Wednesday, April 25, 2012

MS150 Houston to Austin 2012

Last weekend saw the annual MS 150 Houston to Austin ride.
A two day charity sportive with about 17,000 entrants.
Having completed the course myself on 5 occasions I was envious of the American Mules especially as my own weekend was washed out with yet more wind and heavy rain showers.
Ever since the environment agency declared a hosepipe ban we have had continuous rain.
I am hoping that they tell us all to buy wellingtons and antifreeze soon so that I may enjoy some more pleasurable riding.
Anyway here is a report by Paddy our US Mule Patron.

The Good,the bad and the Ugly
This year’s MS150 was my best to date. It had nothing to do with the weather, and nothing to do with the extra training we had all put in, but the enjoyment was attributed to the wonderful sense of “Family” and Camaraderie we felt in riding together as a team.

That is part of the “Good”, the other part must go to Direct Energy and our fantastic Volunteers who really showed some of the big corporate oil companies some lessons in how to support both the event and its riders. They really knew how to make their riders feel comfortable and special throughout the ride and after 12 such MS150 events I have to say it will be difficult to raise the bar on Direct Energy.
Most of the Mules rode for the Direct Energy team but there were others scattered around other teams through obligations with their work. We all however wore our Mule jerseys at some stages of the ride to show our unity.

Our Ride started at a middle school on the outskirts of Houston and after a few miles or so we soon got ourselves into a decent well controlled “pace line” with a few of the “Clydesdale Type” Mules battering the 25 mph + winds for the rest of the Train.

Perhaps its time to mention the “Bad”…..? The bad was the fact that after a week of benevolent South Easterly breezes the wind conspired to turn around on the morning of the ride. This created a sobering headwind for the whole of the 98 miles on day 1. This certainly sorted out the wheat from the chaff with the field stretched out across South east Texas. I swear there were grown men with beards and all  “Crying for their respective Mama’s” as they were being blown to almost walking pace. For us teamwork prevailed. We shared the load against the wind and encouraging each other to stay together.
Togetherness is KEY !!!!!!!!

Our base camp in La Grange could not have been better. By MS 150 standards it was luxury. We had four RV buses strategically positioned in the Texan way to repeal any other teams who might be coveting our hospitality and especially our beer. This incidentally was chilled as cold as an Eskimo's nose.
Although there was no Col Custard we did have a DJ who kept our hearts uplifted with some R&R Music. There were also some unbelievable support staff who ensured our hydration process was full and effective.
As an addition perk, we had direct access to a swimming pool and hot tub. What more could you want.
Lounging in a pool after a long ride with a cold beer is certainly a civilized way to relax after a ride.

Right......... Now for the “Downright Ugly”…..Shawn, one of our stallion riders had been abstaining beer for lent which was continued to the start of this ride. Having made it to the camp in record time quickly he decided that his abstinence period was over. After consuming a vast quantity of Belgium Ale (In support of the Belgium Classics) he decided to show off his dancing moves which were a techno mash up of Austin Powers and Fred A”stairs”. It was wondrous

Day 2 – Was a quiet affair with very little wind. This had us all drooling at the opportunity to ride tempo into Austin. This did not disappoint as the first leg to Bastrop saw us arrive at a time when most civilized folks have their breakfast.
For the rest of the morning saw us enjoy the sights and sounds as we took on a more relaxed pace to the Finish line before noon. We capped the occasion off with a visit to Johnny Mellow cycle shop for Coffee, a picture shoot in front of the capital building…..followed by more beers at the Direct Energy tent.
Saving the best to last.
A great event with $50,000 being raised by the Mule contingent.
Well done US Mules you have done us proud.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tale of Two Sportives

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

Paul Kirk Memorial Sportive, Brigg, Lincolnshire
0715 Beverley, UK ....... Mark pulls up outside my house, parks his car and knocks on my door.
 I don't open it fully as I don't want the snow or its deliverer (A cruel north East Wind) to enter my house.
I pass him my bike and tell him I wont be long.
My delay being due to the fact that my preparation time has been elongated. I had forgotten  how long it takes to put on 17 items of clothing

Tour De Braz, Alvin, Texas, USA
North Houston, Texas, 0400.........My twin brother Paddy loads the last ice chest into the cycle trailer, warm beer is never appreciated.
He then frantically seeks to stop his rivers of perspiration, by seeking refuge in his air conditioned gas guzzler.
The simplicity of only having to  put on four items of cycling clothing has enabled him to have a ten minute lie in.
Paul Kirk Memorial Sportive, Brigg, Lincolnshire
0800 Brigg, UK................Big coat or Lightweight coat mmmmmm........ Big coat. I reach into my rucksack and find some 'Little hotties' (Hand warmers) which I put in the rear of my shirt, jettosing a piece of flapjack to make room.
I put on my under gloves and then my heart sinks as I realise that I have left my outer winter gloves at home.
Fortunately Mark has a spare pair of woollen mitts which I unashamedly steal.
Its stoped snowing. Thank heaven.

Tour De Braz, Alvin, Texas, USA
0800 Alvin, Texas..........15, 20 or 25 the numbers are shouted out by Paddy.
Other nearby teams mistakenly think that The Mules team are talking about what speed they want to ride at. In reality they are debating sun block qualities.
The sunscreen may keep the UV rays at bay but not the wind. Its blowing some in Texas - 20/30 mph winds. Not fun

Paul Kirk Memorial Sportive, Brigg, Lincolnshire
As we set off I encourage Mark to set a good pace to help warm us up.
We rode south towards Lincoln and followed the river Trent.
As the morning unfolded the wind increased behind us - An ominous sign for the later stages, when when I knew we had to turn North.
Catching earlier riders we worked with them to maintain a respectable speed of just under 18 mph.
This was maintained to Market Rasen when the course split for the 100km and 100mile routes.
As we took the 100km option our decision to choose the shorter route was soon justified.
The wind had whipped up and was now in our faces with some wintry showers to add to the displeasure.
I don't know exactly how strong the wind was but pedalling downhill to achieve forward momentum was a good indicator. Further squally showers gathered around us and we were pleased to get back.
Our prize was a 'cup cake' each baked by one of the organisers
Tour De Braz, Alvin, Texas, USA
The US Mules had their own weather to contend with - 20+ mph winds now gusting up to 40 mph.
No gentle breezes in Texas you know.
Risk of being blown over -  Most Certainly Yes
Frostbite - No
Alvin is located to the south-east of Houston close to Galveston and has some great parkland.
Its name is not taken after one of its furry occupants but one of the settlers called 'Alvin Morgan'.
With another Morgan sailing his pirate ship in the Caribbean the 'Morgan' name was effectively 'Taken'  so Alvin it was.
Having survived all that the gulf could throw at them The US  Mules enjoyed a downwind return with speeds of 38 miles per hour achieved. WOW !!!!!!
The US Mules then returned to their trailer for some Bodingtons Beer..........(From Manchester)

Well done to all MULES for getting out there !!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Waves to Wine Ride 2012

I have only ever been to San Fransisco once and in that short period of time acquired some sympathy for that old crooner Tony Bennett. Seemingly he had  left one of his major organs there.
Although my visit was brief, it was long enough to develop an overwhelming desire to return. 

Not many people know that when Tony Bennett first sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" the song was actually the B side to "Once Upon A Time."
In California San Francisco may also be on the B side to Los Angeles but just like the song we all know which one is more popular.

Situated at the end of its very own peninsula the city is bordered by The mighty Pacific Ocean to the west and San Francisco Bay to the east. Inland the mainland soon elevates creating a natural amphitheatre overlooking the great metropolis  which can be viewed in its entirety.
 Through my life I have visited America many times and have zig zaged across its vast continent. New York Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles,  Seattle, Miami, Houston, Nashville, New Orleans, Denver and many places in between. I have  tried to assimilate the 'American Way' and understand how this 'young' country has evolved.
San Francisco seems oddly out of kilter - as if it does its own thing. It also seems oddly European.
If the inhabitants all spoke French and donned a few berets you could almost imagine you were on the French Riviera, only the wine is cheaper and tastier.

As I started writing this blogpost I wanted to establish what other free thinkers thought.
Unsurprisingly I am not alone.
 One day if I go to heaven…I’ll look around and say “It ain’t bad, but it ain’t San Francisco”. (Herb Caen)
You know what it is? (It) is a golden handcuff with the key thrown away. (John Steinbeck)
San Franciscans are very proud of their city, and they should be. It’s the most beautiful place in the world. (Robert Redford)
Of all cities in the United States I have seen, San Francisco is the most beautiful. (Nikita Kruschev)
I prefer a wet San Francisco to a dry Manhattan. (Larry Geraldi)
I never dreamed I’d like any city as well as London. San Francisco is exciting, moody, exhilarating. I even love the muted fogs. (Julie Christie)
In all my travels I have never seen the hospitality of San Francisco equalled anywhere in the world. (Conrad Hilton)
 It is a good thing the early settlers landed on the East Coast; if they’d landed in San Francisco first, the rest of the country would still be uninhabited. (Herbert Mye)
 What fetched me instantly (and thousands of other newcomers with me) was the subtle but unmistakable sense of escape from the United States. (H.L. Mencken)
Every man should be allowed to love two cities, his own and San Francisco. (Gene Fowler)
 God took the beauty of the Bay of Naples, the Valley of the Nile, the Swiss Alps, the Hudson River Valley, rolled them into one and made San Francisco Bay. (Fiorello La Guardia)

San Francisco is poetry. Even the hills rhyme. (Pat Montandon)
I love this city. If I am elected, I’ll move the White House to San Francisco. Everybody’s so friendly. (Robert Kennedy)
I like the fog that creeps over the whole city every night about five, and the warm protective feeling it gives…and lights of San Francisco at night, the fog horn, the bay at dusk and the little flower stands where spring flowers appear before anywhere else in the country…But, most of all, I like the view of the ocean from the Cliff House. (Irene Dunne)

If somebody was to ask me 'What would be your dream cycle trip?'
My answer would go like this:-
'Id start in San Fransisco about 7am on a Saturday morning whilst its still relatively quiet.
I'd cycle through part of the city ................
Then along San Francisco bay towards and over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Id have a break and sample some wine before exploring the wine region more fully the following day'

Well the MS Society obviously read my mind and have a two day event 22/23rd September 2012 called 'Waves to Wine' which starts in San Francisco and finishes in the Sonoma wine region.
It takes two days and is about 150+ miles.
After discovering this gem I had little choice but to call my benevolent twin brother and share my dream.
Within hours of talking to him he had entered our Anglo/American Mule Team. So far we have 5 Mules a number we will look to multiply over the coming months.

Having already completed the MS 150 Houston to Austin 5 times I know that the quality that goes into the organisation and support will be be second to none.
This support was evident as soon as we had registered in the shape of Liz Bernstein who works for the MS Society.
Its not easy trying to logistically advise a global gathering of cyclists but she does a remarkable job.
She also has Anglo/American links.
After being brought up in Southern California Liz actually went to University in the same county that I live in -which is in my beloved Yorkshire, England. It also contains some of the Anglo Mule favorite riding territory.

Whilst at university Liz started running (Big Hills in Bradford) and in 2002 did a marathon in Hawaii where she raised $3,000 for AIDS.
Sadly in 2006 her sister was diagnosed with MS and Liz wanted to raise money and awareness. Within 3-4 months she had gathered a team of 17 friends and moved from running to cycling entering the Waves to Wine ride and raising  $10,000.
The following year she had gathered 65 people in her team and  raised $65,000.
This is a great ride and a great cause.
If your thinking about entering she is ready at hand to advise.
Mules Mission
In life there are three sorts of people - Those who do, those who watch, and those who are unable to do either.
Modern society has tended to make people selfish, where we are pushed into a mindset to 'look out for yourself'. Problems that affect us all are often discarded as 'Not my problem'. We are encouraged to be 'watchers'. I thank god everyday that I am healthy and try to see the world through rose coloured glasses even though they may mist up from time to time. When I gave up Rugby at the age of 40 I needed a new pastime and cycling became my inspiration. Cycling provided me with the floral glasses, to see the beauty of the world. It allowed me to get off the highway and hear myself think. It introduced me to like minded people where I redeveloped the art of conversation and debate. It provided me with a viable alternative form of transport. I became a 'doer'. Through hours in the saddle reflection becomes easy, as does the realisation of privilege. Not the privilege association with a position in life, but privilege that I am fit and well.
When I helped set up the Mules 'Travels with my Mule Cycling Team' we decided that we wanted to harness our cycling into fundraising, by taking part in sponsored charity rides. There are thousands of worthy charities who are all desperate for support, so the question always comes up - who do you support? I used to beat myself up over this one. Sadly we all know somebody who has been affected by some illness or social misfortune. Its a tough question and I think the answer is that it does not matter. To help any other person is good.
Another question people ask me is why do you support charities in the USA? My answer is the same - to help any person is good. If there is a breakthrough in medical research in Timbuktu I am sure they would share it with the rest of the world - It should not and does not matter who finds cures for any illness.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Pedal Power : Wheel Suckers

There is nothing worse when you are taking part in a sportive than a 'wheel sucker'.
Somebody who catches a ride by drafting you for the whole event only to emerge in the final straight to take the plaudits.
The same can be said in real life and especially in politics.

On 12th of April Sonia Purnell publishes Pedal Power: How Boris Johnson Failed London's Cyclists.
The timing is signifuicant just ahead of the London mayoral elections.

When Boris campaigned in the mayoral election of 2008 he rarely turned up to a photo-call without his trusty bike. His promise was to turn London into the greatest two-wheeled city on earth, where as many people commuted by bicycle as had done a century before. But after much fanfare, and millions spent on ‘Super Highways’ and ‘Boris Bikes’, it appears he has turned his back on cyclists in favour of the gas-guzzling motorists of London’s Conservative heartlands. Worse still, although the Cycling Revolution has brought more bikes onto the roads, it has been accompanied by an alarming rate of accidents. With the same forensic zeal she applied to Just Boris, Sonia Purnell separates fact from fiction to reveal how ‘the cycling mayor’ has failed on his greatest ambition for London, and offers a timely insight into what Londoners can expect from another term of the blond on the bike.

You can work out for yourself whether Boris is a wheel sucker or a wheel spinner by reading Pedal Power.

Sonia Purnell is a writer and freelance journalist living in London and is the author of the acclaimed biography Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition. She worked closely with Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels bureau in the early Nineties at a turning point in his personal life and working career.
Pedal Power will be available for £1.99 through all the eBook retailers -Kindle, apple, Kobo etc