With the 2013 versions of STR and FTR scheduled on subsequent weekends, two tandem rallies in tandem seemed to be a hit with a number of attendees at the 2013 Florida Tandem Rally in The Villages. Even though the distance between the Southern Tandem Rally in Cullman, Alabama and the Florida Tandem Rally in The Villages was more than 600 miles, doing them back-to-back made sense for couples from out-of-state.  Several couples from northern climes turned the two events into a vacation.  Among them were teams from Virginia, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.  After attending the Southern Tandem Rally in Cullman, Carolyn and Don Lane took two days to drive to Florida, and then did some canoeing at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park on Florida’s west coast. They arrived back with the group in The Villages in time to catch the pre-FTR ride Friday morning.

Friday morning 19 bicycles came out for the pre-ride. Two teams opted to explore routes heading outside the sprawling Villages development. The riders of the other 17 cycles decided they’d like to enjoy the typical route that the local PANTHERS ride every Tuesday and Thursday morning. As in past years, the PANTHERS (Partners Aboard Neat Tandems Happily Enjoying Riding Simultaneously) were sponsoring the FTR. While it’s a statewide club, most of the PANTHERS  leadership lives in or near The Villages.

In the afternoon, after picking up the rally packets and signing in at the Waterfront Inn, many couples walked over to Lake Sumter Landing. Then it was back to the hotel for an ice cream social featuring hand-scooped vanilla, chocolate or strawberry and lots of yummy toppings.

For Stephanie and Charles Crawford of Piedmont, S.C., it was their first tandem rally in 4 or 5 years and their first time to attend a rally in Florida. “It’s flat,’’ Charles said, noting that a few years back they had climbed Mount Mitchell in the Smoky Mountains.  Flat is a relative term, however. At Saturday night’s banquet some who rode the day’s 47-mile route said it turned out to be hillier than the longer ride. They were right. They climbed 1,757 feet while the 53-mile Marion-Moss Bluff ride scaled 1,559 feet. The metric century had 1,882 feet of elevation.

Saturday morning got off to a great start with a reporter and photographer from The Daily Sun, The Villages newspaper, there to interview riders and photograph the event for a spread in Monday’s paper. All four rides started together, with the 36-miler and the 47-miler diverging after four miles. The two longest rides took  a route that crossed the Ocklawaha River twice before the metric headed north through Ocala National Forest and the 57-miler headed around Lake Weir.  At the second rest stop for those doing the two longest rides, PANTHERS president Bob Thompson told the riders they were approaching a beautiful stretch “where you can imagine bears having a picnic.” Indeed, it was picture perfect –a car-free, narrow lane cutting through a wooded area with glimpses of Lake Weir visible at times through the trees.

All rides ended with lunch at RJ Gators, a waterfront eatery at Lake Sumter Landing. Dan Graham, proprietor and a fellow PANTHER, arranged long tables on the covered patio overlooking the lake so that we sweaty bikers could enjoy our meal of pastas, shrimp or club salads, or quesadillas without being chilled by the air conditioning. A cold beer was a drink option for those considering an afternoon nap.

Sunday morning we headed to rural Sumter County. There, riders encountered the highest point in Sumter County. Few realized it without being told as its such a gradual climb.

As veteran FTR participant Carol Lilley of Chesapeake, VA., said at the beginning of the rally, “We like riding here. The routes are good, the weather’s great. This time of year at home it’s supposed to be in the 30s tonight.”