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Monday, April 20, 2009

MS 150 Houston to Austin - Part 2 'The Main Event'

After showing our belligerence as the 'Renegade riders' on Saturday a degree of decorum was now required for Sundays main event. Our rider numbers were revealed and carefully attached to bikes, helmets and onto the rear of our fancy team jerseys. Grooming rituals took place where razors headed north to greet stubble chins, an unusual diversion from the more customary lower limbs.
As we gathered together with our BHP Billiton team mates in La Grange there was one visual difference between us and them.
It had nothing to do with tired eyes or sun burnt necks, but we each wore a black 'Pirates of the Caribbean' wristbands to signify our brotherhood.
It was out of mutual respect for each other from escaping the jaws of the 'Prairie beast' on the previous day.
Poor Dave, despite his courageous act of gallantry, he didn't even have any scars to illustrate his heroic actions. Unsurprisingly these were getting more and more exaggerated at each rendition. We even thought of carving some claws marks into his seat to provide actual evidence as to the size of the creature.

With the sun shinning in a cloudless sky it was a beautiful scene as 13,000+ riders gathered by the Courthouse in central La Grange. A whole array of different brightly coloured shirts greeted the morning, and there was a warm energy that radiated from all the participants. It was quite awe inspiring.
The American National anthem was played just prior to the start with complete silence honoured. It was something I both respected and warmed to.
When I say I respected it, I don't mean that glibly. I listened to the words and related to them. They felt right, and they were especially poignant just prior to this event.
Although I am proud to be British I think our own national anthem is irrelevant to me personally. Its all about our sovereign and not about 'The people'.
Am I sounding like a socialist?

Shortly after the start the route splits and provides two courses before converging again at the lunch time stop of Bastrop. The easiest and fastest route was along the shoulder of Texas 71, a four-lane divided highway. The other was simply called 'The Challenge' route, a series of rode less-traveled, farm-to-market roads that wound through two state parks of Beuscher and Bastrop. On my two previous MS 150 rides I had elected to take the easier route.
You see I never really liked the word 'Challenge' unless its placed in context.
To me challenge is a bit too ambiguous, it comes in the same category as other words like 'Nearly' or 'Not far'. Its all about perspective.
At the end of March I took part in a Cycling Sportive called the 'Cheshire Cat'.
It was 102 miles and described as 'challenging'.
Although I did manage to complete it in a fairly respectable time, I nearly cried on some of the mountains (that were described as hills). I found it a massive challenge and so did Scott (my bike) We didn't speak to each other for at least a week afterwards.

Anyway continuing our more rebellious theme we opted for the 'Challenge Route'.
Dave and Kelly (Who joined us on day two) had previously completed the route and therefore knew the terrain. I just followed them with a degree of scepticism.
I never really quite worked out which aspect was the official 'challenge'.
For Houstonians I expect the numerous steep climbs and rapid descents were very challenging after flat riding.
For me there were two.

The main one was avoiding novice climbers who suddenly ran out of gears or puff and stopped or fell over abruptly in front of me.
Very inconsiderate of them!!!!!
But equally as demanding were the technical challenges, which worked my mind far more than my body.
Constant visual readjustment was needed when moving from bright sunlight to heavily shadowed woodland. With my aging eyes it was like being temporarily blinded. I hope I didn't bump into people during those darkened moments. I now have visions of me causing my own trail of destruction whilst riding under natures canopy, through the shadowed twilight.
The forest trails also varied in their surface, some parts were dry, others damp or even contained puddles. Some parts were clear others were strewn with pine needles, bumps and pot holes.
I loved it, both the technical aspects of the challenge and its beauty.
With it came the sound of a bagpiper playing. His music reverberating through the woods reminded me of home.
We stopped at one of the drink stations which was contained within a clearing surrounded by tall pine trees.There was music playing, people dancing and singing.
It was more reminiscent of a sixties rock concert than a charity cycle event.

The previous days dampness seemed another season away as the sun now burned at my skin. Feeling slightly dehydrated I drank and drank at every opportunity. I also tried some pickle juice, apparently its good for cramp. Whether it prevented me from cramping or not I will never know, but it was disgusting.
After some lunch at Bastrop we set off for the final leg to Austin.
Out of the shelter of the Park we were struck by 20 mph + headwinds, but nevertheless we soon got a good pace line going. At one time I looked around and we were pulling about 100 bikes - It felt really great.
It did not matter that nobody else wanted to take a turn at the front with the wind conditions I didn't blame them.
Just as we had got a really good rhythm going Dave had a puncture so we all stopped.
Sensing our hospitable nature we were joined by a BP rider who requested our assistance with her own puncture.
Kenny and Dave were alarmingly quick off the mark to assist although her particular puncture seemed far more serious and seemed to take on a life of its own.
It took two inner tubes, three CO2 canisters and much cursing to solve.
Whilst all this was going on I soaked up the sun and took some photographs of riders as they filed past.
I even managed to get a snap of a real cowgirl who had ridden up to see what all the commotion was about.
I offered her my bike in exchange for her horse but I don't think she understood my accent or my unique English humour.
She smiled sweetly and gently pressed the heels of her ostrich boots into the sides of her white stallion before riding off through the long swaying grass. With her right hand she skillfully held her double reins and in her left she lightly secured her cowboy hat. All that was missing was some 'voice over' firmly stating that this was 'Marlborough Country'
For a minute I thought my dehydration had got the better of me and that it was all an elaborate mirage.
As we approached the outskirts of Austin the road became familiar as did the long undulating terrain into the city.
The finish was incredible and something you would only expect to see in something like the Tour de France. The streets were cordoned off with supporters four or five deep outlining the streets. People were so generous reaching out to touch your hand and shouting out with all the support they could muster for every single rider. I struggled to hold back my tears of pure joy.
And suddenly it all made sense.
Links to Media Articles:
Although this ride has now finished, this is just one story on 'The travels with my Mule'
There are many more to come.
One of the things us renegades talked about was to try and set up our own charity cycling team called 'Travels with my mule'.
We had some great ideas for shirt design.
Any feedback or ideas would be welcome.


  1. Congratulations on completing the ride (both days!). I enjoyed reading about your ride.

  2. not a dry seat in the house after reading this one, Phil

  3. Sounds Exhilarating!!

    Remind me to never cycle up a hill in front of you! I'll wait till the crowd passes ; )

    How exciting, you've made me even more excited about the 200K ride I (still) hoping to do in June.

  4. Thank you all for your kind and supportive words and thoughts.

    Lilly..... you must do the ride, i will follow it with great intrest and expect a full and comprehensive blog


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