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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.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Off to Zube again this morning, a bit warmer than last weekend but pretty thick fog on the way out. I park up, unload, pump up my tires, put on my gear, stretch - where the hell is everyone? It's 7.30 and I'm all alone. I head out rather grumpily and then remember that yesterday was the company Xmas party (Susan and I didn't go, it's usually a dud). Paddy, Jason, Gregor and the rest are all probably sleeping off their hangovers.

One advantage of being a lone wolf is that you can pick my route and set your own pace. Obvious disadvantages include being much less visible in the fog, and there's no-one to drag you along when you get tired. Anyhoo, I opted for the route that goes north on Hegar road, then follows the regular route, for a total of about 43 miles. I felt a bit exposed in the fog but the few vehicles that passed were very considerate.

Turning off Kickapoo and onto Castle, I passed four Muscovy ducks who were splashing about in the ditch. I spooked them and they decided to run for it. Unfortunately ducks aren't the best fliers and I was keeping pace with them quite well. It occurred to me that if they veered across the road in front of me I'd be looking at a rare case of a duck strike - probably less painful than the more common deer strike. They managed to get enough speed and elevation to leave me behind but we were quite cosy for a while. Apparently any duck with this much white is almost certainly domesticated, which is probably why I couldn't find this dude in my bird book.

My encounter with the waterfowl was probably the most exciting part of the ride. I got a tail-wind for the run in down Business 290 and got back to my car pretty comfortably. As I pulled out of the lot I imagined Paddy rolling over in bed for another hour's doze - he hasn't heard the last of this.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Foggy Bottom Boys

Off to Zube on a beautiful Sunday morning, one of those Fall mornings when you're not sure how much to rug up. Standing around in the parking lot I felt pretty comfortable in cycling shorts and a jersey, but some of the other riders had opted for tights and jackets. Paddy looked particularly fetching in a sleeveless jersey and arm warmers. You might almost have fancied he was wearing long evening gloves, on his way to the Opera.

We were definitely an international group, with two Brits, one Australian, two Hispanics, an Anglo-American (Paddy claims to be more American than most real Americans) and an Australian-Scot (Gregor, looking pretty pleased about Scotland's recent rugby win over Australia).

Off we went, with me questioning the wisdom of my wardrobe selection every time we rode through shade. I warmed up soon enough, until we ran into some pretty thick fog, and stayed in it for a good five miles. Not only did the temperature drop by several degrees, we were also really nervous about traffic and for once observed good lane discipline.

We broke out of the fog just at the turn-off for the gas station where we take a break, and stayed in the sunshine for the rest of the run. With about ten miles to go Alex took the lead and set a cracking pace. I was number two man in the line and velcroed myself to his rear wheel, knowing that if I lost touch I'd never get back on again at that speed. Alex pulled us for a good three miles before peeling off. Soon after that, Gregor flatted and we pulled over to stand around and watch him change out the tube. Mike pointed out that changing a tube was a bit like sex - it's hard to do it well when there are a lot of people watching.
We got rolling again with only a few miles to run. The pace cranked up once more and I decided to let the speedsters have their heads. Gregor was hanging back, too, because he wasn't sure his tube was up to pressure and didn't want to corner too hard for fear of rolling the tire off the wheel. Back at Zube for some photos like this one. Paddy is actually trying to show off his Mules tattoo, not just his impressive biceps.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mules and Wannabes

A great start to the training season this morning, with a 45 mile run out of Zube in a big group. Paddy was there of course, with Gregor, Brooke and Alex from work, and a few others too. Pretty good conditions when we started and it was fun to meet and chat with new riders in the early going. A bit further on the group fragmented as some of the chaps stopped for what is called "un besoin naturel" in French cycling. Gregor, Brooke, Scott and I kept going at a pretty good clip but were eventually reeled in. The chasing group proceeded to kick up the pace and I found myself working very hard to stay on the lead rider's wheel. Fortunately we reached the Exxon pretty quickly. A good break and the usual exchange of war stories and examinations of each other's bikes (always looks like two dogs sniffing each other) and then we were off, with a head wind to fight. I was feeling my oats a bit and decided to challenge the group on one of the climbs. I blew past Paddy with a big smirk but eased up too soon and lost the King of the Mountains points to Gregor. The group got fragmented again but this time we decided to re-form and rode in together. One last sprint in the final mile left me gasping as the others vanished into the distance but all in all it was a great day.

Back home to a great lunch prepared by my wonderful spouse, a quick nap and then off to IAH to collect James, who's in town for a few days. Not too long before we have a house-full again -

Sunday, October 25, 2009

On St.Crispin's Day

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

and they're off -

Registration for the 2010 MS150 opened last week for top fundraisers, so here we go again, registered up with 6 months to raise money, lose weight and train. To cap it all, this year I will also be eligible for the USPGA Senior Tour and AARP membership (American readers can help any Brits puzzled by these last benefits).

Thanks to the generosity of my supporters (and my employer matching my fund-raising), I made it into Club 300, the 300 highest fund-raisers from 2009. I get a special yellow rider's bib with my position in the Club as my rider number, shorter shower lines in LaGrange and Austin, and a chance to go to the head of the line for the Sunday morning start.

Yesterday was my first ride of the season and I rode with the Katy Bike Barn group on their Pool Hill route . 60 degrees when we started and not a cloud in the sky, but a nasty wind out of the north made things a bit challenging. Great fun, though, and a very social group of riders. Best of all, the rides start at 8.00am, which means I can to leave the house at 7.30am. Much as I love riding with the Mules, getting out to Zube for a 7.00am start means leaving no later than 6.30 am, and I do enjoy the extra hour in bed.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Far from the Madding Crowd

Back in the (road-bike) saddle again this morning. It's pretty mild first thing these days and today was no exception. I set out in my Mules shirt for a cruise down Terry Hershey, hoping that everyone else in West Houston had left town for the long weekend. Sadly it was not to be - the trail was heaving from end to end. It was very pleasant but a bit frustrating, so I decided to ride the Four Park loop (Terry Hershey, George Bush, Cullen and Bear Creek) instead.

This turned out to be a pretty good plan. Once I left George Bush and struck north on Fry road I had the cycling paths more-or-less to myself. With cool temperatures, sunlight dappled by shade trees and birds singing, it almost felt like Autumn. Almost...

Back home, and I get a phone call from Paddy - "It's cooling off, time to ride with the Mules again". He's right, I need to get out to Zube and start taking it a bit more seriously. Not next week though, as Paddy and Dave are both travelling, but I might head out there anyway to remind myself of the routes. And they're never crowded -

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I've had better days in the saddle

Doug recommended a group ride that starts at the Bike Barn shop in Katy, so on Sunday morning I headed out and met him there in time for an 8.00 am start.

I was surprised at the number of riders who showed up. We set out in groups by average speed - the 23+ mph head-bangers first, then the 18-20 mph people, and the rest behind. I joined the middle group, even though 18-20 mph is a pretty hot pace for me. Doug pointed out that it was easier to drop back and join a slower group than it was to try to catch a faster one, and that made sense.

It was already warm when we started. The first few miles were along a busy road with traffic lights, and the groups began to merge at the red lights. I settled in to a sensible pace that kept me just behind Doug's group and was felling pretty good. I rode by a gentleman wearing a shirt with the Pink Floyd "Atom Heart Mother" image on the back (see previous posts!) and we began chatting after I complimented him on it.

Pretty soon we were in familiar territory for me - FM 1093 heading west towards Fulshear. The group stopped en masse at a Shell station in town and I chatted with Doug and Bryan another BHP hand and a pretty serious rider too. I kept an eye on my fellow Pink Floyd fan and a young woman who had been keeping pace with us and we set out together on the next leg.

High temperatures and humidity and a lack of recent saddle time started to take their toll a bit but I pushed ahead anyway, pulling the other two for long stretches. We began to feel the wind, too, which didn't help. Back into Fulshear and on 1093 for the run home - but then the riders ahead forked off on Bois D'Arc (one of my training routes) and I foolishly followed, knowing that this would add 10 miles to a 47 mile loop.

By now we had dropped the Pick Floyd fan but picked up another rider and the three of us pushed ahead. I was starting to feel the miles now. A quick break at a busy junction, then on to the pull north back to 1093. The girl obviously enjoyed the break, as she took off at a pretty hot pace. I pulled her in and took the lead along this very familiar section. Back at 1093 and I was really in trouble - tired, dehydrated and starting to bonk. I had picked up an energy bar at the Shell station so I told the others to go ahead without me while I fuelled up. This was probably a big mistake, as I had no-one to push me and didn't know the route.

On my own now, and not feeling the energy bar at all, I struggled north. With no riders in sight I had to rely on memory for the route - and I got it wrong, blowing right by a turn. Hurting everywhere, I pushed ahead at a pathetically slow pace and ran into Pin Oak, a north/south road that runs up to the freeway. I had no idea which way to turn, but opted to head for the freeway, thinking that I might ride down the access road. I was very happy to run into Highland Knolls, which runs due east back to Bike Barn. Just a few miles to go but the tank was absolutely empty. I wanted to stop every 100 yards, but pushed myself hard and was rewarded with the sight of Grand Parkway and a CVS store. I pulled over and went in to cool off and pick up supplies. My wonderful new high-tech bike was left outside, at the mercy of any casual thief - but I didn't care, I needed a break and having the bike stolen would give me a great excuse to call Susan and ask for a ride.

12 oz of orange Gatorade later, I remounted and headed out. Pretty quickly I crossed the road that I should have been on, and a couple of riders from the group passed me. I slotted in behind them for the last mile. Back at the car, I hardly had the strength to take off my shoes and load up the bike.

Home and bed for a couple of hours. On top of fatigue, dehydration and bonking, I probably had a little heat stroke too - I've had better days.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Country style part deux

We're back in Houston (aka Satan's Sauna) now, but I did manage to get a couple more rides in before we left Illinois, both times on the back road to Seneca. I looked a bit more like a biker, with a helmet and gloves and BHP's 2008 team uniform. Both mornings were just about perfect - low 70's, no wind, clear skies and wonderful views. Now I have to trade low 70's for high 90's, steel for carbon, and quiet, pretty country roads for a packed Terry Hershey Park. But it's good to be home.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Country Style part 1

We're on vacation at Susan's parents' house in rural Illinois, enjoying the cooler weather. This morning I went with Bill (Susan's Dad), and James (my eldest) to pick up Susan's high-school ten-speed from the barn where it was stored for the winter. There wasn't quite enough room for the bike in the back of Bill's SUV so I opted to ride the four miles back to the house. Time for some bike maintenance, country style - I wiped the cobwebs off the saddle, then we used a compressor to air up the tires (very carefully!). The chain looked a bit dry, so Bill opened a can of two-stroke oil (!) and I lubed her up. Off down the road, then, for some real Country Style riding - no helmet, no Lycra, no gel gloves, no clip-less shoes and no traffic, on a 50 lb bike (well, it felt like it) with find 'em or grind 'em shifters and suicide levers. It was a lot of fun until I came to the climb up to the house, which felt like Ventoux on a particularly bad day. I'm planning a couple of short-ish rides along the I&M Canal tow path while we're here - watch this space for more bucolic biking updates.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

amateur hour

Apparently there was a scottish gentleman, well known for his fondness for a dram or three, who always refused to go out on New Year's Eve (Hogmanay if you're scottish or pretentious). When asked why, he replied "Amateur hour!" That's how I felt this morning. I wanted to ride Terry Hershey and aimed for an early start to beat the (absolutely ferocious) heat. Unfortunately it appeared that every other cyclist in West Houston had the same idea because the trail was packed, even the sections along the dam and through George Bush park that are usually deserted. It was a good ride anyway, with just enough of a tail wind coming back to make it fun. Back in Terry Hershey, and I was forced off the path and onto the dirt by a lady who decided to stop her bike and turn around right in front of me. I didn't come off but a few minutes later I realised my back tire was going down and sure enough I had a flat. I had enough kit to make the necessary repair but took it slowly for the rest of the trip.

Back home in time to catch the last third of the Monaco time trial that opened the Tour this year. Very exciting stuff, with the racers whipping through a winding Monaco track that followed some of the roads used in the Grand Prix. I'm thinking Contador this year -

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, Peter and Andy

Two options for a bike ride today - drive 40 miles to Alvin and spend the morning thrashing around Brazoria County trying to keep up with Paddy and the Mules, or a leisurely run through Terry Hershey, smelling the roses and watching the bunnies. After last week it was a no-brainer, but I feel a little guilty about it. Never hurts to have another rider in the Peloton.
So off to Terry Hershey it was, then. Nice and cool at first, with very little foot traffic but lots of rabbits. Not much wind, either, so a very pleasant run all in all, although it was getting warm on the way back and the trail was quite busy.

Friday, June 12, 2009

so long, and thanks for all the rides

The Mules will be riding 100 miles around Brazoria County tomorrow (Tour de Braz) but they'll have to do it without me. I learned (rather painfully!) last week that Paddy, Sean and Kenny are now too strong for me, so I've decided to hang up my harness and mule shoes until cooler weather arrives (probably November, down here in Satan's sauna).

I joined Paddy, Sean and Kenny last weekend for the usual thrash around Hempstead. I hadn't ridden in anger since the Bellville ride, but wasn't too concerned about keeping up with them, as I usually do just fine. Sean set a hot pace for the first 10 miles and I stayed at the front with him - my first mistake, as I wore myself out hammering into the wind. Later on, we got to the only real climb on the out-run and I was left in the dust by Paddy and Kenny - another warning sign as I'm usually at least competitive in the unofficial King of the Mountains race. A high-speed run down to the Exxon did me in and I trailed in last, well behind. The ride home didn't get any better for me. I glued myself to Sean's rear wheel (nearly took him down a couple of times!) but I was definitely the low man on the totem pole and brought the average speed down considerably. I felt dreadful all the way home and not much better the next day.

In my defence, the temperature and humidity appear to have ramped up recently, and I know from bitter experience that I don't do well when the mercury soars, but there's no substitute for saddle time and hard riding, and I'm short on both. So for the time being, it's farewell and good luck to the Muleskinners - I hope you survive the Hotter than Hell Ride! Meanwhile, Dale has been making noise about getting a new bike, and I know I'll be able to give him a good run for his money for a while, even in a Houston summer. Fortunately he doesn't read this blog (do you, Dale?).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The 100 mile cheeseburger (with fries)

Just back from the Houston-Bellville-Houston classic, also known (now) as the 100 mile cheeseburger.  Paddy, Dave, Sean, Kenny and I started from my house, Oscar-Mike at zero-dark-thirty (sorry, I've been watching "Generation Kill"), giving me at least thirty minutes extra sleep.  I led the group through our neighbourhood and to the I-10 frontage road - after that it was every cyclist for himself.

There was a stiffish wind out of the north-northwest which held us back, but there was plenty of chatter in the group as we slogged our way north on Eldridge and Fry.  Pretty soon we were on FM 529, having left "civilization" - or at least plenty of places to fill water  bottles - behind.  This road is a long, straight run due west, with basically bugger-all along it apart from a few farms and some roadkill.  
We had planned to stop at a taco truck that the guys remembered from the MS150 run, but it never seemed to arrive, despite Paddy's continuous promises that it was just around the corner.  Eventually we pulled over  for a break, where Paddy consulted his bike GPS and announced it was only 100 yards away.  We rapidly remounted and sure enough, there it was - closed!  We dismounted anyway, as there was a covered seating area (very upmarket taco truck)., and took a much-needed break.  A
 motor bike pulled up just after us and Paddy had the rider take a photo of the group - coming soon to a blog near you, I hope.

Back on the road again and about 5 miles down we crossed the mighty Brazos river.  Paddy insisted on a stop and a photo, so we set up the camera on a bike saddle on one side of the bridge and posed on the other.  A truck appeared in the distance and for a while it looked like we might get a photo of it instead of the gang - but we got in.  Once over the river, we got into more rolling country with some good hills.  There was a very nice view at the top of one climb but no-one was really in the mood to take it in.  We had about 10 miles to run and we were all flagging a bit by now.  Both Paddy and Dave were running very low on water, which didn't help.  At last we passed the Bellville city limits sign and the Austin county fairgrounds, where the MS150 riders have lunch on day one.  Kenny told me that when they did their pirate run (the first day was officially cancelled due to weather this year), this was where the weather was at its worst, tipping down with rain, the roads running with water.  Can't imagine what that was like, but Kenny for one was determined to ride that day, having only just bought his bike.

We roll through the downtown area, heading for the burger place the guys remembered.  It turns out to be called "The Hill", for obvious reasons (check out their website).  Gents, having to climb a big honkin' hill to get to a burger shack after 50 long miles in the saddle is not my idea of fun - let's go to DQ next time.  We dismount (what a relief!) and order lunch - some variety of burger and fries for everyone except Paddy, who opts for a healthy grilled chicken sandwich.  There's a covered seating area outside and we camp out there.  Sean and Dave keep me laughing with selected dialogue from "Full Metal Jacket" - must get it on Netflix.  Two motorbikes roll up (one is actually a trike with two wheels at the front) and the riders join us on the patio.  Paddy strikes up conversation with them and gets them to take another photo of the team.

Time to get going but we don't go far - just roll down the hill to a gas station to pick up more water and snacks.  Then it's off again.  I'm feeling a bit heavy-legged as we head through the hilly section before the Brazos but I'm not the only one.  We agree to stop at the Taco truck again and start grinding out the miles.  Everything is starting to hurt now and I wonder if I'll be able to stay with the group, who are dogging it out at 18-19 mph.  Teamwork helps a lot, as we slot into a paceline and take turns pulling at the front.  We were expecting a tail wind but I can't feel it.  We make the turn that runs down to the Taco truck and at last get a tail wind.  It's still hard work but at least we're going at a decent speed.  The truck appears (still closed!) and we all collapse onto folding chairs.  Everyone is struggling now.  The next stop will be at Walgreens on Fry road, more or less back in civilization - about 15 miles to run.

Off we go again, a long, straight run with a cross wind.  Just like the Taco truck on the way out, the Walgreens is always just around the corner, just at the end of that tree-line, just beyond reach - and then it appears, to great whoops from the team, and we pull into the parking lot, in very sorry shape.  Everyone downs copious quantities of gatorade and we all get a baptism from Paddy, who picked up a gallon jug of ice-cold water and dumped some on each of our heads.  Very uncomfortable.  Kenny, who hasn't ridden since the MS150 and is operating on four hours of sleep, has had enough and calls his wife for a sag home.  We have 17 miles to run, all in traffic, so we need to keep our wits about us.

Off on the final leg, initially downwind, then due east towards Bear Creek.  Some motorists take exception to our presence on the raod and let us know but we're too tired to care.  We pull into Bear Creek for a stretch and then it's the run down Eldridge, very familiar to me from countless rides with Dale (where are you, buddy?).  Pretty soon we're back at the start, sitting in my back yard drinking beers, planning our next century ride (not for me, matey).  Sadly I forgot to use the sunscreen that I carried in my back pocket all the way to Bellville and back, so I'm a real rosbif now - 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Houston Ride of Silence 2009

The Ride of Silence is a slow-paced bike run to honour cyclists who have been injured or killed while riding on public highways. There are rides in the US and other countries at the same time. Houston's Ride of Silence took place last Wednesday evening. About 100 riders rode from Memorial Park to City Hall and back, about 11 miles. The ride is slow-paced and silent, which gives it a very unusual feel, because normally everyone is jockeying for position and chatting away, and there's usually some music blaring too. We gathered outside City Hall and listened to a piper playing "Amazing Grace", then one of the organisers read a short poem and we headed back. For a while on the way home I followed a rider who was pushing an empty bike along, complete with shoes clipped into the pedals. Overall a somber, but touching experience.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Who let the dogs out?

Back in the saddle this morning with a 0700 start from Zube with Paddy and Sean.  Unusually for these parts in May, it was in the low 70's when we started and didn't really warm up during the ride.  The reason?  A screaming wind out of the north, which made life interesting on a few stretches.  

We started out pretty hot, with Sean leading the charge, making me wonder if he was channelling Rachel Alexandra.  10 miles in, we were passed by a group of three riders, which of course was like a red rag to a bull, and I jumped on to the rear wheel.  We kept with them for a fair distance, actually taking the lead for a while, but wiser counsels prevailed and we let them go just before the turn onto Mayer road.

Back at a more sensible pace, we made our way through the rolling Waller County landscape to Hempstead and our usual stop at the Exxon gas station.  Paddy and I took the opportunity to stock up on essential supplies - energy bars for me, steroid-laced sports drinks for him.  We looked at the map and agreed to try the 50 mile route, essentially our standard ride with a 10 mile loop south of Hempstead. 

We picked up the new route and were delighted to be running pretty much downwind, downhill - at least until the turn, which took us dead into the wind with a few climbs to negotiate.  A small deer decided to cross the road in front of us, making a spectacular leap over a fence in the process.  I know that deer strikes can mess up a car pretty comprehensively - what would they do to a lightweight road bike?

We turned north on the last leg of the loop and immediately felt the wind.  Sean was feeling his oats and pulled us most of the way into Hempstead, where we picked up the usual route and settled in to a nice, long downwind run.  A quick break at the 40 mile point in Waller and then we moved onto Old Washington road, a strip of two-lane blacktop that runs parallel to our normal route but has much less traffic.  With about 3 miles to go a dog appeared out of nowhere and began to give chase.  I started to wind up the pace to see if I could drop him, then Paddy went flying past, going like Lance being chased by the french press.  The dog left me for dead and went flat out after Paddy!  It soon reached the end of its territory and went home - it was probably more interested in a run than in a mouthful of spandex.

We regrouped and had a chuckle about our canine encounter.  Sean and I agreed that the dog was probably looking for a man-sized meal, which is why it had focussed on Paddy and left him and me alone.  The last few miles went by pretty easily (other than one last pull into the wind) and we were back at the cars, in the now-crowded car park.

Next week will be the long-awaited, much-postponed Houston-Bellville-Houston classic - if the weather, work schedules and several ageing knees/ankles/backs/derrieres co-operate.

Monday, April 20, 2009


More like MS80 actually, and then when you add in the 20mph head-winds...

Kevin and Barbara showed up to collect me at 5.45 am sharp on Sunday morning 
and we headed off down I-10 in the mist.  Traffic was moving pretty well all the way to the turn-off for LaGrange but we saw plenty of other riders and were prepared to stop short and unload if necessary.  In fact we found our way to the BHP team start with no problems at all.
By that time the sun had come up on a beautiful late spring morning in Central Texas.  We gathered with the team for a few group shots and then headed off to the start outside the court 
house, a typically impressive, sandstone edifice. 

We got rolling en masse at about 8.20am.  Less than a mile down the road, a rider from another team went down, at pretty low speed so he probably wasn't hurt - but was this a taste of things to come?  The route took us past the Fayette County fairgrounds (where we normally camp overnight) and we could see the flooding from the road, as well as several tents that had blown down.  The head wind started to kick in and the group began to spread out along the course as the weaker riders struggled.  Kevin and I kept pace for quite a while but at some point we separated.  I learned later that his riding partner, Tom, had a major mechanical that took two hours to fix - they wouldn't get in to Austin until nearly 4.00pm.

The road was fairly familiar and I soon recognised the approach to the dreaded hill outside Smithville.  This is a long, steep drop that is often the site of nasty crashes.  Kevin had a bad experience on the hill some years back and now has his brakes on all the way.  I usually let my bike go but this would be the first time on the Plahstic Fantahstic.  Oh well, here we go - she
 takes off like a rocket and I begin to bleed off speed with the back brake when another rider goes flying by.  I catch him on the flat and ask him how fast he was going - apparently he hit 43 mph, so I must have been close to 40 myself.  We're now only three miles from the Parks, the biggest physical challenge of the tour, with a succession of very sharp climbs and down-hills.  
There's a rest stop one mile in and it's time for a drink and a pee.

Off we go into the Park proper, then - hoping for a better experience this year, with a light bike and lots of gears that I can readily access.  On the very first big climb I'm out of the saddle, grunting out each rev of the pedals, side by side with a girl who looks to be about fifteen.  We crest the climb together and both let out a big sigh, then exchange grins of relief.  Seven more miles to go.  I start to hit the downhills pretty hard, mainly to get into a higher gear so that I have more to work with on the way up the climb.  Does that make sense?  I found 
myself in my granny ring on a few of the  climbs, and in my lowest gear on that ring once or twice - nowhere to go after that, but get off and walk.  Anyway, as a friend would say, I had my big girl pants on and made it through in good order.  I even skipped the second rest stop in the Park, where I've always stopped in previous years.  Out of the Park and onto Highway 71 for the short run into Bastrop and lunch.

One Subway turkey sandwich and a bag of chips later (really, that's what we get every year), I'm back in the saddle for the last 20  miles, which are usually pretty anti-climactic after the big scary hill and the Park.  Not this year!  The trees lining the route through the Park were  not only beautiful, they broke the head wind.  Once west of Bastrop we were in open country (like riding around Katy) and completely exposed.   A lot of the riders began to struggle and I spent most of the time on the drops, in a low gear, remembering my spin class lessons and keeping a good, high cadence.  About ten miles in a pace line went past with two BHP riders.  On the next descent I pssed them, only to have them catch me on the flat.  this went on for a while and then I decided to drop into the line and draft for a while.  This worked pretty well but too my shame I didn't take a turn at the front.  The group made good time and we soon got to the second rest stop where we took a brake.  I chatted with the BHP riders and realised it was Brooke and her friend, who I'd met last year.  We went our separate ways but I'm very grateful to them for helping me through a tough section of the ride.

This stop (in Webberville, I think) had clearly seen a lot of rain in the last few days.  The road was flooded so the riders had to exit by walking across a muddy sports field.  I didn't think this was a problem until I tried to clip in to my pedals - the left cleat was clogged and wouldn't engage fully.   With less than ten miles to go I decided not to bother with trying to clear it.  Just outside Webberville there was a small country church by the road (there are lots of these humble structures on the back roads between Houston and Austin) with a marquee showing the unforgettable legend "God answers kneemail".  That little chuckle got me a few more miles down the road, where we finally saw the Austin city limit sign (followed by a very unnecessary "historical markers in city" sign).

Sadly, there are five very hilly miles between the city limit and the finish line.  Fortunately, one half of the right lane was coned off for us by the Police, so we're out of the traffic, but of course that means that all the riders are jammed in together.  By this time the field has thinned out quite a bit so it's safe enough.  I'm starting to recognise the terrain and then we're on a long descent into downtown Austin and crowds are forming along the barriers.  The noise level ramps up and I cruise along close enough to the barrier to high-five the kids, which gets me a big cheer.  A sharp left turn and we go under the finish sign, and another one is over.

I find some BHP volunteers who point me to the tent, where to my surprise I'm one of the first riders in.  I expected to arrive before Kevin but not before Dave and Phil.  Anyway, I grab a cold Shiner beer and sit down for a chat with my team-mates, before heading off for a shower.  The lines at the shower trucks are very short and I'm under a good stream of hot water pretty quickly.  Back at the tent and some of the other riders are trickling in.  Phil, Dave and Kenny roll up - they've had a torrid time, with lots of flats (making it a pretty tough weekend in all - see Phils' blog).  
Phil and I get photographed together (Phil in cycling gear, me in my glow-in-the-dark Camembert Electrique t-shirt) 
by the official BHP photographer, and Phil tells me that everyone will see the shot and think it's Paddy.  

I want to wait for Kevin but it's getting late and I'm getting fried, so I pick up the bus back to Houston.  There's a nasty wreck on I-10 that slows us down but we get back at about 6.30.  I walk down to the high school where Mary-Claire is waiting for me in my car.

Overall it was quite an anti-climactic ride, despite the tough conditions - I guess I'm used to doing two days now.  But my fund-raising will be close to my target of $5,000, and BHP will match every cent - 

Saturday, April 18, 2009

And the ribbing starts -

My friend Dale, who made an extraordinarily generous donation this year, has informed me that he expects me to do the whole ride in one day now.  I counter-offered 30 minutes on a stationary bike in the gym today, with the 80 mile ride tomorrow, and he agreed to consider this if I upped it to 45 minutes.

Dale and I used to ride together at first light every weekend, and his normal pre-ride preparation was a bottle of red wine and a Cuban cigar.  He very kindly offered to bring a few choice vintages over to my house tonight to get me in top form, but I elected to pass.  Still, with Obama making overtures to Castro, perhaps I should re-consider?

I spoke too soon -

- when I said that my next ride would start in my garage and end in LaGrange.  Mother Nature intervened with heavy rainfall and high winds all through central/east Texas.  LaGrange was pummelled, the camp site completely flooded and many of the team tents blown down.  On top of that, many sections of the route were flooded, so the MS Society canceled the first day of the event, and now we'll start from LaGrange tomorrow (Sunday) morning.

Which presents a few problems - I don't really want to drive 100 miles to LaGrange for an 8.00 am start, then ride 80 challenging miles, take a bus back to LaGrange and drive 100 miles home.  Our team captain, the very wonderful Jennifer, is frantically trying to organize carpools from Houston to LaGrange.   I may also be able to catch a lift with Kevin.  If all else fails, Susan will come with me to LaGrange and then drive the car home, and I'll ride the bus back to Houston.  What a mess.  On the plus side, I now have top quality rain gear  - 

Friday, April 17, 2009

new boots and panties

The weather forecast for the ride is pretty bad.  Heavy rain and possible thunderstorms all the way to LaGrange tomorrow, then a dry ride to Austin on Sunday with a 15-20 mph headwind.  My wonderful, considerate spouse decided I needed better rain gear so she went to the local bike shop and bought me booties, waterproof overshoes for my cycling shoes, a bit like these.  She was going to buy me a new rain jacket too but they didn't have any.  What a sweetheart.

Today I'm at home, packing my bags and trying to get ready for the ride, physically and mentally.  This year I didn't get in as much road training as I'd like (I never do), at least in part because I lost a week or two due to bronchitis.  On the plus side, I went to spin class pretty regularly and I think that's helped my stamina quite a bit.  Anyway, too late to worry about it now.  My next ride will start in my garage and end in LaGrange, 100 miles and several inches of rain later.  Wish me luck!

Monday, April 13, 2009

with a little help from my friends

A great boost today - several of Susan's on-line friends left me messages of support.  Thanks very much, I really appreciate your words of encouragement, and will remember them when things get tough.  No matter how well or hard I train, no matter how light the bike or how good the weather, I always hit the wall somewhere on the way to Austin, when I have to dig deep and put the pain and fatigue behind me and focus on the road ahead.  People with MS have to do that every day.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The final countdown

Once more off to Zube. I was in two minds about riding because the weather forecast looked very ugly, but it's the last opportunity for a longer ride before the MS150, so I dragged myself out of bed and hit the road. It started raining as I turned on 290 and go steadily heavier. I thought about turning round but didn't. I arrived at Zube to find an almost completely empty car park, with no sign of any of my buddies, but a few minutes later Paddy pulled up and out jumped the Shrimpton boys. They unloaded their bikes - Paddy's Bianchi from last year and his gorgeous, all-carbon Felt for this year. I innocently wondered if they took it in turns to ride the carbon, but apparently they don't. Sean pulled up in his red truck and we had a peloton.
The rain had eased a little so I took off my rain jacket. and off we went. The road was very wet and we were throwing fine rooster tails, making it unpleasant to draft, to say the least. We had the wind behind us on the way out and were coasting along in fine style. There are a few short climbs in the back country and Phil took the opportunity to show us the form that made him such a threat to the pros on the Cheshire Cat sportive he rode this year. At this point the weather deteriorated dramatically and we found ourselves battling through some very sharp showers. Sean thought it was like being hit by a million tiny spitballs! I was wearing my tinted safety glasses and couldn't see much but without them I wouldn't have been able to see anything at all. We rolled into the Exxon station outside Hempstead for a break, looking like drowned rats in spandex.
Back on the road and the rain eased up for most of the run back. We also had a natural wind break for much of the way, a line of trees along the south side of the road. One last fabulous stretch with the wind on our backs and we were back at Zube, where the parking lot was still empty. Of course I had forgotten to bring a change of clothes, but Mary-Claire had left a selection of sweatshirts in the car, so I drove home in a rather fetching navy-blue Hollins University hoodie. The really bad weather rolled through about an hour later. Apparently the long-range weather forecast is calling for thunderstorms on Saturday - I may need to upgrade my rain gear.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Accidental Tourist

Off to Zube Park this morning, hoping to run into Dave and/or Sean, but no luck, so I set out on my own.  This turned out to be a bad idea because I missed a turn somewhere and found myself on the access road to 290.  I turned round and took the first road north, thinking that I should be able to get back onto the route.  Well, in the end I did, but not before an 8 mile detour, through admittedly very pretty countryside.  I found out why we don't take that route - I was chased by no fewer than 3 dogs, two of which kept pace with me for quite a distance.  I normally try to out-run dogs, on the principle that they can't keep up the pace for very long, and often stop at the end of their territory anyway.  This worked well for one (although I didn't enjoy the up-hill sprint) but the other two were more game.  Anyway, they can't bite you when they're running at full tilt.

I picked up the normal route eventually and made my way to the halfway point, where there's an Exxon station.  Today there were quite a few riders, either because everyone is thinking about the MS150, or because it was a Saturday, or both.  I turned for home and immediately got into a strong headwind, which persisted all the way back.  It would have been a good day to ride to Austin.

Last night I told everyone how bored I was with hearing Queen's "Bicycle Race" at the start of 
big rides.  Surely there are better songs about riding?  This prompted a mass Google of cycling-
related songs, the best of which were Pink Floyd's "Bike" (far and away the best, actually) and "My White Bicycle", originally by Tomorrow, but covered by, and a big hit for Nazareth (also covered by Neil on his "heavy Concept Album").  Any other cycling songs?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bluebonnets and gumbo

Last Sunday found me trekking out to Hempstead for the Bluebonnet Express ride, on a clear but cold morning.  There were a few other BHP riders in the event but we didn't manage to hook up, so I was a lone wolf for 48 miles.  The route is very scenic, if flat, and there were plenty of wildflowers, although not many bluebonnets until mile 30 or so.   I knew Dave was doing the ride out of Zube park the same morning, and the two routes overlap - sure enough, heading south on Field Store road in the pack I saw Dave and another rider heading north.  I called out to Dave but he didn't appear to see me.   Anyway, the ride went well enough - I'm feeling reasonably happy about the main event (rapidly approaching!).

Tuesday morning was another early start but for
 a different reason.  My friend Rog and his lovely wife Brandi cater a fund-raising Cajun lunch at BHP every year, and this year I offered to help with the cooking.  This involved a 3.00am start in order to get to Rog's place in Kingwood (40 miles from home) by 4.00am.  For the next six hours I stirred pots, tasted gumbo, beans and sausage and etouffe and went for kolaches (odd to be sent out for food with enough for an army right there!).  We drove the food down to the office and other team members served it to several hundred hungry BHP peeps, raising several thousand bucks for the cause in the process.  Great fun but now I'm about to go nose first onto my laptop - 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sooey, sooey reprise

According to the Chron , the Army Corps of Engineers think that Steve Radack's plan to control the feral hog population in Bush park is about as wacky as I do.  Sorry West Houston bow hunters, you're going to have to stay on the archery range a bit longer, because the prospect of wounded hogs running rampant in the park was a bit too much to bear.

My colleague Scott grew up in Ohio, but as a child went hunting regularly in Western Pennsylvania with his dad and brother.  They used bows, too, but were after deer.  Apparently in 10 years of trying he never hit a single deer, even though he was a miniature Robin Hood in practise.  What's the point, anyway?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Got to pick a packet or two

MS-150 packet pick-ups have started, which means we're getting very close to ride-time.  It's also the point of no return for some, because once you pick up your packet, you're committing to the minimum fund-raising level of $400.  No problem for me, I passed the mark months back.

Sadly, though, I didn't get my paperwork done in time for the BHP group pick-up so I have to go to one of the Toyota dealerships and do it myself.  Tonight is my best option as I can go to the nearest one (while holding my nose - they were just fined by the state for cheating customers).

Not much riding ths week, as we have Bonnie and Evan staying, so I took time off work.  I went to spin class last night and I'll probably ride to work on Friday, then there's the Bluebonnet Express ride on Sunday.  The weather looks good - 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shine on you crazy riders

A busy few days of gardening and cycling.  I had Friday off so I joined Dave and Paddy at 1.00pm for a burn-up  along Terry Hershey.  Beautiful cycling weather, so predictably the park was heaving with walkers, but also predictably we had the trail to ourselves more or less once we reached the dam.  Into the wind on the way back, which slowed the pace a bit.  Just to add to the fun, I got a flat and had to do a roadside repair.

Paddy and Dave went out to Zube Park on Saturday morning and had a good time, terrorizing innocent pace-lines (see Paddy's blog) but I elected to sleep in and then get going in the garden.  The replacement tomatoes are now in (half the previous crop got blasted in a hail storm), as are some basil plants and a very nice mandevilla plant that Susan picked up at Buchanan's.  We finished the day in the garden off with a dinner of tandoori chicken and naan bread on the patio.

Sunday morning found me heading out to Zube (rapidly becoming our favourite cycling area) in some pretty dense fog.  Paddy showed up late and we were joined a bit later still by Sean, a friend of a co-worker who will be riding with us this year.  The fog had cleared by the time we hit the road but it stayed cloudy for most of the ride.  It was nice to be out without leggings, heavy socks, windcheater etc.  We made good time out to Hempstead, where I saw a few black and white cows in a field and immediately thought of this Pink Floyd album cover.  Paddy couldn't name it - can you?  

A good break at a gas station near the twenty-mile mark and then back home, with a stiff cross-wind most of the way and lots of low-relief hills.  We dug deep and made it back to Zube in good order.  Paddy decided he needed to ride a few laps of the car park to get his mileage up, so Sean and I watched him from the relative comfort of our cars.

Next weekend is the Bluebonnet Express, a very popular ride which starts near Hempstead and follows some of the roads on today's route.  I'll be there and so will Sean, but poor old Paddy will be on his travels again, this time in the Northern Territory of Australia.  Apparently a friend in Perth will lend him a bike so he can get some miles in.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday, bloody Sunday

Off to the outer reaches of Harris county for a ride with Paddy and Dave this morning, under grey skies with the threat of thunderstorms later.  It was good to see the guys, especially Paddy who has been out of pocket for quite a while.  We saddle up under the suspicious gaze of two rather large ducks who have decided to perch high in a tree above us.  Is it a coincidence that the ducks take off just as Paddy reveals rather a lot of skin, putting on his heart-rate monitor?  Dave and I thought not.  We share the usual pre-ride excuses - Dave has been working out too much, Paddy's meniscus is pinging, I'm on four different prescription meds for bronchitis - and head out.

It's cold and windy but the roads are quiet and pretty soon we're out in the country.  I'm a bit nervous about riding with these two because they ride much faster than I do, but we stick together and ride in a paceline, alternating the lead every mile, and I'm pretty comfortable.  After ten miles Paddy starts to cramp up, so for most of the rest of the ride we hold back a little, especially on the hills.

There's a gas station outside Hempstead at the twenty mile mark where we stop and take a break.  This always involves detailed inspections of each others' bikes and today's examination revealed that Paddy and Dave need to hose theirs down after several rides in the wet, while mine still looks new.  We all agree that it's a great area for riding, better than the West Houston parks we normally use, but a bit remote.

Back on the road and the route puts us on old 290 all the way back to the start, with a few hills and traffic lights to negotiate.  Paddy is still cramping so we take it fairly easily.  With 2 miles to go, though, as usual he finds a second wind and leaves me for dead on a short, sharp sprint.  We dismount, load the bikes and head out just as it starts to rain.

The rain gets steadily heavier on the way back and is really very nasty coming down the Beltway.  However, the big surprise was waiting for me when I got back into our neighbourhood - we'd had a very sharp hail storm, with marble-sized chunks coming down.  All I can think of is my tomato plants - have they survived?  Sadly, no they haven't.  Here's the view from our garden door.

Friday, March 13, 2009

sooey, sooey

According to today's Houston Chronicle, George Bush park (where we ride every weekend, just about) is over-run with feral hogs, like this charming family.  One estimate puts 10,000-15,000 little piggys in the park's 7,800 acres.  They must be well camouflaged because I've never seen one.

Park employees are allowed to trap them and they typically take about 400 a year, but a more aggressive cull is needed.  Step forward Commissioner Steve Radack, whose brilliant idea is to allow licensed hunters to take as many as they want... providing they use a bow and arrows!  Jeez Louise, only in Texas.  He also wants to donate the meat to churches, shelters for the homeless, food banks etc.  Sounds good except that most of those places can't accept meat unless it has come from a slaughterhouse, and anyway by all accounts it's like eating old socks stuffed with mud.

Not much riding lately - the weather has been crap but should improve on Sunday.

Friday, March 6, 2009

no saddle time this weekend - it's getting dusty

We're off on a trip to Roanoke, Virginia to visit Hollins University, Mary-Claire's top college choice.  We fly out tomorrow morning but don't arrive until 4pm - we have to change planes in Atlanta, which is a bore.  We'll have Sunday to look around and then a programme of events at the University on Monday.  We do the whole trip in reverse on Tuesday.  So no bike time for me this weekend - I'll need to make up for lost time next week.  There's an organised ride out of Magnolia which looks promising - a $5 barbecue lunch afterwards!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

I'm nearly famous

This cutting from the Houston paper was spotted and passed to me by my buddy, former colleague, fellow rider and fan of Turkish food, Jim Clark. Thanks Jim, and see you on the road!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

It's cold in them thar hills

Off to Sealy this morning, for the first real test of my legs this training season.  A cold front came through last night, bringing temperatures in the mid-30's and a fresh wind out of the north - not exactly ideal conditions.

I got to the start in Sealy at about 7.30.  A group of riders were getting ready to start but I got out in front of them and almost immediately found myself battling the wind.  The lead riders from the group caught me pretty quickly, but they stopped at one of the turns to regroup, so I got in front again.  The first half of the ride is on fairly rough country roads and runs roughly east, so the wind was on my right side, which made it much more managable.  I rode past the ramshackle old trailer where I usually get chased by a dog.  I wanted to see how long he could keep up with the Plastic Fantahstic, but he wasn't around - maybe he chased one bike too many.  The dynamic duo caught me again but I kept them in sight on the way down to Bernardo, where I normally take a break as it's about 20 miles into the ride.  They had pulled over too, waiting on their SAG wagon.

After a bite of apple, a slug of water and a good stretch I headed out on the next 5 mile leg, which runs past a very impressive looking spread with a big house and a lake.  My buddies caught me (again!) and this time I jumped on a wheel and drafted a bit.  We turned east and had the wind on our backs for a mile or so and really accelerated.  Back on to the main road and they dropped me pretty quickly.  It was quite a struggle working my way north into Cat Spring but I used my gears and made it reasonably comfortably.

The next stretch is the toughest part of the ride - 10 miles of very rolling terrain, with several nasty climbs and one double climb, where you think you've made it to the top but you have to do it again very soon after.  Fortunately the wind had veered west enough that much of the section was down-wind, but it was still tough.  I got a good work out with the gears, and realized how much harder this ride would have been on my old bike, with its down-tube hope-you-can-find them gears.

Through the hills and on to the least enjoyable section, the 7 mile run down Hwy. 36 back to Sealy.  The speed limit on 36 is 70 mph and it's pretty busy, but it has a wide shoulder so it's safe enough.  Unfortunately the road surface is very rough, and the Plastic Fantahstic is a very harsh ride (like all carbon bikes - the only real drawback) so my teeth were shaking all the way.  I found out that the white line was much smoother and rode on it as much as I could, but that put me too close to traffic so I had to keep ducking back onto the shoulder.  By the time I got to Sealy I was afraid to get out of the saddle in case my bum fell off.  The road quality is much better for the last mile and it felt like I was riding on silk.

Back at the start, and the two hotshots have clearly been in for some time - did they do the full ride, I wonder?

So overall I passed the test pretty well, although we'll see what shape the legs are in tomorrow - 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fun in the sun

An enjoyable morning at the Bike skills clinic today, although it was pretty cold and windy too.  Susan came with me but didn't stay long - it was far too cold to hang around.  Once a few people arrived, Dave called for a group to head out on a 6-mile loop, working on group riding skills and I joined him.  I pretty quickly found myself at the back of the group, shepherding a couple of slower riders.  Back at base camp, the basic maintenance skills class is in full swing, and the Bike Barn guys are busy with bike inspections.  I hang around, chatting with some of the riders, waiting for the next group to go out.  Pretty soon we were back on the loop, mostly with veteran riders this time, and I made the mistake of trying to keep pace with Dave and John, probably our two strongest riders.   I pretty quickly fell back and rolled in at the back of the group.  When we got back this time, the Tour de Hood group had arrived - a bunch of disadvantaged kids who ride through downtown every Saturday morning.  We formed a group and off we went again.  Just like the first run, I worked my way to the back and rode round with two kids who might have been brother and sister.  They found the going pretty hard but completed the loop.

Back at the pavilion, and things were winding down.  I joined the line for bike inspections and got my bike tweaked and approved.  Dave was organising a group to go for a longer run so I watered up, ate a banana and off we went.  We rode through Cullen Park and then into the end of George Bush park.  We rode about 3 miles into the park, regrouped and turned around.  The ride back was uneventful but Dave flatted  in Bear Creek with about a mile to run.  He started walking while Russell and I headed back as fast as we could to pick up a vehicle and sag him back.

With everyone safely home, I loaded up my back pack and set out for home.  It was 2.00pm and I was starving.  I rode down Eldridge (with the wind on my back for once) thinking about the sandwich I was going to make for lunch.  Back home, and MC has made hummus, so we eat some of that, with lentils and sausages left over from last night.  It all tasted wonderful, especially when washed down with a Sierra Nevada.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

where is everybody?

I showed up on time at Terry Hershey this morning, expecting to see a few BHP buddies, but no-one showed up.  Paddy is excused (he's in Singapore or China or somewhere) but where were all the rest?  I'll be charitable and assume that they're keeping their powder dry for the Clinic at Bear Creek tomorrow.

Anyway, a good day for a ride, although Katy Fit were out in force.  Not much evidence that the spin classes are helping, but I made pretty good time and ejoyed the run.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

on the road again

Finally back on the bike after a week off sick with the flu. These flu shots are not worth the money and pain. I'm still not 100% fit but I'm fed up with driving and need some saddle time.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pedalling for the ducks

Off to Katy Mills mall for my first organised ride of the season, a fund-raiser for Ducks Unlimited.  I hooked up with Paddy and Dave under the sign of the Boxing Kangaroo, but we were on different routes (not to mention different paces) and once the ride started I didn't see them again.

Great weather at first - cool and not too much wind, but as the morning wore on, so the wind picked up, and with no cover on the Katy prairie you feel the full force.  A long run into the wind and then we turned west with the wind on our side and for once a few trees for shelter.    At this point two large, very fast pace lines came flying through without any warning.  One of the riders came very close to me left shoulder and I screamed blue murder at him, then apologised to the lady on my right who I was passing at the same time.  I hate these guys - they are clearly riding at a much higher level than the rest of us but that's no excuse for poor etiquette.

Another turn had us with the wind on our backs and I let it all hang out for a while.  The Plahstic Fantahstic is wonderful with a tail wind - it just leaps ahead and the only thing you hear is tire noise.  The down-wind run took us to Fulshear and a timely rest stop.

Back on the road and we worked our way north through pretty countryside.  We crossed over I-10 at Brookshire and then turned east with the wind on our right hand side, now gusting quite strongly.  The last stretch of this ride is a 15 mile run along US 90 and the cross-wind and tired riders made it interesting.  One last stop and then the Katy water tower appeared in the distance and we were on the home stretch.

Back at Katy Mills, where the lunch consisted of a skewer with a piece of sausage, half a pickle and a white bread roll threaded on it, plus a complementary cup of the Budweiser product of your choice.  The food was surprisingly good and the Bud ziegenbock was drinkable, sort of.  No sign of Paddy or Dave - they probably finished well ahead of me and Paddy was flying out to Singapore later so he probably didn't hang around.  All in all an enjoyable ride that left me feeling pretty good - we'll see if I still feel the same tomorrow morning.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

turn, turn, turn

Yesterday I had my first ever spin class (or "Studio Ride", in the parlance of our swanky gym). I was greeted as I entered by Zo, a five foot, 90 pound streak of energy. She set up the bike for me (5J6, I must remember that) and then off we went. Lights down, blowers on, some Euro bike race on the big screens, techno blasting out of every corner - not exactly a pleasant country ride.

I'd imagined that spin class would be a great place to practise cycling skills but it wasn't at all. Zo had us out of the saddle for extended periods, which you really don't want to do out on the road. This made it hard to keep a good cadence or to work the pedals all the way through the stroke. In fact the class is less about cycling than it is about aerobic fitness. That's obviously important for cyclists, but you could get it other ways too. Anyway, I'll probably stick with the class as it's a good mid-week workout, sandwiched between longer weekend rides.

I got back to the changing room and ran into Doug, a BHP colleague and long-time MS150 rider. He had been in the same class (sorry, ride), and complained that it had finished before the end of the bike race - obviously a hard-core spinner if he had been paying that much attention to the TVs!

Another lesson - I need to bring a spare shirt to class. I had to ride home from the gym in a very damp shirt - fortunately it's only a mile or so.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry"

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the fiery plane crash in Iowa that took the lives of Buddy Holly, J.P."The Big Bopper" Richardson and Ritchie Valens, an event immortalised as "The day the music died" in Don MacLean's song, "American Pie". Not so well known is that Waylon Jennings should have been on the plane, but gave up his seat to Richardson.

Holly was 22, Richardson 28 and Valens...17. Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse. Too late for me, of course -

brrr (again)

Mother Nature decided to test my mettle this morning with a 37 degree start to the day - and only my second commuter ride this year. Under clear skies and with no wind it was actually a gorgeous morning and a pretty good ride once I'd lost all sensation in my extremities.

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, the South-East of England has had its heaviest snowfall in 18 years and of course the entire region has ground to a halt. Not that it takes much - when I was living in London, 1-2" of snow was enough to bring chaos to the public transportation system. James up in Indiana, of course, sneers at anything less than a foot of snow, but I doubt there's a single snow plough in the entire city.

Monday, February 2, 2009

back in the (commuter) saddle again

Hooray! Today I rode in to work for the first time since before Christmas. A very good morning for it, too - a bit on the cool side and some wind but I enjoyed every minute.

I've had to adapt my morning routine at BHP, as we've been told to remove all gear from the shower room after showering. This actually gives me an opportunity to put my musette to good use. For those of you who aren't up-to-date with Euro-cycling jargon, a musette is basically a cyclist's feedbag - a light canvas bag with a long strap that you hang around your neck and eat from. Every stage race has a designated feeding point half-way through, where riders pick up musettes, traditionally containing jam sandwiches and rice cakes, these days more likely energy gels and bars. I saw one on eBay and couldn't resist it. it's been hanging in my office for a while so today I put my toiletries in it, slung it round my neck, and went to the showers looking like a pro (in my dreams anyway).

Sunday, February 1, 2009

a busy weekend

but not much of it spent on the bike, unfortunately.  I rode the Terry Hershey/George Bush parks ride this morning and for once it wasn't freezing or blowing a gale, and there weren't any runners.  There were quite a few other cyclists, though, and not all of them observed the proper etiquette when passing, which always ticks me off.  I also passed one clown who was talking on his cell phone while riding - I yelled "hang up and ride" at him but I don't think he heard me.

Paddy and Dave were off at an organised ride so I was a lone wolf.  Not a problem, but there's nothing like a bit of healthy competition to get you riding faster for longer.  So I was glad when a recumbent passed me on the way out - I jumped on his tail (not close enough to draft, I just wanted the pace) and we stayed together for a mile or two until he peeled off.  The same thing happened on the way back - a much stronger rider passed me but I was able to keep with him for 2 or 3 miles and then actually passed and led the charge for a while.  I got tired before he did, though, and he soon left me for dead.

Tomorrow I'll be back to commuting, and now we've joined the local gym, I plan to take a spin class every week too, so hopefully I can make up for the lost training time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

oh frabjous day!

Caloo, calay - the showers have been reopened! I'll probably wait until Monday to get back into the cycling commute, though. They are also apparently going to be quite strict about people leaving their gear in the lockers, so I'll have to take my cycling gear back to my office every moning. Not too bad at this time of year, but in the summer everything gets soaked with perspiration, so I may need to install some additional ventilation -

Sunday, January 25, 2009

a long drive for a short ride

This morning Susan and I drove out to Fayetteville for a top fund-raisers ride.  Fayetteville is on the MS150 route - it's the last town before LaGrange on the first day, so it's a good distance from Houston.  It's very pretty in April but not quite so nice in January, especially on a cold, grey morning.

I got my gear together and set out with the crowd, feeling a little guilty about leaving Susan behind in the cold, with not much to do other than read the paper.  The ride was OK, with a lot of elevation changes and rough road surfaces.  At one point a farmer was blocking the road with a truck and trailer and we had to go off-roading to get past.  We didn't help our cause by missing a turn, either - when we eventually worked it out we had added another 5 miles to the ride.  I fell in with a kid who is a freshman at UT and we rode together for a while.  He's a very impressive young man, I must say.  I kept with him for a good distance but then younger legs prevailed and he dropped me like a hot potato.

I was glad to cruise in to Fayetteville at the end of the ride.  I found Susan in the hut where they were serving lunch, sitting in a circle of chairs with some volunteers, spouses and riders.  I ate a plate of excellent barbecue and then we headed home.

We opted for the scenic route back, rather than taking the freeway.  It's quite a pretty trip, very undulating, with a number of small towns on the way.  We went to the Brookwood community outside Brookshire for lunch (Susan didn't fancy bbq and it was too early anway) and a little shopping.  They have a very nice nursery and a gift shop.  I was a bit uncomfortable in the dining room, wearing my cycling gear (screaming yellow jacket, black tights, goofy cyclist's hat) when everyone else looked like they had just got back from church, but they were all too well-bred to stare.

I expect I'll take some flak from Paddy for choosing a 22 mile route over the 55 mile Frost Bike ride, but I bet I climbed a lot more hills than he did.  Check out the elevation display below - 

Friday, January 23, 2009

watch the birdie

Here are the goldfinches on our back yard feeder this morning:

And here is a video of MC in her grandmother's car that I shot during our hurrication in Morris last year - 


When I registered for the Frost Bike ride this weekend I'd forgotten that I had already accepted an invitation to a top fund-raisers ride on the same day. Of course the Frost Bike registration fee is non-refundable, but I think I'll do the other ride anyway. It starts in Fayetteville, a charming little town on the Houston-Austin route that is also probably the friendliest spot on the ride. Every year the entire population lines the route and cheers on the riders. Sadly it's 70 miles away, and the longest route offered is only 22 miles, although you can do two of the rides if you want. There's a barbecue lunch after the ride - hard to beat authentic Central Texas smoked brisket!

Some great news yesterday - Mary-Claire was accepted at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. Hollins was her number one choice after she went there last summer for a two-week residential getting-to-know-you trip. It's the only one of the colleges she applied to that her parents haven't seen, also the hardest to get to from here, but she loved it and made some good friends too.

This article from the New York Times made Susan and I chuckle this morning.

Anyone know of any other funny place names? When I was in school in Salisbury there was a campsite nearby named after its owner, a chap called Sandy Balls. Everyone thought it was for nudists -

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

20 years of undiscovered incompetence

Today I received my 20-year service award (a Bose Wave radio/CD player!) at a meeting of the Geoscience team.  Only 2 months after the actual anniversary but better late than never.  I plan to use it at the office (discreetly, of course) but didn't have time to hook it up today - too many meetings as usual.

I joined BHP two weeks after James was born.  Now he's 20 and I'm as old as dirt.  I've enjoyed the time, both in London and here, and I expect to see in my 25 year anniversary but hopefully there won't be a 30th.

Back to more important matters - I'm signed up for this weekend's organised ride, the Frost Bike 50.  Paddy and Dave are riding too but I don't plan to try and keep with them.  I'll probably ride the 55 mile course, depending on conditions.  

Still no showers at work, but I noticed that one of the other bike commuters rode today.  He obviously doesn't care about being a little whiffy at work.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

fresh meat

6.00 came way too early this morning but at least it was a relatively mild morning.  No sign of the skipper or Dave at the Beltway but another rider came up and introduced himself: Louis from Marketing.  It will be his first MS-150 and he hasn't put in much saddle time so far this season.  Dave and Paddy soon appear - they've already ridden 100 miles this weekend and are ready for more.  Meanwhile Phil back in Blighty has been packing in the miles and getting his hill work done too - we need to find some topography pretty soon if you ask me.

Off we go in the gloaming.  The park is very quiet this morning, partly because we're early but also because all the runners are either competing in the Houston marathon or watching it.  We get to the underpass at  Eldridge, only to find a huge digger blocking the trail, so we have to free-style up to Eldridge proper and onto the sidewalk.  I promptly miss the turn and have to double back.  Louis waits for me but my other two buddies disappear.  We soon regroup and pretty quickly clear the park.  A decent wind out of the northwest makes us think a bit along the I-10 stretch but we get it on our backs down Barker-Clodine, which was fun.

Into George Bush proper and Paddy puts the William Tell overture on his iPod.  I can't resist - I shout Tally-Ho, wave an imaginary sabre above my head and launch into a full-on sprint.  Paddy chases me but the other two have more sense.  Naturally Paddy and I end up maintaining a pretty hot pace all the way to the end, where there is a straight section that we usually sprint.  Paddy gets past me but I'm able to hold on, before he eases up and we coast to the end of the park.

Dave and Louis aren't far behind and we huddle to strategise.  Paddy initially wants to turn around and just do the 38 miler (he's just coming off a bout of pneumonia!) but Dave goads him into riding the full 60.  I don't want to do 60 and neither does Louis, so we decide to all ride together to Bear Creek, where Louis and I will push on down Eldridge, and Dave and Paddy will turn around.  A good run through Cullen Park, although once I again I fail to spot the dangerous dobermann (even Louis saw him this time!).

In Bear Creek we go our separate ways.  Louis and I have a good run downwind along Eldridge, then work away along the south side of the Addicks dam, onto Kirkwood and back to the trail.  A gentle run back to the Beltway (too much traffic to go any faster) and Louis is pretty glad to get off his bike.

It's a gorgeous morning as we say our goodbyes and I head home, just in time for a staggeringly long honey-do list - 

Sunday, January 11, 2009


It's two hours since I got back from this morning's ride and I'm still too cold to even think about a shower.

I headed out to Katy (there was a marathon on the trail) in 42 degree weather with a stiff wind out of the north.  The ride starts with a long run due south, loads of fun with half a gale on your back, but I paid the price with a very tough run home.  I was in my middle chain ring and almost my tallest rear sprocket.  Wouldn't have taken much more to get me onto the granny ring but I held out.

Back home to find half-a-dozen goldfinches on the bird feeder and bird bath.  Seems very early for them but they are a very welcome flash of colour.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hi ho Silver - away!

I was the Lone Ranger on the trail this morning.  Paddy had mentioned that he planned to ride every Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning, so I showed up at the trail head bright and early.  When 7.00am rolled around with no sign of the old seadog, I called him on his mobile, expecting to get him out of bed (chuckle, chuckle).  When he finally answered he explained that he couldn't ride today because he was in Montevideo!

So I was a lone wolf, at least for a while.  The trail was almost empty and conditions were just about perfect all the way out to Fry road.  I turned around and began seeing more and more runners, riders and walkers so it was a bit slower but still a nice ride.

I'll take the morning off tomorrow but probably ride Sunday.  If I do, though, it won't be the trail - there's going to be a marathon in George Bush and the western end of Terry Hershey - so I'll run out to Katy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

still no showers dammit

the showers at work are still out of action, which means I can't ride to work, which means I have to drive, which means MC has to ride her bike to's a big pain all round.  It's perfect cycling weather right now too.

Monday, January 5, 2009

.. and they're off!

my 2009 training programme got off to a good start on Sunday morning. I met up with BHP buddies Dave, Renee and the redoubtable Captain P for a ride through Terry Hershey. Fairly good conditions, overcast and no wind but quite humid. When we got to the reservoir it was foggy, too, which made life interesting. We kept together pretty well, notwithstanding the Captain's occasional mad 50 yard sprints (which I of course had to try and match!). At Fry road I suggested that we ride the loop through Cullen Park and Bear Creek rather than turn back, so that's what we did. Dave and the skipper warned us about the Hound of the Baskervilles, a very aggressive Doberman that they had run into the day before on the Cullen Park trail. I didn't see the mutt but apparently it was there. Once in Bear Creek Captain P took advantage of a tiny downhill section to launch into the sort of sprint normally only seen in the last 100 metres of a Tour de France flat stage. I charged after him and was just barely able able to keep pace. He announced that we had cracked 30 mph, almost certainly the highest speed I've ever managed on the flat - gotta love the Plahstic Fantahstic! A brisk run down Eldridge and Kirkwood got us back onto Terry Hershey for the short section back to the start at the Beltway. There was considerably more foot and bike traffic than when we started, which gave us a good cooling-down period. Paddy plans to ride every Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning until the event so there's no place for me to hide!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year!

A new year, a new bike and a new training campaign.  Hopefully the weight lost by getting a full carbon bike will offset the weight gained over Xmas - 

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