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.