The easiest part of the Bike Around the Bay–riding the Bolivar Ferry.
A day after I finished the Bike Around the Bay, which benefited the Galveston Bay Foundation, I’m still tired. What a challenging ride this turned out to be. A two-day, 150-mile tour around Galveston Bay, the ride has a reputation for being a smaller, fun, less challenging alternative to the annual MS 150 Houston-to-Austin ride. The ride is also cheaper–$120, including the registration fee and minimum fundraising requirement. The coast hugging route is very flat, with the only climbing provided by various bridges, arched so that shipping can pass underneath. The scenery is varied and in some cases quite spectacular. The organizers did a fine job. In all, this is a very well-organized and well-supported ride. I thought the breakpoints were all sufficiently manned, and the supplies were generous. However, the weather was a different story.
After weeks of drought and miserable temperatures in the Houston-Galveston area, we awoke Saturday morning with threatening weather. It looked like we might get the first significant rain in months, and I was supposed to ride a bike 150 miles over the weekend. As it turned out, the riders were largely spared rain on the first day. There were a few sprinkles, but that was it. However, once I turned onto the second leg of the ride, roughly 20 miles surrounding the first and second breakpoints, there was a substantial headwind. Someone told my sister, Lisa, who also rode, that the headwind was 30 miles-per-hour, but I can’t verify that. Nevertheless, that headwind alone turned a relatively easy ride into a tough one. Most riders were slogging along in a much lower gear than normal.
At first, I attempted to stay with my sister, who was doing her first organized ride and hadn’t ridden in these sorts of winds before. I stopped and waited for her several times. Finally, she told me to go ahead, and I did. Once I turned right on Highway 124, the winds were blowing roughly perpendicular to our path and the going got easier. We crossed a bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway that took us onto High Island. After a right turn onto Highway 87, the nasty headwind turned into an awesome tailwind. This was a fun stretch of road to ride, with breakers slapping onto the beach on our left. After slogging into the wind at something like 12 or 13 mph, and riding a more normal 16 or 17 mph in the middle, I was breezing along at 18-23 mph with the tailwind. After the lunch break, my legs started to cramp, and I was slowed somewhat passing through Crystal Beach. Eventually, I made it to the ferry landing at Port Bolivar and rode the ferry across to Galveston Island. After disembarking, I rode the last five or six miles to the finish line on the Galveston Seawall at the Hilton at a good pace. I was pretty tired and slept 10 hours.
The next morning, the skies looked ominous over the ocean, and there were some cracks of thunder. The skies looked clearer inland, and I was hopeful. At dinner the previous evening and at the starting line for the second day, I heard mentions of “a tailwind all the way to Baytown.” So, it was a little bit of a shock to get out on the road after the second-day start and encounter yet another headwind–not quite as bad as the day before, but still annoying. At one turn, a policeman, who was looking at a smart phone, said, “It’s already raining in Houston.” Sometime after that, it started to rain on the riders. It rained most of the rest of the day. During some stretches the rain was hard and stinging, and there were gusts of wind that made my bike wobble. I knew that it must have been raining hard inland, because at many of the low bridges on the course, the water was only a few inches below the road surface. At one place, there was a road that grazed an inlet, and the water was lapping over some rocks onto the road surface. I was soaked, but I was making pretty good time. It rained so much that there was water sloshing around under the display of one of my two bike computers. I pulled my iPhone out of the supposedly waterproof pouch in which I was carrying it, and I realized it too was damp. One of the nice Red Cross volunteers at a rest stop gave me a latex glove to serve as an iPhone condom.
Unlike the first day, I didn’t stop at all of the breakpoints. Temperatures were much cooler, and I wanted to keep going. The second-day lunch stop was at Sylvan Beach park in LaPorte. I was pretty hungry and wolfed down a small piece of chicken and a veggie burger, which actually tasted pretty good. I was back on the road very quickly. I learned later that a gust of wind blew over the tents at the lunch stop after I had passed through, so I may have ridden faster than the bad weather was moving. Though I was wet, I was actually having a good time. However, I didn’t enjoy riding over the Fred Hartman Bridge. This is a tall bridge over the Houston Ship Channel, which I have ridden a few times before. I’m not a very good climber, nor am I good at descending. I made it up to the top okay, despite the wicked crosswinds. I tried to take the descent comparatively slowly, but the combination of applying my brakes and a rough road surface and the crosswind made my bike start to wobble. I thought I might have broken a spoke, but when I stopped to examine my wheels and drivetrain, everything looked okay. I guess the problem was lack of skill and nerve more than anything else. After the bridge, the ride was pretty uneventful. I did see a lot of folks fixing flat tires, which is common in wet conditions.
The finish line was at Royal Purple Raceway near Baytown, and I was as happy to ride across a finish line as I ever have been. It may be crazy, but I feel a great sense of accomplishment having ridden 75 miles in a monsoon. I’m also proud of my sister Lisa, who completed the whole ride. Many more experienced riders didn’t finish. One of the reasons I like cycling it that it gives you a chance to be alone with your thoughts. On days like the second day, you are absorbed in the second-to-second details of riding your bike so you don’t crash, so you tend to stay in the moment even more than usual. Pretty cool.