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Category Archives: Cycling in Texas

Share the Road

I have a “Share the Road” sticker on my car.  It reminds other drivers to do their bit to help make our roads safer for cyclists.

During last Sunday’s ride up Genting Peres I was reminded that cyclists share roads and bike paths with more than just vehicles.  I have encountered enough birds and animals while on my bike to stock a small zoo.

Dogs are of course everywhere.  Fortunately I haven’t been chased by any.  Though I do recall a particularly ornery dog that used to lie in wait on Sylvan Road in Houston for us to ride by.  Our Taco Rides would be enlivened by this dog barking furiously as it burst onto the street.  I keep a wary eye on the feral dogs that roam the back roads of Hulu Langat and Genting Sempah, though I have yet to hear even a whimper out of any of them.

I expected to see more cats than I did in the Netherlands.  A lot of our riding was through villages and towns, but I guess the majority were house cats and therefore weren’t out and about.

Ducks, geese and swans were another matter.  Water birds are everywhere in the Netherlands.  I had to stop frequently for various birds as they ambled across the bike path.  More infrequent were pheasant bolting across the bike paths when we passed too close to their nests.

In Malaysia we come across the occasional chicken trying to cross the road.  The challenge with chickens is that they often change their minds about the direction they want to head in.  I haven’t seen anyone hit a chicken yet, but there have been some near misses.

I’ve had a few near misses with rabbits.  The dunes along the coast north and south of Den Haag teem with baby rabbits in the spring.  The best tasting greenery always seemed to be on the other side of the bike path.  Like chickens, baby rabbits often don’t have the courage of their convictions, and turn around mid-path.  Much to the alarm of cyclists.

The dunes are also home to foxes, which don’t like to be out in the open and move very quickly when exposed.  I saw very few foxes, and when I did it was late in the evening.

The same is true of hedgehogs.  Out late in the evening I mean.  Not moving very quickly.

It was broad daylight when the Not Possibles got the shock of our lives.  A large deer  appeared out of nowhere and ran beside us for a good fifty meters or so before veering off into the bushes and trees of the dunes.

Many bike paths in the Netherlands are shared with people on horseback.  Although to be honest we spent much more time dodging piles of manure than we did skirting around horses and ponies.

I’ve mentioned the monkeys on the roads in Malaysia in previous posts.  Monkeys feature on this sign at the summit of Genting Peres.  It warns road users that this is an area where wild animals cross the road, and lists what drivers should do when animals are on the road..

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I’ve yet to encounter the other two species on this sign.  It would be quite something to share the road with a tapir.

2011 BP MS150

BP MS150 2013

I will be riding in the 2013 BP MS150 from Houston to Austin.  This is a charity ride  in aid of multiple sclerosis research and treatment.  If you would like to donate to this worthy cause on my behalf please click on this link:

Donate to Multiple Sclerosis Research and Treatment

My first BP MS150 ride was in 2010.  I wrote about that ride in Austin or Bust.  I registered late for that ride and had to scramble to get onto a team.  One outcome was that Tom and I didn’t get space in the team tent for the overnight stop at the Fayette County Fair Grounds in La Grange.  Instead we stayed in a motel that was a 40 minute van trip away from the fair grounds.  I am sure we were more comfortable on proper beds in our air-conditioned motel room than we would have been on camp beds in the team tent.  Especially as it rained hard that night.  However we paid for it by having to be up and ready to leave the motel at 5am to get back to the fair grounds in time to start with everyone else.

I signed up early for the 2011 BP MS150.  By then I had moved to The Netherlands, and was no longer working for Hess Corporation.  The team captains were kind enough to let me join the Hess team anyway.  They were even nicer to allow friends of an ex-employee onto the team.  So Barbara, Dane, Laura and Tom would be in Hess colors with me.

I flew into Houston a few days before the start of the ride.  I visited the new Hess office at Discovery Green and called in on Patrick Cummings, one of the team captains.  The first indication that this experience would be quite different from the previous year’s came when I heard that we would spend the night in the VFW Hall at the Fayette County Fair Grounds in La Grange.  No tent pitched on grass for us!

The ride started as it did the year before.  My West End friends and I rode out at dawn from the Jack Rhodes Memorial Stadium in Katy.  Tom and I chose not to wear jackets so we shivered for an hour or so.  By the time we got to the first rest stop it was warming up in the patches of sunlight.  There were still some jackets and arm warmers in use though.

MS150 2011 Rest Stop 01

Our lunch stop was in Bellville.  That was when I got the the second indication that the Hess team did the MS150 a little differently.  There were Hess volunteers and a Hess tent at the lunch stop.  We had an alternative to the sandwich lunch on offer for everyone else.  The wonderful Hess volunteers were handing out chicken and spicy chicken sandwiches from Chick-A-Fil.  And Snickers bars and iced drinks.

This is Tom, Laura, Dane and I at the Bellville stop.  The patch on Laura’s jersey signifies that this was her tenth consecutive BP MS150.  Fantastic!

MS150 2011 Bellville 08

One of the other stops before La Grange was at Industry.  The guys from West End Bicycles were manning a bike service tent there.  We hung out with Daniel and the team while we ate our bananas before continuing west.

MS150 2011 West End Industry Stop

One of the most appealing things about this ride is the encouragement all the riders get from the communities along the route.  It seems like entire towns turn out to cheer us on.  And some do more than simply clap and wave.

MS150 Band

Laura, Barbara and the rest of the West end crew rode into the Fayette County Fair Grounds at La Grange at about 2pm.

MS150 2011 Laura and Barbara

It was pretty hot by then, so we were grateful for the Hess volunteers who were on hand with cold water and iced towels as we got to the VFW Hall.

That was, dare I say it,  just the start of the pampering that we received at the overnight stop.

In 2010 we queued for thirty minutes with everyone else for the communal shower trucks.  In 2011 we lounged in folding chairs with a cold drink in hand while waiting for our turn in the Team Hess shower truck.  After which we handed our sweaty cycling gear to a friendly volunteer to be laundered.  Note the jerseys drying on the line behind Laura and Barbara.

MS150 2011 VFW Hall Showers 02

Feeling a bit tight and sore despite the hot shower?  Get a massage!

MS150 2011 VFW Hall Massage

We spent the rest of the afternoon waiting for our turn to be kneaded, and chilling with drinks and munchies on the patio behind the VFW Hall.

MS150 2011 VFW Hall Patio

We were eventually roused from our seats and coaxed into our freshly laundered jerseys for the obligatory group photo.

MS150 2011 Hess Group 02

Then it was dinner time.  Courtesy of the crew manning this beast.

MS150 2011 VFW Hall Barbecue

The barbecues come big in Texas!  And the food that came out of this one was delicious.

Well-watered and fed, we started thinking about sleep.  As I mentioned earlier, no tent pitched on the grass for us.

MS150 2011 VFW Hall Main Room

Air-conditioning and indoor toilets if you please.

There was no excuse if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep.  And there was no excuse if you weren’t well-fed by the time you got on your bike in the morning.  The Hess volunteers served up a delicious breakfast from the kitchen next to our sleeping area.

The BP balloon lit up the pre-dawn sky as we waited for it to get bright enough to continue on our way.

MS150 2011 La Grange Start Balloon

The decision to be made at the start of Day Two was whether to take the Bechtel Challenge Route or the Pfizer Lunch Express.  The Bechtel Challenge takes riders through Buescher State Park and Bastrop State Park.  We chose not to take the Bechtel Challenge Route in 2010 because the hilly roads were wet and potentially dangerous.  There were no such concerns this time.  The Challenge adds about 17 km / 11 mi to the ride but it was well worth doing.  The road wound through scenic loblolly pine woodland that is 18,000 years old.

Sadly Bastrop State Park and the surrounding pine forest were the scene of a devastating wildfire in September and October 2011.  This was one of the most destructive single wildfires in Texas history.  Bastrop State Park suffered significant damage affecting 96% of the park.  The Challenge route was not an option during the 2012 BP MS150.  However I am happy to say that the road through the park has reopened, and weather permitting, we will ride the Challenge route again this year.  Albeit through an altered landscape.

We skipped the opportunity for even more pampering from the Hess volunteers at the lunch stop in Bastrop.  We did the usual for the West End crew.  No matter what team we were riding with, we congregated at the Whataburger for a burger, fries and a milkshake.

It was about 55 km / 34 mi from Bastrop to the finish line at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.  We made one last stop at the Moose Family Center of Austin.  The Moose Lodge is about 5 km / 3 mi from the Texas State History Museum.  A perfect place for the West End gang to regroup so we could roll through the finish together.  Sophie and Alisa joined, Tom, Barbara and I.  We missed connecting with Laura and Dane.  They thought they were late getting to the Moose and had ridden on.

MS150 2011 Moose 01

It is quite a thrill to ride that last kilometer or so through spectators three and four deep on both sides of the road.

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We took advantage one last time of the superb care – read cold drinks and snacks – provided by the Hess volunteers at the finish.  Then Tom and I headed toward the State Capitol.

MS150 2011 Glory Shot

I am looking forward very much to my third BP MS150.  It is going to be a treat to reconnect with my West End friends.  Who like me have been spoiled by the Team Hess treatment in the past.  Who like me can’t imagine riding the BP MS150 with any other team.  And who like me are depending upon your generosity to raise as much as we can to put toward the search for a cure for multiple sclerosis.

Donate to Multiple Sclerosis Research and Treatment

Whatever the Weather

My Not Possibles friends in Den Haag rode the Joop Zoetemelk Classic yesterday.  By all accounts it was cold and windy, with a high of 8°C / 46°F.  My West End friends in Houston are just about to start the Tour de Houston.  It is a balmy 17°C / 62°F in downtown Houston now.  It was 34°C / 93°F by the time Chon, Mark, Marvin and I finished our ride in Hulu Langat today.  Houston wins the best biking weather award for this weekend.

We rode from Kampung Batu 18 along Jalan Sungai Lui to the T-junction with the B32 and the B19.  Logically enough Jalan Sungai Lui follows the Lui River along the valley floor.  At the junction the only option is to turn left onto the B32 road.  The B19 is still closed 5km from the T-junction because of the landslide that dropped a section of tarmac into the reservoir.

Genting Peres Route

The B32 takes you to the border between the states of Selangor and Negeri Sembilan.  The border is at the top of a 10km climb that rises from 170 meters / 560 feet above sea level to 500 meters / 1,640 feet above sea level.  It was very misty at the start, which meant great views once we got about a third of the way up the climb.

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Genting Peres isn’t the steepest climb in the area.  Nevertheless we appreciated the stop to take photographs.

Genting Peres Photo Stop

Photo courtesy of They Wei Chon

It was still hard work, especially after we broke through the mist into bright sunshine.  I am sure I leaked the equivalent of a Camelbak Podium Chill bottle by the time I got to the summit.  Mark and Chon are waiting for Marvin, who got extra credit for doing the ride on a 29er mountain bike with knobbly tires.

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I explored a bit, and found these decorative blocks at the base of the “Terima Kasih.  Sila Datang Lagi / Thank You.  Please Come Again” sign behind the guys.  Not bad for a sign that most people whizz past in cars.

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The plan was to go back the way we came to Kampung Batu 18, and then ride on to Sungai Chongkak Recreational Forest for a nasi lemak and teh tarik breakfast.   It was a hot and humid second half of the ride.  The thought of packets of tasty nasi lemak sustained us through the 6km climb to the restaurant.

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“What?”

Our disappointment was palpable.  Our mood was not improved by the very mediocre roti canai we ended up with at Kampung Batu 18.

There was one saving grace for all of us.  The thick undergrowth between where we always park and the river has recently been cleared.  So we could get to some cool water to wash the sweat off our faces and arms.

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There was another plus for me.  ISKY 2 has stopped ticking.

Culture Shock

I did my first organised ride in the Netherlands in early March 2011.  The Witte Kruis (White Cross) Classic was a 100 km clockwise loop through South Holland.  Much of the route covered new ground for me.  I had ridden to Kijkduin and Meijendel but my wheels had yet to traverse points further east like Benthuizen and south like Oud Verlaat and Schipluiden.  I had yet to find any cycling buddies in Den Haag so I rolled up to the start by myself.  I had done a number of organised rides in Texas so I had a preconceived idea of what this ride would be like.

Things were different right from the get-go.  We were all given timing chips to mount on our front forks.  For many participants this wasn’t just a jaunt through the countryside.

WKC 2011 Transponder

The Dutch idea of a supported ride turned out to be a bit different from what I had experienced in Texas.  I had come to expect lots of people giving directions along the route, or at the very least, large signs.  This is what we had to guide us during the Witte Kruis Classic.

WKC 2011 Direction

All was well until I had a puncture after about 60 km.  Everyone else in the group I had tagged onto kept riding.  Once back in the saddle I could see one rider ahead of me in the distance.  I put my head down and started chasing.  5 km later I caught up to a group of five riders.  We were at a T-junction in Terbregge.  With nary a tiny painted arrow on the road in sight.

We knew that we were about 6 km from the rest stop.  Between us we managed to figure out which way to head and after a couple of kilometers we picked up the white arrows pointing us toward the rest stop at the RWC Ahoy.

Which brings me to my next supported ride, Dutch style, surprise.  I don’t recall having ridden more than about 35 km / 20 mi before coming upon a rest stop on my Texan rides.  The one and only rest stop during the Witte Kruis Classic was at the 55 km / 34 mi point.

The location of the rest stop was an eye opener in itself.  We were on the premises of the Rotterdam Wielrennen Club Ahoy.  Not only does the RWC Ahoy have a nice clubhouse . . .

WKC 2011 RWC Club House

but it also has its own racetrack.

WKC 2011 RWC Ahow Racetrack

There was a race in progress, complete with electronic timing board and race announcer.  This was my first glimpse of the serious side of Dutch amateur cycling.

After a much-needed drink, some food and a comfort break I set out off again to the roar of aircraft landing and taking off from the adjacent Rotterdam The Hague Airport.

At the 85 km mark there was a three kilometer timed sprint.  I had forgotten about that little feature of the ride.  Not that I was in any state to ride any faster at that point.  All I wanted to do by then was to just finish.

This photograph was taken in the dunes south of Kijkduin.  Before I realised that the ride was 10 km longer than advertised.

WKC 2011

I did not enjoy the last 10 km to the finish.  Especially knowing that I had a further 8 km to get home, having cycled to the start.

I felt a lot better after a shower and lunch.  I did like the ride, despite being on my own and those extra kilometers.  I now knew what to expect on my next organised ride, which was the Joop Zoetemelk Classic the following weekend.  In addition to windmills that is!

WitteKruis

No Chip Seal Here

I bought my first bike in Houston.  My early solo rides were on the few bike trails along the Columbia Tap to Trail and Brays Bayou.  Then I met the Six Thirty group.  The majority of our group riding was done on city streets.  In most cases there were no bike lanes.  Where there were bike lanes you tended to stay out of them.  I remember Washington Avenue having a bike lane in name only.  What had been designated as a bike lane was badly rutted filled and with debris.  So we took our chances toward the center of the lane.

We also rode on the farm-to-market roads outside Houston.  There was less traffic on them, which was a plus.  They tended to be chip sealed, which was a minus.  Chip seal has a layer of aggregate embedded in the bitumen or asphalt.  On that surface we were were modern-day Rough Riders.

The Dutch cyclist has the good fortune to have 29,000 km of bike paths.   The Dutch cyclist is truly blessed to have 29,000 km of bike paths that are almost without exception well-maintained.  The majority of the paths are asphalt.  Those are generally the smoothest.  Some paths are made of concrete slabs or pavers.  Those sometimes have cracks and bumps in them.  Then come the brick bike paths, which run the range from smooth to bumpy.

Bike paths in towns and cities are usually red.  This differentiates the bike paths from the road where bicycles and motor traffic share the same road-space.  This one is asphalt.

Bike path

In the center of towns and villages the surface is occasionally brick.  Ideally the bricks form a smooth surface.  Sometimes though you are in for a rough ride.

Kinderdijk Ride Brick Road

Concrete pavers often appear around the edges of towns.  This a section of the new bike path on the beach south of Kijkduin.  The dashed center line indicates that this is a two-way path.  The surface is good enough for the Not Possibles to hit 45 kph / 28 mph or more when the wind is right.

Katwijk Pavers

Outside towns the paths are almost always asphalt.  Usually smooth and fast, although this section of the LF 1 near Monster is due for resurfacing.

Hoek Van Holland 02

This smooth asphalt path is in Midden Delfland.

Kinderdijk Ride Seat View 1

Where the paths follow roads the two are usually separated.  Like this one in Noordwijk.

IJmuiden aan Zee Nordwijk Trees

Now that I am in Kuala Lumpur I am back to riding on city streets and sharing the roads with other traffic.  Riding in Kuala Lumpur is a lot like riding in Houston.  Except there is no chip seal here.

Where Do I Go From Here?

The Netherlands is criss-crossed with a network of dedicated bike paths.  Every part of the country is accessible by bicycle.  If your bucket list includes riding every path, you would have to cycle about 29,000 km.  There isn’t anywhere that you can’t cycle to.  It was clear from my “Bicycling 101” class that all I had to do was wheel my bike outside the front door, choose a direction and start pedalling.  And be sure to avoid the 53 ways to pick up a road rules fine.

I used a Garmin Edge 705 GPS cycle computer in Houston.  It came with a detailed road map and points of interest.  So I could use the unit to navigate with exact, turn-by-turn directions to any address or intersection.  I used my Edge more for tracking where I had been rather than for planning routes.  Nevertheless I installed a map of the Netherlands.  If nothing else I would be able to see on the screen exactly where I was hopelessly lost.

The best thing about the unit is that when maps and sign posts fail, it will get me back to where I began my ride.

Garmin Edge 705

I quickly discovered that I would have little use for the navigation functions on my Edge 705 in the Netherlands.  The 29,000 km of bike paths are sign posted.  And since the Dutch are nothing if not meticulous, they didn’t stop at just one sign post system.  They have four that I know of.

The first type of sign post is much like what you would see on normal roads.  Signs point in the direction of cities and towns, listing the distance to each.  A more distant major destination is listed on the bottom of each ‘finger’, and the closer, minor destination is shown on the top.  Once a destination is listed, every subsequent sign along the route will list that destination until you reach it.

The sign posts for cyclists feature red or green lettering on a white background.  The options shown in green are less-direct alternatives that offer scenic routes through the Dutch countryside.

Maassluis to Hoek van Holland Ride 02

The second type of sign post for cyclists sits low to the ground and is mushroom-shaped.  These signs are located in more rural areas where the bike paths intersect away from roads.  Each of the four sides has direction and distance information for destinations nearby.  The sign below with the red lettering on a white background is a newer one.  The older style has the same shape but features black lettering on a white background.

Mushroom

The third system of providing directions for cyclists is the Bicycle Node Network (Fietsknooppuntennetwerk).  Each junction on the cycling path network has been given a unique one or two-digit number.  You need a map showing all the ‘knooppunten’ or nodes.  These maps also list the distance between nodes so you can work out how far away your destination is.

Planning a route from the starting node to the ending node is a simple matter of making a list of all the intermediate nodes that you want to cycle through.  There is a list of online route planners at fietsen.123.nl to help with this.

Knoppunkt Map 2

Each junction or node is marked with a sign showing the node number and a map of the immediate area.

Knoppunkt Map

Signs like this show you which way to go to the next closest nodes.

The fourth system is a network of long-distance, or LF (Lange afstands Fietsnetwerk) routes.  There are currently 30 LF routes covering some 4,500 km in total.  These routes include the LF 1 North Sea Route, which starts in the south near Sluis at the Belgian border, and continues up the coast to Den Helder in the north.  The Not Possibles often cover sections of this route between Hoek van Holland and Zandvoort during their Saturday morning rides.

The LF routes are marked in both directions with rectangular white signs with green lettering.  In this case the sign pointing in the opposite direction reads “LF 1a”.

LF1

With few exceptions the various wayfinding systems on the bike paths served me well.  I would pick a destination and let the signs show me the way.  Confident that if I did get lost, which happened on a few occasions, I could always access the menu on my Edge 705 and select “Back to Start”.

Welkom in Nederland

On Tuesday 20th April 2010 I did a last Tuesday ride around the streets of Houston with the West End Six Thirty group.  Our bikes (my road and hybrid bikes, and the biker chick’s cruiser bike), along with the rest of our belongings, had long since departed Houston bound for  Rotterdam.  I had Tom B. to thank for loaning me a bike for the Tuesday ride.  On Thursday I joined the group at Jax for the post-ride meal.  On Friday I collected my passport and visa at the Netherlands consulate, dropped our car off at the freight company, and took a taxi to George Bush Intercontinental Airport to catch my 3.30pm flight.

On Saturday morning I flew into a damp and chilly Amsterdam Schiphol airport.  Den Haag, our home for the next few years, was no drier nor warmer.  I had arrived with a suitcase full of what I had been wearing the week before in Houston.  I had shorts, t-shirts and sandals.  What I should have packed were sweaters, scarves and boots.  My first purchase in the Netherlands was a Nike sweatshirt.  I would have bought gloves too, but the shop assistant told me that winter was over!

The weather stayed pretty ugly for the next few weeks.  Usual Dutch spring weather in other words.  It was five or six weeks before it warmed up enough for me to consider a bike ride.  By then I had found Bikes For Rent.  I reserved a bike for the weekend.  Then I crossed fingers and toes hoping that the weather would not revert to wet and windy.  Fortunately Saturday dawned dry and reasonably warm.  Warm enough for my tropical blood at least.  I rode away from Bikes For Rent on a three-speed Johnny Loco.

Johnny Loco Three Speed

I had a map of the bike route to the beach.  The map was helpful but I soon found that the bike paths in the Netherlands are very well signposted.  The cycling infrastructure is really very good.  The bike paths are very well marked and maintained.  “Yes” everyone checks for bicycles before opening car doors.

Bike path

Cyclists even have their own traffic lights.

Bike light

The path to the dunes and the beach took me past the Scheveningen water tower.  Built in 1874, the tower contains 1 million litres of drinking water and has the largest storage capacity of all the water towers in the Province of Zuid-Holland.  It is still in use today.

The bike trail towards the Scheveningen Pump House

It wasn’t the brightest of days so the North Sea looked pretty raw.

The North Sea

I didn’t expect to see World War Two gun emplacements facing out to sea along the dunes.

Eastward view

On the way home through Scheveningen I saw a few more signs of just how much the bicycle is the go-to mode of transportation for many in the Netherlands.  I’ve seen bike racks before, but these two boys on the right took racks to another level.

Surfboard racks

You can leave your bike in a guarded bike parking areas like this one for less than €1.

Guarded bicycle parking

The route back home took me past the Vredespaleis or Peace Palace.  Andrew Carnegie donated USD1.5 million in 1903 (the equivalent of USD40 million today) to fund the construction of the Vredespaleis.  Today the building houses the International Court of Justice (which is the principal judicial body of the United Nations), the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the Hague Academy of International Law, and the extensive Peace Palace Library.

The Peace Palace

This was a very nice welcome to riding in the Netherlands.  I couldn’t wait for my road bike to arrive.

Austin or Bust

As the Houston winter turned to spring conversations turned to the MS 150.  The main event of the year for many in the Six Thirty group.  There was an expectation that you were riding the MS150.  What could possibly stop you?

The MS 150 is a two-day ride of between 150 mi / 240 km and 180 mi / 290 km, depending on which of the three starting points you choose in Houston.  Day One ends at the Fayette County Fairgrounds in La Grange.  The final destination is next to the Texas State Capitol in Austin.  The purpose of the ride is to raise money for multiple sclerosis research and other services supported by the National MS Society.

75 mi / 120 km was well beyond my longest ever ride.  My first challenge was to convince myself that I could ride that far.  So I rode the events that were billed as MS 150 training rides, like the Gator Ride in March.  I huffed up the climbs at Cat Spring, Chappell Hill and Bellville, hoping that I would be adequately prepared for the mythic hills of Austin.  By March I felt I probably had enough miles and climbs in my legs to sign up for the event.

I was a very late entrant and was lucky to get a place.  The MS 150 is a very popular ride and the 13,000 places get snapped up very quickly every year.  I was, it seemed, a beneficiary of the appalling weather that plagued the 2009 ride.  Day One had been cancelled and the rain, wind and cold made Day Two miserable for the riders.  Some of whom had decided not to sign up for the 2010 event.  Leaving spots available for latecomers like myself.

Once I had my place in the event there were two things to do.  One was to raise the minimum fundraising pledge.  I had left myself very little time to hit up my friends for donations.  Most of whom were looking for their own donors anyway.  The solution was simple.  My biker chick and I split the required amount between us.

The second task was to find a team to ride with.  The obvious choice was my employer, but the Hess Corporation team was full.  Tom B. came through for me, again, and managed to get me a last-minute spot on the Exxon Mobil team with him.  I was so late that I had missed the deadline for ordering a team jersey.  Not such a bad thing in hindsight.  I don’t think it would have done me much good to be seen in an Exxon Mobil jersey by the great and the good of Hess Corporation.

As the big day drew closer I continued to worry about never having ridden 75 mi / 120 km before.  So the weekend before the MS 150 I rode in The Space Race.  A loop from Gulf Greyhound Park in La Marque through the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge to the west, then north to the outskirts of Angleton before heading eastward toward Alvin and back to La Marque.  I felt good at the halfway point.  I felt really terrible with 20 mi / 32 km to go.  I was hot and tired and hungry and barely maintaining forward progress into a constant headwind.  The event was billed as a 100 mi / 160 km ride.  I was so thankful that the finish came sooner than advertised.  I didn’t get my first century ride under my belt that day.  But more importantly I did come away convinced that I could finish the MS 150.  Even if it almost killed me!

A group of Six Thirtyers rolled out of Jack Rhodes Memorial Stadium in Katy at dawn.  It would take far too many words to describe the energy, the excitement, the exuberance, the entertainment and the exhilaration of the next two days.  This is one of those events where you truly had to be there.


In Bellville and Fayetteville  and La Grange and Bastrop and Austin there were crowds lining the streets ringing cowbells, blowing bubbles, waving signs, cheering, tooting horns, shouting “thank you.”  We even had live music.  A fiddle band at one point.  A bagpiper in full regalia at another.  There were brigades of cheerful volunteers at every rest stop.  The familiar faces of the West End Bicycle guys at their bike service tent in Industry.  Everyone encouraging us on with a friendly wave and a smile.

This is some of the Six Thirty group at the lunch stop at Bellville on Day One.  There were five of us in Exxon Mobil jerseys.  Only one of us was actually an employee of that company.

On Day Two we all put on our Six Thirty jerseys.  It has become a tradition that the group foregoes the Bastrop lunch stop sandwiches provided by the MS 150 organizers for the much tastier fare at Whataburger.  Texas’ own burger chain.

This was the first time I had been to a Whataburger.  I shouldn’t have waited so long.  As Whataburger say in their commercials, “It’s shut your mouth good.”

After our burgers, fries and shakes it was 32 mi / 51 km to the finish line in Austin.  Where Tom and I naturally had to pose in front of the Texas State Capitol building for the signature glory shot.

I knew right there that I would do this ride again in 2011.  What I didn’t know right there was that the experience in 2011 would be even better.

Eat to Ride, or Ride to Eat?

I learned the hard way that avoiding the bonk, or going hypoglycemic, on a challenging event, requires that I eat to ride.  Both before and during the ride.  Fortunately I don’t do many rides that require eating on the bike.  An activity that demands enough confidence, or stupidity if the roads are bad, to take your hands off the handlebar, sufficient dexterity to fish around behind your back to find your energy bar or gel or whatever, and gills so that you can continue to breathe while chewing and swallowing.  All the while pedaling so you won’t get dropped.

It is much more fun, civilized even, to ride to eat.  Houston’s West End Bicycles Six Thirty group introduced me to the delightful practice of riding as an excuse to eat.  After our Thursday evening rides we would gather at Jax Grill or Romano’s Pizza to “replenish our glycogen stores.”  I have already written about the mid-ride breakfasts at Dona Maria which give Ted’s Taco Ride its name.  Good company, a bit of exercise, good food and lots of laughter.  What a winning hand!

So it was “hip hip hooray” when I discovered that Den Haag’s the Not Possibles end their Saturday morning rides at the Coffee Club in Leidsenhage.  Appeltaart and the occasional uitsmijter are the foods of choice in Den Haag.  We have been known to linger over a second koffie verkeerd, purely for health reasons of course!

Malaysians live to eat.  That is indisputable.  So naturally every ride here involves eating.  Either mid-ride, or after the ride, or both.  Even the rides that require you to eat to ride, like the Broga 116, end with food of some description provided by the organizers.  The meal of choice for the Racun Cycling Gang and the Cyclistis is often the humble roti canai.  With a teh tarik to wash it down with.

Photo courtesy of Mark Lim

The best roti canai are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Everyone who has ever had one wants another.  And another.  And another.  This was during a ride to Kundang.  Specifically to eat some roti canai at this roadside stall.  Shahfiq is taking an e-break.  I am starting on my second roti.

Photo courtesy of Mark Lim

The eating is only part of the experience.  Watching your roti canai being made is entertaining too.  Which you can do now too, courtesy of this video by Mark Wiens from his blog Migrationology.  As a bonus you will see teh tarik, the quintessential drink to go with your roti, being made.

I’ve been looking through Mark’s blog as I wrote this post.  His write ups and photos are making me hungry.  Good thing there is a ride this evening.  I need an excuse to eat a roti canai or two.

Going Really Long

To go long or to go short.  That was the decision to be made before every Six Thirty evening ride.  The long route is about 32 km / 20 mi.  The short route is about 20 km / 12 mi.  I cycled to and from West End Bicycles for the rides, which added 13 km / 8 mi to the distance I covered.  Just as I was getting used to the demands of going long it was time for the 2010 Humble Lions Bike Ride.  The Humble Lions Club runs this ride every year as a fundraiser to benefit handicapped and diabetic children.

This was an 89 km / 55 mi ride.  Just a bit longer than I had covered in one ride before.  Ever.

I remember it being quite chilly at the 8:00 am start.  And thinking that the first rest stop came up very quickly at just 11 km / 7 mi into the ride.  I remember riding into a headwind every time the road turned southward between the 25 km / 15.5 mi and the 45 km / 28 mi points.  And being happy to see the rest stop at the end of a 5 km / 3 mi drag along Bohemian Hall Road to the intersection with Farm to Market Road 1942.

Here are some of the Six Thirty folk at that 45th km rest stop.  Tom B. is resplendent in his West End jersey.

Photo courtesy of Rick Ankrum at texbiker.net/blog/

I’m not sure what  Barbara L. and Laura J. are doing.  Pulling their gloves off perhaps, as the sun had taken the chill out of the air.

Photo courtesy of Rick Ankrum at texbiker.net/blog/

We were served hot breakfast tacos at the next rest stop.  I ate two.  It was a further 16 km / 10 mi to the stop at Alexander Deussen Park.  By that point I had ridden 70 km / 43.5 mi.  A new personal distance record.  More importantly, although I was a bit tired I still felt good about being able to finish the ride.  I remember being really thrilled about being able to pull the group along for 2 km right at the end of the ride.  We hit 39 kph / 24 mph before slowing for the final kilometer into the start / finish area in the Humble Civic Center Arena.

89 km / 55 mi.  With the help of my Six Thirty friends I had gone really long.  And I had the t-shirt to prove it.

Photo courtesy of Rick Ankrum at texbiker.org/blog/