Carnival of Animals

We decided it was time to head for Dripping Springs for Sunday’s ride. It’s been months since we were out there, and I had trouble figuring out why, since it’s my favorite place around here to ride.

None of the other B riders joined us, although in fairness, this was the day of the Livestrong ride in Austin, and I knew they were going to have a large field for that. We saw only a few other riders, all near the beginning of our ride.

Several miles into the ride, we rounded a bend and Maggie called out, “Turkeys!” There was a big one on the left side of the road, and another not too far behind. Then we saw another, and another. In all, a gaggle a rafter of eight turkeys scurried behind some nearby bushes to get out of our sight. Maggie speculated that the first one we saw was a male, and the rest were his harem. I had no idea if turkeys collected harems or not.

The turkey sighting was unexpected, and welcome. Several times, I’ve rounded that same bend to come upon a small herd of cattle right along both sides of the road. The turkeys caused a lot less consternation than the bovines would.

As we pedaled easily along the country road, we chatted about all manner of things. Maggie is usually alert to animal sightings, and she pointed out a red-capped finch on a telephone pole. But then, as she looked away, a nice whitetail buck jumped across the road ahead of us and disappeared into the underbrush. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever seen her miss an animal sighting.

We decided to take the Mount Sharp Road route. The roads south of Dripping Springs offer a variety of route options, and Mt. Sharp is the longest of these. Maggie had only ridden in this area once before, so she was open to going a little farther. Of course, Mt. Sharp is also the hilliest route, so we were going to be in for some work.

We passed a few really nice specimens of longhorn cattle, with impressive spans of horns. Try as she might, Maggie couldn’t get any of them to look our way. They were too busy grazing to pay us any attention.

At the intersection of Mt. Sharp and Jacob’s Well Roads, we stopped for a short rest. This would be our turnaround, because Jacob’s Well gets busy as it approaches the community of Wimberly. I’ve always gotten a kick out of a telephone pole with directional markers for various houses and ranches.

signs

The only problem with stopping where we did is that once we turn around, we have several hills to climb in rapid succession. It’s tough to get any kind of momentum in this area, and I slowed us some more, when I saw some llamas behind a fence. (Click to enlarge.)

llamas

They were curious, and ambled over to the fence when I stopped to fish out my phone with its camera. Besides these two, several others grazed under some trees off in the distance. They posed for some pictures, and when I put the phone back in my pocket, they turned and walked back to the rest of the herd.

Maggie didn’t realize that I had stopped for pictures, and I had to hustle to catch up to her. I rounded a 90-degree left turn and saw her at the top of a hill. By the time I caught her, she was looking off to the left. “Look at the antelopes!” she said, and sure enough, a herd of about 20 was moving away from us. Apparently, they had been down by the fence close to the road. Maggie speculated that they belonged to an exotic game ranch. We have some around here, although there were no signs along the road that indicated this might be one of them.

On the way home, Maggie looked up turkeys on her phone. Males will gather a harem, but that’s in the spring, during breeding season. It’s likely the turkeys we saw were all of the same sex, since they segregate themselves by sex the rest of the year.

All in all, a successful ride. We rode where the deer and the antelope play (couldn’t resist), and saw llamas and longhorns to boot. Our slowish 12.2 mph average speed over the 36 miles reflected our take it easy attitude this day, but it was still enough to send me to a nap once I got home.

 

MY First Double Century (Guest Post)

Our guest poster Don Blount has checked off another item on his bucket list: a double century. Here’s his account of riding 200 miles in one day.

BlountOnBikingA year to the day after completing my first century ride, I set out on my first double century.
A lot had happened during the past 18 months that resulted in me being a stronger rider.  Still, I never ever thought I would be riding a double century. Yet here I was riding the Bass Lake Powerhouse Double Century in Clovis, Calif. 
This double is actually like three different rides. It begins with a fairly flat 73-miles and ends with 27 miles of mostly downhill with a few rollers. Thrown in the middle is a century with 10,000 feet of climbing.
Simple enough.
As a first time double century rider it was important for me to remember that this was a ride and not a race. Riding too hard, too early could lead to trouble later. I just wanted to finish in about 15 hours of riding time.
Here are the four rules I had for riding this double:
1)    Ride safe
2)    Eat enough
3)    Drink enough
4)    Pace myself
I had a good week leading up to the ride. A few easy rides, more water and carbs to store up for later and I was well rested.
I got to Clovis about 7 p.m. Friday and picked up my registration packet. My motel was only a mile from the ride start and I was able to get to bed about 10 p.m.
I awoke at 2:25 a.m. to eat breakfast as I wanted something in my system and give it time to digest before riding. I was back in bed by 2:55 a.m. and slept until getting up for good at 3:45 a.m.
I rode the mile from my motel to the ride start, checked in and was on the course by 4:35 a.m.
I started fine, riding only at about 15.5 miles per hour to the first rest stop at about the 35-mile mark.
It was while stopped there that I encountered my first problem. There were no Hammer products at the rest stop. The ride director assured me by email weeks previously and in person the night before that there would be bars, gels and other supplements at the rest stops.
I have problems eating enough food on long rides and use Sustained Energy to supplement my on-bike nutrition. I had already gone through the only bottle I had with me. The only bars at the rest stop were Nature Valley granola bars along with the usual fare of muffins, pretzels, potato chips, nuts, oranges and other sweet stuff that does not sit well on my stomach.
What I would learn well after the ride was that a volunteer had mistakenly taken the Hammer nutrition products to another rest stop and by the time the mistake was discovered that it was too late to take any to the first (and second) rest stop.
 
I had a few items with me, a Clif Bar, some Shot Bloks, but not nearly enough to comfortably make it to the lunch stop.
I was screwed. 
I choked down a peanut butter sandwich, some potato chips and fruit and went on. The course looped back to this rest stop, so I would be back in about 38 miles.
At about mile 68 I encountered my only mechanical of the day, a flat rear tire. I pulled four goatheads out of the tire, hoping that four holes in one tire would mean that I would not get one hole in four separate tires. Don’t laugh, a friend doing the ride had three flats on the day.
I changed the tire and moved on, came across my friend Joni at the second rest stop and we headed out together.
I had ridden with Joni a bit earlier in the ride but it was good to see her again. She is a member of the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame and has completed more than 60 doubles. She helped me with my preparation and we had ridden together before so riding with her helped me feel more comfortable. I would see her off and on throughout the day.
One of the more difficult things for me at this type of ride is the time spent alone. Sometimes chatting with someone just helps, the same as it does on a club ride.
I started the day in arm warmers and a vest but it was getting warm quickly. And I was feeling it. I came upon a water stop and gladly refilled my bottles. But by mile 100 I was becoming a bit wobbly in my mind. Not addled, mind you but feeling physically weak.
I was not in very good shape when I reached the lunch stop at mile 107.
I turned my phone on for the first time that day and had a message from a friend who was checking on my progress. I texted my wife and him that I was not feeling well and honestly did not know if I could continue.
It was similar to what I had experienced at the Death Ride.
I needed to get some calories in my system quickly.
Lunch was a chicken burrito, pickle, fig newtons, potato chips, two cokes and whatever else I could tolerate. I drink very little soda but on longer rides I find the caffeine and sugar helpful.
And lo and behold, there were Hammer nutrition products. I asked for Sustained Energy, got plenty of ice.
I downed as many calories as I could without bloating myself. And then I waited. I do not know for how long but eventually I felt well enough to continue.
The roughest climb of the day was ahead. The pitches were steep and it was hot. It was like climbing out of an oven.
Volunteers at a water stop somewhere on the climb told us it was not much farther to go and then at some point to remember to make a left at the totem pole. Yes, a totem pole. (Click to enlarge.)
 
Totem_Pole2
 
And there it was signaling the beginning of an 8.6-mile climb. But the climbing was gradual and led to the fourth rest stop at mile 132. There was only one difficult climb left.
Powerhouse grade was actually not as bad as I had anticipated. It was dark again by the time I reached it, so I could not see the grades, but I could feel them. It went on for a good seven miles, so all I did was sit and pedal. 
Eventually, I was over the top and at the next-to-last rest stop. I had not completed that century in the middle of the ride but I was close and there were no real climbs left.
I was told the last rest stop, no. 6, would be the most fun. It was only 14 miles from the finish. By this time anyone there, barring a catastrophe, would finish. Music was playing, people although tired were happy and the volunteers were jovial.
My Garmin died on the last descent of the day and I did the only unsafe thing I had all day. I took my phone out of my jersey pocket and turned it on so I could calculate my total time.
I arrived at the finish, with Joni again, at 10:25 p.m.
I had completed my first double century in 14.5 hours of riding time and a little less than 18 hours total time for the day.

Vignettes From a Ride

Our Sunday morning club ride promised to be routine. The A’s were going some distance southeast of Austin, while Maggie and I decided to do a B ride to the south. The forecast was promising: in the 60s (18C), partly sunny, and zero chance of rain.

My glasses were covered in mist as I pedaled over to the ride start, and it was chilly enough that I wondered if I had underdressed. After faffing around and finally starting three minutes behind schedule, we made a long line along the road as we struck out from our Starbucks.

But at our first left turn, we left one behind. Jerry had taken off his windbreaker and stuffed it in his pocket, and lagged behind us at the start. We all made the left turn before the green arrow turned red — all except Jerry. “Hey, slow up!” shouted one of the A riders. “Jerry got stuck at the light!”

In true club fashion, we continued on without missing a pedal stroke. A little over two miles later, I looked back over my shoulder, and could see Jerry gaining on the group. Once he caught up, the A’s took off, and Maggie and I eased off on our speed.

The mist was coming and going, and wasn’t much of a bother, but the sky was so overcast, I wondered if I shouldn’t take off my sunglasses — they were making things darker. No big deal, though, and we cruised through Buda and out to Cole Springs Road.

It’s Maggie’s favorite road, because it’s rural and tree lined. It’s not my favorite, because it’s quite rough. But it’s an enjoyable ride. As we rounded a bend, I saw a hound dog catch sight of us, and decide we would be fun to ride with. He was on a lawn that was elevated about four feet above our road, and kept stable by a stone retaining wall. The dog ran parallel to us, then loped along on top of the wall. I wondered what he would do when he got to the end of the property. He jumped down off the wall onto the road, and came toward us.

When he was even with me, I held up my hand and shouted, “Stay!” He pulled up immediately, and sat down in the middle of the road. A well-trained dog. We should always be so lucky in our dog encounters.

flycatcherWe spotted a couple of scissor-tailed flycatchers perched on a telephone line. Their long, split tails are pretty neat.

At the turnaround in Kyle, we caught up with three of the club riders, who had decided not to take the longer route the main club ride was on. But after chatting a few minutes, they set off on the return trip. We had some housekeeping to take care of, so we stuck around for a few more minutes.

Heading back north, we were into the wind. Not a strong wind, but enough to keep our speeds down. It was easy to fall into a medium-intensity pedaling rhythm, and even though we weren’t going to set any speed records, we had a nice, steady ride home.

Once we got to Slaughter Lane, we had to make our usual decision. Do we take the lane on a fast, four-lane divided suburban arterial, or do we ride the sidewalk? We opted for the sidewalk. Traffic was heavier than we’d seen on recent Sunday mornings, and the prospect of dodging impatient motorists didn’t appeal to us.

But about a mile up the road, a problem appeared. “Mud!” I yelled to Maggie. The previous day’s rains had washed mud across the sidewalk. My front wheel hit it, and almost stopped dead. I powered through, and hoped Maggie would make it. She did, just barely. We hit another patch of mud a little farther up, and our tires threw chunks of the moist earth on our legs, torsos and faces for the rest of the ride.

Sitting around an outdoor table at Starbucks, we waved off mosquitoes. With our recent rains, they’re out in force. “You know, when I was growing up in Pennsylvania, we had mosquitoes, but they only came out at night,” observed Judy. Texas mosquitoes are diurnal as well as nocturnal.

“Say, Joe, there’s a cool car,” I said, as I pointed at a sleek black Porsche coming through the lot. Joe is a fan of fast cars, and we watched the coupe as it passed by the exit from the drive thru, and parked along the curb. The driver got out and walked into the Starbucks.

“That’s not a parking spot,” said Laura. “He’s going to block other cars.”

He did. Cars had trouble turning from the drive thru exit past his car into the lot.

“What an entitled, arrogant, SOB,” said Maggie. “There’s a parking spot right over there. I should go into the store and ask him if I can move his car to it.”

A routine, fun, ride. I did 42 miles at a 15 mph average — good for me. Maybe next week, the forecast will be right, and we can be accurately prepared for what we run into.

I Suck At Mountain Biking

Instead of the usual Sunday road ride, my friend Maggie and I decided to get out the mountain bikes this morning. She put an invitation to join us on our club’s message board, but we had no takers. When we showed up at the club ride start, some of the roadies greeted us with bemusement at our getup, but soon we left in different directions.

Our target was Bauerle Ranch, a subdivision surrounded by nice singletrack trails. (I’ve written about it before.) We had had a little bit of rain overnight, and the dew point was high, so once we got onto the trails close to home, we could see that today’s ride would be somewhat muddy.

The thin grass along the trail has exploded in growth with all the rain over the past couple of weeks, and being wet, it gave us leg baths as we pedaled along the skinny trail.

But the rain had had another effect, too: It put a lot more rocks across the trail. I don’t mind rock gardens the way I used to, but the ones today were loose, and I could feel my rear wheel skid out to the side when it glanced off them. Nothing serious, but I did find myself stop and walk over a couple of areas that I had ridden just weeks ago.

route

At Bauerle Ranch, the trail starts out as easy singletrack, but soon starts to dip with lots of rocks to navigate. I was leading the way, and came around a corner to see a large rock in the middle of the track. The front wheel slid a bit, and I realized I  would not be able to navigate around the rock — but I wasn’t about to hit it, either. Yeah, right. I hit the brake — the front brake — at the same time the front wheel hit the rock.

Bam! Endover! My right leg slammed into another rock along the trail, and I wound up on my bottom, legs across the trail and my bike on top of them. Already, I could see blood start to roll down the shinbone. I struggled to get the bike off me, as Maggie sympathized.

“What a sight you are right now!” she exclaimed. “I wish I had a GoPro for that one.”

“It felt like I was going over in slow motion,” I said.

“It looked like it, too,” she shot back.

After the crash, the sticky blood on the knee collected grass and other crud that I didn't find until the end of the ride.

After the crash, the sticky blood on the knee collected grass and other crud that I didn’t find until the end of the ride.

I got untangled, and we mounted back up and kept going. The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful. Maggie got well ahead of me when I slowed to chat with another biker we encountered, and when I caught up to her, she was at the side of the Veloway, intently staring at the ground.

“Look at this cool spider!” she said. “It was in the middle of the Veloway, so I got it off to the side so it wouldn’t get run over.”

A bit hard to make out, because it's well-camoflaged against the pavement of the Veloway.

A bit hard to make out, because it’s well-camoflaged against the pavement of the Veloway.

It was cool, but neither of us had any idea what it was. (If you know, fill me in.) We left it, and headed home.

Back at Starbucks, we got to assess just how muddy we were from the day’s ride. Our bikes took the brunt of it, but we were well-spotted, too.

Muddy buddies.

Muddy buddies.

It was good to get back on the mountain bike again. But I still suck at it. I’ll keep flailing away, and hope to get better.

Isn’t It Interesting…

Only two other B riders showed up for our club ride Sunday, and we decided to head to Creedmoor. This staple of our Sunday routes had been forgotten lately; in fact, I hadn’t ridden it since June. The others were looking forward to the ride, too.

After not riding a route for awhile, some changes are bound to crop up. Most of the ones we ran into had to do with road construction. Our main way east out of our neighborhood narrows to a two-lane, unstriped, country-style road for a short stretch. Then, at a T-intersection, we turn left, and then pick up that road again at the first right.

The city is eliminating that zigzag. It’s adding a curve to the road, and the new route will meet the old at that first right. But it’s not ready yet, and while they’re working on it, the two lanes are quite narrow. I debated getting up onto a new sidewalk that has been put in along the road, but at 8:30 in the morning, there’s not a lot of traffic here. We got to the T-intersection without a problem.

A similar diversion is going in about a mile farther east, as the city straightens out another zigzag route. This time, the road was blocked by large barricades, but there was just enough room for a bike to get through. We were feeling good that bikes could get through where cars couldn’t.

Creedmoor is about 16 miles from our starting point. After a pleasant trip, we wheeled in for a breather at the convenience store stop we always use.

“Isn’t it interesting,” asked Maggie, “how easy that ride is now? Remember when we used to do this ride?”

I remembered. There were times I’d get to the store and want to stay for an hour, just to unwind. This time, a ten-minute stay seemed a little long, and we got back on the bikes for the return leg.

The ride is easier now, for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve been losing a little weight. Not much, mind you, but enough that I can tell. It feels good to have to fasten my belt to the last notch on some of my pants. The other is that I’m stronger. I credit mountain biking for that. It’s beefed up my legs. Hills are never going to be my strong suit, but by powering my way up short, steep climbs on the MTB, the longer, less steep climbs on the road bike aren’t the struggle they used to be.

Now, all I have to do is attend to some bike maintenance again. Isn’t it interesting that a chain can start skipping some cogs after a two-hour plus ride, when it was shifting smoothly at the start? I see a new chain and cassette on the horizon.

Some Changes Close By

Rain visited overnight, and continued to threaten this morning, so instead of a planned trip out to Dripping Springs, we decided to just do a neighborhood ride with the club.

Besides Maggie and Brian, two regular B riders, I was joined by Kenny and Steve, two of our better A riders. Kenny is recovering from rotator cuff surgery, and said he wanted to ride easy to recover from a 54-mile ride the previous day. (“I can’t stand up on my bike yet,” he complained. “Can you imagine riding 54 miles without standing up?”) Steve had also ridden long on Saturday, and he was content with a lazy ride. (Steve, a several-times state champion in both road and time trial in his age group, is known for taking frequent recovery-pace rides. Don’t be fooled. He can drop you just like that. He just doesn’t want to. Mostly.)

I gave Steve a rough idea of the route I had in mind, just in case he and Kenny did put some distance between us. The pace proved even easier than I had expected, as we spent a lot of our time in the saddle just chatting about various and sundry. At one point, Steve suggested we turn onto State Highway 45, an extension of our old favorite, Mopac. I used to ride this road a lot, but I’ve been avoiding it lately. A resurfacing several years ago made it rough in spots, and the traffic has picked up in both speed and numbers.

But when we made the turn onto 45, I was greeted with a newly-resurfaced highway. This time, it was smooth asphalt, not rough chip seal. And best news of all, the shoulder had been widened and extended to cover some spots where it used to disappear just before major intersections. We had a quick, smooth run to the turnaround.

Maggie wanted to take a”bio break” at the convenience store at the turnaround. The convenience store was built a year or so ago, but I had never used it. I didn’t need to now, either, but as we stood around waiting for Maggie, the urge hit me. Inside, the convenience store was bright and roomy, well stocked, and with spotless bathrooms. Whoa! That’s something I hadn’t expected.

Back on the return trip down highway 45, we decided to turn into one of several housing developments that have sprung up in this desirable part of Austin. I had been there before, but again, it was two or three years ago. The main road into the development used to limit your forward progress.

What the road into the Meridien neighborhood used to look like. This day, we kept going on nice blacktop. (From Google Street View. Click to enlarge.)

What the road into the Meridien neighborhood used to look like. This day, we kept going on nice blacktop. (From Google Street View. Click to enlarge.)

But today, we were able to keep riding, past the point where houses had been put in, onto another new asphalted road that made a big loop through forest. It will be built up soon, but for now, it was like our private race track. It didn’t occur to me to take any pictures on the ride, because our route seemed so commonplace. I wish now I had.

Through one of the built-up parts of Meridien. The other two developments we visited along Rt. 45 look much the same.

Through one of the built-up parts of Meridien. The other two developments we visited along Rt. 45 look much the same.

Two more developments attracted our attention as we continued east on 45, and we checked both of them out. Steve, in an effort to tack miles onto this easy ride, took almost every side street. We admired the new houses going in, while at the same time complaining that this is an environmentally sensitive area, because this is where our groundwater is recharged during rainfall. We’re worried that too much building will adversely affect our water supply.

Back on the highway, 45 turned north and became Mopac. This route leads to the Veloway, and we had talked about taking a lap or two there, but Maggie said she was close to 30 miles and was feeling tired after a hilly ride the previous day (Am I the only one whose Saturday ride wasn’t a tough one?). She said she’d had enough, and wanted to head back to Starbucks. Steve said he was fine with that. Kenny decided to head home.

Ever notice how refreshed you feel after a nice recovery ride? Our chitchat session around an outdoor table at Starbucks was lively and fun. And I realized that I could now return Mopac/45 to my route repertoire. It pays to do the occasional routine ride close to home — provided you’re ready to turn onto some previously untraveled roads.

Neighborhood Trails

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs in the 1950s (Yes, I’m old). Back then, streets were laid out in a grid pattern, and blocks of houses went on and on. Of course, streets were for cars to get to and from the houses. Bikes were what kids rode to each other’s house, and to the baseball diamond, but rarely more than a couple of miles at a time. Even though we were well out of the big city, we were in an environment that was more urban than not.

Now, I’m in the suburbs again, even though my neighborhood is within the Austin city limits. But boy, is it a different feeling than the 1950s Chicago suburbs.

Less than a mile from my house is a large metropolitan park. It’s known for its large number of soccer fields, but it has playgrounds for kids and a disc golf course — and trails.

They’re multi-use trails, popular with hikers and people walking dogs. But mountain bikes have made them home.

The other day, I set off to ride some of these trails. I wanted to get some mountain bike miles in after several days of road riding.

After heading east in the metro park, I reached a small subdivision. I crossed it in a matter of minutes, and set out for another subdivision just a half mile away.

It’s called Bauerle Ranch. It was built in about 2005, so is relatively new — even around here. But for me, the neat thing about Bauerle Ranch is its trail network.

Bauerle Ranch from Google Maps. Most of the major trails are marked.

Bauerle Ranch from Google Maps. Most of the major trails are marked. (Click to enlarge.)

Riding the streets of the development, you'd never know a nifty trail network is close by.

Riding the streets of the development, you’d never know a nifty trail network is close by.

We enter Bauerle Ranch from the northwest corner, and immediately have a choice of two trails. Bird’s Nest goes off to the left, and skirts the north side of the development. Cactus Ridge goes off to the right, and takes the rider down the west side to the south end. They’re criss-crossed by other, shorter trails that give the biker lots of options to add mileage while not straying too far.

In some spots, the trails are a bit rough, laced with rock gardens of varying difficulty. In other spots, the singletrack widens to a nice two-abreast trail — not at all challenging to ride, but a nice respite from some twisty bits.

A slightly wider part of the trail. The rocks are no bother here.

A slightly wider part of the trail. The rocks are no bother here.

Trail running is popular. I made way for several runners during my ride.

Trail running is popular. I made way for several runners during my ride.

The west side of the park is in a creek valley, and the trails crossing to the east go up increasingly steep hills. The mountain biker has a challenge making it to the top, fighting a combination of a grade and the loose rocks that litter the trail.

The concrete culvert in the background takes the cyclist across the usually dry Elm Waterhole from Cactus Ridge Trail to Slaughter Creek Trail.

The concrete culvert in the background takes the cyclist across the usually dry Elm Waterhole from Coyote Run Trail to Slaughter Creek Trail.

It doesn’t take too long to make a circuit of Bauerle Ranch. I did it in a little over a half hour, including a rest stop at a convenient bench along the trail. But it’s a worthwhile destination for a mountain bike, and it provides relief from the increasingly congested and bike-unfriendly roads in our area. As more developments spring up in our growing city, here’s hoping the developers incorporate trail systems like this one.