|Pusser's rum or single malt?|
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.