Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Brazos Bend State Park Overnighter

Here in Houston, the weather has finally cooled off and given way to consistently livable temps and some pretty nice Texas fall weather.  Since my schedule has calmed down considerably in the past couple of weeks, it seemed like a perfect weather to get out of town for some bike-camping.  I’d made plans to ride to Brazos Bend State Park, a nice little park about 30 miles south of metro Houston, with my cycling buddies Chris and Julia Jenkins.  Julia had to bail on short notice due to a recent flare-up of her injured knee (it’s all that damn running I say!), so on Saturday morning, Chris and I loaded up our touring bikes and headed out for adventure.

Chris met me at my place and we headed out from there around 12:30pm.  The weather was nice, but some wicked strong winds out of the south made the ride down pretty grueling.  There’s no good way to get “aero” on a loaded touring bike.  

Speaking of touring bikes, this was the first time I’d ridden any real distance on my Vaya carrying a touring load, despite having put a ton of miles on it since I got it in the spring.  The Vaya handled the weight like a champ and road super well, never feeling noodly or squirrely.  An incredibly capable, stable touring platform for sure.  I’d like to get it loaded down with a full touring load and compare the ride to my old Trek 520, the bike that carried me for 2500 miles from Boston to Key West in 2007.

Nonetheless, we made it down to Rosharon where we stopped to rest and grab a Coke.  I kind of thought there’d be more town there than two gas stations and an antique store.  Heading west from there meant the wind was now at our side, which of course made pedaling easier but steering harder.  Luckily traffic had subsided considerably from the sometimes-hectic ride down Almeda/FM521. 

After stopping just outside the park at a store for some barley pop (talls of course), we headed into the park, paid The Man, and found our campsite around 4:30pm.  43 miles door-to-tent.

The park was pretty busy, with all of the first-come-first-served primitive sites spoken for, leaving only water/electric sites and remote equestrian sites 8 miles from anything.  We opted for the a water/electric site because it was closer to drinking water, bathrooms, and the park exit (just in case a late-night beer run was in order).  It turned out to be really nice site.  Now that I know more about the park and where services are located, I’ll opt for the more remote sites next time.

BBSP is known for its population of American alligators and other wildlife, and while we didn't see any gators cruising around, there were plenty of armadillos and deer wandering the grounds.  Overall, a nice park, well maintained and cared for, and a lot bigger than I'd expected.  Yes, this was my first trip to BBSP even though I've lived 30 miles away for 3 years now.

We set up camp, cleaned up, and got to eating/drinking/burning things in the fire pit (toasted Payday bars are nasty, by the way), and general shenanigans. 

The next morning, we got up, tore down camp, and headed out, stopping outside the park for coffee, and again down in Rosharon for some of the finest gas station food I’ve ever had.  Beef chimichanga for me and a beef taco and chicken wing for Chris.  I’ll definitely be returning to that gas station next time.

The ride home was must quicker than the ride down, fueled by greasy food and a tailwind.  We got back into town around 11:00am.  

Less than 24 hours made this a pretty quick camping trip, but it was nice to get out of town, hang out around a campfire, relax, and bullshit with a good friend.

Here are the pictures.

My Vaya ready for adventure.
Chris, Long Haul Truckin'
Me, battling traffic on Almeda.
Most of the "scenery" on the way down. Not very exciting.
More scenery.
Soon after crossing under Beltway 8, Almeda turns into FM521 and it calms down nicely.

Nowhere to hide from the wind out here.
Stopped in Rosharon.
A little pick-me-up.
On the way to the park.
Almost there.
Stopped here to stock up on beer and refill water bottles before entering the park.
Made it!
The road in the park, winding through swamps and forest.
These trails look interesting...

More park road.
Pulled up to our site for the night.
Chris, assessing the situation.
Home sweet home.
Mi casa for the night. Golite Eden 1. Cozy and lightweight. Excellent.
Commence chill-age.
After: chicken and apple soup. Easy recipe that tastes great.
National Beer of Texas.
Getting a small fire started.
These guys were everywhere.
The Brazos River Pickers, picking. Play "Freebird"!!
Tea in the morning.
Getting packed up to head home.
I think this deer was confused. "Why are those grown men on bicycles? Where's their RV?"
Cruising out of the park.
Action Jackson.
Ain't no thang but a chicken wing.
Gas station chimichanga goodness.

That's it!  Go load your bike up and get out there and have fun!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oh My Dam(n)!

What’s the best way to snap out of a jet-lag-induced funk?  74 mixed-terrain miles on your ‘cross bike!  The infamous Double Dam ride here in Houston is one of my favorite rides – between 60 and 80 miles (depending on where you start and finish your ride), 30 of which are on gravel double-track trails around Addicks Dam and George Bush Park.  It’s one of the best ways in town to get lots of miles in on a variety of terrain away from heavy traffic and the hustle and bustle of city life, which exactly what I wanted to do after returning from last week’s hectic business trip to Singapore.  My route can be found here.  Every cyclist with a 'cross bike in Houston should know this route; it's a classic.

I decided to take my single speed Cross-Check for this adventure for no other reason than because I’ve been riding my Vaya so much lately and wanted to mix it up.  Also, I love the way it rides, especially offroad.

This was also my first ride using my new Mountain Feed Bag by Revelate Designs.  It was a great place to store an extra tube and CO2, my camera, and some snacks and have everything accessible while riding.  There was no bouncing or movement while riding and being so close to the steering axis, there was no adverse effects on handling.  It'll definitely be super useful for endurance events.  A+ for Eric at Revelate Designs. 

Now, for the pictures.
Like most days, I started out by riding north through the Med Center.

Nice looking bridges over US-59 in the West U / Montrose area.

Sunrise over downtown Houston.  It's going to be a good day.

Cool underpass below I-610 that includes a bike lane (that I'm not actually riding in).

Much of Westview Drive includes a bike lane.  Nice touch!

Follow the signs for adventure!

Here we are!  Time to find some dirt.

Ahh, that's much better.  Addick's Dam in all her glory.  Luckily, it wasn't windy that day.

This is the view you'll experience for quite a while.

Sweet, sweet solitude.

My steed for the day.

Single Speedin'.

Doesn't suck.

A small section of dam with pavement.

The trail through George Bush Park.  Usually packed with Freds wobbling their way down the path tucked into their aerobars.  Luckily, you can escape to the gravel to the right.

Back on top of the dam, more gravel.  This section around GBP is rougher and typically a bit slower going than Addicks Dam.

This section has been leveled and graded.  Are they going to pave this?!  Ugh!

Stopped to refill and refuel.

The worst part of the whole ride: crossing Highway 6!

Make it stop!

Back onto the street, I stopped to grab a snack and top of my water bottles for the ride back into town.  Snickers and Coke: the mid-ride snack of champs.

Thanks for the superb stoppage, Paul!

Back to "civilization".

Keep pedaling!

Back in town, I decided to keep heading east through Spotts Park.  That windy section of trail is fun!

Buffalo Bayou heading back into town.

They might only be drainage ditches, but the bayous can sure look good sometimes.

 Getting urban.

Back home via the Columbia Tap Rail Trail in the 3rd Ward.

So there you have it!  Computer said 74 miles with a 16.5 mph average.  Not too bad, I guess!