Please support my 2015 BP MS150 ride!

Please support my 2015 BP MS150 ride!
click on the pic to donate to Andy


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.

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?

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