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, 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.

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