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IMG_5813There is an amazing engineering feature in Houston.  It is called the Buffalo Bijou.  This is a creek for most of its existence, meandering from downtown Houston due West and into the region of Katy.

Katy is my home town and the Buffalo Bijou is familiar to me and my fellow residents.  We appreciate this cavernous grassy canyon snaking through our community because it is a constant reminder that it is ready to take away the deluge of water that visits our part of Texas several times a year.

When there is no rain and the weather has no prediction of precipitation, I along with my fellow Texans overlook this massive amount of real estate.  Green grass lines the banks of this very large creek and overpasses allow traffic to flow unimpeded.  But, it is always ready.

Most of the year a small creek travels through this piece of land.  The slow-moving waters do not cut much of a trail through the dirt.  Most adults could easily leap over the creek without much effort.

I bicycle along this body of water and marvel at its great expanse.  For miles my bicycle wheels roll along the cement trail that lines one of its banks.  Several times I cross a bridge to keep my journey going.

But, then there are those storms, those Texas-sized storms that drench our home with lots of water.  Drains, and canals flow into the Buffalo Bijou.  It comes quickly and flash flood warnings dominate the airwaves to keep people away from flooded areas.

Torrents of water turn a normally calm creek bed into a raging river.  In a short period of time a calm quiet creek fills up that entire flood plain and muddy waters threaten to lap against the massive concrete bridges that gives people safe passage over the rising waters.  I paused for a picture and to marvel at what makes people feel so small and helpless.

When God turns on the spillway of the heavens and stalls the weather front to hold a pattern over Houston, we hunker down and hope for the best.  Neighbor encourages neighbor.  It is the way of the image of God seeping through the desperation of men who find themselves in need of a helping hand.

Good engineers designed a lot of Houston to weather such moments.  I am grateful to those very good planners who looked beyond the pleasant sunny days.  Their planning for these occasional horribly rainy days has given me peace.  I thank God for them!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3034The temperatures were cool.  My morning weather check made several decisions for me.  I would wear my riding jacket.  My fingered gloves were the choice of the day.

It was not cold enough for me to wear long pants.  My riding shorts would do fine.  Once I was out on the road and pumping my legs up to my cruising speed, enough body heat would keep me comfortable.

The rains from the last two days soaked up the ground.  Scattered puddles on the road made an agility ride essential.  Dodging pockets of water was a lot better on bicycle than splashing through them, causing a rooster tail behind me and giving myself a muddy shower and a skunk stripe down my back.

Yep, past experience can be seen all over my previous description.  It takes a longIMG_3038 time to wipe down my bicycle after a wet ride.  If I can avoid it I will.

Down our artery thoroughfare I peddled.  My destination was our Buffalo Bayou culvert.  After the large amount of rain in this past week, I was curious to see what kind of water run-off was represented in our flood control outlets.

Forward thinking engineers made sure that the flooding from thunder bursts in our Texas region would be channeled away from the homes of its residents.  The weather reports noted a warning for flash floods.  A lot of water had fallen over our city of Houston.

IMG_3040The bridge over the Buffalo Bayou spans a creek that is usually 8 or 10 feet across.  However, the expanse is very large.  This visit over the flood plain surprised me.

Now, a muddy river taking up nearly the entire width of the Bayou was steadily pushing tons of water to the East.  It was clear that the rains that fell did leave a massive impact in our region.  Our drought in Texas needed this turn around.  We were getting used to the “moderate drought” conditions signs.  Most likely someone will start taking those advisory signs down.

I watched as the massive amounts of water moved undeterred to the lowest point on the temporary river banks.  Fish, snakes, alligators and turtles were no doubt exploring new territory lazily allowing the flood waters take them on a new journey.

The parched land was getting a good long drink.  Our Creator was taking care of the land.  His personal touch was amazing to watch.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2130The morning was heating up.  I got too wrapped up in other stuff, so my workout started later than I wanted.  That is a tactical blunder in a Houston summer.

When I pushed off to begin my bicycle ride, I could already feel the temperatures heating up.  If I had left and hour earlier, it would have been perfect. Now, I wondered if I should even go at all.

Pressing on, I pedaled down the road to my turnaround destination.  It was 4.5 miles away.  That is far enough to give me a rigorous workout and get me back home in time for our Saturday activities.

At the farthest point on my journey I turned around and headed for home. The morning sun had climbed high in the Eastern sky just like the Creator had designed the heaven’s to function.  It was pouring down heat rays on anyone who was trying to finish off their morning workout.

Two miles from home I approached a red light.  While I was coasting to a stop another cyclist across the street was nearing the same intersection from my right.  Yes, he was eyeing me.  I could feel it.

Quickly he turned right on the sidewalk, heading in the same direction as me.  I was still waiting for the light to turn green.  He turned back to look and see how much separation he could get between us.  Competitive guys are so simple and telegraph their intentions.

The gap between evaporated just because the technology in my ride was superior to his.  He was riding a mountain bike, big tires, heavy frame and rugged components.  The sidewalk was his path. That is where slower riders should be.

I marked his speed by matching his progress: 12 mph.  He turned his head half way to see where I was behind him.  Next, he shifted his gears, trying to find a way to pick up speed.  There was nothing left to pour into his engine.

That is when I shifted.  From 12 mph my carbon fiber Fuji accelerated to 14 mph. Again I shifted and like the wind I passed the would-be challenger.

My fingers deftly shifted once more.  The onboard bicycle computer now leaped to 16 mph.  My engine was pouring in the energy and sailing down the road.  One final shift and my faithful steed and I were cruising away at 18.5 mph.  No, I did not bother to look and see where my competitor was.  My victory shower was refreshing, invigorating and satisfying.

IMG_2126There are fascinating things to see while wheeling my way around Harris County.  There is no shortage of visions to make the ride interesting.   Wildlife is always a treat.

My eyes ripped from the trail.  Over to my right just a dozen feet off the trail was the unmistakable shape of a turtle shell.  It was alive and lumbering away from any human encounters.  He was in for a gentle one.

I dismounted my bicycle and parked it against a tree.  My trusty I-phone was handy and I prepared it to snap a photo.  There is something amazing about these slow-moving amphibians.  Their shape and color give them some camouflage but not enough when they are outside of the water.

He must have felt me coming.  This character did not know if I was a threat so he lowered his shell to the ground and IMG_2128retracted his feet.  His head sank into the shell too.  Nothing but God’s designed armor was left for this humanoid threat.

My I-phone preserved several shots in its digital memory.  The smile on my countenance was long-lasting.   It was just a matter of moments that I had looked away to review my photos.  When I looked up the terrapin was gone.  Scanning the landscape, this “slow” guy had managed to move away over 30 feet.  What a mover this guy is.

At the turn around point of my ride was a sight hidden behind a hedge of bushes and trees.  Locked behind a large gate and barbed wire were several structures that looked like an old western town.  There was a wooden clap board church, a general store and and two homes.  It was a historically preserved town of Barker.

IMG_2129In its heyday during the Railroad’s servicing of the cattle ranches, this was a bustling little town of over 80 people.  These fine folks of Americana actually had two churches.  No doubt one was the church that people went to for worship.  The other building was the church that they used to go to.

It was time to go home.  There were a lot of miles on the return trip.  The heat was beginning to suck out my final ounces of energy.  It was time for a rest.

On a park bench I let my muscles rest.  I was surrounded by the woods of the George H. Bush Bike and Hike Park trail.  It was scenic, beautiful and relaxing.  Time to soak it all in and revive my spirit.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1958 - CopyDutifully I have told the stories of our new home to our family who live in the West.  They think that I am exaggerating.  Of course I send pictures to verify my yarns.

Still they shake their heads.  I can not see them shake but somehow with family you can always feel the gyrations.  Decades of experience gives you an extra sense with relatives, right?  Without hearing, we have learned to know.

To help the belief system I post pictures for them to examine.  Still, doubt is a very strong human reaction.  Personal experience can overcome the swells of doubt in the minds of others.

My sister and her husband were prime applicants to our new world of Texas living.  They are world travelers but that weird idea that her brother lives with alligators in his neighborhood is a little far-fetched.  This would take some personal experience for them.

All of us like bicycle riding.  That made it an easy option for them on their road trip to the South.  Once they were settled into our home, we made plans for a bicycle road trip.

That Friday was a crisp beautiful day.  We did a spot check on our bicycles and found them all roadworthy.  The pavement in our neighborhood invited our peddle machines to roll freely.

A few miles into our ride I led our trio of cyclers on to the Buffalo Bayou trail.  It is scenic and free of motorized vehicles. Birds of all different kinds landed near the water’s edge to fish for their morning breakfast.  These cranes, egrets and black birds were entertaining.

We paused at a viewpoint platform and enjoyed the water in a pond.  It had terrapins, bass and frogs to entertain us.  Nothing very large dominated the view.

Along a lengthy stretch of the paved trail a sign was posted.  I had seen it many times on my own.  Now, it was time for a “photo-op”.

My sister and brother-in-law came rolling into view.  I waved them down.  Curiously, they looked a bit bewildered. That is when I pointed out the sign.  It’s time for a picture!

They parked their bicycles and positioned themselves by the sign.  It was a great proof of the clash between the West and the South.  Now, they have biked the terrain.  They have seen the habitat.  Finally, they have seen the sign that bears witness to the roaming of these reptiles in my neighborhood.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1696My departure time for work was hours away.  I gathered my gumption and headed off on my bicycle to hunt for alligators.  My only weapon was my I-phone camera.

I have heard stories of these reptiles making visits in our neighborhood.  One family was startled when a five foot gator used their doggy door and relaxed on their kitchen floor.   I was glad that we don’t have a pet entrance.  My neighbor laughed and assured me that we would have to live a lot closer to the waterways to experience a story like that.

Still, I wondered where these creatures lived when they weren’t invading the domiciles of us average Homo sapiens. IMG_1699 That’s the curiosity that got my trip on two wheels humming.  Maybe the morning sun would  bring these beasts out into the open and I could witness one living in neighborhood pond.

South Peek is a pleasant road for an easy ride.  Two and a half miles into my ride I spied my turn-off up ahead.  A pedestrian walkway was zebra striped on the asphalt with bright yellow pedestrian signs accompanied with flashing lights.  I turned on to the pathway that was part of the Buffalo Bayou Trail.

It wasn’t long until I turned again.  Within a hundred yards from S. Peek Rd a sign on the Trail pointed to an Observation Deck.  I followed the pathway to a wooden deck built over a pond.

IMG_1694Before a I went further I looked carefully all around the deck.  Nothing seemed suspicious.  I rolled my bike on the platform and saw the warning sign.

Officials have posted a warning.  Feeding or enticing the alligators was a Class “C” Misdemeanor.  It could be punishable by a fine up to $500.  Naturally, I comply to the laws that govern our land.

I was not interested in breaking the law.  Instead, I simply wanted to see an alligator in our neighborhood.  Carefully and quietly I peered into the waters surrounding the deck.  Nothing.IMG_1702

I walked over to the other side and again scanned the waters and the edges but there were no reptiles to be seen.  On a log, however, there was a large terrapin.  He was sunning himself and holding perfectly still but he was obvious.

No alligators but the sign still is rather exciting to have in the neighborhood.  It certainly captures my attention.  Maybe some day it will come true.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1650Bicyclists know that the first 20 mile ride is the portal into the world of distance riding.  Road bikes eat up miles like asphalt is going out of style.  These are the pedal power pumpers with light weight bikes, sleek clothes, stream line helmets, padded gloves, slick sun shades and matching shoes.

They move with ease through automobile traffic.  Deftly, they dodge cars, trucks and buses en route to their chosen destination.  Their power strokes from their spinning legs look like a windmill.

In my season of life I am not in their league.  But, it is a great activity.  I have been told that bikers look at the rite of passage on road riding and universally accept this 20 mile ride as a first step.

Before I left our home I made all of the fine adjustments on my mount.  I wiped my Fuji down so that it looked good.  Hey, if my workout was going to be historic, I might as well look good while doing it.

Then, I pumped up both tires to the optimum 110 psi.  Brakes were in good order.  In my seat pack, I had spare inner IMG_1663tubes, tire changing tools and a patch kit.

It was a 3.2 mile ride to the trail head of the walk and bike path located in the George H. Bush Park.  Once I entered the park, I felt the relaxation sweep over me. There was no traffic to threaten my safety.

Now, the only surroundings were trees, shrubbery and acres of grass.  Deafening sounds of vehicles were gone and the songs of birds, whistling of the wind and the simple sound of my tires rolling across the asphalt trail were the peaceful reverberations of the morning.  I was going to enjoy this ride.

Woods engulfed me as the trail wound through a collection of trees.  Ahead the terrain turned into marshlands.  A boardwalk had been built and elevated all travelers above the wet grounds below.

IMG_1666A stream muddy from the runoff from yesterday’s rains turned this slow body of water into chocolate milk.  Resting in the middle was a large Blue Heron, stealthily hunting for its breakfast.  Egrets were trying to copy this master of bill fishing.

Miles melted behind me.  I was only guessing how far I had ridden.  Then, a map on a board measured distances in the park.  Quickly, I added up distances and realized that I could actually complete a 20 mile ride.  I did.  It was great.  I have passed through the portal of long riders.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

My garage door raised at the push of a button.  The morning of a new day poured in and bathed me with the promise of a great workout.  I love the morning!

I grabbed my bicycle and carried it on to my drive way.  After closing my garage door, I cinched up my riding gloves and buckled my helmet.  With ease I pushed off and mounted my machine breathing in the fresh morning air.

Houston’s heat had not yet claimed the day.  It would not roast the earth here in Texas for a few more hours.  Nor would the humidity climb the ladder until late in the morning.  For now the weather is everything Houston love about living here.

My newness to the area meant that my peddling would lead me from one adventure to the next.  Every place was new to me and a surprise.   Today my route would take me down some of my neighborhood roads that I mentally noted while driving through my new home territory.

The sun was dancing through the mature trees in our neighborhood as I pedaled down the street.  Sprinklers were spraying their last dousing of water over lush lawns.  Birds were busily chirping for their flocks to come join a discover of new berries, seeds or gnat balls.

On a whim I turned right.  A path led off the beaten track along a large long culvert.  There is school child coming in the opposite direction.

She is bearing a backpack, smiling at the new day with a mind filled with school moments.  I paused at the intersection to let her pass.  She with her Southern upbringing, nodded with polite acknowledgment.  That’s when I did a double-take at a sign just off to my right.

Who stops to read a sign while on a workout ride?  We don’t have time to break stride, especially when the sign has lots of words on it.  Surely, drivers would not have the time to read the blurry print while racing by at 40 mph.

But, I read the sign again pausing on a couple of particular words.  Was this a joke?  Could someone have made a geographical error?

But, that little girl come from that direction without any problems.  Hmmm… maybe she is from a long line of alligator hunters.  Whoa, it was time to turn around and choose a different path to finish my morning ride.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

The sun makes the day appear just before 7AM during this time of year.  I can feel my Texan corpuscles adjusting my body clock with learned motivations.  If I wait too long it will be too hot to schedule my outdoor ride for the day.

Bouncing out of bed is easy.  I put on my riding shoes, grab my cellphone and climb aboard my ride.  My Fuji CCR is my bicycle of choice.

It’s a road bike and hungers for the ribbons of asphalt to pass under its wheels.  Rolling off of my driveway, I slip my push-off foot into the pedal cage and began the countless revolutions that will take me through our beautiful neighborhood.  Long shadows of the dawn are splendid picturesque highlights of the morning vistas.  I love a morning ride in our Texas neighborhood. 

The boulevard that will be my track for the day is not very busy.  Cars easily can pass me safely or take the inside lane.  Their 35 mph limit keeps the flow of traffic moving along without much sluggishness due to slower moving man-powered machines.

Down the middle of the street is a lush grass-covered median.  Our neighborhood maintenance crew keeps it mowed and looking sharp.  Just as well-maintained are the trees that are pruned and growing with enthusiasm.

Sunrays splash through the tree limbs.  Designers artistically curve the road to give the ride character and panache.  Bicyclers love this kind of environment to be featured on any of their rides.

Half way into my journey, I juice up my pace.  Cardio vascular goals dance through my mind.  My lungs are starting to sound like past pumping pistons in a high performance car.

Then, a lady rider on a clunker of bicycle passes me with ease.  She is pushing her pedals leaving me with the distinct message that she is faster than me.  I smile and let her enjoy her moment.

She turns off to her destination.  I still have miles to go.  My pace is perfect for my purposes.

Ahead I see one of our neighborhood ponds glistening in the morning sun.  An egret, snowy white is standing in the shallow water, hunting for its breakfast.  It tenses when it suddenly realizes that I have surprised its stealthy morning search but relaxes as I slip by quietly.

I drive this road often in a gas-powered vehicle.  But, I miss so many of the details at that speed.  Here, I take it all in and feel the health of a good work out adding more time to live life on this created earth.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Quickly I checked the weather report.  I read a positive forecast.  My hope for a weather review includes no precipitation and moderate temperatures, good bicycling weather.

I turned off my phone.  It was time to load up my rig and head out for a morning ride.  Once I finished, I would feel free to tackle the rest of my day.

The weather prediction was precise.  It was partly sunny outside and I could tell that the temperatures were moderate.  But, there was one mistake that I had made.

By the time I parked my rig and stepped outside to unload my bicycle, I realized that I was in for a challenge.  The sun was shining and there was no precipitation.  But, the wind was whipping wildly over the coastal road that I ride.

The clouds were racing overhead.  Even the grass was leaning over as the wind whipped over the coastal road where I like to ride.  Rats, it would be a tough ride.

I pushed off to mount my two-wheeled machine.  A gust of wind blasted me right at that moment.  But, my cat-like super-hero reflexes kicked in and I instantly regained total control.

I turned North.  There was no mercy from the shifting thermal currents.  Quickly my fingers shifted my gears downward. 

Suspiciously I wondered if it was going to be tough ride.  Glancing to my side I saw a tree bending with the power of the wind.  Gusts pushed that conifer to strain against the strength of the steady blow.

My suspicions didn’t last long.  I no longer had to wonder.  The sustained winds were pushing against my progress.  It was going to be a very tough ride.

Even with lower gears I knew that I was expending more energy than usual.   Oxygen was being used up quickly.  My burning lungs were begging for more.

Sweat dripped into my eyes.  They cooled off with the evaporating effects of the dominating breeze.  My hope was in reaching my turn-around point and maybe the wind power-push my ride south.

Finally, I made the turn after miles of fighting for progress.  Coasting through my last corner, I was shocked.  The wind is as fickle as a chameleon.

Just as I headed back, the wind was again in my face.  This was a tough ride.  Did God the Creator just play a trick on me?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography