You Gunna Die in Texas, and other things Bill Hicks never said

DeRidder – Silsbee – Cold Spring – Lake Conroe – Carmine – Buescher State Park – Austin – Johnson City – Enchanted Rock – Kerrville – Vanderpool – Camp Wood

Ah heck, the curse of the mobile blogger, getting all distracted doingfunstuff and forgetting to write it all down.  So with apologies to those of you with other things to do, here’s a bit of a lengthy post on what’s happened in Texas so far. Make a cup of tea and take a deep breath – WE LOVE TEXAS.

We’d been warned, in a not-really-serious way, about the perils of Texas, particularly  the Western side.  ‘You Gunna Die in Texas!’ was perhaps tongue in cheek, or we hoped that was the intention.  There are some big empty bits on our maps, and warnings of ‘no services for the next 60 miles’ on our ACA maps.  Plus snakes, spiders, scorpions, the KKK, guns, trucks and the weather.  Awesome.

Leaving the rain behind in DeRidder, we used the international language of sport to wangle ourselves a stay with Trey and Stephanie, the owners of BeChallenged Crossfit, in Silsbee Texas.  They have built a great box (that’s crossfitspeak for a gym) next to their house, and were kind enough to let us stay and get cleaned up.  I did have a go at a 6am class too – which after a month of nothing but cycling did bite me back for a couple of days afterwards.  Dane (who we met in Simmesport, with Ray the crayfish Dude) was also heading our way still so we all camped together, and then rode up to Coldspring together the next day to stay with Susan and Brent from warm showers.

Susan and Brent were still rebuilding their house after a major water leak, but still made us feel really at home.  Both of them were adventure cyclists and runners too, so we compared stories including how to ‘manage’ the threat from Bears in the backcountry.  Susan took us for our first proper breakfast tacos the next morning which was…pretty spicy (Cassie, Grimer’s nailing the spice now 😉 ).  From Coldspring our aim was to find Cindy at a bike shop near Montgomery for some backyard camping.  On arrival though we found her shop was right on a 6 lane highway and whilst Cindy couldn’t have been nicer, we were a bit concerned about not being able to sleep.  So what happened…yup, Cindy phoned her mate Charlie, bought us hamburgers and shipped us off in his truck for a very comfortable night in his great house by Lake Conroe.  Cindy and Charlie are both total stars and we felt at least a little able to offer something back in the way of kit advice to Charlie, who’s riding the Rhine later this year.

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Hanging out with Charlie at Lake Conroe

From Lake Conroe things started to get lumpy after a flat, fast morning to Navasota, and we climbed into hilly farmland to Burton, with more and more ranches and cattle in evidence.  Outside Burton we found Carol, another diamond from WarmShowers, for a day off the bike.  Carol has a perfect set up with a bunkhouse and an incredibly peaceful smallholding off a dirt road.  She’s non-stop, getting us involved in her latest construction project which hopefully we didn’t put too badly out of whack.

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Carol’s tiny house

After an active but restful day with Carol we made away through Roundtop to La Grange and then a really fast ride up to Buescher State Park.  Camping out here we met a big group of cyclists out from Austin for the night, and a NA group who were great and gave us all sorts of tips – and coffee. The next day started with a very hilly ride on the park road towards Bastrop, through an area which burnt really badly about 5 years ago.

From Bastrop we had mainly quiet country roads until about 6 miles outside Austin, where the hum of the Circuit of the Americas race track over the hill let us know we were approaching the city.  Riding into Austin was made a lot easier by a lovely guy called Bruce who found us on the road and – in the way of these things – it turned out had been the person who mapped the route we’d been on most of the day. He led us into town straight to Mellow Johnny’s (owned by Bad Boy Lance Armstrong) for a hot chocolate and some local Austin info.  All Lance’s tour jerseys and bikes still adorn the place, so it was a little strange.

Austin already had a different feel to most cities – there were actually some other people cycling, which was new.  Cycle lanes and cycle-friendly traffic lights everywhere, too. We ambled through the city, still with Bruce, down to Lady Bird Lake and through to the suburb of Rollingwood where we found warmshowers host Michael, and shortly afterwards met Randy who was also staying.  He’d been credit-carding his way from San Diego – covering 120 miles a day or more – but had fallen on some gravel and bashed his hand so decided to stop his 3-week trip a little early and fly home to recover and pick up again in a couple of weeks.  Between these two gentlemen I’m not sure we paid for any food or drink for the next 48 hours, which was pretty much a tour of the best food Austin has to offer as well as great music. We also rolled Michaele’s kayak down to the lake for some easy paddling and wildlife spotting.  Unfortunately the famous Barton Springs were closed to swimmers for a few days, so I dodged a chilly swim though still had extra tacos for breakfast of course.

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Sara the rescue, currently on 3 paws only and not fussed
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Randy and his rapid mile-eating bike. And Zoe.
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Some of Austin’s many sides

Austin was a home-from-home, a larger version of Bristol in a lot of ways, and Michael our host was so kind. We had thought about staying for South By South West to see the town in party mode but couldn’t quite afford to lose a week on the road, so we waved goodbye and headed off into hill country.  West of Austin, we were told, things start to change, and they were right.

By Austin we had already felt the humidity of Louisiana begin to drop, and within a few miles it really started to feel dry as we climbed some and headed west.  This was now ranch country, so heading for Johnson City the roads were quiet, and we started to be able to see quite a long way from the tops of some rolling hills.  Just outside Johnson City, about a mile along a gravel road and over a  regularly-flooding river, live Charlie and James. They have a beautiful house, inside and out, and we had a great evening with them and their two slightly cagey (but friendly really) dogs. We hope we might have persuaded Charlie to do the bike tour he’s been thinking of….and we might be seeing them again in Big Bend or Fort Davis, where they have a home.

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Front porch-lounging, Johnson City, with James

Partly on their (and Trey’s) recommendation, the next two days involved a detour North to stay at Enchanted Rock north of Fredericksburg.  It looked everso nice and after a long day through ‘empty’ ranch country, we rolled in in time for an evening walk up a huge lump of pink granite.  It was a great place, and up there above everything, immersed as we were in everything Texas, I wondered if this is where Bill Hicks might have sat an pondered being Goatboy. A tangent but if you don’t know Bill Hicks, find a way to listen to him.

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Enchanted Rock

Things in cycle touring – and it goes a lot broader than that – have a way of balancing out.  For every sunny day, there’s probably some rain. For every hour of tailwind, there’s some punishment coming.  Maybe not right away but over a long-enough time span it all evens out.  The day south from Enchanted Rock on to Fredericksburg and to Kerville was Revenge of the Headwind and Attack of the Hills.  Every day on the bike is a good day but dragging ones’ posterior uphill into 25mph headwinds for 3 hours starts to put doubts in your mind.  This was a struggle but we pressed on through Hill Country via some excellent German Strudel in Fredericksburg and on, eventually, to Kerrville.

I was aware from my rambling book on the civil war that we were, pretty constantly, passing through places where, really not that long ago, some of the bloodiest battles in any war in history were fought.  I’m not knowledgeable enough about what happened here during that time, but talking to people we meet about current issues in politics, local or national, it’s clear that even unconsciously the divisions that existed then are still felt today.  In a state this big, in a country this size, generalisations about groups of people, who they are and how they relate to each other, seem almost inevitable. The positive thing we continue to experience is unconditional welcome and kindness from complete strangers.  We also know that we’re white europeans and, maybe, for other people the same might not be true.  But it’s true for us and I’ve seen no evidence, yet, of anything else.

Back to Kerville, then, and a night with Fred and Janice.  More great food, more great hosts, and a chance to see Fred’s invention of a more efficient bicycle taking shape….

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Fred’s machine…if you can work this out, you’re an engineer!

It’s been 8 years in the making apparently but we’re told it’s almost finished…I’m not 100% sure we (or Fred’s wife) believe that but it looks Very Clever Indeed.

Fred, their other cycling guest Joe and the two of us pedalled out towards Hunt for a few miles, via Stonehenge II (yup) and up a river valley which formed the majority of the days ride.  Very quiet, blue skies, the occasional friendly biker and by mid-afternoon we’d got to Vanderpool, which is on the junction of some hilly, curving roads busy with Harleys and all sorts of two and three-wheeled motorbikes.  At Vanderpool we were met by Laura, who lives in the woods up a trail which even our rugged bikes would struggle with.  She picked us up in her truck for the final section up to her cabin, which was so peaceful it was hard to believe.  We also watched hummingbirds, which we’d never seen and I’m sure Laura was chuckling at our excitement.

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Approaching Vanderpool, valley riding in Hill Country
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Glamping with Laura

Early the next morning we loaded up the truck and Zoe drove us back into town where we left the truck to be picked up later, and we rode the hilliest section we’ve had so far, from Vanderpool through Leakey and on to Camp Wood.  Not exactly mountain climbs, but still 3-4K with maybe 10% sections is pretty good for fully-loaded touring.  The final hour or so of the day was all downhill though, and we arrived in Camp Wood and headed for Los Rios campground, which was cheap and cheerful in a great spot right by the river.  Someone brought us a burrito, gave us free firewood…it was that sort of place.  We also were adopted by this local:

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The boss, and Matt

 

From Camp Wood we’d decided – though with not too many options – to ride the 80-plus miles to Del Rio, which marked the end of hill country and the start of the desert.  80 miles when you have all day is not terrible, but it does mean riding long and also, for this one, over pretty bad roads for about 90% of the time.  We did get a very gentle downhill at least to start, but until we hit Laughlin Airforce Base at Del Rio, where the shoulder was AMAZING, it was a pretty bone-rattling experience.

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Deserted, beautiful, bumpy

At Del Rio we’re staying with Liam from Couchsurfing in a small departure from warmshowers.  We’ve had proper restaurant standard food (including Axis Deer, shot personally by our chef), and met two more lovely dogs, FatFat and Anora, who are as huge and playful as they look.

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Great Dane Anora the puppy
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FatFat, softer than soft

That gets us about up to date! Later today we should be at Seminole Canyon for a night camping, then it’s off in the direction of Marathon and Big Bend, off route and highly recommended for desolate mountains and desert riding.

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5 thoughts on “You Gunna Die in Texas, and other things Bill Hicks never said

  1. Bruce Porter

    It was a pleasure meeting you in Austin, and thanks for blogging your trip – I love to follow along! Glad to hear that you’re taking the detour to Big Bend. The climbs are hard, but worth every pedal stroke. I hope you get to spend a day or two in the Basin! Then, the long ride west on 170, toward Presidio (or north to Marfa) is stunning. Keep riding and writing!

    -Bruce

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  2. What an adventure you’re on. How wonderful that you’re meeting so many kindred spirits. We’re struggling with the snow in Bristol (again) so I’m very envious of your warm weather! Keep on trucking!

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