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, December 30, 2014


I haven't seen the latest Disney blockbuster (due to my kids not being kids any more) but the chilly conditions for yesterday's ride certainly justified the theft of its title.

The Three Amigos (aka Whitey, White boy and the Grey Dwarf) had planned to get some bonus rides in over the Xmas/New Year break as we were all off work. Sadly it was not to be, mainly due to crappy weather last weekend, but we managed to get together on Monday morning for a blast around Zube. Kevin had to make an early morning airport run so we arranged to meet at the park at around 7.
When Lee picked me up it was pretty cold and foggy, and it only got worse on the way out west. There was also more traffic on the highways than we normally see, a reminder that not everyone was on holiday that morning. It was still dark when we arrived and the car park was completely empty, so we wisely decided to stay in the warm for a bit longer. Lee spotted Kevin's car going past the park and I wondered if he'd missed the turn in the dark and fog. It turned out that he'd popped into the bodega up the road to get water.

So there we were, freezing our butts off in a cold, damp car park - ah the romance of the road. There wasn't much discussion about how much gear to wear - basically if you had brought it, you wore it, including full finger gloves and over shoes. Lee had at least five layers on when we eventually got going.

One supposed advantage of riding in fog is that there can't be much wind or the fog would blow off. Apparently this natural law was in suspension in north west Harris county that morning as we seemed to have head winds in every direction. We took the Hegar road route that gets us 40+ miles but avoids the rumble strips, also likely to be the section with the most traffic that morning. About five miles in we cross a busy road, where unfortunately a big-rig driver had misjudged the turn and got the rear wheels of his trailer in the ditch. Ideally I would have hung around as it looked like the recovery would probably need a crane as well as my favourite road vehicle, the heavy wrecker, but it was cold and we were supposed to be riding.

We made pretty good time to the gas station, spurred on perhaps by a sudden drop in temperature over the last few miles! Lee was definitely feeling chilled and looking for cocoa or hot chocolate but sadly none was to be had. I took the opportunity to strip off my head warmer, now thoroughly soaked with sweat and dew, and after a bit of internal debate traded the full finger gloves for shortys. This was probably a good call, my fingers were bloody freezing for a while but eventually felt ok.

Back at it and the run to Prairie View where Kevin roared up the hills as usual. Lee's fig newtons had the desired effect, making him a lot stronger on the way home that he'd been on the way out. I started to flag and they had to rein it in for me several times. We managed a pretty strong pace down the home stretch, powered on by Kevin of course.

Kevin had to leave straight away (vet appointment for his diabetic puppy) but Lee and I had time to stop for coffee and hot chocolate on the way home. A good morning's work for your heroes!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Three united and it feels so gooooood

Kevin survived his boat trip (as well as a day excursion to Louisiana) and was back in the saddle with Lee and me yesterday. We met at my place as always, and as usual were in two (or even three) minds about our ride route. We're all a bit bored with Zube so it came down to a toss-up between Sealy (vicious climbs, shorter ride, tail wind at the end) or Pattison (some tough rollers, longer run, tail wind at the end). I expressed a strong preference for Pattison, and pointed out that after the rain on Friday, the creek crossing on the Sealy run that's normally dry would be a raging torrent (ok, a little exaggeration here but I really didn't fancy Alpe de Sealy so early in the training season). In the end Lee cast the deciding vote for Pattison and that's where we went.


We geared up under cloudy skies with the temperature in the high 40's and a forecast that it wouldn't warm up much by noon. Everyone had their own idea of what to wear and we ended up looking pretty rag-tag. I had leg warmers but bare arms, Kevin had arm warmers but bare legs, and Lee had several layers on top but nothing below (save for cycling shorts of course).


The first 10 miles are more or less due north, which meant into a tough head wind. As ever Kevin lead the charge and I did my best to hang on. We turned west, joining the MS 150 route, and with the wind now on our quarter we made much better speed. Once across the Brazos we're in Sheriff Buford T.Justice's Austin county and he was good enough to throw in some stiff rollers to see what we were made of.


Marshmallow in my case as it turned out. Lee struggled a bit too but Kevin was away. 10 miles of punishment finally got us into Bellville and we took a much-needed (for me anyway) break at a Valero station. A cheerful local got out of his truck and asked us how far we'd been already. I told him we'd come from Pattison but would be glad to throw our bikes into the back of his truck if he was heading that way. Sadly he wasn't.


So off we go again, looking at 15 miles of rollers before making the turn south and getting a tail-wind assist home. This time I struggled on the climbs and the other two had to wait for me at the top of just about every hill. Lee was much stronger on the run back than he had been on the way out, which he attributed to his consumption of fig newtons at the Valero. He speculated that if Lance had gone for those funny little cookies instead of EPO he might still be racing, but we'll never know.


Once on the run south our speed picked up dramatically, at least for a few miles before we hit the last few rollers. But I managed a good spurt up the last climb, finishing strongly (and thankfully not making the other two wait for me!)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Lee on the lee

King of the Mountains!
Kevin was busy messing about in boats on Saturday (Armand Bayou Nature Center) but Lee was up for a ride, so we decided to be big brave bikers and go out on our own. Lee had some operations stuff to deal with so wanted to start at 7am, no problem at all for me. He also offered to drive - gotta love these riding buddies of mine who are happy to provide transportation to the start!

Lacking imagination and ambition we settled for a Zube ride. I suggested a slight variation on the standard route that avoids the rumble strip section but still gives us 43 miles and that's what we did. Lots of Mules in attendance when we arrived but we let them do their own high-speed thing.

Nice enough morning for a ride, a bit overcast but the sun peeked out now and then. There was a fresh breeze out of the east whch helped the outward leg quite a bit. We saw more traffic than usual, perhaps due to the slightly later start, but it thinned out once we got a bit further north.

The run home was more challenging, and we tried to share the pulling duties 1/2 mile at a time. Sadly this meant that Lee had to pull up to the two biggest rollers (and I had to pull on the way down!) but he's looking very strong and kept us going well. When he dropped behind at one point he called himself "Lee on the lee" but he probably spent more time on the windward side.

Back at the car we both felt pretty good and immediately began planning the next outing. Hopefully super-domestique Kevin will show up too!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bo-Rap? No-Rap!

wait for me, Santa
Lee joined Kevin and I for Saturday's ride and it was great to have him back. He's riding the MS next year so hopefully we'll see more of him. He showed up at my place resplendent in his Aston Villa football shirt (you can take the boy out of Birmingham but you can't take Birmingham out of the boy) and we headed out for Zube on a grey, muggy morning.
We knew there was a lacrosse tournament at the park that morning but when we arrived the car park was still pretty quiet. We geared up and headed for the toilet block for the obligatory pre-ride ablutions, only to be stopped by a cop who (somewhat apologetically) told us that the whole area was reserved and we had to move the car. Could have told us sooner, chief -
A tactical error immediately ensued - rather than load the bikes back onto Kevin's truck, we decided that Lee and I would ride to Hockley and meet Kevin there. Giving Kevin a three-mile advantage is not a good idea.
We regrouped and got going, with a strong wind out of the north to make it fun. Not surprisingly the runs north were very tough, and even less surprisingly Kevin took point and dragged us both into the wind. One section is on a fairly busy road where we usually ride in the shoulder, between the rumble strip and the dirt. There's not much room and usually loads of trash but it's safer. Kevin lead out but we got crossed up and I ended up in front, with no room to pass, so I bore down and tried to set a good pace for the others.
My focus must have been pretty good because at the end of the section I looked back and realised I was on my own, the others weren't even in sight. I waited a second and then turned back, hoping that it was a simple mechanical rather than anything more serious.
And indeed it was! Lee was running new tires and tubes but had still managed to get a staple through his rear wheel. Kevin had stopped to help and presumably called out to me but I heard nothing (strong head wind!). By the time I reached them they were already inflating the new tube, practically ready to roll again.
A bit more north with some rollers too before we made the turn and were able to relax. This bit has a slight descent and trees lining the road, so we could coast for a while and get our breath back. As usual I gained slowly on the others while coasting. In self defense I reminded Lee that Galileo had hypothesized that all objects fall at the same speed regardless of their weight, so my downhill prowess had to be put down to a better bike rather than a lardier butt. I didn't help my case by suggesting that as geologists, Kevin and Lee probably thought that Galileo was a name made up by Queen for "Bohemian Rhapsody". To lighten the suddenly grim mood I launched into the song, hoping to get a rousing chorus going, but it was not to be. Whoops.
The tail wind kicked in and we cruised to the Exxon in fine style. Lee proposed returning via Prairie View A&M, a slightly shorter route with a few punchy hills. Predictably enough Kevin let it all hang out on the climbs and just as predictably in the process dropped us like a bad habit. As always I was very glad to see the flag on top of the soap box derby track, particularly today as it marked the end of the ride. We wound up with 38 miles in the bag, a good morning's work for sure.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ride between the raindrops

I'm a big fan of what I'll call Classic Steely Dan, by which I mean the albums up to and including "Gaucho". When I was a field engineer working onshore in Italy in the early 80's I spent a fair amount of time driving to and from wellsites, and playing their 1978 compilation "Greatest Hits" kept me going. My car had a cassette player with automatic reverse, pretty fancy at that time (you could also pull it out of the dash to avoid theft!), so I had the Dan on a continuous loop. I can remember blowing down the autostrada on a beautiful morning with the boys at full volume, feeling pretty good about life in general. They had a long break in the 90's before reforming, but the subsequent albums never caught the feeling of the earlier work. Susan and I saw them live in Houston a few years back and the show was fantastic, but they only played the Classic stuff, so maybe we're not alone in our preference.

I also really like Donald Fagen's first solo album "The Nightfly". It came out in 1982, right after he and Walter Becker split, but it still has an unmistakeable Dan feel. As far as I know Fagen and Becker share songwriting credit for all the Dan albums, but it's easy to identify whch tracks were more Donald than Walter when you've heard Nightfly. Also you've got to love an album that has a track about the International Geophysical Year (which incidentally was a hit single!).

All this waffling is a lead-in to the title of this post, a riff on "Walk between the raindrops", the final track on side 2 of Nightfly. It's a fun little ditty with a simple idea - when you're happy you don't notice the rain. On the last stretch of Saturday's Zube ride I wasn't feeling very happy, but we rode between the rainshowers so I'm going with it. A stretch I know but it's not easy making up these titles.

The forecast showed heavy rain and thunderstorms for the Hockley area on Saturday afternoon, but zero precipitation in the morning, so Kevin and I took our chances and headed out for a much-needed ride. With a stong wind out of the east driving us on we averaged 17.8 mph to the Exxon, but struggled mightily on the way back. Kevin was a trooper as always, taking the lead all the way and trying to keep us at 15mph but I couldn't hold on, even on the flats sometimes, and he had to drop back for me several times. Sorry to be even more of an anchor than usual, Bassman.

I'm off to the Frozen North for Thanksgiving, so Happy Turkey day everyone -

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cafe Cruising

No Kevin or Bruce to play with this weekend, but my new singe-speed commuter from Nashbar arrived, so I put it together and MC and I headed out for a cruise down Terry Hershey to the coffee shop on Eldridge.
The new bike is very different to the old commuter, for one thing it's a lot lighter, and has a smaller chain ring so spinning is a necessity. It also has cyclo-cross style brakes mounted on the flat part of the handlebars, very convenient when you're used to them. When you're not, it gets a little exciting when you have to stop in a hurry and reach for non-existent brake levers.
MC hasn't been on her bike for a while but she got back into it pretty quick and we cruised along in fine style, until it started raining that is. Fortunately it was just a brief shower and the sky cleared up pretty quickly, giving us a beautiful afternoon for a ride.
We used to do this ride when she was in high school, many many years ago. Back then you had to off-road a bit to get from the trail to the coffee shop, which was interesting when it was muddy, as MC reminded me. Now they've put in a separate bridge across the Bayou and a sidewalk all the way.
Dad-Daughter Selfie!
The coffee shop has changed too. It now features a surprisingly good selection of local craft beer, including Rodeo Clown! It also appears to have become a little outpost of hipster-dom in the middle of suburbia. Where do these people come from.
Back at it for a very pleasant run home. Overall I like the new bike, it's certainly very sleek-looking, but the new riding position may take a bit of acclimatization, and the saddle doesn't appear to like me. Susan suggested getting a pro bike fit, which makes sense, except that the bike shop would charge $250, barely less than the bike cost. The commute ride isn't exactly a physical challenge so I think it will work out fine as it is.
A very pleasant interlude in my otherwise gruelling training regime, thanks for coming with MC!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Friends don't let friends -

Whitey McWhite-Biker
what?  Drive drunk?  Vote Republican?  Ride into a screaming wind without doing all the pulling?  Actually, all of the above, but also - clap on 1 or 3.  This bit of advice was the latest offering in an infrequent series of classes on musical theory, offered by Prof.K.Crotty while flying down the freeway on the way to a bike ride.  Apparently in 4/4 time, the beat is on 2 and 4, so if you clap on 1 or 3 you will feel somewhat foolish.  To be honest the musicians I listen to mostly tend to avoid 4/4 time, or any very obvious time signature at all, but good information nonetheless.

So it was off to Wallis, Tx for the Independence Ride, a charity event supporting Disabled Vets, some of whom rode sections of the route on various modified bikes.  Paddy was there, driving SAG in his Mules-themed pickup, and we saw some other Mules too (all of the speedy variety!).

The ride started and finished at the Wallis Knights of Columbus hall, an impressive building given the size of the city (population 1,250 on the 2010 census).  For once there was no line for the indoor flush toilets, that tells you something.

Another beautiful morning in southeast Texas, although we natives were shivering a bit (mid 40's when we started!), so we were glad to get going.  We'd arrived a bit late, which meant we started with the Fanny Pack set (as opposed to the Shaved Leg set, not that we're natural members of that group either), and spent a lot of time passing people on mountain bikes wearing sneakers and anoraks.  There was a pretty sharp head wind for the first several miles, which sorted the men from the boys a bit too.

The first 15 miles or so was on roads that we had seen before, but once past Brookshire and into Pattison it was terra incognita for both of us.  We turned due west on FM1458 and immediately had a screaming tail wind.  Together with a warming, sunny morning and mostly smooth roads, this was cycling paradise and we scorched along at over 20 mph for a good 8 miles.

We crossed the Brazos near Stephen F. Austin state park (a good place to go camping!) and rode through San Felipe, the capital of the original Austin colony and a very historic site for Texans.  There was a rest stop right by the freeway and it was a good time for a break.  I took the opportunity to peel off all my cool weather gear and eat some trail mix before we headed out for the last leg, a 13 mile pull due south.

This section was pretty tough for me.  The road surface was poor and that tends to wear you down, and I was tired from the heroics earlier in the ride.  A cross-wind is almost worse than a head-wind, because it's hard to draft.  There were a few rollers to negotiate too!  So I was very glad to see the final turn coming up, not so happy though to see ambulances and fire engines, with what appeared to be a Life Flight helicopter landing.  Apparently a rider had gone down pretty hard, but we didn't find out what had happened.

Across the finish line to rapturous applause from a couple of young volunteers and then back to the car to change out of our shoes and sweaty gear, before heading back to the hall for some food.  Sadly the fare wasn't quite as good as last week's - seriously overcooked chicken, baked beans and potato salad, dirty white bread and only nasty mass-market beer.  A few minutes into lunch, a heavy metal band started up, which was the end of conversation, so we left, turning down the opportunity to buy raffle tickets (first prize - a glock, second - $300) as we did.

After a nap and an early beer we decided to check out the Unitunes offering that evening, and were very glad we did!  Unitunes is a series of concerts in Emerson Unitarian church, run by Kevin and a few of his friends.  The show was excellent (Bob Livingston and Bradley Kopp) and I managed to (mostly) hit the 2 and 4, so that lesson was learned.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Breaker one-nine (crackle)

apparently this is as much of a smile as you get from Bruce
My 2015 MS150 training campaign kicked off yesterday at the Kiwanis Sealy Fall Classic, an organized ride that starts in Sealy and follows some of the "Alpe de Sealy" route but doesn't actually cross the alps.

I haven't been out with Kevin for a couple of weeks - he was away on his annual, boys-only fishing trip to Idaho and then had friends visiting - but I got rides in regardless, none of them blog-worthy. He showed up with his "Mountain Man" beard still intact (you don't shave when you're on a river in Idaho, the fish don't like clean chins) but I imagine Barbara may have a word or two to say if it lingers.

One of my rides sans domestique was with Bruce, a colleague who is an avid water-sports guy (sailing, kayaking, surfing, if it involves water he's there). He bought a decent bike and wants to get into roadie-ing, but he lives on Galveston Bay and the roads (and drivers) are not welcoming, so he came out with me for the Parks loop and enjoyed it enough to come along today as well. Unfortunately he had to drive 83 miles in each direction for today's 46 mile bike ride, but as he says, it's Texas, you drive three hours for a bad meal.

So off we go, on a terrific morning, cool, sunny and perfect for cycling. Bruce (who is 42 years old in hexadecimal) can maintain a pretty good pace on the flat but struggles on anything that looks like a climb, and we realized pretty quickly that we would be waiting for him at the crest of every climb, but that's fine, it's early season and good just to get miles in.

About an hour in, Kevin confided that he had lost faith in the structural integrity of the Mexican Truck (or in his words "it scares me"), after inspection of the seat tube had revealed very little actual intact metal. He needs a commuter, and hasn't ruled out the possibility of another long-distance run (see "The Little Mexican Truck that could" on this blog), so is looking at a Surly Long-Distance Trucker bike (I kid you not) as a replacement. I was very tickled at the thought of Kevin the Long-distance Trucker, perhaps taking a bit part in "Convoy", the 1978 Sam Peckinpah movie inspired by C.W.McCall's 1976 ode to truckers and CB radio. Turns out that Kevin was working as a mud-logger during the CB craze and had one in his car! "Convoy" the country song was a decent hit in the UK too, and started a mini-CB frenzy there. Several of my friends installed sets in their Ford Escorts and drove around Salisbury and environs firing off CB-lingo to each other in broad Wiltshire accents. They all had handles, on-air pseudonyms inspired by "Convoy" and also arguably needed because using a CB radio in Engalnd was illegal at the time. I doubt the "Flying Squad" paid much attention to a bunch of young men who used their radios mainy to agree on which pub to go to next, but you don't know.

So what was Kevin's handle, back in his mud-logging days? Apparently he didn't really understand the concept and used a name from a Jack London novel, via a humorous radio show - Rita B. Not as much fun as "Pigpen" or "Rubber Duck" but there you go.

We rolled on, all together on the flats, minus one on the climbs, stopping at each break point for pie and a pee. I stuck with the latter as I'm not a big fan of the pies they have here, the British ones are far superior - in other words, bye-bye American Pie.

The route merged on to our normal track a few miles before the lair of the devil dog whose "silent approach" attack has come close to taking one or both of us down in the past. We got ready for a sprint as we turned the corner in front of his home but he was not to be seen, presumably either chained-up or dead.

On to Cat Spring road and the last section of the ride. Although the route doesn't go through the "Alpe de Sealy" section, it has some similar, if moderated, topography, and we took the opportunity to show Bruce how to deal with rollers. He didn't really get it though - may take a few more lessons.
We stopped at the final break point (on this route it's also the first) to regroup and for more pie (no thanks). I was actually feeling pretty good and felt comfortable all the way in, perhaps in part because Bruce was feeling the miles (this was his longest ride) and we had to keep the pace down.

This ride has excellent food and decent beer at the finish and we felt like we'd earned it. Home-made meatballs, brisket and chilli, an excellent selection of what appeared to be locally-made sausage and of course pie. We washed it down with St.Arnold's beer and a few tales of derring-do on various rivers. On to the next -

Sunday, October 5, 2014

No thanks, I brought my own

The great spoke-breaking mystery has been solved and there was a surprise ending!  Ardent fans of this blog know that Kevin has been plagued with broken spokes of late, and that the bike shop had the gall to suggest he had accidentally weakened them by proximity to noxious chemicals in his garage.  How dare you, sir?  Well it turns out that they were correct, sort of.  When he took it in for repair last time, they discovered a few other areas with unusual levels of corrosion for a new bike and concluded that Kevin suffered from a little-known but serious condition called the "death sweats".  Essentially his perspiration is so copious and saline that it had corroded not only his spokes but also part of the brake mechanism and a cable housing!  The solution to his acidic solution?  Wipe the damn bike down after the ride.  I was a little skeptical - how many miles did he have on the Mexican Truck, after all - but actually all that's holding it together at the moment is rust and rustoleum so maybe it's not such a leap.  Hopefully now he will always ride a clean bike and never break a spoke again, unless of course I spoke too soon....

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rocky Mountain High

So off we go, bicycle, wheelchair and all, to Denver and then Fort Collins for the MS Society 2014 Tour of Champions! We were flying the Peanut (aka Southwest) and that part went fine as usual, other than a 90 minute weather delay (pissing with rain in Houston). Our son James works at the airport and was good enough to greet us on the jetway and then escort us to to ground transportation. Unfortunately the bus transfer to Fort Collins wasn't quite so pleasant. Our driver appeared to be Matt Groening's inspiration for Otto, the school bus driver in The Simpsons, and the A/C on his bus (a 20-plus year old former Denver RTA vehicle) only worked in the front half. Susan was in the wheelchair area and was able to enjoy the ride in relative comfort, while I was in steerage with the peons, sweating my butt off. Fortunately my seat mates were a group from Dallas who were seeing the bright side and having fun.

All the way from Denver to Fort Collins I couldn't help noticing these bumps on the horizon to the west. Maybe they're cloud formations, or dust storms? Don't tell me that there are actual topographic features out here? I don't think we're in Texas any more, Toto....

I was planning to ride on Friday (the easier route) and take Susan, James and Sarah his girlfriend sightseeing in Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday, but when we woke up, neither of us felt very good. Turns out altitude sickness actually is a thing, and it made poor Susan feel terrible all day. I was lucky enough to get off with a mild headache but I wasn't in mountain-riding shape for sure.
By the evening we both felt well enough to emerge from the hotel room for dinner, and James drove up from Aurora to join us, which made it more fun. We agreed on plan B - scratch the mountain sight-seeing (if we struggled at the Fort Collins altitude, crossing the Continental Divide was probably not a good idea), I would ride the Friday route and the rest of the crew would investigate Fort Collins, definitely a fun little town.

So after a suitably high-calorie mountain climbing breakfast I left Susan in the safe hands of James and Sarah, tooled up and pushed my bike out into a gorgeous, cool and sunny morning. The ToC rides are fully supported, with SAG wagons patrolling the course and frequent rest stops, but I was riding the Friday route on Saturday and wouldn't get those benefits. Whatever, I planned to take it easy and stop whenever I felt like it anyway.

I had the route loaded on my GPS but at first I couldn't find the start. The finish was in plain view and I toyed with the idea of riding it in reverse, but then had the sense to look at the map on the website and worked out where I'd gone wrong. Off I went, having wasted about 15 minutes riding around the campus of Colorado State University (very nice too!).

The first few miles were through the outskirts of the city, with some gentle rollers to get my legs warmed up. Then came a long section due north that went past some of the university buildings, including the usual impressive stadium. This leg had some bigger rollers but my workouts with Kevin got me through in good shape.

And then...I turned west and immediately hit some stiffish climbs with no real downhill breaks. I was starting to blow a bit when I came to the one big climb of the day - an 8.8% slope with a couple of curves. I dropped into my granny ring, turned on my helmet camera and dug deep. I was on the granny gear pretty quickly and then out of the saddle, grinding hard, but I made it! At the crest I stopped to admire the view, which was worth the climb - a beautiful, narrow valley stretched out in front of me, much greener than the surrounding hills which looked pretty dry.

Time for the descent, but there was a 90 degree right-hander within a few hundred feet so I couldn't let her go. Once round the corner I let off the brakes and got a pretty good head of steam running until it was time to brake for a junction. The valley was a cyclist's dream - quiet, smooth roads, lovely scenery and lots of shade trees - but it didn't last very long. The route turned east, away from the mountains and back into flat lands not very different to Waller County.

Still a few decent rollers to negotiate though! The biggest climb left was long enough to force me back into the granny gear, and to my shame right after the crest I was passed by a couple on a tandem with a baby at the back, all three looking like they were barely breathing hard. Locals of course.
Back in the outskirts of Fort Collins, I detected a familiar smell from my childhood - the slightly sickly odor of a brewery. Sure enough, there was the New Belgium Brewery, famous for its Fat Tire ale (not actually one of my favourites though). Somewhere around here the route moved onto bike paths that didn't show up on the GPS and I was lost once more. I hit a busy intersection with College Street and worked out that if I headed south on it I should hit the university, which was pretty close to the hotel. Sure enough I was in familiar territory after a mile or so, and rolled up to the hotel in good time for lunch. My ride was a few miles shorter than the planned route but who's counting anyway.

After an excellent lunch at a real hipster hangout with superb beer, I was ready for a nap! The rest of the weekend was lots of fun, with a great party that evening. Many thanks to the MS Society for giving me a chance to ride in a very beautiful spot, and for treating both of us like royalty.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"The hills are alive, with the sound of whining"


Last chance for a weekend ride before the Colorado trip (still two weeks out, but the bikes are being trucked from Houston and have to be dropped off this week) and I was bold enough to suggest a hillier route option. Kevin of course was all over ths idea and proposed a combination route that included the worst sections of two tough rides - the dreaded Alpe de Sealy and the tougher option of the Pattison-Bellville run. Thanks buddy, I knew I could count on you.

So it was off to Bellville on a misty Saturday morning. There's a Valero station on the main drag in town where we usually stop for water and micturation, but it seemed anti-social to park up there and be gone for several hours, so we drove a bit further into the town proper. A Farmer's Market was setting up in the town square, so we turned down a side street and ended up outside the Bellville PD. Afficianados of the blog may recall the time when we had a brush with Bellville's finest in the form of Sheriff Buford T.Justice, who didn't take any too kindly to a bunch of city slickers on bikes wearing homosexual shorts and blocking the back road into his city. He gave Larry a stern warning out of the window of his cruiser before roaring off to the Snowflake Donut shop. This later led to a massed sprint for the Brazos River and the County line, as we tried to get out of his jurisdiction before the donut shop closed.

We geared up and lit out for the hills. Kevin's plan was to ride a loop of 529 and Coshatte road and then see how we felt. This means nothing to you unles you frequent the byways of Austin County, but it means taking on the rollers between the Brazos and Bellville out and back. Although both legs cross roughly the same terrain, 529 has road cuts taming the worst of the grades, Coshatte (a quiet, country road) does not and you can really feel the difference.

The fog hadn't really lifted and 529 is a moderately busy road, but fortunately there wasn't much traffic yet. We started out aiming to warm up at around 15mph on the flats, taking the descent and ascents as they came. At the turn I was feeling warmed up for sure and getting a bit concerned about the delights ahead - Coshatte and then Alpe de Sealy!

On Coshatte Kevin offered some coaching tips for the rollers - basically coast down the drops to get your heart rate down fter the previous climb, then start working with a high cadence as the climb bites and try to hold the cadence all the way to the top by down-shifting. I got the hang of it and was able to keep pace with him on all except the longest climbs, where I ran out of gears and had to grind out the last few yards. The final two before Bellville were the toughest and I was glad to reach the rail tracks that mark the western edge of the route.

Rather than ride into town, we crossed route 36 right there and hit a Shell station for a break. We were at about 15 miles and I was pretty tired already. At that point we had lots of route options including the original plan, but I didn't have the legs for Sealy and proposed that we ride the same loop in reverse. This would give us a total of 30 miles, not much saddle time for Kevin after driving all this way, and I felt a bit guilty about that but he was a good sport and agreed.

Back at it and all those climbs! Kevin's technique and guidance saved the day (on several climbs he actually called out the gear changes for me!) and we got to the turn for 529 without a coronary. To boost the miles a bit we turned down the road that connects the Sealy/Pattison routes, but there wasn't much too see and it was odd to ride on the flat after climbing so much, so we turned back.

What should have been a challenging but straightforward run back on 529 (part of the MS150 route so I've done it at least 12 times!) became more of a challenge when once again Kevin broke a spoke, on his front wheel this time. What is going on there? The bike shop thinks the spokes are being corroded by something toxic in his garage, but Kevin is a Unitarian and apologises to weeds when he pulls them, so that seems unlikely. He's concerned that he's pushing the weight rating but I don't see that, those wheels should be strong enough. I suspect he has a pair of badly-built wheels that need replacing, perhaps with some Zipps for bling?

The wheel was already slightly out of true so he decides to ride in at 13mph in the hope that the inevitable bumps will be less likely to taco the wheel at that speed. I roll out the descents but hold back on the climbs (where of course he passes!) and we make it in with no more drama. A quick chocolate milk outside the Cop Shop (pretty risky, Bellville probably has a city ordinance about men wearing shorts drinking milk in public) and then back home.

No training ride for me next week (Kevin offered to lend me the truck, but I refused politely), but we might take our b-bikes (my single speed, his truck) down the bayou trail he likes, just to keep in shape and look for birds.


Monday, September 1, 2014

"To infinity - and beyond!"

Off to Zube at zero dark thirty for my first ride with the Mules in quite a while. Unfortunately it didn't go very well - Gene is a miserable git who dropped me like a bad habit after about a mile on the road, and Yvonne spent the rest of the ride grumbling about having to hang back with the losers. Neither of them could organize a piss-up in a brewery and I'm never ever ever getting back together with them again.

Just kidding! Actually they were both great and we had a lot of fun. With plenty of Mules in attendance, Gene wanted to have two speed groups, one at 17mph and the other "at infinity" as he put it. Looked like the only taker for the finite group was me, as the group settled into a pretty hot pace almost immediately.

It was foggy for most of the ride and that kept the temperature on the cool side. We headed north on Hegar, the new (to me anyway) route that apparently has become the standard. I hung on but about five miles in I told Kevin that I couldn't ride the full route at that pace, and suggested we break off on a slightly shorter route. He went forward to catch the rapidly disappearing peloton but Yvonne, in her role as sweeper, had already dropped back to check on me. We were too far along to turn back for my detour so we slogged on, just the three of us. A little further ahead we passed Gene who was waiting for us as well. Good to know that some of the Mules take the term "no-drop ride" seriously.

As ever Kevin did sterling work on the front, occasionally helped out by the other two as they nursed me to the break point. With the gas station in sight, Yvonne and Gene took off for a sprint, but we soon caught Gene who flatted and had to carry it in the last 50 yards.

The flat turned out to be a tear in the tyre, so Gene opted for the short route back, music to my ears after the 17+ pace so far. The speedsters wanted more miles so it was just the four of us on the way back, with Bob who gamely agreed to come along just in case.

I seemed to get a second wind, rolling fairly happily at the pace that had been hurting before the break, but as ever I was very happy to grab a wheel - Bob's for the first stretch, Kevin's for the rest. With about five miles to go we regrouped at a busy intersection, where Kevin's bike began to make a very ominous noise. Sure enough he'd broken a spoke. He took out the hub end and the stump didn't hit the stays, so it looked like he could ride it in if he was careful. The others headed out at the same pace as before while Kevin and I cruised in - except that Kevin doesn't have a cruising gear and pretty soon we were back at 18mph.

We barely made it back to Zube - Kevin's wheel was already starting to hit the brake pads, another few miles would have taco'ed it for sure. In the end we rode about 35 and I felt pretty good, presumably due to the cooler weather. But with less than a month to go until the Colorado trip, we'll need a run out to Chapel Hill or I'll be sagging all the way.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

for once no mention of the wind or domestiques...

Alaskan humour
We spent the last two weeks in Vancouver and on a cruise to Alaska, so this is about as close to a bike as I got!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bad Domestique!

not sure she'd be much use as a domestique
"Bad, Bad, Do-mes-tique, BadBad Domestique" (to the tune of "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga).
How bad was he?  Hmm, good-bad, not evil.  But read on.

The Mules have decided to offer pace groups and route options so we headed out to Zube on a seasonally-warm (ie, hotter and more humid than Satan's sauna) morning.  Kevin wanted to make an early start but I wasn't as quick off the mark and when we got there, most of the Mules had already left.

Up and at 'em, with the cream of the Northwest Cycling Club blowing past us at regular intervals.  I tried withering sarcasm on one particulalry egregious offender - "Thanks for letting me know you were passing, sir" - but it had no discernible effect.  Kevin prefers the direct approach but managed not to spit on anyone this week.  One of these days I'm going to mime a snot-rocket just as they draw level and see what that does.

On the advice of Christy our family trainer I had pre-loaded my system with a healthy shot of super-starch.  Apparently if I take this stuff I won't need to eat any gels on the ride, which is good because they're just sugar and preservatives anyway (says Christy).  I was also swigging on a bottle provided by Kevin that was laced with electrolytes, so I was pretty well hopped-up.  Despite the pharmaceuticals coursing through my system I was flagging after 15 miles (possibly due to a slight head wind) and once again called for the shortcut to the Exxon.

The place was mobbed with riders when we arrived and I was pleased to see a large number of Mules jerseys.  There was a fast group that included several of the real speedsters but also a second group with Paddy and Ian who were riding at what Paddy described as a fat-burning pace.  Yvonne and Gene were also there and it was great to catch up with them for a bit.

Back on the pedals and Kevin and I agreed to go with the Paddy group, who were planning on taking our usual route back anyway.  We soon found ourselves in a double pace-line at a very respectable clip.  I can't imagine riding without Kevin but I'd forgotten how much fun it is to be in a large group, riding in close formation.

Paddy called for a turn onto Mathis, which we've been avoiding for the last few rides because it adds miles and is of course where the Hound of the Baskervilles (Texas edition) lurks in waiting for Kevin's grapefruit-sized calves.  We went for it, in part because we had a tail wind and were feeling strong, but also because  with that many riders our odds of being selected by the mutts were significantly improved.  In fact they didn't materialise, which we didn't mind at all.

The last few miles rolled by easily enough.  Within sight of the barn (practically anyway) Paddy and Ian decided to air it out and took off.  Kevin was apparently feeling a bit trapped with so many riders around him because he also broke clear and hit the gas (he hit 31mph!).  I gave chase but didn't have the legs.  Bad Domestique - you're supposed to protect the team leader, not go careering off on your own.  He stopped under the freeway to wait for me and didn't look in the least abashed when I chastised him.  That's going to be a few pounds out of your wage packet, my lad.

Back at Zube, we walked over to the new Mules trailer for a little post-ride socializing but no-one was hanging around.  Not surprising, given that it was 90+ in the shade, as Kevin pointed out.  Time for chocolate milk.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Recovery ride

Although the plan had been to ride twice over the long weekend, after my epic flame-out on Thursday I wasn't at all sure that I'd be ready for more punishment on Saturday. But chocolate milk and sleep worked their magic and I actually felt pretty good and certainly ready for more saddle time when Kevin rolled up.

Off to Zube, then, for a date with the Mules. Paddy had already set up the new trailer when we arrived, and Gene, Crawford and Yvonne were there too. I wanted to start with them, expecting to get dropped, but when we got back to the trailer after the obligatory visit to the toilet block for fluid level adjustment they had already left.

Kevin had come loaded for bear after our last outing. He traded me a bottle of water for one with Cytomax, a more scientifically designed version of Gatorade, and had a stick of chews too. Good job there's no drug testing for weekend warriors - if I'd had to pee into a plastic cup it would probably have melted after that lot.

Saturday mornings are always very busy at Zube, and as expected we were passed by several fast groups within the first few miles. Cycling etiquette calls for announcing your presence when passing with a cry of "on your left" but some of the groups are too proud to acknowledge the existence of lesser riders and just zip past, barely a water-bottle's width from your shoulder. It's more annoying than anything else but I often send rude riders on their way with a well-chosen expletive or two. Today I was too mellow to bother but Kevin chose a great moment to expectorate on his left.

We had a tail wind on the way out so our slow start had us above 17mph. Quite a difference when we turned north and it became a cross wind. But I was feeling pretty good, certainly better than Thursday.

We reached the Harris county line and decided to take the short cut to the Exxon, an audible from Kevin that I knew not to ignore at my peril. The route has a short climb, then a nice long descent all in pretty countryside, before you pick up a busier road into Hempstead. With a wide shoulder, smooth surface and tail wind we were soon cruising at better than 20mph. I was glued to Kevin's rear wheel and felt like a pro in the Tour de France peloton.

At the Exxon we were about 5 miles short of our normal distance but both felt strong enough to take on the more hilly route home via Prairie View A and M. My climbing was pretty solid but I had to call Kevin back towards the end of the section.

The last 12 miles were dead into the wind but we managed to keep a respectable pace. Somewhere along here we were passed by another group but this time the lead rider actually called out as they drew level. Kevin noted that the group had a woman in the front, perhaps that's the difference.

Back at Zube and the Mules had gone. They must have been much faster, or taken an even shorter route. Too bad, I wanted to catch up with everyone. Anyway, first things first - I broke out the chocolate milk (organic of course, nothing's too good for my domestique) and we began the recovery process. All things considered I did pretty well, which we'll put down to a combination of Cytomax and sensible route selection.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Sad, Ancient Geezer

All organised rides have Sag wagons, vehicles that patrol the course offering assistance to those that need it, and rides in for those who are too tired to finish. No-one really knows why they're called Sag wagons - some say it stands for "Support And Gear" - but we've all experienced a sagging sensation during a ride. There's no shame at all in sagging but it's been a point of pride for me that I've never sagged on the MS150, despite really wanting to a few times. However, I've had to get a ride in due to exhaustion on several occasions now, the most recent being yesterday.

It was the first day of a four-day weekend for Kevin and me and we had previously agreed to ride twice, Thursday and Saturday. We're both getting pretty bored with our standard trundle around Hempstead, so we opted for the Sealy ride instead. Taking on the toughest ride we do in the fall and spring run-up to the MS on July 3rd in Central Texas was perhaps a little ambitious, at least with hindsight anyway, but what's life without a little challenge?

On the way out of Sealy a small dog decided to stretch his legs a little and kept pace with us while staying safely on his own territory. Kevin yelled "Go home!" at him a few times but I was impressed by his form and was more encouraging. When the mutt got to the end of his yard he peeled off with a few token yaps and went back to his morning nap. As it turned out, this was a good omen for a ride that is often enlivened by canine assaults. The usual suspects didn't materialize, perhaps as Kevin suggested because we were two days early and they weren't expecting us.

We got to the turn onto the road that runs into San Bernardo, both feeling surprisingly tired after only 15 miles. This section starts with a longish downhill run which is where we often see the more exotic birds that have featured in previous blog posts, such as the caracara and the scissor-tailed flycatcher. Nothing on display today however, presumably because they had all migrated north like sensible creatures.

I was glad to make the usual stop for water at the feed store in San Bernardo, where for once we weren't made to feel like lycra-clad yuppies from the big city (another benefit of a Thursday ride, the grumpy old git wasn't working and we got his nice wife instead).

Once more onto the pedals and the most scenic section of the ride, with some much-enjoyed shady portions. The real hell-hounds, who favour the silent approach, lurk along here and we were ready for them, but they didn't emerge from their lair. We got back on to the main San Bernardo - Cat Spring road and Kevin called an audible, suggesting that as we were both struggling, we could modify the route to avoid the hilly section. This would cut down the mileage and make for a more tedious route, so I foolishly suggested that we continue as planned, a call I would come to regret.

The run north into Cat Spring was very tough for me, with a few punchy climbs on a very rough road. We reached the standard second stop at an odd little convenience store/diner/gas station on the north side of town, where we are usually also made to feel like pariahs. Sure enough the first words out of the proprietor lady's mouth were "We've only got one Gatorade". The state motto of Texas is "Friendship" but this lady had apparently forgotten it. But we jollied her along with self-deprecating humour and that broke the ice.

And so onto the hills! I managed reasonably well on the first few but then we ran into construction and some slow-moving vehicles that we couldn't really pass. As a result we had to climb the toughest section practically from a standing start. I shifted down into my tallest gear and had to grunt it out, with no cadence or spinning, just forcing the pedals down on each stroke. My computer showed 7mph when I crested the second rise and I wasn't surprised. For once Kevin was behind me and actually not in sight, most unusual for him. I pulled over to wait, frankly glad of the break, and then started back in case he'd had a mechanical or something worse. I really hoped he would appear before I started on the down hill as I did not want to climb that section again and thankfully he did. Caught flat-footed like me, he didn't have the momentum to spin up the hill as is his normal style and had stopped to regain his composure.

That was the last time I had to wait for him! The climb had pretty much depleted my reserves and I was suffering pretty badly. We finished out the hill section and made the turn onto Route 36, where I requested a quick break to lie down for a minute or two, a clear sign that I was done for the day. After a minute or two I got up (with the help of Kevin's strong right arm) and got back on the bike.

Route 36 is a major road with a wide shoulder and an excellent surface, and we expected a partial tail wind to blow us the last seven miles home, but I was blown and asked Kevin to sag me in. We found a shady spot on a side road and I hit the dirt. Kevin put a water bottle within reach and gave me his last energy bar, then headed out for the rescue. Sadly his warning about fire ant mounds fell on deaf ears and I soon became aware that something was nibbling on my neck and shoulders. I was too tired to move but I shuffled around a bit and they stopped, presumably bored with chewing on me.

Although I felt absolutely awful it was quite pleasant to lie in the shade with the sun coming through the leaves of a tree and the occasional cool-ish breeze. After a little while I realised my phone was ringing but by the time I found it and picked up it had gone through to voice mail. It was Kevin of course and he sounded quite relieved when I called him back. He was back at the car and on his way.

The cavalry arrived and we loaded up (not much help from me, I have to say). Back in Sealy, Kevin stopped at a gas station for emergency supplies - chocolate milk (the thinking rider's recovery drink) and cheese-flavoured popcorn (for the salt). These worked surprisingly well and by the time we hit Katy I was sitting up and paying attention.

What did I learn from this misadventure? That I'm not Lance Armstrong and should not take on tough rides when it's 90+ degrees, that it's good to ride with friends who are prepared to take care of you, and that when one of those friends suggests making the ride easier I should listen. Oh, and that super-domestiques like Kevin are worth their weight in gold.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Aux montagnes, Anglais!

During yesterday's ride I made the mistake of telling Kevin that I had signed up for the Tour of Champions, a three-day event for MS150 top fundraisers, to be held this September in Fort Collins, Colorado. The event includes fully-supported bike rides and while I don't know the routes yet, for sure there will be some mountaineering to be done. I suggested that I needed to get in shape for the ride and like a good domestique he immediately began planning a training regime that would get a fat-boy flatland rider ready to take on the Rockies. I can see a few trips to Sealy in my future.

A late-ish start from my place meant that we had to use the back parking lot at Zube, adding a mile to the route just getting to the course. A strong wind out of the south and southeast made it pretty easy on the run out and pretty tough on the way back. We ran into some Mules at the Exxon - Paul, Marian and Meggin, who didn't fancy the scheduled club ride around Montgomery (neither did I - too far, too many hills, too long a ride). I have to say that I don't feel like much of a Mule at present. The club seems to have been taken over by the higher end riders, which is fine but there needs to be some allowance made for the mere mortals too. When the ride schedule includes a 45 mile, 17 mph pace recovery ride, I definitely feel out of my depth. Apparently I'm not the only one, too.

We took the standard route back, avoiding any chance of confronting the hell hounds. The route that takes us past their lair was straight into the wind yesterday, so although we would have had the element of surprise (they wouldn't have heard or smelt us), no serious sprint would have been possible and there would have been blood.

The title of the post comes form an excellent book about the tour, "French Revolutions" by Tim Moore. Highly recommended for bikers and non-bikers alike.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Los Pollos Hermanos (Waller, TX plant)

Susan and I have just finished watching Breaking Bad (yes, I know, we're years behind everyone else) and now every slightly shady-looking establishment looks like a cover for a meth lab to me. In particular the so-called sawmill on Old Hempstead, that always has lots of cars parked in front on Saturday mornings, looks highly dubious and I'm tempted to call up the DEA. Kevin for his part is just glad that we've finished the series so perhaps now I'll stop looking for evidence of illegal chemistry and focus on getting my sorry butt up the hill.

Last Saturday we returned to the scene of the crime - Zube Park - for our first attempt at an actual ride, instead of the 30 mile jaunts from my house. I didn't do very well that time, feeling pretty bloody awful by the end and glad to have my domestique encouraging/cajoling me home. So today the plan was "Start slow, finish slower" (copyright K.Crotty 2014) - keep it down to 15mph for the first five miles and then see how we felt.Those first five took a lot longer than normal, not just because of the stately pace. Kevin got a flat after about two but to his credit managed a pretty rapid tube change, certainly more efficiently than Larry (see earlier blog post). We accelerated a little after five but didn't go crazy, and got to the Exxon in reasonably good form. Last week Kevin managed to swallow a large bug at about this point on the ride, and it hurt enough for him to think it had stung him somewhere on the way down. This week I told him to keep his mouth shut and he did, only to have a nasty-looking horsefly land on his left gluteus maximus, an impressive feat for the insect considering we were cooking along at 16mph plus at the time.After our break we opted for the standard route home along Business 290 and then Old Hempstead, which is where I spotted the dubious-looking business establishments. In the run-up to the MS we would take a detour down Mathis road to add a few miles in, but inevitably got chased by a hell-hound that seemed to take a particular fancy to Kevin. These last two runs we decided to keep the mileage down and eliminate the risk of canine assault by staying on Old Hempstead, definitely a good line of scrimmage audible.Our pace was actually pretty good on the run in from Prairie View, even on the uphill side of the rollers, a clear improvement over last week (for me, anyway). But I was still pretty beat when we got back to the car, although it was nothing that a good lunch and better nap couldn't fix.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Unhappy Wanderers

Time for another Saturday morning ride with Kevin!  But instead of the usual early start, I lobby for a later departure as it's my wedding anniversary and I want to bring Susan coffee in bed.  So Kevin rolls up at 10am on a warmish morning, with rain in the forecast.

The plan is to ride the parks loop from my place, but ever the innovator, Kevin suggests we do the route in reverse to avoid the ugly left hand turn across three lanes of high speed traffic on Eldridge.  Sounds sensible and off we go through my neighbourhood, still familiar to Kevin from 20 years ago when he worked at Amoco (now BP of course) and used to go jogging at lunchtime.

We hit Eldridge going north, and as we cross the levee that forms the edge of the Addicks dam, the water level is higher than I've ever seen it, which doesn't bode well for the rest of the ride.  Anyway we make the turn into Bear Creek, and sure enough while the main road through the park is dry (we have to be creative in some places), all the side roads are flooded, including our usual turn.  So on to Plan B - we stay on the park road to Clay and then turn west, staying on the shoulder of this busy road until we can make the next turn back into the park, beside the golf course.

A little further on and Plan B fizzles out because the barrier is down, almost certainly due to flooding.  We regroup and re-plan, opting to turn back for Clay road and run west to Route 6, where we'll turn south and pick up the path into Cullen Park.  Route 6 is busy and fast but must surely have a shoulder, right?  Wrong!  We find ourselves hugging the curb on a busy three lane road where the speed limit is clearly optional.  Fear lent us wings and we got to the park entrance pretty damn quick.

Another rider (a traditionalist by appearance, on an old-fashioned 10-speed with no helmet) was waiting to cross at the light and we asked him if the path was clear.  He told us it was and asked if his route ahead was also open but sadly it wasn't - not sure what he did next but he wasn't going anywhere in a hurry.

The run into Cullen was trouble-free, with no flooding and not much traffic.  At last things were going our way!  We stopped to ease springs, then on to the Chevron on Barker-Cypress to pick up cold beverages.  We had a bit more shoulder-free busy road before we picked up a sidewalk just north of I-10.

Time for Plan C - I was pretty sure (later confirmed) that George Bush Park would be flooded near where Barker-Clodine crosses the creek, so no point riding all the way to the west end of the trail.  Instead we took the cut-through back to the Constable Station, crossing the southern arm of the levee as we did.  At this point I had the brilliant idea of turning back on the levee (which has a paved surface) and seeing how far it went.  This turned out to be about 50 yards!  Oh well, let's try it in the other direction - and it turned into gravel within about another 50.  Clearly the Gods were telling us to get back on the normal route so we did.

Kevin set a cracking pace along the trail and I struggled to stay in touch.  The sprint down Route 6 had taken its toll and I was tiring.  We made it round the turn by the Dam and had to ease off the pace, which I didn't mind at all.  The outflow from the Dam was roaring after all the rain and there were a couple of people fishing with seine nets, large circular nets with weighted edges that drop down and hopefully catch a whole school of bait fish.  Seemed like an odd place and time.  As we rolled by I asked one of them if he'd had any luck - he hadn't.

We agreed to finish out going through Terry Hershey, a bit of a relief for me as there is normally too much traffic to run fast.  As we worked our way east the sky began to look very threatening and I wondered if we'd make it in before the heavens opened.

We almost did!  It started to come down just as we got to the house, and kept at it for much of the rest of the day.  A short ride in the end, barely 30 miles.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

here we go again

It's been more than a month since the MS150.  I haven't been riding but I have been carbo-loading!  The time has come to reacquaint my posterior with my saddle, so I put up the Domestique flag and Kevin answered the call.  He's been more-or-less in resting mode too, due to having acquired a nasty sinus infection that kept him at home for a week.  Must have been a pretty studley microbe.

We decided to ease our way back into things with a gentlemanly cruise around the parks last Saturday morning.  He rolled up at 7am, operating on 4 and 1/2 hours sleep (a late night at an arts happening, some rig calls and a wife who wanted to watch the Camelopardalid shower at 2am) but still looking bright-eyed and bushy tailed.  We geared up and hit the road, riding out of my neighbourhood on the same route as we had taken a few weeks earlier on our way to Austin.

So much for taking it easy!  We were soon cranking along at 18mph plus, and of course blamed each other for pushing the pace.  But it was really his fault (and this is my blog - if you want to disagree, get your own Kevin).

We had an entertaining first few miles, leap-frogging a Metro bus and (in my case) screaming at a careless motorist, but eventually got far enough west on Memorial to be out of major traffic.  As ever in Houston, since we had last seen these roads there had been additional construction, filling in some of the remaining vacant lots and green spaces.

On to route 6 and then the turn by the Addicks dam.  No more cars but plenty of bikes and runners!  It's also getting a bit warm, and we're very happy to get into George Bush park where there's some shade.  This is an upwind leg and Kevin switches into domestique mode, taking the lead and setting a good cadence that I struggle to match.

We get to the end of the park trail and stop for a break (Kevin offers to buy gatorade and donuts at a bakery a little further down but I resist, as I don't really like gatorade).  We're at 16 miles and I'm feeling it a bit.  We consider route options - we can turn back and retrace the route for a total of 32 miles, or take the loop through Cullen and Bear Creek parks for a few more miles.  Given the level of bike traffic in George Bush I plump for the longer ride, so off we go heading north on Fry, with a decent amount of Saturday morning vehicular traffic keeping us alert.

We keep a more conversational pace as we work our way towards Cullen park, and have a debrief on the MS ride and more specifically my struggles on the Saturday afternoon.  The wind that morning was about as favourable as it can be (short of an actual April hurricane) and we made great time to Bellville.  Kevin's idea of skipping the lunch stop to avoid cooling down too much had worked like a charm, too, so why did I blow up on the next section?  Most likely because of too much exuberance on the hills into Bellville was Kevin's (and Larry's) diagnosis, and I think they're right.

A quick fluid level adjustment break just outside Cullen and then into the park.  There's some sort of event going on, perhaps a fun-run, but we don't see too much traffic of any kind once we're in the park proper.

A downside (or perhaps an upside?) of starting from my house is that we don't have to drive anywhere, eliminating the opportunity for earworms.  Kevin made up for the lack by informing me that his trio, Western Sky, had augmented their repertoire with "Moon River",  the Johnny Mercer song made famous by Andy Williams.  While it would be hard to pigeon-hole their output into any single genre this seemed like an odd choice and certainly made for an odd earworm.

Into Bear Creek, where there were several well-attended soccer matches in progress and enough SUV's on the road to force us onto the sidewalk for safety.  We made the turn onto Eldridge and began the pull south into the wind.  Eldridge is a four-lane highway with lots of high speed traffic, but a wide-enough shoulder for comfortable riding - until the DPS decided to cut rumble strips, narrowing the bike access considerably.  I made the turn first, which locked me in as the point man for the whole section.  I settled into a comfortable cadence and felt pretty good most of the way back to the dam.

The last few miles rolled by and we were back at the start for a total of three hours on the road.  We both felt pretty good and in my case not a little relieved that I'd got round without too much pain.  Hopefully we can keep it going a bit longer but Summer's on its way.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A selfie saga!

three amigos
The day dawned rather too early!  David my sort-of brother-in-law was down from Austin for the ride as usual and had to be dropped off at the main start by 6.15, so after a quick breakfast (the time-honoured steel cut oats with maple syrup, cranberries and pistachios, thanks ever so much Susan) we set out for Tully.  I was back home quickly enough and got my gear ready for Kevin's arrival.  He duly rolled up with Barbara driving.  Then my phone rang and it was Larry, also getting a ride from his spouse.  Before too long the gang of three had assembled and posed for the first snap of the ride.

We were just about to go when a car pulled up - it was Suzanne from across the road, wishing us well.  As we rolled out past her house there was David her spouse and my co-worker, waving us on.  I told him that next year he'd ride with us!

Down Memorial, up Eldridge and into the main stream of cyclists, still a little before the official start.  We had a perfect morning - cool, clear and a juicy tail wind, and it stayed like that until lunch.

The Three Amigos kept together for some time but we had different plans for the day.  Larry normally doesn't stop for the first 60 miles, bypassing the official lunch break in Bellville.  Kevin and I break every 20 miles to get water and um, strain the spuds, and we have always stopped in Bellville for the traditional turkey sandwich and little tub of potato salad.  This year he suggested that we stop as needed on the way out but skip the official lunch, reasoning that it always took at least an hour to get in, get lunch and get out again, and all that did was cool us off right before the toughest section of the day's ride.  This made a lot of sense to me - while training I always took a break but noticed that it was hard to get going again afterwards.

I called for a potty break at 20 miles and then we settled in for the start of the rollers.  The route is flat until you cross the Brazos, after which you're rolling all the way.  Those first few climbs always seem to come as a surprise to some of the riders and the field slows dramatically and spreads across the road on the first grade.  I was feeling my (steel-cut) oats and took on the first climbs a la Kevin, flying up the outside.  Both Kevin and Larry told me to take it easy as we had plenty of miles left but I was enjoying myself.

Bellville arrived quite quickly and it was a novel experience to bypass the fairgrounds and the mass of other riders.  We rolled up to the Valero that we had visited several times while training and said goodbye to Larry, who was feeling strong and wanted to follow his plan and push ahead to 60 miles.

Another advantage of stopping at a gas station - flush toilets!  We made the most of the break, took a selfie (the first of many) and then headed out, with the feared Industry-Fayetteville section in front of us.

Pretty soon I began to flag.  I felt reasonably strong and was climbing well (if cautiously - no more Kevinesque uphill Charge of the Heavy Brigade) but my right foot was unbearably painful.  I've had this problem before - basically I have a bunion or something like one but I'm too much of a coward to get it fixed.  If I spin the pedals with as little weight as possible it's fine, and hadn't hurt me at all while training. Once I stop spinning and start muscling the cranks (usually when I'm getting tired) it really hurts.  I limped into Fayetteville and enjoyed the buzz we always get from the whole town cheering us on but I was hurting.  Kevin was nursing me along like a good friend, and if he hadn't been there I might well have stopped.  As it was I told myself that I would definitely take it easier on day 2 and avoid the dreaded park.

After Fayetteville the route is a little flatter and runs mostly north, so we had a full tail wind, which allowed me to coast a bit and try to recover.  We both knew that the final five miles into La Grange would be dead into the wind and it's by no means flat.

We stopped at the very familiar last break point of the day and I took the opportunity to walk around with my shoes off, blissful relief.  I always seem to see someone I know here and sure enough, up popped Big John, looking full of beans as always!

Time for the last 11 miles!  I'm absolutely running on fumes but Kevin still has a bit in the tank and takes point position as much as possible.  We make the turn south and man does that wind bite.  Kevin jumps out in front and I velcro myself onto his back wheel.  Amazingly I still have enough to keep in touch on the climbs but I'm ready to stop and drop.  The final turn doesn't come a minute too soon and there's the finish line.  We bump fists as we cross and that's that for another year, thank goodness.  I roll down the chute beside the barrier, high-fiving the spectators as I go, definitely a high spot for me.  We cruise to a stop and shake hands again, all smiles, and I thank Kevin very sincerely for getting me through the hard yards in training and on the day.

This year we'd decided to sign up with a different group, the Karbach Brewery team, and we quickly saw a volunteer who pointed us in the right direction.  Once at the tent our decision was immediately proven correct - we were in far enough ahead of the field that we could get a decent pitch for our cots, not too close to the bar.  I quickly rigged up but found I wasn't as exhausted as I thought, and opted for a beer, some snacks and a debrief.

Time for a shower and I shamelessly dumped my staunch friend and riding buddy for the VIP shower truck, one of the few top fund-raiser perks that I always use.  This year they even had towels for us, to commemorate the 30th ride.  I emerged after a good soak feeling pretty good, only to pass poor Kevin who was still in line (and still smiling even so!)

Back at the Karbach tent I helped myself to another beer and struck up conversation with some of my team-mates, very pleasant people.  Dinner was supposed to be ready for 5 pm but not much seemed to be happening.  Sure enough, by the time Kevin returned from the peon's shower line, they had pushed it back to 6.30 pm and we thought about having the chicken dinner provided by the ride instead.  But then I spotted Taylor, former co-worker and current friend who was riding with St.Arnold's but had come to the Karbach tent for better beer on open tap.  She was with her dad who lives in Austin.  We haven't seen her since last year and had a lot of catching up to do.

the breakfast of Champions
Dinner eventually appeared, Taylor took her dad home and we met some more team-mates over the fajitas.  After dinner as always we wandered down to the stage to watch the band, before returning to the tent for an early night.  For once I slept reasonably well - it didn't hurt that the tent was pretty quiet.

Wakey-wakey, rise and shine!  Breakfast (pancakes and coffee) is available from 5am, heaven only knows when the Volunteers get up.  We rapidly get outside an outsize serving of excellent pancakes and then plan the day's ride.  Our friend Tom is riding with his son John again this year, and they are going to take the lunch express route to Bastrop, basically a straight shot up the shoulder of route 71.  It's nice and smooth and although not flat the grades are pretty gentle.  Last year Kevin and I rode the challenge route through the Parks and met them at the lunch stop for the run into Austin.  I had a pretty torrid time in the Parks last year and after yesterday's slog I'm not up for it this year.  Kevin proposes a compromise - the challenge route as far as the Park but then take the bypass to the lunch express - and I agree with some misgivings.

We gather at the head of the line (another top fund-raiser perk that I don't normally use - you can cut the line!) and duly head out in the gloom.  We're both wearing sunglasses, probably not the best way to ride in traffic before dawn.  This route starts with a long descent and we get up a pretty good speed as we roll out into the valley.  Pretty soon we're off the main road and onto rolling country lanes, actually very pretty terrain that's easy to ride if you put a bit of effort into the descents.  Kevin thinks that this stretch of the ride is the nicest section and I'm inclined to agree.  We blow past the first rest stop in Winchester and then see the Smithville water tower in the distance, signalling our approach to Kevin's nemesis, the big scary hill.  This is a long, steep descent where you can easily hit 40 mph and still be passed by other riders.  It's been the site of numerous wrecks over the years and Kevin hates it.

He leads out over the crest and onto the downslope but I quickly pass him and let 'er go.  I get up to about 34 mph and although the bike feels very stable, get on the brakes and start to scrub off speed.  The roll-out seems to last forever but eventually I'm back to pedalling, no sign of Kevin of course.  The turn off into the Park looms and I ease to the side to allow the more adventurous riders in.

Once past the turn, there's a small climb before you join route 71 and the lunch express gang.  I got to the top and then pulled over to wait for Kevin, but he wasn't to be seen.  OK, he's either waiting for me back behind me somewhere or he's had a flat, so I turn on my phone (turned off to save battery power) and sure enough I had missed a call from him.  I hit him back and he answers straight away - he'd thought that he must have got in front and was waiting for me!

We reunite quickly and head out once more, now on the shoulder of route 71, a much smoother surface.  We're both ready for a break but there's about a mile to run first.  The break point is in the middle of a field that turns out to be full of burrs, as I discover to my cost when I take off my shoes to get some relief for my sore foot.  Oh well, back at it.

There are four decent climbs before we get into Bastrop.  I hit the down slopes hard but the climbs are still tough, not as steep as in the Park but longer.  Kevin is in his element of course.  We get into Bastrop and the familiar route through the back streets, across the Colorado river (a very pretty view here) and into the Middle School parking lot for lunch.  The plan was to meet up with Tom and John here, otherwise we might have kept going just as we did in Bellville.

only 40 miles to go now!
Something new this year, we had the option of a turkey, ham or vegetarian sandwich!   We make our choices and find a seat under the big tent, where we get another rider to take this photo. By chance we're seated a few feet from Shawn, one of the stronger Mules, who is riding with Direct Energy.  He and some friends rode all the way from Houston to Austin yesterday, then got a lift to La Grange this morning and is half-way through riding the second day for the second time!

Kevin gets on the phone to Tom, who is making very slow progress.  They've just arrived at the Nelsonville rest stop (where they had all the burrs), so he's at least an hour behind us.  Once they reach the lunch stop, they'll need some time to eat and rest so realistically we're looking at a 90 minute delay.  Kevin is really torn - Tom is an old friend after all, but we can't wait that long, and decide to head out without them.

The rest of the ride is always a bit of a grind.  There aren't any serious climbs left but the road surface is poor, which is very debilitating, and 140 miles of riding inevitably takes its toll.  There is always a ludicrously long line for the potties in Bastrop, so we plan to hit the next stop regardless, but it's about 16 miles down the road in Webberville and I'm more than ready for it when we pull up.

Back at it once more.  We roll through Webberville, a fairly nondescript little town that Kevin knows well as it's in a bend of the Colorado river and popular for canoeing.  Ten miles on and we pass the last rest stop before the finish.  The next landmark is the Austin city limit sign and now we have a few hills to climb on the run in.  The first has a busy junction at the top and as usual we're stopped by the Police to let some cars through.  Just as we stop there's a short shower of rain that makes the surface very slippery.  We know it's slick because a truck in the lane next to us spins its wheels for a few seconds before it gets going.  Suddenly all the cyclists are nervous about the long descent in front of us!  Fortunately that was all the rain we saw.

The last few miles are a bit nerve-wracking.  There are lots of cyclists of different fitness and proficiency levels crammed into a narrow coned-off lane, along a road with a number of long descents and climbs.  To make it worse every so often someone nudges a cone into the lane.  Kevin has seen bad wrecks on this stretch and is always nervous.

With a mile or so to run, Kevin stops to call his wife, who will be meeting us at the finish.  As he does so he sees a text from Tom - apparently John got very dehydrated and had to be taken to a hospital where he was given several litres of fluid via IV!  Poor kid, I hope that doesn't put him off riding,  he had a very positive experience last year.
made it (again!)

And so we come to the finish!  A turn takes us onto MLK drive, which slopes down to the final left-hander and under the finish line with the Capitol in the background.  It's a great feeling but if I'm honest, more of a relief than anything else.  More high fives with the crowd and then I dismount by the bike trucks to drop off my trusty steed for her ride home to Houston.

Off with the shoes, what a relief!  I limp my way to the team tent area and see Kevin waving - he's already found the Karbach tent.  The tent is very popular because they're giving away free beer!  We're apparently the first two riders in, or at least the first two to reach the tent anyway.  The team truck with the bags is parked a few blocks away.  I get my bag and then head off for the VIP shower truck (again!).  After a good soak I make my way back to the tent, where Kevin has been joined by his wife Barbara and a friend.  They are joining Tom and his family for dinner in Austin, so I take my leave - with profuse thanks to my good friend, riding buddy and domestique once more - and get in line for a coach back to Houston.

I'm in line right behind David, a co-worker and for many years a team-mate when our employer ran a cycling team.  After a two year hiatus, they ran a team again this year but kept it very low-key, mainly to demonstrate that they could stay within a reasonable budget.  Because, after all, oil companies just don't make very much money these days.  Anyway they were successful, so maybe there will be a larger-scale team next year.  But then, maybe this was my last MS150 ride?


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Three rides in one!

steady now mes braves
 .. one blog post, that is.  Life has got in the way recently and I've had three good rides since my last post, so you get a threefer today.

Two weekends back I was sans domestique again (Kevin had gone to Washington State to visit his daughter and explore the Olympic peninsula, lucky chap) and had to drive myself (huh?) to Zube for a ride with the Mules.  On the drive out Kevin and I often try to give each other ear-worms, catchy music phrases that stick annoyingly in your ear but hopefully help get you up the next hill.  When I'm on my own I generally listen to NPR (unless it's pledge week, as it is now) and I was that morning.  ABout ten minutes out from Zube they ran a trailer for a programme on the topic of ear-worms - and played Petula Clark's "Downtown" as a prime example.  Oh no - would the Prog Rock devotee find himself humming "When you're alone.." all over Waller County?

This was my first chance to see Paddy's new Mules RV in the flesh and what impressive flesh it is, huge, well-appointed and ridiculously over the top.  A fairly speedy group had gathered, including Gene, Julie, Adam and Britt, and I could see trouble looming.  We set out on the new standard route, which is intended to limit time on Business 290 but in doing so has us on some fairly crappy surfaces.  I was hanging in there fairly well and even managed a Kevin-like climb on a couple of the hills.

15 miles in and Britt got a flat, right next to a gas station.  I helped him (he didn't need much!) while the others took a break - and then they informed me that there wouldn't be any more stops!  Perhaps not for you, I told Paddy, but I'm taking a break at the gas station as usual and you can go ahead without me.

And indeed that's what happened.  I made the right turn down to the Exxon, the others went left for home.  I had my break and then followed, only to run into a large white lab pup without a collar, who wanted to run and bark at me.  He was harmless enough but a bit unnerving.  A bit further on and I had the chance to get reacquainted with Kevin's dog that he keeps on a farm on Mathis road, and who is shown with a comrade in arms in the picture.  Actually that's Napoleon and Lafayette from the Disney movie "The Aristocats".  In my favourite scene, they try to take down Edgar the dastardly butler on his motorcycle/sidecar combination, and manage to get a few good bites in before he escapes.  Our normal method for dealing with dogs is to sprint but I didn't have enough in the tank and had to settle for shouting "Go home" at them, with little to no effect.  They were also harmless but wanted to bark and prance around in front of me, so I had to hit the brakes and almost came to a dead stop before they let me go.

The rest of the ride was uneventful enough, fortunately, but back at Zube, Paddy had roped the gang into helping rig up the RV, so Britt was trying to start a couple of gas generators while Gene was fitting a cover over the propane tanks.  I settled for taking some photos.

Fast forward a week and I'm in Comfort, Texas, a charming little Hill Country town.  We had been invited to the wedding of the daughter of a High School friend of Susan's in Boerne, just north of San Antonio, and Susan had found an appealing bed and breakfast a few miles further north.  Lisa and Jo, the other two in the high school Gang of Four, took a room there as well and shenanigans duly ensued.  I had brought my bike and associated paraphernalia and had found a suitable-looking route on Map My Ride, a 35-mile loop to Kerville.  So Friday morning saw me gearing up, a little jaded after a long evening of opening beer bottles and pouring wine for the ladies, but looking forward to new roads.

very nice patio at the Kerrville Starbucks
I had loaded the route on my Garmin and it guided me round flawlessly, exactly what I'd got it for.  The run out followed some busy roads but also had a few nice stretches in the country.  It was mostly flat, with a couple of grades when you crossed creek beds.  I got to Kerrville and found the only Starbucks in town - very pleasant but well off my route.  Back at it and the topography immediately got more challenging, with some very sharp climbs and associated descents.  I used Kevin's hill-climbing technique a couple of times but most were just too steep.

I was relieved to get back into Comfort and hook up with the ladies, who had enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and were now shopping.  We had lunch at a very nice cafe with a patio on the main drag.   Unlike Houston, there were so few cars on the street that this was really very pleasant.  A couple of well-earned beers didn't hurt either.  We had another morning in Comfort but that was enough riding for me and I squired the ladies around instead.

The third ride was a few days ago and our last chance for a decent run before the MS150.  Kevin was back and normal domestique service resumed, thank goodness.  We opted for our own new Zube ride, which also eliminates Business 290 but doesn't have such poor road surfaces.  The wind was in our teeth on the way out, which is good, it means we can coast home - except it veered east and strengthened while we were taking our break.  This made for a tough run home, but we still managed a sprint when once again Napoleon and Lafayette began their charge.  Kevin got in front and of course the mutts latched onto him, leaving me to shout encouragement from behind.  As ever they disengaged at the property line leaving us huffing and puffing.  We passed a field with bluebonnets and Kevin suggested a photo stop/recovery break.

Back at it for the last six miles and I was really struggling.  We did our usual half-mile turns but the speed difference between my turn and Kevin's was getting embarrassing.  With a mile to go he took pity on me and finished it out.

So that's it for this year's training programme.  I think it has gone well but we won't know until we get to Austin.  Wish us bonne route et bonne courage!

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