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.

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