Friday, April 3, 2015

The No Bluebonnet Express

My wife on the left and me on the right. This picture was taken by the ride organizers
at the end of the ride.

As the regular reader of this blog knows, I have been wondering if I should replace randonneuring with something else as my Fun Bike Ride®. I will not get enough exercise if all I do is fun rides, my morning laps at the Rice Bike Track are a boring necessity, but I do want to get in as many fun rides as possible. Mostly, these rides are their own reward, but in addition, they provide the motivation to keep me going on my daily exercise routine. I am very glad that I participated in 200K brevets in 2012 and 2013, I found them exciting, motivating, and fun. I particularly enjoyed getting to know a few of the Texas randonneurs. I haven't officially abandoned randonneuring, and in fact I really thought I might be attempting a 200K brevet with the Houston Randonneurs this April. I was particularly looking forward to trying a different way to prepare for this ride. However, it seems unlikely I will make this attempt, and I am not sure when I might next consider another one. Some of the reasons for that decision are a concern that a 200K ride might be just a bit too much for my aged body, a sense of "been there, done that" combined with a belief that a 200K brevet is probably the maximum I can do, and the responsibility of caring for my aging Dad. All of that said, probably the biggest single thing that is preventing me from attempting a brevet this April is my wife's increasing enthusiasm for cycling. If I attempt a brevet, that is a weekend I don't ride with her. So, probably no brevet (by myself1) in April, but two exceptionally fun rides with my wife in March; the Blue Bonnet Express, described here, and a ride with the Houston Bicycle Club which I will describe in a future post.

The Bluebonnet Express is one of the oldest bike rides in the Houston area; this year's event was the 26th running. It is organized by Houston's Northwest Cycling Club. The MS150, a charity ride supporting the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, is probably the premier cycling event on the Houston cycling calendar. The Bluebonnet express is one of a series of recommended training rides for the MS150, and so attracted 2,600 riders. The MS150 is held in April, and there are 38 training rides, one or two each weekend, starting the previous October. This cycle of training rides has taken on a life of its own, such that 4 of the "training" rides are held after the MS150! From my perspective, these training rides make excellent fun rides on their own.

The Bluebonnet Express offers routes varying from 25 to 75 miles in length. The map above shows the longer routes. We opted for the 45 mile distance. This ride takes place in the same part of Texas as the Tour de Pink; the roads in red are shared between these two rides.

So what did we think of the Bluebonnet Express? In summary, we loved it! We definitely plan to include MS150 training rides in our future schedule. In case it is not obvious, a bluebonnet is a wildflower, the state flower of Texas. The emergence of bluebonnets each spring is a big event. Many families take their annual family portrait midst the bluebonnets. When the first bluebonnets emerge depends on the weather that year and on microclimate; bluebonnets will emerge at different times in different parts of the state. Thus, when planning an annual bike ride, there is an element of chance; one cannot know of certain that the bluebonnets will be out on the day of the ride. We were hopeful, because a week or so before the ride, bluebonnets started appearing around Houston. Sadly, the ride was located in a cooler microclimate and on the day of the ride, nary a bluebonnet was to be seen. Nonetheless, the weather was just about perfect, the organizers and fellow riders were fun and friendly, and the rest stops sponsored by the Kroger grocery store chain provided welcome bathrooms, drinks, and snacks. As I have mentioned before, my wife and I are somewhat nervous riders, so the security in numbers from all the other riders along with the police support at busy intersections made the ride a lot more fun for us. We also enjoyed being introduced to some beautiful, quiet country roads that were new to us. This ride as about twice the number of participants as the Tour de Pink, the charity ride we have participated in four times before, and the difference was noticeable. There were so many riders that in spots (especially at the start) the roads were more crowded than we might have wished:

The tables offering food and drinks are hidden behind the crowd.

My wife bicycles to work, I ride in with her and do a training ride, and then each weekend we try to do one or two fun rides. In the past, most of these have used three or four standard routes, which I confess was starting to get boring. Each year, we have participated in the Tour de Pink. For my wife to be able to complete the 63 miles or that ride, we have to do some targeted training. For the Bluebonnet express, we did no training at all, deciding to go at the last minute. We were definitely tired by the end, and this was our only ride of the weekend, but our ability to complete it was never in question. The weekend after this ride, we went on a Houston Bicycle Club Ride, a very different (but also good) experience and the subject of a future post. One disadvantage of both of these rides is that it is about an hour by car to get to the start, meaning that it is more of a production to participate and that we have to get out of bed earlier than we might like. Going forward, we will have to decide on a mix of the same old/same old local rides, club rides like the Houston Bike Club ride, and charity rides like the Bluebonnet Express. I am very curious to see what we end up doing.

1) An interesting question is if my wife and I could complete a 200K brevet on a tandem. (She probably could not complete one on a solo bike.)

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