This past week we spent five days doing final tune-up rides through Texas Hill Country (Shaking it Out in Texas Hill Country). Over the course of four riding days we logged 200 miles that took us from Pedernales to Fredericksburg, then on to Ingram, Lost Maples and, finally, Medina. Our ride on Wednesday was the perfect cycling day and the kind of day we aspire to reach each day during our five month bicycle ride across the US .
That day we covered 48.5 miles in just over 5 hours of active cycling. With breaks and stops it took us a little over eight hours to ride from Fredericksburg to Ingram. The day included lovely stretches of scenic riding where we had the road to ourselves, a minor unplanned adventure that turned a wrong turn into a chance to meet locals, and several opportunities to see and experience things that we would have missed speeding by at 70mph.
The day started off cool and overcast and hinting at the drizzle that would keep pace with us for most of the morning. This was a welcome change from Monday when official temperatures reached the low-90s (and over 100 once you included the heat radiating up off the tarmac).
Once we left the outskirts of Fredericksburg (a town that embraces and celebrates its German heritage at every opportunity through its architecture and food) the truck and car traffic typical of a 10,000 person town petered out fairly quickly. For the first 25 miles our route followed non-stop rolling hills that were steep enough to cause us to downshift to reach the top of each hill but not so steep that we needed to rest at each crest. We could build up enough speed on the downhills to often get us a third of the way up the subsequent hill before we needed to get serious about pedaling. Overall, an excellent cycling fun-to-work ratio.
We were cycling along FM2093 (“Farm to Market Road 2093”) a typical Texas country one lane road with a reasonably wide shoulder so the periodic car or truck zooming by at speeds considerably faster than the posted 70mph weren’t too daunting. In California similar roads would never be posted higher than 50. We passed lots of ranches with very clear signs about their intentions related to trespassing.
Our small adventure started when we stopped by the side of the road for a break and realized we’d missed a left turn about two miles back. (That’s really disheartening when you’re on a bike and there are hills between you and where you missed your turn.)
“I don’t remember seeing an intersection, do you?”
“Nope, but we obviously did.”
We headed back the way we’d come, Joy concentrating on her iPhone map. We were stunned when Apple Map Lady told us to take a right onto a small road barely wide enough for one car. No wonder we’d missed it. The road surface, made from crushed local yellow stone that seems very common here, wound between pastures and almost immediately dropped down into a forest of live oak trees. A yellow brick road through a forest. What could go wrong? Lots, it turned out. We shrugged and turned onto this path.
A quarter mile later we were startled when the road dipped down to cross a stream – which was flowing over the road. We stared at each other for a bit and then decided we were committed. This video shows Joy crossing the stream.
Soon after the stream crossing the road forked and Apple Map Lady insisted that we needed to take the right fork, which took us through what was obviously a gate onto someone’s property. There were no scary “No Trespassing” signs and our feet were already wet, so we decided to follow the iPhone. The road seemed to be heading right for a ranch house about a quarter of a mile away but it was hard to tell because of the way the road curved. Moments after cycling through the gate we saw a big pickup truck appear at the crest of a small hill between us and the house. The truck paused on the crest, staring down at us, its engine idling. The truck’s front grill seemed really big and the image of a bull poised before the charge came to mind. The “No Trespassing” signs we’d seen earlier also came to mind. So did the phrase, “No sudden moves.” Without speaking to each other we mutually slowed our riding pace way down. We pedaled closer. The truck didn’t move. We pedaled closer. A second huge pickup truck pulled up behind the first truck. We pedaled even slower. I don’t remember if birds actually stopped chirping or I just imagined it.
We reached the first truck and looked up into the dark cab and the silhouette of a cowboy hat. “Hi, we think we’re lost. Our map says we’re supposed to go this way to get to Ingram …”
“Nope. That’s not right.”
We spent the next ten minutes listening to the rancher enthusiastically describe the pros and cons of various alternate bicycle routes and why one route was generally better than the other and what his cyclists friends recommended. At one point he even stopped to apologize for his accent because he wanted to be sure we got the road names right. After we’d settled on a path and he’d confirmed that it was the route he’d choose, he moved on. The next ranch truck pulled up and we had an equally delightful conversation, including him insisting that we be sure to tell him if there’s anything he could do for us.
At their suggestion (which meant recrossing the stream and riding those same 2 miles a third time) we ended up on a really lovely stretch of road along a ridge top where traffic was so sparse we often rode side-by-side. By the time we stopped for lunch the rain had given way to a warm, sunny day. We spread our therma rests under a large oak tree by the side of the road. Stretched out on our backs, we stared up into the trees branches and talked about the clouds. We shared an apple, a hunk of cheese, dates and almonds. We enjoyed the shade for quite a while before reluctantly giving up this lovely stop to climb back on our bikes.
That afternoon we passed vast ranches that supported exotic animals, including emus and llamas, and various African antelopes and deer. We don’t know if those were “menagerie” ranches or ranches set up to support “game hunting”. Either way, because our bikes are so quiet we often got very close to grazing animals before they’d notice us and sprint away. (I just need to practice a faster draw on getting my camera, out, turned on and focused.)
That night we camped by a small stream and fell asleep listening to the gurgling sounds of the water and marveling at the wonderful display of stars overhead. The stars at night are definitely big and bright in Texas.