Joy and I are spending this week riding in the area known as Texas Hill Country as a series of shakeout rides prior to our cross-country (TransAm) cycle ride.
Given this area’s name, it’s not surprising that it’s very hilly – but they’re most lovely rolling hills covered by sweeping fields of grasses dotted with small clusters of oak and pecan trees and periodically bursting with swaths of springtime wildflowers.
Texas Hill Country spans central and southern Texas. The geology is interesting – covered in limestone and granite and is known for its karst topography (“landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone. It is characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves” – Wikipedia). It’s also home to Texas’ wine country (meh!), and, really surprisingly, a popular retirement area, making Texas the second-most popular place to retire after Florida. Not kidding.
While it’s not a very populated area, Texas Hill Country has had a big impact on US history. The town of Fredericksburg is the birthplace of Admiral Charles W Nimitz, and Stonewall, Texas, only 15 miles east along Texas Highway to 290, is Lyndon B Johnson’s birthplace and the site of his “Texas WhiteHouse”. Both are worth spending time visiting.
Although we’d been doing training rides in the Bay Area, we hadn’t yet done fully loaded rides. Instead we’d been building up to this by loading our panniers with several one gallon bottles of water (that’s 8 pounds per gallon). Our training rides this week are our first real rides fully loaded with all our clothes, camping gear and other miscellaneous stuff. We are each hauling ~60 pounds of gear (currently relatively equally balanced across our four panniers) plus the 38 pound bike. There’s a lot of debate amongst touring cyclists about whether 60% of your load should be in your front panniers or your back panniers. Regardless of the distribution, we are definitely noticing the weight!
Uphill stretches carrying all this weight is sometimes daunting. It often feels that I’m hauling an ice truck up the hill in terms of weight and maneuverability. I haven’t yet resorted to walking the bike up a hill bit I’ve thought about it. I dread the Sierras a month from now.
Interestingly, all the weight and cargo is even a pain when we are stopped. I keep forgetting how “hippy” I am with the four bags sticking out. When we stop for breaks, I find the bike incredibly unwieldy as I try to prop it against a wall or wheel it into a bike rack. Because of the way our panniers bulge out, we can’t park our bikes next to each other. We typically need to take up four slots in a bike rack.
On Monday we rode from Pedernales Falls to Fredericksburg- 47 miles via our route (plus 3 additional miles for me because I rode around the LBJ presidential ranch). If we’d ridden that route with just our lightweight road bikes it would have been an awesome ride. If it had been 15 degrees cooler it would have been a great ride. Instead, we hauled our fully-loaded bikes around on an unseasonably-hot day (93 when we reached the LBJ National Park at 4pm) and as hot as 104 radiating from the road, according to our Garmin. Not surprisingly, the heat totally spanked us.
Our rides have been great learning (and reminder) experiences.
1. Camp Cooking. We’ve been camping some nights. Cooking over a real fire (not coals) is both fun (who doesn’t like playing with fire?) and hard. The asparagus turned out beautifully- better than when I was grilling them on our fancy gas grill at our house. The steak had many fine parts. A few singed parts and a few parts more crudo than I prefer. But we didn’t starve. And doesn’t everything always taste a little better with camp dirt on it?
2. Fire ants. We now know what fire ant colonies look like and how not to pitch our tent over/next to them — no horror stories here, just folks going out of their way to make sure we are aware and prepared.
3. Texans. Texans are really nice people. Everywhere we’ve gone, folks have been very gracious and generous. On Monday a park ranger pulled his truck over to ask us if he could drive us to our destination. He was concerned about how hot it was and that we had ~17 more more miles to go in the late afternoon heat.
4. Water – it’s a good thing. I had forgotten how important it is to over-hydrate on long, hot cycling days. I only had a cup of coffee Monday morning before we started our long day of cycling. About an hour in I felt a headache coming on – a clear sign of dehydration. Once you’re dehydrated, it’s a drag to get back into equilibrium, particularly when you have 30 more miles of cycling to go. Fortunately, there are Dairy Queens and Whataburgers every now and then. Joy and I are not fast food kinds of folks, but the all American combo of a chocolate shake, french fries and air conditioning is a wondrous thing.
Today’s ride was an aborted one after only ~20 miles. Our plan was to ride to an area particularly rich in wildflowers but once the heavy rain, hail and thunderstorms started pounding us, we turned around and headed for our B&B with its toasty room, warm down comforter and complimentary bottles of tequila.