Riding the same old routes that start from my part of Austin can get boring, and that’s the way I’ve been feeling lately. I decided to check the schedule for Austin Cycling Association rides, and found one that fit the bill.
I didn’t want a hammerhead ride, and I didn’t want to go 60 miles. The ACA is pretty good about rating the effort required for its rides, and has more classifications than my neighborhood club. One of the rides scheduled for Sunday was a “hosted” ride, meaning a person organizes the ride and serves as its leader. These are no-drop rides, and it’s up to the host to make sure no one is left behind.
The route started in Pflugerville (the P is silent), a suburb squeezed between Austin and its northern neighbor, Round Rock. It was billed as a C-level ride, which in ACA parlance means an average speed of 13-15 mph. Yes, I can ride faster than that, but I wanted to see how close to the advertised speed the ride really went. The other thing that attracted me to this ride was its 10 a.m. start. Pflugerville is about 40 minutes from my house, so the prospect of getting up early to get somewhere for an 8 a.m. start is not appealing .
We met at Lake Pflugerville Park, a convenient starting point because of its parking lot and facilities (even if they are in a deplorable state of uncleanliness). Nine riders showed up, including our host Amy, who briefly described the first few roads and turns of the route, passed out route maps, and headed out at 10 a.m.
We strung out quickly, with a couple of riders well out in front, and some riders lagging far behind. Because this was a no-drop ride, we would be stopping to regroup from time to time. As it turned out, those two guys off the front were new in town — one from Philadelphia and one from Baltimore — and had no idea where they were going, so they stopped and waited at every crossroads we came to.
One place I was looking forward to stopping was New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church (“The Most Photographed Church in Texas”). This area of eastern Williamson County has a large population of people of Swedish descent. The church’s extra-tall steeple is a prominent landmark for miles around across this flat farmland. I just think it’s a neat old building.
As we stopped there for a short rest break (less than eight miles into the ride), one of the riders turned out to be having trouble. He was by far the last one to the church, and told Amy that he was afraid he wasn’t ready for this kind of ride (less than eight miles into the ride!). It did have some longish inclines that didn’t seem to end, and that could sap someone’s strength. Apparently, he was getting back into riding after a long layoff.
The only other woman on the ride said since she had ridden a long distance Saturday, she wouldn’t mind going back to Lake Pflugerville with the tired rider. Amy made sure we all knew what would happen next. “Okay, we’re going this way and turning left at the T intersection a mile down,” she said. “And you two are turning around here and going back.”
“As they say on Downton Abbey, ‘Well, that’s settled, then,’” said the other woman. We wished them luck and rode on.
A brisk wind from the southeast blew at about 15 mph. That was great during a several mile stretch where we headed north. As soon as we turned east, though, our ride became a slog. We reached the small rural town of Coupland, where we pulled into a convenience store for a break. This would be our turnaround point, and it looked like our trip would total about 30 miles when we were finished.
I wondered whether the town’s name is pronounced COOP-land, as the spelling suggests, or COPE-land. A local man hauling garbage out to a dumpster set us straight. “COPE-land,” he said. Another mystery solved.
The day had started out with a heavy overcast, which never lifted. Now, it even felt a tad chillier than when we’d started. We spread out quite a bit on the uneventful trip back to Lake Pflugerville, and my bike computer read 30.7 miles when I reached the parking lot. I had been hoping for something closer to 35 or 40 miles, but given the slog against the wind, this seemed just about right.
Will I do this ride again? Probably. I’d prefer to go longer, and I hope for fewer rest stops than we took today. But the gently rolling farmland of Williamson County is a real change of pace from what I’m used to — and that alone is a reason to come back out here.