And Austin

March 2, 2018

Gorgeous sunny weather for our last day of riding! The topo map showed some pretty ominous hills once again, but something about a new day and sunshine can bring great optimism. Our last day of Texas Hill Country looked beautiful.

We left the hotel earlier than usual since we had a lot of mileage to cover and we were eager to see Donna and Gary. The day started out with even bigger elevation climbs than previously (i mean it!) but we were fresh. We passed through Pedernales Falls State Park, a very pretty narrow winding road.

Pictures cannot even express how steep these hills are, but so pretty!

The back roads took us almost directly east and after about 30 miles we started to see signs of city sprawl. I was ready for it! We found a little brewery we could stop at for lunch, the first midday sitdown spot we had found all week.

After lunch the roads became heavy with friday afternoon traffic, and they were very, very narrow. We rode miles in Austin suburbs heading towards the downtown area, coming in through the north, a more affluent area than the southern outskirts we had ridden through the week before. No sidewalks, no bike lanes, no cyclists or runners or walkers, just heavy gated communities and large SUVs with tinted windows. About 6 pm we found ourselves on the charming bikepath that circles Lady Bird Lake and found a gorgeous sunset with the lovely buzz of city life.


Heading East

Thursday March 1, 2018

We knew for sure (!) we had a moderate 40 mile day today heading east back towards Austin, same terrain, same rolling hills.

We grabbed a quick breakfast at the hotel and headed out into cooler misty weather again. We were riding what is called the Pendernales Cutoff in order to get back to Austin to spend the weekend with my sister Donna and brother in law Gary. This would take us to Johnson City for the night. Hometown of President Johnson, founded by his uncle.

We had our first “debate” of the ride midmorning when Mike thought we should take the scenic loop to stay off the main roads. By now I was ready to bike the highway in order to bypass the hills and make a beeline to Johnson City (Mike says I was like a horse heading back to the barn). He won the debate and rode a half mile in front of me to avoid my vocal disagreement. My theme song on rides like this is Paul Simons “50 ways to leave your lover”. I want this blog to be a true account so I am including the hard stuff, and I felt there was a lot of hard stuff in these hills of Texas!

The morning turned around quickly when we started to see more livestock.

I turned into a happy camper!

We didn’t ride through any towns, or even busy intersections all day, I just concentrated on playing with all the gears my new bike has, and getting up the next hill. With all the complaining I did, the end of a hard day brings so much satisfaction for a job well?? done.

We got into Johnson city, cleaned up and walked to the Pecan Street Brewery for dinner. What a riot! The townspeople were interesting and curious. The older rancher sitting next to me got so excited talking about bluebonnets he could hardly contain himself.

Missed ’em by a week

Really good people who love those hills!

LBJ was here, and so was her husband

Wed Feb 28, 2018

A gorgeous sunrise and twelve hours of sleep did a lot for our, or my, attitude. We headed to the local coffee shop before riding into what the tourism brochure people out here call “bicycling nirvana”, and it was a nice ride! The landscape was changing with more to look at and a bit more civilization. We passed many, many wine tasting rooms with acres of newly planted vineyards. The German presence was obvious, the ranches with either German or Hispanic names but all flying the texas flag.

Can’t forget which state we are in

The humidity was perfect and the hills were fun rollers.

A bit on geology..we noticed the land in hill country seems to be mostly limestone or granite with very thin topsoil. Lots of exposed rocks and boulders, yucca plants, prickly pear cactus and tons of Texas live oak. How they grow grapes we haven’t a clue!

This was a typical pasture. We ran into a rancher near here and asked if this was his cow. He exclaimed “No way! Look at that sloppy pasture!” I guess a good rancher picks out ALL the rocks.

We still felt we were in pretty remote areas until we rode near the Lyndon B Johnson State Park and Historic Site.

I think he is pointing at his house.

We stopped at the visitor center for just a few minutes, we could see LBJ’S house through the trees! So close but we had to move on to get to our destination by dark. Hated to miss it.

Family Church of LBJ. Probably Lady Bird Johnson LBJ

We enjoyed the ride into Fredericksburg, obviously a very popular destination in the hill country. The shops and restaurants were pretty much all German themed, and it was filled with tourists.

Our super cheap hotel room on top. Came with a friendly Kitty!

We cleaned up, walked into town too late to visit the huge National Museum of the Pacific War. It is located here because Fredricksburg is the boyhood home of Fleet Admiral Chester w. Nimitz. Sorry we missed it! (Another reason to come back some day for a visit.)

Of course we scouted out the town, listened to some music and ended up at the German brewery, which served up good American food and beer, but no German lager?

Oh my goodness..Hill Country!

Tues Feb 27

We left the Faust Hotel in a light drizzle (again) and (again) we thought we had a pleasant day of riding. We mounted up in good spirits and headed out with no sense of urgency…we need to learn to read maps. We followed the Guadalupe River, obviously a busy river for “toobing”…their term, not ours. The banks of the river were packed with little stores, cabins, tube rental sheds and bars. Miles and miles of river recreation all brown and dreary in the off season rain, but we enjoyed the winding road and view of the river.

Once we reached the Canyon River Dam we stopped for a leisurly lunch at the BBQ shack.

Sitting under a canopy, protected from the rain, we checked over our cycling maps as we often do when not riding. The maps we use have so much information, points of interest, locations for food and water, mileages, and most importantly the topography of the route. We took our time thinking we were ahead of schedule and happy to be able to dilly dally, our favorite thing. Ugh, once again we found we had misread the mileage (how does this happen??) and we had 30 miles more than we had planned. We had no choice this time but to ride it. Which was fine, but just not planned.

Once we headed out after lunch and passing the Canyon River Dam the real Texas hill country began. The traffic thinned out, but the hills were relentless, absolutely no flat road. The wind picked up so it was hard pedaling even down the hills. The landscape was gray and monotonous, no Texas bluebonnets in sight.

turkey vultures waiting to pick my bones

I would get to the top of a huge rise and see miles and miles of hills in front of me. Dear Mike was so patient, he would wait at the top of each crest and say “tell me when you are ready, honey”. Honestly, I went over many mountains last year, but I found this brutal. My whole body was shaking , the humidity was 90 percent, the constant drizzle. Wow. Even Mike was struggling.

About five pm, still riding in a drizzle we found the little cabin we had reserved on the Blanco River.

It was adorable! Overlooking the water, it had a Jacuzzi tub, a little porch and kitchenette. Pizza ordered in and sleeping by 8. Whipped.

Back on Track

Mon Feb 26, 2018

We woke to a heavy fog and 90 percent humidty in San Marcos. Knowing we had a short day we hung around the hotel until we felt it was at least somewhat safe to travel the 20 miles to New Braunfels. Since we were off route we zigzagged our way through the town and headed out on the rural two lane county and state roads, finding little traffic. We have found the drivers in Texas to be very, very friendly and they give us wide berth, no rolling coal here so far!

About noon we found the cutest town called Gruene (pronounced Green) and the sun came out! This little resort community has an old dance hall responsible for helping start careers of George Strait and Lyle Lovett! I browsed the shops, (I collect little pins for my bike bag) while Mike chatted with some motorcycle adventurers. I could hear them laughing three boutiques down. After some tex-mex food (just add lots of cheese)

We headed into New Braunsfels and the refurbished mansion we were staying at that night. Gorgeous, full of character, friendly.

Heading into town after settling in we found the best country western bar with a little Jimmie Dickens look a like singer.

He serenaded us with a traveling cowboy song. Dennis Jay was his name. A real recording artist who raises horses.

Outdoor firepits, Adirondack chairs and dogs. Really perfect way to end the day.

Hit the road, Jack

Sunday Feb 25, 2018

We woke Sunday morning to the sound of heavy rain. Avoiding each others eyes, we quietly crawled out of our beds to pack our panniers and load the bikes up, knowing we had a schedule to keep.

The hostel kitchen was empty in the morning, we heard there was a big kerfuffle on the third floor at 3am which kept everyone awake..a friend never made it back to the hostel and the bus was leaving. We had a bit to eat by ourselves and made our way out.

The rain had stopped and the streets were quiet as we zigzagged our way south out of Austin. We love riding through the neighborhoods in the morning, and it took us a few hours to actually get out of the city. Hispanic churches were filling up, we could hear the sounds of singing filling damp air.

We found the riding not so bad, the roads were chip sealed and narrow, no shoulders but the traffic was light. We were caught in sudden bursts of rain, but it was not so bad.

The garbage along the roads was quite remarkable, like nothing we had ever seen. Not just beer cans and McDonalds bags but mile after mile of mattresses, tvs, old furniture, bags of garbage. We came across a freshly hit wild boar (interesting!!) lots of roadkill and vultures by the thousands with their wings outstretched, very creepy and still.

We were headed to New Braunsfels , thinking it would be an easy 42 mile ride according to our gps. While sitting out a downpour in a gas station 30 miles in we found we had miscalculated by about 20 miles..making it a 62 mile day. Psychologically we were bummed. Time to go off route and head to San Marcos, a more doable 47 miler.

We had our first flat tire (me). It was glass. Mike is so patient!

Making it into San Marcos we found a hotel with crispy cotton sheets (my favorite) We cleaned up and headed into town for a nondescript meal in a nondescript restaurant with a great beer selection! Hoping to see the bluebonnets we were promised, but we may be to early in the season.

Exploring Austin

Feb 24, 2018

We spent Saturday exploring Austin by bike, very easy since the bike lanes downtown are A-mazing really. We first hit up Lance Armstrongs favorite bike shop, Mellow Johnnies. We don’t know if he really goes there but the shop had his yellow jerseys on display and a few of his bikes. Cool. And they told us it was his favorite so there is that.

We then went down to Lady Bird Lake and took the bike path all the way around. Ten easy miles. The paths were crowded with cyclists and walkers and the lake was full of kayakers and standup paddlers. Lady Bird Lake is really a reservoir created on the Colorado River in 1960 to cool the power plants, but it is well used recreationally.

It really speaks to the value of adding parks like this to a city. So well used.

There was art along the way…hey, it’s Stevie Ray Vaughan!

Interesting thing happened, The band Foreigner was in town and his roadies were there taking pictures so we helped them out. I know, always hanging around with the rich and famous!

More art!

The most amazing thing were the dog parks along the path, large open spaces along the river with hundreds of dogs diving in and playing together. No fences. So wonderful.

The afternoon ended with Brisket,

a nap and shower and we went off to find some good Texas Soul Music. And we found some!


Feb 23 2018

First off, a word about the blog. We write this not as a real narrative or anything, just an open journal so we can remember our adventures as we get even more forgetful. We want to remember things we found fascinating or worth remembering, and it may or may not be that interesting to anyone else. It should be named “Mike and Deb on a Bike” or something, but we are going to leave it as is, since I have my own blog and we just decided to use Mikes blog to journal. Saying all that does free us up to write about restaurants we loved or people we have met, or funny things that have happened between us, without being concerned if it keeps anyone else interested.

That being said, we were still on the train Friday and we had the whole car to ourselves! We spread out, MIke reading and listening to podcasts (Mostly Slow Burn, a fascinating account of Watergate) and I spent the hours knitting and listening to my podcasts (I love NPR politics, Pod save the World and The Daily) I have been knitting keps lately using a pattern and yarn from the island of Fair Isle, the patterns used were traditionally used in the knitted hosiery of fishermen. I purchased the pattern directly from the museum on the island and am using pure shetland wool. It is addicting! This one needs its traditional tassel yet.

Anyway, that is how we spent our lovely quiet afternoon.

We arrived in Austin ahead of schedule and quickly found the hostel we were staying at Firehouse Hostel. We had a small coed room with two set of bunk beds, but little did we know when we reserved the room we were staying on 6th street. An area of Austin which makes Beale St in Memphis look tame. The noise!

At any rate we enjoyed our roommates and it was better then staying in a sterile chain hotel by ourselves so all was good.

After settling in we headed to an area of Austin called Rainey Street. A neighborhood of historic houses turned into restaurants and bars, lots of food trucks and music. We took the pedicab and as proud as we are of Grand Rapids, we thought that night we wished they would lighten up on the restrictions for food trucks and pedicabs and dogs on restaurant patios. It adds so much flavor. Such friendly people we met. What a nice night.

We headed back to the hostel and slept um…fitfully.

Texas Adventure

Feb 22, 2018

After our amazing trip last summer out west, Mike and I decided to continue our ad ventures with just a few changes…like a new bike for me! Over the winter we purchased a Surly Disc Trucker and Mike modified it to fit our needs. It is gorgeous, and I was so eager to try it out we decided to do a spring ride. We also thought it would be a good way to kick off the 2018 cycling season.

Adventure Cycle Organization recently mapped out Texas Hill Country, a 311 mile loop around the Austin Texas Area. They recommended going in March to enjoy the renown wildflowers in bloom so we just picked a date and made train reservations. That is a good way to get things started we have found. Just buy tickets.

Yesterday morning we loaded our bikes on the train in Holland MI for the roughly two day journey, which includes a four hour layover in Chicago. Train travel is so easy with a bike, no boxing..they just secure it in a special room and we are off.

It has been raining record amounts in the midwest which has caused a small delay in our travels, we watch miles and miles of flooded landscape go by from the observation car.

We decided to go without a roomette this time, and as I write this we both feel like it has been quite doable. The seats are large, the train is not crowded and we can spread out.

Saying this, I must admit we are both ready to just be in Austin and get the kinks out.

Starting to see leaves on the trees from my train window. So refreshing.

Lost Trail Hot Springs to Wisdom 6-19-17. mike

We had stopped at the hot springs because it was at the base of Big climb. The Lost Trail Pass (7014 ft) and the Chief Joseph Pass (7241ft). Fortunately we didn’t lose any altitude between the first and the second. They are only a mile apart but on different roads so they count as two diff passes. Also the high plains here are already 5000 ft so not as bad as it sounds. 

When we got to the summit there was a rest stop and a bunch of people from Adventure Cycling had food stop set up for a ride they were doing up the same road. They saw us and treated us like family. Gave us food and drinks and the riders there had a million questions about our ride. The riders were only doing a 5 day ride around Montana, so they were quite impressed. 

Once over the passes we dropped in to a valley called The Big Hole. So named because of the mountains all the way around. The Big Hole river runs through the valley. There is a national monument in the valley for the Big Hole Battlefield where the US government ambushed the Nez Perce Indian camp and killed 90 people, including women and children. Quite a moving interpretive center there. 

Further down the road we came to the village of Wisdom. Gas station, 2 bars, c store and a really nice motel:) Yesssss. The valley is known to have really bad mosquitos for a certain time in the spring. Yep they do. To camp there would have been torture.