Archive for September, 2009

The Circle of Life: Tour de Donut

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

So, say you have to get up gawdawful early to make it to a bicycle charity ride. Say also that your local drug pusher Starbucks doesn’t always open on time. Wouldn’t it be great if the charity ride served breakfast as well as lunch? And what if they served breakfast throughout the ride? Well, then you’d have something approximating the Tour de Donut.

There are two distance options: a 28 mile “race”, where you get time bonuses for the number of donuts consumed (5 minutes per!), and a 55 mile “ride” where there is no competitive eating inducement. Last year, 1,700 riders managed to consume approximately 550 dozen donuts, a little more than 4 per person on average. At that point, I think the 55 mile ride is almost mandatory. However, I could eat just over 20 donuts and probably “finish” the “race” before I started. My stomach is already turning at the thought!

As you might expect from the title, this is largely a family affair (no centuries, metric or imperial on offer), so if you are interested, register and let me know. Let’s hope that SBUX opens on time that day!

2009 Tour de Cure: I get cranky in the mornings

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Well, Saturday saw me getting up early again to head out for another ride. This week is the Tour de Cure, benefiting the American Diabetes Association. This is a single day ride with riders of varying ability levels, though, much like the Tour de Pink, they are taking on infrastructure similar to the MS150, as if they wanted to get to be a huge ride.

One of the really positive aspects of the ride was a staggered start. The century ride kicked off at 7am, the 64 mile ride at 8am and everyone else started at 9am. As a result, The century riders didn’t have to compete for space on the roadways with the faster riders on the “metric century” route (100km ~= 62 miles). Yes, much like last week, I chose the 100 mile route (really 95 miles, but I get ahead of myself). When will I learn.

2009 Tour de Cure

The ride started at Champion Nissan, right next to Katy Mills Mall, and much like last week’s ride, I got off to a start just a hair late (about 5minutes). However, I was soon passing people to remove the dreaded “DAL” tag from my back. Actually, there were a lot of people still in the parking lot getting ready, so there was no way I was DAL. Out of the dealership, we immediately headed up-and-over an overpass over I-10 (Houston being so devoid of hills, we have to construct them to remind people what they look like), and then out into Katy and the Katy prairie.

After getting rained on last week and feeling my drivetrain getting gummed up with road grit, I had sent it off to the shop while I was in New York for a cleaning and some new bar tape (the stuff that gets wrapped around the handle bars — a casualty of my dalliance with Pinkness). While at the shop, I saw that a set of cranks were on super deep discount that I had been thinking about, so I bought them and had the shop convert my bike from a “triple” (three rings on the front gear set) to a “compact double” (two rings on the front gear set). The advantage of this is that it provides gear ratios better suited to my ability level (burgeoning intermediate cyclist), without as much potential for disaster as with a third chain ring.

After a brief pit stop at mile 6 for some stretching and a visit to the “necessary room” (mk2, portable, unisex variety), I headed for the open road. I really liked the new cranks and the feel of the cleaned up drive train. It was good to really turn over the pedals. Cranking them, even. And you thought the title was about Bill not getting coffee… I got my coffee. Oh, yes, I had my coffee.

Good deed for the day #1 happened at rest stop #2, about 17 miles into the ride. The people had to set-up the rest stop in a rush and had not realized that the sanitation company had stuffed the cardboard “waste barrels” into one of the “necessary rooms”. A woman was walking around collecting trash, and when I told her where the cardboard trash cans were, she was thrilled. Because I’m just that kind of guy.

Good deed #2 came about 60 miles into the route. Somewhere between Cat Spring and Bellville, I passed a woman who was riding at a pretty good clip (slower than I do, but not that much slower). I told her, as I am wont to do, “grab a wheel if you’d like.” She thanked me, but was clearly not okay about being 18″ behind my smelly rear-end, so I thought nothing of it. A bit further down the road, I stopped because one of my sensor magnets was contacting my wheel/cadence sensor, and the woman passed me and stopped. She said that she had lost her map and asked whether we were on the right course. I told her that we were and gave her an estimate of how far it was to the next turn. I offered that we could ride together if she wanted, but she was self-conscious about speed differentials.

I got ahead of her again once we pulled back onto the course, and pedaled along until the next rest stop. It was 11:30am, and I was famished. I ate  half of a banana at the three prior rest stops, but it was getting on towards official lunch time, so a PB&J sandwich was in the works. This, of course, necessitated more fluid so I was set for a more extended rest break. Meanwhile, this woman comes in and crosses over the railroad tracks that the rest stop is next to, and then she stops, looking confused. Then a train comes and she’s stuck on the other side. She then makes it back to the rest stop and offers up that she’d like to ride with me if that’s okay so that she doesn’t get lost. Fine by me. Cyclists are both safer and faster in a group. I tried to get a couple of other people at the rest stop to join in, but they weren’t having any of it. Too bad.

After “lunch”, we set off, and I tried to explain to Liz (that’s what we’ll call her, since apparently that’s what other people call her) the finer points of drafting. And by finer points, I mean the basics. She had apparently taken up distance cycling specifically for this ride, with her longest being an 80 mile ride about 10 days prior. I, being the grizzled veteran that I am from countless hours reading internet blogs and chat rooms, offered up to Liz the idea that miles 60 – 80 of a century are the “valley”: the part where you’ve gone a long way but still have a long way to go. My experience with my stitch and other issues from the prior week only confirmed this gem from the online community. I felt that she would do better if we rode together, but she was adamant that she not slow me down. And by adamant, I mean self-conscious.

Well, we can play it her way. I pegged my pace at about 15.5 – 16 mph, and hoped she’d hang on to my wheel, but a couple of small hills later, and she was more than a quarter mile back. I pulled over to the side, stretched a bit, drank a bit of water and waited. She finally came along and the enormity of her struggle was playing out clearly on her face. Time to talk her through the ride. So we rode. I’d call out when to expect hills, how big they were, where she should be in the prevailing wind, how long until the next turn and other miscellaneous things. Basically turning the unknown and demoralizing into known and manageable obstacles. Besides, normal people don’t think of talking to cows as “normal”. It seemed to work, since we made it through from mile 61 to mile 78 at a comfortable, but not blistering, pace. She introduced me to a few of her coworkers who were working the rest stop (the same rest stop as rest stop #2 since we were circling back on our route), and they insisted on taking my picture.

2009 Tour de Cure

After that, it was easy. It turned out the ride was only 95 miles long, when the map online claimed 98 (last minute route change?). We were among the last of the finishers, though after mile 78, we did pass people doing some of the shorter routes. We also picked up another guy who was on the century ride who had declined my offer of riding together at mile 61, but we stopped enough times to check maps (distinct lack of route markings — yuck!) that he mostly stayed within eyesight of us. One of the times we stopped, a guy asked us whether we had seen “XXX” (it was windy, I was tired, it sounded like a person’s name). Sorry, mister, but I can barely understand you, and I haven’t seen anything that looked lost that didn’t have a rider number on it!

At the finish line, Liz’s husband and son were there taking her picture. She cried. I congratulated her and them, and then headed off to try to get my full century by doing laps around Katy Mills Mall (a lap is approximately 3 miles in case you were curious, using the car dealership as start and stop). I did one lap around KMM, and got honked at enough times and got pounded by the wind enough that I decided to call off lap #2. Yet again, just short of truly ticking over triple digits. However, as Amy implied in my last attempt at a century, rounding is fine if your conscience lets you, so since I finished every mile of a ride billed as a century, and then added three of my own, I called it a day. I earned some chocolate milk!

Happy birthday Shawnacy!

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Chris’ wife Shawn turned 28 today. While she had classes at UH all day, we got together tonight to celebrate with dinner and conversation at Pronto Cucinino.* Happy birthday, Shawn!

Chris and family
Chris, Shawn, and Sierra

shy Izzy
Shy Izzy still needs an hour to warm up to eye contact

* For you Houstonians who know Mandola family Italian food, Pronto Cucinino offers the flavors you love from Vincent’s and Nino’s in a casual restaurant setting. Yummy!

Old friends in new places…

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

UTMBBack in March, I wrote that Chuck was appealing UTMB’s decision to terminate him after hurricane Ike. He was notified at the end of May that his appeal was denied. describes several of the hearing outcomes, including Chuck’s, in an article that got picked up by the Houston Press Hairballs blog. But the short of it is he was forced to retire August 31st.

Given the abrupt nature of the terminations, many of the dismissed tenured faculty are considering legal recourse. I’ve accompanied Chuck to meetings with two different attorneys – one with great expertise representing employers, and one with great contacts – but neither ideally suited to advising an employee. We really wanted a better perspective. The American Association of University Professors provided a list of local lawyers and when Chuck looked it over, he found a surprise: a long-ago friend of the family.

Before I was born, my parents were friends with Ralph “Rafe” Selfridge, a British computer scientist they knew at the University of Florida. I’m sad to say that he died last summer, but Rafe’s obituary brought back happy memories. I was little when we left Florida but I remember his quirky sense of humor and his craggy grin. I remember his tiny Sunbeam sports car and him scuba diving with my parents. Later, I remember him flying to visit us in his little blue airplane. He once took me flying over Galveston!

Jean and Rafe diving
Jean and Rafe diving in 1970

Chuck, Rafe, Chris in plane
Chuck and Chris with Rafe in his plane in New Haven in 1979

Robin and Chris
Robin and Chris at the controls

Rafe's plane
Rafe’s single-piston Cessna

John, Jean, Chuck
Rafe’s stepson John with Jean and Chuck some 30 years later

So it turns out that Rafe’s stepson John is an employment attorney in Dallas who has frequently represented university employees. And though they hadn’t visited since John’s wedding a few decades ago, he seemed delighted to make time for a meeting during a trip to Houston this week. I’m thrilled to say John has relevant experience and he offered us sage perspective. (You remember the scene in The Princess Bride when Vizzini describes getting involved in a land war in Asia as a ‘classic blunder’? Suing a public agency with a limitless defense fund and the state AG’s office for counsel is apparently similar…) I don’t know whether my Dad will decide to sue the University, but I’m pleased that he’s getting good, trustworthy advice. Thanks John!

2010 MS150: How’s this for springing forward?

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

So, yet again, a big “Thank You!” to everyone that helped me greatly exceed my 2009 MS150 fundraising goal. I’ve got small tokens of thanks for everyone who donated, but I’m trying to deliver those in-person. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, give me a bit more time. Or I can mail them. (Ben/Rebecca – How’s your December starting to shake-out?) That being said, another sign of the changing of the seasons is that I am starting to get e-mail for registering for next year’s MS150, just eight short months away(!).

What’s somewhat frightening, aside from the overeagerness of the ride organizers and having to start scheduling my “spring forward” calendar before we hit “fall back”, is the content of the “save the date” e-mail for pre-registration. Yes, they feel like they need to make us aware of which days will be available for registration:

If you miss the November 20 deadline and still want to participate in the 2010 BP MS 150, you may register during general registration on Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 11 a.m. or on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 11 a.m. General registration is first-come, first-served until the pre-determined number of registrations is complete. We anticipate these spots to go quickly, so please be ready at your computer at 11:00. Please visit the Frequently Asked Questions page on our website at for more information or contact us at

Since the 2009 MS150 “sold out” in seven hours, it looks like they are expecting the 2010 general registration to be as frenetic as a Beanie Baby auction at the Grand Ole Opry. If you are thinking about doing the 2010 MS150, mark your calendars! I’d love to have the company, and Bastrop State Park really is a great part of the ride (my own travails notwithstanding).

Adventures in Bill B. Sitting

Monday, September 14th, 2009

While the Fall Equinox may still be a few days away, yesterday marked the end of summer for me and cycling, and the beginning of the Fall riding season. For whatever reason (heat, humidity, bugs), Houston goes into a doldrum for organized cycling from early June until early September. After the Good Old Summertime Classic in Fayetteville back in June, there were approximately four charity rides in a three month span (I may have missed one or two). Conversely, between now and early November, I have the option to do at least one and possibly two rides per weekend. To be fair, the Mission to Mission ride in San Antonio on December 5th isn’t exactly “Houston Area”.

What’s somewhat funny to me about this is that our neighbors up in the Metroplex got even busier this summer, with August being about as busy for them as October is for us. Having spent a summer or two up in “Big D”, clearly they are not doing this because summer is a “pleasant” time to ride. Are they just more used to the heat than we are, or are we simply smarter down here near the coast? A question to ponder.

As I said, though, yesterday marked the beginning of the Fall cycling season with the running of the Tour de Pink out at Prairie View A&M University, about 45 miles outside of downtown Houston. This was a rather large ride raising money to provide mammograms for lower income people, a fairly worthy cause from what I could tell from the “brag sheet” they included in my ride packet. The ride offered plenty of support and distances ranging from casual rides (20 – 30 miles) to “hard core” (63, 80, 100 miles). Given the paucity of long distance rides during the summer, my main goal for my three week vacation was to try to ride back into shape so that I could complete a century ride this Fall, so I of course chose the 100 mile route.

As seems apparent from my bike computer, above, I did not quite make the full 100 miles. As the day progressed, the riders behind me dropped out until I was “dead ass last” (as my mother has been known to say) going into the break point around mile 65. You know that you are DAL when a guy on a motorcycle wearing a reflective vest pulls up next to you and asks you, “How are you feeling?”. Personally, I’d almost rather have a buzzard tap me on the shoulder since it would be more honest (“Excuse me, but we’re hungry. If it would not be too much of a bother, could you keel over in the nonce?” Of course, why Texas buzzards have British accents is more of an accident of evolution, but I digress…) At that point, I was a little saddle sore and we had been rained on for about six miles from Waller going south, but otherwise, I was feeling fine. Somehow, we were circumnavigating an ominously black cloud most of the morning, but had managed to miss the worst of it.

Unfortunately, I apparently ate or drank too much at that rest stop because I struggled with a monster stitch in my side for the entire next leg of the ride (13 miles from Brookshire to Monaville). I was also spiking my heart rate for no good reason, which was a little worrying (it should have been in the 135 – 140 range, but was in the 150 – 155 range for stretches). At mile 78, the three guys ahead of me decided to “SAG forward” to the next rest stop 10 miles ahead. Since I didn’t want to be a jerk and go from being a few minutes behind to being upwards of an hour behind, I agreed to go with them.

The good news is that the extended break allowed whatever was competing in my innards for blood flow to work itself out: my stitch went away and my heart rate returned to where it should have been given my speed and the terrain. At the next rest stop, we also caught up with the rest of the back of the pack. There were several people who were doing the 80 mile ride there and a few that I had passed earlier in the day on the 100 mile ride that I didn’t remember their passing me back (cheaters!). There’s comfort in numbers, so small groups started heading out towards the finish, 12 miles away.

In the car driving between rest stops, I had told myself that I’d “just make up” the missing distance by riding a few laps around the PVAMU campus. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Like a dehydrated horse smelling water, I kicked in the last few hundred yards to the finish and promptly headed for the car. My “sit bones” hurt, my feet hurt, and I had a sunburn of unknown severity. Since those final 12 miles took me the better part of an hour (though I did sneak in a couple of extra miles as a sop to my conscience), I was just ready to be done rather than riding for another 45 minutes or so. Apparently the ride organizers were ready to be done, as well, since they had taken down all of the post ride food and drink and were in the final stages of loading out the trucks to carry things back to storage.

I grabbed a quick shower in the gym at PVAMU (a welcome treat), and headed home. Fundamentally, I had ridden further than I had ever gone on a bike, but I really wish that I could have made a full 100 miles. The good news is that I have two opportunities next weekend to do it with the Tour de Cure and the Biking for Sight rides.

Adventias: Television pleasures and movies

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Like (too) many of us, Sarah used to watch television. The TV stayed off most of the day, but as afternoon became evening, she would tune in to the local PBS station for the BBC news followed by what she called “the sacred News Hour” (with Jim Lehrer).

That sounds like hyperbole, but as her dementia developed she became fixated on certain routines, and she rarely missed the News Hour. Despite recognizing that she was increasingly lonely, on a few occasions she actually said she “couldn’t” come out to dinner while the News Hour was on, though each time we convinced her that being social with family was more important than watching the news.

That’s the main reason that I deliberately did not bring a TV when we set up Sarah’s new apartment after the storm. The News Hour falls right in the middle of Belmont’s dinner time, and I could easily imagine Sarah choosing to watch TV instead of facing dinner in a room full of not-yet-known neighbors. I feared she would hide in her room. The second reason is that most TV content is challenging for someone with dementia to process, and I believe the TV would increasingly frustrate rather than entertain her.

That said, Sarah still enjoys compelling stories as much as the next person. So this afternoon I took Gran’mom to a theater to see Julie and Julia. It’s a delightful movie about finding your passion, loving your spouse, and blogging. It’s based on the lives of Julia Child, who authored Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961, and Julie Powell, who started a blog-cooking project in 2004 that became a book and now this movie. Sarah and I both enjoyed the movie very much, and we recommend it!

Julie & Julia

p.s. At home after dinner, Bill and I watched another cute girly movie starring Amy Adams called, Sunshine Cleaning, and I recommend it, too.

Easy dinner: spinach and grilled chicken salad

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Rachel posted a few easy weekday dinner ideas (and some ways to get kids to eat a variety of foods), so I thought I’d share one of ours: spinach salad with grilled chicken:

spinach salad

Over the weekend, we grilled ~2 pounds of chicken breast with salt and pepper. We had some at the time, but the rest keeps well in Tupperware for 4-5 days. We also toasted some pinenuts which keep well, too. With prewashed baby spinach in the fridge, and a can of artichoke hearts in the cupboard, dinner was just waiting to happen.

For dinner tonight, we just sliced a fresh red bell pepper, and assembled the rest. We dressed it with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette, to enjoy restaurant flavor in just 10 minutes. Easy!