive so many great submissions each year, and enjoy being able to share some of them with you.

This submission takes us to Florida, where a semi-organized group – led by Mike – took on the challenge for the first time. His summary shows that the simple act of riding a bike to coffee can be a catalyst for deeper connections to ourselves and others. Thank you, Mike, for this thoughtful guest post. 

And remember, if you haven’t started coffeeneuring yet, you have plenty of time to join, as the challenge runs until November 25 this year. See here for all the details!

(Occasionally) Four Men and Their Bikes Coffeeneuring

This riding, and writing about the riding, started out simply as a way to get out more often with friends on bicycles and qualify for a cool patch. However, it has become much more than that, causing me to weigh some deeper thoughts. Here are a few of them.

Why do we have friends?

I think we have friends to feel connected with other humans. Real friends (at least in my book) allow you to be yourself, vulnerable and imperfect, yet they keep showing up for the next ride.

Why do I ride?

There are so many reasons including exercise, freedom, solitude, health, environmental benefits, adventure, connection, simplicity. Our rides, at least for me, are an attempt to improve the tenuous connection between people.

I find that if we are left to our own devices we may postpone getting together, until it’s too little or too late. This is especially true given the busy-ness that we have committed to or fallen prey to. One can look at it either way, or a combination of both. I try to break out of the unconscious part of that.

The Group

Making up our coffeeneuring group are four friends who ride regularly in Pinellas County, Florida. We enjoy riding together, but the heat of summer and the obligations that we knowingly, and unknowingly, fill our lives with take us away from this fulfilling endeavor more often than we’d like. The 2017 Challenge, along with awesome fall Florida weather, inspired us to ride together more.

The “comfort zone” depiction was something that I identified with and wanted to include here, as I felt it related to us getting out of our comfort zones (and routines) a little bit.

We started the challenge with an additional set of our own rules, but those modified over time so as to simply enjoy what we are doing without over-complication. It is great to use the motivation and camaraderie offered by the Challenge, but trying to squeeze too much into a fun activity can spoil it. We started out agreeing that all of us had to be present to qualify our rides, but that didn’t work out so we caught each other whatever way we could for this endeavor.

Bill rides every day and because of that could probably complete the challenge way before the rest of us. Bruce rides regularly and puts in many thousands of miles every year, but he has many other pursuits as well. Matt has been getting back on the bicycle to improve his health, both mental and physical, but loves spending time outdoors (if he is not on the bike he is on the water). I (that is, Mike) ride regularly and am constantly putting together new trips and challenges so I can stay out past when the street lights come on.

Ride 1 – Saturday, October 14, 2017 – The Bikery, St. Petersburg, Florida

Today’s ride was to The Bikery, as Bill had never been there and thought the Challenge offered great motivation (or excuse?) to do so. Each of us started from various locations that would result in between 45 and 55 miles round trip. Our rendezvous point was behind The Path and Ride Bike Shop (coffee and vinyl too!).

This shop is right on the Pinellas Trail in Clearwater, Florida and the majority of the ride to St. Petersburg is on the Trail. We travel through the south end of Clearwater, then Largo, Seminole (over Long Bayou), Gulfport, and then arrive at 2222 1st Avenue South, St. Pete.

The Bikery has great coffee and some really cool vintage bicycles, as well as some pretty cool modern ones too. You can bring your bike inside and place it in a custom rack while you sip your coffee and mill about the shop looking at all the beautiful bikes you want to take home. These places are like the SPCA and puppies for those of us that ride. I want to take them all home!

Ride 2 – Friday, October 19, 2017 – Green Sage Café, Asheville, NC

This ride only involved me (Mike) and Bruce to some extent. It started in Asheville, North Carolina and ended in Brevard, North Carolina – about 66 miles for the day. Bruce was out taking on his own challenge while riding the New Belgium Beer Asheville Ramble. Matt and Bill were back home, unable to join.

My ride today included the Blue Ridge Parkway (up and up and up), Forest Service roads (down and more down), and beautiful paved backroads towards Brevard. The empty chair picture was taken at Green Sage Café Downtown, and represents our missing “cousin Steve”, as he likes to join us on our adventures and couldn’t make this one. He travels from Detroit, Michigan, to meet up with us to hike the Appalachian Trail and the Rockies, sail and kayak through the Everglades, ride the Pinellas Trail, and any other thing we can dream up in between.

The overall trip associated with this ride started in downtown Asheville and headed south to Hartwell, Georgia, over three days. I have to give a shout out to Dill Pickle bags, as this one bag carried everything I needed for my 3 day adventure and looks great in my opinion.

Ride 3 – Saturday – October 20, 2017 – La Cabana, Hartwell, Georgia

The middle day of this 3-day ride was not added to the Challenge, as I forgot to take pictures of my stop at a great local diner in the mountains southeast of Brevard. Also, in keeping with the Coffeeneuring Rules, we are limiting the qualifying rides to 2 per week.

LaCabana is the great Mexican restaurant in this picture (iced-teanuering?). After riding about 50 miles from Clemson, South Carolina that morning, it was a welcome stop. The roads were awesome on this day, although less steep than the ride in the mountains of North Carolina. There were some stretches that lasted 20 miles without one vehicle passing!

Total miles were somewhere close to 60, as more were added in the end so as to avoid a busier US highway. The Georgia Gazetteer provided some insight into a better bicycling route, even though adding about 10 miles to the day. One thing that occurred to me is how difficult it is to use multiple Lake Hartwell maps, as the different scale with each can be confusing. So, “yes, that looks like a good detour of about 3 miles” actually ends up being triple that! No big deal though when you are riding in such beautiful country.

Ride 4 – Friday October 27, 2017 – The Path Bicycle Shop (vinyl and coffee too!)

The Path is a great bike shop in downtown Clearwater, one business off the Pinellas Trail (a MUP that stretches from Pasco County all the way to St. Petersburg). Gary, the proprietor, makes great coffee and includes a wonderful story behind each cup of joe: including the coffee’s origin, its taste, and the people behind the brand.

Just as we like to support our local bike shop (LBS), he likes to support the independent coffee makers. Mikey is always nearby, as he is the shop mechanic, and does an awesome job filling tires for local riders to building beautiful rides like my Kona Rove TI or Bruce’s Kona Sutra LTD.

It is only about 13 miles round trip to The Path so we often add many miles in between. Today’s ride involved what we call “The 3 Bridge” ride. This includes the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) between downtown Clearwater and Clearwater Beach, the bridge to Sand Key (over Sand Key Pass), and the Belleair Causeway again over the ICW from Belleair Beach to Belleair. Total ride (Mike only today) about 27 miles.

Ride 5 – Saturday October 28 – Indian Shores Coffee

Today’s ride included Bill (orange jersey), Matt (grey jersey), and me (far left) and took on two of The 3 Bridge bridges, adding another bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) further south. We met up at The Path again, took the beautifully wide and scenic bike path across the Memorial Causeway, then followed the on-street bike lane (almost continuous) along Gulf Boulevard. This ride traveled through many beach towns including Belleair Beach, Belleair Shores, Indian Rocks Beach, and Indian Shores.

The ride back travelled over the ICW through Seminole and back onto the Pinellas Trail north to the Path. Total miles about 35-45 depending on starting location. Oh, and very good coffee at this cool little shop!

Ride 6 – Saturday November 4 – Coffee Without Walls, Secret Juniper Forest

Today’s ride included all of us for the first time! It was great to have the full group together. The change in the clock for Daylight Savings gave us a little more daylight at the early morning start, but oddly enough I got up an extra hour early! I do think it was the full moon shining in the room fooling me into thinking I overslept into the “new” daytime.

It is interesting to see how a planned ride like this one sticks in your head from the day you think up the idea. The excitement and thoughts grow even more when the group all commit to the ride. From consideration for what route we’ll take, the weather possibilities, the menu and coordinating the gear, to thoughts about how the guys will enjoy the ride, and so many other contemplations. I often think the planning of these little adventures is half the fun.

This ride destination was kept a light secret by me, and the guys were good sports for going along with my silliness and not trying to get too much information out of me. I think that shows they just like to ride and don’t like to complicate things.

Our roundtrip distance for the today ranged between 30 and 40 miles for each, depending on starting point. Our rendezvous was at Bill’s place at 7:00 A.M., right next to the Pinellas Trail in Ozona. The fact that we can leave from our respective front doors gives us a simple way to get out and really enjoy the day.

We biked north on the Pinellas Trail from Ozona, through Crystal Beach, Palm Harbor up past the “Monkey Farm” (aka, Primate Sanctuary), through Tarpon Springs where we exited the Trail, and then up over the Anclote River and into Pasco County.

A beautiful grove of junipers among the oaks and pine trees of southern Pasco County was our destination. I choose not to reveal the exact location, as putting too many words around its location takes away from the mystery and uniqueness of the spot. It is also peaceful to me knowing that it is off the beaten path and unlikely that anyone else ever sets foot in the area.

When we arrived in the forest there were signs of the damage caused by Hurricane Irma, with many trees blown over and many sawed up by the County crews. With the disorientation caused by the damage it was difficult to find the exact place I remembered, but the guys followed me into the woods anyway and we found a nice little place to fix breakfast and coffee.

Matt brought the whole coffee beans, a Costa Rican blend from Gary at The Path. We used my camp stove and Aeropress, and Bill brought the hand operated grinder. Bill and I have used this setup on a past S240 (i.e., sub 24 hour overnighter).

Additionally, as a treat to the guys as well as enjoyable for me, I brought breakfast for all. In the initial mysterious invitation for the ride the breakfast menu was not revealed, but they each were instructed to bring a spoon and vessel. The breakfast included roasted buckwheat with raisins, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and covered with rich and sweet grass-fed heavy cream (also used by those that like cream in their coffee). All this was topped with organic bananas.

After our time in the woods it was on to complete the second leg of the adventure. A bit of walking the bikes on Florida dirt trails (aka, sand) was next and then back south on quiet paved two-laners. We detoured through the old village of Anclote on the ride back, a small community that is off the main road and definitely qualifying as “old Florida.”

Anclote was settled first in 1866 by Fred Meyer and the Harrison and Cobb families. It was the original home of the sponge industry before Tarpon Springs was settled. However, the area history goes further back in time and includes occupation by Indian tribes, as well as visitation by Spanish conquistadors, and pirates. More recently was a place where the American artists George Innes Sr. and George Innes Jr. would paint some of their incredible landscapes. I’m not sure if any of the guys had ever been there, and that is part of the fun in leading a ride, showing others new places to ride.

We then travelled back south across the Anclote River, making another detour west down the Sponge Docks and on through the little historic Greek community surrounding the Docks. The last leg followed the Pinellas Trail for about 7 miles to our starting point at Bill’s place.
Being out in the woods with friends on bikes makes you sit up and take notice of the day. It offers a diversion from the day-to-day busy-ness that keeps us from what we could use the most – time outside. In the end, its times like these that life seems timeless.

Ride 7 – Saturday November 11th – 9th Bar Coffee Company, Dunedin

Our really local ride, right on the Pinellas Trail. It is next to one of favorite meeting spots for non-coffee-like beverages – Cueni Brewery. We normally go far, but today most of us had other obligations later in the day so a short trip worked best. Matt was in Atlanta and couldn’t join us today. Trip length was from 7 miles for Bruce to a little over 4 for me. Bill’s mileage was somewhere in between.
Bill decided to ride his cargo bike, and Bruce and I our Konas. Bill rides this one often and even carries his standup paddle board with it.

The 9th Bar was a nice conclusion to our Coffeeneuring Challenge for 2017, but will not be the end. We are always inventing reasons to get together by bicycle, or to simply ride together.

Final Thoughts From Four Men Coffeeneuring

Cap’t Matt: “My bike is my escape pod, adventure tool, and prescription for all the stress that life doles out daily. When I ride I am free! The minute the pedals begin to turn, whether on pavement, dirt, or any other surface, the woes melt away.”

Bill: “Coffeeneuring provides the four essential C vitamins for good mental health: cycling, coffee, conversation, and camaraderie. Here in Florida, fall ushers in prime bicycling weather that will last for almost six months, and our coffeehouse rides have been a wonderful way to begin the season by exploring the area and discovering new places to enjoy our favorite beverage, share observations, stories, tell a few tall tales and lies, and otherwise take a respite from the stress of daily life. To borrow a term from urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, the bicycle is our rolling “third space”. I propose establishment of a C-12 award for Coffeeneuring at least once a month for twelve consecutive months. Do I hear a second?”

Bruce: “It’s surprising how the combination a few simple activities can lead to such an enjoyable endeavor. Mike shared the Coffeenuering Challenge info a couple months prior to the start and encouraged us to give it a try. In a way, it seemed like something we already did, ride bikes and drink coffee. Mike and I have a long strong friendship that started out with a bike ride and has taken us on many rides and adventures. It turned out to be more than the usual.

The Coffeenuering Challenge created an opportunity to plan weekend rides like Mike and I used to in years past bringing back many memories of rides and times. Bill and Matt joining us led to interesting conversations and (non-electronic) social connections. The coffee shop destination planning got us off the typical paths… Ride on.”

Mike: “I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone my whole life, maybe in order to feel more alive each day. I have loved taking adventures ever since I was a kid (thank you Dad for showing me the way!) and really feel as though I’m not living my life to the fullest if I don’t have one regularly, daily if at all possible.

The bicycle allows me another way to have both daily and longer-term adventures. I also appreciate how bicycling brings together good friends doing a simple good thing. The Coffeenuering Challenge for 2017 has surely created another adventuring chapter for my life.”

Thanks again to you and your Florida team, Mike, for the great guest post! 

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