Please support my 2015 BP MS150 ride!

Please support my 2015 BP MS150 ride!
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Although this blog was originally created by Andy Brickell and continues to be updated by him, the design and layout of the page is credited to his daughter, Mary-Claire Brickell. She's pretty awesome.

Friday, May 8, 2015

You never blow your trip forever

So the big day dawned - and I stayed in bed!  Heavy rain in La Grange over the week before the ride had flooded out the camp ground, so with nowhere to take the overnight break, the MS Society decided to cancel the first day for only the second time in the ride's history.  

But the second day was still on, with an 8am start out of downtown La Grange,  so we made our plans - Kevin and I were to drive up Sunday morning, meeting Lee and BJ who were coming down from an overnight stay in Austin.  Meanwhile, Barbara (Kevin's wife), who had spent Saturday night visiting friends in Wimberley, would meet us at the finish in Austin and shuttle us back to the car in La Grange.  Got it?  Good, not sure I did.

So it was an even earlier start than usual for Kevin and I, without the Starbucks stop for once as we were both adequately caffeinated.  We anticipated traffic and were certainly passed by plenty of vehicles with bikes but in fact made good time, good enough in fact to take a break in Ellinger at Hruska's, purveyor of authentic kolaches and klobasikys (and gasoline).  One of the many cyclists there was none other than Tom, a good friend of ours, who was doing the ride with his teenage son John again (apparently still asleep in the truck outside!)  A couple of years back Kevin and I rode the Bastrop to Austin section with Tom and John and this gave me a wonderful excuse for taking it slowly (John can't keep up if you go too fast).  It was not to be this year however.

The%20King%20and%20I%20and%20KevinWe hooked up with Lee and BJ in La Grange and got geared up for a long day in the saddle.  Not only was the first day cancelled, the Challenge route through the Parks was also closed, so we would be on the Lunch Express route, straight up route 71 into Bastrop, then on to Austin for a total of 68 miles.  Not as many as we had expected but enough all the same.

Lee had perhaps foolishly decided to ride the first and last ten miles in an Elvis costume (he had one lying around the house, as you do) in the hope of raising a few more bucks for the cause.  With his wig (on top of his helmet of course), gold shades and rhinestone-studded jump suit he was quite impressive, although I suspect Elvis didn't use white duct tape to keep his flares out of his bike chain.  To round out the effect, Kevin had loaded up his cellphone with Elvis's greatest hits and brought a portable Bluetooth speaker which he hung from Lee's saddle.  This not only added artistic verisimilitude but had the benefit of making sure that Kevin wouldn't get out of Bluetooth range in front of us.  Lee gamely tried to adopt an Elvis sneer but he has far too sunny a temperament to make it convincing, and he was also having a blast.

And so the adventure began, with "Hound Dog" blaring from Lee's bike, unusual even by our standards.  We rode down to the County court house and found a sea of cyclists all standing around waiting for the off.  Lee immediately attracted a lot of attention, with numerous young women in lycra wanting their photo taken standing next to the King.  With hindsight we should have charged for each snap.

After about 40 minutes standing around with no signs of progress, word went around that it would be at least two more hours before we got going, so we decided to take matters into our own hands.  We knew the route - basically straight up route 71 - so all we had to do was get on to it somewhere.  After a few minutes riding around we spotted the highway and we were off.

71 is a divided highway with two lanes each way, and there were enough cyclists on the route for us to take a lane for ourselves.  The first 15 miles or so is pretty flat and the surface is excellent, so we rolled along in fine style under clear skies with little or no wind.  The cars and trucks were forced onto a single lane and were more or less keeping pace with us - so one group of ladies in a minivan, delighted at the sight of the King, cruised alongside for a while, all of them shooting cellphone videos.

We pulled in at the first rest stop for Lee to strip off his jumpsuit and resume his normal persona.  Then it was back at it, with a slightly more challenging section in front of us.

A few weeks back, Lee and I had driven up to Bastrop State Park to plant trees with a group from the MS 150 Club 300.  There had been a pretty bad wildfire and we were glad of the opportunity to give something back.  After the tree planting we had cycled the two Parks and then returned to the car via route 71, along the section we were now seeing.  That time it was wet and windy, today it was dry and calm but the rollers hadn't got any flatter.  I was in my granny ring and granny gear a time or two but made it through and felt fairly good at the end in Bastrop.

The lunch break for the second day is at the Middle School.  We knew from experience that it would be hectic, with long lines for everything, especially the toilets, and the lunch wasn't that fancy anyway, a turkey sub with chips and an apple.  As it was barely 10am we weren't all that hungry anyway, so I suggested a minor deviation.  I was pretty sure that a mile further down the route at a big intersection there was a gas station, where we could get water and chocolate milk (of course), eat our snacks and gels and use a flush toilet.

Great idea but sadly my memory was flawed - we got to the intersection and there was no gas station (memo to self - possible retirement business opportunity?).  There was a big strip mall though with an Academy, surely they would have water at least?

Indeed they did, and also chocolate-flavoured coconut water!  First things first though, they had very nice, clean restrooms in the back (I attracted quite a few puzzled stares as I clip-clopped my way through the store).  The coconut water turned out to be very odd indeed and I didn't finish it.  Back at it for the last 30 miles or so into Austin.  The plan was to stop at the last break before the city for the Return of the King but not before then, giving us about a 20 mile run.  

But no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and in this case once again my right foot was that enemy.  In previous years it had begun to hurt after 40 or 50 miles and got so bad that I had to stop and walk around without my shoe on for a while.  I hadn't had too many issues with it during training this time and had hoped I would be ok, but I wasn't.  After ten miles it was really giving me gyp as they say.  I tried unclipping on a downhill and that seemed to help, so I started riding without clipping in, but when we reached the Webberville break point I had to ask the guys to stop.

Kevin was looking like he was in the middle of a gentle ride around his neighbourhood!  Lee also looked strong but he admitted to being a bit tired.  I took my shoes off and slogged over to get some water.  Kevin gently suggested I take some tylenol for the pain on the basis that it couldn't do any harm and that made some sense.

Normally the exit from this stop takes you back onto the route a little further down, but the field you have to cross was flooded so we had to double back and join a long line of riders trying to get back at it.  We finally got going with about 20 miles to run.  The tylenol didn't help and I was soon hurting again.  I gritted my teeth and pedalled on but I was really slowing the guys down.  

We got to the last break before the end only to find it had been moved from the roadside and into a field some way back.  We turned off anyway for me to get some more shoe-free relief, but didn't actually go into the rest area.

Come on then, let's get 'er done.  We passed the Austin City limits sign, normally a boost but to be honest not much help this time.  There are several decent rollers on the way in, and the climbs were killing me.  With about a mile to go I was dead in the water and actually pretty much out of water too, so we pulled over opposite a gas station, ostensibly for water and for Lee to don the jumpsuit once more, in practise because I was beat.  Kevin took his life into his own hands, dodging cyclists and cars while attempting to run across a road in cycling shoes, but emerged with armfulls of water bottles just like a pro domestique.

There really wasn't much left of the ride, and Lee was getting lots of love which was quite a boost.  We made the final turn into the chute with Lee in the lead, waving left and right to the cheering crowds.  I can honestly say that I've never enjoyed an MS 150 finish as much as this one, cruising along behind the King.

So there we were, in Austin after perhaps the most painful time in the saddle I'd ever experienced.  We dropped our bikes at the compound and found the BHP tent.  Barbara and BJ were already there (they had expected us a lot earlier, sorry ladies I kept your boys out longer than I meant) so we got a warm welcome.  There was damn good food to be had too, excellent ribs (pretty spicy!) and a sausage on a stick that was very salty and unbelievably delicious.  BHP had supplied a keg of Shiner but good old Chris (who had been in for hours of course) had brought Karbach just as she said she would and handed me a Rodeo Cown, nectar to go with the ambrosial BBQ.

Off for a shower (no line for us VIPs of course!) and then back to the tent to break the news to the guys.  Back in January I had decided that this would be my last MS ride.  I told Susan at the time but didn't tell Kevin or Lee, not wanting to cast a pall on our training and the fun we were having.  To lighten things up I had bought them both Monty Python "Ministry of Silly Walks" watches and duly presented them along with my news.  In pro cycling the team leader generally gives his team a gift of some sort, often a nice watch, a Rolex if they had a good season.  I couldn't see that hppening but they got ThinkGeek's finest, a nice tie-in to the Python theme we'd had all year too.

So that's that!  Since 2003 I've raised close to $200,000 for the MS Society, thanks to generous friends like you few who read this drivel I put out.  I've also had a lot of fun and a fair bit of discomfort but that's nothing compared to the daily life of people with this noxious disease. 

There's no doubt that the last few rides were made immeasurably easier and more fun by my good friend Kevin.  I owe you a huge debt of gratitude Bass Man, not least for the musical portions of your instruction.  This last year was even more enjoyable because Lee joined us.  We made quite a team!

As an epilogue, the title of this blog post comes from a song written and performed by Daevid Allen, founder member of Soft Machine and Gong and thus a major source of musical entertainment for me as a young man.  Daevid lost a fight with cancer earlier this year at the too-young age of 70.  

I started this blog to drum up pledges for my rides.  Since I'm not riding any more, this will be my last post.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Carry on up the Fruit Loop

It's the last weekend before the big ride!  We all wanted a gentle outing just to round out the training season, but the weather was forecast to be wet and nasty on Sunday, Lee had a time constraint on Saturday, Kevin was recovering from a bout of the Dreaded Lurgy and also had work commitments, what was a peloton to do?

You can always rely on Lee when the chips are down!  He suggested a few laps of the Fruit Loop (aka the Picnic Loop in Memorial Park, a 1.2 mile circuit that is normally closed to vehicles), which would mean a lot less driving and a lot more flexibility.  Brilliant!  I've never been on the Fruit Loop, at least not on a bike, but he and Kevin are old pros.

So I loaded up the bike into my car (driving myself again?), headed out and parked up at the Loop barely 15 minutes later.  I got geared up and Lee appeared - he'd ridden his bike there and had already got in a few laps and a Starbucks.  We rolled out and I soon got the hang of it - the road surface is only fair and there are a few turns to negotiate, but it's flat and traffic flows one way only so you can ride all over the road without fear.

After a couple more laps, Kevin appeared and immediately kicked the pace up a notch.  We weren't exactly breaking the land speed record, but it's a relentless pace, with no downhills to coast and get your breath back.

As we zipped aound my thoughts turned to the legendary ouzlum bird, which features prominently in "Carry on up the jungle", one of a series of British comedy films (imaginatively called the "Carry On" series) from the 60's and 70's.  I loved those movies when I was a kid, not least because much of the humour was decidedly risque.  Anyway the ouzlum bird, when startled, is rumoured to fly around in a series of ever-decreasing circles until it vanishes up its own fundamental orifice in a mass of poo and feathers.  I think it's related to the oomigooli bird, which has large testicles and short legs and thus experiences some discomfort whenever it comes in to land.  For the ornithologists among you, they're both members of the Shite Hawk family (Shitus Hawkus).

Our gyrations fortunately were not of the ever-decreasing kind!  After a few more, Lee left for home and Kevin and I put in another 10 before doing the same.  Next ride is Austin or bust!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Billy No-Mates

Lee was being a good parent again (you can spoil kids you know) and Kevin was having a sickie, so I had to lone-wolf it on Saturday.  This included driving myself to Zube and inflating my own tires!  No point in stopping at Starbucks for the traditional pre-ride coffee either, although Susan suggested I pour one out for them anyway.

Paddy was there with the Mules trailer and I stopped for a brief chat before rolling out on my own under grey skies, with a decent wind from the south east pushing me along.  Rather than take the Hegar route, I opted for the previous standard, which goes down Laneview where there are usually wild flowers and sometimes exciting birds.  I wasn't disappointed!  About 20 miles in I put up a scissor-tailed flycatcher, who delighted me by flying along by my side for a good 100 yards, giving me a great view of his superb plumage.  Certainly the best looking bird we see out here, he knocks Kevin's Caracara out of the park.  But still no bluebonnets sadly.

Another down side of riding on my own - no earworm!  I had a bizarre mix of "I'm a believer", "Our house" and "Solsbury Hill" rolling through my head all the way round, with occasional bursts of Taylor Swift when I needed a hill climb boost.  

I took the standard break at the Exxon and the standard selfie, this time sans domestiques (subsequently photo-shopped in by MC), and rudely eavesdropped on a conversation amongst a group of serious-looking riders who were discussing shaving products.  Then back at it and the run through Hempstead and points south.

When I turned for home the wind started to bite in earnest, but I hung in there, admittedly at embarrassingly slow speeds.  I got back to Zube with 51 miles done at an average of 14.6mph, a good 2.5mph slower than the same run with Kevin and Lee.  One more ride to go before the big day!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

So when exactly does the taper start?

We're three weeks out from the big ride, and I hear that serious athletes start to taper off the intensity and duration of their training regime before a big event so that they're fresh for it.  Apparently Kevin hasn't heard of the taper, judging from yesterday's race around Waller County anyway.

Lee was out being a good parent, but Eric from work wanted to ride with us and duly showed up at Zube.  He's a tall chap like Lee and Kevin but there the resemblance ends, he's too skinny to block any wind.  He also wasn't aware of his domestique duties but never mind, he can be taught.

Another beautiful morning for bike riding, a little cool (Kevin and Eric were rocking arm warmers, I was bare armed and goose-fleshed) but tons of sunshine and blue skies.  There was a breeze from the south-east, a good MS150 wind, but not strong enough to be a big issue.

Up and at 'em, and Eric proved to be a pretty strong rider, keeping pace with Kevin most of the way round.  We reached the gas station in good shape and opted to go for the longer route home, giving us 51 miles for the morning.  An uneventful ride, really.  But it turns out that Eric is lactose-intolerant and didn't want his chocolate milk.  I suppose that means I'll have to find chocolate soy milk somewhere if he's going to come out with us again.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fetchez la vache!

This week's dose of Python is from one of the pivotal scenes in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".  After many arduous and occasionally silly adventures, Arthur and the remnant of his Knights arrive at the Castle Aaargh, site of the Grail, only to discover that it's held by French soldiers who taunt them most foully.   When this doesn't drive the Brits off,  the commander of the French forces orders his men to "Fetchez la vache",  schoolboy franglais for "go get the cow", which they then catapult over the wall.  This only came up when I attempted to text to the gang "rendezvous chez moi", only to have my phone auto-correct "chez moi" to "chez moo".  No surprise that things went down hill from there.

Saturday was a washout, just as well as Kevin got back from Faraday, Louisiana pretty late on Friday, and Susan and I had been at a Stevie Wonder concert until 10pm.  Sunday was the Bluebonnet Express, a popular organized ride that we had all done in the past, so we decided to join the Madding Crowds and see if we could manage a longer distance.  The ride starts at Waller ISD stadium, a magnificent temple to American football in the middle of freakin' nowhere, actually on one of the Zube routes, so we know the area pretty well.  We still managed to get stuck in traffic for the parking area, even though Kevin, in a moment of highly non-Unitarian conduct, attempted to cut the line.

The ride uses a rolling start, basically you take off when you're ready, which eliminates a lot of the waiting around that is usually the biggest issue with these rides, so that was a plus.  The weather was also very favourable, a cool and pretty morning with a decent wind out of the north that pushed us along nicely for the first ten miles.  Lee and I had agreed that if Kevin was pushing the pace too much, we would call out "fetchez la vache", meaning slow the f&$@ down.  Surprise surprise, he took off like an F15 with the afterburners lit, and I had to invoke the franglais after about five miles, sadly with no obvious effect.

The rest stops were further apart than usual, so we were actually 32 miles in when we took our first break.  I was ready for it but didn't feel too bad.  Last time we visited this fine city, we were forty-plus miles into the run and I pretty much cratered two miles further on.  This time we had some wind on our backs, less miles in our legs and butts and I was able to hold a decent pace, although the other two were clearly cruising pretty comfortably.  But I needed a quick break at the last rest stop.

While we were standing around eating trail mix, a young woman came up and shook Kevin's hand.  He was wearing a top fundraisers jersey and she wanted to thank him for his efforts, as she actually has the disease.  We talked about her progress and treatment and wished her well before heading out.

The last ten miles were easy enough, mostly flat and mostly downwind, and we finished strongly, 55 miles at an average pace of 17 mph.  Not many weekends left now!

Monday, March 16, 2015

And we're going to the Chappell (Hill) of Pain

Lee had a sick note so it was the Old Firm (Me and Kevin) that hit the road last Saturday on a cool, foggy morning, heading for adventure!  Or at least, Chappell Hill, a small town just a bit further out than our usual stamping ground, that is the starting point for a number of popular cycling routes, all of them scenic and all very hilly.

We had both done Chappell Hill rides before but not together and it was a while ago so we didn't remember the route.  Not to worry, my friend Juan (a fierce MS fundraiser) rides out here regularly and had provided a map and GPS coordinates, so what could go wrong?

Juan's map had three routes, long, medium and short.  Sadly the long was too long (58 miles!) and the medium too short, so we took the Goldilocks  option, a bit of both that was just right.  In theory.

In practise we missed a turn less than a mile from the start and it wasn't the only one we blew.  We stormed down a pretty, rolling road in bright sunshine, only to discover that we were about to merge onto the freeway.  Whoops!  This could perhaps be put down to a misfortune, induced in part by an unusual level of pre-ride hilarity.  Somehow the topic of embarrassment cropped up while we were getting ready, and I remembered the Monty Python sketch featuring Dr. Karl Gruber of the Institute of Going-a-bit-red in Helsinki.  The catchphrase "wankel rotary engine" had Kevin practically paralytic with laughter and he was still chuckling throughout the ride.

Anyway, back on course and we were immediately into a succession of rollers, some significantly steeper than others.  I doubt we found more than a mile of flat road on the entire ride, and my granny ring got a thorough workout in the process.  It's just beautiful country out there and it was a wonderful spring morning so it should have been a beatific Texas experience, were it not for the damn hills.

About fourteen miles in, we realised that we were probably off-piste again and stopped to consult the map, my GPS and two cell phones equipped with Google maps.  As Kevin says, we knew our position to within a foot and were still lost.  Eventually we worked out that we had missed a turn but could modify the route a little and get back on course.  Kevin also casually announced that he hadn't been able to shift out of his big ring for the last several miles and had been grinding up the climbs on it.  I'd been through just about every gear on my bike over the same course and had been looking for more!

Back at it on a busy road where the grades are lower but the  climbs correspondingly longer.  He left me on the longest but waited at the top, where he had enough time to take a drink, chat with some other riders, stretch and scratch and then get his phone out to take this shot just as I crested the rise.  

Shortly after this point we turned north onto a quieter but no less lumpy road.  Somewhere along here Kevin spotted a stranded turtle and turned round mid-climb to render assistance.  What a role model!

We were now a few miles from the town of Independence where we planned to take our official mid-ride break.  Sadly there was still work to be done, with a long, slow climb up to a large communications tower that put me in mind of the climb up Mont Ventoux.  That's probably as close as I'll get to the real thing but it was tough going.  Once past that point it was a short run to the village store for a much-needed rest.

A few minutes banter with the locals and we were back at it.  The plan was to follow the long route in reverse and it started out well enough, mostly downwind which didn't hurt.  Kevin spotted an unusual bird along the way and that was all the excuse I needed to stop.  This little chap had a distinctive yellow breast and was singing his heart out on a farm gate.  We subsequently decided he was a meadowlark, the first I've ever seen.

A few miles on and the GPS was showing a turn but we didn't believe it and stayed on the same road.  We should have had faith!  We ended up on the outskirts of Brenham, well off course and throroughly confused.  It was now 12:30, we were at least 15 miles out from the start and 60 miles from home.  Time for the apologetic call home to the very understanding spouse.

Much head scratching later, we agreed to trust the GPS and set out on an interception course.  Miraculously enough it worked, we were back on track with only a few miles to run, just as well as I was played out.  Kevin was feeling great of course and enjoying the admittedly ravishingly country scenery.

Back at the start and I proposed lunch before we headed back, mainly because my blood sugar was in negative territory.  One sausage sandwich later and life began to take on a more rosy hue.  We've certainly got our hills in this year.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What does the Fox say, Kevin?

We started yesterday's ride with a rant from Kevin about Fox News.  He' s been working out on the stairmaster at his gym and the giant TV on the wall in front of the machine is always tuned to Fox, so he's sweating away while staring at a glamorous blonde looking quizzically at an ugly white middle-aged male bloviator.  Not too dissimilar to my own gym experience, except that I watch Family Feud with the sound turned down and try to guess what the question was based on the answers, almost like Jeopardy.

This got me thinking aloud about a possible "Ask an angry Liberal" section on Fox and Friends, in which Kevin explains it all and the blonde replies something to the effect of " that's a very shallow analysis Kevin, are you sure you've thought it through?"  This unlikely scenario had us all laughing pretty hard as we walked into Starbucks.  I always wonder what the baristas think about the group of men in Lycra who show up for coffee every Saturday morning, all laughing like maniacs.

Anyway I must have been feeling my granola (home-made with pecans and maple syrup, since you ask) because I proposed a trip to Sealy.  This was speedily agreed and off we went to take on our toughest ride for probably the third time this season.

I'd hoped that we could put the cold weather gear away until the fall, but we certainly needed it for this ride, I doubt we got out of the 40's all the way round.  Lee the human lizard had been as low as four layers recently but was back to the full six this morning.  

We're getting into migration time, and we often see some impressive birds on this route, particularly on the run down to San Bernardo, which Kevin has christened "Caracara Alley" because we've seen several there.  Today we actually saw one in flight, an awe-inspiring sight.  With a good wind out of the east on our backs we made it to the first break point (the feed store in San Bernardo) in record time, realizing of course that we would have to pay for the fun with a head wind through the Alpe de Sealy section.  But that was 20 miles away.

The next section has a Tara-like estate, complete with a lake and a crunchy gravel drive.  I don't normally get much of a look at it because it's half way up a long, fairly gentle climb, but the tail wind let me lift my head for once.  Another feature of this bit are the hell hounds that have chased us with evil intent on several occasions.  The last time we did this route I was wearing my helmet-cam, and I turned it on at this point in the hopes of catching the fun on film, but the mutts didn't materialize.  Lee pointed out that since I wasn't wearing it today we would probably get charged, and if we did it would be my fault.  In the end there was a truck passing us right on the dog corner so we couldn't make a wide turn.  If the dogs had come out to play they would have had us bang to rights!  Fortunately they were a no-show.

On to Cat Spring, where we take another break before the scary hills.  As we rolled through the town, Kevin commented to me that the miles were just flowing by today.  If I hadn't been so tired I would have squirted him with my water bottle.  I felt ok but my legs knew they'd been working.

The Cat Spring Country Club was jumping that morning, with two actual customers to keep the grumpy proprietress busy.  I actually managed to get a smile out of her when I paid for our waters.  She couldn't remember what bill I paid with so I told her it was a five - no wait, it was a fifty.  Another five or ten more years and she might actually say hello and goodbye to us.

And so to the hills.  The order of the day was a kind of anti-Three Musketeers - every man for himself!  Kevin and Lee screamed ahead on the first climb and I didn't really see much of them until the top of the last, where they were good enough to wait for me.  Overall I did pretty well, using my gears intelligently for once.  I was slow but didn't have to kill myself, and as a result felt reasonably good on the final run down route 36 back to Sealy.  But I think that's enough Sealy time this year, boys.

Bear Creek - Terry Hershey loop

Bear Creek - Terry Hershey loop

Daily commute to work

Daily commute to work
This isn't quite right but it's close. 9.5 miles, about 40 minutes.

Terry Hershey Park

Terry Hershey Park
10 miles of safe, paved cycling bliss - except for all the foot traffic

The Sealy ride

The Sealy ride
45 miles through very pretty Texas countryside. Looks benign but there's a very hilly section at mile 35.

The Katy ride

The Katy ride
It's on the Katy prairie - flat, flat, flat