Howdy from Texas! I am currently sitting in my hotel room watching the rain come down in Houston. I was hoping to go for a ride this morning before getting on the plane and heading home, but that just ain't going to happen. I did get two great rides in while I was here and the folk here were all very inviting and friendly. Some places you go, when you're the unknown guy on a bike, you tend to ride alone with the group and nobody talks to you. Texas isn't like that and I had a great time. I even got an email from a rider on the hammerfest ride I did yesterday. The guy looked up my email from the blog site and sent me a note just to say he was sorry he hadn't introduced himself and that he wished me a safe trip home... thanks Eddy!
So let's take a few steps backwards and go through the events of the past few days...
So this is what the San Diego airport looks like at a little past 5:00 in the morning on a Thursday. Kinda empty...
There were some issues loading luggage onto the plane, since it was suspended from the ceiling and my bike case was almost too big. We managed to figure it all out and get out of the building and into the air...
It was kinda pretty flying into the sunrise...
Arizona is very brown...
Happy Masiguy arriving in Houston!
Once in town and on the ground, my Houston area sales rep Nathan Frazier drug me around to visit Bicycle World and Fitness (thanks for your time Chris) before we headed off to get our bikes for a great night time road ride through the streets and neighborhoods of downtown Houston. (Note; Bicycle World and Fitness has been open for just a little less than two years and has had to expand/ remodel twice already in that time. Awesome!) The ride meets at the locally famous West End Bicycles (the first bike shop in Texas to put on a mountain bike race many years ago). West End is a great neighborhood shop in a great neighborhood just outside of downtown. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening their is a cool ride that leaves from their parking lot. It also happens to be a very fast ride if you are not ready to rip. The group sprinted from light to light and weaved through traffic until we got out of downtown and into some of the other residential areas. The pace was always "brisk" and were it not for the stop lights causing some regrouping, I am not so sure I would have been able to stay with the group; people, do we really need to go so fast in January? We went through one really nice, very expensive neighborhood just before returning to the shop. This was, for me, the coolest part of the ride. I didn't have a headlight with me, so it was a bit dark since there were no streetlights for much of this area, but the streets were curvy, twisty and rolled up and down in very short little rises under a canopy of trees and surrounded by multi-million dollar homes. The pace was a bit "brisker" through here too, so it was a lot of fun. By this time, my legs and lungs had finally warmed up and I no longer feared getting dropped and was able to stay at the front and be a part of the action. I apologize for not taking more frequent and longer pulls, but I had no idea where we were going. Next time, I'll spend more time on the front.
Here we are back at the shop. You can only see a few folks here, but the ride had about 30-40 riders. That's a pretty good crew for this time of year and for an urban road ride. Shows the cycling community in Houston is pretty strong. On the left of the pic is Leonard, a really nice guy, and then Nathan on the right looking like he's gonna punch me for taking his picture. Nathan's a great rep and does a great job for us in Texas (and Louisiana). On the far right of the pic and sitting between the two cars is the official "Masiguy" bike...
The next day, Nathan and I went back to visit West End Bicycles when they were open. What a cool little shop. A veritable museum of cool old bikes and cruisers and a display case with really old and hard to find Campagnolo parts. They have a gorgeous Hetchins bike hanging from the wall that I really had to pull myself away from before I rubbed the paint off. This is a great shop and I highly recommend you check them out if you're in Houston.
Next up on the hit list was Bike Sport. Nathan has a soft spot for this shop, since he worked there many years ago, but this is another really cool shop that caters to high-end bikes, service and fitting. I am pretty spoiled and get to look at a lot of cool stuff in my work, but even I was slobbering over some of the things in the shop. Micky and the other guys there are great guys and I can highly recommend them as well.
Wanna buy a Masi?
The main purpose of my trip to Houston has been to support the efforts of Sun & Ski Sports and their support of the MS150 ride in Houston in April, which I will be returning to Houston to ride. The Houston MS ride is the largest in the US with a rider field that was closed to registration at 13,000 riders. That's 13 thousands... as in a whole lot of people on bikes! Sun & Ski is one of the supporting bike shops for this humongous event and put on a big sale to kick off things for the event and help people get ready to ride in April.
I got to talk to a lot of great people who will be riding the event, a lot of them riding on Masi bikes thanks to Sun & Ski. I am really excited to be coming back to visit these new friends and ride with them to help raise money to find a cure for MS. I have an aunt who is very, very dear to me who was recently diagnosed with MS. This ride will take on much greater personal significance for that reason. Not only will I be doing the ride to be with new friends, support a great retailer and their wonderful efforts, help find a cure for a horrible disease- I'll also be riding for my aunt Joan. When my mother was living in Minnesota and Iowa, Joan was my surrogate mother in San Diego. I'll be riding in April for a wonderful person.
I also got to talk to a man, whose name I didn't get, who had been in a wheelchair a few years before due to his own battle with MS. During his physical therapy to prevent the leg muscles from wasting away, he was put on an exercise bike that did the pedaling for him to keep his legs moving and get the muscle growth going. After several months of this process, the machine would pedal less and he would begin to use his muscles to do the pedaling. Eventually, the effort was all his own and now he not only is out of the wheelchair, but he is walking and riding his bike daily. He will be riding the MS150 in April too. If that is not an inspirational story and a motivator to get on your bike and ride for fun and health, then I don't know what is. He said to me, "people just don't realize how good cycling is for you." True.
The Sun & Ski sale was a big hit, from what I could see and the number of new bikes that were being sold. My congratulations to them for such a successful event.
Saturday morning, before returning to the store for the second day of the sale, I got to go on a local "fast guy" ride called the Kirkwood Loop (roughly 60+ miles and 30 or so riders). Now, those out of Houston might not know this, but Kirkwood Loop is local speak for "tongue dragging in spokes". Now, it's January and my races of importance are not until July/August and October, so I'm nowhere near "fit" or really interested in going fast. However, I still have residual base fitness and I had to use every single ounce of it to survive this ride. Yeah, training rides in San Diego are fast too, but there I know the terrain and my way around so I can ride alone if I want. I can pull the ripchord and just go home... but here in Houston I am not so lucky. Local team riders from Bike Barn had my needle buried in the red for the entire ride. Holy crap, we were going very fast for me this time of year. I sound like I'm whining, I know, but I had a great time and the ride itself was pretty cool. Houston is pretty flat, so I was able to stay alive and even get into the mix. There were several areas of straight, wide open road so I was able to take much longer pulls and be a part of the pace making. Once we stopped to get drinks and food at a gas station, I was able to put my tongue back in place and catch my breath. The only problem was that I got really darned cold and cramped up like never before in my life when we started rolling again. I was seriously trying to figure out how I was going to continue riding and how I was going to get back to the hotel and to the store. The muscles in both calves seized up into tight, twitching balls of searing pain. If it has ever happened to you, then you understand what I'm talking about. I tried stretching while pedaling and dropping my heels at the bottom of the pedal stroke to try and get the knotting to stop, but I was in a bad way. Just when I was losing hope, the front group got stopped at a busy intersection and the second group I was in was able to latch back on. The pace momentarily slowed and I finally rode myself out of the cramps. I was still in pain, but I could at least stay with the group and take a few pulls again. In the final 20 miles, my legs and mind made a full recovery and I was finally able to really ride again and was very grateful for the ride with all of the guys on the ride. Special thanks to Drew, from Sun & Ski, for picking me up at the hotel and driving me to the ride. I had a great time. To all the folks on the ride that I didn't get to talk to- thanks for a great ride.
After the ride and a shower, I was back to the store to talk to more folks. Shaking hands and kissing babies- all in a day's work as the Masiguy!
Thank you Sun & Ski, Nathan Frazier and Houston. I had a great time in your city and on your roads. I'll be back in April to ride the MS150 and I look forward to seeing all of my new friends and riding for a great and worthy cause.