It was an extra short 29 miler, today, due to our riding ahead yesterday. I rode by myself and took my time during the 2.5 hour ride. If you’re a road biker and you’re laughing at my speed, try riding a loaded bike that weighs closer to 70 lbs for 50 miles or so, sometime, instead of your 13-16 lb road bike.
The route took us along two bayous and through three Louisiana settlements dating back to the early 1800s, with antebellum homes and massive oak and cypress trees.
The scenery was spectacular as we rode alongside Bayou Rouge, passing thru Evergreen and Cottonport.
Next passed through Moreauville as we rode along Bayou des Glaises.
The weather forecast for tonight is freezing temperatures, so three of us got a room at the one and only motel in town, which happens to be a complete dump of a 1-star motel. They don’t even try to clean the rooms. There was about a years worth of dust on the dresser, the floors don’t look like they’ve been vacuumed in about a month, and the shower and bathroom floors haven’t been cleaned in who knows how long.
I walked across the street to take a shower at the truck stop the rest of our group is camping behind. Pretty desperate, eh? At least it was clean, and they had this really cool descenting soap I never even knew exhisted before. I wish I could say it helped keep the mosquitos away, but I don’t take chances with them any more. I protect my exposed skin with 100 strength deet. Still don’t have a third eye, so it can’t be that bad for me.
Simmesport had a nice grocery, but our fearless leader insisted that we not cook healthy food and instead patronize the truck stop by eating their food to show appreciation for them allowing 6 cyclists to camp out back for free. After another triple fried dinner, with the only vegetable options being potato chips and French fries, I was not a happy camper–correction: cheap motel ‘guest’.
We will have to turn in early, tonight, because we’re in a room with Chris–the earliest to bed and earliest to rise of the group. Lights out will be 7:30 PM. Wish me luck falling to sleep.
We got an early start today, because we all wanted to outrun the rain. If you remember, we originally were planning to stay in the campground at Chicot State Park. Two of the guys had already made reservations at the town 11 miles short of the park. Ken made reservations for the rest of us at the town 13 miles past it.
While we were eating breakfast, the sweetest white Labrador retriever joined us to ask for food. He was a healthy looking boy, and he had good manners. He didn’t beg, he just sat and waited. In about 35 minutes, he only scored 2 cookies from us before giving up and heading over to a donut shop.
I rode out last with Ken behind me, and was flying down the road when I realized that I had left my water bottles in the refrigerator of my room– a 2.5 mile mistake. You know, I already did that once on this tour. Duh. But it was so cool outside with nice cloud cover, so a little more riding didn’t bother me.
About 7 miles into the ride, I saw a dog up ahead in the road. It was that white Lab from breakfast. He ran alongside me for over 2 miles. I seriously did not know how to get him to stop running with me. I sped up, and he sped up. He was too smart to fall for the fake throw. Later, I learned that he ran 7 miles with Tom C and Erwin and 6 miles with Ken. He also ran with Tom R and Joe, but we won’t know how far till we meet up with them tomorrow. We all felt bad when we realized how much we put him through. I am not in the market for a dog, but if I lived here or nearby, I would take that big boy home. I will not be able to forget him.
After over 2 hours of peddling, when I reached Mamou, I was ready for a break. A couple of bikes were parked outside of the Krazy Cajun Cafe, so I parked and settled in for an early lunch of a tasty Cajun burger.
Turns out that Mamou is a Cajun music town. Too bad we didn’t we didn’t stay there, because it has a lot of fun looking eateries, and at night, there are at least 3 different places with live Cajun music on week nights and more in weekends.
I rode out of Mamou with Ken, and he stuck with me for the rest of the day. We passed rice and sugar beet fields, and more pine tree farms and cattle ranches as we made our way through Ville Platte on the way to Chicot State Park.
We also passed at least 5 cemeteries with raised vaults to keep the graves from floating away when it floods and/or to keep them from floating because the water table is so high. They sure put a lot into their grave sites around here. Makes me appreciate how clean and simple we keep them in Arizona.
Chicot (pronounced chee-koh) State Park was really cool. It has a lake, swampy areas, tall trees everywhere and hilly roads winding through it. We stopped by the two campsites Ken could not get a refund on, and were glad we didn’t stay there. The bathrooms were nice, but the campsites had so much slope it would have been very uncomfortable trying to sleep there. Still, it was a beautiful spot.
I haven’t mentioned rain yet, because so far, we hadn’t seen any. The road leading to the park was wet, because it had ben rained on before we got there. As we left the park, the skies looked pretty threatening. Thabkfully our route changed directions 5 miles into our last 3 miles, and we picked up a nice tailwind that pushed us into Bunkie.
The rain held out until half hour after we checked into our rooms, then it let loose.
Neal and I had dinner/breakfast/lunch duty, so we donned rain Jackets, emptied my panniers, and walked a half mile to Piggly Wiggly for groceries. We picked up salad fixings, fresh fruit and ice cream for our dinner and a bunch of other food for breakfast and lunch. After unloading all the food in my room, we made the salad, then Neal headed over to a Cajun Chicken place across the street to pick up fried chicken, dirty rice and red beans with rice. The feast was a huge hit.
When the rain hit, Eric was looking around Chicot State Park, so he arrived the motel long after we had finished eating. While he ate dinner, we worked on a plan for a trip to New Orleans with Tom R and Erwin during our layover in St Franciscille, LA.
Our day began with another delectible breakfast prepared and served by our trail angels, the Merryville Historical Society. With Eddie at the skillet, another generous multi-course feast was served up. We hated to leave Merryville, but we are on a schedule.
Our group is now down to 10 people, after Rich’s decision to finish the ride on his own. We left town in our normal order, though I left alone a few minutes after Ed. The riding conditions were perfect: cool temperatures, clear skies, very little wind, gentle grades, a nice shoulder to ride on and polite drivers. What more could we ask for?
I was never able to catch up to Ed, so I tuned into some music and rode alone. Today’s ride passed first through the eastern part of Beauregard Parish, then through the western part of Allen Parish, and ran into only two towns—the county seats of both parishes. In Deridder, Tom C and Erwin passed me as I shot a few photos.
The terrain throughout the day was just like West Texas, but without all the hills: Pine tree farms, cattle ranches, many little creek and river crossings–some with white sandy beaches, and lots of tall trees.
We stayed in the Oberlin Inn in Oberlin, the parish seat of Allen Parish. There was no laundry facility at the motel, so I rode to a nearby laundromat, and was lucky there was no waiting for the only washer and dryer that actually worked out of 7 washers and 8 dryers.
The discussion at our map meeting was dominated by tomorrow’s weather forecast. Three of the guys have already reserved hotel rooms in a nearby town, because there is a 100% chance of rain, off and on, all day tomorrow, and temperatures of 31 degrees expected tomorrow night while we camp out in Chicot State Park. I have faith that Ken will not put us in a dangerous situation. Guess I’m about to find out.
Last night was so cold!!! It got down to 39 degrees, and my sleeping bag is rated for 35 degrees, but believe me, it did not keep me warm. I want my money back, but it’s too late for that. Tonight will be even colder, so I will be wearing all layers of my clothes to bed, tonight, with hopes they will keep me warm.
I have to keep bragging on the Merryville Historic Society. Last night’s dinner was just the beginning of what they were going to do for us. This morning, Paul and Marion, one of the younger couples in the group, brought in a large camp stove, a griddle and bunch of cast iron skillets, and cooked up a huge breakfast of hot cakes, sausages, bacon, boudin, scrambled eggs, county fried potatoes, rolls and juices. We thought we had died and gone to heaven–again.
Other folks left trays of cold cuts, fresh vegetables and cookies for us to eat for lunch, today, and the group put on another large dinner of red beans and rice, cole slaw, corn bread, and peach upside down cake this evening. Again, I am amazed by their generosity and hospitality.
Today, other than sleeping in and eating all the food and desserts set out for us here, all I did was bring my blog up to date, look around the museum and talk to the various members of the Historical Society who dropped in throughout the day to bring more food and just be friendly. I never took a nap, but am about to go to bed early, so that’s okay.
After saying our goodbyes to Jennifer Exum, our wonderful hostess, last night, we hit the road for the relatively short ride to Merryville, Louisiana. All the Texas hospitality and scenery we enjoyed were an unexpected surprise that made a huge impression on most of us. We’ll miss it, but it is time for another state.
Not being in any kind of rush, we stopped at the Wal-Mart Super Center to pick up a few items, before starting our ride with Chris, Tom C and Erwin. They quickly dropped us and rode ahead, which, as I’ve said before, is fine with me. They keep a faster pace, and there is no point in burning myself out to stay up with them.
The ride was pretty nondescript most of the day. A headwind sucked the energy out of us as we rode on a 4-lane divided expressway from Silsbee through Evadale, Buna and into Kirbyville.
We passed ranches and tree farms most of the day before entering Louisiana
Once we turned east in Kirbyville, the wind changed to a crosswind with a bit of a tailwind, and that definitely reduced the amount of effort required to move down the road. But now we were on a narrow 2-lane logging road with no shoulder, so we were being blown off the road by fast-moving logging trucks that were sometimes only pulling over a few feet to pass us.
We made great time to the Sabine River, which is also the Texas-Louisiana border.
After riding thru 5 miles with swampy land and muddy creeks on both side of the road, we arrived in Merryville.
A former thriving lumber town, it declined when the logging industry finished clearcutting all the timber in the area to ship out for use in the Northeast. Who came up with that business plan?
The town is now occupied by people who have lived here their entire life and want to keep the community going. And it’s hard to keep a declining community going, but they are succeding. The Historical Society is their way of collecting and displaying items with historic value and sharing them with other local people and people passing through town–people like us. They welcome bicyclists who are passing through their town and let them camp out on the property. In addition to that, they built and furnished a guest room and a bathroom/bath house building for guests to use too.
Tom R set his tent up on the porch of a historic cabin. That’s the museum on the right
It is a very impressive organization, and what is even more impressive is that they do all of this just to share their community with people from outside the area–not because they are athletes or cycling enthusiasts, but because they have good hearts and want to share their Southern Hospitality.
Tonight, members put on a wonderful dinner of gumbo, rice, potato salad, fresh rolls, all kinds of cookies and pies, and bread pudding. We thought we had died and gone to heaven. Eddie, the President of the Historical Society, stood up and told us the history of the town, and it was fascinating. After Paul said a blessing on the food, our hosts all sat down and ate dinner with us, and we really enjoyed their company. The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me, and I’m feeling a responsibility to pay it forward when I get home.
Historic Society members: Stephanie, Eddie, Marion, Renee, Paul, Kathy and our Erwin
I have really good sisters. It sure was nice having Janette down for a visit yesterday, and I really appreciate her putting in the 10 hour round trip drive to see me.
After dinner, I showed her around to the various rooms and cabins the group was staying in, and the three bathrooms, one of which was entirely outdoors. She ran me to the store to pick up a few items the guys with lunch duty today had forgotten, then we settled in to go to bed. We laid in bed and talked for a few hours, then fell into comas, at least I did, and woke at the crack of dawn for the normal breakfast routine. We were able to spend a little time together before I had to start riding. It was going to be another 60+ mile day.
Ed and I rode out together and swore that we were going to take it easy today and not push ourselves. The riding conditions were great, with much less hill climbing and not much in the way of wind. Hallelujah! We caught a break. But today, weather wasn’t the problem–dogs were.
Riding out the 1.4 mile lane from Shepherd’s Sanctuary to the main road, we encountered a pack fo 5 dogs that took chase. Ed was in front, so they were after him. We pedal, pedal, pedaled, and somehow, none of them bit either one of us, but one of them did manage to get his paw under Ed’s front tire, and yelped up a storm. Poor thing. I felt sorry for him, and if he hadn’t been acting like he was going to hurt us, I would have gone back to make sure he was okay. But at that moment? No way!
We had easy riding all day long as we passed through several little towns, rode along side the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge, and crossed the Trinity River, several creeks and bayous.
At one point, Ken caught up to us as we were taking a break and rode ahead of us.
Just when he got a couple of blocks in front of us, a couple of dogs ran out to chase him. Ed and I could see the writing on the wall for another dog encounter.
Pulling out my mace for the second time ever, I switched it into the ready position, and sped up to try to out run them. There was no oncoming traffic, so I moved across the road, in case they had some sort of mental boundary in their head that would keep them from crossing the center line. Luckily, once the dogs got through chasing Ken down, they veered off to the right and didn’t even try chasing us, and we survived to see another day.
There were two highlights in the day, both involving food and hospitality. The first was our lunch in Kountze. A man in a grocery store parking lot told us about the two restaurants in town, both of which are a block from each other, so we rode down and chose the one with the most cars in the parking lot–Mama Jack’s
Ed ordered a burger and fries, and I ordered what everyone else in the place was eating–the $10 lunch buffet. I passed on the fried chicken and country fried steak–I’ve already broken records on the number of times I’ve eaten that on this ride. Instead, I sampled all the home cooking, of which there was a bounty. All kinds of veggies, salads, breads, and deserts. I hated stuffing myself, but had no regrets. It was delicious.
Before we left, I attempted to gas up my bike with the pump next to the cash register. Do I get points for trying?
We rode on to Silsbee where Ken’s deceased brother’s widow lives with her 12 year old daughter. This may sound a little odd, but she had invited us to camp out in her front yard, and we really appreciated being able to be at a home, instead of an RV park.
She opened her home to 10 hungry, sweaty cyclists, and let us shower, do our laundry and charge all our devices, and on top of all that, she prepared a fabulous dinner of chili, salad, homemade bread and cornbread, and cake for us. We enjoyed talking to her, and she and her daughter were entertained by our stories.
Three things were going in today. Foremost and of greatest importance was the fact that my sister Janette was driving down from North Richland Hills, a 5 hour drive from the Ft. Worth area, to spend the night with me. The second was that it was going to be a pretty long ride today–64+ miles, and the last was yesterday’s rainfall prediction was now a certainty, with rain expected at 8 AM.
Sweet talking the owners of Mexican Hills Ranch, they gave me permission to set my tent up under the pavilion, so that if it rained, it wouldn’t get soaked and would be easier to pack up in the morning.
So I set an extra early alarm, with hopes of packing up and getting on the road before the rain hit, but it rained a couple times during the night (glad I was under the pavilion). As I was taking down my tent, the heavy rain arrived along with high winds. I was the only person under the pavilion, and several folks had gear under there, so a lot of it was getting blown away. While trying to hold onto my own gear, I was catching other people’s things before they totally blew away to Neverland.
It didn’t take long for the rest of the group to get under the pavilion to secure their gear. At that point, all 10 of us moved into Ernie’s man cave to wait out the storm.
Some of these guys come from places where it rains a lot, so they’re accustomed to riding in the rain, but this was also an electrical storm, so no one was going anywhere until the nearby thunder and lightening stopped.
Also rearing to go was Tom C, whose sister from Houston was meeting him in Shepherd at 2 PM. He, Chris and Joe left when the lightening stopped, but before the rain and thunder stopped.
Me? Not taking any chances. I want to live to see my grandkids grow up. I called my sister and told her I’d be running late and probably wouldn’t be to our destination till 5 PM. No big deal–she is totally flexible. I have rain gear, but no way was I going to ride in all out rain with rolling, rumbling thunder, so I waited.
The rain had pretty much let up when I started riding a 10:19 AM, and by then I was under the gun to cover some ground. I rode by myself, stopping only to down a few bites of food and give my sit zone a rest every hour or so, and to take photos, of course. The rest of the time it was pedal to the metal.
My route passed through the Little Creek Wilderness, into and out of the Sam Houston National Forest, over Lake Conroe (did you catch that Lisa Hatch?), and through an unnecessary detour, as I entered New Waverly, that added 2-3 miles onto my ride.
The entire day, threatening rain clouds hung overhead as if rain could start falling any second, and for most of the day there was a bit of a headwind as I passed through Pumpkin, Evergreen, and into Coldspring. The road changed directions in Coldspring, and the wind became a partial tailwind for the rest of the ride into Shepherd.
Thankfully, I managed to arrive Shepherd’s Sanctuary before Janette did, so I had time to meet Tom C’s sister and enjoy snacks she brought, look around a little, and get my shower in. Janette arrived just in time for dinner, and it was so good to see my sister!
Shepherd’s Sanctuary, is so obscure that even locals don’t know about it. A couple of ladies built it to accommodate family groups, but now open it up for weddings, bike groups and other functions. The place is a funky collection of little cabins decorated with a menagerie of eclectic decor (see above)
Per Ken, we were only paying $10-20 a night for each cabin, so I had warned Janette to bring her own bedding and towel and to be prepared for creepy shared bathrooms. We were pleasantly surprised at how clean the place was and that all linens were provided. We had our own cabin with a comfortable queen sized bed–sheer luxury for me.
The purveyor, a gal named Peach, showed us the setup underway for the big Halloween party she throws every other year. She has an entire barn full of Halloween decor she and her partners are in he process of putting out. Wow! That will be quite the party!
What is the eastern boundary of Texas hill country? Someone please tell me.
Last night, we slept in a spot that was muggy and mosquito infested. To survive being outside our tents, we had to be coated in 100% Deet, so by the time I get home, I may have a third eye. We’ve been told that they get worse as we move east from here.
We went to bed expecting rain this morning and were pleasantly surprised that the weather forecast was wrong. The rain never materialized, and I nstead of rain, we had cool temperatures and clouds, but humidity that was off the chart. We were drenched in sweat the entire day, especially when the sun came out of the clouds and it heated up. On a related note, at least 4 of our group have had an increase in leg cramps in the last 24 hours, and we theorize that not drinking enough water in the humidity is the cause.
Today’s route was about 60% bucolic country lanes and 40% highways. Hitting the road at 7:55 AMs, Ed and I pulled out of the RV park with Tim C and Erwin, but they immediately ditched us. So we rode on. Within an hour, we caught up to Joe and Tom R, who were enjoying some extended country lanes.
About half way into the ride, we pulled into the town of Independence, home of Sam Houston and the place where Baylor University got its start. What’s left standing of the entry to the original Baylor, and what it used to look like back in the day
We spent some time roaming around the “ruins” of former buildings and reading their stories, then stopped for treats at the grocery store–the only historic building that is still in use.
A couple of hours later, we arrived Navasota and Miller’s, the local ice cream place. We needed a break, and ice cream was calling out to us.
I didn’t know how I was going to get Ken and Ed out of that place. They each had a 3-course snack, then Ed started dozing off, then I started sizing off…..that’s when we knew we needed to get back on the road again.
Several dozen long, steep, painful hill climbs later, we passed through Anderson to catch their Confederate monument. How much longer do you think it will be allowed to stand across from the courthouse?
Still more crazy hills later, we pulled into Checkpoint Harley @ Mexican Hill Ranch, our destination for the night. The owners, Doris and Ernie, had two huge ice chests of Gatoraide and water waiting for us under a pavilion, and tables and chairs set up for us to cool off on. This was going to be a great stay.
While I was showering, Cathy and Cindy, two gals who rode the Southern Tiet last year, brought us homemade lasagne and spinach salad for dinner. It was fun sharing stories with them. Then we buttoned down tight for a storm expected to arrive during the night.
Today, we rode our bikes up and down what seemed to be a gazillion hills. Shoot me! I can’t wait to be out of Texas Hill Country. There was more of the same scenery we’ve been seeing for over a week with more longhorns, more road kills, more monuments, more of Ed’s back, etc, as we rode through Smithville, Plum, La Grange, Rutersville and Oldenburg.
When we got to Warrenton, things started getting more interesting, whimsical and fun.
We had heard about the pie at Royer’s in Round Top, and it did not disappoint.
Royer’s made an exception for Joe, who’s 71. He and Tom R were good for business, downing 4 pieces of pie with 4 scoops of ice cream.
We camped at an RV park in Carmine and, due to no grocery availability, ate out again–our best meal yet. Why didn’t I take a photo of that?
I got a late start leaving Austin, today. The new pedals I bought on Tuesday, when I had my chain replaced, weren’t working with my cleats,so I had to return them and ride over to REI to get pedals that do. Then I had to make a trip to the post office to return my broken Garmin and to mail a box of things I’m not using home. I didn’t get on the road till past 2:30 PM.
I somehow had the impression that hill country ended after Austin, so I was a little surprised to run into several steep hills, including one with an 11% grade, before I even got out of town. The entire route was hilly, but there is no wind, so it was a nice ride all day long.
I made it to Bastrop in time to spend a little time in the historic downtown.
I then met the guys at the Roadhouse restaurant for dinner, before riding to our campsite to set up my tent in the dark and take a cold shower. I’m not complaining about the shower. I was happy to have a shower, even if it was cold.
Our dinner conversation included detailed discussion on some probable rainy days ahead on the route. I’m dreading them.
Hey, where did two whole days go? We arrived the Hostels International Austin Hostel Monday afternoon, and now it’s Wednesday night, and we are preparing to leave tomorrow AM. I’m going to miss the comfortable bunk bed, warm shower, full sized towel and wifi.
I forgot to mention that on arriving here, I had a couple of packages awaiting me, and I’m sure you know how fun it is to get a package in the mail. One was the Ortlieb handlebar bag I purchased but didn’t bring, because it weighed so much and didn’t seem necessary. Now that most of the heavy duty climbing is behind me, I am willing to take on the additional weight in exchange for the convenience of having things I use frequently more easily accessible. Thank you to my ex-husband, Jerry, for being willing to dig through my office to find the bag and hardware needed to install it. It might sound like a small task, but it’s not when so many other things in my house have been piled into that room while repairs are completed on other parts of the house.
The second package was from my sister Janette, who lives in Dallas. I left some resupply items with her before I left, like travel sized shampoo, conditioner, soap, sun screen, vitamins, chain cleaning patches, rubber gloves, etc., anticipating needing things sent to me every few weeks. I’ve been using everything so sparingly that I somehow made it to the mid point of the ride without completely running out of anything, but I’m close. So she gathered up what I needed and a couple of clothing items I had shipped to her and mailed them to the hostel. It’s nice to know I have what I need to make it to the finish. Thanks Janette!
Tuesday, my new Garmin arrived, and that was another joyous moment. It was sheer torture riding without distance, heart rate and cadence (the number of revolutions per minute my legs are pedaling) data for 2 days. The cadence information is, to me, like a tachometer in terms of helping me know when to shift gears to keep from burning my legs and knees out. I watch it constantly, especially when climbing. Likewise, I am constantly checking distance and incremental distance to navigate.
So what did I do with two days of free time? On Tuesday, I slept in till almost 10 AM, and it felt so good to have a long night of rest. After catching up on the blog, I headed out with Neal to a bike shop to get my chain and brake pads checked. My brakes were okay, but I needed a new chain, so while the mechanic installed the chain, Neal and I went across the street to a little Mexican food restaurant for lunch, and it was mucho delicious!
From there, we rode up to the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum on the University of Texas, Austin campus. This was my third Presidential Library visit, and like the others, the exhibits were enlightening and inspiring. I was pretty young when LBJ was President, so didn’t have awareness of the many programs and laws he influenced during his time in office. As an adult, and a Human Resources professional, many of them have been integral to what I did for a living.
Austin has a lot of bike trails and paths, so it was easy to get around. A good part of our ride back to the hostel was like a scenic, quiet joy ride along the Colorado River and Lady Bird Lake.
Today, I spent a good part of the day scrubbing my gear and rounding up things I don’t use to send them home. I packed them up to mail them out, but didn’t have time to get them to the Post Office. Instead, I made a run to REI with Ed and Tom R to exchange my air mattress for one that doesn’t leak and have to be blown up during the night.
Then Ed and I went on a Segway tour of downtown Austin. Our tour guide was not the best (deja vu of the guide at Seminole Canyon), but it was fun cruising around and not having to pedal up all the hills. Some of the highlights of the tour were the State Capitol building, the Texas Africa American History Memorial , the Driskill House Hotel, and sculpture of Willie Nelson, and the Graffiti Park at Castle Hills.
When the tour ended, I hightailed it back to the hostel to meet up with Ken Flake, a friend who was in the Tempe 7th Ward with me when I was growing up and lived just a block away from my family’s home. Now living in Harker Heights, a suburb of Fort Hood, he was able to drive down after work, bring me dinner from a nearby barbecue place, and sit out on one of the hostel picnic tables with me to catch up on old times.
And he got to meet and chat with all the guys in our group who are staying at the hostel and get a look at hostel living. It was so good to see him and hear about his life and family. Ken has been blessed with a good wife, a great life and a strong testimony of the Gospel. Thanks for taking the time to drive down to see me, Ken. And thanks for bringing me dinner. Much appreciated!!!
After Ken left, I rode to the grocery store to buy a few items I am almost out of. It may be a week or more before we are in another town with a regular store with regular merchandise and regular prices, and by then, I will be out of sunscreen, lotion, lipstick, and a couple of other items I carry full sized containers of. I am now fully supplied for the second half of this journey.
Tomorrow, we will be camping in a state park, so most likely will not have wifi.
By the time we left Johnson City, 5 of our group had ridden ahead and were already in Austin, leaving 6 of us to make the ride today. We ate breakfast out, then hit the road together, expecting a day of hill climbing, a water crossing, and the steepest hill climb of the tour.
I failed to mention, yesterday, that my Garmin took a fall and the LCD screen failed, so today, I was without both the map to Austin and the ability to navigate with turn-by-turn instructions, due to no distance data, so I absolutely had to have a riding partner all day long, just to be able to find my way. Tom C volunteered, as Erwin, his normal riding partner, was up ahead in Austin. A powerful hill climber, in spite of the fact that he is pulling a Bob trailer, Tom had to wait for me after the uphills way longer than I had to wait for him after the downhills. Riding with a sissy girl must be a real drag. I felt sorry for him and especially for Ed and Ken, who have ridden with me so much. I’m sure I have held them all back.
An entire day of hills was a bit ridiculous. I actually looked forward to the water crossing and steep climb just to break things up. When we hit the entrance to Pedernales Falls State Park, the water crossing was not far away.
This particular section of road has constant water flow, so the road is mossy and slick, and riders in the past have fallen when they tried to ride across it. So Ed was first to cross, and he bravely rode across with no issues. Tom R walked, then Tom C walked, so I walked too and so did Neal. After the fact, I wondered if I should have been more daring, but I’ve already had 3 falls on this tour, so I stand by being conservative and walking. (More sissy girl.)
Once across the water, we were faced with a super steep grade, and it was a lot of work pushing our bikes up the hill to to a point where we could actually get back on and ride again. Ed was able to shift into his granny gear and ride up that hill–something that motivated me later when we hit that steep hill.
Up to the point where we were entering Austin, our ride was on scenic 2-lane country roads, with steady traffic in both directions, making it difficult for cars to pass us.
The route always aims to keep us off major roadways, so after the country roads, we rode through Barton Creek, a beautiful area of high end homes, and the last 1/4 mile of Barton Creek Boulevard is where our 18-19% grade awaited us. I was at the back of the group when I started the climb, and after the difficulty pushing my bike uphill after the water crossing, I was determined to ride the entire hill and not walk. Up ahead, I could see that Tom C and Ed were going to succeed in the climb, but Tom R was walking, possibly due to his bad knee. I killed myself to get up that hill. There is no way I could have pushed my bike up it. And climbing it wasn’t a matter of leg strength; it was more a matter of my heart exploding from sustained beating like a bunny rabbit. I can’t remember ever huffing and puffing as much as I did on that climb, the steep portion of which was probably only 1/8 mile. Later, when I met up with Neal at the hostel, he asked me, “You didn’t make it up that hill, did you?” Apparently, he ended up walking part of it, and was hoping I caved in and walked too. Nope.
Once in town, we ended up on bike paths that took us under freeways, through parks and a section of downtown, along the Colorado River and Lady Bird Lake, and to our hostel, that surprisingly was on the Colorado River.
What a location! We are staying in a cramped 14 bed co-ed bunk room, but it is just a place to sleep. My top bunk looks pretty comfortable compared to sleeping on the ground, and there are real towels to dry off with after a shower, instead of our chamois-like pack towels. After a couple of nights of this, we might be missing our tents, but right now, this feels like luxury to me. I’m looking forward to a good night’s rest and sleeping in tomorrow.
I’d like to write about today, but there was an incident in Ladybird Johnson Municipal Park, last night, that cannot be ignored.
There was a guy hanging around the restrooms drinking a large bottle of Vodka and talking on his cellphone, as we were setting up our tents. Later, he moved his assortment of belongings to the campsite just past ours. And I use the term “belongings” loosely, because his looked more like what a homeless person pushes around in a grocery cart than camping gear. It almost seemed as if someone had abandoned him in the campground, like an unwanted puppy.
When everyone in the campground went to sleep, the guy alternated between snoring loudly and ranting in a drunken stupor about his girlfriend and women in general–using colorful, hateful profanity. Being in one of the next tents over, I couldn’t sleep. I was afraid he was going to come over and take his anger out on me. So I had my pepper spray at the ready and was prepared to scream at the top of my lungs.
A couple of times, he called his girlfriend to cuss and rant on her, then at about 1 AM, his girlfriend drove up to his campsite in a large pickup truck, revved the engine and started yelling at him. Both under the influence of something, they were now screaming at each other full on. She started revving the engine and pushing his chair with her truck, and I’m in a nearby tent. At this point I dialed 911. As the situation escalated, I could hear Tom R on the phone, and assumed that he too was in the phone with 911, which he was.
Before the police arrived, she had circled around and driven her truck between the closely spaced tents of members of our group and a group of college geology students who were camped beside us. She could have run over any one of us. With the arrival of 2 police units, she sped off, and the guy ran and hid somewhere, leaving his pile of belongings behind. Tom R, Ed, Neal, Joe, 3 college students and I all talked to one of the cops about what happened and decompressed for a few minutes while the other cop chased down the girl. It was a relief to know she wouldn’t be back, but the guy was still on the loose. We all went back to bed, and I was finally able to sleep. The next morning, the guy wandered back into his campsite, but we were so busy packing up to try to dodge impending rain, that beyond putting a call in to tell the police he was there, we ignored him.
Fredericksburg is a good sized town with an LDS chapel, so I planned to part with the group after breakfast and go to church. On the way to breakfast, it did rain, but my rain gear kept me mostly dry. When our breakfast at the downtown German Bakery was over, I had a few minutes to read the inscriptions on the monuments in the downtown area before riding up to the chapel.
I learned that Mormon settlers had been sent to that area back in the early days of the church, and they started a successful water mill. But bad weather resulted in them moving away from the area.
I was a little embarrassed to show up to church in my cycling clothes, but that’s pretty much all I had to wear. At least I was fully covered. It was nice to be able to take the sacrament, but once that was over, there was nothing I could do to stay awake, due to sleep deprivation from the night before. I did enjoy singing the hymns and hearing a couple of good stories that stuck with me, and I kept my head in that zone for the rest of the day.
Behind the curve on time to get to Johnson City, as I rode back to get on the bike route, I passed signs for the US Pacific War Museum that caught my attention, so I decided to check it out. I spent almost 2 hours looking at what one of the docents considered to be the most impactful sections of the museum, but it truly would have taken at least a day to thoughtfully see the entire museum. While I had heard of all the Pacific Rim countries involved in World War II, the role each played and impact the war had on them never really jelled in my mind until I wandered through that museum. It was very moving and sad. Sure we won the war, but the cost in lives and suffering was monumental–and this was only looking at the war’s impact on counties in the Pacific.
Fredericksburg had many other historical sites I just had to completely ignore, so I have added this town to a list of places I hope to return to someday when I have more time to take it all in.
To make up time, I decided to scrap the Adventure Cycling route that takes side roads, and ride US Highway 290 to Johnson City, because it would cut an hour off my ride time. That was a solid 3 hour white knuckle ride, with no bike lane, and with cars and Texas sized pickup trucks flying by me at 75+ miles per hour. But I needed to get to Johnson City by dinner time. The route reminded me of the chili farms around Hatch New Mexico, except, instead of growing chilis, the Texans were growing grapes. I probably passed over 40 wineries with tasting rooms which, but being a non drinker, didn’t interest me. (Sorry, wine drinking friends. No photos.)
But as I closed in on Johnson City, things started to get interesting. Dinner was seeming less important now, as I pulled up to the Johnson Settlement, which is part of the LBJ National Historic Park. There was a cinder trail I could ride my bike on, instead of walking a mile, so I decided to tour the site and check out the home and buildings that LBJ’s grandparents built back in the frontier days when they drove cattle and faced Comanche Indians.
Miraculously, I made it to town and our campsite with just enough time to put up my tent, take a shower and be ready for our 5:30 ride downtown for dinner. Once back at the campsite, we had our map meeting and an early birthday celebration for Tom R. And there was only one other thing I had enough energy to do: Sleep.
We got up early today so we would have time to say goodbye to Clare. She was so sweet! She hugged each one of us, told us she would miss us, and personally invited us to come back to visit her. Even offered to pick us up at the airport in Austin. I doubt that any trail angel will be able to top her hospitality and kindness at this point.
Ed and I rode out together, this morning, with Neal and Ken just behind us. We were flying down the road beside the Guadalupe River, enjoying the scenery and the cool air, and effortlessly ticking off miles.
As we rode through Hunt, we started seeing groups of Ford Model Ts coming from the opposite direction–a lot of them. When we stopped to talk to a few of the owners who were stopped for gas, they told us there were about 100 of them on the road today, all part of the Texas T Party Model T Club. You’d be proud of me. I didn’t even ask about their politics.
Later we were passed by dozens of Ford Mustangs and after that, dozens of BMWs. Do we have car clubs like these in Arizona? If we do, I must not get out much, because I have no awareness of them.
We stopped at the Arts Center in Ingram to enjoy the replicas of Stonehenge and a couple of the Maori statues on Easter Island–all built by a couple of local men.
I wondered if I would build something of that scale if I had a bunch of land and free time on my hands. It would have to be a whole lot of both, let me tell you.
When we got to Kerrville, we were ready for a second breakfast. When Ken, Neal, Ed, and I stopped at a corner to discuss where to eat, and a nice man pulled up to ask if we needed help. He referred us to an award winning breakfast spot that was just a few blocks off the route, and its breakfast buffet was amazing. Eric caught up to us, and the 5 of us knocked down an unbelievable amount of food. We’re burning so many calories that we eat like a bunch of high school football players, except we hopefully have better manners.
Back on the bikes, the route took us away from the Guadalupe River and back into hill country and winding roads. We passed miles and miles of ranches, grazing cattle and sheep, and a few farms and orchards.
When we arrived at our campsite at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, we had just 7 cyclists on board. Rich and Chris had ridden ahead to Austin, Erwin was spending time with a female friend who flew out to see him, and Tom C was in town for Catholic Mass.
Being short of shared equipment that would have been required to cook dinner, and also being short of people, we decided to ride our bikes back up the road to a crowded pizza place we had passed on the route.
And that is where a few of us had a lifetime first–our second restaurant buffet in one day. Once again, we ate way too much.
We are expecting rain in the morning. Hopefully it goes easy on us.
Did I mention that we are in Texas Hill Country? We have had poor internet and phone capabilities, the past 3 days, so keeping up with the blog has been a challenge. It’s now 11:36 PM, everyone else is sawing logs, and here I am just finishing yesterday’s blog and starting today’s. Wait. I need sleep too. We all eat breakfast at the same time, so we also wake up at about the same time.
Today was the halfway point of the tour in terms of days on the road, and tomorrow will be the halfway point in terms of miles. This called for a celebration, but we didn’t have anything planned. After all, we are in the middle of nowhere, camping out as we move down the road. But an opportunity to celebrate presented itself today.
The route was, well, hilly–just like the past few days have been. We planned to ride 42 miles and stay in the By the River RV Park in Kerrville. Neal has a widow friend named Clare who lives 30 miles into today’s ride and invited us all to stop at her house for lunch, so that was the plan.
So here is how the day went. I spent most of the day riding with Tom R. As soon as we pulled out of Lost Maples, we were cold turkey in a 600 foot climb at 10 and 11% grades. Good morning legs!
From then on, it was hills, hills and more hills–we’re talking steep hills–and numerous crossings of the Guadalupe River.
On the way down each hill was a sign warning of possible water in the road, and at the bottom of each hill was a water gauge. The scenery was spectacular with tall trees, leaves changing colors and pristine river water. Who knew that this kind of beauty exists in Texas?
As we neared Clare’s house, the scenery clicked up a knotch to beautiful waterfront properties, private camps for youth, and resorts.
Several hundred feet of fence had a cowboy boot on every fence post
Clare’s mailbox was marked with one of the reflective triangles we wear on the backs of our bikes. We pulled in to find 3 of the guys lounging on the front porch, soft drinks in hand, munching chips and several types of dip. A spunky, tiny little lady with a huge smile greeted us with Lucy and Chacha, her white lab and poodle. This was going to be a great stop.
At least a couple of us dozed off while we waited for the others to arrive. Two of the guys had other plans, so they skipped out on lunch at Clare’s, but the other 4 arrived within an hour. Clare, who loves to entertain people, laid out quite a spread with a variety of breads, luncheon meats, cheeses, tossed salad, potato salad, deviled eggs, beverages, warm bundt cake, fresh out of the oven…..the works. We were in heaven. She kept asking if we would like to stay over at her house, and the more she asked, the better the idea sounded.
The group consensus was to call it a day and stay with this tiny little lady who lives in a house 12 miles short of Kerrville. We can make up the lost miles tomorrow. Today, we got to relax and enjoy some authentic Texas hospitality and have an unplanned celebration of reaching the middle of the tour.
Clare put in a call to the friend who owns a few hundred feet of the Guadalupe riverfront across from her house, and got permission for us to use their pavilion and river access. After giving each of us a towel, Eric, Ed, Tom C and I walked over and dunked ourselves in the refreshing river water. We played a little frisbee before lounging on the boat dock and just plain relaxing.
Meanwhile, back at the house, she was preparing another spread for dinner that included pork cutlets, augratin potatoes, another green salad and fresh homemade rolls. Dinner was delicious, and once it and the map meeting were over, most of the guys went to bed, leaving just us bloggers to enjoy our wifi service while we have it.
Look for more about the miles of huge ranches with 10 foot tall fences in one of my upcoming posts, when I am not so sleep deprived. Dick Cheney was hunting at a ranch like these years back when he shot that wealthy attorney in the face.