On February 15th I participated in my first organized ride, the West U Warmup, sponsored by one of my favorite bike shops, West U Cycles (or West U Schwinn, depending on what sign you read) at 2519 Rice Blvd in the Rice Village, phone 713-529-0140. I did the 29 mile ride, the shortest one.
The day began at 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning, one of the coldest days of the winter. Our heater was not working well and it was really cold in the bedroom. I did not want to get out of bed when that alarm went off. I was nervous--would I fall over and wreck someone else due to cluminess or inexperience? Would I get run over by a car? Would I finish? How do you ride in a group? Would everyone else go faster than me? I was really, really tempted to roll over and go back to sleep. But then I knew I would have to write about not going in this blog and all 3 readers would be disappointed, and then I would have to tell Kim in spinning (who happened to be running the Motorola Half-Marathon in Austin that same day) that I didn't do it, and would have trouble justifying spending any more money on this crazy hobby if I didn 't get up and go.
I had loaded up my bike the night before. After breakfast I packed stuff into a large belt pack I would wear on my waist, and I brought our digital camera for photos along the way. I took Beltway 8 over to Tom Bass Park and made it there around 7:00 a.m. Quite a few bikers were there, but plenty of parking spaces remained. I parked and walked around the parking lot, drooling over the bike racks that others had on their car, trucks, and SUVs. After examining several Bones Racks on car trunks I pretty well decided that's what I would get for my Accord. I walked around trying to get warm, and took a few photos as the sun rose over the parking lot that was quickly filling with cars and bikers in all manner of biker dress. It was damn cold. I don't have any tights, so I went with my biker shorts, but I wore the polyethylene shirt under the West U Warmup shirt that was under a striped multi-colored cotton sweatshirt. I had worn the same sweatshirt in Norwich, New York when I went cross country skiing. I knew when I got hot I could zip it down a little and vent some sweat.
The crowd started queing up at about 7:40 for the 8:00 a.m. start. The 65 milers would leave first, followed by the 52 miles, then us 29 milers. I got into the back of the 29 mile crowd, but not all the way to the back. The ride started and it took us a few minutes to get out of the blocks. Finally, once I got started, I found that I was riding a little faster than the pack I had started with, so I sped up a little, riding in the left lane of the road.
I was introduced to all sorts of new things that bikers in groups do. Most of the bikes had those road tires that are about 1/2 inch wide, so they were pretty concerned about gravel on the side of the road. Every time the rider in front of me passed a pile of gravel (they were everywhere out there in the country), she would point down and shout out "gravel!" for me to relay it back. Now, I have to admit I did not do that very well since I was not too worried about the gravel with my knobby tires, but I heard other people behing me relaying it on.
Another thing they do when they are in groups riding on the side of the road is warn the bikers ahead by yelling out "car back" when a car was approaching from behind. So as I was going along, one two or three bikers beside each other, you would hear "car back" being passed up the line. That was really helpful in the crowd since it was hard to see back there. Of course, one time I thought I saw a car back and I yelled "car back" and there was not one there. Ooops!
Another great thing the bikers do is to say "to the left" when they are passing you to the left (and you always pass to the left). That way the person to your right does not suddenly decide to veer to the left and steer into you; if you are on the right, you know there is someone approaching you on the left. When I am riding on the walking trail in the park I always yell "passing to the left" to walkers or bikers ahead of me. So many walkers wear headphones when they walk that it is sometimes hard to tell if they hear you, so I try to make sure they do and slow down if they do not hear me. The nice thing about a hybrid bike is that I can ride off the trail if I need to in order to avoid a walker or group of walkers.
During the first leg of the ride (about 10 miles), when we were still pretty bunched up, we had to stop at a red light. The bikers ahead yelled "slowing" or "stopping" and held their right hands down with their palm facing backward to let those behind them know that they were slowing down. After all, bikes don't have brake lights! So, in a crowd, it's all about talking to those around you to let them know what you are doing.
At the first rest stop, at the Manvel City Hall, there was a police officer directing traffic because the rest stop was on the left side of the road. The place was pretty crowded with a large group about the free food table (cookies, bananas, that type of thing) and another large line at the Port-A-Pottys. I took a couple of photos and drank some of my water, but decided not to get any food. That might have been a mistake, as I found out on the second leg of the ride.
For the second leg, we veered off from the route the rest of the bikers were following. On the first part, before the 1st rest stop, most of the roads were fairly smooth asphalt but on the second part of the route after the rest stop we were on either rough asphalt or grooved concrete pavement (Hwy 6). I had averaged 15 mph on the first leg but found myself struggling to maintain 12 mph on the second route. Partly because the pavement was much rougher and my knobby tires caused a lot of drag, and partially because I did not carb up a the first rest stop and so I was running out of energy. That second leg was much more solitary also. After I passed a few fellow bikers I pretty much saw riders off in the distance, or saw their backs as they passed me. I was alone for the rest of the ride. I really started dogging it on Hwy 6, which was a long straightaway, something like 5 or 6 miles.
Finally we turned off Hwy 6 onto some back roads then onto FM 521. It seemed like it took forever to get to the second rest stop. I passed a guy on inline skates but that's about all the passing I did. Mostly it was maintaining. The ride was on the shoulder, with traffic whizzing by. At the second rest stop, I carbed up on chocolate chip cookies, cheese Doritos, and Gator Ade. I rested, stretched, took some photos, and listened to The Buzz blaring from a volunteer's car. Those volunteers are great! Thanks to all of y'all who might be reading this for being there for me and the other riders!
After the second rest stop I felt better but still could only maintain about 12-13 mph most of the time. I was very much alone most of the time; some parts of the route were not well marked, but I had looked at the map so I knew where to do. We passed by some chemical plants tucked away out there in the woods, one or two of which I have visited on business. I didn't realize that Pearland had so many.
The home stretch was on the Beltway 8 feeded. I was nervous about those cars coming off the Beltway at 80 mph, so I tried to really pump up the speed, especially going through the green lights. I was talking to myself here and there, motivating myself, and really breathing hard. I gave it all my energy because I did not want to be a sitting duck for those cars to pick off; I wanted to be headed somewhere away from there quickly.
I entered the park at about 10-15 mph. The photographer took my photo as I hustled by. There were no marching bands to meet me, just a parking lot with a lot of cars. I wheeled over to the starting line where some volunteers were sitting and asked one of them to take my photo with my digital camera. Then I ate a banana or two, put my bike away in the CR-V, got out of some of my biker clothes, and headed home.
All-in-all, it was a great experience. I found that I was a lot more tired than I thought I would be. It took me a day or two to recover to some extent. A week later I am still somewhat tired. Don't know if it's from the ride or what. The next organized ride is the Gator Ride on 6 March, in Baytown. See you there!