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.

Friday, May 8, 2015

You never blow your trip forever

So the big day dawned - and I stayed in bed!  Heavy rain in La Grange over the week before the ride had flooded out the camp ground, so with nowhere to take the overnight break, the MS Society decided to cancel the first day for only the second time in the ride's history.  

But the second day was still on, with an 8am start out of downtown La Grange,  so we made our plans - Kevin and I were to drive up Sunday morning, meeting Lee and BJ who were coming down from an overnight stay in Austin.  Meanwhile, Barbara (Kevin's wife), who had spent Saturday night visiting friends in Wimberley, would meet us at the finish in Austin and shuttle us back to the car in La Grange.  Got it?  Good, not sure I did.

So it was an even earlier start than usual for Kevin and I, without the Starbucks stop for once as we were both adequately caffeinated.  We anticipated traffic and were certainly passed by plenty of vehicles with bikes but in fact made good time, good enough in fact to take a break in Ellinger at Hruska's, purveyor of authentic kolaches and klobasikys (and gasoline).  One of the many cyclists there was none other than Tom, a good friend of ours, who was doing the ride with his teenage son John again (apparently still asleep in the truck outside!)  A couple of years back Kevin and I rode the Bastrop to Austin section with Tom and John and this gave me a wonderful excuse for taking it slowly (John can't keep up if you go too fast).  It was not to be this year however.

The%20King%20and%20I%20and%20KevinWe hooked up with Lee and BJ in La Grange and got geared up for a long day in the saddle.  Not only was the first day cancelled, the Challenge route through the Parks was also closed, so we would be on the Lunch Express route, straight up route 71 into Bastrop, then on to Austin for a total of 68 miles.  Not as many as we had expected but enough all the same.

Lee had perhaps foolishly decided to ride the first and last ten miles in an Elvis costume (he had one lying around the house, as you do) in the hope of raising a few more bucks for the cause.  With his wig (on top of his helmet of course), gold shades and rhinestone-studded jump suit he was quite impressive, although I suspect Elvis didn't use white duct tape to keep his flares out of his bike chain.  To round out the effect, Kevin had loaded up his cellphone with Elvis's greatest hits and brought a portable Bluetooth speaker which he hung from Lee's saddle.  This not only added artistic verisimilitude but had the benefit of making sure that Kevin wouldn't get out of Bluetooth range in front of us.  Lee gamely tried to adopt an Elvis sneer but he has far too sunny a temperament to make it convincing, and he was also having a blast.

And so the adventure began, with "Hound Dog" blaring from Lee's bike, unusual even by our standards.  We rode down to the County court house and found a sea of cyclists all standing around waiting for the off.  Lee immediately attracted a lot of attention, with numerous young women in lycra wanting their photo taken standing next to the King.  With hindsight we should have charged for each snap.

After about 40 minutes standing around with no signs of progress, word went around that it would be at least two more hours before we got going, so we decided to take matters into our own hands.  We knew the route - basically straight up route 71 - so all we had to do was get on to it somewhere.  After a few minutes riding around we spotted the highway and we were off.

71 is a divided highway with two lanes each way, and there were enough cyclists on the route for us to take a lane for ourselves.  The first 15 miles or so is pretty flat and the surface is excellent, so we rolled along in fine style under clear skies with little or no wind.  The cars and trucks were forced onto a single lane and were more or less keeping pace with us - so one group of ladies in a minivan, delighted at the sight of the King, cruised alongside for a while, all of them shooting cellphone videos.

We pulled in at the first rest stop for Lee to strip off his jumpsuit and resume his normal persona.  Then it was back at it, with a slightly more challenging section in front of us.

A few weeks back, Lee and I had driven up to Bastrop State Park to plant trees with a group from the MS 150 Club 300.  There had been a pretty bad wildfire and we were glad of the opportunity to give something back.  After the tree planting we had cycled the two Parks and then returned to the car via route 71, along the section we were now seeing.  That time it was wet and windy, today it was dry and calm but the rollers hadn't got any flatter.  I was in my granny ring and granny gear a time or two but made it through and felt fairly good at the end in Bastrop.

The lunch break for the second day is at the Middle School.  We knew from experience that it would be hectic, with long lines for everything, especially the toilets, and the lunch wasn't that fancy anyway, a turkey sub with chips and an apple.  As it was barely 10am we weren't all that hungry anyway, so I suggested a minor deviation.  I was pretty sure that a mile further down the route at a big intersection there was a gas station, where we could get water and chocolate milk (of course), eat our snacks and gels and use a flush toilet.

Great idea but sadly my memory was flawed - we got to the intersection and there was no gas station (memo to self - possible retirement business opportunity?).  There was a big strip mall though with an Academy, surely they would have water at least?

Indeed they did, and also chocolate-flavoured coconut water!  First things first though, they had very nice, clean restrooms in the back (I attracted quite a few puzzled stares as I clip-clopped my way through the store).  The coconut water turned out to be very odd indeed and I didn't finish it.  Back at it for the last 30 miles or so into Austin.  The plan was to stop at the last break before the city for the Return of the King but not before then, giving us about a 20 mile run.  

But no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and in this case once again my right foot was that enemy.  In previous years it had begun to hurt after 40 or 50 miles and got so bad that I had to stop and walk around without my shoe on for a while.  I hadn't had too many issues with it during training this time and had hoped I would be ok, but I wasn't.  After ten miles it was really giving me gyp as they say.  I tried unclipping on a downhill and that seemed to help, so I started riding without clipping in, but when we reached the Webberville break point I had to ask the guys to stop.

Kevin was looking like he was in the middle of a gentle ride around his neighbourhood!  Lee also looked strong but he admitted to being a bit tired.  I took my shoes off and slogged over to get some water.  Kevin gently suggested I take some tylenol for the pain on the basis that it couldn't do any harm and that made some sense.

Normally the exit from this stop takes you back onto the route a little further down, but the field you have to cross was flooded so we had to double back and join a long line of riders trying to get back at it.  We finally got going with about 20 miles to run.  The tylenol didn't help and I was soon hurting again.  I gritted my teeth and pedalled on but I was really slowing the guys down.  

We got to the last break before the end only to find it had been moved from the roadside and into a field some way back.  We turned off anyway for me to get some more shoe-free relief, but didn't actually go into the rest area.

Come on then, let's get 'er done.  We passed the Austin City limits sign, normally a boost but to be honest not much help this time.  There are several decent rollers on the way in, and the climbs were killing me.  With about a mile to go I was dead in the water and actually pretty much out of water too, so we pulled over opposite a gas station, ostensibly for water and for Lee to don the jumpsuit once more, in practise because I was beat.  Kevin took his life into his own hands, dodging cyclists and cars while attempting to run across a road in cycling shoes, but emerged with armfulls of water bottles just like a pro domestique.

There really wasn't much left of the ride, and Lee was getting lots of love which was quite a boost.  We made the final turn into the chute with Lee in the lead, waving left and right to the cheering crowds.  I can honestly say that I've never enjoyed an MS 150 finish as much as this one, cruising along behind the King.

So there we were, in Austin after perhaps the most painful time in the saddle I'd ever experienced.  We dropped our bikes at the compound and found the BHP tent.  Barbara and BJ were already there (they had expected us a lot earlier, sorry ladies I kept your boys out longer than I meant) so we got a warm welcome.  There was damn good food to be had too, excellent ribs (pretty spicy!) and a sausage on a stick that was very salty and unbelievably delicious.  BHP had supplied a keg of Shiner but good old Chris (who had been in for hours of course) had brought Karbach just as she said she would and handed me a Rodeo Cown, nectar to go with the ambrosial BBQ.

Off for a shower (no line for us VIPs of course!) and then back to the tent to break the news to the guys.  Back in January I had decided that this would be my last MS ride.  I told Susan at the time but didn't tell Kevin or Lee, not wanting to cast a pall on our training and the fun we were having.  To lighten things up I had bought them both Monty Python "Ministry of Silly Walks" watches and duly presented them along with my news.  In pro cycling the team leader generally gives his team a gift of some sort, often a nice watch, a Rolex if they had a good season.  I couldn't see that hppening but they got ThinkGeek's finest, a nice tie-in to the Python theme we'd had all year too.

So that's that!  Since 2003 I've raised close to $200,000 for the MS Society, thanks to generous friends like you few who read this drivel I put out.  I've also had a lot of fun and a fair bit of discomfort but that's nothing compared to the daily life of people with this noxious disease. 

There's no doubt that the last few rides were made immeasurably easier and more fun by my good friend Kevin.  I owe you a huge debt of gratitude Bass Man, not least for the musical portions of your instruction.  This last year was even more enjoyable because Lee joined us.  We made quite a team!

As an epilogue, the title of this blog post comes from a song written and performed by Daevid Allen, founder member of Soft Machine and Gong and thus a major source of musical entertainment for me as a young man.  Daevid lost a fight with cancer earlier this year at the too-young age of 70.  

I started this blog to drum up pledges for my rides.  Since I'm not riding any more, this will be my last post.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Carry on up the Fruit Loop

It's the last weekend before the big ride!  We all wanted a gentle outing just to round out the training season, but the weather was forecast to be wet and nasty on Sunday, Lee had a time constraint on Saturday, Kevin was recovering from a bout of the Dreaded Lurgy and also had work commitments, what was a peloton to do?

You can always rely on Lee when the chips are down!  He suggested a few laps of the Fruit Loop (aka the Picnic Loop in Memorial Park, a 1.2 mile circuit that is normally closed to vehicles), which would mean a lot less driving and a lot more flexibility.  Brilliant!  I've never been on the Fruit Loop, at least not on a bike, but he and Kevin are old pros.

So I loaded up the bike into my car (driving myself again?), headed out and parked up at the Loop barely 15 minutes later.  I got geared up and Lee appeared - he'd ridden his bike there and had already got in a few laps and a Starbucks.  We rolled out and I soon got the hang of it - the road surface is only fair and there are a few turns to negotiate, but it's flat and traffic flows one way only so you can ride all over the road without fear.

After a couple more laps, Kevin appeared and immediately kicked the pace up a notch.  We weren't exactly breaking the land speed record, but it's a relentless pace, with no downhills to coast and get your breath back.

As we zipped aound my thoughts turned to the legendary ouzlum bird, which features prominently in "Carry on up the jungle", one of a series of British comedy films (imaginatively called the "Carry On" series) from the 60's and 70's.  I loved those movies when I was a kid, not least because much of the humour was decidedly risque.  Anyway the ouzlum bird, when startled, is rumoured to fly around in a series of ever-decreasing circles until it vanishes up its own fundamental orifice in a mass of poo and feathers.  I think it's related to the oomigooli bird, which has large testicles and short legs and thus experiences some discomfort whenever it comes in to land.  For the ornithologists among you, they're both members of the Shite Hawk family (Shitus Hawkus).

Our gyrations fortunately were not of the ever-decreasing kind!  After a few more, Lee left for home and Kevin and I put in another 10 before doing the same.  Next ride is Austin or bust!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Billy No-Mates

Lee was being a good parent again (you can spoil kids you know) and Kevin was having a sickie, so I had to lone-wolf it on Saturday.  This included driving myself to Zube and inflating my own tires!  No point in stopping at Starbucks for the traditional pre-ride coffee either, although Susan suggested I pour one out for them anyway.

Paddy was there with the Mules trailer and I stopped for a brief chat before rolling out on my own under grey skies, with a decent wind from the south east pushing me along.  Rather than take the Hegar route, I opted for the previous standard, which goes down Laneview where there are usually wild flowers and sometimes exciting birds.  I wasn't disappointed!  About 20 miles in I put up a scissor-tailed flycatcher, who delighted me by flying along by my side for a good 100 yards, giving me a great view of his superb plumage.  Certainly the best looking bird we see out here, he knocks Kevin's Caracara out of the park.  But still no bluebonnets sadly.

Another down side of riding on my own - no earworm!  I had a bizarre mix of "I'm a believer", "Our house" and "Solsbury Hill" rolling through my head all the way round, with occasional bursts of Taylor Swift when I needed a hill climb boost.  

I took the standard break at the Exxon and the standard selfie, this time sans domestiques (subsequently photo-shopped in by MC), and rudely eavesdropped on a conversation amongst a group of serious-looking riders who were discussing shaving products.  Then back at it and the run through Hempstead and points south.

When I turned for home the wind started to bite in earnest, but I hung in there, admittedly at embarrassingly slow speeds.  I got back to Zube with 51 miles done at an average of 14.6mph, a good 2.5mph slower than the same run with Kevin and Lee.  One more ride to go before the big day!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

So when exactly does the taper start?

We're three weeks out from the big ride, and I hear that serious athletes start to taper off the intensity and duration of their training regime before a big event so that they're fresh for it.  Apparently Kevin hasn't heard of the taper, judging from yesterday's race around Waller County anyway.

Lee was out being a good parent, but Eric from work wanted to ride with us and duly showed up at Zube.  He's a tall chap like Lee and Kevin but there the resemblance ends, he's too skinny to block any wind.  He also wasn't aware of his domestique duties but never mind, he can be taught.

Another beautiful morning for bike riding, a little cool (Kevin and Eric were rocking arm warmers, I was bare armed and goose-fleshed) but tons of sunshine and blue skies.  There was a breeze from the south-east, a good MS150 wind, but not strong enough to be a big issue.

Up and at 'em, and Eric proved to be a pretty strong rider, keeping pace with Kevin most of the way round.  We reached the gas station in good shape and opted to go for the longer route home, giving us 51 miles for the morning.  An uneventful ride, really.  But it turns out that Eric is lactose-intolerant and didn't want his chocolate milk.  I suppose that means I'll have to find chocolate soy milk somewhere if he's going to come out with us again.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Fetchez la vache!

This week's dose of Python is from one of the pivotal scenes in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".  After many arduous and occasionally silly adventures, Arthur and the remnant of his Knights arrive at the Castle Aaargh, site of the Grail, only to discover that it's held by French soldiers who taunt them most foully.   When this doesn't drive the Brits off,  the commander of the French forces orders his men to "Fetchez la vache",  schoolboy franglais for "go get the cow", which they then catapult over the wall.  This only came up when I attempted to text to the gang "rendezvous chez moi", only to have my phone auto-correct "chez moi" to "chez moo".  No surprise that things went down hill from there.

Saturday was a washout, just as well as Kevin got back from Faraday, Louisiana pretty late on Friday, and Susan and I had been at a Stevie Wonder concert until 10pm.  Sunday was the Bluebonnet Express, a popular organized ride that we had all done in the past, so we decided to join the Madding Crowds and see if we could manage a longer distance.  The ride starts at Waller ISD stadium, a magnificent temple to American football in the middle of freakin' nowhere, actually on one of the Zube routes, so we know the area pretty well.  We still managed to get stuck in traffic for the parking area, even though Kevin, in a moment of highly non-Unitarian conduct, attempted to cut the line.

The ride uses a rolling start, basically you take off when you're ready, which eliminates a lot of the waiting around that is usually the biggest issue with these rides, so that was a plus.  The weather was also very favourable, a cool and pretty morning with a decent wind out of the north that pushed us along nicely for the first ten miles.  Lee and I had agreed that if Kevin was pushing the pace too much, we would call out "fetchez la vache", meaning slow the f&$@ down.  Surprise surprise, he took off like an F15 with the afterburners lit, and I had to invoke the franglais after about five miles, sadly with no obvious effect.

The rest stops were further apart than usual, so we were actually 32 miles in when we took our first break.  I was ready for it but didn't feel too bad.  Last time we visited this fine city, we were forty-plus miles into the run and I pretty much cratered two miles further on.  This time we had some wind on our backs, less miles in our legs and butts and I was able to hold a decent pace, although the other two were clearly cruising pretty comfortably.  But I needed a quick break at the last rest stop.

While we were standing around eating trail mix, a young woman came up and shook Kevin's hand.  He was wearing a top fundraisers jersey and she wanted to thank him for his efforts, as she actually has the disease.  We talked about her progress and treatment and wished her well before heading out.

The last ten miles were easy enough, mostly flat and mostly downwind, and we finished strongly, 55 miles at an average pace of 17 mph.  Not many weekends left now!

Monday, March 16, 2015

And we're going to the Chappell (Hill) of Pain

Lee had a sick note so it was the Old Firm (Me and Kevin) that hit the road last Saturday on a cool, foggy morning, heading for adventure!  Or at least, Chappell Hill, a small town just a bit further out than our usual stamping ground, that is the starting point for a number of popular cycling routes, all of them scenic and all very hilly.

We had both done Chappell Hill rides before but not together and it was a while ago so we didn't remember the route.  Not to worry, my friend Juan (a fierce MS fundraiser) rides out here regularly and had provided a map and GPS coordinates, so what could go wrong?

Juan's map had three routes, long, medium and short.  Sadly the long was too long (58 miles!) and the medium too short, so we took the Goldilocks  option, a bit of both that was just right.  In theory.

In practise we missed a turn less than a mile from the start and it wasn't the only one we blew.  We stormed down a pretty, rolling road in bright sunshine, only to discover that we were about to merge onto the freeway.  Whoops!  This could perhaps be put down to a misfortune, induced in part by an unusual level of pre-ride hilarity.  Somehow the topic of embarrassment cropped up while we were getting ready, and I remembered the Monty Python sketch featuring Dr. Karl Gruber of the Institute of Going-a-bit-red in Helsinki.  The catchphrase "wankel rotary engine" had Kevin practically paralytic with laughter and he was still chuckling throughout the ride.

Anyway, back on course and we were immediately into a succession of rollers, some significantly steeper than others.  I doubt we found more than a mile of flat road on the entire ride, and my granny ring got a thorough workout in the process.  It's just beautiful country out there and it was a wonderful spring morning so it should have been a beatific Texas experience, were it not for the damn hills.

About fourteen miles in, we realised that we were probably off-piste again and stopped to consult the map, my GPS and two cell phones equipped with Google maps.  As Kevin says, we knew our position to within a foot and were still lost.  Eventually we worked out that we had missed a turn but could modify the route a little and get back on course.  Kevin also casually announced that he hadn't been able to shift out of his big ring for the last several miles and had been grinding up the climbs on it.  I'd been through just about every gear on my bike over the same course and had been looking for more!

Back at it on a busy road where the grades are lower but the  climbs correspondingly longer.  He left me on the longest but waited at the top, where he had enough time to take a drink, chat with some other riders, stretch and scratch and then get his phone out to take this shot just as I crested the rise.  

Shortly after this point we turned north onto a quieter but no less lumpy road.  Somewhere along here Kevin spotted a stranded turtle and turned round mid-climb to render assistance.  What a role model!

We were now a few miles from the town of Independence where we planned to take our official mid-ride break.  Sadly there was still work to be done, with a long, slow climb up to a large communications tower that put me in mind of the climb up Mont Ventoux.  That's probably as close as I'll get to the real thing but it was tough going.  Once past that point it was a short run to the village store for a much-needed rest.

A few minutes banter with the locals and we were back at it.  The plan was to follow the long route in reverse and it started out well enough, mostly downwind which didn't hurt.  Kevin spotted an unusual bird along the way and that was all the excuse I needed to stop.  This little chap had a distinctive yellow breast and was singing his heart out on a farm gate.  We subsequently decided he was a meadowlark, the first I've ever seen.

A few miles on and the GPS was showing a turn but we didn't believe it and stayed on the same road.  We should have had faith!  We ended up on the outskirts of Brenham, well off course and throroughly confused.  It was now 12:30, we were at least 15 miles out from the start and 60 miles from home.  Time for the apologetic call home to the very understanding spouse.

Much head scratching later, we agreed to trust the GPS and set out on an interception course.  Miraculously enough it worked, we were back on track with only a few miles to run, just as well as I was played out.  Kevin was feeling great of course and enjoying the admittedly ravishingly country scenery.

Back at the start and I proposed lunch before we headed back, mainly because my blood sugar was in negative territory.  One sausage sandwich later and life began to take on a more rosy hue.  We've certainly got our hills in this year.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What does the Fox say, Kevin?

We started yesterday's ride with a rant from Kevin about Fox News.  He' s been working out on the stairmaster at his gym and the giant TV on the wall in front of the machine is always tuned to Fox, so he's sweating away while staring at a glamorous blonde looking quizzically at an ugly white middle-aged male bloviator.  Not too dissimilar to my own gym experience, except that I watch Family Feud with the sound turned down and try to guess what the question was based on the answers, almost like Jeopardy.

This got me thinking aloud about a possible "Ask an angry Liberal" section on Fox and Friends, in which Kevin explains it all and the blonde replies something to the effect of " that's a very shallow analysis Kevin, are you sure you've thought it through?"  This unlikely scenario had us all laughing pretty hard as we walked into Starbucks.  I always wonder what the baristas think about the group of men in Lycra who show up for coffee every Saturday morning, all laughing like maniacs.

Anyway I must have been feeling my granola (home-made with pecans and maple syrup, since you ask) because I proposed a trip to Sealy.  This was speedily agreed and off we went to take on our toughest ride for probably the third time this season.

I'd hoped that we could put the cold weather gear away until the fall, but we certainly needed it for this ride, I doubt we got out of the 40's all the way round.  Lee the human lizard had been as low as four layers recently but was back to the full six this morning.  

We're getting into migration time, and we often see some impressive birds on this route, particularly on the run down to San Bernardo, which Kevin has christened "Caracara Alley" because we've seen several there.  Today we actually saw one in flight, an awe-inspiring sight.  With a good wind out of the east on our backs we made it to the first break point (the feed store in San Bernardo) in record time, realizing of course that we would have to pay for the fun with a head wind through the Alpe de Sealy section.  But that was 20 miles away.

The next section has a Tara-like estate, complete with a lake and a crunchy gravel drive.  I don't normally get much of a look at it because it's half way up a long, fairly gentle climb, but the tail wind let me lift my head for once.  Another feature of this bit are the hell hounds that have chased us with evil intent on several occasions.  The last time we did this route I was wearing my helmet-cam, and I turned it on at this point in the hopes of catching the fun on film, but the mutts didn't materialize.  Lee pointed out that since I wasn't wearing it today we would probably get charged, and if we did it would be my fault.  In the end there was a truck passing us right on the dog corner so we couldn't make a wide turn.  If the dogs had come out to play they would have had us bang to rights!  Fortunately they were a no-show.

On to Cat Spring, where we take another break before the scary hills.  As we rolled through the town, Kevin commented to me that the miles were just flowing by today.  If I hadn't been so tired I would have squirted him with my water bottle.  I felt ok but my legs knew they'd been working.

The Cat Spring Country Club was jumping that morning, with two actual customers to keep the grumpy proprietress busy.  I actually managed to get a smile out of her when I paid for our waters.  She couldn't remember what bill I paid with so I told her it was a five - no wait, it was a fifty.  Another five or ten more years and she might actually say hello and goodbye to us.

And so to the hills.  The order of the day was a kind of anti-Three Musketeers - every man for himself!  Kevin and Lee screamed ahead on the first climb and I didn't really see much of them until the top of the last, where they were good enough to wait for me.  Overall I did pretty well, using my gears intelligently for once.  I was slow but didn't have to kill myself, and as a result felt reasonably good on the final run down route 36 back to Sealy.  But I think that's enough Sealy time this year, boys.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Fantasy Cycling

Lots to tell you about this time!  Two weeks back, Lee and I had to manage without Kevin our "mobile wind wall", who was on canoe wrangling duty with the Armand Bayou people on Saturday, and sound engineer for the Unitarians on Sunday.  The MS Society top fund-raisers group had organized a tree-planting party in Bastrop State Park on Sunday, so Lee and I decided to give a little back and get a preview of the parks at the same time.  Poor old BJ was going to join us but was laid low by a dodgy chicken-fried steak and decided to stay in bed.

Fellow MS-riders will know that the Park (as it's called, actually it's two parks, Buescher and Bastrop) are the biggest physical challenge of the Houston-Austin ride.  You get there on the Sunday, in my case already worn down by 40-plus miles over reasonably lumpy terrain, including the dreaded descent of the Smithville hill.  By that time you've got pretty tired of riding rollers - long, not too steep descents and ascents - but the Park kicks it up a notch, with a series of much sharper, if shorter,  hills, with a couple of real killers thrown in for good measure.

The Park is memorable not just for the physical toll it takes but also for the scenery.  It's in the Lost Pines region of Texas, 6,000 acres of pine forest in the middle of rolling pasture, an offshoot of the Piney Woods that used to cover much of the central and eastern part of the state but is now confined to the Louisiana border.  Apparently some kind of geological fluke kept the pines alive here when they died almost everywhere else.  Sadly though a few years back a wild fire broke out and destroyed 4,000 acres, and now big sections look like a moonscape, a very sad sight from the bike.  The State has funded some reforestation work and the MS group was one of many that  volunteered time to help out.

Lee and I got our allotment of pine saplings, picked up a dibbler (I kid you not) and hiked a mile into the wasteland with the rest of the group.  The Park Ranger leading the effort showed us how to plant and then let us loose.  Lee and I got into a good rhythm pretty quickly - he dibbled, I planted - and we had 75 trees into the ground in a couple of hours.

Into an immaculate shower and toilet block to put on our cycling togs and we were off, planning to ride back to the entrance to Buescher and then turn around and do it in reverse.

The very first climb took the wind out of my sails, and after that it was a matter of hanging on for dear life on the descents, before shifting into the granny ring and grinding out the climbs.  Lee described a couple of them as "ramps", they were certainly quite a challenge for me.  We arrived at the entrance with a light ran starting to fall, and I suggested to Lee that rather than take the climbs on again, we could ride the "Lunch Express" route - straight up route 71.  This made sense to him and off we rolled.

This route has the same elevation changes as the Park, but the grades are gentler and the surface much smoother. We also had a following wind, but it was still tough going.  I'd expected the ride to be easier, because we've trained hard this year and it's only 25 miles or so, but I hadn't factored in the effort it takes to hike a mile or two over rough ground and plant trees.  We got our reward though - we stopped for lunch at Mikeska's BBQ in Columbus and did some serious damage to the all-you-can eat buffet (that brisket, those ribs, mmm).  BJ was feeling better by then, and I needed to recoup some husband brownie points after being gone all day Sunday, so we both picked up a few pounds of meat to go.  The rest of the weekend passed in a smoked-meat semi-coma.

The Awesome Threesome were reunited next Saturday.  Kevin was hankerin' for the hills, but the wind was in the wrong direction for Sealy and the forecast threatened rain anyway, so we opted for good ol' Zube.  I tried to set the tone for the day with a suitably relaxing ear-worm in the form of Gong's "Master Builder", from their 1974 release "You", and predictably enough got a good ribbing from Kevin.  Who cares, the riff lodged nicely in my cranium and got me up a few climbs.

Kevin called for an audible at the gas station - longer or shorter route - and got us to pose in a state of indecision for this fine snap.  I think Lee didn't quite get the idea though.  I was feeling reasonably OK and opted for the longer course.  We managed pretty well, but I was glad to see the flag flying over the Soap Box Derby track.  When you see the flag you know there's only a few miles left to run and it's definitely a welcome sight for me.  On this occasion I was moved to call out "the flag, the flag!" to Lee, reminding him of Tattoo's catchphrase "Look Boss, the plane, the plane" from Fantasy Island.

Back at Zube and it was time for chocolate milk and an attempt by Lee and I to explain cricket to Kevin (the Cricket World Cup is in full swing and England just won a match).  Apparently his initial introduction to the game was over a few (sounds like quite a few) beers in a bar in Trinidad, and it didn't seem to take.  He certainly wasn't at all clear on the difference between a googly and a chinaman.  Maybe next time I'll bring my bat and a ball and we can have a quick knock-around after the ride.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Crotty comes alive!

Kama sutra for cyclists - the three way
We're well into the training season and seeing some performance improvements.  The amount of banter being exchanged before, during and after the rides has also increased, but alas probably not the quality.

Saturday saw us heading to Zube by way of Starbucks.  Can't remember exactly how it cropped up, but there was much mirth while waiting for coffee over the possibility that my Facebook feed might show "Andy has been listening to Heart on Spotify".  I shudder to even write it, what about my jazz rock/Prog sensibilities?

The merry quips didn't stop once we were on the road.  We got carved up by a lunatic driving a pickup, who shot across Kevin's bows and then decided he hadn't meant to in the first place.  I pointed out that Kevin, in his current mountain man/Duck Dynasty posture, could get some revenge by opening his window and staring psychotically at  the miscreant, but we ran the risk of provoking gunplay.  Kevin noted that as gun-hating pacifist liberals, about the best we could do would be throw hot chai tea latte at him (aiming of course for the truck, not the driver).

We survived the road rage incident and somehow moved on to discussing Peter Frampton, don't ask me how or why.  Kevin of course managed to drag out a Humble Pie song that he loved, featuring the said Frampton on guitar at some ridiculously young age.  Lee reminded us that BJ his sweetheart (hi BJ, here's your name check!) had found a copy of "I'm in you", a Frampton album from 1977, in a second hand record shop, and had posted a picture of it on FB.  For those of you like me who are less than familiar with the Frampton discography, this one features a cheesecake shot of the boy with his golden tresses a-flowing and his smooth, hairless chest artlessly displayed.  Note that Steely Dan released "Aja" that year too, so it's not like there wasn't anything else new to play on your gramophone.  In fairness I should point out that my own sweetheart had a disturbing fondness for moustachioed troubadours like Jonathan Edwards at about the same time.  This was of course before she met me.

There was an organized ride out of Zube that morning, so we parked up at the Hockley community center instead, on a rather foggy and cool morning.  We geared up and headed north, planning to ride our current route with some bonus miles around Hempstead.

Hakuna matata!
As always Kevin took off like a ferret on meth and we had to pull him back.  The general rule is "5 at 15", meaning ride the first five miles at 15mph as a warm up, but Kevin clearly thought we were ready for 20 at 20.  Anyway we arrived at the wild game preserve pretty rapidly, in time to catch sight of the zebra herds.

Tally Ho!
On to the usual break and then we headed into lovely Hempstead, the jewel of Waller County, for our extra miles.  It turned into a very pleasant run along quiet, smooth country roads that we don't normally see.  Soon enough we were back in familiar territory with enough of a tail wind to be cruising along at 17mph.  Kevin of course had plenty of energy left even after 40+ miles and proved it by pulling ahead to get this cheerful shot.  Not long after we were back at the start and ready for some chocolate milk, to wash down the inevitable post-ride banter.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Venus in wrinkled stockings

My self-inflicted wounds (second degree burns to the left palm caused by gross stupidity) are mostly healed so no excuses this weekend, back at it with the boys. There was an organized ride, Clay Walker's Band Against MS, on Saturday, that Kevin and I rode two years ago. My main memory of the ride was a pretty good brisket lunch afterwards, certainly good enough to do the ride again.


It starts from the Houston Oaks Country Club, just north of Zube park, and the routes mostly follow familiar roads. There was a 62 mile offering that looked doable, we need to be stretching out our rides with only a few months to run before the MS, but there was also a 45 miler and they split at the 20 mile mark, so we could make the call on the fly so to speak.


Kevin and Lee rolled up at my gaff at zero dark thirty and we loaded up and hit the road. Five minutes later we stopped at Starbucks for what has apparently become a traditional pre-ride caffeination moment. Duly refreshed we hit the road once more, on a cool morning with cloudy skies and rain in the forecast.


Two years ago the riders parked up on the grounds of the country club and had a short ride to the start. This time we had to use offsite parking in a field about half a mile north. So there we were, freezing our butts off in a field, while simultaneously practically wetting ourselves with laughter by reciting Monty Python sketches (this is the real tradition for my money). When we got to the club you could see why we had to park off site - what had been basically open land before was now built up with very upscale residences.

As always with these rides it's hurry up and wait. We joined the line for the start and didn't move for 20 minutes or me, still freezing. Finally into the chute and announcer on the PA told us to watch out for Clay Walker, who would be riding a section but was right now high-fiving everyone as they rolled out. Sure enough there was a gentleman in cycling gear cheering everyone on, so I rode in close and we had a glove slap. I'll never wash that glove again. BTW I have no idea who Clay Walker is but He's apparently quite a star.

Off we roll on fairly familiar roads. We were near the back of the line so for the first few miles we're passing everyone. It's still pretty chilly, with a decent wind out of the east that will make the outbound leg much more fun than the home leg. The route starts with a 10 mile loop that takes us back past the start, and then we manage to miss a turn and roll south for nearly a mile (including one climb!) before a ride marshal flags us down and we turn around. The route is marked with arrows on the road, quite easy to miss unfortunately.

The turn takes us onto a very smooth, quiet road which is dead downwind, so we're making an excellent pace with no effort at all. Lee notices that both of us are having a hard time keeping our leg warmers up, in my case it's because they're getting old and the elastic is shot, probably for Lee they've given up the unequal struggle with his quads. He humorously calls it a "Nora Batty problem", referring to a character in a British sitcom called "Last of the Summer Wine". This long-running show was set in the beautiful countryside of the Yorkshire Dales and featured three elderly misfits (Clegg, Compo and Foggy) who passed their days in a semi-fantasy world that included daydreams about Nora Batty, another old-age pensioner whose stockings seemed also to have given up the fight with gravity. It occurs to me that a simple solution to our sagging hosiery would have been the purchase of a Victoria's Secret garter belt that could be worn under the cycling shorts, but I suppose it might be difficult to explain to the spouses when it appeared in the laundry.

We reached the second rest stop at mile 23 or so, and after some thought I suggested we try the 62 mile run. I was feeling pretty good, in part due to having spent so much time running with the wind, and decided I had the extra miles in my legs.

A couple of short loops to build mileage and then we were on the road to Prairie View A&M University, a very familiar stretch that we normally ride in the opposite direction. We still had the wind on our backs and I was clearly feeling strong because the sight of a rusting piece of farm equipment prompted me to serenade the other two with a selection of hits by the Wurzels, including "I've got a brand-new combine harvester, I'll give you the key", "I am a cider drinker" and "They call me Farmer Bill's Cowman". Whatever happened to the Wurzels, they were a good band.

On and on. The run into Hempstead has a few good rollers and they split us up pretty well. We stopped at mile 43 and all the cold weather gear began to come off, not a pretty sight as Lee and I might easily have been the inspiration for the Procul Harum song "A Whiter Shade of Pale", had they not stolen the melody from Bach. No matter how many summers I ride in Houston, my legs never change color from fish belly white and Lee seems to have the same issue.

And so for the final 20 miles. I was doing ok until we hit a short climb dead into the wind, and all of a sudden I had nothing in the tank, not good with a lot of ride left. Kevin and Lee went into full Domestique mode, blocking as much of the wind as they could while urging me on. Riding into the wind is a lot easier with 400 lbs of prime beef in front of you (of course I'm guessing about the grade, it really depends on the marbling). With my head down I couldn't see much beyond a rear wheel and a stout pair of calves, which put me in mind of Iowa representative Steve King, who recently commented that some illegal immigrants had "calves like cantaloupes" from lugging drugs across the US/Mexico border. My buddies aren't illegal but they certainly have impressive lower legs.

We made it to the last rest stop and took a break for me (normally we wouldn't stop that frequently). In the line for the portapotty was a gentleman in a Fuller's London Pride jersey, so I had my two favourite beers on display since Kevin was standing next to him in the Karbach Rodeo Clown strip. I pointed this out but sadly he hadn't actually tried the beer, he just collected beer shirts.

Off again, somewhat refreshed but I was still basically done for the day. There were 10 miles left to run, mostly flat and smooth, and there were actually several riders who were more tired than me, hard to believe at the time but I passed them with ease. We crested the final climb and made the turn for the finish, passing a few more as we did. I offered to race one tired-looking woman to the brisket but she told me I could have it, she was done!

We dropped our bikes and got in line for lunch. I was disappointed to see that they had downgraded it to baked potatoes with chopped brisket, but it was still pretty good and most welcome after a long tough ride. Then we had to gear up again to ride back to the parking field, what a pain. We had managed 63 miles at a pretty good pace and although I had struggled mightily, I was glad to have completed a long ride so early in the training season.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Easy like Saturday morning

I managed to burn the crap out of my left hand on Thursday (picked up a skillet that had been in the oven, don't worry, 2nd degree burns only) and it's nicely blistered up. One-handed riding didn't appeal, neither did Lee's suggestion that I get a unicycle, so I got a free Saturday morning in the middle of training season! Woo-hoo! After a long lie-in and a leisurely breakfast, we scrubbed some lemons for one of my donors and headed for the Heights. Lunch in Les Ghivrals (superb banh mi) then off to Buchanan's to get some geraniums and ivy for our window boxes. Unfortunately my donor was not at home to receive her reward fruit but there you go.

Meanwhile Lee and Kevin headed off to Pecan Grove for a 50 mile thrash with Larry. Sadly but not unexpectedly Kevin popped a spoke and rode the last 15 with his wheel rubbing on his brakes. I think I got the better deal to be honest, although to be fair the burns did hurt quite a bit for a while.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Locomotive Breath

I accidentally helped myself to an extra 40 minutes sleep before yesterday's ride and it may have paid dividends, as I got around a tough parcours fairly comfortably. Fortunately our new tradition is a pre-ride stop at Starbucks, so I was able to get a breakfast of a sausage/egg/cheese biscuit as well as my usual coffee. Like a good team leader I picked up the tab for my domestiques, hopefully that won't invalidate their amateur status.

We had planned a tougher ride this time, either Sealy or Bellville, but the wind was out of the south east so ideally we needed a loop that finished with a north leg. I suggested some options but in the end we decided that the wind wasn't going to be strong enough to be a factor anyway and headed off to Sealy.

As we passed the BP complex (aka the Black Lubyanka) Lee noted that the vultures circling the towers seemed more numerous than usual. Perhaps they too had heard that lay-offs were in the pipeline?

The park in Sealy where we start our rides was completely dead (except for the city employee unlocking the toilets, thank you very much sir). I don't know why Sealy isn't a more popular venue for weekend road warriors, there are great routes through pretty country on safe roads. It may be that it's just a bit too far from Houston but it's really not too bad a drive, especially when you have a domestique behind the wheel.

Everyone's equipment is back to standard. Kevin had his broken spoke replaced and was on the Roubaix, Lee had his crank re-attached (complete with a custom end-cap) and I'd got new tyres front and rear. As we geared up, Lee laid down a solid marker in the contest for "Most Favoured Domestique" by pumping up my tyres. That sort of brown nosing will stand you in very good stead my friend, come on Kevin, pick up the pace please. We're still riding in full (or nearly full) winter gear but with the forecast showing 60 degrees by noon I anticipated a strip tease.

So off we rolled, the Three Amigos, taking on probably our toughest route, the first time since my epic flame-out and subsequent rescue by Kevin last year. It was certainly pretty nippy during the early going but Kevin set a strong pace to warm us up. He was looking very comfortable on the climbs, even by his standards, and was definitely happy to be on the carbon bike rather than the steel. We put this down to his daily work-outs on the stairmaster, so I suggested to Lee that we adjust the intensity setting on the machine to "El Capitan Dawn Wall" or "Everest". We'd pay in the long run but it might slow him down for a bit.

On to Caracara Alley, the section on the run in to Bernardo where we have a lot of bird sightings. Too early for the scissor-tailed flycatcher but we saw herons and several large hawks. This took us into Bernardo proper where we usually stop at the feed store to regroup a bit. Kevin went in to buy water and exchange pleasantries with the proprietor (apparently they had a wet fall so they're not behind on rain this year) while Lee and I ate some snacks ( and I wrung the sweat out of my headbad, harbinger of hot times ahead in the months to come).

The next stage features very nice scenery, some impressive estates and the dreaded hell hounds. I was riding with my helmet-mounted video camera and told the team that I would be recording the sprint past the mastiffs' lair. Predictably enough I was poised and ready to capture the excitement - and the dogs stayed in bed. Lazy buggers.

We made the turn on to FM 949 and the short run into Cat Spring. The wind (which wasn't going to be a factor, remember?) was firmly on our backs and we cruised into town in fine style, hardly noticing the climbs. The Cat Spring Kountry Klub (I kid you not) marks the gateway to the Alpe de Sealy section, and we always stop for water and a chance to be glared at by the grumpy lady who runs this fine establishment before taking on the lumpy bits. Surprisingly enough she was almost pleasant today, probably because her daughter and grand-daughter were visiting. Kevin, in his role of Mr. Congeniality breaking down the barriers between town and country, made sparkling conversation while I "strained the spuds" and pulled off my arm warmers.

Time to get going again! I turned on my video, announced that it would be every man for himself and we set off, up hill and down dale for about 8 miles. In the end I made it through pretty well, perhaps because I was anticipating a lot of pain - I had to grind pretty hard in the usual places but when we got to the end I felt better than I normally do. This could be because I've trained harder this year, but I think the wind out of the south meant that I started the climbs feeling less worn down than if I'd been fighting it all the way. The video shows that the run lasted 28 minutes, but MC edited it down to a more manageable length, focussing on the section that usually kicks my butt. Take a look here: Somewhere along this section, way in front of me, Lee caught Kevin on a climb when he missed a gear and lost his cadence. The recovery apparently had him blowing like a freight train (whence "Locomotive Breath", perhaps not what Ian Anderson had in mind but very apt for Kevin the Tull fan). Lee was feeling aerobic enough to offer a few words of encouragement, which probaby didn't help. Come on chaps, focus please.

Back on route 36 and a 7 mile run in on smooth surfaces but with a decent head/cross wind. Kevin set the pace as ever and I was able to hang on without too much effort. But I was glad to pass the Sealy city limit sign.

Home in time for lunch, a short nap and then a fun evening with Lee and BJ watching "Selma", followed by an excellent dinner at Ibiza. Outstanding food and company and excellent wine selection by Lee.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"It's the wrong bike, Kevin, the wrong bike!"

Last week's bike ride was punctuated with stops every 10 miles or so for Lee to re-attach his port side crank (long story that I won't bore you with and forgot to blog about anyway), but he was expecting it to be repaired in time for this weekend's fun. So it was a little suspicious that the bike had apparently got lost in the mail and wouldn't be available for an outing on the coldest morning of the year so far. Wonder how many times his dog ate his homework when he was a kid? But Lee is both a gentleman and a scholar, and indeed there had been a SNAFU by the bike shop that meant his Canadian steed was actually stuck in a warehouse somewhere. I humorously suggested that he could borrow my fixie or Kevin's renowned Mexican Truck - and in a New York (or at least Long Island) minute, Kevin had decided that he would lend Lee his Roubaix and take the truck out himself, just for old time's sake.


So there we were at Zube on a 30's morning, with the truck proudly positioned on Kevin's bike rack, just like so many rides before. She was in full commuter mode, with flashing disco lights on her frame, flat pedals instead of cleats and a trunk rack. Lee and Kevin are about the same height, so he could ride the Roubaix as is without messing with the saddle. He took an exploratory spin around the car park (Kevin has SRAM shifters, quite different to the Shimanos that Lee and I are used to) and came back with two Mules, Gene and Andy, who were OK with dumbing down the pace to ride with us peons.


It was cold enough for me to deploy my base layer, a long-sleeved top that goes under my jersey (and usually results in over-heating in about 5 miles). As you know I'm all about that base, no treble. We rolled out and straight away dropped Andy and Gene, despite the fact that between them they were pushing in excess of $20,000 of bike hardware. They caught up quickly enough though, and as Kevin pointed out, that was going to be the last time we left them behind.


Andy took the lead and I slotted in on his rear wheel. He's a dream to draft off - he rides like a metronome, dead constant pace, no weaving, and he's a big enough man to block some wind. Unfortunately his pace didn't vary on the climbs either and I was working hard to stay in touch on every grade. The group shared the work pretty well, which ws good as there was a decent head wind on the way out. Kevin looked as comfortable and strong as ever on the truck, and I asked him if he regretted getting the Roubaix - to which the answer was an emphatic no. He had got used to the more relaxed riding position on the new bike and was feeling more than a little uncomfortable in the more agressive crouch that the Truck imposed. Similarly Lee was enjoying his ride on the Roubaix and looking strong.


On the run in to the gas station Andy asked me how far we had to go. I assumed he needed to pee (like me) and was wondering if he could hold out. But no, he had plenty of space in his bladder and lots of juice in his legs and fancied a sprint. As we had about 2-3 miles to run he decided to take off, accompanied by Gene, and dropped us pretty quickly. To be fair, the Awesome Threesome had a strong run in too - the last section is on a very smooth, mostly flat road and we had a tail wind - and we were cruising in the low 20's.


Until - with a few hundred yards to run, Lee heard a suspicious click and then his rear wheel began rubbing on his brakes. Yes, he had broken a spoke just like Kevin, but this time the wheel was already significantly out of true and probably wouldn't stay round long enough for us to get home. Nothing to do but leave him there and head back for the vehicles, so after a good break (where I stripped off the base layer!) we took off.


Gene and Andy pushed the pace on the run home, and Kevin and I struggled to stay in touch with them. They ultimately dropped us about 5 miles out but that was OK. Back at Zube, we loaded the bikes and got back on the road for the rescue. We drove back on the highway but it still seemed like a long distance, a reminder that a 40+ mile bike ride is not trivial. We got to the Exxon just as it started to rain. Lee had occupied himself with some work stuff, watching the Premier League on his phone and chatting with a group of maniacs who were holding a rally of open-topped sports cars, apparently their annual Polar Bear run. Good to know we're not the only people stupid enough to ride around exposed to the elements on a nasty day like that.

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