As most of my readers know, I do a lot of solo bicycling trips. I have also done some with my friend Lyman. This trip would be even more more social; it would give me the chance to hang out with some of my oldest and best friends. Tom Constantine, Lyman Labry, Jorgen Jorgensen, and myself all knew each other and lived in New Orleans in the early 1980’s. None of us live there anymore, although we all like to visit.
We met on a Thursday morning at Lyman and his partner Gillian’s Austin, Texas home. Befitting a trip in Texas, Jorgen showed up from his home in the Houston Heights with a huge four-door pickup truck. We could easily pile all four bicycles in the back.
In this Austin neighborhood, Beto signs were everywhere.
We drove southwest about eighty miles to a spot called Devil’s Backbone. I do not know any parallel in the Eastern USA to the Texas and Western tradition of a bar sitting uniquely and somewhat forlornly by itself on a two lane highway, far from any town. I guess you could call it a roadhouse. This watering hole, named after the rock formation it sits on, has been here since the 1940’s and had a big Texas flag.
We had chosen this place to leave the truck to begin our bicycle trip. The bar had several outbuildings and a big yard, and the nice young bartender insisted on giving us a tour.
She kindly agreed to keep an eye on Jorgen’s truck for a few days and snapped our photo before we set off.
Our destination for the day would be New Braunfels, thirty something miles to the southwest. The first part of the ride was on a busy two lane highway, but at least in Texas there are big shoulders on many of the roads.
We got off the main highway on a smaller road that circled a dam of the Guadalupe River.
The fifteen miles of River Road north of New Braunfels is a beautiful bike ride, almost flat as it follows the Guadalupe River, with very little car traffic.
River Road is indeed full of tourist stuff, for the tubing business during the summer.
We stayed that night in Gruene (pronounced “green”, we learned), a restored mill town on the outskirts of New Braunfels. Previously abandoned to the point of being a ghost town, it now is quite touristy.
Negotiated on the spot, we got one of the better hotel room deals I have seen in a while, four rooms for about the price of two. Surprised that we did not have to deal with roommates, we all slept soundly that night.
We again took off the next morning.
We rode back along the Guadalupe River, then turned northward on something called Purgatory Road. Although it was mostly uphill, it made us feel like we were really in The West, with big sky vistas.
We had had some ideas about biking all the way to the town of Blanco, but decided instead to bike back to the truck and drive the fifteen miles to Blanco. There were noises in our group about wanting barbecue for a late lunch. Old 300 in Blanco filled the bill.
The arguments about North Carolina vs Texas barbecue are pointless because the barbecue in Texas is really a completely different dish. Texas barbecue is very up-front in its embrace of large amounts of delicious fatty meat. This $ 7.50 sandwich of barbecue beef brisket seems representative of that philosophy.
We spent the night at a motel in Blanco and had the opportunity to bike to a park in central Blanco and see some live music. The jazz band was professional and tight, the Japanese drummer fetching.
The central part of Texas, the Hill Country, is clearly becoming a tourist destination. I am reminded that the populations of Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Houston have all exploded in the past decades. All of these cities are within an easy drive to the Texas Hill Country. As bicyclists we ran into other visitors almost everywhere we went.
Tossing aside whatever advance plans we had made, the next day we drove the truck and the bicycles to another country roadhouse called Harry’s, about twenty miles north of Fredericksburg. From there we could do as a day trip the somewhat famous Texas bike ride called the Willow City Loop.
At eleven o’clock on a spring Saturday morning there was almost no one around Harry’s but the live music had already begun, playing to Harry’s empty picnic area. The ATM on the far right is non-operational, shot full of bullet holes.
The guitar player told us that Harry’s expected “150 bikers” (i.e. motorcyclists) to converge here in the next few hours. Jorgen parked his pickup in the yard and we unloaded the bicycles.
The bike ride was beautiful. The first two-thirds is on a semi-private road, the only traffic obstacle was other bicyclists and the occasional car.
The final part of the bike ride was along a lightly traveled highway, mostly uphill, which seemed to be a struggle.
We got back to Harry’s about three hours after we had left it. I doubt there were 150 motorcyclists, but a lot had gathered there. The atmosphere seemed friendly and the new set of musicians were actually quite good, guitar and ukulele. We stuck around for a beer.
That pretty much was the end of the bicycling on this trip. That afternoon we piled the bicycles in the truck and drove about forty miles north, just to be able to eat at the fabled barbecue restaurant Cooper’s in the town of Llano. Even though we arrived at what normally (to me) would be a “dead” hour, 4:00 PM, it was still packed on a Saturday afternoon. The restaurant is on the main highway going out of town, the lot was jammed with mostly pickup trucks. To be able to enter a patron first passes by a grill covered with several kinds of meat, where you can select your slab, paid for by the pound. The tables inside had unlimited sides of Sunbeam style white bread and ranch beans. It was all quite delicious, although I was not in much in the mood for meat for quite a few days after this.
Eating large amounts of meat is somehow patriotic. Pictures of visits by governors George W.Bush and Ricky Perry were on the wall, as well as a positive review by the intensely conservative newspaper Washington Times.