You thought I was in the U.S., didn’t you?
I got a very late start this morning because it was “laundry day”. With only three changes of clothes, I need to take advantage of whenever I find a “washateria”. I’ve discovered that wearing the same set of clothes for multiple days guarantees you will be riding and eating alone. With the warmer weather, my gear has become quite rank.
Once I got going, I made it only seven miles before stopping at a taqueria in Hunt for a bit of lunch. Then at the suggestion of a friend I took a detour onto Hwy 1340 and visited one of the stranger sights I’ve seen. In 1999, a couple of ranchers, Al Shepperd and Doug Hill, on a lark, decided to make a replica of Stonehenge on a 2/3 scale. It’s really quite strange. You cross over the Guadalupe River, climb past some small ranches and there in a large open field you see it. The monoliths are steel and concrete, not stone as in the original, but it’s a realistic replica. Clearly, Al and Doug had way too much time on their hands.
Reversing course, I again rode through Hunt and for the next twenty miles crossed back and forth over the Guadalupe. It’s a lovely area with many expensive homes, ranches and lodges lining the river. Boot Hill Ranch has an obvious way of making itself known. Every post for over a quarter mile in front of the ranch is topped with an old boot. There are hundreds of them in every size, color and style you can imagine.
The next 40 miles were a succession of rolling hills in a very desolate part of Kerr County. The scenery was, like yesterday, incredibly beautiful and I had a day to match. Nothing but clear skies and warm temperatures. I rode in a t-shirt and let the heat saturate my bones. Along the way, I saw my first Geococcyx Californianus. It was much larger than I had expected and it took me a few minutes to identify. I also saw a camel and what I believe was a herd of African Impala. I never found out the story about the former, it was just eating some straw in someone’s front yard. As to the impalas, it turns out that some of the ranches in the area have converted from raising cattle to raising exotic animals for hunting.
As I climbed higher the scenery was even more appealing. Mats of prickly pear covered the landscape along with yellow Texas primrose and oaks just starting to leaf. I had the road all to myself for hours at a time. As the sun started its move west, I rode down the centerline focusing on the shadow of my pedals on the pavement and listening to Miles Davis. It was bliss.
At around 5:30, I rolled into Lost Maple State Park. I rode around looking at the campsites (which were nice), but I just didn’t feel like stopping. A few miles down the road, I pulled over at the local market in Vanderpool. I saw a fully loaded touring bike out front and went inside and met the owner, a gentleman who is riding the southern tier from the west coast. We compared notes and he advised me against going any further today, because of the hills between Vanderpool and Leakey (known as the “Alps of Texas”). Despite his recommendation, I couldn’t bear the thought of riding back to the state park. (I’m fairly certain that in its original Gaelic, my last name means either “never ask for directions” or “never backtrack”). Anyway, I figured that once the sun set the headwinds would abate and I would have sufficient light because of the full moon.
A few miles outside of Vanderpool, I hit the first climb. It was an 11% grade for one to two miles with only one slight bend. Nasty. This was followed a few miles later by a second climb of about three miles and a 9% grade and then a last short climb with a 10% grade. All this in the final 15 miles. The downhills were equally daunting. I discovered that terminal velocity for my bike fully loaded is 35mph. Or, perhaps, that is terminal velocity for my courage, because once I hit that speed, I was crushing the break levers. With all my weight, I felt like an out of control 18-wheeler.
But despite all this, the area grew even more beautiful with the setting sun. The angle of the light brought texture, color, dimension and grace to what surrounded me. I brought my bike to a final stop in Leakey just as the first stars appeared overhead.