Palo Alto Battlefield Trail

This Memorial Day I spent the morning in the city of Brownsville. I knew of a trail that runs from the Gladys Porter Zoo up to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic park and I’ve been looking for some time to take my bike and go cycling it. This holiday was a great opportunity to hit both parks with a bike ride in between. Early Monday morning, I loaded up the bike and took off on my hour drive to the other side of the Rio Grande Valley.

GLADYS PORTER ZOO

I got to the zoo early and found good parking in the gated area. With my bike locked up on the bike carrier, I took off to explore the zoo. The day was overcast so that helped keep the temperatures down a bit. I spent the morning walking around the zoo snapping photos and admiring the animals that they took care of. One thing that struck me is how they used the water from a stream to provide both a moat (for containment) and drinking water for the animals. Clearly, water played a big role at this zoo and they do a great job of managing it.

My favorite animal? It’s hard to say as I liked all of them. If I had to name one, I think I’d go with the Southern Greater Kudo. They exhibited a lot of curiosity and seemed genuinely interested in you. The other animals seemed indifferent to our presence.

By mid-day most of the animals (especially the primates) were in the snoozing in the shade stage and I felt it was time to ride the trails. I’d save the rest of the zoo for another trip.

PALO ALTO BATTLEFIELD TRAIL

The majority of the trail is an abandon rail road line that has been converted to a usable trail. It will take you on an eight-mile one-way trip to the national Park without having to ride on the street. What a pleasure that is! No cars to worry about, taking a lane or yelling out “Car back!”. At every major intersection there is a street crossing button to press to get the lights to change. The majority of the lights change quickly except for one busy intersection where you have to wait, but it will change.

RestStopThe path is dotted with rest stops. Some have water and other don’t. I left my water bottle in the car where it does the most good. One of the rest stops is a bus terminal. It was there that I found a vending machine to fork out a bottle of water for $1.25. The trail flows right through a warehouse district where they used to use the train to load and unload goods. Further on out the trail runs through neighborhoods and crosses several water ways. I wish Mission had a river winding through it.

Going out even further you hit the outskirts of Brownsville and you start to get into a more rural country feel. You will still find rest stops out this far which is great to pull over for a breather. Some of the stops seemed to be victims of vandals. Tagging and physical destruction is typical but you can see that trail maintenance is being performed. You really can’t get away from that. There is always someone that wants to tear down what’s good and that’s unfortunate.

I know that there is a Bike Brigade of young kids that periodically goes out and does trail clean up. Thanks to their efforts, the trail is very clean and enjoyable. I didn’t see any signs of trash anywhere on it. That is something that every community should take note off. Why wait, or depend on the government to do something, when the citizens can do it themselves.

PALO ALTO BATTLEFIELD NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK

PaloAltoEntranceThe entrance to the park (for those cycling or walking) is on the corner of Highway 550 and Paredes Line Road. You are greeted to a well-kept red paver stoned entrance with a huge black painted canon standing guard. There is a little paved trail that goes by the gated entrance and back into the park where you will find a large park building. Inside the park building you will find a lot of history about the battlefields and the events leading up the to the fight between Mexico and the United States. What strikes me the most were the uniforms that they wore in this south Texas heat!

Going out the back you will find a display of the different munitions used in the canons. All I can say, I’m glad I wasn’t around then when those were going off. Past the build there is a paved path that takes you out to the park and the rugged land that two armies fought over. The signs say that fallen solders from both sides are buried out there somewhere. If you go out there early in the morning, I’m sure you will catch a glimpse of the wildlife that call the park their home.

The ride home is the same trail that got me there. The bridge crossing over the railroad tracks to the port provides a nice scenic view of the country. I had the wind to my back going up there, so going back I now have it in my face. That’s ok with me. There one section where standing water covered a small portion of the trail but it’s nothing major. Rather it has a cooling effect in that hot day. I even saw sand crabs and lots of them in that section! I should have taken a picture or video. Something for next time I suppose.

Anyone wanting to do the ride I highly encourage you to do it. Completely off the city roads, plenty of rest stops, quick detours to restaurants for food, a zoo at one end and a Historic Park at the other end and nice scenery in between. What more could you ask for? I have a map of the route in the Cycling Routes section of my blog and it’s also on Google Maps under the Bicycle overlay. Brownsville has a gem of a trail, enjoy!

Wildflower Centurion

Bluebonnets along the route

Bluebonnets along the route

Back in late April I traveled over to San Antonio for the Fiesta Wildflower Ride. I knew the route was hilly and coming from the flat lands of the Rio Grande Valley, I didn’t know if I could complete that ride or not. I was already completing a training plan for a century ride but felt it wasn’t enough. I went back to Training Peaks and found a plan for a hilly century by Allen Hunter and decided to follow that. My plan was to ride the sixty and see how I felt and decide if I could ride on and attempt the one hundred miles.

The new training plan that I was following was a lot more intense with more VO2max intervals than my previous plan. I headed out to the only hills we have around here, west of La Joya, and did some of my rides over there. Our hills are more like rolling hills but that’s all we have. I also used a steep overpass as a training segment and found that tough but fun. During the week my rides ranged from 2 hours to 2.5 hours. Nothing more than that. On the weekends they were about 3.5 hrs. I was putting in no more than 45 miles in any one ride with most of it in the Endurance zone but it did include a lot more Tempo and VO2max zones than my previous training plan.

I felt good about the results I was getting with my weeks of training but I was noticing that some other cyclists that were also going to the Wildflower ride, to do the one hundred miles, were putting in 60-80 miles on their long rides. It got me thinking, am I putting in enough miles and saddle time? I felt strong after my rides and my energy levels were good too. The only way to find out is to ride it. Until then, I would have to wait and see.

On the day of the ride it was a nice overcast morning with over 2k cyclists ready to ride. From my perspective, it looked like a lot more than 2k but who knows, I didn’t stick around to count them. I was anxious to see how my training paired up with the route. Will I have the juice to do the metric century? Would I have enough in the tank to push on wards to do the imperial century? I wanted to know! The only way to find out is to ride and stay in my Endurance zone and take my electrolytes every hour. Pacing was the key and not to start off real strong only to burn out later on.

At the sound of the canon fire we started in stages. Imperial Century first, then the metric, then the rest of the different distances. The ride was tough getting out to the first rest stop at the fifteen mile mark. It was there that I caught up with some friends that was doing the 100. I decided to ride with them as they seemed to be going at my pace (something I was careful to watch). The scenery was fantastic heading out to New Braunfels through the hill country. I really was taking advantage of all the gears on the bike. At times I wished I had a few more gears but you work with what you have. Granny gear going up and coasting going down, that was my strategy. I knew that coasting down was a great way to conserve your energy for the long haul.

Flying down Krueger Canyon road was a thrill hitting 38 mph! Fastest I’ve been, that’s for sure. Others hit 40+ mph and as far as I know of, no one wiped out. It was well worth the time and energy climbing the hills. At the bottom was another rest stop where you can fill up on ice-cold water and other. Each rest stop had exactly the same thing except further on out the rest stations added pickles. A favorite among cyclists. I tend to shy away from it cause it can cause mild cramping for me.

At the forty-seven mile rest stop I had to decide what I was going to do, the 60 mile or the 100 mile route. At this point I was in good shape. I was not tired, achy or spent. Looking at the map we still had to be at a checkpoint by 1 pm to be allowed to continue the 100 mile route. We had a little less than an hour to ride out about nine miles. Looking at each other, I told my friends that I’m game for the 100 so we hopped on the bikes and pressed on. We passed one other cyclist and eventually shared a PNB Sandwich with him. This section of the route is the flat part and the scenery changed to farm lands. I liked this area as well. It was more I was used to here in the Valley.

At this point it was clear that we were the last ones doing the 100 mile ride and that caught up to us at the 80 mile rest stop. At this point we were informed that they were closing the course and they offered to bump us to the last rest stop. We weren’t too keen on that idea and instead opted to continue on our own. We handed over our bib numbers and loaded up on ice-cold water and pushed on.

We pushed harder and faster but had to stop for one team member to catch his breath and rest a bit. By this time my knees and ankles were starting to get sore but I could still pedal. At that point, that’s all that mattered. Keep pedaling and finish.

At the 95-mile mark one of our team mates called it quits. His legs were spent and his wife was nearby to pick him up. As far as I’m concerned, he finished the ride. That left two of use plus one last cyclist that was about ten to fifteen minutes behind us. I used my phone to plot a course back to the finish and we took off, this time with a SAG.

Rolling into the parking lot at the Mall and seeing a few people there cheering us on was totally awesome! Thank you team Wingman for sticking around until the last rider rolled in. They even had pizza waiting for us too! Yay!! Woo wee, what a fun adventure that was! I absolutely loved the ride and will do this ride again in the future.

I do want to thank Tony and Veronica to encourage me to go for the 100. They twisted my arm ūüôā

Wahoo Kickr: How I setup mine

Old man winter has visited the lower Rio Grande Valley and while it’s nothing like those in the Northern states it does affect me. Cold, windy and rainy days has kept me indoors for the past several months. I have managed hop out on the those 60+ degree days and put in some relaxing miles but otherwise, I’m indoors on my trainer. Oh no, the dreaded trainer you say. Not for me, I actually like riding my trainer and I’ve seen the improvements already on a couple of rides. Today, I’m going to describe my setup and what I do with my Wahoo Kickr.

What is a Kickr? Sounds like some car speakers or something but it’s not. It’s an indoor trainer for your bike from Wahoo. When I first saw this I knew I had to get one. It was a little pricey but I saved up for it and purchased one and it has been worth it. What makes it so great? ¬†There are several reasons:

  • Sturdy
  • Power Based
    • ERG Mode
    • Manual Mode
  • Quiet
  • ANT+ and Bluetooth support
  • Incredible apps to control it

There are many ways to use it and any other trainer but this how I settled on taking advantage of it.

EQUIPMENT

Wahoo Kickr Setup

Wahoo Kickr Setup

Wahoo Kickr Setup

Wahoo Kickr Setup

There is more to it than just having the Kickr and a bike. You need a plan and support tools to go with it and or any trainer to be successful. Here is a rundown of the software and other equipment that I use to get my business done:

  • Kickr
  • Bike
  • Music Stand
  • Fan
  • iPad
  • ANT+ Dongle
  • cable for ANT+ dongle (depends on what iPad you have)
  • iMobileIntervals iPhone app (no iPad version)
  • TV
  • Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime (all optional of course)
  • Headband / Water bottle
  • Training Plan of some sort

The last item is real important. You need a training plan to follow. It keeps you focused and it’s part of the motivation to continue. Without it what are you going to do? Hop on and start pedaling? How long can you do that before you get bored and quit? My guess in less than a week you will stop because it’s boring. That’s why you need a structured plan for you to follow. They tell you what it is you are going to do that day, how fast/slow your cadence will be, what your power level/heart rate should at each step of the workout. You will learn to warm up, do your workout and then cool down. Structure! For beginners that is very important.

Training plans are based on one of three measurements, power, hear rate or perceived exertion (how hard you felt the work out was). Depending on the equipment you have you choose which method you want to train with. Since the Wahoo Kickr has a built-in power meter, I chose to have my workouts based on power. I’m not going to go into the details of training, but¬†basically, the intensities are¬†broken up into zones and you are to workout in the zone for the prescribed time. The higher up the zone you are in the harder the workout. For an understanding on how to train in either of these methods I suggest to checkout these books:

As for the plan its self, it doesn’t matter where you get it as long as you have one. I chose a plan from TrainingPeaks and from that I use iMobileIntervals to create the workout on their website. Then I use the app version to download it to the iPad and run it to control the Kickr and tell me what I need to do on the current interval step. I need the ANT+ dongle and cable because my speed and cadence sensors are of the ANT+ type. If you have Bluetooth type Speed/Cadence then you can do away with the dongle.Once the workout is complete, I uploaded the workout to both Strava and TrainingPeaks for review and record keeping.

The music stand is used to hold the iPad and TV remotes. I like using Netflix because it automatically loads the next episode and plays it. No Netflix? Anything else will do. Music, talk radio will work too. I use the TV to catch up on my programs. Be careful not to forget about your workout! I sometimes catch myself glued to the TV more than the workout. Great thing about iMobileIntervals is that it announces the next step or every minute countdown so it snaps me out of the TV trance. Agent Carter anyone? How about The Flash or The Arrow? Now that The 100 is back on, I have even more choices.

The fan and head band are a must. You will be sweating a lot and you will need to control it some how. Some use a sweat catcher for the bike. I will probably end up getting one of those. Let’s not forget about a water bottle. I have a full water bottle within reach and drink regularly during the work out.

To me I like doing intervals. It’s the best way to pack in a great workout in a short amount of time. My workouts have been around the 1 hr mark.Sometimes they extend to 1.5 hours but not often. To facilitate this, I need software that does three things. One, keep track of my intervals. Two, control the Kickr by setting up the correct power levels, and three, send the work out to my favorite sites (Strava, Facebook and Training Peaks). iMobileIntervals fit my requirements nicely.

I really like iMobileIntervals because of its flexibility in controlling the Kickr, the way it announces the interval, the ease of creating workouts, the ability to share workouts with others, and the ability to send the results of the workout to multiple locations such as Strava, Facebook, TrainingPeaks or an email with the TCX file. One of the special predefined workout is a fitness test to get your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) number and record it in your account. Your FTP is very important because all the training zones are based on a percentage it. That is the first workout you should do. It should also be repeated every month or so as you progress and get stronger. This ensures that the workouts don’t become too easy.

Being that I run it on my iPad and I have an Apple TV, I can put up the display on my TV and use it that way. I’ve done it several times but I lose the ability to watch something. They have released an update to use ChromeCast and overlay the workout over YouTube. Looks interesting but I don’t have ChromeCast.

There are other applications such as TrainerRoad that does all the above except the direct export of the workout to other sites. It does send you the email but it’s up to you to manually upload it to your favorite site. It too has a website to pick a workout (even more than iMobileIntervals) or create your own. They also have training plans depending on your goal. Either program will work for you.

Wahoo also has their app for the Kickr called Fitness, but it doesn’t support intervals. They may in the future but why wait when you have others ready to go. You do need the app to check for and upload firmware updates to the Kickr and other of their products. It’s worth having in your toolbox of bike apps.

In case you haven’t noticed, all the software mentioned here runs on iOS or on the web. I don’t have an Android phone so I can comment on software for that OS. Although, I do think Wahoo Fitness app is also on Android.¬†I’m sure that there are apps for the Android phones. If there isn’t any, there should be.

RESULTS

So far the results has been positive. There is a ride that I do that is about 27-28 miles called the Penitas Loop (check my Routes page) that I used as a benchmark. The ride is out in the country with very little cars. It’s mostly flat but it does have a small steady climb (remember that the Valley is pretty much flat so anything that resembles a climb besides a strong headwind is a big deal for us) and some rolling hills at the twenty-mile mark. The last time I did the ride was in late December. On the twenty-mile mark I really had to push it hard the rest of the way to raise my average mph to 15.4. By that point my posture was bad as I was leaning heavily on the handlebars resulting in sore triceps.

After nearly a month of more indoor intervals and incorporating planks into the regimen, I decided to do that same ride again. I had done a 30-mile ride the week before and felt a lot stronger and faster but I wanted to compare it to a known ride, in this case the Penitas Loop. Halfway through the route¬†I was already at the average speed from when I finished it back in December! I could have gone faster but didn’t and worked on steady power pace. By the end of the ride I was at nearly the same average speed with no issues with posture or soreness in my triceps.and I had a lot of energy left. Wahoo! I couldn’t be happier with the results. I checked on the variability index (VI) and it came out to 1.05. More good news!

I completed one week on the new training plan from TrainingPeaks and they are rough but doable. My plan is to use the trainer on weekdays and on the road for the weekends. Let’s see how that works out.

Well, there you have it. Using the Wahoo Kickr has been fun and hard but well worth the price. Check their website for refurbished units that they have on sale, you might be able to pick one up at a discount price. I’ve had no issue with sturdiness or being excessively loud. Definitely not as loud as the turbo fan types. I do have it in my room and I can fold it up and put it aside when not in use. I do have to unplug it when I need to repair my bike sensors to the bike computer (Magellen Cyclco 505). That is how I use the Kickr in my training. If you can afford it, get it. If not, you can still have a structured workout plan with what you have.

If you have a Kickr, let’s hear from you and share your experience with it. Drop a comment about it.