This year we didn't stay at the Raddison because the Sunday stay-over had a different rate that we were used to, well over $100 / night! We stayed at a Hampton Inn about 2 minutes west on I-10. Still very convenient and about half the price. The room we got for Saturday night had some mold problem in the AC unit, and we switched to another room that was much better.
After getting settled in at the Hampton we headed over to Trina (Anne's sister) and Steve's house. They were ready for us with a fine meal of Fajitas. Russell cooked up the beef and chicken on the grill outside while Steve made most of the fixins and Trina ran to the store to pickup the last few things. The kids entertained us (including their next door neighbor, Caleb, and Brandi's friend Johnnie). We ate good and headed back to our room for a good night's sleep before the ride.
Russell, our nephew, rode with us again this year. Like last year, this was his 1st ride of the year! His bike was just like last time except he had his new seat (from last year) and he had two new tires. We rode the 50 miler again and it was the same route as last year, so we were very comfortable with it. His bike had a new problem, a pretty serious wobble in the front wheel, and a less serious wobble in the back wheel. The front wheel was so bad that the brakes had been loosened so that they wouldn't rub as the wobble came around. So he had no front brakes but the rear brakes were ok. Since the ride is so flat, this wasn't a problem anyway. He probably could have done without any brakes and just drug his feet on the ground to stop at the rest stops.
It was very warm in the morning when we picked Russell up at home, and it got up to 100 degrees by the end of the ride. This is not normal for Houston and made us very careful about hydration. This turned out to be a problem because the ride organizers didn't have enough water stations at the rest stops and the lines were very long, longer than the lines for the porta-cans. This problem was aggravated because the first rest stop at 10 miles was beside one of the "three hills" on the ride, (which were really only 3 overpasses over roads). The problem was that they didn't put signs out so we could take the exit to get to them. We saw them from the top of the overpass! And there was practically nobody there, and nobody was willing to backtrack off the access road to go back. This meant that the second rest stop had very long lines to both the porta-cans and the water.
The ride is unusual in that it's on a Sunday starting at 7am from the high school stadium in Katy. Just like last year, we drove to the exit off of I-10 and the traffic was backed up onto the freeway for the bike ride! So we passed it and took the next exit and followed an SUV through town and to the High school. They didn't know where they were going, and we didn't either, but it didn't matter, it was easy to find and we parked in the exact same spot on the grass that we parked on last year!
We saw hot air balloons taking off and flying near the 1st rest stop that made a beautiful backdrop for the ride. It was also a little overcast at the beginning and that was nice. Anne and I got into our grooves riding and helped Russell as he biked along. Anne took the front and I the back as Russell rode between us. He practiced drafting with us for a while and picked up a pace line of passing bikers to try it out for real. He really enjoyed being in the pace line. Russell started counting the road kill to help pass the time. I think he counted 15 dead things, and shouted "photo op!" at each one. But we didn't. He also wanted to stop and get a picture of a longhorn, with him standing beside it, but we decided that wouldn't be good.
Russell's front wheel was a real problem, so we went hunting for bike support, and found this teenager from a local bike shop. He took Russell's front wheel off and straightened it right out! He then adjusted his front brakes. He did such a good job that we decided that we'd hunt down another support person at the next stop and see if they could work a little on his back wheel, which also had a little wobble, but not near as bad as the front wheel. No go. We didn't find another support team at any of the rest stops. We also didn't find the shop that sold us the seat last year. Russell was _so_lucky_ last year to find a bike shop van with seats for sale! I don't think he realizes how lucky he was, or else he brings his luck with him!
After the ride we dropped Russell off at home and crashed in our room. The best snooze to be had is after a hard, 5-hours of exercising. I had a hard time waking up, but managed it to head back to Steve and Trina's so we could go over to Tom and Joyce's new apartment. Their apartment is so nice, a new complex, 10 foot ceilings, big rooms, a covered patio. Compared with the 1-room garage they had been living in for the past 2 years it must have seemed like a castle. We talked and played for a while then headed over to Luby's for dinner (my favorite), then back to our room.
On our way over to Trina and Steve's we passed through a massive thunderstorm. The temperature was 100 degrees after the ride, and still 100 degrees as we approached Trina and Steve's house. The wind was _really_blowing_ as we turned onto their driveway, the trees were bending in the wind, the pine cones were dropping, and it was raining pine needles. I've never seen anything like it! The pine needles went _everywhere_ and got stuck in every crack in the car and the bicycles. The temperature dropped from 100 degrees to 75 degrees just as the rain hit. The lightening cause the power to fluctuate, and we learned later that 60,000 lost their electricity, while 15,000 still didn't have any the next day. Brandi and I stood on the front porch and watched it rain, first the pine needles, then the rain, while tree branches and pine cones blew from the trees onto their front lawn. The windows in Trina and Steve's house were getting pelted with pine cones, whacking the windows _hard_,. It frightened Anne (and Odin, Trina's dog).
How many years has it been that I've used this helmet and not washed it? I've noticed recently, in the last couple of years, that it has white salt caked on it. Probably 6 years total of sweat and salt. I want you to know that it doesn't _stink_ (although I really don't know why) but the straps _are_ white in places and they are a bit stiff all the way around. So last weekend I filled an old plastic container (used for pool chlorine) with pool water, poored a little Woolite into it, and soaked my helmet in it. Mind you, a helmet made of foam tends to float, it won't if you put a brick in it, which is exactly what I did. I soaked it for a couple of hours, then threw it in the pool and rinsed it out. Then I did Anne's. It must have worked because I didn't notice it at all on the ride. No soap smell, no salt, no stickiness, no stiffness. Like it was brand new. Anne is worried that somehow I ruined it, made it less able to protect her delicate sensibilities when it bangs on the concrete next time, but I really can't tell by looking at it, or tapping it, or squeezing it. Hopefully not.