Please support my 2015 BP MS150 ride!

Please support my 2015 BP MS150 ride!
click on the pic to donate to Andy


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.

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