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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, March 28, 2010

Personal Best* (Canine-Assisted)

I had big plans to catch up on training miles this weekend but life (and airline inefficiency) got in the way, so I had to settle for a fast forty along Terry Hershey at the crack of dawn on Saturday.

James was due to land at 11.15, so I started at 6.30, well before sunrise, and opted to ride down Memorial rather than risk the poorly-illuminated trail. Not much traffic at that hour, which was just as well because I had to swerve around pot-holes pretty frequently. I picked up the trail at the Dam and wound it up, feeling pretty good.

About three miles along I saw a pedestrian and was getting ready to call out to him before passing when he turned and saw me. He raised both arms and I found out why - his small, angry and very determined dog appeared out of nowhere, trailing its leash and barking furiously. Seriously? In the middle of the trail? Dog attacks are common enough out there in Deliverance country, but this was a bit much. Anyway, nothing to do but sprint and hopefully leave the mutt behind. It was definitely game and I had to really air it out, setting a Personal Best sprint time in the process (but as it was canine-assisted there's an asterisk in the record book).

I finally dropped mini-Cujo and settled back into a more suitable pace. I hope the dog-walker had the sense to get the beast back under control - there were plenty of other riders heading his way. The rest of the ride passed without incident. It was a perfect day, the trail was pretty quiet and I kept my pace up, trying to focus on form (spin those pedals, relax the shoulders, sit towards the back of the saddle, keep the feet flat), which was great - but it's flat and boring, and I'd planned a more interesting ride. Maybe next week.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Watch the birdie

Off to Zube for a lone wolf ride (Paddy and Jason are somewhere in the Far East, no idea what the other Mules are doing). One advantage of riding solo is you can start whenever you like, so I didn't set my alarm and consequently rolled out of bed at about 6.30.

On the drive out I tuned in to KPFT, our Pacifica station. I normally listen to KUHF, the NPR affiliate, in the mornings, but it's all religious music before 8.00 on Sunday, and that doesn't really set the tone. KPFT is entertainingly amateurish and this morning they had forgotten that the clocks went forward so they were an hour behind on their announcements.

Once at Zube I gear up and hit the road. I'm planning to ride the new Hempstead loop, which doesn't go past any gas stations, so I'm packing a power bar and an extra water bottle. I filled both bottles at the drinking fountain in Zube, but subsequently discover that the water has an unpleasant tang to it.

Off we go, wearing my tights and arm warmers but no jacket. It's 52 degrees when I start and a beautiful morning. The ride is pretty uneventful - the roads are quiet, my legs feel ok, my chest is a little tight but not too bad - and since I'm not fighting to keep up with Paddy and Co. I can watch the scenery and look for birds.

It turns out there is a lot to look at. I see a red-winged blackbird within the first few miles, and a bit later I see a flock of large, yellow-breasted birds that I think are kingbirds. A small hawk swoops along a plowed field then perches on the fence as I go by. Later on a scissor-tailed flycatcher goes right over my head, a gorgeous sight.

The scenery is also prettier than I realised. Spring is in full flood now and everything is very green and lush. There's one stretch of road in particular that I had never paid attention to before, mainly because it was always shrouded in fog. Today it's very pretty, reminding me of Wiltshire (my childhood home) a little.

I stop to answer un besoin naturel and eat some of my power bar. A very small puppy appears out of a ruined barn. She's carrying her right front paw and looks very pathetic. I throw her some of the power bar and she loves it. Time to move on and of course the mutt follows me to the road. I tell her to go home and take off without looking back. Hopefully she belongs to the farmer and he's going to take her to the Vet tomorrow.

I'm soon at the junction with the road that runs into Hempstead. The new route takes a left here, missing out the Exxon. A short leg and then I turn off to the right on a small country road with a fair bit of topography. I'm feeling pretty good on the climbs, which aren't too strenuous to be honest. The route turns to go past Prairie View A&M and then we're back in the country. Somewhere along here a largish, reddish hawk is keeping pace with me on the right. He cuts over to the left and we ride along together a bit more. I don't get a good enough view of him to be able to identify him later but he made a good riding companion. Oddly enough, he doesn't scare off any of the numerous small birds flying around and roosting on the power lines.

I turn south, go under the freeway and soon pick up the boring route back to Zube. A tail wind helps and I make it back feeling pretty good. Maybe I'll make it to Austin after all.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Memory Lane

When I was fourteen, my father (an army officer) was posted from Fulwood Barracks outside Preston to Bulford Camp in Wiltshire, so off we went. Bulford Camp was one of the largest army bases in the country and my parents had been posted there before, but this was the first time for me and my numerous siblings. I remember that I wasn't very happy at all at Balshaw's Grammar School in Leyland, so I was probably very glad to move.

Unfortunately, the only option for a grammar school boy was Bishop Wordsworth's School in Salisbury, 20 miles away. This meant a 40 minute bus ride every morning and afternoon, with a decent walk at each end, but I made friends very quickly at school (it helped to be taken under the wing of Phil Davies, another Bulford camp brat - Phil, where are you now, mate?). I must have got used to the bus trips, too, I hardly remember them at all now. I also started to show some academic prowess. I wonder now if I did so well at Bishop's because it was a single-sex school, unlike Balshaw's which was mixed. I also made friends on the Camp and wish I was still in touch with them.

When I was sixteen (1976) my Dad retired from the army and bought a house on the outskirts of Salisbury. This meant that I could walk or ride my bike to school very easily, but was a long way from my Bulford Camp friends. I had already taken to relatively long bike rides through the gorgeous countryside around Salisbury and thought I could manage a ride back to Bulford.

There were two routes - the main road, via The High Post Hotel, or the back road through the Woodford Valley, wonderful scenery but a bit longer. I think I tried both (I remember coming back on the main road with my dynamo-powered front light blazing on the descent from the High Post), but the Woodford run sticks in my memory. I would love to ride it again with Paddy's helmet camera, but here are some Google'd images to whet your appetite.

This is the Wheatsheaf pub in Lower Woodford (the biggest villages in the valley are Lower, Middle and Upper Woodford). Pretty good food and beer to be had here. There used to be a holiday cottage across the road that Susan and I rented a few times.

This is the River Avon (no, not that one - there are many Avons in the UK) at Middle Woodford. The river is right by the road here.

This picture-postcard shot is Lake House, in the village of Lake. You can't see this view from the road, sadly. My main memory of this stretch of the ride is a sharp left turn at the bottom of a hill - brakes on all the way down. Lake House is now owned by Sting.

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