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The Houston 1000 - Oh my!
Ride Dates: October 12-15, 2013
by Gary Baker with input from Barry Chase

This ride was to be Barry’s and my "riding Hail Mary". We had, between us, DNF'd 3600km this year, and we both saw this ride as a chance of mileage redemption.

Houston seemed like a great place to travel to do a ride this time of year. The route 'appeared' to be on the flatter side, and the weather looked to be delightful(even if thunderstorms were in the daily forecasts) by our Fall standards. When we learned that United Airlines had direct flights from Vancouver to Houston, that sold the deal.

Stepping out of the Houston Airport was like stepping into a steam bath
in a winter parka although the visibility was better...beautiful, clear skies. The drive to the brevet start ( Brookshire to the west of Houston) was along multi-lanes toll freeways, and they were packed. Texas is definitely car country.

When we arrived at the motel, we were greeted by Gary Gottlieb and Dana Pacino (both of UMCA fame) as they unloaded their DiVinci tandem from their pickup Hummer. Are a tandem and a Hummer the making of an oxymoron? For sure in Vancouver!

At the motel reception desk we were welcomed like good friends just as we were by restaurant waiters, store clerks, folks on the street, and of course our fellow riders for this event. Everyone was genuinely friendly, courteous, and nice.!

Thanks to check-in and US Customs clearance delays at YVR, neither of us had eaten all day. We had to eat and Mexican it had to be. We were directed to this little hole in wall cafe where the staff and patrons were friendly, and the food was excellent and was the beer. As we were eating, we observed our first Texas sized thunder and rain storm....short lived but intense. Wow! Oh my!

When we returned to the motel, Barry elected to assemble his bike in the air conditioned comfort of our room. I foolishly did so outside and nearly drowned in a puddle of my own sweat.

The hotel had breakfast for the riders at 6AM ever morning which was great as the route was the shape of a three leaf clover. Returning to a warm shower, comfortable bed and fresh clothes every day is so civilized.

Ten riders (plus I think 4 doing a 200km ) set off at 7AM in 75F heat and 90% humidity......and it just got hotter. Within a few kilometres of the start, we encountered what was going to be a reoccurring problem as we rode the quiet back roads……packs of small dogs the size of large rats. They would swarm out of yards. It was most disconcerting as they buzzed about like angry hornets. Late on the third day not far from the finish, I was millimeters from hitting one of the little beggars with my front wheel. That would have hurt both of us!

We were both concerned about how we would handle the heat and humidity; I was the lucky one. By midday Barry was cramping badly, and we dropped off the pace set by the local riders including that tandem ( Gary & Dana) and two recumbents ( Vickie & Dennis). The terrain to the west of Houston may not be hilly, but it is definitely NOT flat. We were working. What was neat, at the controls the clerks would ask, “ Are you the Canadians?” and then tell us the other riders had left us bags of ice or bottles of water or Gatorade. Wonderful! Thanks Charles, Gary, Dana, Dennis, Jeff, Joshua, and Vickie.

The day unfolded, weather wise, for the most part much better than forecast. There were huge storm cells moving about in the late afternoon, a common occurrence in this area. At one rest stop the skies behind us were as black as the proverbial backside of a Labrador. One of the other customers came over to show us the info on his weather app and suggested we might want to stay put for a while. We observed the general direction the storm was heading and decided to go for it. About 10 miles later as we approach College Station (the home of A&M University) Barry flatted, and the very edge of the storm brushed us. We missed that bullet, so to speak. This looked and felt like a typical US college town. They seem to have that feel no matter want state you are in. Was it just me or did all the roads, streets and lanes have names like George Bush, Lady Bird, JFK, LBJ, Lynden Johnson?

The roads were generally unbelievably quiet, and the drivers were incredibly courteous - more so than our locals or most other places I’ve ridden. We did engage in some Cycle-Cross practice when we found a bridge had been torn out forcing us to carry our bikes through a small creek ravine with gumbo type mud! On a down side TX chip seal makes our chip seal seem smooth like silk - talk about rough. How I longed for my 32mm/700s or the 37mm/650b tires.

At approximately 8:30pm we were almost across the last of several narrow bridges when we heard the unmistakable sound of a crash some distance behind us. It was dark, and when I looked back all I could see were distant headlights, no other details. We rode on.

There were lightning flashes deep into the night but thankfully only some light rain showers. It was a long day. 374km. We made it back to the motel at 2AM.

Day two we awoke to lightning flash after flash, but no thunder. The lack of thunder was a good sign. It meant the lightning was occurring a long way away. We met all the riders at breakfast. We thought the plan was to all leave at 7AM, but when we stepped outside we were alone. The others we learned later had left at 6:45AM. No big deal. Off we went.

Within minutes it started to rain, and that lightning was now on top of us. Yes we were concerned, bloody scared actually. Flash, count 1001, 1002, 1003 BOOM. We didn’t see any forked lightning as it appeared to all be sheet lightning from cloud to cloud. Did this make it less dangerous? We didn’t know. But now it wasn’t just raining; the rain was torrential. When Barry and I talked later we both admitted the thought of calling it quits was top of our minds, but thankfully we both kept our negative thoughts to ourselves.

Water was pooling everywhere, but where it could, it was roaring along ditches and overflowing culverts. I was in the lead when I saw all the local riders standing under an abandoned gas station canopy. They had taken shelter to wait out the storm. The rain pounding on the tin roof was deafening! They had their smartphones out and were monitoring the storm cell on a weather app… neat. When it looked that the storm cell was passing us, the decision was to go. We were surprised at the lack of rain gear these riders used. It seems no matter what you wear, you get soaked to the skin. When the rain stops and as the temperatures are in the mid 80s+F in no time, you dry out.

The intensity of the rain may have diminished, but all that water was trying to go somewhere. The water swells were full of water, up to the bike axles and bottom brackets; several intersections were completely flooded. There was no option but to walk through them. How I dislike wet feet!

We all stayed together for the next several hours, partly because it was one flat after another. I think the total was eight. The last was my second of the day. At this point, we dropped off the back.

We caught up to the group at the turn around control just as they were finishing a meal. We decided to stay and eat. Refueled we started the 165km haul back to Brookshire into a steady headwind, damn. Barry kept commenting about our slow pace, no wonder the wind was unrelenting.

With 45km to finish the day, there was a CAUTION NOTE on the route sheet, “Low water crossing, may be sand/debris”. Could be, but all we could see was a very wide expanse of moving water. There was absolutely no way I was going to get in that water (My former training as a lifeguard kicked in!) Barry was tempted, but in the end we both decided to find an alternate route back. The problem however, was we had no idea where we were or how to do it. We started to double back.

We had crossed a T-intersection several kilometres back that we thought we had gone through on the outleg in the morning, in fact we had. All we had to do was follow the route in reverse and we would return to the official return route. Easier said than done. I had thrown the first page of the day’s route sheet away, and Barry’s copy was so wet it was mush and virtually unreadable. There were no lights, no houses just ribbons of asphalt disappearing into complete blackness.. It was slow going as we debated at each intersection which way to go. We also tried to flag down the few cars that were around (it was now well after midnight)to ask for directions. Several did stop, their directions were welcomed and helpful. It seemed like forever in both time and distance to regain the official route. We arrived back at the motel at 3AM with approximately 25 bonus kilometres.

At the breakfast the next morning the first question we heard was, “Did you go through the water crossing?” We learned the others did but not without incident.

We got off to a slow/late start, and there was no doubt we were both dragging. At about 80km I was somewhat confused when a road sign pointed ‘left’ to get to the next town, and the route sheet indicated we should turn ‘right’. I stopped to assess the situation when a driver pulled into a nearby parking spot, got out and started walking towards me. She was smartly dressed, very professional looking. As she approached she said, “ You look lost can I help you?’. She sorted out the directional issue at which point I commented on how helpful and courteous Texans all seemed to be. She smiled and said, “When you get home, tell your friends that not all Texans ride horses, not all Texans carry guns, but all Texans are courteous.” Wonderful!

The route did get a bit rolly, as we were going into a National Forest where all the services were closed due to the U.S. Federal Government shutdown. I was suffering from lack of sleep, so we stopped for a power nap at a closed Barbeque stand (with covered tables and benches). When we got going again, I was experiencing some very unusual pain with my left patella. It became so sore I couldn’t pedal with my left leg. Not good! Then Barry flatted for the third time on the ride. Getting off the bike and walking around seemed to be the cure to the knee problem as I didn’t feel it again... saved! Once we made the turn around control, we knew we had the ride in the bag. It was going to be another long night but we were in no hurry. We finished at 2:25 AM with a total time of 67:25hrs.

The next morning we swapped stories with some of the other riders and then headed for Austin TX. to hopefully enjoy some local music and eat and drink at one of those eclectic barbeque bars. This we did! We also checked out Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop. We dropped a few hundred bucks, enjoyed the ambience and were surprised to see that Lance’s yellow jerseys were still proudly mounted on the wall.

Prior to leaving Texas we were contacted by the ride Organizer (Bob Riggs) about a vehicle accident on one of the bridges. He told us a rider behind us (we thought we were the last riders) found the highway blocked by a multi-car accident and called the Organizer for re-routing advise. Bob asked if we had heard or seen anything. We acknowledged we had heard the crash but did not see it. We were told there were several people injured.

It wasn’t until we returned to Vancouver and read postings on the Houston Randonneurs’ Message Board and spoke again with Bob that we had a fuller sense of what had happened behind us - we may have dodged one. You can read that rider’s account of the accident scene on that Message Board (Titled: 1000- How did it go?)

Preconceptions usually prove to be very wrong, well mine of Texas and of ‘Texans’sure were. I expected a countryside baked dry and brown, but it was surprisingly green and lush. I expected Texans to be standoffish ( Don’t ask me why?, but they were anything of the sort. They were extremely courteous to us and as we observed to one another. Internationally Canadians are supposedly known to be courteous to others. That said we could learn a thing or two from the folks we met. Compared to the Texans we met, I’d say Canadians are standoffish. We could sense the pride people had in being Texans; they wore the name proudly but not boastfully - very different from most Canadians who are proud to be so, but wear it quietly.

One more thing. The United flight home was not without incident. The plane was clean and the cabin staff first rate, but it was the wrong plane for a flight into foggy Vancouver as it was rated for visual flight rules only. Given the weather circumstance how dumb. Better than half way home we were diverted back to Denver where we transferred to a plane rated for instrument landing. It was a long flight.

What a ride, what a trip in so many respects. Both Barry and I relish the surprises, the adventures that seem ubiquitous on ‘ultras’. Where to next?

Go to: 2013 Ultra Brevet Results
Go to: Houston Randonneurs Home

November 2, 2013