Once again the road makes all the difference. Today’s journey from Brackettsville to Wes Cooksey County Campground was far more enjoyable than yesterday’s. To begin, it was shorter with less head wind, slightly better road surface and best of all, far less traffic. When you can actually hear the sounds of the countryside and take time to look around without fear of being run over, it is a far more pleasant bicycling experience. As noted in the title, we are now in Texas Hill Country and the landscape is making some subtle changes. Shade is now available with leafy trees in abundance as we ride though the hills. Gone is the wide open range now replaced with ranches that are fenced with feed and forage more plentiful for the cattle, goats and sheep that form the greater part of the population in this part of Texas. This also seems to be a more colourful environment with more hues of green and bright accents from wildflowers like the Texas Dandelions shown along the roadside.
This was supposed to be a “short” 50 mile day. However, those 50 miles did not account for the three steep climbs that were part of the journey. Fortunately, the winds were not bad and traffic was light on this Easter Sunday. There was also the big plus of being in Texas Hill Country. Even with grey, threatening shies the scenery was fantastic.
When you think of Texas you generally think cattle and maybe sheep with a few goats thrown in but here is proof that they raise all sorts of critters. Llamas in Texas, who knew?
Small town Texas is an interesting mix of better times in the past and a promising future. For every derelict gas station there is a new one and the main streets seem alive even on an early Easter morning. Land for sale signs seem to pop up like dandelions near these towns as developers try to sell the idea that their community is the idea place for that retirement ranchette.
The ride today was marked by three climbs, each a little tougher than the previous one. The hills were long, steep and the roads twisted their way up grades of six and seven percent. Trhe last two climps were basically back to back connected by a swift downhill glide that barely gave your body a chance to recover. It was tough but every rider made it on muscle alone.
Our day started with a struggle. While it was not a long struggle it was taxing coming as it did before our legs had a chance to warm to the cadence of journey. The hill was just over a mile long but at a 14% incline it was about as much as any cyclist would care to tackle first off during a ride. The good part was that once at the top the rest of the day was there to be enjoyed and what an enjoyable ride it was.
While the skies were cloudy and rain threatened, the cooling grey of the day only made our efforts seem light. The hills were constant but mostly of the rolling type with a downward glide to boost you part way up the other side. The countryside was typical of Texas Hill Country but with large game ranches predominating. One even seem to boast of an exotic menagerie that was hard to believe.
The highlight of the ride was the town of Hunt, Texas marking the official half way point of our cross continental journey. Midway between oceans and having crossed two mountain ranges, the Great American Desert and too many tall hills to have counted, we are ready to take on the rest. There is still plenty of Texas ahead but already it looks different. Maybe it is all downhill from here.
A grey and drizzly day for our 75 miles to our next destination in Johnson City, Texas. There ar no major climbs today only a never ending string of roller coaster hills. A big plus is that we are mostly on county maintained farm and ranch roads. These roads have very little traffic and go through some of the most scenic countryside as they dip and wind their way from one town to the next.
There is a lot more vegetation in this part of Hill Country and a bit of moisture that makes it possible. At no time could I say it actually rained but a misty drizzle lightly washed us from time to time. There is no open range that I could see but plenty of large ranches that could easily be sized in the thousands of acres. Texas likes to do things large.
Most of the roads today were bordered by Texas bluebonnet wildflowers, a favourite of Ladybird Johnson, wife of the former President. They made a pleasant, soft edge between road and fence line.
The largest town along the way was Fredericksburg, which has a very German flavour as well as being quite the tourist mecca. The quaint streets are lined with a variety of shops that offer treats and other items designed to capture a tourist’s fancy and dollars. The German Market seemed a busy spot and I stopped in for some of their well know, home made German pastries. Thus re-fuelled, I was off for the remaining 30 or so miles to Johnson City.
There are three things that we have learned to dread while biking across the continent; strong head winds, heavy traffic and roads with no shoulders. Add in some steep rolling hills and it sort of sums up the worst part of our ride into Austin. The day started nice enough, a bit chilly but the roads were rural and the traffic very light, much like the past two days. However, as we rode closer to Austin, that changed. The wind was in our face from the beginning but by now that by itself was not too much of a bother. Traffic, especially commercial and truck traffic, when added to the wind and combined with narrow rural roads with small or no shoulders, make it tough to enjoy what you are doing. Your eyes are constantly on your rear view mirror, watching to be sure the vehicles bearing down on you at 50 mph or better are giving you enough clearance. Going up steep hills in a head wind often causes your front wheel to wobble leaving no room for error when some knuckle head decides to ignore the law and tries to skin past you without waiting for the other lane to become clear. Let’s just say we were all happy to finally reach our destination and park our bikes for awhile.
Austin is a charming city and known to be a foodie’s paradise, especially if you like BBQ. Hungry from our travels we quickly showered and set out to try one of the two top spots for the meaty treats. These are small locations with a limited menu and a limited supply of finely cooked meats. Once they sell out for the day, they close their doors until the next day. Both number one and number two choices were sold out by 5pm. However, across town was Terry Black’s highly rated establishment with a much larger supply on hand. One Uber ride for the six of us brought us to this mecca of meat. We overate our fill and all agreed that while not our number one or two choice, it was a fine meal indeed.
After a large meal, a long lazy walk was in order so we strolled along the waterfront where we took in some local colour. The evening was capped with a view of thousands of bats swarming from their man made caverns under the Congress Bridge over the Colorado River. Hundreds of people gather every evening at sunset to watch this spectacle from the bridge, both shores and from the river itself. While not as spectacular as the bats swarming from Carlsbad Caverns, it is definitely something to witness.
If yesterday was about the BBQ, today was about politics, particularly the state capitol and the LBJ Presidential Library. The Austin capitol building is a beautiful, sandstone coloured and ornately sculptured monument that reflects the stature and pride of the Lone Star State. The grounds are lush, green, well shaded and feature monuments to heroes of the state. Two of these seemed special from my perspective. Along side of monuments to the heroes of the Alamo and Confederate Civil War defenders were monuments to fallen volunteer firefighters and African Americans. Given the importance of native son and President, Lyndon Baines Johnson to the civil rights movement the monument depicting the struggle of African Americans to gain freedom and equality seemed right at home. The volunteer firefighter memorial also touched a personal spot within me.
The LBJ Presidential Library is definitely worthy of an afternoon. Perhaps the 20th Century’s most misunderstood and under-credited president, LBJ changed the face of the United States during his political career. From the legacy of his Great Society Program, to Medicare, the Public Broadcasting System, the Civil Rights Act, the Wilderness Act and so much more, this man truly made America greater. It was his misfortune to be saddled with the Vietnam War, a war he could not win and from which he could not remove the United States. Without that shadow he would have very likely run and won a second term in office and be remembered in a far more flattering way.
One new fact that I learned about the man was that he started his working life as a school teacher, teaching at an impoverished school. Many of his students came to class each day hungry with no food since a meager dinner the night before. His dedication to improving the lives of those students rang a special bell from my own life. I can not help to think that his early experiences with those children helped shape the goals that formed his Great Society Program. If you find yourself in Austin, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library is a must see location.
After a day off enjoying Austin we went back to our journey today. Getting into and out of a big city is always a challenge but Austin was fairly easy but not especially scenic. There is always heavier traffic around urban areas and all of us were happy to get far enough away that rural roads again allowed us to ride with fewer worries about vehicles.
Today’s route was not as nice as some earlier rides but did contain two interesting places. The first was Bastrop State Park where for a modest three dollar fee we were allowed to use their roads and enjoy their hills while avoiding a more direct but heavily travelled highway. An additional treat was a chance to view the devastation caused by a 2011 fire that destroyed a number of homes and cost two lives.
However, the real treat was the Ice Cream Parlour in Winchester, Texas. In this out of the way village in an out of the way location is a gem of business trying to make a success of it. If quality, friendliness and a unique environment are the criteria for this, they should succeed. The outside of the building is inviting with classic kiddie rides decorating the well shaded porch. Each one operates and can be ridden without inserting the usually required quarter. The inside is cool, clean and has an old time charm. Their ice cream is delicious and the variety unexpected in such an out of the way location. I was surprised at how reasonable the prices were. A generously scooped, fresh waffle cone and a locally brewed root beer still left a dollar’s change from a five dollar bill! It is worth the effort to find this gem in the outback.
My daddy said there would be days like this and here was one. Most bicyclists don’t like three things; traffic, head winds, busy roads without shoulders. Tack on a 90 mile ride with a drizzly, cold day and few riders would be inspired. The morning started with thunder showers before dawn followed by temperatures dropping into the low 40’s. The gloom and drizzle continued to be followed by a steady 20 mph head wind with gusts up to 40 mph.
The first third of ride was to be over country roads on a lazy Saturday morning. Unfortunately for us this Saturday was the last Saturday of a mammoth, multi-town antique-a-thon with hundreds of vendors and thousands of potential antique freaks. The traffic started as a trickle, built to a steady stream and finally boiled over into a overflowing kettle of cars, trucks and trailers all destined for antique Nirvana. For at least five miles there was an unbroken line of tents, makeshift structures, store fronts and open sky vendors on both sides of the highway. Every so often there was a break in this wall and a laneway leading back into a tent city. These tent cities, sometimes four or five rows deep, were filled with actual antiques, colourful crafts, items both new and old as well as what might be most charitably be call junk. Vehicles were steadily pulling in and out of theses laneways as well into every open space that they could find.
As we left this gauntlet, the traffic lessened but the wind increased while the thermometer slowly found its way to the low point of the day. Our bodies chilled despite our steady pace into the wind until everyone longed for something warm and inviting. Well away from the antiquing hoards set the tiny village of Burton and therein a warm oasis, The Short Stop. Three of us arrived just in time for the lunch special: Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and corn-on-the-cob. All this for just $8.95 and our hostess threw in a free cupcake while we waited to go along with the unlimited, free coffee. We stayed an hour while our bones thawed.
The rest of the day was more of the same as we ground our way through the gloom. By the time we reached the last 20 miles every hill seemed a mountain as the skies grew darker. I was the last to arrive, wet, tired, shivering and ready for the hot meal the was waiting for me. I was greeted by a cheering welcoming committee, smiles and helping hands. It was good to see the end of this day and be among friends.
April 8, 2018
A Much Nicer Day
I am adding this post to the previous day’s It will be short as was our ride today. After a restful, warm night at Ernie and Doris’ Checkpoint Harley, we were off on an easy 50 mile ride over relatively easy terrain with light Sunday morning traffic. The day was still cold and cloudy but there was no rain and the day warmed as it went by. Best of all, there was little to no wind. All we needed to do was spin away the miles and enjoy the countryside. No Bull.
After nearly three weeks we get to do the Texas Two Step out of this state tomorrow and start our Bayou Boogie towards New Orleans. Our trip across the Lone Star State has be one of gradual changing landscapes from dry desert brown to lush, moist bayou green. In between was hill country with a mix of both that gently turned just a bit greener as the miles rolled by. From cactus forests to Spanish moss draped trees in full leaf Texas, while too big to be called America in miniature, can at least be called the model of America.
Gone now are the big climbs which have been replaced by long rolling roads with dips at every crossing of a stream or river. Even those are scaled down in bayou country with long stretches of arrow straight road as far as the eye can see. The dry days are gone as well and for the past three we have ridden in steady moisture and cooler temperatures. As the thermometer rises, so will the humidity that this area is know for. Logging is now a major activity with trucks loaded with long pine shafts common on every road.
Tomorrow we begin the final leg of our journey and the states will roll by with much greater frequency. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will pass into our rear view mirrors far more quickly than Texas.
The sun came out today to welcome our departure from the Lone Star State. It was a nice change from the gloom of the past three days. A short 50 mile ride was ahead as well as fairly flat roads. Few of us cared that the ever present headwind would still be in our faces. Our destination was Merryville, Louisiana and a catered meal by the Merryville Historical Society. All in all a relaxing day.
As we said goodbye to Texas we passed through the unluckily named dot on the map called Bleakwood. Judging by the one closed business at this intersection town, the un-optimistic name seems to be a self fulling prophesy.
Shortly after our optimism was renewed in the form of meeting a fellow bicycler on her own epic journey across the country and all the way to Glacier. Ann is doing her trek self supported and is going strong. She has a blog chronicling her adventure at yipathon/wordpress.com.
Finally, the big moment of the day came when I crossed the Sabine River and left Texas in my rear view mirror, entering Louisiana. Nothing against Texas but I was ready for a change.