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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 26, 2013

Let's make Boxing Day an official US holiday!

so that Kevin and I will have quiet roads for our ride.  After last Saturday's ride we agreed to ride again the day after Christmas, Boxing Day to us Brits, back to work day here though.  Susan wants to   petition the White House to make Boxing Day a holiday but she needs 20,000 signatures to even get it considered.

With the view that a change is as good as a rest, I mapped out a ride in the Katy/Fulshear area that is actually a combination of two separate routes I've used before.  It's 44 miles all the way round and probably has an elevation change of less than 50 feet (hey, we're on the prairie, what did you expect?), but also has two sections where there is a reasonable expectation of seeing some birds.

Create Maps or search from 80 million at MapMyRide
Kevin rolled up at my place a little late, on a misty, overcast and cool morning and we headed out down I-10.  Another advantage of this route - barely 15 minutes to the start from chez moi.  I faced the usual wardrobe problem - how much gear to wear - and decided to go minimalist (ie, as if I were riding in July), thinking that it would warm up a bit.

The first and last thirds of this ride are essentially the same as the very first team training ride I did, back in 2002.  I was on a hybrid bike wearing flat shoes and baggy track suit bottoms and boy was I a newbie.  In those days the ride passed two sets of traffic lights and there was very little traffic.  How times have changed - I'm now a full-on blingster and there are housing developments practically everywhere and more traffic lights than you could shake a stick at.  I'd suspected that there would be some traffic but had hoped that it would be light on Boxing Day - boy was I wrong, we were surrounded by cars and trucks all the way round.  Fortunately we had a wide shoulder too.

About two miles west of Fulshear we turned onto a country road and had a few miles of peace.  I was hoping for some bird sightings but was disappointed, except for the now obligatory caracara - once rare, now hardly worth a second look.

Back on to busy roads and a downwind run into Fulshear where we took a pit stop.  Then a short run along a busy road before turning onto quiet country roads again.  There are a couple of 90 degree bends on this section and we were running with the wind, so we approached one of them pretty fast and I wondered how Kevin would take it.  In the end he got round OK with some minor midcourse corrections and a cuss-word or two.

A long run due south on a smooth road in pleasant surroundings with no traffic to speak off - this is the life!   Sadly it came to an end with a turn east, but that took us to the next bird-friendly section, through open fields where I've seen geese and cranes in the past.  Not today, it was barren except for a few killdeer and cardinals.

That took us back onto busy roads and the long slog into the wind and home.  Kevin pulled almost all the way but I took a couple of short turns  just to keep my man-card current.  Plenty of traffic in both directions but we were safe enough on the shoulder.

Back at the car, we had gone 44.4 miles with a rolling average above 16mph - pretty good under the circumstances.  We're getting there.

Monday, December 23, 2013

"Climb ev'ry mountain, ford ev'ry stream..

.. run from ev'ry dog-gie"  can't think of a good last line but you get the idea.  Our ride around Sealy yesterday had all that and more.  Kevin picked me up on a cold, blowy morning, with roads wet from the front that came through on Friday but with no precipitation in the forecast.

The ride was initially uneventful, with me fighting to stay with Kevin every time we turned north into the breeze.  We made the turn onto Kulow and I was surprised to see that the Confederate flag normally fluttering  bravely over a farm building on the corner was not there.  Instead we got chased by a small puppy with big ideas - presumably "the bigger they are, the harder they fall" - which spooked Kevin a bit.  He's still gun-shy from last weekend and is a bit skittish in the turns anyway.

A little further on we reached the spot where the road dips and crosses a small stream.  The road is usually dry but there had been enough rain for the creek to rise and put a good 6 inches of fast-moving water across it.  I didn't fancy riding through so I picked up my bike and forded in cyclocross style, getting both shoes full of water in the process.  Kevin rode across but didn't get away with dry feet either.

Kevin's caracara
Back at it and we reached the section where we often see birds - scissor-tailed flycatchers for me, various hawks including caracaras for Kevin.  No flycatchers today but a pair of caracaras were roosting on a telegraph pole and one of them hung around long enough for me to get a good shot.

We got to the usual stop at the feed store in San Bernardo but it was closed.  I took the opportunity to wring a little water out of my socks.  Under overcast sky it was pretty chilly but my feet actually didn't feel too bad.  While we were refuelling Kevin spotted a flight of large, long-necked birds that could only be sandhill cranes.  They were flying north, we were heading west but would turn north in due course, would we get a better look at them?

Into the back country and another canine assault from an unexpected area.  A loopy-looking weimaraner came galloping out through a fence but was clearly only looking for a run and gave up the chase at the end of his territory.  We were more concerned about "Dog Alley", a property a few miles ahead where we've had run-ins with far more bloody-minded mutts on several occasions.

In fact it was anti-climactic when we got there.  We pre-loaded our sprint, zipping by at 22mph, but the hell-hounds were not to be seen.  We reached the turn for Cat Spring and a few miles dead into the wind.  Kevin took point as always and I tried to hang on, predictably falling back on the climbs.

Just outside of town we saw the sandhills again, on a small stock pond.  We pulled over but couldn't get close enough for a good shot without spooking them.

Through Cat Spring and to the Crossroads Tavern, another regular watering hole that was also closed.  Kevin needed to pump ship and I could have managed one too but we couldn't find a discrete spot to do so.  I was running low on water but Kevin, just like a good domestique, had a spare bottle of water for me.

On to the "climb ev'ry mountain" section, with the wind actually helping for once.  Kevin was incredibly strong on the climbs, tearing ahead of me in his big ring but being good enough to wait on the flats.  I was managing OK by dropping from the big ring to the middle ring (I have a triple), but there's one section that needs the granny ring and I was worried about throwing my chain, as I did in the Park during the MS150 this year.  Sure enough, I went for the granny and locked up the drive train.  I just got my foot out of the cleat before falling over and had to flip the bike over to free the chain, which was jammed in between the frame and crank.

Kevin came back to see what was up and we started out again together.  I had enough in my legs to get up the climb from a standing start in the granny ring but didn't risk going back to it for the rest of the ride.  Got to get that fixed!

We finished out the hilly section comfortably enough and made the turn onto route 36, for a blissful seven mile downwind run on a smooth surface with a wide shoulder.  We hit 28 mph on one small descent without really trying.  A good way to finish a tough, cold and eventful ride.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A tale of two rides

Saturday morning found Kevin and I on the road out to Zube, just for a change.  As we often do, we chatted about music on the way and once again I was amazed by the depth of his knowledge.  The conditions reminded me of a particularly foggy ride a few years back that I'd blogged as "Fog on the Brazos", a sideways version of "Fog on the Tyne", a 1975 single release from Newcastle folk-rockers Lindisfarne.  When I asked Kevin if he knew the band, of course he did and noted that founder member Ray Jackson had gone on to play the mandolin solo on "Maggie May", in my opinion quite possibly the worst piece of music ever released (the song, not the solo).

This jolly banter got us to Zube where the Mules were already set up - Paddy, Gene and two newbies.  They were actually waiting for Crawford (who didn't show) and Patty, who pulled up in her mini wearing her helmet and shoes!

Paddy was looking for an express ride as he had the Mules party at his place that evening and needed to get home.  I would have preferred a longer, more sedate run but it didn't work out that way.  We headed out on Betka and then hit Mathis, a new-ish route for me that kept us off Business 290 but sadly exposed us to a canine threat.  A particularly stupid black mutt squeezed under a barbed-wire fence and onto a relatively busy road just to take a closer look at Kevin, who shouted himself hoarse trying to shake the damn thing off.
The express route had us turning left instead of right on FM362 and Kevin and I should have split from the group right there, but we didn't and found ourselves screaming downwind on a pretty busy road for several miles - fun but a little hair-raising.  We got split up and regrouped at the Shell station in Waller (home of the County Line BBQ, yum!), but while I was inside answering a call of nature Paddy, Patty and Gene took off leaving Kevin and I to fend for ourselves.

We talked about options to add some miles but they weren't that appealing, especially with the wind picking up and veering north, so we decided to head back to Zube and add bonus miles if we felt like it at the end.

At the last turn before the park Kevin suggested we go straight instead and see where it took us - but we could see a largish dog standing in the middle of the road, so with Kevin still hoarse from hist last canine encounter we turned due north.

Poor choice - it took all I had in the tank to keep the speedometer in two digits!  Kevin pulled ahead but it was tough on him too.  We got to a natural break two miles down and turned for home, pulling at 20 mph all the way.

I didn't go to the party but met up with the Mules again on Sunday at the Jingle Bell Ride, a fun cruise around River Oaks after dark, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the impressive holiday lights.  You're encouraged to dress up your bike and yourself too, so this year I went as Willie Robertson, the impressively hirsute CEO of Duck Commander and main cast member on "Duck Dynasty".  MC helped me put camo duct tape on the bike and I mounted a duck decoy somewhat precariously on my handlebars.  A gang of the Mules wore reindeer suits to escort Steve who was in a full Santa outfit.  We were all looking sharp.  A bit chilly but lots of fun.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Popsicle toes

to name just one extremity chilled during my ride on Saturday.  With the forecast showing a high of 37 F, the Mules cancelled both weekend rides, and Kevin bailed on me (admittedly a reasonable excuse - he was expecting a record crowd at that night's Unitunes show), so it was a lone, frozen wolf who set out that morning.  There was a soccer tournament at Zube (they must have been really cold, poor kids) and we'd been asked to consider parking elsewhere, so I went past the Zube exit and pulled into the Hockley Community centre lot (site of last week's impromptu soap-box derby).  The Northwest Cyclery group had also relocated for the day, but the cold had reduced their numbers from 50-plus to about a half dozen.

I had brought all my cold weather gear with the exception of my balaclava, which Susan won't let me wear anyway (apparently it makes me look like a bicycle-mounted terrorist), and with the car showing 31 F I decided to wear the lot, including booties.  I took off at a good pace to try and get warmed up, but it wasn't until 20 minutes into the ride that I began to feel a little warm.

A stiffish breeze out of the north didn't help matters.  Every turn north saw my speed drop to 14 mph or so, and my effort ratcheted up just to keep that pace.  The good thing about riding on your own is that no-one is pushing you to go faster than you want.  Of course, that's also the bad thing about a solo ride.  With Kevin, I would have been fighting to keep it at 17 or 18 into the wind, on my own I could take it a little easier but I didn't get the same workout.

The roads were very quiet, and several times I found myself really enjoying the ride - cooking along pretty comfortably listening to the swish of the tires on the road.  But I was glad to reach the north limit of the ride and turn around.

What a difference - running with the wind found me cruising at 20+mph without a lot of effort, the wind was clearly stronger than I thought.  I got to the gas station feeling pretty good, having hydrated enough to feel the call of nature, so to speak.  I bought a bottle of water from the young woman at the register - she asked me if I wasn't a little cold?  Freezing, I replied.

Back at it, with one glorious downwind section pulling at 25 before making the turn east.  Didn't seem to take too long to get back to the car.  Parking at Hockley shortened the route to 36 miles which I managed at an average speed of 15.4mph, pretty good under the circumstances.  But it was quite a while before I felt warm again.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A wee dram to keep out the cold

Pusser's rum or single malt?
It's the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I have to go back to work on Sunday after being on vacation for a week, and I still haven't gone out on the bike.  Kevin is out of town so it's time to Mule up.  I duly head out to Zube on a very crisp (43 degree) morning.

It's been so long since I drove out on 290 that most of the construction work is complete and there are visibly more shops and businesses that have sprung up as Houston sprawls inexorably north-west.  How long before our quiet country roads are lined with housing?

No sign of Paddy or any other Mules when I arrive, but a good group slowly gathers - Tay the donut King,Captain Andy,  Paul the Flying Dutchman, Flo and Catherine.  It's looking like a pretty speedy group.  Paddy rolls up and starts passing round a shiny hip flask that he claims contains Pusser's rum.  He encourages me to take a sip and against my better judgment I try it.  This immediately reminds me why I don't drink spirits, although I have to say it tastes more like whisky to me.

With the temperature still in the low 40's but the promise of a warm up in the forecast, we're an oddly dressed group.  Tay looks like he's going out for a summer morning ride, with bare arms and legs and short gloves.  Paddy has several layers going, including a vest.  I'm in leg and arm warmers but short gloves, everyone else is somewhere in between.

Off we roll, ahead of the Northwest Cyclery mob.  They start at 8 am in speed groups and we generally get passed by the 20+mph lot after 10-15 miles.  It's been so long since I was out with the Mules that they have changed the route, and we head south fairly quickly to avoid Business 290.  The pace is variable and a bit hot for me, but I manage to stay with the group for the first 20 miles.  At that point the speedsters decide to stretch out for the four miles to the gas station and we split.  Even the slow group is too fast, running over 20mph, admittedly with a favourable wind.

At the gas station (in the company of at least 50 Northwest riders) Paddy wanted to lengthen the ride, ostensibly to give us some shelter from the wind, which was picking up and dead in our faces.  Once again I succumbed to peer pressure and agreed to the extension.  I did ok for the first 5 mules or so but started to lag.  The group was pretty strung out anyway due to the vicious head wind and it started to look like every Mule for him/herself. Paddy was way back, as were Tay and Gene.  Catherine dropped back to join me and we regrouped and tried to form a paceline.  We made better progress in a group and I felt fairly comfortable.

With only a few miles to run we passed the Hockley Recreational Center as usual - but then Paddy turned into the car park and headed for the Soap-box derby track!  We've always joked about riding the bikes down it, so now we did!  I had my camera so I went down first, then got some shots of the gang as they came down after me (they're on Facebook, take a look).  Great fun but much smaller than some of the descents on the MS150.

Back at Zube, and Flo and Catherine give Paddy a birthday gift - it's a calendar with cheesecake shots of female cyclists, all apparently pro's and all Swiss!  A fun ending to a fun outing.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

An unlikely ear-worm

Robin Trower in full flight in 1975
Kevin and I are still building a base before increasing the mileage, and he had band practise at 11 today, so we opted for the four-park loop staring from chez moi.  This also allowed a slightly later start, never a bad thing.  I was actually doing warm-up loops on Kimberley when he arrived, instead of scrambling to get my gear together.

Great minds think alike (and fools seldom differ, as my Mum always added) - Kevin suggested riding the route in reverse, and that had occurred to me already.  Riding out on Eldridge and back on Memorial would eliminate a couple of left turns on busy roads, always a good idea, so off we went.

We hadn't discussed pace but settled on around 18mph, with the occasional burst at 20+.  Kevin was looking as strong as ever and he dropped me a few times.  He had already warned me that I was in for a torrid time due to his latest earworm, a few favourite tracks by Robin Trower that I didn't know.  Later on I had a listen to one of them, "Bridge of Sighs", and enjoyed it but found it an odd choice, with a fairly slow tempo.  Anyway, he seemed to be rocking along pretty well with it in his head.

We got through George Bush and decided to finish out the ride through Terry Hershey park, instead of running down Memorial in Saturday mid-morning traffic.  Kevin used to run in the park back when he was first in Houston (30-odd years ago!) and wanted to see how much it had changed.  He also remembered trapping armadillos and other critters in a friend's back yard and wanted to see if the house was still there (it was).  Foot and bike traffic slowed the pace quite a bit but I was glad to ease off, I think he was too.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Biking for Little Heroes

good to see Paddy again
Three line whip for the Mules today at the Bike for Little Heroes event.  This charity donates bikes to the children of wounded veterans and Paddy Le Patron is on the Board, so we all try to attend.  Today we had 36 Mules riding, a new record for the team.

It was also Kevin's first organized ride since his latest wreck, so with no 40-ish mile option we decided to take it easy and do 36.  He picked me up with Jens already on board.  Jens is a new employee at the Mothership who wants to get into cycling.  He bought himself a nice new entry-level Novara and is enough of a newbie not to realize it came with a carbon front fork!  Jorge was also in but decided to drive himself as he wanted to get an early departure for a trip to Ren Fest.

Great to see a big group of Mules at the start, including Paddy (back from Singapore) and Mike (back from Blighty), plus many more that I either didn't know or hadn't seen in ages.  Lots of back-slapping and camaraderie, it's a great group.

Off we went in a big group.  Fairly quickly we separated with Kevin, Jorge, Jens and me going at a slightly more sedate pace.  Jens was definitely enjoying himself but he's clearly a natural athlete and decided to push ahead leaving the three of us trying to hold 17-18 mph.  Kevin was full of beans, showing no after-effects of his fall and leading from the front as always.

We took a break at the second stop.  As usual on these smaller rides there were no lines for the portapotties, that will change as the season gets going.  We hooked up with Chris, Greg and Jens but weren't going to stay with them for long.  Jorge was looking very comfortable and really enjoying the ride, which was nice to see - apparently Irina kicked him out of bed and then went back to sleep!

I struggled a bit during the run back but the guys held up for me, which was kind.  Kevin was really feeling strong and wanted to push ahead, so I told him to tear it up and tried to hang on.  I held on for a bit but he dropped me and the others too.  We regrouped for the final run in and crossed the finish line in the Three Musketeers formation.

Back at the Mules stable for a beer and a hot dog.  Then one of the organizers showed up and asked if we could help with bike fitting, so Kevin and Kelly did some adjusting for three of the Little Heroes.  Nice to give something back.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Here we go again!

It's October so it's time to get back in the saddle!  My customary Fall chest infection passed fairly quickly this year (last year I lost the whole Fall) and I'm more or less back to normal, just a bit of residual chest tightness and of course my signature cough.

Kevin the super domestique isn't doing as well, sadly - he went down hard a few weeks back and fractured his hip!  He's made a good recovery and should be rolling again next week.

Too bad he missed yesterday's ride, the Kiwanis Sealy Fall Classic, he would have enjoyed it.  Great weather, some new roads, lots of Mules out and pie at every rest stop.  I rolled up at Sealy about 15 minutes before the start but had no problem parking, one of the many advantages of these smaller rides (I think they had about 200 participants).  A brief chat with the gang (and an opportunity to meet several new Mules), a semi-serious attempt by Adam to recruit me for his company's MS150 team (apparently I raised more in 2013 than the entire team) and we were off.

Lee's plan was for the group to stay together at 16-17mph until the second rest stop at 22 miles and then split into pace groups.  Sounded great but of course we're pretty soon cruising along above 20 mph, in part thanks to a tail wind.  Familiar roads for me but not for most of the others, and they enjoyed the smooth surface and pleasant country scenery.

I was able to hing with the group as far as Bernardo, where we turned south into terra incognita for me, but with a head wind I struggled to stay in touch.  Lee was good enough to drop back and keep me company and we had a good chat too.

I was ready for that rest stop when it arrived!  Very nice setting, in a country churchyard on a beautiful morning.  Another benefit of a small group - four portapotties, no waiting - that never happens.  Refreshments included several varieties of pie, and for the volunteers a discrete bar in the back of a pick-up, where bloody marys were on offer - my kind of charitable organization for sure.

We were joined by some friends from the Team In Training group and set out once more en masse.  After a few miles we were back on the route that Kevin and I follow.  I was flagging again but this time one of the Team In Training guys dropped back.  The others were rapidly disappearing in the distance so it was good to have company, particularly when two dogs appeared from the same area that we've seen them in the past.  They looked harmless and friendly enough but turned out to be evil and gave us a good chase.  I nearly hit both of them but managed to stay upright.

We got to the turn for Cat Spring but on this route we go straight ahead, avoiding the Alpe de Sealy section of song and story.  I was very happy to see the final rest stop!  Surprisingly the Mules had stopped too, which was very good of them.  They set out first while I was still watering, then my riding buddy decided to chase them, leaving me to bring up the rear on my own (which was fine, I know the route home).

The last ten miles were tough.  There was a head wind that didn't help but really I was just about exhausted.  I felt drained with about  5 miles to run but remembered I had another gel in my pocket, so for the first time ever I ate it while riding (and I didn't mess with Texas!).  Not sure that it helped, but I found a bit more energy when I got on to the road into Sealy.

Back at the start and a big gang of Mules drinking beer.  There was food on offer so I got a plate (excellent home-made food - sausage, brisket, meatballs!) and a dixie cup of Weedwhacker and sat down with the gang for the debrief.  Considering how little I've been riding, I did OK but still felt pretty bad.  Oh well, it can only get better.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Labour Day loop

Finally, after a long gap, due mostly to circumstances beyond my control (but also in part due to indolence and the heat), I schedule a Labour Day ride with Kevin and he duly shows up at my house on a very muggy morning  for the Four Park loop.  He has been taking it easy too, just a few 30 mile loops in his neighbourhood, but you wouldn't know it from the spanking pace he sets down Memorial.  I'm trying to maintain a high cadence and Kevin clocks met at 93 rpm, pretty respectable for an old, out-of-condition crock.

We get to the Dam and turn in off Route 6, with a pack of other riders around us.  I take point in the vain hope of dialling the pace back a bit and it works for a while, but soon enough Kevin pulls ahead and gets cranking again.   We're both glad to get into George Bush, where the trees provide shade and some relief from the building heat.

Once out of Gorge Bush we have a mile or two on the road and he has to slow down because he's not sure of the route, thank goodness.  The run up Barker-Cypress, normally a very busy road, is blissfully quiet and we easily make our left turn.  I'm thinking about a recent fatality in Memorial Park, when a cyclist apparently swung left for a turn, right into the path of an unsuspecting motorist who threw him 40 feet to his death.

We make it into Cullen and take a welcome blow.  I also switch out water bottles - in addition to a high cadence I'm trying to keep well hydrated and I've put away twice as much as I would normally.  At this point I wipe the sweat out of my eyes - and dislodge my contact lens.  Try as I might I can't get it back in place and have to complete the ride half-blind (but able to drive - honest, I can pass the eye test on my crap right eye!)

Off into the shady section and I take off my shades to give me a fighting chance of seeing the road and Kevin.  We make it through to Bear Creek and the shades go back on.

I starting to flag now and Kevin pulls ahead.  We get to Eldridge and the three mile pull back into town, which is into a decent headwind today as well.  Eldridge is a pretty busy, fast four-lane but it has a wide shoulder so it's normally fine, or it was until TxDoT decided to cut rumble strips...  These are pretty deadly on a road bike, so we had to run inside them with the road kill and trash.  Kevin set a good pace and I glued myself onto his back wheel.

The left turn onto Dairy-Ashford is quiet too, but Kevin is blown after the pull down Eldridge so we wait for a light and take it easy for the rest of the ride.  I'm pretty tired and over-heated but it went better than I thought.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

It's the most wonderful time of the year

Our tomatoes are turning red, the A/C is on full-time, school's out and the last Mules ride comprehensively kicked my butt.  It's officially too hot to ride 40+ miles at 18 mph and I'm putting my Mules jerseys away for the summer.

Yesterday Kevin and I drove out to Zube for a new-format Mules ride - shorter, slower and a later start.  To accommodate the less athletically gifted in the team, the Mules Committee (yes, we have one now) recently decided to offer an easier ride on Saturday, with a range of more challenging routes for the Sunday crowd.  Our plan was to start with the group but to break away and ride the standard 45 mile loop at the appropriate point.  Great idea in theory but Mules will be Mules.

No Mules in sight when we arrived but then a rider we didn't know came up and introduced himself - Nic, a friend of Paul's (and therefore a friend of the Mules), who spotted my Mules shirt.  In due course Sean, Meggin, Lee and BJ and David and Alison materialised and we had a quorum.

The initial plan was to ride the standard route in reverse, with one group turning back at Prairie View, leaving  the option to complete the ride for those with more energy.  Average speed to be 14-16mph for the first group and presumably a bit faster for the second.

We set off, trying to hold the speed down, but pretty quickly we split into two and agreed to leave it like that.  So there I was in a group pushing 20mph, surrounded by faster riders - a recipe for disaster but what can you do?

I was able to keep up pretty much all the way to the Exxon, but the hilly section along Wyatt Chapel road took a lot out of me.  The wind was picking up ominously too, straight from the Gulf and straight into our faces on the way home.

At the break we agreed to cut the ride a little short, 38 miles instead of 45, fine by me after the heroics on the way out (average speed 18.5mph).  Kevin started a paceline and settled in at a steady 18mph with me at number 2, clinging on.  I was OK while we ran due east but when we turned south into the wind I couldn't hold on and dropped back.  Kevin went into domestique mode and came back for me.  We managed 14-15mph but I was feeling pretty bad.  The others pulled ahead but they were fighting it too.

Onto Business 290 for the final few miles and we caught the fast group, presumably they had dialed it back for us, although Sean later told me that he was bonking badly.  We rolled back into Zube and I was damn glad to stop and take off my shoes.

The slow group drew up shortly after us and we had a good post-ride banter session before heading home.  I felt pretty lousy and have to accept that it's too hot and I'm too out of shape for these rides now.  Have fun and be safe, everyone.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

You don't need a Weatherman

how old is he in this shot? know which way the wind blows sang Bob Dylan, and we didn't need a weatherman in Houston last Friday to tell us it was raining.  A front blew through bringing an inch or more of rain, golf-ball sized hail and all the rest.  We hunkered down but Paddy and Crawford had planned a ride and went ahead regardless, getting in just before the worst hit.

Saturday had the potential for more of the same, making our ride planning a bit more tricky.  Kevin
wanted to ride the Sealy route, Lee was in and Larry a possible, but we agreed to look at the weather first thing and decide.  This meant that I would get up at 6 with a very good chance of just going back to bed, not my ideal Saturday but I wanted to get a ride in this weekend if possible.

Came the morning and I crawled out of bed to check my new smartphone for messages from Kevin and the weather forecast.  Kevin was good to go but it was a toss-up between Sealy or Zube (where the front would arrive a little later).  The plan was to congregate at my house and take Kevin's car, presumably deciding on our destination by the time we hit I-10.

The sky was overcast but not very threatening and seemed to be clearing to the west, so we opted for Sealy.      We were not to be joined by Mr.Larry Knox today - he had already cried off, expecting bad weather.  How wrong he was, and how much ammunition for verbal abuse did he provide in the process?

We arrived at Sealy and geared up under a perfect, crisp blue sky, just great weather for a ride.  There was a stiffish wind from the north that would make the outward leg a little difficult but would give us a "Golden God" moment on the stretch home.

One minor concern with all the rain was that one section that has a low creek crossing would be flooded.  When we arrived it was indeed under water (never seen that before!) but we had no problem getting through.  Lots of birds along the way including several scissor-tails (my fave bird ever!) and two large raptors on a power line that Kevin thought were caracaras.  My bird book suggests that he was right, great spot Bassman!

We took a break at the feed store and for once the staff and clientele were moderately friendly.  Normally we get the could shoulder but not this time.  Back at it, all feeling strong, still not a cloud in sight.  We encountered minor canine troubles along the next section but they weren't out for blood today.

I was doing my best to keep a high cadence and it seemed to help, particularly on the climbs, where I was able to at least pace Kevin.  Soon enough we were back on the road to Cat Spring, running straight into the wind, so we formed a paceline (with Kevin in the front as always).  We took a second water break at the usual spot just before the hilly section and then had at it.

For a while I kept in touch with Kevin by blowing past him on the descents and trying to work the climbs but soon enough he opened a commanding gap.  Lee kept with me, though.  The climbs that always kick my butt did it once again but I made it through reasonably well.    We regrouped at the junction with Route 36 and settled in for a fun cruise downwind on smooth asphalt.

I made a joke about expecting a pro-style lead-out train, and as we reached the outskirts of Sealy Lee obliged, pushing the pace to 26mph so that I could blow by and take the sprint finish.  Sadly though he was too strong and dropped me without realizing it with half a mile to go.

Back at the car (still under blazing sunshine!) we chatted for a while with a local who was very friendly and seemed pleased that we liked his city.  Then off home for beers.  You missed a great ride, Larry.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Go Beer!

lunch in Bellville.  Go Beer!
And so the time came for the Big Ride.  Saturday morning, way too early, saw me drop David off at the start to get Marshalling, then eat a good breakfast (steel-cut oats with pistachios, cranberries and maple syrup, thanks Honey) before Kevin arrived.  We saddled up and got going on a pretty cold morning (40-ish but clear).

The weather forecast was about the best you could hope for - a bit chilly but a tail wind under clear skies.  We began to feel the tail wind (and the steel-cut oats) pretty quickly, bowling along at 20+mph without any major effort.

We had joined the St. Arnold Brewery team again and were resplendent in our Pumpkinator jerseys, much admired by all.  The St. Arnold's group isn't really a conventional team - we don't know most of our team-mates - but we found out early on that they have a slogan - "Go Beer!" - that you shout whenever you pass another team-mate, and they reply in kind.

Although we were held up for a bit behind a nasty-looking wreck, we still got into Bellville for lunch very early and had a good break.  We hooked up with Tom, Kevin's long-time riding partner, who was riding with his 12 year-old son this time.  They had started from Waller and were feeling pretty good, but with some rough sections ahead they were expecting to sag at least once, so we decided to go ahead separately.

Sure enough, the next section - Industry to Fayetteville - was a butt-kicker, even under perfect conditions.  Either I hadn't trained enough or burned too much juice in the morning rush or both, but by the time we climbed Rek Hill I was blown.  The run through Fayetteville was a boost as always - the entire town comes out and cheers - but I was definitely running on empty.

I got an accidental break when Kevin and I got separated in traffic.  I was ahead but he didn't catch me and I was concerned he might have got into trouble, so I pulled over to wait.  Meanwhile he thought he was in front and had lost me - so he stopped too!  We both waited, then separately decided to ride to the next rest-stop.  I got there first and Kevin pulled up just behind me.

the domestique wanted M&M's, he got jelly-beans
The last ten miles were tough, with some good rollers and (for the first time that day) a head-wind.  I was very glad to make the final turn onto route 77 and run the last mile or so to the finish.  Great fun coming down the chute, high-fiving all the spectators, then we found the St.Arnold's volunteer, who gave us a beer and told us how to get to the team tent.

I was feeling pretty bad, tired and a little nauseous, so I found my gear, assembled my cot and sleeping pad and lay down for a while.  After about 20 minutes I was feeling well enough to get up, grab some snacks and another beer and sit with Kevin for a debrief.  We were in mid-bullshit when Taylor appeared - a former co-worker at BHP and Mule, she jumped ship a while ago and was volunteering for the team.

With the beers done it was shower time.  As a member of the 300 Club I get the use of an exclusive shower facility (hosted by the Texas Baptist Men, a disaster relief group), while poor Kevin had to wait in line with the peons.  I chatted with another club member during the very short wait - his wife also has MS and is in a wheelchair.  This disease sucks.

Back at the tent and another beer before dinner.  The cooks had done some boudin to keep our stomachs quiet and I scarfed down a couple of chunks - hot, greasy, spicy and absolutely delicious.   Kevin got back and then it was dinner time - brisket and smoked chicken tacos, wonderful post-ride food.  While we stood in line I got chatting with another rider and his wife and they turned out to be the most interesting couple.  We sat down with them to eat and had a lot of laughs.  Chris and Berky showed up and joined the fun for a while.

Dinner done, and we had enough energy to wander through the camp.  We watched the band for a while, then walked over to the Bluffs where I was finally able to get enough signal to phone Susan.  And so to bed...

My cot and sleeping pad were surprisingly comfortable, and paired with Susan's super-duper silicon earplugs (wonder why she buys them?  Maybe the birds and squirrels are very loud during her afternoon nap) they allowed me to sleep pretty well, if fitfully.  I woke up before the 5am alarm, but not much.

wriggle, wriggle, wriggle
St. Arnold's supplies a breakfast of kolaches, pigs-in-a-blanket and coffee, but we decided to treat ourselves to the pancakes cooked by volunteers for everyone.  Fantastic but as usual my eyes were bigger than my belly.  Time to get into the cycling gear and strike camp.  Getting dressed was a little interesting, as there were no "modesty pods" available, so we had to squirm into our bike shorts inside our sleeping bags, as Kevin demonstrates in the pic.

Dressed, packed, bags on the truck, tires pumped up and time to get in line for the start.  Fortunately it was at least 10 degrees warmer than yesterday morning and we were both comfortable without any extra gear.  It took nearly an hour but we finally got rolling on another beautiful morning.

The route was pretty familiar - we start with a long descent and a series of shortish, sharpish climbs, one of which has the famous bagpiper (in full highland rig!) serenading us.  The next section is mostly flat but pretty soon we got into serious rollers and then came - the Big Hill!  The long, steep descent near Smithville is a feature of the ride and I was waiting to see how Kevin would fare on his sexy new Roubaix.  I got a good start but ran into some traffic and had to hit the brakes a little.  I topped out at 37mph and zipped past Kevin near the base of the hill.

A long run out and then into the Parks, for me the biggest physical challenge of the event.  I was going ok but then managed to throw my chain by shifting too dramatically and had to stop and fix it.  This of course happened halfway up a stiff climb and I had a hard time getting going.  I plugged away, enjoying the new road surface, but gun-shy of my granny gear due to the chain-throw.  This meant that I had to grind out a few  sections, out of the saddle, grunting through every pedal stroke.  I managed to get to the top without stopping every time but the extra exertion wore me down.

Into Bastrop State Park and I couldn't believe how much damage had been done by the wildfires.  The route looked completely different, like a moonscape, not the lush woodland I remembered.  I know that fires are part of the cycle for pine forests but I doubt it will look the same again while I'm still doing the ride.

I hooked up with Kevin (the master climber had dropped me like a bad habit, and the chain throw hadn't helped) and we ground out the last climb before starting the gentle run into Bastrop for lunch.  I wasn't ready for food but I was certainly in need of a break.  We got in touch with Tom, who had also just arrived (he started early with the Club 300 and took the shorter lunch express route) and strategized the last 30 miles into Austin, always a bit anti-climactic, for me anyway.

Thanks to my buddy Kevin Chang for this great shot
Tom and John had been rolling along at 12mph (10mph on climbs) and stopping at every break point.  This sounded great to me - I was blown, my foot hurt and my shoulders were aching - and Kevin wanted to ride as a group, so off we went.  I took the lead and tried to keep the pace down, but was surprised to see that when I crept up to 14-15mph, John hung in right behind me.  What's more, he rode the downhills very strongly, and climbed like a champ, passing me on a couple of hills.

On one stretch we passed this eccentric (Kevin Chang got this shot at the finish).  That might be the oddest thing I've ever seen on a bike.  Didn't look very safe I have to say.

Soon enough we reached Austin and found ourselves on the final run down to the finish.  We put John in the lead but I rode on his shoulder.  All his family were there to cheer him in, a great sight.  I rode down the chute near the crowd, high-fiving all the way (the best part of the ride for me), then it was through the finish line and done, thank goodness.

We gathered for one last hand-shake, then Kevin and I got beers and a box lunch at the tent, and I headed off for the VIP showers.  A good long soak later, I jumped onto a bus to Houston.  The trip took forever due to heavy traffic and construction and I didn't get in until 8pm.  James collected me and I arrived to a hero's welcome and a fabulous curry dinner.  That's number 10 done, and I passed $100,000 lifetime fundraising in the process.  Time to think about number 11 - or maybe hang up my cleats?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The best laid plans...

Last weekend before the big ride, and both Kevin and I wanted to get some miles in, but he was playing with both his bands at the Wirt Road UU Church music fest and needed to be back in town by noon.  So the plan: an early start at Zube, the standard 45 mile loop and if there was time and inclination a few bonus miles at the end.

Came the morning (way too early), Kevin rolled up at 6.15 and off we went.  I usually take it upon myself to provide an "ear-worm" - a catchy piece of music that sticks in your ear during the ride, and today's choice was Jethro Tull's flute-heavy version of Bouree (on their Stand Up album).   Courtesy of Wikipedia I now know that this piece was written by Bach as Bouree in E minor for Lute, and a bouree is a french dance.  Anyway, Kevin was pleased with the choice - turns out he's a Tull fan, having seen them live twice in the 70's.

Sadly we got to listen to most of the album, because 290 was closed for construction at Bauer, about two exits before Zube, and we found ourselves on the access road going nowhere fast.  We finally got to Zube at about 7.00am, about 5 minutes before Paddy pulled up with the Mules trailer.  A quick hand-shake and then we were off, on a beautiful, if cool morning.

Kevin was clearly feeling his oats and pushed the pace early on.  With the benefit of my GPS I could see just  how fast we were going and was able to rein him back to 18 mph, already a hot average for me.

An uneventful run out to the gas station, although the NWCC fast group caught us at about mile 20, and the gas station got very busy with bikes while we refuelled.

Back at it and Kevin was charging again.  Rule number one for a domestique - don't drop the team leader!  We were at Waller in no time, and I took Kevin onto the Old Houston Highway, a two-lane blacktop that runs parallel to Business 290 but has almost no traffic.  He took to it like a duck to water, despite the strong headwind we were now feeling, and set a steady 18mph pace.  I velcro'ed myself to his back wheel and was amazed at how quickly we got back to Hockley.

Despite the late start we were back in very good time.  Kevin was up for more but I was blown and cried off.  Against all odds we got lucky with traffic on the way home and were back by 11.30.

I enjoyed a nap after lunch and then Susan and I drove out to watch the first set - the Western Sky trio with Kevin on bass and backing vocals -great fun and a pleasant reminder that Houston isn't all suburbs, SUV's and strip malls.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Watch the birdie

Two weekends left before the MS150, so I needed some miles, but once again didn't fancy either of the organised rides this weekend.  Kevin was tied up with his band and unavailable, so it was another lone wolf ride for young Andrew.

I just got a new camera (Nikon Coolpix via Woot) and wanted to try and get some shots of the birds I see every ride, usually as we whiz by in a pace line.  Riding solo meant that I could stop and snap away if I felt like it.

Off to Zube then, on a clear morning with the wind off the Gulf already picking up.  As I was getting ready, a woman pulled up and introduced herself as a fellow mule (I was in the natty pink and black shirt).  Carol (for it was she) invited me to ride with her and some friends, so off we went.

I pretty quickly worked out that this gang was going faster than I planned!  Fortunately they weren't riding the standard route, giving me an excuse to pull off and drop the pace back to a more comfortable level.  I was also able to stop under a bridge and take a few shots of swallow nests (every bridge out here is lined with them).

Back at it with a good wind pushing me along.  I made good time but didn't see too much of an avian nature until I turned on Field Store, where two scissor-tailed flycatchers were just taking off from a fence line as I passed.  I would have stopped but I was cooking along with a tail wind and they were outta there anyway.

The turnaround point arrived too soon and I was grinding away, trying to keep the pace up into the teeth of the wind.  The run down Laneview always has something to see and today was no exception.  This chap was a perfect excuse for a breather.

A bit further on, I was treated to a spectacular display of no fewer than 5 scissor-tailed flycatchers, apparently in a mating ritual or courtship display.  Amazing to see, impossible to capture on film.  They eventually settled down together on a power line.  Gorgeous birds.

That moment of excitement lasted until the gas station where I made the usual stop for water and to strain the spuds.  Off again, this time full into the wind for a few miles down 359 until the turn west that takes you back to Hempstead (this was the 50 mile route).  I was rolling along with the cross wind and saw another rider going east who looked familiar.  I realised it was Tom, Kevin's friend and MS riding partner, with his son.  We stopped and chatted for a bit, both surprised at the coincidence.  Tom had planned to ride the Gran Fondo (today's big ride) but the traffic getting in had been too bad so he made up his own route.

Back at it and I made the turn north into Hempstead.  Lots of fun here, with a good tail wind and a smooth road.  Once in turn I turned east and rode through the unlovely main drag of the Waller County seat.  The east side of town has a couple of decent rollers to keep you busy, before settling into the slog along Business 290.

I jumped across the rail road and onto the Old Houston Highway, a two-lane blacktop that runs parallel to Business 290 but has much less traffic.  The wind was blowing hard but across me and the tree cover knocked it down a bit.

Just after Prairie View I spotted Tom and John on Business 290 and joined them.  They had parked in Waller and were heading in, so I rode with them for the last few miles they had.  Tom is a great guy, I really enjoyed chatting with him.

On my own again for the final stretch and I opened up a bit.  Back in Hockley I saw these fine fellows and couldn't resist a shot.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

March Madness

Kevin and the gang did the Chappell Hill ride yesterday and it was a butt-kicker - a hilly course with a strong wind on the way in.  Sadly for me (or perhaps not ...) my bike was in the shop for some preventive maintenance so I had to pass.

I planned to take a gentle run around Terry Hershey and George Bush this morning, with a view to a longer ride with Kevin on Sunday.  I didn't set my alarm, expecting to sleep in until a reasonable time.  When I woke up it was still dark but I felt pretty good so got dressed and got going.  It was only after I'd started the coffee and turned on the radio that I saw it was only 5.45!  Hence the seasonal madness...

I took the lights off my commuter, put them on the newly-maintained, freshly bar-taped, new-chained Madone and set off down Memorial.  The donut shop was baking, a very enticing odour but their coffee isn't up to much.  By the time I hit the Dam the sun was more or less up and we were off to the races.

A fair amount of traffic (bicycle and runner) on the trail but everyone knows the drill and keeps to the right when you pass.  I had a good run all the way to Highland Knolls, under grey skies with the occasional splash of rain.

On the way back I kept pace with another rider, a young woman who was cooking along pretty well.  At a convenient point I moved ahead and cranked it up for the last half-mile of George Bush.  She hung with me and we exchanged smiles when I eased back and she passed.

The day was marred a little by a very rude rider on a 29-er mountain bike.  He blew past me while I was waiting for some other riders to come through a gate, then after I passed him (calling out "on your left" very loudly) he went by without a word.  Very rude, very dangerous, very obnoxious.

I finished the ride on Terry Hershey rather than back down Memorial, basically to take it easy and wind down a bit.  Wildflowers are out in full force!

Monday, March 18, 2013

I bet this never happens to Lord Grantham

what my domestique did on his day off
I didn't get a chance to catch up with Kevin or Lee last week to sort out some weekend riding, so I was at a loss when Saturday rolled around.  The Mules were doing a recommended ride in Magnolia, basically halfway to Dallas, but that didn't appeal.  The Tour de Houston was on Sunday but I didn't fancy that either - crap roads, boring route.  In the end I stayed in bed on Saturday and dragged my aged carcass to Zube on Sunday morning.

I rolled up at 8.30 or so, no sign of the Mules trailer but Sean's truck (complete with "running sucks" sticker) was there.  He of course was long gone.  I got all dolled up, turned on the Garmin and hit the road, straight into the teeth of a screaming wind from the south.

I didn't have to fight it for long though, the route is mostly north and I flew along in fine style, with of course a sense of impending doom - before too long I'd be coming back, probably one entire chain ring slower.

Not many wildflowers to be seen, sadly - a little early in the year but we've had so little rain, I suspect they won't get much better.  Halfway down Laneview, normally wildflower paradise in the spring, I got "chased" by perhaps the crappest dog I've ever seen on a bike.  He looked like a collie/chihuahua cross, with a normal-sized torso suspended on teeny-tiny little legs.  He barked at me and gave chase - but from the other side of the road, clearly he was not allowed to cross.  I yelled at him half-heartedly and put on a bit of a spurt but we were both going through the motions.

After the usual gas station break I put my best pedal forward and prepared for the upwind slog.  It was a grind but in the end not that bad, clearly all the saddle time is having a beneficial effect.  I got back with an average speed of just under 16mph, really not bad under the circumstances.

I later learned from Kevin that he had spent the day helping right over-turned canoes in the Buffalo Bayou regatta.  Once a domestique, always a domestique, even on his day off.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Golden Gods

I am a Golden God!
A mostly-new route for Kevin and me last week.  We had just done Sealy and didn't fancy Zube (there was an organized ride, too many fanny-packs blocking the road), so I fired up Map My Ride and looked for a route out of Pattison that would avoid the busy roads.

My previous attempt at modifying an existing route did not go well (see last week's blog entry!) and I later realized that Map My Ride had us going cross-country for about 1/2 a mile.  Can't really blame it for the crap, dog-infested road though.  This time I hedged my bets by sticking mainly to farm-to-market roads - more traffic but also better surfaces.  It looked like we could go north on 359 almost to Hempstead, and then come south on 362.  I loaded up the Garmin and off we went.

I have taken to bringing some music with me for the car, in the hope of planting a new ear-worm for the ride.  Last week was Pink Floyd's first (and best!) offering, Piper at the Gates of Dawn - didn't go down so well as it happens.  This week I brought Kevin Ayers' last album, The Unfairground, partly because it's good but mostly because Kevin, one of the founder members of Soft Machine, died recently at 68.  It worked for me, I had one of the tunes in my head all morning.

One drawback of rides out of Pattison is that we park up at the high school and there is nowhere for a legal pee.  We saddled up (chilly morning, lots of gear) and headed out, expecting to take a bio-break fairly quickly.  A few miles in we spotted a mini-market and decided the time was right to pump ship.  Sadly they had no public rest-rooms and we were faced with riding further on full bladders or taking a discrete wild wee.  I marched over to a small thicket which offered just a little cover, and with some misgivings Kevin joined me.

Back on the road and we had barely gone a mile before a State Trooper went by.  We waved, glad that he hadn't finished his donut a little earlier and driven by when we were in flagrante so to speak.

359 was busy, with a lot of heavy traffic, but there was a good surface and a wide shoulder.  The bigger problem was the wind, straight down our throats and blowing half a gale.  We agreed to share the workload and I suggested quite short pulls before rotating.  This worked OK but as usual we got split up on all the climbs.  We caught up with another group of 3 riders and I tried to get them to share the load but they weren't very forthcoming and Kevin wasn't keen on drafting behind total strangers.

A bit more slog and then the turn east appeared on the Garmin.  We made it and then stopped for a mid-ride breather, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  Back at it and we turned south  - and the fun began.  With a smooth surface and a hellacious tailwind we were blowing and going, 20+mph without feeling a thing.  At one point Kevin made a crack about being a "Golden God" - a quote from the movie "Almost Famous".  For those who haven't seen it, the scene in question occurs when the aspiring guitar hero Russell trips on acid, climbs onto the roof of a house and shouts "I am a Golden God" before leaping into the swimming pool.  We were Golden Gods but on nothing stronger than cycling-induced endorphins.

We got into some rollers and I had the temerity to challenge Kevin on a couple.  I did OK but eventually discretion became the better part of valour and I resumed the normal, "wait for me at the top" position.  By this time it was pretty clear that we were off the planned route, but we were going south and it seemed likely that we would hit 362 sooner or later.

And indeed we did, just north of the intersection with 529, a section that is on the MS route (although Kevin didn't recognise it).  The last time I rode here it was during the last, ill-fated Cheeseburger Classic, when I crashed and burned.  No risk of that today, with a tailwind and a strong pair of legs.  A little further and we were back at the start, 44 miles at an average of 17.9mph - pretty good under the conditions.  I think we're Almost Ready, if not Almost Famous.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

You wait all week for a domestique...

Larry, Curly and Moe
.. and three come at the same time!  At least, that's how it felt last Saturday, not sure my fellow riders would agree.  Kevin came down with the flu and missed last weekend.  Being Kevin he decided that he wanted to challenge himself this weekend, just to see how well he'd recovered.  Most riders would ease their way back into it after being sick, but not the super-domestique!  He asked me to look at extending our Sealy route (already challenging enough for me), and pointed out that this would be a great application for my Garmin - so how could I resist?  A quick session with Map My Ride and I saw that we could head north just after starting the Alpe De Sealy section, do a 7 mile loop up to Bellville and rejoin the standard route a little further on.  This appealed to Kevin so we were set.

The forecast called for low 40's at the start rising to mid-50's by the finish.  A few days before the ride, Kevin and I exchanged emails on the all-important topic of what to wear - too much gear and you overheat, not enough and it's brass monkey time.  This provoked much sniggering by my spouse who thought we were like a couple of teen-age girls planning for a party - "What are you wearing?"  "My new pink sweater"  "Awesome!"

Came the day and we were joined by Lee and Larry.  Lee is of course a stalwart Mule and well-known to followers of this blog.  Larry is an old friend of Kevin's and a highly experienced rider, having been a racer when younger, and since then he's taken on just about every famous climb in Europe and the US.  He's also the only member of this particular peloton who actually looks like a cyclist, being very slender and having gobs of bling.

Of we went on a gloriously sunny but admittedly chilly morning.  The wind was out of the north and freshening, which meant a hard pull on the way out but a fun cruise home, at least in theory.  Kevin led out as always and looked very strong.  We managed to keep the pace at a manageable 17-18mph and I felt pretty good.  We took a quick break in Bernardo and I got a bottle of water at the feed store, then promptly dumped out half of it while bending over to pick up the cap I had just dropped.  Smooth.

Back at it and we're cooking along in fine style.  I always enjoy the next section, it's very rural and scenic, with some small-ish climbs.  I was lagging on the slopes as usual and Larry offered some advice - sit as far back in the saddle as you can and gear down to keep your cadence up - and it seemed to help.  Pretty soon we were back on FM949, the main road between Bernardo and Cat Spring, and it always has some traffic, so it was single file and no chit-chat.  The last time Kevin and I rode this section, there was a rig drilling right by the highway.  Today the rig was gone but there was a small production facility and a flare stack with a decent flame going.  Clearly they found something.

Into Cat Spring and it was time for a decision - the new, longer route or the standard?  Kevin felt fine and so we decided to go for it.  We reached the new turn and Larry told us he had been down that road about ten years ago and he hoped they had resurfaced it since then.  Sadly they apparently had not, the surface rapidly became terrible, with big holes and one wash-boad section that damn nearly dumped me.  I apologized profusely but the guys laughed it off.

When we finally got to a better surface there were lots of trailers, and as always with trailers come dogs by the dozen.  Fortunately none of them were really evil, they were just looking for a run, but you never know.  For some reason they all chased Larry, the fastest, leanest rider - I would have been a much better lunch and far more easily picked off.

The Bellville water tower appeared and I looked for my turn-off but couldn't see it on the Garmin.  Larry was pretty confident he knew the route into town and he and Kevin pulled ahead.  Sure enough we soon found ourselves on the main drag, very familiar as it's on the MS150 route, but definitely not my plan.  We stopped at the Valero to (ahem) strain the spuds and regroup.

I frantically scrolled over the map on the Garmin, trying to redeem myself and get us back on the route.  Larry suggested that we start out on Route 36 and then head south.  Sure enough the GPS confirmed that we could do just that, so off we went.  36 is quite busy and we had wanted to stay off it for as long as possible but this seemed to be the only option.  I subsequently realized that Map My Ride had us going cross-country here!

We were picking up a tail-wind and made good pace on 36 until our turn-off, about a mile down.  This road was also suspiciously wide and well-paved, and sure enough it had a lot of traffic too.  We were fairly quickly back on the standard route, with the dreaded Alpe De Sealy section in front of us.  Kevin took off like a rocket and was pretty quickly out of sight.  Larry vanished too, but Lee and I stayed together.  I was working about as hard as I could on the climbs but nothing more than I expected.  But I was glad to get to the end and rejoin Kevin and Larry.

We made the turn onto 36, and with a tailwind and a very smooth surface we were soon flying along at 20+mph with no real effort.  After a few miles the three domestiques began to pull ahead but I was happy enough to let them go.  We made it in with an average speed of 16.8mph for a 56 mile ride - somewhat more than I expected, thanks very much Map My Ride - but it was a good ride in good company.  I was ready for my nap, though.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Look here old boy, that's just not cricket

American fans of Downton Abbey may be under the impression that the cricket match in yesterday's episode ended in a triumphant victory for the House over the Village.  In fact, the game was barely half-over when the credits rolled.

A brief synopsis - Lord Grantham won the toss and elected to bat first, showing considerably more cricket sense than financial.  Matthew and Tom duly marched out to open the batting.  We didn't see much of the House innings, although fairly early on Matthew padded up to one he should have blocked and was dispatched back to the Pavilion.  They seemed to have run up a reasonable total by the tea interval, bolstered considerably by some middle-order heroics from Mr.Barrow the formerly-closeted gay valet, the only real cricketer on display.  Any sensible skipper would have put him in much earlier, but this is Downton so of course he couldn't bat before the Quality or Mr.Carson.  Predictably, Mr.Moseley, who spent the entire episode blathering on about the beautiful game, waved his bat ineffectually at a straight one and lost his middle stump, but gained a Golden Duck for his mantelpiece (probably not the first one).

The House must have declared over the tea and scones because when play resumed (announced by an unseemly cry of "Time's up, Gentlemen", probably by one of the village pub landlords) the Village side went in to bat.  For some unknown reason their skipper sent Dr.Clarkson in to open, presumably forgetting that he's Scottish and therefore knows nothing about cricket.  This was confirmed when he faced his first delivery - a luscious, leg-side long-hop from Mr.Carson.  The good Doctor uncorked a classic cow-shot and holed-out to Tom Branson the former chauffeur at deepish mid-on.  Tom took a difficult, high, one-handed catch with considerable aplomb, given that he's supposed to be new to the game - obviously a ringer.  

At that point the House team gathered in the square to celebrate, as is customary when a wicket falls - and the episode ended!  You may think that the House had won, but the laws of cricket make it quite clear that the Village had another nine wickets in hand, more than enough to deliver the expected sound thrashing of the toffs.  Since Julian Fellowes decided to leave us all to speculate in the dark, perhaps Mr.Carson, stirred on by his early success, tore through the heart of the Village batting order with his slow-medium long-hops and half-volleys.  Maybe Mr.Barrow showed that he knows how to swing it both ways (doubtful), or Mr.Moseley redeemed himself with an evil googly.  Alfred the footman is certainly tall enough to bowl a maiden over, or perhaps two?  Or could it be that the Dowager  Countess and Isobel patch things up over a flagon of the Village side's scrumpy, then force a draw by doing a double streak, hand-in-hand right through the middle of the square?  We will probably never know.  Play up, play up and play the game.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Me, myself and I

After last week's big ride, Kevin and I were in the mood for something a little less organised, and we agreed to head out to Sealy if the weather looked OK.  Sadly, although the forecast was reasonable, Kevin succumbed to the bug that has taken down most of his team at work, so I had a choice between joining the Mules for an organised ride or going solo.  The ride in question had a late start (9.00am, whose idea was that?) and is notorious for poor logistics, so I opted for the self-guided tour.

It made sense to start from Zube, rather than go to Sealy, as I was a lone wolf.  There are always plenty of riders in the Hockley/Hempstead area, so in the unlikely event of a mechanical I couldn't fix, I could probably get help.  I treated myself to a lie-in and showed up at Zube at around 8.00, much later than usual. There was a big youth soccer tournament in progress so of course I couldn't park anywhere near the Pavilion.

Off I went on a grey, windy morning (the wind was out of the east, a very unusual direction for this part of the world).  The lack of sunlight made it easy to read my Garmin so of course I fell into the trap of looking at it to check speed and location (as if I could get lost on this route!) every ten seconds or so.

The wind made the run out very comfortable, and it wasn't too bad when I turned south for the Exxon.  I made the usual stop and was pleased to see that I was keeping hydrated (I'm sure you can guess how I worked that out).  I was wearing my Livestrong bib shorts and my Sierra Nevada Torpedo jersey - no need for uniform when you're riding by yourself.  The bib shorts are very comfortable but you have to take off your jersey to answer a call of nature - unless your jersey has a full-length zip, in which case only one arm needs to come out.  I was delighted by this discovery - may not sound like much to you but trust me it will change my cycling life.
Pileated woodpecker (thanks Wikipedia)

Back out by the bike and a local pulled up in a pick-up.  He nodded hi then looked at the sky and asked if it was going to rain.  I told him if it did he could please come and pick me up!

Off again, this time directly into the wind, which was getting stronger.  I was glad to make the first turn south, not least because two of these dudes flew in front of me and landed on a telegraph pole.  They won't find much to eat there.  I wonder if 
they were a mating pair, perhaps on a date?

The next few miles have some climbs, but not into the wind and I did ok.  I got to Prairie View A&M and then turned east once more and settled into a good, low position for the upwind pull.  There's a barbecue place called Brubaker's right by the school entrance and they were smoking up a storm, as always - wonderful smell of wood smoke.  One of these days I'll stop for a bite.

I made the turn south into Waller feeling pretty good.  Once through Waller I turned off Business 290 and onto a smaller road that runs parallel but across the railroad.  We don't normally ride this section because there are stops signs and dogs, but as a lone wolf it made sense to be out of the traffic.  This took me all the way back to Hockley and the last mile or so.  I was glad to turn north but was surprised to find I was actually feeling pretty strong, even managing a sprint down the home stretch.  Looks like I'm finally getting into shape.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chapeau, Monsieur Le Super-Domestique!

Moi et mon super-domestique
Euro cycling is littered with french and italian terms, and wannabes like me love to show off by dropping them into conversation.  Probably everyone's heard of the maillot jaune or yellow jersey, and peloton (literally "platoon"), the large group of riders that generally forms in a race.  Less well-known perhaps are soigneur, the team dogsbody who does the post-ride massages, arranges the food, applies band-aids to boo-boos and so-on, and grimpeur, a specialist climber who gets the team leader to the top.  A personal favourite of mine is un arret pipi, one of those moments when (out of camera view) the peloton agrees to stop and answer the call of nature.  But the term I found myself using recently was super-domestique in connection with my friend and riding buddy Kevin (pilot of the Mexican Truck of song and story).  A domestique (literally, servant) is the equivalent of one of those red-shirted Security grunts in a Star Trek Away Team.  His only role in life is to do whatever the team leader needs, so he'll get sent back to the team car for water and snacks, ordered to chase down a dangerous breakaway, or even surrender his bike if the leader has a mechanical and is losing time.  Most of the time they end up as the lanterne rouge or last man in and end up getting disqualified.  Each team has several of these willing servants, and the most trusted among them is the super-domestique.

domestique and in-ride photographer
Kevin, bless his cotton socks, has for the past several weeks driven out of his way (including a section of toll road!) to pick me up for rides, during which he drags me around the course (I stick to his rear wheel like you-know-what to a blanket).  He then drives me home, usually unloading my bike and gear for good measure.  He truly deserves the title of super-domestique and could even aspire to the heights of gregario, pretty much the team leader's BFF.

He showed these sterling qualities last weekend when we trekked out to North Harris County for the Clay Walker Band Against MS ride.  We rode 46 miles on a gorgeous morning around mostly familiar countryside and then enjoyed a pretty good post-ride lunch.  I realised how much I relied on him into the wind when he left me on a faux-plat (false flat or very gently sloping road) and I felt the full force.  I barely kept my speed in two digits.  Chapeau, mon ami!  (Chapeau or hat is how you say well done in cycling francais)

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