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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Bike Plan Pep Rally

I miss most of the social rides here in Houston because I am on a reverse schedule. Most rides are before or after work or on the weekend to accommodate working cyclists. As a retired cyclist with a working wife, I am free during the work day but spend other times with my wife and am not available for rides. Thus, I was very excited when the Bike Houston, the main cycling advocacy group here in Houston, was having a bike ride and rally during the working day when I could attend.

Headquarters of Bike Houston, start of the ride

Granted, this was not really a social ride. Rather, it was a political rally to encourage the Houston City Council to adopt the Houston Bike Plan, a "guide for the City of Houston to achieve the vision of making Houston a safer, more accessible gold-level bike-friendly city within 10 years." The City of Houston Planning & Development Department in coordination and cooperation with a number of other city departments, funding agencies, and cycling advocacy groups developed the plan, which now needs to be passed by the Houston City Council. Its passage is far from a sure thing; some members of the City Council feel that the development described in the plan is a waste of money and oppose it, thus this ride and rally.

Start of the ride. Note the dress and demographics. Tattoos are visible upon close examination. Photo taken by the Houston Press.

This event consisted of three parts. The first part was a symbolic ride beginning at the Bike Houston headquarters, picking up riders along the way representing different constituencies, and meeting up with additional advocates outside Houston City Hall. The second part then began, a rally on the plaza in front of Houston City Hall. Finally, some members of the group then went inside to participate in a public meeting of the Houston City Council to speak on behalf of and otherwise show support for the Bike Plan. I participated in the first two parts.

On the road. The woman on the right in the turquoise shirt is Mary Blitzer of Bike Houston who lead the ride. Photo taken by the Houston Press

The symbolic ride was just over 2 miles long, was ridden very slowly, and featured multiple stops in service to its symbolic mission, and barely qualified as a ride. However, I chose to ride from home to Bike Houston, and then from City Hall back home, giving me a 15 mile ride, nothing special but not a complete loss from a riding perspective. That said, I could have easily had a much better ride had I not chosen to participate, so why did I? Partly to support the Houston Bike Plan; the more people who were on the ride, the more people at the rally, the clearer a signal that is sent to City Hall. But the bigger motivating factor was curiosity; despite having been a Bike Houston member for two years, I had no idea who these folks were. I wanted to meet them and see what one of their rides looked like, even if it was an atypical ride.

To help show the range of riders who benefit from the plan, these riders are on B-Cycle bikes, the bike share program in the city of Houston. Photo taken by the Houston Press.

I was quite nervous leading up to the ride. In the first place, Bike Houston headquarters is located in a neighborhood named "Midtown" located just southwest of downtown Houston, a neighborhood which is a bit difficult to reach by bicycle because getting there requires riding on some busy streets. Even after extensive route planning, I remained nervous. In the second place, and I know how silly this sounds, I worried as to the proper attire for the event. Riding with the Houston Randonneurs or the Houston Bike Club, the traditional brightly colored lycra road cycling gear is in order, but for this political demonstration, would street clothes be expected? I ended up wearing cycling clothes, selecting a jersey from a charity ride and baggy shorts as something of a compromise. When I got to Bike Houston, I found that I was well outside both the dress code and demographics; the very young crowd favored baggy urban wear and visible tattoos. There were one or two other riders dressed more like I was, but we were the distinct minority. As best I could tell, though, nobody cared. About 30 of us left Bike Houston Central and headed off to City Hall. In the lead was an electric-assisted cargo bike ridden by Mary Blitzer, Manager of Community and Government Relations for Bike Houston, pulling a trailer-mounted "white" memorial bike to remind the City Council of the life and death stakes of the Bike Plan.

Proof I was actually there. On the left is John Long, Executive Director for BikeHouston and on the right is The Zombie himself. Two of the activities featured at the rally were to have riders fill out cards expressing their support for the plan, which I am holding, and to have their picture taken inside this frame. This picture was provided by Bike Houston. I can no longer find the site on which it was shared.

So how was it? What did I accomplish? It is too early to know, if we ever will, what was accomplished. As of this writing, almost a month after the ride and rally, the Houston City Council has still not adopted the bike plan, but who knows what that means? Do events like this have any impact? Honestly, I have no idea. As to how it was, I am very glad I participated. Firstly, had I not confronted my trepidation and just done it, I would have been disappointed with myself. Secondly, whether it ended up mattering or not, at least I did something to support cycling in Houston. Thirdly, I got to know the Bike Houston demographic; despite talking to virtually nobody, I feel like I made some friends, in a creepy stalker kind of way. If I ever encounter another opportunity to ride with this crew again, I'd jump at it. All in all, quite the success from my point of view.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Quantitating Intensity

My experience riding at different intensities. HR Zone (Heart rate zone) was related to BPM (Heart Rate in Beats Per Minute) as described in Joe Friel's "Cycling Training Bible." BPM and MPH (Speed in miles per hour) were measured using a Garmin Edge cycle computer and heart rate monitor. Power (in Watts) was estimated from speed using the website at Four intensity models were compared: RPE (Relative Perceived Exertion) was based on my subjective RPE estimated as described in Thomas Chapple's "Base Building for Cyclists". RNP (Relative Normalized Power) was calculated from my Power estimate as described in the text below. Similarly, calculation of HR (heart rate) is described in the text as well. The final column, labelled Gillen et al., used the heart rates for Moderate and Vigorous exercise as well as their relative intensities from the Mayo Clinic website and the relative intensities of Moderate vs. Intense exercise from the Gillen et al. paper. Based on the description of Intense exercise in that paper, I determined that it corresponds to HR Zone 5c. All intensity estimates in the final four columns were normalized to the intensity of a ride in HR Zone 2.


I have spent more time on this blog post than any other I have written, and thus it is discouraging that this is also the post about which I am most uncertain. Preparing this post took so much time because of the amount of reading and thinking it required. My uncertainty comes from the fact that I argue that the entire exercise community is wrong about how to measure intensity, and I have very little standing from which to make such an extravagant claim. So, after all that apologizing, what is intensity?

Bicycle rides can be characterized by volume (e.g. how many hours a ride lasts) and intensity (e.g. how fast the ride was, all things considered.) Together, these factors determine load1, how much the ride improves fitness and causes fatigue. These two things are not necessarily the same, so for the purposes of this post, I am going to consider only how intensity affects fitness.

Volume seems like it should be relatively simple to measure and understand, even quantitatively; it would seem logical that a two hour ride would have twice the volume of a one hour ride. However, it is not certain that the second hour of a ride provides the same fitness benefit as the first did2, perhaps it provides more benefit, perhaps less. However, most coaches assume that, for the purposes of measuring volume, the first and second hours are equivalent, and for the purposes of this post, so will I. If quantifying load is problematic, quantifying intensity is much more so. In the first place, there are many different things people measure to get at intensity; speed, power, and heart rate for example. In the second place, there are many different ways people calculate intensity from such measurements. It seems obvious that a 20 MPH bike ride is more than twice as hard as a 10 MPH bike ride, but how much harder?

Measuring Intensity

In addition to speed, power, and heart rate listed above, the volume of oxygen that is used per minute (VO2), the level of lactate in the blood, and relative perceived exertion have also been used as measures of intensity. Relative perceived exertion is the subjective measure of how tiring a ride feels and turns out to be a very useful measure despite its subjectivity. Speed is relatively easy to measure but is affected by hills, wind, type of bicycle, etc. Power is conceptually similar to speed except that it requires an expensive ($500 to $1,000) power meter to measure and is not affected by hills, wind, type of bicycle, etc., so is easier to interpret. In addition, it takes more than twice the power to go 20 mph than it does to go 10 mph, so power may come closer to reflecting intensity than does speed.

In contrast to speed and power which measure what is happening externally (to the bicycle) some of the other measures determine what it happening internally (to the cyclist). Heart rate is one such measure. Compared to power, heart rate can be measured inexpensively, $50 will purchase a perfectly adequate heart rate monitor. It is my impression that heart rate (beats per minute or bpm) is the most common way endurance athletes measure effort (with the possible exception of relative perceived exertion.) It is important to note that different measurements are, in fact, measuring different things. Heart rate, besides estimating load on the heart itself, seems to integrate a wide variety of bodily stressors, things such as heat, cold, fear, fatigue, etc. Blood lactate may be the best measure of fatigue of the leg muscles themselves, especially as they go anaerobic. VO2 measures the extent to which leg muscles are using their aerobic energy system.

How do the experts quantitate ride intensity? In "The Cyclist's Training Bible", Joe Friel suggests assigning a subjective "hardness" to each training ride, a number between 1 and 10, and to use that as a measure of intensity, a measure similar to Relative Perceived Exertion. As a (preferred) alternative, Friel recommends a software package, TrainingPeaks, which (among other things) estimates intensity. Based on what I read on the TrainingPeaks website, I believe the measure of intensity they use is Relative Normalized Power (RNP). The Power part of that is straightforward; it is what is measured by a power meter. The Relative is necessary because generation of 200 watts of power might represent much more intensity for me than it does for you. To make power relative, the power of a ride is expressed as the ratio of that power to Functional Threshold Power, the power used in a 30 minute time trial. Normalized means that the power is averaged over a training session. In "Base Building for Cyclists", Thomas Chapple recommends using Heart Rate Zone as a measure of intensity; a bike ride ridden in Heart Rate Zone 5 would have five times the intensity as one ridden in Heart Rate Zone 1.

To me, all of the measures of intensity discussed above seem arbitrary; there is no rationale given for why intensity should be proportional to subjective feel, heart rate, or power. When I researched the issue, I was unable to find any evidence in support of any of these. The only experimental data I have found that speaks to intensity measurement is Gillen et al. (which I have previously blogged about not once but twice) and Gillen et al. gives a very different estimate of intensity than do any of the expert-recommended measures. According to this paper, 1 minute of high intensity exercise (HR Zone 5c) provides the same benefit as 45 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (HR Zone 2.) As an intermediate point, the consensus of the medical community is that 1 minute of vigorous exercise - HR Zone 4 - is equivalent to 2 minutes of moderate exercise - HR Zone 2. All of this is summarized in the table at the top of this post. In contrast, the metrics suggested by Friel and Chapple suggest that high intensity intervals (HR Zone 5c) has 3 to 4 times the intensity as moderate exercise. Thus, Gillen et al. disagrees significantly from the consensus of the exercise community.

Is it reasonable to override the opinions of highly experienced and successful coaches like Friel and Chapple based on a single scientific publication? Normally, I would be reluctant to do so, but in this case I suspect that, if pressed, Friel and Chapple would not cling to their estimates, and thus I am inclined to go with Gillen et al. There are two reasons I think Friel and Chapple may not be wedded to their metrics. The first is that, in the context of their books, these metrics are mentioned only once and in a rather off-hand manner; they do not constitute a significant part of any training plans. The second is that if you look at the high intensity interval plans that Friel suggests (Chapple's book only covers base training and thus contains no high intensity intervals), the length and number of repeats of these intervals is more consistent with the higher estimate of their intensity provided by Gillen et al. than it is with Friel's own metric. I suspect that neither Friel nor Chapple use the intensity calculations from their books to design training schedules for their clients. Rather, I would suggest they draw upon their experience and introduce rides of different intensity when their experience tells them their clients are ready for them.

The Value of Intensity Quantitation

If experienced coaches like Friel and Chapple don't feel a need for an accurate measure of intensity, why should we? For the purposes of training (which is what Friel and Chapple care about) I suspect we don't. There are so many factors affecting training (e.g. illness, stress at work, person to person variation) that it would still be necessary to constantly adjust training plans even if there were an accurate measure of intensity. Is it possible that at the highest levels of the sport, the Tour de France or the olympics for example, an accurate metric for intensity would allow coaches to bring elite athletes to a slightly higher peak of performance? Perhaps, but I am not even certain of that. My interest is more in the science, the understanding of how exercise affects our bodies. In fact, the impetus for this post was a paper by Stöggl and Sperlich.

The Stöggl and Sperlich publication argues in favor of polarized training, a training plan that emphasizes training at either very high intensity or very low intensity and minimizes training at moderate intensity. To provide evidence for that generalization, they compared four training plans that varied in the percentage of time spent at different intensities, and found that the plan that was the most "polarized" was the best. I wondered if there could be explanations other than polarization as to why the "polarized" plan did the best. For example, it is broadly accepted that training plans can be too easy, too hard, or just right. Without knowing a great deal more than I do about the athletes participating in the study, it is impossible to know where in that spectrum any specific plan falls, but conceptually, it should be possible to see if the four plans are equally hard, or if some are harder than others. However, when I attempted to determine this back then, I found that I could not because I did not know how to compare intensities. Have I now gotten past that barrier? As noted at the top of this post, I am very uncertain of the metric for intensity I am proposing here, but that said, I will answer with a hearty "maybe." To answer this question, I first converted their LOW, LT and HIGH levels of exercise to HR zones3, translated the description of the different protocols in Stöggle and Sperlich into a list of how many minutes of exercise at each HR zone each protocol contained. Using intensities of 1 for Zone 2, 2 for Zone 4, and 45 for Zone 5c, I converted this to a total load for each protocol. These were then normalized such that the lowest intensity protocol had a score of 1. The result was that THR (lactate THReshold, exercise at time trial pace) had a relative load of 1, HVT (High Volume Training, long slow miles) had a relative load of 2, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training, all out sprinting) had a relative load of 3, and POL (POLarized training, a mix of all out sprinting and long slow miles) had a relative load of 5. Thus, the benefit of the different protocols was related to their intensity, the more intensity, the greater the benefit. Perhaps it is this higher intensity, rather than polarization, that made the POL plan the most beneficial.


I opened this post by apologizing for having the presumption to question the accumulated wisdom of the exercise community, given that I have very little standing from whence to do so. That said, I stand by my conclusions, at least in general. The reason I think the exercise community has gotten this wrong is that quantitative intensity is rarely used, and thus coaches and athletes don't notice how wrong current estimates are. Rather, workouts are designed based on experience and adjusted based on the subjective feelings of the athlete, both approaches which I agree are highly successful. The only time quantitative intensity matters is in a research study, where these two pillars of success are, by necessity, ignored. So, although an accurate estimate of intensity may not be necessary for day to day training, it may be necessary for research on training, and that research has a lot to offer the exercise community in the long run. Thus, I believe an effort to better quantitate intensity is warranted and that Gillen et al. is a good start towards that goal.

1) Actually, this is external load. Total load included both this external load as well as internal load that comes from non-training factors such as illness, stress, and lack of sleep as well as the leftover fatigue of training done during the prior days and weeks. In this post, I will only consider external load, and use the word load to refer to that.

2) Qualitatively, most training books will tell you that one-two hour ride provides different benefits than two-one hour rides, but beyond that qualitative assertion, I have yet to encounter a quantification of such a difference.

3) The levels of intensity in Stöggl and Sperlich were expressed as levels of lactate in the blood. I used the data contained in Belcher and Pemberton, International Journal of Exercise 5: 148-159, 2012, to convert lactate levels to heart rate zones.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Old La Honda Road

The ride my son and I did is highlighted in red. The route of the Tour Del Mar is highlighted in blue.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about the Tour Del Mar, a bike race I participated in 1966. Back then, bicycling of any kind was done by a very small number of people and cyclists felt like a persecuted minority. My, how times have changed! Cycling has become mainstream and the region around the Tour Del Mar route has become extremely popular with cyclists. Add in the fact that both my sons have moved to this area, and is was almost inevitable I would revisit the scene of my crime. In a recent post,  I mentioned how travel had disrupted my blogging. I was afraid it was going to do the same to my cycling, but not so. During my last trip to California, I managed rides on three of the six days I was there. Although none of these quite made it onto the Tour Del Mar route, two of them were just on the other side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The ride highlighted in red on the above map was the third and final ride, and the most difficult, culminating in a 4 mile climb up Old La Honda Road to its summit at 1,750 feet. It has been over a week since I completed this ride, and my legs still feel tired from the effort.

The first of the three rides was connected with the Modesto Roadmen Reunion that was the topic of my last post. The second, a ride with my older son, was a time constrained reconnoitering ride from his home in Redwood City to the start of Old La Honda Road. Because of the many steep hills along the way, that 15 mile ride left my legs extremely tired, even without the climb up Old La Honda. The very next day, we set out to ride up to the top of Old La Honda Road. Due to our scouting of the previous day, we were able to select a slightly less hilly approach than we had ridden the day before. Because of the tiredness in my legs, I took it easier. Fortunately, I felt better as the ride went on and was able to mount a credible, sustained effort up the main climb. By the time I got home, however, I was completely done in, I had nothing left to give. Houston has a lot to recommend it as a cycling city, but as a place to build one's climbing ability is clearly lacking.

This first picture is of my son within a few blocks of his home. Some intensive climbing brought us to a beautiful view over Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay.

This is my son and I in front of Robert's Market in Woodside, California, the crossroads of Silicon Valley cycling. Apparently all San Francisco peninsula cycling pass through here. A kind shopper took our picture.

This is it, the base of the climb. From Robert's Market, we took the well-named Mountain Home Road through beautiful forests and horse farms to Portola Road, then Portola Road to Old La Honda Road, the start of our challenge.

Four miles and 1170 feet later, here we are at the top of the climb. The average gradient is 8%, compared to the more famous (and longer) climb up Mount Diablo which is 6%. From here, we took Skyline Boulevard back to Highway 84 (and the locally famous Alice's Restaurant) and then 84 back to Woodside. This was definitely an epic ride for an old man like me. (It goes without saying that my son is a much stronger rider than I am, and rode beneath his potential to keep me company.)

The climbing challenge aside, this was one of the most beautiful bike rides of my life. The road threaded back and forth through canonical California scenery, at times passing through the classical brown grass, scrub oak, manzanita that characterizes much of California, and then just a turn later, heading into the cool and dark of a gorgeous California coastal Redwood forest. During the 45 minutes we were on Old La Honda road, we encountered only two cars! Honest, I counted.

I think I can safely say, without violating anyone's privacy, that there is an unbelievable amount going on at the Steffen residences, both in Texas and in California. Thus, what was amazing about these rides is not how long or how hard they were, but that they happened at all. My son and I very much hope to do some longer rides through this part of California during future visits. My son recently took a ride with some of his buddies from work that went from his home to the town of Pescadero and back, taking in much of the route of the Tour Del Mar. That ride was 61 miles long, had over 6600 feet of climbing, and took them over 5 hours to complete.  This would be a very tough ride for me, one that would take me much longer than their 5 hours to finish, but it is one that I think I could complete. Will we manage to actually ride it? Stay tuned and find out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Roadmen Reunion

All the former Modesto Roadmen who attended the 50th Reunion (plus one).
Back Row: Michael Haack*, Tom Woods, Roger Farschon, Stacy Dull, Paul Robinson.
Front Row: John Campopiano, Jeff Cowdrey, David Steffen, Eldon Rosenow.
* Michael Haack is not a former Modesto Roadmen, but former member of Mach Schnell, another club active in Modesto during the 1960's.

One of the recurring themes of this blog is the cycling I did back in the 1960s in Modesto, California, riding with a club called the Modesto Roadmen. I cannot remember when this club was founded, it could have been as early as 1963 or as late as 1965. I had my last contact with the Modesto Roadmen in 1969, at the Great Western Bicycle Rally. Last, that is, until I was telephoned by a fellow member, Paul Robinson, in 2008. It was Paul's telephone call that inspired me to restart cycling. (I believe it similarly inspired Paul.) Besides cycling, Paul's call also inspired me to reconnect with the former Modesto Roadmen. Over time, one by one, I managed to reconnect to nine or ten of them. As 2008 ground onwards towards 2016, a dream started to grow of having a 50th reunion. But if we don't know when the club was founded, how can there be a 50th reunion? Simple, by picking some Modesto Roadmen event that occurred in 1966 and build the reunion around that. There were two candidates, the first Mountain Loop, and the first running of the Tour de Graceada. The 50th anniversary of the first Mountain Loop came and went with no reunion, but not the 50th anniversary of the Tour de Graceada. The Tour de Graceada was the annual ABLA-sanctioned sponsored by the Modesto Roadmen. (ABLA is Amateur Bicycle League of America, predecessor to today's USA Cycling.) It was first held on September 11, 1966. So a plan was hatched. One of the former members, John Campopiano, lives a few blocks from the park around which the Tour de Graceada was held. He invited us all to meet at his house with our bikes, to take a symbolic lap or two around the park, and then hang out at his place for brunch and memories. And that is what we did, on September 11, 2016, 50 years to the day after the first running of the Tour de Graceada.

Some of us are married, some of us are not. At least one of us has a girlfriend. Yes, there were female members of the Modesto Roadmen (despite our sexist name), but sadly, we were unable to find any of them for the reunion. Of the four Significant Others attending, three are pictured below:

Left to right: Roger's wife, Jan; Tom's girlfriend, Joann; John's wife, Wendy. David's wife, Agi, is not pictured as she was the photographer. All photographs in this blog post were taken by her.

Once everyone had arrived, we all jumped on our bikes and rode the four blocks from John's house to Graceada Park, home of the Tour de Graceada. We really didn't have anything planned other than a symbolic lap or two around the park. We were on a wide range of bicycles and with wildly different levels of fitness. Right off the bat, Eldon and Mike took off at race pace. Some of us chased and others of us rode at a comfortable pace. How long would this go on? How would we decide? After four laps, people started pulling over at what had been the start/finish line and that was that. (Back when we were racing as juniors, we went around this 0.6 mile course 25 times.) I have assembled a collage of four pictures which captures all nine of of us:

All identifications refer to riders from left to right. In the upper left photo are Tom and Stacy. Tom was riding a magnificent Bianchi Team Issue from the 1960s that he borrowed from John. Stacy was riding his Peugot PX-10, converted from a racer to a commuter. In the upper right photo is David and Paul. David is riding his "California Bike", a 2009 Bianchi Volpe. Paul is riding a Trek identical to that used by Lance Armstrong to win the Tour de France. In the lower left photo are John, Roger, and Jeff. John is riding a Trek mountain bike so that Tom can ride his Bianchi. Roger is riding his truly magnificent custom touring bike that he bought back when he was still a Roadman. Jeff is riding a bike that I embarrassingly admit I did not pay that much attention to. I have to think it is not Jeff's bike, because these days, Jeff designs, builds, and rides recumbent bicycles. In the lower right photo are Mike and Eldon, each riding the high end road bikes that they are using in their very active cycling careers.

The Campopiano's put out a magnificent spread that kept all of us happily eating from 10:30 in the morning when we started arriving until at least 3 pm which is when I had to leave. Sadly, we did not think to photograph this largess, but you can get a peek in the following photo:

Wendy, our hostess, looks on as Tom fills his plate.

John had assembled a huge collection of Roadmen memorabilia, and I brought a few things of my own. I think the roadmen enjoyed this walk down memory lane, as seen below:

Left to right, Eldon, Paul, Jeff, Mike, John, David.

But probably the most fun of all was just the talking, memories of the Modesto Roadmen, what we had been up to for the past 50 years.

Left to right, John (in front), Paul (behind), Roger Stacy, David, Jeff.

Left to right, Mike and Roger.

An attendee I have yet to mention is Tom Duchscher. He was not a member of the Roadmen and was not invited to the reunion. However, he is an intense cycling enthusiast, a neighbor of John's, saw us riding around the park, and had just had his very high end road bike stolen and wanted to pass out his wanted posters so we could keep our eyes open for his bike. He entertained us all with an intensely detailed account of how, back in the 60s, he saved for years to purchase the Masi that one of his fellow cyclists recommended, found out there was a three year waiting list, purchased a Schwinn Paramount instead, thus launching a series of Paramount purchases in Modesto somehow enforcing a rule that no two could be the same color. But none of this is the most amazing thing he told us. Back in 2008, as I was trying to reconnect with former Roadmen, Paul told me that someone told him that Jeff was dead. We were all very sad, and I even wrote an eulogy for him on this blog (since deleted.) One of the first things that Duchscher announced when he walked in the door what that he was the source of that rumor! He had no recollection of where he heard it, so for now, the blame has to stop with him.

Left to right, Paul and Tom Duchscher

The final picture is chronologically out of order, but I felt belonged at the end. After the ride and before all the eating and talking described above, Paul had a wonderful idea. He suggested we take a moment to remember the people who had been critical to the success of the Modesto Roadmen, but who were no longer with us. These were adults (with one exception) who took time away from their lives to help the Modesto Roadmen purely out of the goodness of their hearts. I didn't take notes, so this list might not exactly match up with what we came up with then, but I guess that is OK. Henry Laws lived two houses down from me, took an interest in our club, and hooked us up with his connections to the City of Modesto power structure; without him, we never would have been able to put on the Tour de Graceada. He and his wife rode a Schwinn Twinn tandem bicycle. Bob Boranian owned Bob's Cyclery, the center of cycling in Modesto. He gave a number of us jobs working in his shop, drove us to events, and supported us in an uncountable number of other ways. (We are not 100% sure he has passed away, but even if not, he deserves the honor.) "The Coach", Mr. Van Holland, was a member of the Dutch underground during World War II and was a cycling enthusiast. One day, he saw us riding down the road and immediately started training us. Art Wilcox was the other member of the Mach Schnell bike club, besides Mike Haack. Sadly, Art died much before his time. Art and Mike, older than the Roadmen, got us started riding Mountain Loops and generally shared their cycling experience with us. When the Modesto Roadmen started racing, two members of the cycling establishment, Robert Tetzlaff and Walter Gimber, guided us through the process of becoming bicycle racers, once travelling from their homes in the bay area to Modesto to go on a ride with us to make sure we were doing it right. For these and all we have forgotten, thank you!

So that was it for the 50th anniversary of the Modesto Roadmen. See you all again in another 50 years.

The Modesto Roadmen have a website. There are lots of pictures and other information there that I have not put onto this blog. Once I put the reunion up there, there will be a lot more there that what is here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

War on Zombies: Their Finest Hour

After three posts in July, I thought I might be on a roll, but then there was August with no posts at all. And now it is mid-September and the drought only now comes to an end. One reason for my paucity of posts is that a post I started at the end of July turned out to be much harder to write than I expected and is still "in preparation". (That post is finally nearing completion and will be posted Real Soon Now.) Also, That Which Must Not Be Named continues to be an issue, and there were a couple of out-of-town trips that prevented me from posting as well. Finally, there is the War On Zombies: it is not over, as this post documents.

My fellow Zombie and I flew back into Houston on a Wednesday. On Thursday morning, I rode over to the Rice Track for my morning ride. No joy in Mudville, as illustrated by the photo at the top of the post: Rice track is closed. All hail the coming of football season1. So, I go for my backup ride. Riding through the Texas Medical Center, I hop onto the Braes Bayou Trail, head west on that trail, only to find that it has been closed as well:

The barrier closing the trail can be seen at the left side of the picture. The machinery responsible for that closure can be seen at the right.

They are building a parallel trail on the other side of the bayou and to join it to the existing trail, they have torn up a key piece in the middle of that existing trail, completely spoiling it as a place for me to ride. I have to confess at this point that I am being a bit disingenuous. I had driven by this construction a few days before, so it's closure was no surprise; I only rode out to this point on the trail to take the picture for this blog. I had actually had planned to ride east along the Bayou, rather than my usual west, but guess what? That direction is closed as well:

In the long run, this temporary closure is a huge win for Houston cyclists, me included. The reason for the detour is newly-poured concrete, creating a lovely new bit of trail where previously there had been a difficult and dangerous dirt stretch. Brays Bayou trail east from the Texas Medical Center to McGregor park is now complete (except for the stretch destroyed by flooding last spring that now needs to be repaired). Also, work is being done to extend that trail from McGregor Park all the way to the ship channel. When completed, this will be an exceptional venue for pedestrian and cyclist alike. This is what the new bit of trail looks like:

Finally, in an earlier post, I complained that an approximately 3 mile extension of the Braes Bayou trail along Keegan's Bayou, once opened, had been closed. The last time I rode out that way, the status of that extension was somewhat ambiguous, as can be seen in this photo:

The barrier has been moved to the side of the trail. Is it open? Is it closed? Given this ambiguous status, I decided to give myself the benefit of the doubt and ride it. As I neared the end of the extension, I encountered one barrier that seemed to resolve the ambiguity. Unlike all the other barriers, which had been pushed aside, this one still spanned the trail. Although unmarked going out, as I returned, I saw that the trail is indeed marked as closed:

Oh well, what has been done cannot be undone, and anyway, I learned something during my transgression. At the current end of the trail, there are clear signs of construction, promising to extend the trail past Highway 59, a current barrier to east-west cycling in Houston. Once completed, I think it will be possible to ride from the Braes Bayou path all the way to Terry Hershey and George Bush parks. This would require some street riding and only experience will show how rideable the available streets are. Up until now, I had wondered how this crossing would be effected, as it seemed that there was no place to put a trail. What seems to be happening is the construction of an engineering marvel, a hike and bike trail suspended off the side of the bayou:

This is all well and good for the future, but for the present, my two daily cycling routes, Rice Track and Braes Bayou are closed. What is a Zombie to do? Two routes I have used in the past are Terry Hershey-George Bush park and White Oak Bayou. Recent flooding has damaged the Terry Hershey-George Bush park trails, rendering them impassible:

From Facebook, posted by Randy LeBlanc to HTX Bike Social

In any case, the drive to Terry Hershey/George Bush park is too long for this to be a daily ride. The roads from White Oak Bayou to my house are too busy for me to ride during the week, but I figured I would give it a shot last weekend. And guess what happened? This:

The Hazard Street Bridge is under construction! Fortunately, this is not that big an issue, as the Hazard Street Bridge is one of six bridges crossing Highway 59. It is the one I prefer because it has the least traffic, but early on a Saturday morning, the next one down the line, The Woodhead Bridge, is tolerable. (In fact, Woodhead rather than Hazard is the designated bike route, though as I have posted before, I disagree with this assignment.) It has been awhile since I have been able to ride this trail on my own, so this was the first time I was able to explore a recent extension at the northern end of the trail. This new extension adds about 3 miles round trip to the ride. In addition, it (currently) terminates into another set of older trails that go along the backyards of neighborhood homes. These trails are extremely narrow and a bit in need of maintenance, but are more charming for that and add another 2 miles to the round trip. Here is a view, looking from the older trail back towards the new. This part of the older trail goes along the opposite side of the bayou, and connects to the new trail via a rather rickety-looking wooden pedestrian bridge:

I did not ride across the bridge (nor would I want to), it is not necessary to do so because the trails directly intersect farther along, but this bridge is nice to look at. Construction is also underway to extend the main trail both farther north and farther south along White Oak Bayou. In summary, the future looks rosy but the present looks bleak. At the moment, I have absolutely no idea where I can ride my bike tomorrow. Will the Zombie be returned to the cycling graveyard, or will he find a place to ride? Stay tuned.

The Title) As noted in the text, I have an earlier post entitled "War on Zombies." Rather than title this one "War on Zombies 2" or "Another War on Zombies", I chose the append the title of the second volume of Winston Churchill's six volume history of World War II. It happens to be rather appropriate.

1) The Rice Bicycle Track is located in the middle of the main parking lot for their football stadium. This space is not needed most of the time, making it a perfect site for a bike track, but during football season, they periodically take down the track to generate more parking. When they take it down and for how long is entirely unpredictable, so I cannot plan around these trackless days.