My Texas Bike Tour that nearly wasn't.......
Late in November I was bemoaning the end of cycling season in Montana and wondering if this would be another winter when I let all the summer training slip away, leaving me to rebuild strength and endurance starting in February or March. I began scanning the ACA tour catalogue with great interest, hoping to find a January tour that would give me the incentive to continue training through our off season, and might give me a respite from our long winter. I just needed a reason to train--what better reason than finding sunshine and warmth on my bicycle. Well, I couldn’t find a tour that fit my pocket book and my timing. But, I did have to be in San Antonio, Texas for a conference in late February. Not finding a tour in Texas when I needed it, I found one in the area that takes place in April. Following that tours itinerary I mapped out a route and set my sites on Texas in February. I was thrilled, if not a bit anxious about the prospect of a fully loaded, solo, unsupported bike tour in a region I have never visited before.
Since I am a member of Missoulians on Bicycles, I realized what a great resource local bike clubs are. With that in mind, I Googled “Bike club San Antonio” and got a list of local clubs. One in particular caught my eye. Hill Country Bicycle Touring Club sounded perfect since I wanted to do just that--tour the Hill Country on my bike. A quick email to their president returned a long email from their external affairs director, Nolan. He became a dear friend over the next several weeks as we corresponded about my trip. His wealth of knowledge about the area and all the roads, specific to where I wanted to ride, was priceless. He directed me to safe farm and ranch roads, and tourist sites I should not miss. I was on my way to the sun of Texas.
My initial anxiety was quickly replaced with intense planning, logistics, reservations, and training. I was too busy to even think, much, about any danger or fears. I did, however, remember to ask about wild animals/reptiles/insects that I might prepare to encounter. Apparently the “wild” armadillo hibernates and I wouldn’t need my bear spray. But I was warned to hang my food to keep it away from raccoons and squirrels. As a resource of the area, nothing takes the place of local cyclists giving you the low-down as they see it from their perspective—on their bike saddle. This goes for traffic levels, speeds, and driver courtesy, as well as cultural differences. As far as bike clubs go, HCBTC is one heck of an organization and deserves recognition.
Having planned and trained for a six day cyclocamping tour of the Texas Hill Country, I booked my flight and shipped my bike and panniers. Well, the bike and panniers did not arrive in time. I was scheduled for a conference in San Antonio the following week, so I could not cancel my flight, or change it without a hefty fee. That left the only option, which was to hole up in a hotel somewhere and feel sorry for myself until the bike arrived, with hopes that I might still get in a few day-rides. My ride would not happen. That was all there was to it. I was heartsick.
I wrote an apologetic e-mail to Nolan (and his wife Elayne), to acknowledge his valiant assistance, with a sincere attempt to let them off the hook for the first nights stay they had offered. Nolan and Elayne, would not hear of it.
In a return email, Nolan informed me they have bikes, panniers, tents, and cooking utensils. Everything I would need to do my ride. His solution: They would pick me up at the airport, take me to their beautiful home, find a bike for me, feed me a delicious breakfast, and Nolan would ride with me the first day. I called them, to try once more to impress on them that I was simply a stranger they only knew via email and that this was not what Nolan had bargained for when he wrote that initial response to my enquiry. Elayne replied with conviction, “We are going to make this happen!” These wonderful people had adopted my cause, so to speak. My independent, self-reliant nature made it extremely difficult to accept this help, but I quickly realized it would be a tremendous disappointment for Nolan and Elayne if I were to refuse. I can say, with a grin, I owed this to them.
I swallowed my pride and headed into what was for me, in many ways, unfamiliar territory.
Right on time to my original itinerary, Nolan and I rode from his home on Sunday morning. The sun was shining and it was warm, which had been my original criteria. We rode through Boerne, on our way to Comfort via Waring, Texas. In Waring, we met a man who was on his first leg of a year long bike tour. He was riding the “four corners”, as I later learned it is called. He was riding ACA’s Southern Tier, Pacific Coast, Northern Tier, and Atlantic Coast routes, clockwise from Florida.
I learned on that first day, that Texas leaves the more difficult climbs to the last five miles of the day, as that is how it played out on my entire route. Nolan was a great tour guide. He never missed an opportunity to regale me with local, state history, which is also our Nations history of course. Texans are very proud to be Texans. It’s not just a stereotype. I couldn’t help but imagine what it would be like if everyone had that deep-rooted pride for their state.
One of my favorite things about Hill Country, is the towns are only about 25-30 miles apart, with nothing but ranch houses between—all set well off the road. Yes, it lives up to its name “Hill Country”, and while I found a few hills challenging, none of them were severe. A little hill here, a little hill there. A longer climb here, a longer climb there.
The second day I rode out alone, along the Guadalupe River on a quiet little road through Center Point, many small ranches, and into Kerrville. Being from Montana, I was ashamed to admit that my beloved state has nothing on Texas when it comes to “big sky”. I was enjoying the heat of the sun, the huge blue sky, and the quiet countryside. I began wondering about the tours I’ve often heard about, the ones where the goal seems to be an aggressive number of miles per day. I would not have heard the birds, felt the warmth of the sun, smiled at the locals, or taken the pictures I did, had I been riding in that manner. My pace was just that. My pace. What a concept!
Leaving Kerrville on my third day I encountered my first real challenge. It was drizzling rain, with several miles of uphill riding; along the only section of busy roads I would encounter the whole trip. Once I got to the top of the hill, I turned off on another farm road and didn’t see but three cars the rest of my ride that day, until I came into Frederickburg, Texas that afternoon. In the meantime, I accomplished my first water crossing, where I walked my bike through ankle deep water over a low section of road, through a wash. I’d been warned that these can be very slippery. Anyone who has ridden, or driven, in Texas knows of these common crossings.
On Tuesday my own bike arrived at the bike shop in Boerne. They had offered to bring my bike to me, for a fee of course, wherever I was on my route and so I called to make arrangements. It turned out that they were able to deliver my bike, but would not be able to pick up the bike I had been using. Nolan and Elayne came to my rescue yet again.
On Wednesday morning they drove to Fredericksburg where we exchanged bikes and panniers. They were now into this much more than they had expected, but they were ever gracious and continued to offer help. They had insisted I leave my luggage at their home, where I would do my changeover from bike tour to conference at rides end. That meant, yet another chunk of their time and generosity.
By now, I guess we were all invested in this equally. Nolan and Elayne, with their commitment to make it happen, and me, with my need to complete the trip I had worked so hard on.
One last challenge before I began my Wednesday ride to Luckenbach. After Nolan and Elayne left that morning, I realized I did not have my helmet. Apparently the bike shop had not sent it along. This must have been karma because, using the excuse that it was my birthday, I paid a ridiculous amount for my new helmet just a month before. It was embarrassing when I realized how easy it was to replace my expensive helmet with a $13 Bell from WalMart. (Yes, there is a one in the small town of Fredericksburg.) Also, I remember spending an hour adjusting the expensive helmet to fit me well, yet I found the cheap helmet required no adjustment whatsoever—not even the chinstrap.
During the remaining three days of my trip, I rode to Luckenbach, then back to Comfort, and Boerne, Texas. Each day was magical for me. On my final day, I got turned around 180 degrees, thinking I was headed east, when I was actually headed west. It was quite disorienting for me, not having any mountains on the horizon from which to orient myself. I really miss the mountains of Montana. They are a comfort and they usually point the way home.
Once I got my bearings, I found an ice cream parlor and ordered a sundae to celebrate my Tour. So many obstacles had presented themselves along the way, yet they had all been resolved, much to my astonishment. Even the severe tendonitis I was recovering from before I left for my trip never caused me any problems along the ride.
Nolan picked me up in Boerne, drove me to the bike shop where I shipped my bike back home, and then he and Elayne drove me to my conference hotel. This was certainly as much their trip as it was mine. They told me they felt a great deal of satisfaction and that was enough payment for them. Of course I remain indebted to them and hope someday to find a way to repay them their immense generosity.
Just recalling the amount of their time, freely given to me, not to mention their mileage, shuttle service, use of expensive equipment, their home and their trust, I continue to be overwhelmed by their kindness and their great big Texas hearts.
This is not the story of my Texas Hill Country bike tour. This is the story of my dear new friends, Nolan and Elayne--my Texas Hill Country bike tour rescuers. Truly, they are the “heart” of Texas.