Sunday, October 15, 2017

Transitions

The seven bikes I moved, in Texas, just before the movers put them in their van. In the back, from left to right, is a small Diamondback bike that my granddaughter should be able to ride in a few years, my son's large Centurion, my late wife Agi's 1970's Gitane (almost completely hidden), and her Public bike she used as a commuter. In the front, left to right, are my trusty Surly Cross Check, my 1960 Bianchi Specialissima, and Agi's road bike, another Surly Cross Check. Two other bikes, my red three speed and my sons' black Giant, I considered not worth moving and donated to Ghost Bikes to be painted white and used as markers for cyclists who died in traffic accidents. See the bottom of this post for links to the posts where these bicycles are described.

The same seven bikes in their new home in California. It would be weeks before I rode any of them. So far, I have ridden Agi's commuter (which fits me fine) and my Surly.

My last post was almost two months ago. A week after that post, Hurricane Harvey hit, flooding the house I had just sold. Would the sale hold? (So far, it has, but it is still a few weeks to the closing.) So, there I was, preparing best I could for the hurricane, then cleaning up the mess from the hurricane, all on top of my already-ambitious moving schedule.

The good news is that the move happened and me and my bikes are now in residence in the fair city of San Carlos, CA. The bad news is that it took every bit of strength I had to accomplish that, and my cycling and blogging suffered. In that post of two months ago, I promised the following:
"...my current plan is to do one more post from Houston, tying up a few loose ends before leaving, and then the one after that to be the first of what I hope are a long series about cycling in California. Stay tuned to see if I follow that plan."
This did not, in fact, happen. So, this post will keep that promise in an abbreviated form.

Loose Ends from Houston

  • After a much longer struggle and with many more twists and turns than originally anticipated, the Houston Bike Plan passed. This now provides a framework to help the City of Houston continue building its cycling infrastructure.
  • Mysteriously one day, Bike Houston announced that their office was moving. Did they lose their lease on their old property? Fortunately, the disruption of that move seems to not have been too harmful, they seem to be chugging along as before.
  • I never got to know the people at Bike Houston all that well, but from the little I knew them, I liked them a lot! I particularly liked Mary Blitzer. Sadly, it was the point in Mary's career for her to move on and so she has left Bike Houston. Jessica Wiggins stepped up to fill her shoes, and I am sure everything will go on as before.
  • The Braes Bayou trail continues to grow on both ends. I had hoped to explore this trail and perhaps even take some pictures, but alas, that was not to be.

Cycling in California


It's too soon to say what my cycling in California will be like. So far, I have only done four rides, and the first two were shakedown rides of a few miles around my new neighborhood. I thought I had some idea what my riding might look like from the rides I did during my extended stay with my son, who lives just a few miles up the road. However, despite that proximity, it turns out access to desirable cycling is significantly more difficult from my house than it was from his. Perhaps I will just have to suck it up and learn to live with an unpleasant several minutes at the start of every ride, or perhaps I will find some side streets that are more pleasant than the main roads. How this will impact my cycling is the question.

As regular readers of this blog know, I love to track my riding. I have gotten some criticism in the past for being overly concerned with tracking, a criticism with which I disagree. I wonder if my critics understand why I track my rides? I do it because it's fun, it's motivating, and because it helps me avoid overdoing my riding, a real concern at my age. Because the kinds of rides I can do in California are very different than the kinds of rides I could do in Houston, I have already made some changes in my tracking, and expect that my tracking will continue to evolve as I gain more experience riding here in California. For example, because hills drastically affect the speed of a ride, and thus the number of miles that can be covered for a fixed effort, I am now tracking rides by minutes rather than miles. Once I have this all figured out, I may do a blog post on it.

One piece of good news is that I have a goal; to ride in the Eroica California next April. At least one of my Modesto Roadmen buddies plans to attend, which, along with my ownership of a 1960 Bianchi Specialissima, inspired my interest in this ride. (Eroica is a celebration of classic (pre-1988) bikes, and only these are permitted.) There are rides varying in length between 40 and 127 miles, all of which include at least some unpaved sections. The challenge of this ride consists in equal parts of getting in shape for even the shortest ride and restoring my bianchi to both rideable and original condition, somewhat conflicting requirements.




Blog Posts about the Bikes Pictured Above


1) My Bikes: In my fourth post on this blog, I discussed every bicycle I had owned. I have not purchased any additional bicycles for myself since then, so this remains a pretty comprehensive list.
2) Old Bikes, Part Deux: Early on, I did a post on some old bicycles I saw on Martha's Vineyard, while vacationing in Massachusetts. The post linked to here was an extension, looking at old bicycles that were in my garage. Between this and the previous post, only one of my bikes was missed..
3) An Unfortunate 3-Speed: The picture and history of this sad bicycle are stuck in the middle of an unrelated post.
4) Bianchi v. Surly: Another view of some of my bikes, focusing on my Bianchi Specialissima and my Surly Crosscheck.
5) Sad News: My late wife Agi commuted to work by bicycle, and for years, we had planned to buy her a dedicated commuter. When we finally did, I was so consumed with caring for her in her last months that I never blogged about it. Only in the blog post where I announced her death did I discuss that bike. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Stress and the Aging Cyclist

Two posts ago ("Sad News") I revealed that the "That Which Must Not Be Named", which had been interfering with my cycling, was my wife's fight against ovarian cancer, and that she had finally succumbed to that disease. By the end of December of 2016, we pretty much knew the fight was over except for the crying. In January, however, the brilliant doctors at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center came up with a treatment that did not affect the outcome, but did delay it by some months, and during those months my wife felt almost normal. Starting in mid-December, I was unable to ride. However, when that treatment kicked in in February, I was able to ride again, as shown on the above MAF test graph. By May, this treatment wore off (and could not be repeated) which meant I could not ride again. I restarted riding 10 days after my wife's death, but did so in California where I cannot ride MAF tests. By the time I returned to Texas in mid-July, I had regained a great deal of lost fitness, and since then have been more or less maintaining that level of fitness, at least as measured by a MAF test.

So here I am, living in limbo. Last post, I described how I expect my cycling to change once I move to California, but probably that is still a month away, and longer still before I am settled. What am I doing in the meantime? Contrary to the title of my last post, I am riding MAF tests. Why MAF tests? It is crushingly hot and humid in Houston in the summer, and the only time I can ride is right after sunrise. Trying to do more interesting rides (and there are rides I would love to do before leaving Houston forever) would expose me to rush hour traffic and, because such rides are usually longer, to more heat. So, the Rice Track it is. I don't always ride MAF tests at the track. One of my wife's former colleagues has become a riding buddy, and the days he shows up, I ignore heart rate and just ride and chat with him. However, on days I find myself alone, turning the ride into a MAF test reduces its tedium just a little. What has been apparent, not so much from the test results as from how I feel and what I can do, my ability to ride is at a low point, and the reason why is the topic of this post.

I am trained as a biochemist and I should know all about the various regulatory systems that govern my metabolism, but until recently, I didn't. The reason I didn't is that research scientists (including me) specialize by necessity, so what I learned about metabolic regulation in my introductory courses I largely forgot, and in addition, much of it was obsolete. It is only since I restarted cycling and tracking my training results I have revisited these issues in the hope of better understanding my experiences. What I learned is that my body has various processes that compete for resources; fighting infection, building fitness, and responding to stress being some of the important ones. What are those resources? I don't know for certain, but it could be as simple as food (glucose)! If so, that is pretty stupid on my body's part because I suffer from over-nutrition (I am fat) and so conserving glucose makes no sense for me. That is neither here nor there, because these systems evolved when starvation was an issue, and for better or for worse, I am stuck with them. So, if I am relaxed and not exercising, my body devotes more resources to fighting infection. If I exercise hard to build fitness, this takes resources away from fighting infection, and I have to be careful not to overdo it, or I will end up with a cold. (Similarly, if I have a cold, I will find it more difficult to build fitness.) However, if I am stressed, resources are taken from both fighting infection and building fitness to be used for "fight or flight."

What is stress? When my body's regulatory systems evolved, it was probably things like encountering a saber-toothed tiger. Today, it is being yelled at by my boss, or worrying because I don't know how to pay off my debts. When I retired in 2011, it was to a large extent because interactions at work were difficult, which resulted in stress, and I worried about the effect of that stress on my health. Neither of these sources of stress apply to me today, but others do:

  1. My wife died recently, I am still very sad about that, and that sadness is a form of stress.
  2. My life is undergoing major changes. I am moving away from Houston, a city where I have lived for 30 years, longer than any other place I have lived, a place I love, to live in California.
  3. Besides the stress that results from the unknown described above, there are the practical logistics of selling my house, going through 30 years of accumulated junk to decide what to get rid of and what to keep, figuring out how to get rid of the stuff I am getting rid of, executing my wife's estate in the face of bureaucratic lunacy, etc., etc. This is stressful.
  4. I caught a cold just before leaving California. Although this is not classical "fight or flight" stress, it does take resources away from building (or even maintaining) fitness.
What are the symptoms of stress and how do they impact my cycling? This question brings me to the point of this post. This is probably the most stress I have experienced since I restarted cycling, the symptoms of that stress have been clearer than I have ever witnessed, and I thought it was worth sharing this newfound clarity. What I have noticed is the following:
  1. I am tired all the time, really tired. Since I restarted cycling, I have never gone through a period where I enjoyed riding less. I have often found it hard to start a ride, but always before, I enjoyed my ride once I got out on the road. Now, it is a constant effort of will during the 45 minutes of a MAF test to not just exit the track and ride home.
  2. This high level of tiredness is despite a much lower volume of training than I am used to. Since my wife died, my schedule has been a pretty steady three rides a week, down from five to six rides of week that I manage when nothing interferes.
  3. My heart rate, the measurement that regulates my MAF Test Rides, behaves differently. One of the subjective factors I record from my MAF Test Rides is if legs are limiting or if heart rate is limiting. What I mean by this is do I feel like it is a strain to keep my heart rate above 130 bpm, or rather, when I ride comfortably, am I constantly slowing down because my heart rate drifts over 140. (On my best days, I record "balanced"; my legs and heart are in sync, a comfortable ride results in a heart rate between 130 and 140 bpm.) These days, I mostly record "legs limiting"; I find it hard work to keep my heart rate above 130 bpm. Somewhere I read that a symptom of not being fully recovered from previous workouts is a low heart rate; my heart is trying to take a break. I will try to track down the source of that idea in a future post, but I do think my "tired legs" is my body telling me to save my strength for fight or flight.
I strongly believe that exercise is important for both my physical and mental health. Although I generally believe in listening to my body, I think my body is giving me bad advice at the moment. It is my impression that the medical community believes that chronic stress is an unnatural, and thus harmful state; the tiger should either eat me or go away. My body is telling me not to exercise, but to save my strength for the crisis I am facing, having no idea that this "crisis" is going to persist for a long time, and that the consequences of not exercising for all that time would be vastly worse than the impact of exercising while stressed. That said, I am stressed, exercising while stressed is problematic (I cannot seem to shake my cold, for example), so I have been doing the smallest amount of exercise I feel like I can get away with, thus the three rides a week, and short, easy rides at that.

I usually plan my blog posts a couple of posts in advance, I have an idea of what my next two to three posts are going to be. As often as not, however, those plans change. With that in mind, my current plan is to do one more post from Houston, tying up a few loose ends before leaving, and then the one after that to be the first of what I hope are a long series about cycling in California. Stay tuned to see if I follow that plan.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The MAF Test Must Die

I believe that these MAF test scores reflect with a fair degree of accuracy the ebb and flow of my fitness in the four to five years since I have started riding MAF Tests. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, I found the cold and rainy weather around December discouraging and let my fitness slide. In 2015, I finally overcame that weakness, and maintained fitness during the winter. The smaller drop in fitness in June was the result of a wonderful family trip to Israel. By December of that year, my wife's cancer was approaching its tragic climax, and so I had less and less time for bicycling.
For years, the MAF Test1 ride has been the workhorse of my training. However, starting this fall, I may never do another MAF Test ride again.

Am I abandoning MAF Test rides because I have changed my mind about the value of a MAF Test as a training ride? Not at all. I have always been optimistic but skeptical of the value of MAF Test rides, but I am no more (or less) skeptical now than I was 2 or 5 years ago. Is it because I want to try something different? That certainly could happen, but then I probably wouldn't assume I would never ride a MAF test again; depending on how this hypothetical new idea worked out, I might well go back to riding MAF Tests. So, I have not given up on MAF Tests, I am as enthusiastic about them as I have always been.

Is it because I have finally seen the light, and realized I had been misusing2 the MAF test all along? No, it's not that either. I have known from the beginning that my definition and use of the MAF Test had little if anything to do with the ideas of its inventor, Philip Maffetone. Basically, what I am calling a MAF Test is something I invented, inspired by Dr. Maffetone. If it has any value, he gets all the credit. If it is valueless or even actively harmful, then the fault is mine.

So what is changing as of this fall that is driving the MAF Test ride completely out of my training repertoire? I am moving from Houston, Texas to San Carlos, California, that's what. San Carlos is on the San Francisco Peninsula, a mountain range that defines the western boundary of the San Francisco Bay. Finding a hill in Houston is a challenge. Finding a flat stretch of road in or around San Carlos is an equal challenge, and a flat stretch of road is what a MAF Test requires3, so no more MAF Tests.

How am I going to replace this workhorse of my training schedule? What will I ride instead? My philosophy is when in Idaho, eat potatoes and when in Georgia, eat peaches. In Houston, MAF Test rides made sense, and I believe I derived a lot of benefit from them. I think they helped me maintain and even build fitness while not stressing my body too badly. I think, because they were highly controlled and monitored, they helped me develop a good intuition and body sense as to what constitutes a moderate-intensity ride. However, in San Carlos, the weather is nicer, the scenery is better, the countryside is more accessible, and thus rides are more fun and interesting, and I think I should take advantage of that. Given the intuition and body sense I have developed, I think I can do moderate rides, even when confronted with the inevitable hills, by just listening to my body and taking it easy. I have already been spending a lot of time on the peninsula in preparation for this move, and I have been able to manage easy rides, party because my California bike, a Bianchi Volpe, has very low gears. Its lowest gear is 24 inches, as compared to 28 inches on my Texas bike, my (modified) Surly Crosscheck. This basically means that, on the Bianchi, when I get to what would be the lowest gear on the Surly, I have one more, lower gear to use. As a consequence, I can take it very easy up most hills, and thus can keep intensity moderate when that is the plan for the day. So, my best guess is that in California, I will be much less compulsive, but will identify some rides where the hills never get too out of control, where, by aggressively using my gears, I can keep effort moderate. I expect to wear a heart rate monitor much less often, but might wear it occasionally, ignoring it during the ride4 but looking at its record afterwards to see how good a job I am doing at keeping the ride effort moderate. My older son, Michael, thinks the answer to fitness and good health is to aggressively pick routes with the most insane hills possible and then to ride to exhaustion. I respectfully disagree, at least for me on a daily basis. However, if I ride with him every week or two, his rides will perfectly fill the role of the intense rides on my schedule. There are lots of beautiful, low traffic roads on the peninsula, so putting together long rides will be easy. By doing the right mix of these three kinds of rides, I should be able to reach the maximal level of fitness my aging body can tolerate. Finally, every town in the San Francisco Bay Area has at least one bicycle club, so once I am settled in, I may look for a club to join. Who knows, I may even give randonneuring another go. Stay tuned.



1) For those of you fortunate enough to not have read all my MAF Test blog posts, MAF stands for Maximum Aerobic Fitness. The test is how fast one can ride while not exceeding the maximum effort that can be done completely at a heart rate where the ratio of fat burned to carbohydrate burned is maximized. It is designed to be ridden as a test of one aspect of fitness to be taken about once a month. The "test" is how fast one can ride while not exceeding that heart rate. As I use it, a MAF Test ride is done as a training ride; the test is secondary, the ride and the training gained from that ride is primary. This ride consists of warming up in Heart Rate Zone 1 for about 20 minutes, riding on the Rice Track, carefully keeping my heart rate in Zone 2 for 45 minutes (the MAF Test itself,) and then cooling down by riding in Heart Rate Zone 1 for another 20 minutes. Heart rate zones are as defined by Joe Friel. I believe that Heart Rate Zone 2 corresponds to the heart rate that maximizes the percentage of fat burned, but have not confirmed that by direct measurement. (To do so is a bit expensive.) 

Here are some of my blog posts describing the MAF Test:



2) Here are the ways I have been misusing the MAF Test:
a. I use it as a training ride. As its name implies, the MAF Test is a test, not a training ride. 
b. Because I am using it as a training ride, I perform the "test" much more often than I should. "You should not do the test more often than every month as you risk becoming too obsessed with analysing the results in those cases." (http://www.championseverywhere.com/maftest/)
c. Philip Maffetone has a very specific way for determining the heart rate at which the test is to be performed. Instead of using his heart rate, I use a significantly faster heart rate corresponding to Joe Friel's heart rate Zone 2.
I have reasons that seem sufficient to me for all of these changes, but since I am dropping this ride from my training repertoire, and because I have discussed this all before, I see no reason to repeat my justifications here.

3) In fact, the requirement for a MAF test is more stringent than that; it must be ridden on a flat out and back course with no lights or stop signs and no traffic that would interfere with the ride. Even though Houston is flat, I know of no roads within 30 minutes of my house that would qualify for a MAF Test. Part of the reason the MAF Test became such an important part of my training repertoire is the proximity of the Rice Track, a flat, traffic free course with no stops, the perfect site for this ride.

4) One of the reasons I like the Rice Track for MAF Tests is that, in my opinion, staring at a heart rate monitor while riding in traffic is recipe for disaster.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Sad News


A recurring theme on this blog is the interruption of my bicycling dreams by the realities of life. In some cases, I could explain this fully on the blog. In others, I could not. For example, when my Dad's health began to fail and I had to interrupt my cycling to fly to California to help care for him, I described that in great detail. However, when other things happened, privacy concerns forbade me doing so. Instead, I repeatedly referred to a cryptic post which only said that my cycling was being impacted by something about which I could not blog. Sadly, I now can. In April of 2015, my wife Agi, had her ovarian cancer recur. Ovarian cancer, when it initially occurs, is rarely curable; only 20% or so of women with ovarian cancer are cured. Recurrent ovarian cancer is never curable, so from that date forward, we knew what was coming, but I could not blog about it. Why not? Well, if you know you are going to die, then you have to decide how you are going to live the years or months or days that you have left. Agi, being the brilliant, brave, and practical person that she was, decided that ignoring her cancer was the only rational response, and to do that, the fewer people who knew about it, the better. Thus the title of that cryptic blog post was "I Have No Mouth, but I Must Scream." But now that Agi has finally lost her eight year fight against cancer, there is no longer anything to stop the screaming.

The picture at the top of the post was my wife's commuter bike. Back in 2012, we went through a long process of trying to buy her a commuter, defined very specific criteria for the commuter we wanted, and then never bought anything. (There may have been some cause and effect there.) Whether it was the many cycles of harsh treatment or progression of the cancer itself, by the summer of 2016, she was finding it more and more difficult to commute to work on her road bike, mostly because swinging her leg over the frame was becoming a challenge. At about the same time, Public Bikes had a sale on a very attractive looking commuter, one with a step-through frame which promised to solve that problem. Although we have previously said we would not buy a commuter that Agi could not test-ride first, we abandoned that principle and had them send us one. Agi loved that bike and was able to bike to work a few months longer because of it. In brief, I cannot recommend Public Bikes more highly.

And so, life goes on. For me, but not for Agi. Does this mean a return to regular blogging? Honestly, I don't know. What I do know is that is very much what Agi would want, so I will try with everything I've got. Stay tuned.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Is The Zombie Finally Dead?

Yes it is, Zombie, yes it is. (Zombie on tour, almost 50 years ago.)


"Killing Zombies is the act of rendering the moving corpse completely motionless once again. It can be argued that the term killing is technically inaccurate, as despite the observed locomotion of the zombie, all other life functions have ceased. Still, the point is mostly one of semantics. All you have to do is aim for the head, strike, and don't miss!" from Zombiepedia.

A blog which I follow regularly is "Lovely Bicycle". Lately, I have started to worry about its author because there have been no new posts on her blog for over a month, since April 5. And then it occurred to me, there have been no new posts to this blog for much longer, for almost four months, since January 27. So, the purpose of this post to reassure any readers I might have that my head remains intact and that I still maintain some locomotion, currently riding about 3 days a week. Over a year ago, I posted a non-explanation of personal events that were interfering with my cycling and blogging. Those personal events continue to evolve, not a good thing in this case. I still cannot talk about these events, but they have reached the point where I can no longer reliably post to this blog. I didn't decide not to post, it just happened. I will post again as soon as I can, though I don't know when that will be. See you down the road!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Progress Report: Braes Bayou West

Closed off section of the Braes Bayou Trail, heading west.

Wow. Oh wow. Two months since my last blog post. Worse yet, this is part 2 of a 2 (or 3?) part series which should have followed directly on it's predecessor. I still am forbidden to give any details, all I can say is that life is tough at Chez Zombie right now.

Last post, I described how, out of desperation, I started riding east on the Braes Bayou bike path, and how, when I did, found that it had been significantly improved since I last rode it, making it a delightful alternative when the Rice Track is closed. The one fly in the ointment was a collection of ominous "Path Closed" signs, not blocking the trail, but lined up along the side, threatening a closure at any moment. When headed towards that path for the second time, I was convinced I would find it closed, but open it remained. After a week of riding this path, I started to relax, which is when the axe fell. One day, I rode to the end, and as I headed back, found that the trail had been closed behind me. I begged the workman manning the sign to let me through so I could get back home, and he reluctantly agreed, but shook his finger at me saying "This is for your safety!" In an attempt to figure out how long this closure might last, I asked him why it was closed, which caused him to repeat "This is for your safety!" Blaming myself for having been unclear, I apologized, then explained I was just trying to figure out when I could use the trail again, invoking a third "This is for your safety!", this time at elevated volume. Not wanting to create a situation, I gave up, thanked him profusely, and headed home.

What to do? Rice Track closed. Braes Bayou West closed. Braes Bayou East closed. I tried a ride through the local neighborhoods, which was too short and didn't allow for the intensity I was looking for. I tried White Oak Bayou, which was lovely and delightfully long, but more than I can do on a regular basis. And then I reconsidered Braes Bayou West. Yes, the beginning of the trail was closed, but was there some way I could join the trail downstream of the closure? Indeed there was, and there was a surprise wait for me at the end of the trail.

My alternative route to the Braes Bayou, West bike trail. The route is took is in red. It is a loop, because it made sense to take one route to the trail and a different route returning from it. The normal route I take is in blue. The stretch of the trail closed at the time I made this switch is shown in purple.
The newer stretch of the trail going from South Braeswood (past Gessner) under Highway 8 has been on again, off again closed or open at different times I have ridden it. On this ride, it was open. When I passed under Highway 8 and proceeded to the end of the trail, I came across both a new sign and a new trail:



This sign would not have made sense previously, as there was no trail past this point to close. Now, there appeared to be a completed if not yet open trail, one that promised to cross the oh so important barrier of Highway 59 (a.k.a. US 69.) Should I proceed? To do so would appear to be a violation of the rules and promised to put me in conflict with angry construction workers. But nobody appeared to be around, and the trail looked completed. Maybe it would be OK to go just past the sign, and take a little peek?

Do not be deceived! Although the narrative might suggest that this is the trail proceeding under 59 heading west, I actually took the picture on the way back, so this is the opposite direction. No matter, both sides look the same and this picture makes my point equally well.

Although it seemed clear the path did proceed under 59 as I had hoped, the density of roadways make this underpass look dark and forbidding, a good place for an angry construction worker to hide. But I simply had to know; did this path really go past 59?


It did! Here I am on the other side of Highway 59, looking at the trail ahead. The orange barrier is there to prevent cyclists heading west to east from traversing the trail on which I had just come. It is not very clear in the picture, but the paved trail ends just past the barrier. I have marked the transition from concrete to dirt with the red arrow.



The map above shows just what this trail gets me (or at least will, once it is officially opened.) The red line shows what I rode. The yellow arrow is where the "Trail Closed" sign is, the previous end of the trail. The green arrow shows where the paving ended, at the time I did this ride. And promisingly, the blue arrow shows where I think existing trail picks up again.

So what's the big deal? A few more miles added onto the end of the Braes Bayou trail. Well, these few miles bring you to busy but rideable roads that take you to the trails around George Bush and Terry Hershey parks. Those trails take you to trails around Bear Creek Park. Those trails take you to busy but rideable roads that take you to the White Oak Bayou trails, which connect to the Buffalo Bayou Trails that lead you (with a gap or two yet to be filled) to the East end of the Braes Bayou trail, a circle about 67 miles in circumference, 53 of those miles on trails, 67 miles within the city limits of Houston, Texas. This is all diagrammed on the map below. Wowza.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Progress Report: Braes Bayou East


I am addicted to the Rice Track for my daily rides. The Rice Track is located in the middle of the Rice Football Stadium parking lot which means that during football season, the track is frequently unavailable, the space being used for parking. Thus, one day last October I showed up at the track only to find that it was closed. In the past, I would have ridden through the Medical Center to Braes Bayou, and headed west on that bike path for an alternative to riding the track. However, as is shown in the picture above, that trail was closed, so I tried going east. I haven't been going east due to gaps in the trail requiring riding on some nasty dirt stretches, and furthermore, the last time I tried, the trail heading east was closed, but due to lack of other options, I had no choice but to try.

On the left, the dirt trail before it was paved. The picture fails to capture how steep and treacherous this trail was. On the right, the same section of trail after paving.

Turning east onto the Braes Bayou trail, I was delighted to find that not only was the trail open, but that all of the dirt stretches had been paved! Thus, I headed east, albeit with some apprehension; a flood several months earlier had washed out a bit of the trail near the end. I reached the washed out section to find it still in need of repair. I followed the official detour, which required some backtracking, in that I had ignored the upstream detour sign to check out the washed out section for myself. On my way back to the detour, a young woman on a bicycle passed me heading the other way. I briefly considered calling out to her, warning her of the detour, and then decided that discretion was the better part of valour. As I proceeded along the other side of the bayou, I kept watching for her to turn around. Instead, I saw her disappear and then reappear farther down the trail, past the washed out section. Clearly, there was another, shorter detour, and I resolved to find it. The next day, riding essentially the same route, I did. By riding a few blocks on the street, it is easy to bypass this missing bit of trail.

If you look carefully, you can see how flood-induced erosion caused this section of the trail to collapse. The sections of concrete are tilted and disconnected one from another, rendering this bit of trail truly unrideable.

Starting from home, the trail heading east is shorter than the trail heading west. In an effort to extend my ride, I continued past my normal turn around point and continued into McGregor Park. For the past few years, I had avoided this extension because the old paved trail had been torn up as part of park repairs, leaving only a gravel detour. However, in addition to wanting to add a few miles, I was curious about a trail that supposedly extended past the park, but which I had never been able to find, so on I went. Imagine my delight to find that the trail through the park had been upgraded to a new, wide, smooth concrete trail.

A section of the resurfaced trail on Braes Bayou east of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Up to the truck is the nice, new concrete trail which ends just past the truck. When completed, this will be a nice trail indeed. Unfortunately, this resurfacing closed down a lower quality but rideable trail, reducing cycling opportunities in the short run.

The east end of McGregor Park is defined by Martin Luther King Boulevard. A new branch of Houston's light rail system now runs down the center of that road, making it difficult to cross to the other side, which is where I hoped to find the trail extension. So, I turned right, moved to the left lane, did a U-turn at the first intersection, and headed back the way I came, a less than perfect solution. When I got to where I hoped to find a trail, I found it but also found that it was closed, that it was in the process of being rebuilt. The bad news, no trail extension, no more miles. The good news, the new trail will go under Martin Luther King Boulevard, obviating the difficult crossing, and promises to be as nice as the trail through McGregor Park. Also, there are indications from the City of Houston that this new trail may extend further down Braes Bayou, closing some gaps along the way. The dream is to have this trail extended all the way to the Ship Channel, which is the extension of Buffalo Bayou. Although there would be more gaps to fill, ultimately this could connect the Braes Bayou Trail with the Buffalo Bayou Trail and thus to the White Oak Bayou trail, creating over 40 miles of continuous trails along Houston's Bayous.

In the lower left corner can be seen a small bit of the new concrete trail through McGregor Park. Just above and to the right can be seen the start of a new trail that branches off and goes under Martin Luther King Boulevard. On the other side of the Bayou can be seen what looks to be a dirt path but in fact is the beginning of another new paved trail.

All of this new trail construction is exciting and wonderful, with the one reservation that it seems to frequently involve tearing up existing trails, trading current biking opportunities for future ones. Along those lines, the thing I saw on this ride that was most discouraging was a series of "Trail Closed" signs, not on the trail, but next to it, suggesting that closures of this, my trail of last resort, were imminent. In my next post, I will tell you how that played out, but, spoiler alert, my next post is about the west end of the Buffalo Bayou trail. Finally, two posts from now, I will discuss how Bike Houston, our bicycle advocacy group, is working with the City of Houston to better manage this conflict between present and future cycling infrastructure. Stay tuned.