Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for April 2012

Four pools and a bike ride

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I marvel at a piece of grass, a clod of dirt, an old worn bike trail that I’ve traveled a million times in the 15 years I’ve biked in Kingwood. Each time the same trail is different. I put in about 30 miles this weekend in four different rides — mornings and afternoons. One of the most visual and easiest is a simple five-mile, 30-minute ride that takes me by four of Kingwood’s neighborhood pools.

Some days, I go through the motions but other days it’s an adventure and all new again.

Today, this piece of grass gleams with the morning dew on its tips; this clod has a paw print from a creature that I will never identify. This silly squirrel never stood so long in the middle of my path, staring me down. This raccoon mom and two babies waddle under the underpass, just like a family. A family of nutria swim on their backs like otters and wave at me from the overhead bridge.

The smell under a canopy of trees is so fresh and wonderful with honeysuckles, magnolias and wildflowers and reminds me of grape Kool-Aid and being a kid.

I’ve ridden this path in 105-degree weather and at freezing with several layers of clothes. I think I got the hottest in the cold weather.

My routes are often the same but the scenery is perpetually different. I plan my bike routes like the casual, safe biker I am. I seldom cross busy intersections, choosing instead to go by way of underpasses. Some whim strikes me as I leave the driveway, and I know immediately which direction I’m going that day. I’ve never hesitated for long.

It never gets old.

This redbird has black gold on the tips of his wings that glisten when he buzzes overhead. This blue heron I watched leave his nest and grow to be a teenager in this gully. This red-shoulder hawk paces me on many of my rides with a bird mocking him from tree to tree.

 All the creatures watch me be a creature, and I notice.

(Photos by Big Johnny.)


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

April 30, 2012 at 12:44 pm

The most famous bike ride from Houston to Austin

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It was just last weekend that my boys were riding in the MS 150, which is actually about 180 miles from Houston to Austin. I’ve been a part of the SAG team for most of the 10 years Big Johnny has been biking and fundraising to fight multiple sclerosis. This year, I was on standby only. I once trained for it but have yet to attempt it. My longest haul has been 62 miles in the Tour de Pink to fight breast cancer. I just don’t know that I could ride all day and for two days straight.

What my guys love is the overnight stay in LaGrange where all the bikers hobnob and tell biking stories. Otherwise, I think it can be a pretty dangerous adventure as 13,000 cyclists take to the streets with a goal of raising $17 million. It deserves a bit of respect from a casual, fun biker like me who could clog the streets for the sleeker models.

You never know. Maybe next year.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

April 28, 2012 at 6:01 pm

When the grind gets me down

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It’s been a tough couple of weeks in the life of this intrepid commuter, but I’ve continued to drive and bike through the days and nights. When the grind gets me down, the biking balances me out — mostly. As a writer by trade, I find the creative writing that is this blog is harder. I’ve used it up in the umpteen stories and proofs I’ve done for my paying job.

As I say in my autobiography, this is the only job I ever wanted and some days I’m very pleased to know I’ve made a living at it for my entire life. Other days, I feel like I’m just going through the motions for a paycheck.  As Malcolm Gladwell says in the book “Outliers,” poor artist types like me typically had patrons.

The truly interesting aspect of my skill is that my best stuff is also my easiest. The writing is less readable when it comes painfully and after staring at a blank sheet of paper, a computer screen or after the pressure of a deadline.

For instance, I did an interview a few weeks ago and then got sidetracked with deadline work, proofing, research, etc.  The  interview  got stale enough that I was dreading the writing. It got to be lunchtime one recent day and Vinny was almost out of gas. As a hardcore commuter, I spend a lot of lunches at gas stations near the med center. I’m listening to a book on tape — probably something trashy and crime-based — when I can’t listen any more. The lead for this story pops into my head and I can’t get a sheet of paper fast enough. The rest of the story springs fully formed from my head like Athena from  Zeus. Done and done.  Thank heavens!

I remember  a ghost writing adventure for a heart surgeon that I was dreading. After all, I’m not a doctor much less a heart surgeon. In this case, the story attacked me on a bike ride. Luckily my Sansa has a record mode or I would have been looking for sidewalk trash for my  notes. In the end, the doc loved it, changed nary a word and proclaimed it good enough for his signature.  Whew!

Maybe soon my brain will get back into blog mode. After all, the MS 150 was last weekend. The biggest bike ride in my neck of the woods so your commuter must chronicle it.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

April 25, 2012 at 7:13 pm

A mystical passenger

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I drove back to the Big City Sunday from my hometown on the bayou with my beloved dead sister in the seat beside me. She rides with me often, but today I am literal. Her wonderful kids, who are more like my siblings because my sister was 16 years older than me, have allowed me a share of her earthly remains. I got a cup and a quarter of Ann in a beautiful sparkling urn. It was selected by my sweet niece Pam after five years of angst. Ann is buckled in tightly in the seatbelt beside me with an ice chest of Dr Peppers in the floorboard and a half bag of Cheetos in the seat.

How many movie plots begin or end like this? Funny, sad or poignant. I’ve always said that truth is better than most fiction.

In the weeks, even days, before her death, she was as full of life as she had always been. She was always a vital person — energetic, forceful. She had an opinion on everything; all you had to do was ask her. I hear her throaty cigarette voice beside me as we drive first to Oak Bluff Cemetery where our parents are buried just down the sidewalk from Tex Ritter and then down the long, swampy road from Port Neches to home. The Nome-Neches highway is nothing now but a one-lane buffer between the cars and the bayous. Swamp gas and fireflies make my imagination fly into the supernatural past.

Ann was very much a woman of her times. Keeping up with what was new; always improving her mind; reading something on the Best Seller list.

In the 1950s she was a bobbysoxer with rolled up jeans and tennis shoes.

In the 60s and 70s, she was a bit of a hippie chick, certainly a barefoot peacenik — something she still loved today. Peace. Not war.

In the 80s and 90s she was a single mother and working woman — changing her life completely. Standing up for what she believed in — and what she believed in was Ann. That she was a person who could and should make it on her own.

In the last decade, she entered the computer age — wholeheartedly embracing email and the internet and, of course, cable. If she were still around today, she would be a blogger.

I am reminded of how much I learned about life during my vigil before her death. When she first had her lung cancer surgery, we set up baby monitors in her room and mine. She’d call for me at night and I’d crawl into bed with her. She would want me to tell her long elaborate stories to help her get back to sleep. We would laugh and giggle like girls again. Then, she’d fall asleep and I’d go back down the hall where I’d wait for the next call. I never slept. Even if the worry subsided, the smoke from her three-pack-a-day habit never did.

Within a year she had a stroke from which she would never recover and never speak again.  I again sat vigil with her for the three weeks that it took for her body to die. As I watched her body fade, I kept reminding myself of her eternal energy. She was a beautiful woman who loved being a beautiful woman. She would love this very feminine urn with its cut glass cross and mirror shard genie bottom. She would love the ride beside me for another adventure and another long talk.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

April 17, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Debris at Aldine Mail Road

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Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

April 12, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Debris at Aldine Mail Road

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A truckload of Madonnas may not be so holy for the car behind.

That’s the last kind of sign I like to see on my commute. My imagination runs wild at such a warning. I’ve seen all manner of debris in my various commuting lifetimes and that warning hardly covers it. I’ve had boats pull up beside me with no visible means of road transportation. Heck, I’ve been in the car pulling a boat when my own boat pulled up beside me. I’ve seen a ladder fall off a fire truck and drape across most lanes on a Houston freeway. I’ve had a flying sheet of something come at me, looking like it would shear off the top of my car – not to mention my head. It wrapped completely across my windshield for a few seconds, eventually flying off and luckily made of softer material than it appeared.  I’ve had rocks and concrete break my windshield repeatedly. That is, of course, until I got windshield insurance and that stopped happening entirely.

I am a careful and observant commuter. I will not allow myself to be trapped behind any vehicle carrying any type of furniture, repair supplies or questionable material. In my mind, there’s always a chance I will be dodging what you just bumped out of your car. Perhaps the most unusual cargo I’ve seen on the highways is a pickup truck full of bathtub Madonnas (see photo). But really, can I say that? I’m sure there have been plenty more odd products, projects and projectiles on the streets every day.

One of my first experiences with flying debris was literally that — a flying tire, from out of no where. It came down on the highway in front of me in the big city of Port Arthur, bounced hard and high and came down again only this time landing with all its force on the front end of my Mazda. (A tragic car of the times; bought specifically to pull that boat that would soon pull up beside me.) Splat, whoosh. The radiator was flattened and my day was done.

 Debris at Aldine Mail Road? I didn’t see it. I slowed down for it along with the other 100 or so cars in my visible commute this morning. But we survived to commute another day.

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April 12, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Bike ride to El Paso

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Of course, I didn’t bike the 750 miles or so it would take to get from Houston to El Paso. Instead, I took this pretty short bike route that is my code name for a part of town that is not so much the Livable Forest, as much of Kingwood is known to be. The homes and landscaping are like another part of the country and remind me of my girlhood trips to El Paso to visit my oldest brother. So, when I tell the family I’m riding to El Paso, they know exactly where I mean and no longer fall out of their chairs laughing at me.

We have a few such code names for the bike routes around Kingwood. One is called four pools, and it’s just about a five-mile route that is edged by four neighborhood swimming pools. Ghost crossing is a favorite spot and is a story for another blog. I bike to two different lakes, libraries and over Lake Houston Bridge.

El Paso is a new neighborhood with very few trees and an excellent, long oval track through the homes where I see a lot of other serious bikers. They have their heads down and are logging several miles on the road and off the beaten path from most of the neighborhood traffic. I can get up my average speed to around 15 mph when I usually don’t count on much more than 10 or 12 mph because I usually take the winding traffic-y greenbelts. 

This is also the area where I like to bike when I want to ride at sunrise or sunset or when I want to see more of the night sky and if I’m going to ride late enough in the evening to log a nice ride but not be worried about cars. As a matter of fact, this flatter, treeless part of Kingwood is exactly where Big Johnny and I took our Celestron telescope back in 1986 to see the 76-year passing of Halley’s Comet. It was a once in a lifetime event for us, but my daughter will have a second chance when she’s about 80 years old.

I’m always reminded a bit of the scene from ET, the movie. I feel like I can lift off at any minute and ride my way into the sky and to the moon. These photos by Big Johnny are fresh as the morning dew and make me want to go back again for another couple of loops around the neighborhood. Maybe at sunset this time.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

April 10, 2012 at 4:41 pm