Please support my 2015 BP MS150 ride!

Please support my 2015 BP MS150 ride!
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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.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Little Mexican Truck That Won't Anymore

(Here is the final installment of the "Little Mexican Truck" trilogy.  Spoiler alert: it doesn't end well.)

The Little Mexican Truck simply loved Christmas.  Its owner, Kevin, usually found time for a ride or two over the Holiday period, and sometimes wore a new pair of socks or gloves that he had received for Christmas, which put him in a good mood.  So when the back door of Kevin's house opened up very early on Christmas morning this year, the Truck could hardly contain its excitement.  But wait, what was Kevin pushing out?  It seemed to be a bike, but where did it come from, and why was Kevin keeping it in the house?  The Truck was quite happy to live in the garage with the raccoons even though the Houston climate was not kind on steel frames and components.   Now the bike was outside, the Truck could see that it was one of those flashy, under-nourished, no-better-than-it-should-be carbon-framed hussies that Kevin had been renting lately.  Probably he was taking it back to the store, thought the Truck, but why was Kevin in his cycling gear and posing for a picture, shamelessly astride the little strumpet?  Surely he hadn't bought it (way too cheap) but perhaps (gulp!) it was a gift?  Was this the end for the Truck??  Examine the photographic evidence and decide for yourself.
she'll break your perineum, if not your heart Kevin

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

10 years in the saddle

My first MS150 ride was in 2013 and boy was I green.  I survived somehow and kept at it (with one year out) so that 2013 will be ride number 10.  In that time I've raised at least $60,000 and I'm shooting for $20,000 in 2013 - please help if you can.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Alpe D'Sealy

the real Alpe D'Huez
Off to Sealy with Kevin on a beautiful, if chilly and breezy morning. The last time we did this run was also my last ride before the 2012 MS150, and a strong wind from the south made the final seven miles down route 36 very painful. This time it was just as windy but out of the north, which meant that route 36 would be easy but the hilly section (dubbed "Alpe D'Sealy" by Kevin!) would be at best cross-wind.

We decided to reconnoitre the last few miles of route 36, as the last time they were under cosntruction.  All appeared well, with a good surface and wide shoulder so we parked up and got ready.  It was cold enough to wear some extra gear, but as always there's a price to be paid if you overdo it - having to strip off at some point and then lug everything back.  I opted for arm warmers, Kevin put on some light tights and off we rolled.

The Mexican Truck lives on, but its days are numbered - Kevin was in Colorado recently and took the opportunity to rent a nice Cervelo carbon bike for a 35 mile spin.  He was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the bike's rigidity and sure-footedness on the descents, never his favourite road profile.  Won't be long before he comes to the Dark Side with the rest of us fallen road-racer wannabees.

By coincidence there was an organised ride that morning but they had started earlier, and we soon found ourselves riding through the tail-end Charlies.  I felt a bit sorry for them - many looked like they had just taken up riding and they had chosen a cold, windy day, hopefully they wouldn't be deterred by the experience.

Kevin was as strong as ever on the climbs.  I kept with him on a few but mostly dropped back, but he was good enough to wait for me - and he doesn't quite know the route yet anyway.

We got to San Bernardo and took a quick break by the Feed Store.  The organised ride split here, with a short route heading north towards Cat Spring and the longer routes going south to God knows where, I-10 probably.  Our route took us straight over into the Back Country, but we took advantage of the Cops patrolling the intersection for the organised ride to get us across.

This part of the ride is the most scenic - large farms, rolling fields, cows and birds.  Unfortunately it's also the first time that the route runs north and we began to feel the wind when we made turns, especially when they were at the bottom of climbs.

Somewhere along this stretch we got chased by an evil black dog, who was clearly out for blood.  Most dogs start barking when they see you and keep it up during the chase - they're really only looking for a run.  This hell-hound kept his mouth shut and was inches away from my left foot when Kevin spotted him and shouted a warning.  We hit the gas and left the mutt behind - and then just when my heart rate was getting back to normal a couple of yay-hoos in a truck powered past, half on the road and half on the shoulder.

We reached the intersection with the Cat Spring road, where there was another Cop getting riders across.  Once again we were going against the flow and we had a laugh with the Cop about being rebels.  The next few miles were dead into the wind and we tried to form a paceline, but Kevin dropped me on the climbs so it was hard to be efficient.

Into Cat Spring and I was feeling pretty good under the circumstances, but a quick break at a country store before the big climbs made sense.  We stopped here last time, it's like something out of Mayberry, with cheerful (but incomprehensible!) old codgers having coffee and an irascible lady making chili.

Off again into the hills.  The first climb was straight into the wind and I had to get onto my middle chain ring straight away.  As we got further into this section, I usually pulled ahead of Kevin on the descents (he's not a great descender) only to have him blow by on the climbs, spinning at about 110 rpm.  On one particularly evil double climb I had to go to my granny ring and he pulled well clear, still only on his middle ring.

We got to the end of the hilly section and reached the northernmost point of the ride.  I was actually feeling pretty good, considering that I don't usually attempt the Sealy ride until well into the training season.  We made the turn onto route 36 and immediately felt the tail wind.  Coupled with a much smoother road surface, we had a blissful run all the way back, hitting 30 mph at one point.  True to form, Kevin actually rode faster on this flat than he did on any of the descents!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Alone again (naturally?)

This Sunday morning was the third in a row that I opted for a leisurely solo ride over a Mules thrash, and once again I enjoyed myself while staying within the limits of my current state of fitness. This new preference for riding on my own had me humming Gilbert O'Sullivan's gloomy little 1972 record, "Alone again, naturally" on several occasions. This ditty deals with parental bereavement, thoughts of suicide and other cheery topics, all delivered in a slightly nasal, irish-accented voice. Times were hard. With the weather getting better for cycling I expect to rejoin the Mules soon enough, but for now it's just me and Gilbert.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Just ride, eh? (Prenez votre velo uniquement, eh?)

gotta luv Canada

We're just back from a trip to Seattle and Vancouver (hence the dubiously bilingual title).  In Vancouver I went for a stroll along the waterfront at False Creek and saw this sign.  A day later I rented a bike and rode past it, so I used both sides as directed.

The title refers to a book that Susan bought me recently called "Just Ride", in which the author is quite unkind to weekend road-racers like me (and the Mules?).  Amongst many bike myths he attempts to debunk concerns helmet use. His idea is that wearing a helmet doesn't make you much safer but makes you think you're doing something dangerous.  I've heard this argument a few times recently, and helmet opponents usually invoke Amsterdam as an example, where tens of thousands of people ride their bikes daily and almost no-one wears a helmet.  So in the Just Ride spirit I planned to ride bare-headed in Vancouver, until the bike shop guy told me it was against the law.

The water front along False Creek and English Bay is just beautiful, and I had beautiful weather for my ride, too - sunny, clear and just a little cool.  I followed a well-laid out bike trail all the way to Stanley Park, then rode some trails in the park until I hit a hill too steep for my liking (this wasn't meant to be a Mules slog, just a gentle cruise!) and turned around.

I got a bit crossed up in the one-way circuit around Stanley Park, so I decided to ride back on the street.  From what we had seen, Vancouver was very bike-friendly, and I thought it would be fun to try some urban riding.

This area of Vancouver seems to change character with every block!  I went from low-end commercial to beautiful, leafy residential to high-end commercial very quickly and was soon back at the bike shop.  Great restaurants too...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I'm telling you, the @#$%ing bridge is out

oh, right, the bridge is out
Off to Zube with Kevin for a gentle run around the standard 45 mile loop.  Sean and Adam were there when we arrived but they didn't feel like the full distance.  Ian was in from China (!), taking a course in Houston and the opportunity to catch up  with his NWCC friends.

We set off at a warmish pace but I was able to persuade Kevin to cool it a bit.  I've done a couple of Terry Hershey runs lately but I'm not in shape at all, and was hoping for a very gentlemanly ride.  I was expecting the various NWCC speed groups to pass and they did, a surprisingly large number of riders.

All was going well up to the 15 mile mark, when a rider going in the other direction shouted that the bridge was out.  I  thanked her but was a bit confused as I couldn't remember any bridges on the route.  We made the turn onto Laneview and saw three more riders who had clearly turned around.  They also said that the bridge was out.  Thanks, but what frickin' bridge??  Kevin suggested we ride for another 5 minutes and then decide if we need to turn.

We made it as far as the intersection and saw a large orange sign stating that the bridge was out.  Suddenly I remembered that there was indeed a bridge over a creek ahead!  Somewhat sheepishly we turned around and headed back.  We talked about routes but ultimately all we could do was retrace our steps and then head for the gas station.

As we got closer I was beginning to tire and was glad to slot in behind Kevin, who was looking very strong.  We arrived at the Exxon with Kevin's computer showing 33 miles (normally 25!).  We had a good break before setting off again, right behind another group of three.  We kept pace with them for a while, although Kevin was as strong as ever on the climbs and pretty much blew the group to pieces.

We made the turn onto Business 290 and I was really in trouble.  I got behind Kevin and let him do  all the work, but I was pretty much spent and very glad to get back to Hockley.  I asked for a short breather and we took 5 in the shade of a disused gas station.  Finally back at Zube and I was feeling pretty rough.  Nothing that a beer, a cheese omelette (thanks Susan!) and a nap couldn't fix, though.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

just like riding a bike

For the second Sunday in a row I braved the heat, humidity and crowds in Terry Hershey and George Bush parks for a ride.  I'm still nowhere near rejoining the Mules but it may not be too long now.

I had two choices this morning - get up at quarter to Sparrowfart, drive to Prairie View, cough up a large chunk of cash and kill myself trying to ride with Paddy, or get up when I woke up and enjoy a leisurely cruise  in the parks.  This was an intelligence test that I didn't fail.  The Mules rode the Tour de Pink today and I wore my pink Mules shirt in the park to show my support for the cause.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Farewell to Mules

Yesterday morning saw me out at Zube with a big gang of Mules, although sadly no Kevin or Jorge.  It was unusually cool for June (low 70's) but already very humid.  Paddy proposed a new route that added 8 milles of country-lane riding and off we set.

All the Speedsters were there, including Shawn, just back from riding a 240km classic in Holland, and Ian who is soon to be transferred to China.  The pace was predictably hot, and Yvonne (who had looked very strong on my last Mules run) was falling behind.  About 10 miles in she and her husband Steve decided to turn back, leaving me at the mercy of some very strong riders.

I was lagging a bit too but Ian kindly bridged me over to the Peloton a few times.  After the goat farm turn, Britt and Oz decided to put the hammer down and we were flying along in a tight paceline, rotating the lead every 30 seconds at about 23-24 mph.  I held on for a while but eventually got spat out the back.

We regrouped at the gas station and headed into Hempstead (this was the new section of the route), familiar roads for me although I normally ride them in the other direction.  We turned at Peckerwood Gardens and then turned onto Brumlow road and terra incognita (for me anyway).  It certainly was a pretty route through the country and much nicer than the usual slog up Business 290, but the pace was still high and I was struggling pretty badly.

We made a turn north and got back on Business 290 just before Waller.  The guys formed a paceline once more and left me for dead pretty quickly.  I wasn't too sad to watch them go, I was happy enough at a slower pace and you always hate to be a drag on faster riders.

I got to Waller and saw that Paddy and Charlie were hanging back for me, so I slotted in behind and let them do the hard work all the way home.  Charlie and I had a good chat near the end, he's working on the same project as me so we have a lot in common.

Back at Zube and the tent has been set up.  Paddy tosses me a cold towel and it feels wonderful on my neck and over my head.  Sadly the beer selection was rather limited (what a whiner!).

And so the time has come for the Mules and I to part company, at least until the weather is a bit less aggressive.  I'll try a few rides with the Truth Squad, but I may just Lone Wolf it for a while.  Wtach this space...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Little Mexican Truck that did!

(Followers of this blog may recall a somewhat facetious post about my friend Kevin and his classic steed, titled "The Little Mexican Truck that Could".  Here, as promised, is the sequel)

The Little Mexican Truck that Did!
The Little Mexican Truck felt nervous and excited all at the same time.  He and his rider Kevin had just finished their umpteenth Houston-Austin ride together, but this year, instead of riding home in the back of a real truck, they were actually going to do it - ride all the way to Marfa!

Sure enough, the next morning, at the crack of dawn, Kevin loaded up the truck like a burro in a spaghetti western and they set off.  The first day's ride was through rolling green countryside but after that it was mile after mile of dusty brown flat lands.  The Truck felt pretty good but was a bit worried about letting Kevin down, especially on the long days when they went for 40 or 50 miles without seeing any signs of civilization, other than Border Patrol helicopters and Greyhound buses.  Kevin was feeling good too, and enjoying the chance encounters with other oddballs when he stopped for lunch or overnight.

The Truck did its best to keep rolling but it couldn't help getting the odd flat tire.  Kevin was well equipped to deal with minor roadside problems, but his patience was tested to the limit when three of his stock of new inner tubes turned out to have leaky valve stems.  He'd got them from the hippies at REI and it seemed that someone had enjoyed a little too much wacky baccy at some point in the process.

In the end, they were both glad to see the Marfa city limits sign.  The Truck was relieved and happy but a little concerned - how was it to get home?  Surely Kevin wouldn't leave it?  Not to worry, after a good night's sleep, Kevin unloaded the Truck and took it to a bike shop in Alpine, where they broke it down and packaged it for the train ride home.

A few weeks later, Kevin and the Truck showed up for a ride with Andy, Paddy and some others.  Did they treat the Truck with new-found respect after its epic adventure?  Hell no, they still ripped the piss out of it (Paddy was particularly unkind - the Truck does not have any barnacles on it), while giving Kevin all kinds of praise, when all he had done was sit on it.  There ain't no justice.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ready to Roll!

ready to roll!
After the brutal wind from the south that made my last training ride so painful, I was hoping that it would hold for a week, giving me a nice tail-wind for the event.  Alas, a strong front blew through on Friday, bringing heavy rain, thunderstorms and a change in the wind direction but no easing of intensity.

So on Saturday morning we grouped outside my house (Kevin, Tom and I), anxiously anticipating a beautiful Spring day in Texas spent battling a 20 mph cross/head wind.  We were not disappointed.

My brother-in-law David the Randonneur was riding again but had decided to make things difficult for himself.  He planned to do the entire ride in one hit, starting from Houston at midnight on Saturday so as to catch me in La Grange for the second day.  What a maniac.

Jorge wanted to ride with us but started with his team (with no BHP team this year, he opted to join some Colombian friends riding with BP, while we signed up with St.Arnold's Brewery).  We planned to meet at the first rest stop but in fact he caught us a few miles before it.

The route to Bellville is becoming very familiar!  The first long stretch north directly into the wind split us up, with Jorge and I pulling ahead of Tom and Kevin.  They wouldn't catch us all day.  We rolled into lunch feeling pretty good, although Jorge was regretting the lack of training a bit.

Back at it, with rollers all the way to La Grange now.  Jorge was tiring and with about 20 miles to run, he dropped back.  I wasn't doing that great myself but Fayetteville was a great boost.

Soon enough I saw the road junction that lead to the last rest stop of the day and I was glad to stop and take off my shoes - my right foot was really painful.  I walked around in my socks for a while and then ran into Kevin (my BW&F buddy) who was riding with his sister Pattie.  Kevin had agreed to do the ride on his fixie and there it was!  Amazing to ride that far in that wind on that bike.  When it was time to put my shoes back on I found that I'd been walking in burrs and had a ton of them stuck to my socks.

Back on the road and at long last a down wind run - the last 7 miles are more-or-less due south.  Even so I was glad to cross the finish line and accept a taster-size St.Arnold's beer from a raucous (possibly drunk) volunteer.

smiles of relief
At the team tent, Chris was already in and looking a bit bored, Kevin and Tom were still on the road.  After a swift  IPA I decided to take advantage of my top fundraiser status and use the priority shower line.  There was still a decent wait, but we had seats under a canopy and towels were provided too.

Back at the tent Kevin and Tom had rolled in and Jorge was there too - he had finished only a few minutes behind me.  We had a dinner and another beer, before turning in for an early night.

I slept as poorly as ever due to nerves, unfamiliar surroundings and an air mattress that deflated within about an hour of use.  The lights came on at 5 as always and I was ready to get up.  Breakfast comprised packaged kolaches and surprisingly good coffee and I took full advantage of the latter.  I packed my gear, cleaned up my bike and got ready for my day.

David checked in - he had decided to modify the route a little and had hit an unexpected dead end, so was running late and suggested we meet at a rest stop.

The line for the start was already pretty long when I joined but again that's par for the course.  It was probably an hour before I got going and when I did it was damn chilly in the shade.  I saw Kevin stopped by the road side and pulled up just past him to see if he needed help.  In fact he had lost touch with Tom and was waiting for him.  A little further on I passed Tom, who had actually got ahead of his partner.

I was riding the Challenge Route but the Parks were closed due to construction, so we got the big descent into Smithville and then were funneled onto Route 71 with the Fanny-pack set.  It was still moderately challenging, the same climbs but on smoother roads and more drawn-out.  We hit Bastrop for lunch but we were guided to the Middle School, rather than the High School where we'd had lunch every year previously.  I got my lunch and texted David, who was close behind.  Unfortunately in the crowd we failed to make contact, and he started without me.

The final afternoon of the ride is always a chore, not a great distance but boring roads and fatigue really starts to set in.  About halfway through when I was seriously dragging a paceline blew past so I jumped on to see if I had anything left in the tank.  It seemed I did, I hung on for a few miles, and felt a lot better about the ride.

phew, made it
We passed the Austin City Limits sign, always a boost, but there's still plenty of ride left, with several pretty good climbs before the end.  On one descent I was blowing and going just as a cop decided to wave some cars through.  I nearly locked up my back wheel and gave him a reproachful look as I passed.  All that was forgotten as I cruised the last few hundred yards and made the turn onto the home straight.  I took the opportunity to exchange high fives with the crowd on the finish lane and crossed the line, feeling relieved more than elated.

I dropped off my bike and made my way to the St.Arnold's tent which was absolutely packed.  I got my bag and a beer and headed off to the VIP shower truck.  I ad to check in with a cop of some variety and tried to disguise the beer in my hand as I did so but I don't think he cared.

After showering I thought about going back to the tent but didn't fancy the crush and went straight to the bus back to Houston instead.  But I should have stayed a little longer to wish Kevin Bon Voyage for his forthcoming cycle epic.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's Showtime, Folks!

Yesterday was my last long ride before the MS150.  The Mules had outings planned, but Kevin got in touch looking for a ride with more climbs, and I suggested the Sealy route.  I put the word out, and Brent came forward too.  He was looking for a slower ride than the usual 45 mile gallop around Zube - I assured him that we were looking for an MS-paced ride, 17-18mph all the way.  Jorge couldn't make it but Kevin was planning to bring Tom, an old BP buddy who is also his usual MS150 riding partner.  Kevin offered to drive, but when he arrived at my place he was alone - Tom had opted to attend his kid's track meet instead.

We set out for Sealy, with The Raphael Gadot Trio's new CD, Hypnosis, playing.  The bass player in the trio is a co-worker and I thought that Kevin, also a bassist, might appreciate his work.  We talked about his upcoming trip to Marfa, and all of his back-up plans.  What once seemed like a crazy-ass, mid-life crisis dream now looks like a tough but doable ride.

Once at Sealy we hooked up with Brent, saddled up and headed out.  There was already a strong wind out of the south that promised to make the run home down Route 36 pretty tough, but it gave us some Lance Armstrong moments on the north legs (as in cruising at 20+mph without breaking a sweat).

Birds galore today, including at least four scissor-tailed flycatchers (one flew right in front of us, giving a great view of his plumage), an eagle and plenty of vultures.  As we got into the ride, Brent began struggling with the climbs and I wondered how he would handle the hilly section at mile 35.

We reached Bernardo and took a break.  For once the Feed Store was open (I usually do the ride on Sundays and it's closed) and we went in for water.  Kevin has rigged up a triathlete-style dual bottle rack behind his saddle and it had worked loose, so we made some running repairs.

The run from Bernardo to Cat Spring is through very pretty countryside and we enjoyed the wildflowers and views, before getting down to the serious part of the ride.  First though a stop at the Cat Spring Country Store, another locality that I've never seen open.  By now the wind was really blowing and gusting.

Off into the hills.  We dropped Brent pretty quickly but under the circumstances it had to be every man for himself.  We slowed back a couple of times to keep him in view but otherwise hit the descents and ascents pretty hard.  Half-way up the toughest climb, I tried to shift chain rings but my drive train locked up, forcing me to drop into my granny ring before I needed it.  Kevin surged past and I couldn't catch him.  One more tough climb and then we were through.  Brent appeared pretty quickly and we regrouped, ready for the last push down 36.

When we reached the turn for 36 I was surprised to see that the road construction started two years ago was still not complete.  A second carriageway had been built but was not in use, so were were forced onto a fairly narrow shoulder.  Kevin told Brent that he and I would take turns at the front, aiming for a 17-18mph pace.  Unfortunately, when I took the lead it was all I could do to hold it to 15mph, into a 20+mph head wind with strong gusts.  When the pace dropped Kevin went past but he was too strong and I called him back.  On my next turn at the front I led the group onto the unfinished carriageway, and we had a smooth surface all to ourselves.  Brent dropped back but with the wind so strong we couldn't wait for him and forged ahead.

Kevin dropped me just outside the city limits but I wasn't far behind when we pulled up at the cars.  I was pretty drained but Kevin felt OK, a good omen for his big ride.  Brent was a few minutes back - he'd lost sight of us and had stopped to check the route (and maybe get his breath back).  I think he enjoyed the ride.

Back home to watch the trees swaying in the wind and a good nap.  Next ride - LaGrange and then Austin!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lone Wolf

hard to see I know but trust me
The Mules and Direct Energy guys were all planning to ride the Gran Fondo today but I didn't fancy it (boring route, too many riders), so I talked Jorge into a longer Zube run instead.

Sadly, once again he had a late night (we were both at The Raphael Gadot Trio gig at Ovations, but I left early) and bailed on me.  So I loaded up the car and headed out, giving myself the luxury of a late-ish start.

There were a few riders getting ready at Zube but no-one I knew, so I was a lone wolf.  That's never a good idea when cycling the back country but in this area on a Sunday traffic is always light and drivers are always very careful around bikers.

I got into my stride quite quickly and began to enjoy the ride.  Boys being boys, there's always a little competitiveness when we ride, even though we're all friends, and someone will be pushing the pace.  As a Lone Wolf I didn't need to be chasing anyone, although of course I wasn't stretching myself either.  I'd brought my camera with me and planned to stop and photo any interesting birds, something else that doesn't happen in group rides.

As I made the turn onto FM1736 at about the furthest north point on the ride, I saw a big group of riders going through ahead of me, almost certainly the Gran Fondo.  They were the last riders I saw on this normally busy route until the Exxon.  A blast from the past as I made the turn on Laneview - two dogs appeared, barking furiously, right where Sean of the Dog earned his nickname.  Fortunately they were slow on the draw and I was out of their range quickly.

Rolling down Laneview I spotted two scissor-tailed flycatchers on a telegraph pole and immediately hit the brakes for a photo stop.  I was able to get quite close but the pics didn't turn out very well - the best is on this post.

Just a short run to the Exxon for a break.  No other riders were there when I arrived, although someone showed up shortly after me and we exchanged greetings.  I ran drainage and imbibition cycles (a little petroleum engineering humour for you) and got back on the bike.

The next stretch was an extension of the normal route.  Instead of turning on Business 290 I stayed on FM362 for a mile or two, before turning west and then looping back into Hempstead.  I was beginning to feel the wind a bit and was glad to get a boost on the north run into town.

Just the usual run home left, with a quartering wind that wasn't really having much affect on me.  I was glad to see the Waller water tower, which meant about 6 miles to run.  With the Hockley traffic  lights in view, I stood up on the pedals to get some blood flow back into my perineum, and when I sat down I had a flat rear tire!  I pulled over, looking for a flat area on the shoulder, but it was all grass, so no choice but to get after it where I was.  Rear wheel tube changes are harder but I got it done reasonably quickly.  My crack pipe CO2 adapter worked like a charm, what a great purchase that was.

With a reinflated rear I was able to knock out the remaining few miles quite comfortably.  Back home for lunch, then I took the bike to Bicycle World and Fitness for an MS inspection, new brake cables and pedals and new bar tape (how did that happen?).

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bluebonnet Local

Last Sunday was the Bluebonnet Express ride, a very popular event that covers a lot of familiar terrain in Waller County.  Jorge was riding too so once again we car-pooled.  He likes to live it up a little on Saturday nights so I suggested he pick me up at 7.00, which also gave me a bit more time to get ready.

By the time we reached the Waller exit on 290 there was already a long line of cars.  We finally parked up with about 10 minutes to spare before the start.  I had already registered for the ride and Paddy had picked up my t-shirt and bib, so I went to find him while Jorge registered.

There was a good group of Mules at the Stable, all geared up and raring to go.  I told Paddy not to wait for us, as we were planning different routes anyway - Paddy was going to ride the full distance, 75 miles, I was planning 55, already a step up from my usual training runs.  I met up with Jorge back at the car and we saddled up.  Most of the riders had already gone and we rolled through the start without any delay.

It was a beautiful morning, with wildflowers a-plenty, and Jorge and I were in fine spirits as we cruised down the blacktop.  We spent the first half-hour passing everyone in sight before reality and a strong cross-wind set in.  But we felt strong enough to pass the first rest stop, which was already 13 miles into the ride.

We eventually turned north and into the wind, on the rolling route from Monaville to Hempstead.  We shared the lead quite well, and then got passed by a group of four riders.  Jorge jumped on their wheel and we kicked up the pace a bit.  The group included one man and three women, all riding very strongly.  I held back for a few rotations but then, feeling guilty, offered to take a pull.  Pretty soon I found myself at the front, just as we reached a downhill/uphill section.  Not surprisingly the group split apart (it's very hard to stay together when climbing) and Jorge and I were on our own once more.

The road took us past the Waller County fairgrounds and then we made the left onto Business 290 and into Hempstead.  There were a few sharpish rollers to negotiate before we reached the next rest stop in the outlet mall.  It was surprisingly quiet for such a big ride, I hardly had to wait for the porta-potty at all.  We had a good break - Jorge was feeling it a bit - and then set out on very familiar roads.

We made the turn on Laneview and basically rode our usual Zube route in reverse.  The wildflowers were spectacular along here, some of the riders actually stopped to take photos.  After a few miles we turned north and off the Zube route.  I was staring to get sore and tired and I think Jorge was too.  Some of the roads were very rough, which didn't help.

Eventually we turned south and passed the last rest stop, giving us 11 miles to go.  We had a few more climbs but nothing serious and pretty soon we were back at the start.  We cruised by the Mules Stable but no-one was in yet (they were all doing the longer routes!), so we went back to the car, changed and then drove back to the Stable.  Still nobody home, so we got food (pretty good chopped bbq sandwich) and went back to the Stable.  Riders started to come in, led by Ryan and Taylor, and before long we had a full complement, drinking beers and swapping war stories.

Back home, and another beer and a nap hit the spot.

Monday, March 19, 2012

climb like a Colombian

Two rides were on offer this weekend - an organised ride out of Magnolia on Saturday, and a Mules outing to Chappell Hill on Sunday. I was leaning towards the Magnolia ride, as it would be a chance to ride further than the usual 45 mile Zube loop, and I knew that Chappell Hill would be tough, with lots of climbs. But the weather looked dicey and Jorge wanted to ride on Sunday (so that he could party on Friday night). In the end I chose Chappell Hill, but I regretted it several times during the ride when I was in my granny gear going into a strong wind.

Jorge offered to drive to the start and duly picked me up at 6.15am. It turned out that while he hadn't been drinking the night before, he'd stayed up until 2am with his friends and was rolling on three hours of sleep. Chappell Hill is a small town a bit west of where we usually ride. We overshot the turn-off on 290 but arrived at 7.15 for the 7.30 start - but no sign of Paddy. I called him on his cell, only to have him tell me that we weren't starting until 8am (despite an email earlier in the week that specified 7.30) When he finally arrived he also parked up at a different spot to what he'd said in his email, leading to more confusion and opportunities for verbal abuse.

still smiling
We finally assembled for the start and I could see that I'd be the tail gunner today, with Greg, Shawn, Barry and Paul all looking very strong. The route runs more or less north-south and there was a strong wind out of the south, meaning an easier ride out and a tough one home. Once we were on the road it was clear that there were no easy options - we got into some climbs almost from the get-go. The wildflowers are already looking good, particularly the bluebonnets, but there weren't many opportunities to admire them, as we were either flying downhill or grinding up. Everyone looked strong and I was definitely falling back on the climbs, but was able to catch up on the downhills. We regrouped about 15 miles out for a photo-op. I took the pics and got everyone smiling by making a rude comment about Shawn's luxuriant mutton chop whiskers. A few more climbs and we turned into Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park, the halfway point on this route. This site is known as the Birthplace of Texas because the Declaration of Independence was signed here in 1836. After a good break we saddled up, stopping briefly for another photo-op in front of a bluebonnet patch. 

Once out on the road we quickly felt the wind. No more coasting on the downhills, I had to pedal hard to get enough gear so that I could climb the other side. I was trying to get as far into the big ring as I could on the descents and then shifting straight onto my middle chain wheel once the hill began to bite. The group split pretty quickly, but Greg was good enough to hang back to give directions to us slowcoaches. At one point I was in a group with Jorge, Phil and Tina and we worked together well, but I found a bit more strength on one of the climbs, and when I looked back I saw I'd dropped the others. I didn't want to be antisocial but I knew that I had to ride at my own pace if I was going to make it to the end. Eventually I stopped at the top of a climb and waited for the others. Paddy was also behind so it was good to regroup. We set out once more with nine miles to run. Phil, Tina and Greg set the pace and soon dropped us. I dropped Jorge and Paddy on a climb and didn't see them again, despite getting pretty tired. By now I was moving onto the granny ring on the bigger climbs and was actually in my bottom gear a couple of times. Finally the Chappell Hill water tower appeared, but there was still some climbing left in the ride, and I struggled through the downtown area fully expecting to get passed by the various dog walkers and Sunday strollers on the sidewalk.

 Back at the cars, the speed gang had changed out of their cycling gear and were indulging in the usual post-ride banter. I pulled up and asked if anyone fancied doing it all again - Barry was up for it but wanted to change his shirt first. Paddy and Jorge rolled up a few minutes later. We cracked open some beers (not Paddy, he still has 30 lbs to lose) and christened our new Mules coozies, courtesy of Le Patron.

So Jorge the Colombian got a chance to show off his climbing chops (Colombia has lots of mountains)!  He did well until he started getting cramps.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Little Mexican Truck that could

This is the story of the Little Mexican Truck that could. The Little Mexican Truck didn't start life that way. It was born sometime in the last century as a shiny new Novara Randonneur touring bike. The Man Who Bought It (we'll call him Kevin because that's his name) loved the Truck and took it out for long rides every weekday and sometimes at weekends too. Together they cruised the highways and byways of Central Texas. Kevin loved to ride up hills (even though there aren't many in Central Texas) and he and the Truck would fly up the climbs, with Kevin's feet just a blur.

Time went by, and the Little Mexican Truck and Kevin both got older. The Truck started to have some rust here and there (it's a very humid climate and Kevin tended to sweat a lot) and the shininess faded. Kevin still loved the Truck though, perhaps all the more because some unkind friends on newer bikes (we'll call one of them Andy because that's the bastard's name) laughed at it. And then one day, Kevin came to Andy's house to pick him up for a ride and very kindly lifted Andy's bike onto his bike rack, next to the Truck. What a surprise for Kevin! Andy's bike wasn't made of good honest steel like the Truck, it was carbon fibre and weighed a lot less. The Truck was a bit embarrassed to be riding next to a bike supermodel, but it wasn't the Truck's fault that Kevin chose to put a 20lb carrier, full of goodness knows what, on it whenever he rode. Lifting Andy's bike made Kevin very thoughtful.

One morning Kevin looked at the Little Mexican Truck and realized that it was in poor condition, so he did something very kind. He took the Truck to the Bike Shop and they worked very hard on it, removing as much rust as they dared and spray painting the bare metal with grey primer paint. Kevin was very pleased with the Truck and took it to a ride with some of Andy's friends. Unfortunately one of Andy's friends was very unkind (we'll call him Kevin too, because coincidentally that's his name) and as a joke told everyone that Kevin's bike looked like a Mexican Truck - and the Little Mexican Truck that could was christened. 

Kevin (the Truck's owner, not the other shit-head) kept riding the Truck as often as he could, but he knew that sooner or later he would have to replace it and that made him sad, because carbon bikes are very expensive. That made the Little Mexican Truck sad too because it knew that no-one on Craig's List would look twice at it. But then - Kevin had a mid-life crisis! For years he and the Truck had gone on the two-day party which is the Houston-Austin MS150. In the early years they practically flew the 180 miles between the cities, more recently they had slowed down a bit, but the same thing happened every year when they reached Austin. Kevin would stand at the finish line (sometimes with Andy, sometimes alone) and say that one of these years he would just keep riding when he hit Austin, and ride clean out of the state. Sanity had always prevailed in the past, but this year Kevin was determined to do the whole 894 mile ride to El Paso, and he was going to take the Little Mexican Truck with him. The Truck was very excited to hear this, but also a little nervous. It didn't know if Kevin had it in him to ride unsupported all that way. It also wasn't sure that it could go that far any more, but after all, it is the Little Mexican Truck that could.

Will Kevin give in to his mid-life crisis? Will the Truck make it to El Paso? Will Kevin ditch it in a dark alley outside a bodega in Juarez (it is a Mexican Truck after all), fly home to Houston and buy a carbon-fibre rocket ship? I'll tell you in April after the ride.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mules Galore

Very good turn-out last Sunday at Zube - Paddy, David, Doug, Roy, Jorge, Richard, Debbie and me. A cold and windy start but we toughed it out pretty well. The wind was out of the north so the first 20 miles or so were a struggle, but what bliss when we turned south! We were cruising along at 26 mph without really trying, so Paddy decided to kick it up a notch and with a bit of effort we hit 30 mph.
We regrouped at the gas station and headed home along Business 290 with the still-fierce wind on our rear quarter. David and Paddy were looking very strong and the rest of us were happy to let them go ahead at Waller. We rotated the lead pretty well for the last few miles. The final turn on Roberts took us due north into a now-screaming head wind and I took point, feeling strong. With barely a quarter of a mile to run I put the hammer down and finished in style, with Doug right on my tail. We celebrated around the Mules trailer with beer and bullshit.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A bad start to the day

For another rider probably also on his/her way to the Waller County Fairgrounds for this year's Pedaling the Prairie ride. I saw some wreckage scattered across the freeway that looked suspiciously like bike parts - and then a little further on, a Porsche Cayenne pulled over in the left hand shoulder, with an empty bike rack. Another good reason to transport your bike inside rather than outside your vehicle. It was a beautiful, sunny morning, but cold (for Southeast Texas) and windy. Paddy, Marian, Paul, Tom and Gunilla were at the start when I finally got there. Jorge showed up soon after. The initial plan was to ride the 55 mile route, but Jorge had a mandatory bike safety clinic that afternoon and decided to ride the 45 mile routs instead, with some other friends. I was experiencing the "borrowed bike" syndrome because I'd had a custom fitting session with Tad Hughes the day before. He'd raised my saddle considerably, as well as rotating the handlebars, in order to create room for my freakishly long torso. He had also changed out the insoles in my shoes and recommended cinching the straps down a lot tighter. All this was meant to eliminate post-ride back pain, and in-ride foot pain - we'll see how well it works. When we finally got going, the first 10 miles were downwind, so we formed a peloton and blew past the fanny-pack set. The fun was soon over, as we turned west with a strong cross-wind. I was feeling pretty strong and so was Paddy, but the others were struggling in the wind (not Paul, he'd gone ahead with the shaved-leg set and was probably half-way round the 71 mile route). Paddy and I agreed to share the lead but we had to ease the pace frequently to avoid dropping the others. We got to the 19 mile break point and stopped to regroup. 55 miles was going to be a challenge for Marian and Tom, especially if we had to go into the wind for any distance, so we decided to modify the route, with the option to add miles if everyone was up for it.
Before too long we were heading due north on a very bumpy road. Paddy and I were sharing the pulling duties quite well but it was pretty tough for the other two. But everyone got their second wind when we turned west onto a nice smooth road for a mile or two. Another long pull into the wind and it was clear that the additional mileage option was not on the cards, so we finished out with about 40 miles under our belts. We regrouped at the Mules trailer for beers and post-ride bullshit. The ride was benefiting the Faith West Academy and with hindsight I'm glad I didn't wear the evolution t-shirt that Mary-Claire got me for Xmas a few years ago.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"The North Wind doth blow..

..and we shall have snow, and what will poor Robin do then, poor thing?" The north wind was blowing hard this morning, but it didn't bring snow, and nor did it bring rain as was forecast, so I stirred my stumps and set out for a mid-morning ride. Given the amount of rain that fell yesterday, and the fact that I was riding in a reservoir, I probably should not have been too surprised to see flooding just inside George Bush park. I turned around and headed north for Cullen Park, planning to ride the second half of the four parks loop. The trail between Cullen and Bear Creek parks was under water in a few places but I forged ahead. Paterson road, on the south side of Bear Creek, is very prone to flooding and was closed, so I had to cut through the farm and ranch club. Once into Bear Creek proper, there was plenty of trash on the road from streams that had flooded over, and then the gate by Golbow was closed. I lifted the bike over the fence and hopped across after it, thinking that I hadn't anticipated a cyclo-cross route today. More flooding on Golbow had me turning around again and heading north for Clay. That section has been under construction and they forgot the shoulder, so I found myself in traffic on a 50mph speed limit road. Fortunately it was quiet. Back into Bear Creek, then Eldridge (a blast running due south!) and home. It was actually a very enjoyable, if low-key, outing.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

wetter than an otter's pocket

The charmingly idiomatic phrase I chose as title for this post apparently has unfortunate connotations. I encourage you to consult Prof. Google for illumination, unless you've led a less sheltered life than me and started giggling when you first saw it. Carol Kirkwood, a BBC weather presenter, thought it was harmless too, and used it on air after getting a tweet from an evil-minded prankster. Anyway, rude or not it was an accurate description of the Houston area weather today, and will be tomorrow too. I planned to ride at Zube tomorrow but Paddy has already bailed, so I think I'll sleep in and hit the gym later.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The wind cannot read (but it can grind you down)

"The Wind cannot read" was a 1958 movie starring Dirk Bogarde, about a british officer who falls in love with a japanese woman. This was "Love that was forbidden - but cannot be denied". I think I saw it once but can't remember any of it. Anyway, wind was very much the order of the day today in Northwest Harris County, literate or not. We also saw the return of the prodigal, in the form of Mike Hogan, one-time Mule and category 5 racer, who got transferred back to the UK a while ago but was visiting Houston for business reasons. Another prodigal managed to get out of bed - Jorge, who had to leave a party (Colombian band in a Colombian restaurant) early so that he could make the ride today.

It was in the mid-40s at the start so I was wearing leg and arm warmers with my Mules jersey.  This was a good choice, I was comfortable all the way round, if a bit chilled in the shade.  A big group was in attendance including a couple of new faces.  It was good to see Mike again - he looks in great shape (he's built like a racing snake anyway) and had been riding a lot around Preston in the North of the UK where he lives now.

We split into two groups pretty much from the start, with Adam leading a slower group including Marian and Heather.  They started in front of the rest of us but we soon caught them.  I was tempted to drop in with them but decided to man up and see how long I could stay with the Big Dogs.

The pace was pretty hot, with Mike doing the initial work, looking comfortable on a borrowed bike.  I was there or thereabouts but not exactly cruising.  Jorge was the same or perhaps a little worse.  At the 15 mile mark he had dropped back with Paddy, so I joined them at the back, glad to slow the pace a little.  Mike held back too and the four of us formed an autobus.  We turned into the wind and I took point for a while, feeling pretty strong.  Mike and Paddy took over and ramped up the pace quite a bit.  I was OK but Jorge was not, so as there were only a few miles to the break I sent them ahead and dropped back.

We regrouped at the Exxon.  Adam's group had taken a shorter route and were in ahead of us.  Paddy wanted to ride as a group to Waller, then split into speed groups.

The wind always bites pretty hard on the first section and today was no exception.  I was able to stay near the front of the group most of the way to Waller but when the Speedsters put the hammer down I had no response and watched them pedal off into the distance.  The other groups were far behind so I had to grind it out on my own, head down and teeth gritted into the wind.  I felt pretty strong and kept a good pace all the way back, arriving at Zube a few minutes ahead of the other group.  Poor Jorge had also dropped off the back of the fast group, but had been caught and subsequently dropped by the second pack.  He rolled in a few minutes later, looking tired, but glad he'd come out with the gang.

We sat around drinking beer and wine and exchanging the usual banter.  In my t-shirt I was actually colder sitting with the group than when I was riding!  Back home in my nice warm car to enjoy the beautiful (if windy) weather.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Frostbike Windy 50

Last Sunday was the Frostbike 50 ride, a charity event out of Cy-Fair that supports the local high school's drill team. The weather forecast looked decent enough and Jorge was in, so we planned to try the 55 mile route. Our plans changed a bit! Jorge was supposed to pick me up at 6.40am, but messaged me at 6.15am to say that he'd been out until 3am and wasn't going to make it. Oh well, off on my own then. Paddy had already arrived when I got to the start and was setting up the stable. I picked up my new, hot pink and black shirt and got organised. The temperature was still pretty comfortable, skies were overcast and the wind was already whistling. The Mules gathered and moved to the start, but I got separated from the pack and found myself beside Kathy, a friend of the Mules who was demo'ing a very nice Trek Madone. The Marshals started the riders in waves, so Kathy and I got pushed further back. We talked about catching the Mules but immediately hit a concrete headwind and decided to take it easy instead. Quite a long run into the wind before we turned around and found ourselves cruising along at 21 mph without breaking a sweat. It's fun but you always pay for it. Kathy was good company, though, and we had fun chatting about Life, the Universe and Everything. But we were smart enough to opt for 45 miles rather than 55, given the powerful breeze. We turned onto a familiar route from the Zube run and I got a flat in my rear tire. With Kathy's help I changed out the tube pretty quickly, even using a CO2 bottle to reinflate. This was about the halfway mark and just about where we turned south, into the wind once more. The first few miles were OK, with lots of zig-zags to get some rest, but when we hit a long straight, Kathy ran out of gas and I nearly dropped her. She caught up and we rode in together, with me taking point all the way. We finally got back to the start and pulled up at the stable, by now full of Mules drinking beer, eating pizza and sharing a few laughs. I grabbed a slice of pepperoni and a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (ambrosia and nectar!) and joined in the badinage. I hung around long enough to help Paddy strike camp, then headed home for lunch, more beer and a good long nap.

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