Spring must be here. We can tell, because it’s time for the LBJ 100 again. This would be the third year in a row Pat and I have ridden this one. It starts at the ranch of former President Lyndon B. Johnson near Stonewall, Texas, and is a fundraiser for the preservation of the ranch’s history. It’s also a scenic ride and well supported, and seems to grow in popularity each year.
Although I had ended last year’s ride suffering from slow slogs up endless hills, and had pledged to ride only the 42-mile route this year, I felt that I was in better shape and decided to tackle the 62-mile route (100k — hence the name of the ride. There is no 100-mile version). Pat would once again do the 30-mile ride.
The forecast had looked promising all week, with temperatures at the start expected to be in the mid-50s (12C). What hadn’t been predicted was the dense fog that settled in during the early morning hours. Prognostications that it would burn off by the 9 a.m. start proved inaccurate.
The ride starts on the runway of the ranch, behind the house. When Johnson was president, he would fly into the ranch on a small jet, which is still housed under an awning nearby. The ranch is operated by the National Park Service. We were a little late getting to the start, and heard the air horn go off to send the 85 and 62-milers on their way while we were still halfway up the runway. I caught up with some friends from my bike club, just in time to hit the bottleneck past the former “Texas White House.” The crowd of riders was in good spirits, and accepted that they would be dismounting and walking, instead of making a brisk getaway at the start.
Once we cleared the house, and the cattle guards in front of it, things opened up a little. I fell in with my friends Rick and Penny, and we soon caught up with another familiar rider. It was Pat. How she got ahead of us was a mystery, but she must have skirted the crowd at the ranch house. We said our hi’s, passed her, and moved on. We stayed together for about the first six miles or so, but Rick gradually pulled ahead out of sight. I, in turn, got well ahead of Penny. Then I ran into a problem I’d never had before: When I shifted my hands on the handlebars, I clipped the edge of my cyclocomputer, and it fell off the bike onto the road. I stopped, put the bike on the side of the road, and walked back to it, hoping none of the oncoming riders would roll over it. None did.
The delay allowed Penny to catch up to me, and we rode together to the third rest stop — but our first of the day — in Willow City. Willow City is a small hamlet, about 24 miles out from the LBJ ranch. The roads in the area are popular with cyclists, but also with motorcycles. We saw a large group of them today. On the way out of Willow City, a Porsche passed us in the oncoming lane. Then another. And another.
“The Porsche club must be having an outing today,” I remarked to Rick, whom we had caught at the rest stop. We didn’t count them, but guessed there must have been 30 in an unbroken line, adding their presence to the crowd in Willow City.
By now, the field was well strung out. We were on a 17-mile stretch of road from Willow City to the easternmost point of the ride, in Sandy. It features lots of rolling hills — none terribly difficult, but they do take their toll on riders. This is where I first ran into trouble last year. But last year, it was sunny and warm. This time, the fog still hadn’t completely lifted. It had covered my sunglasses with a film of moisture, so I took them off and rode with my regular glasses, which didn’t get wet as quickly, for some reason.
When we got to Sandy (It must have been a town once — there’s a Sandy Cemetery, but not a building to be seen now), the rest stop was a welcome sight. Recent rains have eased the drought Texas endured last year, and the crop of bluebonnets — the state wildflower — is excellent. A carpet of bluebonnets decorated the rest stop, and provided a major photo opp for many riders. There’s just one problem with the rest stop at Sandy: From here, the ride turns back west, and is more uphill than down. I knew I was in for the most challenging part of the ride.
This is where I ran into trouble the last two years I did the ride. I left Sandy before the rest of my group, knowing that they’d catch me anyway. The still-cool temperature (and I hope, my better conditioning) left me feeling much better than I did at this point before. But I was in one of the lowest gears of my small ring as I hit the long uphill section.
Rick and Joe, the president of our club, passed me easily about four miles out from Sandy. Penny and Joe’s wife, Judy, caught me at the next rest stop when I stopped to refill my water bottles. I had neglected to do that at Sandy, and was doing a much better job of drinking regularly than I do on most rides. Judy got out in front a way, and Penny and I slogged up the endless hills.
“Ya know,” I said to Penny, “my goal coming into this ride was to do this section better than I did it the last two years. And I am — but it doesn’t feel any better.”
Then, it happened again. I moved my hand position, brushed against the cyclocomputer, and it flipped off onto the road. Once again, I had to stop and walk back to retrieve it. Penny had been a little bit ahead of me, and so didn’t know what had happened. By the time I was ready to get going again, she was out of sight.
A nice, long downhill leads into the final rest stop, and I rounded the corner into it with elan. Penny and Judy were just about to pull out when they saw me.
“Don’t wait for me,” I told them. “I’m refilling my water bottle. You two go on ahead.”
I was hoping to catch them during the last four miles of the ride, but was never able to do it. So, I think I have the dubious distinction of being the last of our club to finish. By the time I got through the food line and found a place to sit in the big tent at the finish line, most everyone else had left. Pat had pulled the car closer to the tent than where we had parked it originally, and I scarfed down the sausage wrap and potato salad and spinach salad — good food!– and we packed up to head home.
Pat had her own assessment of her ride. As she described a particularly tough hills section to me, I said it must have been only on the 30-mile route, because I didn’t recall anything like that. “That’s right,” she said. “I was riding next to a guy who had done the 62 and 42 in previous years, and he said that part of the 30-miler was tougher than anything on either of the longer ones.” She doesn’t ride a lot of hills, and was plenty sore that evening.
I’ve ridden a little more this year, and done more hill work, so I thought I was better prepared for this ride than in past years. I was, but at the end, I was still worn out. Pat drove the 60 miles home, and when we got there, I flopped on the bed and slept deeply for two hours. Then I woke up rested and refreshed. As my baseball hero, Ernie Banks, used to say — “Let’s play two!” I’m ready to go out and do another one.