Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Every Whatevers

In an effort to make the site a little easier to navigate, I've tagged each post with a category, then linked to those labels on the left hand side of the website. So now you can not only see what we've done and what we're working on, but you can easily click once to read all posts about that topic.


Every Super Neighborhood in Houston - Trip 6

Trip 6 sucked. Let me tell you why. It's a long story.

A quick look at the map will show you how much of a mess it was (I'll throw the pictures in the map later). It was supposed to be 36 miles. It ended up being 51.5 miles.

It started with both people I was going to ride with canceling (both had pretty good reasons), so I had to do the whole thing on my own. It also started with a dead cell phone that I had to charge up a little.

Unfortunately all this meant I needed to bring my somewhat-heavy tripod so I wouldn't get nothing but face pictures, like Trip 1, and my nice camera as a backup in case my cell phone dies. I personally think my face is pretty, but I got a couple complaints about the lack of variety of the pictures.

I decided not to trek down to the bike lane on Lyons and just take Quitman all the way to "take 3" of Northside Village. Quitman actually turned out having a lot of room on the sides for cycling, so I think I'll make it a normal route when I need to go out this way. When I turned on Elysian, it really felt like a poorer neighborhood (see below)

I wonder how they keep them from running away/getting hit by cars?

I turned the corner to get to Northshore Redevelopment Center and saw a lot of homeless-looking people with garbage bags. When I got to the NRC, one of them was singing or yelling or something in my direction, so I decided it would be best not to take the time to whip out my tripod and good camera, so I snapped this one quickly with my cell phone and finally had #51 Northside Village.

I thought it was ironic that this building was for lease...

I went back down to Quitman and zig-zagged through Fifth Ward (where I saw two more Fifth Ward signs I never saw before, so I continued kicking myself for missing this the first time). I crossed I-10 and went the wrong way on Market Street (I was supposed to cross further east). Luckily, I ran into this post office just before the edge of the Super Neighborhood and got #56 Denver Harbor / Port Houston.

Nothing really special here, just a post office

Here is where it went downhill. Up until this point I felt like I could ride forever. Then the nonmoving train happened. I waited at the tracks (while checking my map) for about 5 minutes, then decided to go up to the freeway because it looked like the feeder went under the tracks. When I got up there, I found that the feeder actually dead-ended at the tracks and that in order to go underneath the tracks, you had to get on and off the freeway.

I seriously considered doing that, but my better judgment advised me against it. I even considered throwing my bike between the cars and climbing over, but my better judgment advise me against that as well. I rode to where the feeder dead-ended and started looking for an alternate route, because the train was still 100% completely stopped. It seemed the only way around it was to drive alll the way down Wayside to Clinton. If I didn't need to hit Pleasantville, this wouldn't have been so bad. Just as I was about to head out, the train started moving! (Elapsed time about 20 minutes). I rode down to the original crossing, because that crossing would be clear sooner than the one I was at.

When I got to the crossing, the train stopped, again. This time the end was only two cars away, so I hopped off my bike and carried it around. Two other cyclists who were stuck there had the same idea. When I turned around to look at the train, I saw this weird sign on one of the cabs:

"Do Not Hump"

Apparently they have a train humping problem... Anyway, after that bit of pansy time, I was on my way to Pleasantville.

Pleasantville was a bit of an anomoly. I was riding along, completely surrounded by factories and warehouses, and then all of a sudden, I was in a really nice little 50s neighborhood, complete with a run/bike trail. I pulled out my trivia printout and found out that Pleasantville was just that... formed after WWII and maintined their identity as a neighborhood despite warehouses popping up everywhere. I went to Pleasantville Library and found it had a bad word tagged on it, so I went up half a block to the Pleasantville Elementary school to get #57 Pleasantville Area.

I have an eye on the tiger

After leaving Pleasantville, I was out on the East Loop in a very indusrial-looking area (again). When I hit I-610 I knew I missed something. I looked at my map and apparently this truck docking area was called "Industrial Way" on google maps (see below). It didn't look like a street to me, but it was better than riding on the feeder with no sidewalk, so I cut through it.

Industrial Way

It wasn't much further after when I turned on Mississippi, went under the freeway, and was in #59 Clinton Park / Tri-Community

The elementary school across the way was for lease...

After taking the Clinton Park photo, I went through the Tri-Community area up to Market Street. It was a really really weird layout for a neighborhood (take a look at the map while I explain this). There were 50-foot high levees on either side of the road, and the entire neighborhood was in some sort of weird levee-valley. There was one main road that went all the way through, then each side street was a dead end. The history page says the neighborhood was settled by black men to work at the Port of Houston, and is still predominantly black to this day. It also said that "Large holding ponds containing materials dredged from the Houston Ship Channel are located adjacent to the residential areas. The high earthen dikes surrounding the ponds are distinctive forms on this flat coastal plain. The wetlands created by these dikes offer open space that permanently buffers many residences." Interesting!

Ok, now comes the downhill slope part of my trip. I spent about 2 hours and 15-20 miles in detours just to get the Northshore neighborhood.

It all started when I trusted Google that the name of this park was North Shore park. When I got there, I found that it was called something completely different. I remember checking Google Street View and seeing a sign. While I couldn't make out the words on the sign, it looked like it could have been Northshore. I don't remember what it was called, but it started with an 'S.'

I figure since I'm in the area, I would give the bike path in Herman Brown Park a try, since I was pretty sure it went through to Maxey Road, so I could look for something else that says Northshore on it. While biking through the park, I called Pam and she gave me some info on the best place to find something that says Northshore on it. Turns out the park does not exit to Maxey, so I basically rode aroundin a circle and exited very close to where I entered.

I tried to get over to Maxey, but the roads kept pushing me towards the freeway, until I actually got to the freeway. Where the bayou went under the freeway, there was a bridge on the feeder with no sidewalk. So I had to walk my bike across the bridge, staying as close as I could to the edge, with cars zipping past me at 50-60mph. As soon as I crossed the bridge I took myself back into the neighborhoods and out to Maxey Road.

I took Woodforest out to Uvalde and saw a bus sign that said Northshore on it, so I took a picture as a last resort. I try not to take photos of road signs or bus signs because 1) it makes it too easy, and 2) I don't consider those to be in the super neighborhood, but rather going through the super neighborhood, if that makes sense. Still determined to get something that says Northshore on it, I rode down Uvalde.

Then I found it, at long last, #58 Northshore was complete with Northsore Marine, on the far eastern edge of the map.

This is a mix of really tired and estatic.

On the way back up to Uvalde, I saw Northshore Auto parts :-/ The sign was blocked by a tree the other way and I rode right past it.

Since Uvalde was a busy road with no sidewalk, I tried to take neighborhood roads, but it proved difficult and I ended up on Uvalde anyway. I took a left on Wallisville, picked up a headlight for our car at the auto parts store there, and then stopped for lunch.

The place I stopped for lunch was the highlight of my entire trip. It was a little trailer called "Tacos y Pollos 'El Ray'". You could order one of two items: a bifsteak taco (con y sin queso) or half a chicken. I got two tacos with cheese for $2.50 and they were the best tacos I have had in my life! It came with fajita beef, seasoned to a perfect spicyness, and montery jack cheese. Then you got to put onions and cilantro on it along with a home-made green sauce. And it was all on a hand-made tortilla. It was extremely yummy!

The next leg had even more problems, as there was heavy heavy construction at Wallisville and Lake Houston Parkway. It looked like they were building an overpass. They had all traffic go on a two-lane road with no shoulder, and I tried my best to ride along it, but cars were getting very close to me at 50 mph. I finally got off that part and got #54 Hunterwood.

They must have had high vacancy rate, they were advertising $100 first month and no deposit.

There were no construction workers around, so I took the beat-up closed road back to Wallisville. Other than a 2 foot drop halfway through that I had to step down, it wasn't that bad. By this point, however, I was feeling a little sunburned and very dehydrated. I picked up a gatorade from the conveinence store and continued down the horrible Wallisville sidewalks.

Next up was my horrible judgment call that cost me about 4 1/2 miles. The neighborhood was called El Dorado/Oates Prairie. I was a little skeptical about my scheduled stop at El Dorado Taco, because when I double checked the street view, it just looked like a gas station. I got to Wallisville and Oates and decided to ride up Oates to see if I could find any business with "Oates" on it. That was a big mistake. There was nothing but trucking companies along that road and not one of them was named after the street they were on. I continued alllll the way up to Hwy 90 then took Hwy 90 all the way back to the loop, then took Wallisville alllll the way back to where El Dorado Taco was supposed to be. And there it was... as part of the gas station. El Dorado Taco for #53 El Dorado / Oates Prairie.

You can see the look of self-loathing in my face right now.

So that was it! I got to go home! I was tired and thirsy so I bought another Gatorade and had some Gu for energy. I looked at my map and it looked like Wallisville turned into Libery, which turned into Quitman, which turned into White Oak near my house.

Turns out it doesn't turn into Liberty. I got to where it was supposed to, and it required going back riding up a massive train bridge, then turning around again to hit Liberty. I was too exhausted to ride up one of those hills, so I zig-zagged through neighborhoods until I was eventually forced onto the bike path on Lyons. Luckily, while on Lyons, I got to see where the proposed future site of St. Arnold's brewery was. I liked the fact that it's closer to me than the other one, and it's on a marked bike route.

Future site of St. Arnold's; it definitely needs a lot of work.

From there I took the bike route all the way home. I collapsed, drank a lot of water, and ate some food. At least now I know I can do a 50+ mile bike ride. Hopefully the 41 miler this weekend will feel like a walk in the park. I left at 7:20am and got back around 2:25pm. It was a very long day.

So now I'm at 36 out of 88 Super Neighborhoods. They are going to come fast and furious now.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Every Super Neighborhood in Houston - Trip 5

Ok, now that the excitement is over from Alabama, I can finally finish up my Trip 5 post from two weekends ago.

This trip was the best one we had ever had. Since we're doing the trips within some kind of close frequency, our endurance levels are definitely getting up there. At the end of this one, we even took a detour to try to pick up some missed neighborhoods because we had so much energy left.

Anyway, here is the route we took.

The day started out with a knock at the door. It was Drew. My alarm didn't go off. I apologized, rushed around and got ready, printed out maps, and we left about 20 minutes later.

We decided to remedy three mistakes we made on the last 30-miler. The first was the butt soreness. We both went out and bought $70 bike shorts to wear under our regular shorts (we're a little self-conscious). The second was sunscreen, but it was cloudy and threatening rain, so we didn't bother. The third was extra water, which we brought. And the last was to actually draw the neighborhood boundaries on my printed out map so that we won't have a repeat of last time of not actually being in the neighborhood.
It was long straight ride all the way down cavalcade before we turned on Hirsch, and it wasn't long before we at #48 Trinity/Houston Gardens.

So far no rain

As we get further and further out, we have to deal with fewer and fewer bike-friendly roads as we leave the marked bike path area. I anticipated this and had us drive through many neighborhood roads to stay off the main thoroughfares with fast vehicles and no room for bikes.

We went north to #47 East Little York/Homestead. It would have been very easy to snap a photo of Little York road, the major street through the neighborhood, but I was really trying not to do that. So we went all the way up to Homestead Barber Shop. One of the patrons or possibly the owner was standing outside. We threw the "scavenger hunt" excuse at him (which works very well) and he smiled and said go ahead and take the picture. I had a great impression of this neighborhood. It's and older, nicer, black neighborhood (82% black). This is basically where the poorer people from inside the loop come to when they can afford it.

I was very tempted to get a haircut at this point

Next we took some more neighborhood roads and went over our first of many 80 foot railroad crossing bridges. We went past an elementary school where East Houston middle school was supposed to be. Right as we were about to turn around and look again, I spotted this sign for #49 East Houston.

There was a guy behind me that didn't pay much notice

We took a wrong turn (but still in the right general direction) and it wasn't long before we were at the small community of #50 Settegast. I had planned to go the Settegast apartments further down, but a "Welcome to..." sign always gets more cool points.

I'm willing to bet that civic club isn't so new anymore.

So that was it. We hit the four that I had planned to hit and we started riding back to Cavalcade. The next picture shows you what much of the area near Cavalcade and Homestead looks like. Plus I had to get at least one pic with Drew in it.

There was an eerie sound coming from out west, like a whistling ghost or something

After we had a medicore breakfast at a donut place at Cavalcade, I said to Drew "I still have a lot of energy... we only have 6 miles left." He said, "yeah me too." I can't remember whose idea it was, but we decided that we were so close to 5th ward, that we would give it another shot. On the way into 5th ward we went over our 3rd railroad bridge for the day. At least this one had an awesome view.

Drew, trains, and Houston.

I love this town!

So when we were on our way all the way to nearly I-10 to see Fifth Ward Library, this sign caught my eye right as we entered #55 Fifth Ward. It wasn't too far from the library, but it did save us a few blocks. At this point it was getting really sunny and we regretted not listening to ourselves and putting sunscreen on. I ended up a little burned at the end of the day.

Take two successful

Not knowing exactly which way I was going to Northside, we went back over the train bridge (my legs were finally starting to get tired after that one) and took a left on Liberty. As we were riding along, trying not to stare at all the poor people that were loitering on the street and giving us dirty looks, we turned the corner and saw a crowd of people and flashing police lights. Given the location we were in, we assumed the worst. As we got closer, we saw a podium with a City of Houston and a bunch of well-dressed people sitting in chairs. It turns out it was a dedication ceremony for a new historical marker for "Frenchtown". I asked Drew if he wanted to stop, and he said sure. It was a really great presentation, with live Zydeco music and accounts of residents who had lived in the area nearly 80 years. City councilman Jarvis Johnson was there, as well as a representative from Sheila Jackson-Lee's ofice. It's a good thing we went back the bridge way!

Jarvis Johnson speaking

Right after the unveiling

Closer picture with all the politicians and organizers.

After the great break listening to music and watching a historical marker be unveiled, we continued on to find Northside Baptist Church. The first church we went to (where my map said Northside Baptist was) was actually called something else. Drew took the woman's way out and asked a guy there if he knew were it was. I have to admit it beat spending 5 minutes looking it up on my phone. We went down 5 blocks and saw it. Unfortunately, it was not in Northside Village, but it was still in Fifth Ward. I though Jensen Dr. was the border, but I was mistaken.

If only I knew, I wouldn't be smiling.

Even after we were riding back, we passed a construction sign that said Northside on it. But we didn't stop because I thought we already had it. We'll just have to do take 3 this weekend when we go out to the Galena Park area (way out east).

We took a break and grabbed a celebratory beer at Onion Creek on the way back, and were home just before noon, when it started really raining. The final distance for the trip was 31.4 miles

We're now up to a total of 29 super neighborhoods totalling 89.2 miles on the bicycle.

Next trip is trip 6 on Sunday, all the way to the furthest reaches East and back.

I've re-routed the proposed trips, because of our increasing fitness levels. So take a look at the changes as http://careyj.com/sn/ We're now down to 12 trips instead of 13.

Alabama County Trip Table of Contents

The Idea, September 23, 2008: Every County in Alabama (dan)

The days leading up to the trip:
February 23, 2009: Alabama county trip is on! (dan)
February 25, 2009: Every County in Alabama (dan)

Go time (February February 26-27, all times in this list are CST)
8:37am: First update (dan)
9:12am: Sense of urgency - county count 4 (dan)
10:10am: Carey update and Clark-ee county (carey)
10:38am: Choctaw - County Count 8 (dan)
11:51am: County count 13 (dan)
12:48pm: Sumter county - county count of 14 - first gas stop (dan)
1:48pm: Additional pansy time (dan)
2:16pm: Jim - king of county sign photography (dan)
2:23pm: Some updates / responses (dan)
3:07pm: The republic of Winston (dan)
4:04pm: Build me a depot Phil Caaaampbell (dan)
4:14pm: Boring update (dan)
5:43pm: Update - county count 30 (dan)
6:41pm: Update from the center of Alabama (jim)
7:25pm: We'll get you, Bibb County... (jim)
10:16pm: A plan comes together, hopefully (jim)
10:36pm: What a country (jim)
1:17am: Adventures in gas land (dan)
1:50am: Gas adventures solved (dan)
2:48am: Old Sudsville Water (carey)
5:54am: Nearly finished (dan)
7:13am: It is finished (dan)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Fan club message

I got a message today from a fan.

I quote it verbatim:

Because of your rather strange fascinaton with weird objectives--24 hour state drives, coin collecting scavenger hunts, etc, you make my requests to my wife less overwhelming. For example, "hey, Amy, can I get a bigger fish tank?" "no" "Hey, I'm not going to drive through all the counties in Alabama in one day, I'm just asking for an aquarium." "Well, if you put it that way......."

You are the reason my marriage is stronger.