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 -