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.