Day 40 and 41 – Houston and the End of the Ride

FM 1774

FM 1774 heading towards Houston. This almost looks like the Northeast here! Click on any image to enlarge.

3 May 2011 (posted the next day—from the Hobby Airport in Houston). The ride yesterday from Navasota to Houston was physically pretty easy. While I covered 72 miles, I had a nice tailbreeze out of the north most of the day and—more significantly—the weather turned, so the humidity was much lower. There were threatening clouds (locals might refer to these as “teasing” clouds), but no rain.

What was hard about today’s ride was the level of concentration required relative to traffic. I was off the Adventure Cycling route and making it up as I made my way toward Houston. I took 105 east for about 15 or 20 miles, then turned south on FM 1994 (FM for “Farm to Market—which is kind-of cool). Route 105 had a good shoulder, but quite a bit of fast traffic; 1774 had somewhat less traffic, but no shoulder.

Magnolia Smokehouse

I had a nice lunch and got some good advice at the Magnolia Smokehouse.

After perhaps 15 miles on 1774, the road becomes Texas 249, which is horrible for biking. Just before getting onto 249, I stopped in Magnolia for a barbeque sandwich and a place with nice outdoor, semi-enclosed seating. There I asked two rescue vehicle personnel who were having lunch about Route 249 (figuring if anyone would know about risks, it could be the folks who clean up the accidents!). They advised me to keep off 249, especially the first part, and gave me a slight detour to do so; that worked very well. I was surprised to see a sign for Barley Pfeiffer Architecture on a property in Pinehurst—this seems pretty far from Austin (but maybe my sense of distance is distorted!).

Barley & Pfeiffer sign in Pinehurst

A sign for Barley & Pfeiffer Architecture in Pinehurst--seemed like a long way from Austin.

Once I was on 249, though, it seemed to get worse and worse as I approached Houston. I suppose it gat a little better once there was a three-lane frontage road on either side of the freeway, but it was still lousy for bikes—curbs rather than a shoulder!

Route 249

Route 249 just south of Route 8, where it is no longer limited-access freeway with frontage roads. Not the greatest biking!

I followed directions LaVerne Williams had given to me to get off 249 once inside of Route 8 (Beltway) and make my way to a bike path. The streets I was on for about eight miles seemed almost as bad as 249, though the traffic wasn’t going as fast. But it was such a relief to finally get on the bike trail and spend my last six or seven miles free of vehicles and road noise. The first part of the trail wasn’t even completed yet—I had to watch out for nails, and I’m sure I annoyed a few construction workers!

New section of bike trail

A new section of bike pathway--due to open in a few weeks. There's a great bike trail network in Houston--at least the sections I traveled.

Houston's Bike Pathway

I biked along the White Oak Bayou Trail for six or seven miles, including a new section that's nearly completed.

Speaking of traffic, I think the part of this 1,900-mile ride that I will most look forward to leaving behind has been the vehicle noise. Sometimes it’s the engines—those throaty V-8 pick-ups and Harleys—but more often it’s the noise of the rubber on the pavement. I think it’s partly about the road surfaces in Texas; they’re very noisy. And there are so many “dualies”—dual-rear-wheel pick-ups that are particularly loud. I’ll be so glad to get on Vermont’s back roads again!

LaVerne had found me a nice place to stay—at David and Harriet Wallin’s house in The Heights. After I showered, LaVerne picked me up and we went out to a great Vietnamese restaurant in the neighborhood. It’s been a long time since I’ve had Vietnamese food. I love it!

The bad news was the phone call I got just as we left the restaurant. In the morning I had spent a couple hours—with Jerelyn’s help—figuring out how to get back home. We figured out a great option on Amtrak: one train to Chicago (starting with a bus leg) and another to Albany. I could bring my bike for just $20 or so, and they provide a shipping box for it. The train ride would provide a chance to decompress and reflect on the past six weeks

The call was from Amtrak—a robo-call—letting me know that Train 22 to Chicago had been cancelled. “We apologize for any inconvenience this might cause; there is no alternate service available. Please call as soon as possible.” I called when I got back to the Wallin’s. Part of the route is flooded and train service has been cancelled. There was nothing they could do.

So began a many-hour odyssey last night and most of today to figure out an alternative. It was a nightmare! One option was to get on a 5:00 a.m. train today to New Orleans and then get a train to New York City. I could have gotten to Albany that way, but the NYC connection wasn’t going to be long enough to transfer the bike, apparently. And I had committed to a function tonight with Houston-area green building folks. Plus, there wouldn’t have been an easy way to get to the Amtrak station in time to box the bike—if the office was even open at that hour. Unfortunately, that train (#2) only runs a couple times per week; the next is on Friday, the 6th—and as pleasant as Houston is, I was ready to head home sooner.

I looked into a bus (two days stopping in every town between here and there), a rental car to New Orleans and then one of the daily trains north, and flying. Flying it is. But there was the bike to deal with. After bike shops here finally opened up at 11 am, I spoke with several. They don’t handle the whole process; you have to deal directly with UPS. That meant going online (had to find an Internet café with WiFi that worked) and spending an hour setting up an account only to find that the shipping cost was going to be nearly $150; the bike shop said it should be about $60. I’d also be paying the bike shop to box the bike.

Plan B: getting the bike boxed up and taking it on the plane. That’s what I’m now trying to do. The Blue Line Bike Lab, about three miles from here, is boxing it up, and LaVerne should be over shortly so that we can pick it up. LaVerne (my savior) will also give me a ride to the airport in the morning—where I hope all goes smoothly! And all this in his Mini Cooper!

I was so looking forward to ending this trip on a long Amtrak ride—to decompress and think back over the past six weeks. But you can’t do what you can’t do!

Party at Kathleen English's office

A great party Tuesday night at Kathleen English's architecture office--in a converted church. I'm glad I didn't miss this!

Party at English office

That's Steve Stelzer on the left--one of the organizers of this gathering, along with LaVerne and Steve's wife Kathleen English.

Alex and LaVerne

That's me and LaVerne. You might recognize my shirt; it's the only nice one I brought!

LaVerne Williams

My friend LaVerne Williams is really the father of the green building movement in Houston. He's a residential architect and champion of sustainability--in many ways.

Kathleen English's office

Upstairs at Kathleen's architecture office--where, as Arlo Guthrie said, "the pews used to been."

The last few of us lingered at Kathleen's office until after 10 pm. Great conversations. Neat people!

Despite the disappointment over the Amtrak cancellation, I was certainly able to enjoy the great gathering that LaVerne Williams, Steve Stelzer, and others organized Tuesday night. The gathering was held at Kathleen English’s architecture office–in a beautifully converted church. I think there were 15 or 20 people, with a few of us staying and chatting over beer, wine, and great food until after 10 pm. What a great way to end a long bike trip!

Big bike box in small car

Will this bike (in the box) really fit in that tiny car?

Bike in car

Yes--though we had to move the Mini Cooper seats as far forward as they would go. Amazing space for a small car! Thanks LaVerne!