Texas Hill Country: Groundroll 8

A few weeks ago, our company’s EVP invited the wife and I to participate in an invite only small gathering of folks from the E&P industry in the Texas Hill Country. Every year, they get together and bike different routes Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We’ve never been out to Hill Country before, so we were really excited – especially since it’s such an elite event. We knew we wouldn’t do as well as the regulars because we aren’t super strong cyclists and we’ve never biked in hills like that before, but we were pumped anyway.

It’s held in the little town of Fredericksburg, TX. It’s about a 3 hour drive west from Houston. It’s a fabulous, old, little town with tons of great shops and restaurants nestled into some marvelously nice landscapes. Perfect place for a getaway weekend.
IMG_0962 IMG_0964 IMG_0966 IMG_0967Our group was nestled into a little spot around the town’s few hotels – we had our own tent and basecamp. Meals were catered and we also had a guy from a Houston bike shop for maintenance. The whole setup was pretty awesome. Side note: everyone was endlessly fascinated by my bike and how heavy it was. They couldn’t fathom how I was riding a steel bike that weighed about 30 pounds. About 4 or 5 people picked it up and were flabbergasted lol. But I love my Surly!

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We skipped Friday’s ‘warm-up’ ride since we only took a half day at work, but Saturday and Sunday awaited us.

Saturday’s ride was absolutely brutal. 60 miles of some of the biggest hills I’ve ever been up on a bike (not to mention some absurdly fast descents as well). The wife and I both went the fastest we’ve ever been on a bike before (nearly 40mph). Here is the ride map and the speed/elevation graph for the first day:
Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 9.53.31 PM Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 9.52.50 PM IMG_1010 IMG_1009As you can see from the terrain map, we definitely we’re in the flatness of Houston anymore. The two pics from my Garmin are to show my top speed, and the ridiculous total climbing amount we did.

Here are some pics from the first day (captioned with descriptions!)(and as always, click for larger versions!):

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Gearing up to go!

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The starting line. Tradition is to line up front to back by the # of years you’ve been to the event. So, naturally, as first timers, we were last in line – but, not alone! There were a lot of newcomers this year.

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It’s a small event – only 30 or so riders maximum, so once the group spread out you didn’t see many other people at all. It was a quiet, beautiful ride.

It looks flat out in the distance - but it's not.

It looks flat out in the distance – but it’s not.

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The roads were a mix of good and shitty pavement, but they were all back country roads winding through beautiful areas and farms. I lost count of how many cattle grates we went over.

The roads were a mix of good and shitty pavement, but they were all back country roads winding through beautiful areas and farms. I lost count of how many cattle grates we went over.

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Bike selfie!

Bike selfie!

This was the first 'rest stop' - an old schoolhouse. Even though it was a small ride, we still had awesome support with SAG drivers and refreshments.

This was the first ‘rest stop’ – an old schoolhouse. Even though it was a small ride, we still had awesome support with SAG drivers and refreshments.

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If you like, you can take an 8 mile segueway to Enchanted Rock. I'm told the road down to it is an insane downhill where you can reach upwards of 50mph, but the climb back out is agonizing. We skipped it this year. But here are a few pics of it.

If you like, you can take an 8 mile segueway to Enchanted Rock. I’m told the road down to it is an insane downhill where you can reach upwards of 50mph, but the climb back out is agonizing. We skipped it this year. But here are a few pics of it.

Panorama of Enchanted Rock and surrounding area. Click for larger size.

Panorama of Enchanted Rock and surrounding area. Click for larger size.

Cacti!

Cacti!

While most of the herd crossed the street as I was approaching, this one sheep just stood there and stared me down. He finally moved. Cheeky bugger.

While most of the herd crossed the street as I was approaching, this one sheep just stood there and stared me down. He finally moved. Cheeky bugger.

Rest stop 2 - at the top of a big hill at an old church. Perfect spot for some rest and some food.

Rest stop 2 – at the top of a big hill at an old church. Perfect spot for some rest and some food.

After the lunch break we were back into the hills.

After the lunch break we were back into the hills.

The wife!

The wife!

It looks like flat open road, but in fact it was about 4 miles of gentle incline that killed my legs.

It looks like flat open road, but in fact it was about 4 miles of gentle incline that killed my legs.

This was the final pic I took on day 1. There was probably still 20 miles left, and my legs were killing me. So. Many. Hills. LoL. But I can't complain - it was an absolutely beautiful day and a beautiful ride.

This was the final pic I took on day 1. There was probably still 20 miles left, and my legs were killing me. So. Many. Hills. LoL. But I can’t complain – it was an absolutely beautiful day and a beautiful ride.

So after day one, the tradition is after dinner in the tent, everyone tells a story about their ride from the day. It was a lot of fun. I talked about being the last person to finish (I was), and about how being in the back and slow had its perks because we got to see three separate groups of amazing cars drive past us – must have been some sort of rally weekend, or groups out to just enjoy the awesome back roads in their slick machines. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pics of them – but first we saw about 30 Porsches – all makes and vintages. Then a little while later about $15 million in Ferraris went by. It was like, whoa. Again, all makes and vintages. And bringing up the rear of the rally line was my dream car – a white Ferrari Testarosa – yes, Sonny Crockett’s car in Miami Vice. It was beautiful. Lastly, and less impressive, we saw a bunch of BMW’s in rally form go bounding by.

So the first day was brutal and amazing. Day two was supposed to be an ‘easier’ ride – but it wasn’t! Ha. This ride took us down to the tiny town of Comfort, TX, where everyone traditionally stops at a little cafe for some food and drinks. So, the thing about this ride is that apparently the towns of Fredericksburg and Comfort both sit in river valleys – and between them is a big ridge. So going out, you have to climb up out of the first, then enjoy the descent down to Comfort. Easy, right? Nope. It was windy as hell. So windy in fact, that on my ride down the back side of the ridge, I had to pedal to hit 15mph. Yes, after crushing it down hills yesterday at 40mph, I had to pedal to maintain 15mph or the wind held me back to about 12-13. Ugh.

A lot of the folks only ride half of the ride to the cafe, then get rides back – I decided to do this as well. Still managed to get a little over 20 miles though. Here are the maps and some pics!

Check out that terrain, baby.

Check out that terrain, baby.

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It started out looking alright...

It started out looking alright…

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A shot from the top of the ridge, looking down toward Comfort, TX

A shot from the top of the ridge, looking down toward Comfort, TX

Made it!

Made it!

So that was that. We loaded up the bikes and came back to Houston. An incredible weekend in a new part of the state we hadn’t been before. Also probably the most beautiful riding we’ve experienced since leaving Knoxville.

I hope we get invited back next year!

Tour de Houston 2015

This past Sunday was the 100th running, uh, cycling? of the Tour de Houston. Last year was a good time except for getting soaked to the bone by rain. The routes change every year so this year we got to ride through some areas of the city-at-large we don’t usually drive or ride through. The wife and I chose the 40 mile route, which was just long enough. Turnout was good, like last year, and overall the riders were well behaved.

There’s something almost surreal about coming into the city at 6:30 in the morning with the buildings all lit up, and gathering with thousands of other cyclists ready to pedal through the city and out into the burbs. Surreal is probably an overstatement, but it’s really cool – so sue me.

The roads on the route were in good shape, so compliments to the City and their planning of the routes. My only gripe is the lack of good snacks at the rest stops. The ride support and help was great.

Huge shoutout and thanks to the Houston Police and the local constables along the routes, and the hundred or so volunteers for all their help in holding down the intersections, and providing help at the rest stop and on the route. Thank you!!

In the heat of the moment starting off, I didn’t start my GPS. And of course I didn’t notice until we were about 3 miles out. Which is why the starting point of the map below isn’t the same as the end (which was right down in front of City Hall).

I look forward to riding in it again next year and what part of the city they’ll send us to then.

Here are the pics I took along the way.

Here’s the route. The route planners seem to be big on out-and-back, instead of loops. My guess is because it cuts amount of police required to hold up intersections in half. The missing piece of the route before I turned on my GPS was from the red flag heading west down Allen Parkway to Memorial drive.Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 7.05.04 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 7.02.26 PM Upset this came out blurry – but, even the iPhone’s camera can’t avoid light & photography physics. This was our arrival around 6:30am.IMG_0870 In the park, signing in at the registration tent, and getting our rider’s packets.IMG_0871Milling around, waiting to line up to go.
IMG_0877 IMG_0879 IMG_0882 Having complete control of the wide open road is so fantastic. I wish it could be like this all the time when riding!IMG_0883 Rest stop #1IMG_0884 Heading down TC Jester Blvd. The riders on the left are already coming back from the turnaround.IMG_0886 Not all the intersections were Police controlled. Sometimes, you just have to wait for the lights.IMG_0887 Over the head shot.IMG_0888 Rest stop #2. This was our turn around point to head back to the start/end.IMG_0890Oh Sherman, you so sexy.
IMG_0893Even though they’ll never see this, I want to say thanks to all the motorists we interacted with all day on the route. We had ZERO issues with them. They were safe and courteous and patient, and for that I am grateful – because, I know we inconvenienced a bunch – I mean just look at our line in the turn only lane!
IMG_0894 Rode with these guys for a few miles. They were hilarious. Dumb & Dumber is one of my favorite movies (how could it not be?) so this was especially awesome. I love folks who go the extra mile like this to really have fun and enjoy the event. Kudos, Harry & Lloyd!IMG_0895 At first I thought this photo wasn’t that great, but then I noticed you could actually see the silhouettes of downtown straight ahead. I just wish it had been sunny.IMG_0896 Going down Washington was annoying because of all the lights. But, we had good cheers from the folks sitting outside at restaurants/coffee shops and from some people in the cars too!IMG_0897 Just about there. The city looms large now.IMG_0899 After the finish line. A panorama of the park where there was live music, booths with beer and food and lots of people just chillin’ after a great time.IMG_0903 IMG_0906 Victory!!
Back at the car ready to head out.

IMG_0907 On the way home we drove past where we had ridden by only an hour or so before. Lots of riders doing the 60 mile route were still coming back – you can see them straight ahead waiting to turn. Also, the guy in front of us had an amazingly sexy classic GTO.IMG_0908A delicious lunch was in order. So, what better place to stop?!
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So there’s the 2015 Tour de Houston! I can’t wait for next year!

Ready2Roll MS150 Training; Week 3

We were back on the bikes this weekend for the third training ride before the MS150. We headed up to Hempstead, TX, to join the Pedaling The Prairie ride – one of the two partner rides between the Ready 2 Roll series and official t-shirt rides. I almost signed up for Pedaling the Prairie last year, but didn’t get around to it, so I was glad we were able to join it this year.

It was an early start since it’s almost an hour drive from west Houston up to Hempstead, and we wanted to get in ahead of the traffic since it’s a single lane road where the parking was. We made it with plenty of time. The weather was forecast to be very nice, and it didn’t disappoint. As we rolled in the Waller County Fairgrounds, there was a pretty dense fog but the sun was trying it’s best to burn through it.
(Click on any picture to see the larger version)
IMG_0679 IMG_0682We ended up pretty far back in the starting line and with intermittent wave starts we had about 20 minutes before we rolled out. But by then the blue skies had showed and while it was still a little chilly, the sun was a nice bonus. Here’s a pano of the startline from where we were waiting:

Click for full size!

Click for full size!

The routes to ride were labeled as 24, 45, 55, and 71 (I think). I rode the 45, and the wife did the 24. Here’s a map of the ride from my GPS:
Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.33.26 PM Here’s a closer zoom to see the road #s for a better location:Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.33.55 PMMy stats for the ride:
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There weren’t a lot in the way of hills, but there were some decent ups and down. Mostly, the biggest obstacle was the 10+ mph wind gusting from the southwest. Though it was pretty awesome as a tail wind for a good chunk of the way heading back (hence my max speed of 22.7mph and an average speed of over 15).

The weather was gorgeous, and the roads were in great shape and overall it was a fabulous ride. The rest stops were top notch and the BBQ at the finish line was much needed. Many thanks to the folks who put on Pedaling the Prairie – it was a well oiled machine, and I look forward to next year.

Now what you’ve all been waiting for – the pics!
Inside the pavilion at about 8am. Signing in, grabbing some breakfasty foods, before getting the bikes off the car.
IMG_0681 Rest stop #1.IMG_0689 Rest stop #2. This picture looks better larger – but I also thought it’s turn out better. It was cool watching the riders against the horizon as they came around the curve – but it didn’t translate as well to camera. Oh well.IMG_0690 Still rest stop #2. Grabbed some PBJ squares, and brownies. IMG_0691 Sherman, taking a break at rest stop #2.IMG_0693 I think this was rest stop #3 or #4. Thankfully this was just about the end of a stretch of absolutely terribly rough road. Of course, then we made a turn directly into the wind, so, yeah.IMG_0695 IMG_0694 IMG_0696 IMG_0697 There was another big cow right next to the fence when I rolled up but just before I shot this he turned tail and ran all the way to the back of the field. Guess he didn’t want to be internet famous.IMG_0698 Pedaling the Prairie, indeed.IMG_0700 IMG_0699 Last rest stop. This SAG driver was rocking a giant Texas State flag on the back of his truck all day. Tried to snap a pic of it waving, but obviously missed.IMG_0701 IMG_0702 Final pic of the day on the way back in. Taken while riding. Beautiful day. Beautiful ride.IMG_0703We just signed up for the Tour de Houston today, too, very much looking forward to that next month. It was one of my favorite rides last year.

Well that’s it for this week. See y’all next week!

New Saddle? Giddy up !

I figured it was time to get a properly fitted saddle for my Surly Cross-Check since I’m now spending a lot of time in my butt putting in lots of miles. So I went to our local Bike Barn and got fitted – which basically is just sitting on a memory foam cushion and then measuring the distance between the imprints of your sit bones.

I walked out of the store with a Specialized Avatar, a significantly different saddle than I’ve ever had on any bike.

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Forgive the lowlight crappy photos.

But here are a few shots comparing the new, smaller, more narrow saddle as compared to my previous one:

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It will definitely take some getting used to as it is much more narrower and definitely more firm than I am used to. But once my ass molds to it, I hope it makes long distance rides more comfy.

I finally got an iPhone. It does panos. Here is one.

From our 40 miler today

Click to see it big(ger)

Click to see it big(ger)

Christmas Day Bike Ride!

Christmas in Houston today was a cloudy 55° – great for a bike ride to put all our new bike stuff to good use. And we weren’t the only ones. We saw a ton of people and families out in the park riding, walking, running, and playing pickup games of soccer and football with friends and family. It was fantastic. Christmas in Syracuse consists of shoveling or snowplowing your driveway, scraping off your car, and staying inside where it’s warm. Of course, our closest friends and family are there and we miss them incredibly so. But, since we were staying in Texas this year for the holidays, this was the best way to spend it!

Me & Annie with our new bikes!

Me & Annie with our new bikes!

On the boardwalk spanning Buffalo Bayou

On the boardwalk spanning Buffalo Bayou

Back on the trail going through George Bush Park. Annie is holding my bike - we were taking pics of the bikes.

Back on the trail going through George Bush Park. Annie is holding my bike – we were taking pics of the bikes.

Back at the parking area

Back at the parking area

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Added the new bottle cages and pedals!

Added the new bottle cages and pedals!

Delta Inox bottle cages, and Shimano A530 hybrid pedals

Delta Inox bottle cages, and Shimano A530 hybrid pedals

Annie's bike. Specialized Tricross. The thing strapped to her downtube is "The Stick", which is a muscle roller she used for when her knee hurts.

Annie’s bike. Specialized Tricross. The thing strapped to her downtube is “The Stick”, which is a muscle roller she used for when her knee hurts.

Front view of Annie's bike.

Front view of Annie’s bike.

And from this morning:

Annie took this great pic of Rayleigh nesting in the remnants of our presents.

Annie took this great pic of Rayleigh nesting in the remnants of our presents.