Last week we'd agreed to try a different, slightly longer route, hopefully missing out a few of the traffic lights that make the normal runs tedious. This involved a run north on Eldridge, then a left turn onto Clay, all the way to Katy and back on the regular Old Katy route. We duly set out, missing Denis, Keith and Mike, but with the addition of Susan and Bruce. The run north on Dairy-Ashford generated a few complaints (this is worse than Memorial, etc). We turned on to Eldridge and climbed the largest hill in West Houston (a short but steepish ramp over the Addicks dam). I was in the lead and looked back to see that the group was pretty fragmented already.
It was pretty damn cold but I was OK, at least while riding in the sun. The shaded sections were a different story...
We made the turn on Clay, but unfortunately not only were there traffic lights, there was also a lot of traffic. I wanted to keep the pace high but the group couldn't keep together, and we had to settle for about 17 mph. And then Jolynne flatted. We pulled in to a gas station and Bruce took over. Turns out he was a mechanic for a Pro-Cycling team for 45 years! He stripped out the old tube and had the new one in place in a flash. Sadly, though, the tube turned out to be bad - it didn't hold any inflation - and he had to put another in, leaving Jolynne without a spare. By now it was 8.30 and Jamie couldn't go any further (she has to be back by 10.00 am to work in the shop). With no spare tube, Jolynne didn't want to go any further either and Bruce needed to get back too. I wanted to keep going and so did Susan, so the group split up with Susan and I heading west on Clay and the others heading back south to pick up the trail.
So there we were, Susan and I, cruising along together. She was struggling to make the pace but toughed it out. She was also very chatty and I learned quite a lot about her over the course of the next hour or two. Clay continued to be busy and Susan wanted to ride side-by-side. Single-file would have been better, and several motorists let us know in the time-honored fashion.
A bit further on and the road got much quieter and became more of a country road, similar to many back country routes out by Hempstead. We saw two magnificent hawks on telegraph poles. One I'm sure was a red-tailed hawk, the other was even bigger. The saddle of a bike really is the best place to go bird-watching.
We kept rolling west, with a decent tail-wind. Susan was struggling a bit and I was wondering when we'd reach the turn - Avenue D in Old Katy. Eventually I decided we had either missed the turn or the directions were wrong, and we turned south at the next opportunity. Susan had the temerity to suggest that we ask for directions at a house! I had to explain that males, and male bikers in particular, did not do that.
The road T-d out and we turned left, heading back east. This turned out to be a good call, as we pretty soon got back into Old Katy and saw Avenue D, which did not in fact go through to Clay. Anyway, no problem, we were back on the map. We turned south, found the Shell station and had a quick break, then headed back on Franz.
We were running into the wind, but it wasn't too bad for me. Unfortunately Susan was about played out and the wind hit her hard. I tried to encourage her to draft behind me but she didn't really get it, so it was quite a trek back to the Park. Once in the Park she got her second wind and we made it back OK.
Back at the shop I gave Jamie some grief for misleading directions and then went to visit Bruce, who had set up a stand to advertise his company's products (bike degreaser and chain lube). He was showing riders how to clean their bikes in 10 minutes, pro-style, and did mine for me. Very impressive, and the bike is very clean, but it's a very messy process, not really suitable for a garage. Back home for lunch and a beer.