Tour de Hill Country

At the end of April, as the Central Texas wild flower season was winding down, I loaded up my 2015 Fuji Touring bicycle and started pedaling west out of Austin.

Bicycle touring has intrigued me since I completed the Appalachian Trail. People often ask me if I am going to hike another major trail because it seems like a logical next adventure. I am very much a fan of new experiences though. Although another long distance hike would not be the same experience as the AT, a transcontinental bike ride would be a greater challenge and offer a different sense of accomplishment because it is very different from a long distance hike. 

I have no plans to do a full transcontinental bike tour, but my little tour around the Hill Country was a great first step into bicycle touring. 

Outline of my *proposed tour route:
South Austin - Pedernales Falls State Park - Blanco State Park - Fredericksburg KOA - Oxford Ranch Campground - Inks Lake State Park - Krause Springs - South Austin

* for actual route keep reading

Key things I learned about bicycle touring:

1. It is dangerous. That absolutely does not mean that you should not bike tour. If you never did anything that was risky or dangerous, then your life would be very, very boring because you would sit inside your home and never drive a car. It is dangerous, but that just means you need to be very aware, bring the proper gear, and know when to call it a day (like when its pouring rain, visibility is not very good, you still have 50 miles to go, and there is Friday afternoon traffic). 

2. You can travel so far in one day. Don't get me wrong, I love going three miles an hour and traveling by foot is still my favorite method of travel, but it is nice to look at a map and see a significant chunk of distance from the place you stayed last night to the place you are staying tonight. 

3. The downhills are nirvana. When backpacking the downhills are sadly, painfully worse than the uphills. When touring the downhills are a cool rush of air as you relax on your saddle and effortlessly cover distance with speed that would be impossible to achieve on level ground, let alone uphill. It is a sense of all your hard work paying off instantaneously. 

4. You don't have to carry as much food. Because you can travel so far in one day, you almost always can plan on having at least one meal at a restaurant or stop by a local market for a snack. On my bike tour, I was on the road for six full days. I ate at Stanley's Pizza, Dairy Queen, Main Street Bakery, Fresh Pickens local market, Old German Bakery and Restaurant, El Bracero, and McDonald's. I ate a lot at all of those places. 

5. Google Maps is not always right. Google maps is really, really good, and it was what I used for navigation the entire trip. I would probably do the same again because it was very convenient. However, there were a couple of times I was caught off guard. Once, I did not realize Google was taking me on a very small, rural, sandy road where I had to push my loaded bike some of the way because it was too heavy for the thick sand. A second time, two roads that Google expected to connect and be a good through route, were in fact separated by a locked gate. It was absolutely pouring rain. I mean a lot of rain. I thought about climbing the fence with my bike and continuing on the other side, but there were no trespassing signs and I was in rural Texas. So I walked through an unlocked gate on the side into someone's front yard. I knocked on what turned out to be an old cowboy's front door and tried to explain the situation standing soaking wet on his porch. Eventually he let me through his private property and onto a road on the other side where I could continue my way. 

6. The Hill Country can be very windy. Windy is the worst weather. Rainy is better; cold and cloudy is better; hot and dry is better. When it is very windy and you live outside, there is no escaping. It is constant and annoying. It is hard to cook, hard to eat, hard to pitch a tent. You can't set anything down without it blowing away. Dirt gets everywhere. 

7. Basic bike maintenance knowledge is required. Working at REI and becoming more knowledgeable about bike maintenance was critical for my bike tour. I didn't have any major bike issues, but I could have if I didn't do a pre-ride inspection every morning. I had a couple of flats and my rear wheel spoke tension was all over the place causing my wheel not to be true. I think it is because my rear wheel was loaded down so much with all my gear. Without knowing how to change a tire, adjust spoke tension, true a wheel, and adjust brakes, I doubt I would have made it as far as I did.  

8. It's nice to have help. I already knew this before my bicycle tour, but my fiancé is the best. I planned to ride about 250 miles in a big loop around the Hill Country and return May 5th. At mile 175 on May 4th I woke up to the fattest, wettest rain I have experience since moving to Austin. After delaying as long as I could and the weather showing no signs of weakening, I decided to go. It was just rain, at least it wasn't windy, right? After about 10 miles and meeting an old cowboy, I decided I didn't want to camp that night because all my gear was wet, and there was more rain to come. My plan was to ride all the way home. After about 25 miles, while eating at a McDonald's in Marble Falls, I talked to Julie who was wondering if I was still alive because it was raining so hard back in Austin. She offered to come pick me up at that McDonald's. My pride wanted to keep going, but it would have been dumb to continue in those unsafe conditions. I try not to do dumb things. Plus how could I say no to coming home when I have such a great fiancé. Thanks for all your help Julie!