Favorite Rides – The Zoo Ride

When I consider rides I like, it’s easy to overlook the Zoo Ride. That’s because it’s not as long as most of our other marquee rides. But it does have a lot of features that make it worthy of consideration. In fact, our club has an informal “Friday Zoo Ride” that I might be able to join one of these years. In the meantime, I have mostly ridden it by myself.

As the name suggests, the Zoo Ride heads to the Austin Zoo. Our zoo is not in the city, but is several miles west. From our neighborhood, we get a quick taste of the hills that highlight the Zoo Ride. We take an easy climb through one of the newer subdivisions and cross Ranch Road 1826 into an older subdivision with large lots.

We get to zoom down a couple of nice hills here — hills that allow us to easily top 30 mph. Because of the way the route heads, we will not be coming back this way, so we don’t have to climb those hills. On one of our other routes, we do make a return trip through this area, and coming near the end of the ride, the hills can take a toll on worn out riders.

Anyhow, the route takes us across U.S. 290 west of Austin, and on to Circle Drive. This is a nice two-lane road with minimal traffic, although speeds tend to run high. We’re on Circle Drive for less than two miles, though, and then we turn right onto Rawhide Trail, at a sign pointing to the Austin Zoo.

These horses were close to the road when I turned the corner onto Rawhide Trail. But by the time I got my camera out, they had retreated.

These horses were close to the road when I turned the corner onto Rawhide Trail. But by the time I got my camera out, they had retreated. (Click all pix to embiggen.)

From this point, it’s all downhill. The road twists and turns through typical Hill Country landscapes, rocky ground covered in cedar and live oak. Some suburban-style subdivisions are being built out here, too. With all the sprawl in Austin, we wonder how much longer we’ll have decent biking around here, or whether we’ll have to drive to worthwhile riding areas. I’m afraid it will happen sooner rather than later.

Rawhide Trail takes a jog to the right, and the zoo isn’t too far down. If you decide to go that way, the entrance to the zoo is a short way down. Once past the entrance, you’d never know the zoo is there. Its fences are camouflaged by the heavy brush along the road. At the end of the road is Paisano Ranch, the former home of the late Texas author, J. Frank Dobie. It’s now owned by the University of Texas, and two writers in the graduate school there are awarded fellowships to live and write at the ranch for six-month periods. They can work undistracted, in isolation. However, entrance to the ranch is blocked at this point.

The road to the zoo. I prefer to take D. Morgan Road to the left.

The road to the zoo. I prefer to take D. Morgan Road to the left.

I prefer to jog left near the zoo entrance, on D. Morgan Road. It’s not long — a little over a half mile — but it’s great fun. The road twists and turns, dipping downhill all the way, sometimes steeply, sometimes near level. I have never encountered a motor vehicle on this stretch, although there are entrances to some homes along the way.

Of course, when the road ends at a locked gate, the cyclist has to turn around and head back — and that means a climb of almost a mile and a half. According to Strava, the grade averages only about three percent, but there are spots where it touches 10 or 11 percent — and two little places where it’s 14 and 15 percent. So that short slog can take much longer than the typical 1.4-mile jaunt.


Two views of the curvy uphills on D. Morgan on the way up out of the valley.

Two views of the curvy uphills on D. Morgan on the way up out of the valley.

An ultra-modern house peeks out over the cedars and live oaks.

An ultra-modern house peeks out over the cedars and live oaks.

The next leg of the ride takes us over some semi-busy two-lanes, up to Southwest Parkway. Southwest Parkway is a six-lane divided highway with a generous shoulder. It’s very popular with bikers. It hits its high point by the big AMD semiconductor complex, then makes a nice, fast drop down to Travis Country. Travis Country is a nice upscale subdivision with a road circling it. Ridden in a clockwise direction, it’s more downhill than up, so the cyclist gets a nice reprieve after all the ups and downs around the zoo and on Southwest Parkway.

Southwest Parkway looking back up the hill to the AMD complex. (Picture from Google Earth Streetview.)

Southwest Parkway looking back up the hill to the AMD complex. (Picture from Google Earth Streetview.)

Leaving Travis Country, we take some major arterials again, but the traffic isn’t usually too bad. Our final stretch is along Escarpment Blvd., the main north-south road through our Circle C Ranch subdivision.

The route. D. Morgan Rd. is the single line at the upper left, Travis Country is the irregular oval at the upper right.

The route. D. Morgan Rd. is the single line on the left, Travis Country is the irregular oval at the upper right.

In total, the ride is around 25-26 miles. Again, not all that long. But the hills add a bit of challenge to it, and the scenery is a bit different than what we get on our rides to the south and southeast. If I feel like testing myself, the Zoo Ride is a good choice.

A Change Of Pace

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.

Gathering before the start at unscenic Lake Pflugerville.

Gathering before the start at unscenic Lake Pflugerville. (Click pix to enlarge.)

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.

New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church.

New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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.

Amy (second from rt.) checks the route map while the guys wait for her instructions.

Amy (second from rt.) checks the route map while the guys wait for her instructions.

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.

A nice, but lonely, farmhouse off in the distance. This part of Texas produces a lot of cotton. Typical of the landscape we rode through.

A nice, but lonely, farmhouse off in the distance. This part of Texas produces a lot of cotton. This scene is typical of the landscape we rode through.

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.

The guys wait for Amy, who had stopped to take a phone call. That's a water supply facility in the background.

The guys wait for Amy, who had stopped to take a phone call. That’s a water supply facility in the background.

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.

Descriptive Route Names

After several weeks of atypically cool weather, things are warming up around here, and I expect the club’s scheduled rides will have more participants. We have several club rides. There’s the regular Sunday ride at 8:15 a.m. For the A riders, it is not a no-drop ride, and riders are expected to average 16-18 mph over 50-60 miles. There’s also a Saturday no-drop ride, but it’s still relatively fast. Some of the retireds or work-from-home types do a Friday morning “Zoo” ride, which takes them out to the Austin Zoo and then back via some hilly roads. The main hill ride is Wednesday morning.

But in recent weeks, we’ve seen a lot of riders modifying start times, routes, speeds, etc. It was finally enough to prompt one member to post to our Yahoo board that ride names need to be changed.

“We need some ride names that will more accurately reflect what we can expect,” he wrote. He had a few suggestions:

The Janet Hangover ride, that starts an hour later than scheduled because the ride leader partied a little too hard the night before.

Jack’s I-Forgot-to-Download-the-Route-and-I’ll-Sort-Of-Improvise-As-We-Go-Along Ride, which often results in turns onto roads under construction, or roads that used to be paved, but are now gravel, or roads that dead end. Riders can expect to ride 10 miles farther than they anticipated.

Martin’s Last-Minute-Hill-Ride-Alternate, that takes place without notice, when Martin tackles the main hill ride and finds it’s too tough for him. His version is much shorter and involves a lot less climbing.

I suggested the Ray-Sunday-B-Ride-But-Because-He’s-So-Slow-Lately-It-Oughta-Be-a-C-Ride-That-Takes-Place-Every-Sunday-Except-When-He-Doesn’t-Show-Up-Which-Has-Been-A-Lot-Lately.

Then there’s Greg’s Saturday-No-Drop-That-Turns-Into-a-Not-No-Drop-Ride-Because-He-Thinks-We-Should-All-Ride-Faster Ride. The name speaks for itself.

On a regular Sunday, the post-ride coffee klatsch yields several other descriptive ride names.

But for some reason, the club’s information page still lists rides by their standard names.

Do the riders you travel with have their own descriptive names for their routes?


Winter Cycling in Texas

My friend Rick had a great idea for a Sunday club ride.

“After two challenging days in the saddle, my aging legs are looking for a recovery spin at a long slow distance pace,” he posted. As a bonus, he suggested a starting time of 9 a.m. — much more civilized than the 8:15 a.m. start we traditionally have.

I and one other person posted that we would be there. When I got to our Starbucks starting place, however, a total of 10 riders had showed up. Two other club rides were going south at a fast pace, and to a very hilly route west of the city.

“I think posting that this would be at a conversational pace is what attracted people,” Rick said.

Everyone but me was an A rider, but because of the “conversational pace,” I didn’t expect any problems. Rick decided to keep the ride to neighborhood streets, and while some grumbled under their breaths that Sunday is a time to get out of the neighborhood, no one vocally complained.

Rick’s route took us on streets we all ride during the week, when we’re out for just an hour or so. It was fun to adopt the spirit of the ride, and chat with other riders as we worked our way up a nice bike-laned street to a turnaround point. Then we headed for a new housing development way at the south end of our area. The extension of our main drag goes on for another two miles or so, until we had to stop and do a U-turn when the road ran out.

Off to the Veloway for a quick lap. A few riders took that opportunity to put the hammer down, and disappeared. “It’s like you said in one of your previous blog posts,” Rick commented. “Riding easy is hard.”

Cyclists head toward the Veloway on a beautiful December morning.

Cyclists head toward the Veloway on a beautiful December morning. (Click all pictures to enlarge.)

The temperature, which had started at about 54 degrees (12C), was now warming up to the point that some of us had to stop to peel off layers. I was comfortable in a base layer under my cycling jersey, and arm warmers. Some had bundled up for much colder weather.

After shedding layers, we're ready to head out again. Rick is at right.

After shedding layers, we’re ready to head out again. Rick is at right.

We went up a hill that isn’t very steep, but its length makes it a challenge, then headed back toward Starbucks. We had already gone about 15 miles, and Rick was looking for a ride in the 30-mile range.

That meant we weren’t going to stop for coffee, but plunged on to the north, where my old friend Convict Hill awaits. I usually ride Convict Hill first if I’m going to include it on my route. Now, it presented more of a challenge, because my legs were starting to tire.

At the top of Convict Hill, we had the option to take a side street down the backside. Coming back up is tough. I skipped the first one, but when we came to a second side street with a good drop, I joined in.

The first riders approach the crest of the hill. Yeah, it's steep.

The first riders approach the crest of the hill. Yeah, it’s steep.

Rick couldn’t resist one more climb before we left Convict Hill. I do it all the time, but today it knocked me out. The rest of the group got well ahead of me as I struggled to keep the pedals turning.

The nice part about Convict Hill is coming down. We get to use a bike lane on a smooth asphalt road, and hit speeds of 32-33 mph. But at the bottom, I could only see one other cyclist make the turn to head back south. Everyone else was well out in front.

One of the best parts of our club ride is socializing at the end. While a few decided to keep going to add more miles, most of us stopped for warm beverages and conversation. I had expected to do around 40 miles today. I did 28. With the hills near the end of the ride, it felt like 40, or more. I’ll have to incorporate this route into my own repertoire of neighborhood rides. It’s a good one.

Some of the group relax after the ride.

Some of the group relax after the ride.

Click on the map to go to the Map My Ride page for this route.

Click on the map to go to the Map My Ride page for this route.

The 15-mile ride

The other day, I was all geared up for a ride. It was a beautiful day in Central Texas, and the road was calling. But my wife had other ideas.

“We need to leave for the tile store at 10 a.m.,” she said. “So I think you should forget about a ride for today.”

“It’s only 8,” I responded. “Tell you what. I’ll go for a ride, but I won’t be gone for more than one hour.”

“See that you’re not,” she replied.

I knew I’d be back on time. I had the route fixed in my head. It’s a nice route through our neighborhood, which means it runs primarily on suburban arterials, which aren’t very busy once morning rush hour is over. I pumped up my tires and headed out.

The first mile runs me down to the Starbucks, where our club rides begin. After sitting through a traffic light and crossing the busy road, I’m on a gentle upslope for about a half mile. Then, it’s a right turn at the top of the hill.

Another mile and a half brings me to another right turn. This road is one that leads out of our subdivision. It’s relatively new, because the houses along this stretch have been built only in the last five years or so. It’s also nice and wide, with a generous bike lane. I have the option to branch off the road onto some residential loops, but passed them up this day.

A little over four miles into the ride, I reach the notorious 1826. It’s a road for bikers to avoid, because it’s twisty, hilly, and narrow, with no bike lane, and traffic that screams along at 65 mph. We often fantasize about what a great biking road it would be, if only we could count on no traffic.

Anyhow, I make a U-turn there, and double back a way. Then, I’m in a different part of the subdivision. With a prevailing wind from the southeast in these parts, I’m pushed along in the high 20′s for awhile. Then, a right turn, and I’m more or less against the wind again.

But now I have a nice downhill. It’s not a big one, but the road here is especially wide, with very little traffic. At the bottom of the hill, I’m often approaching 35 mph as I ease over to the center of the road and hope there will be no cross traffic (and if there is, that it will stop at the stop sign, and let me go by). Once, a couple of years ago, a car decided to pull out in front of me as I approached the intersection. I did my best emergency stop, kept the bike under control, and when the driver saw me bearing down on him, he slammed on his brakes. I got by unscathed.

Now, another jaunt through some routine residential streets. At an elementary school, I take a right turn. Within a half mile, I find myself at Austin’s Veloway. One lap around the three-mile track, and I can head home — another three miles.

I arrived in our driveway in plenty of time, and could shower and change well within the 10 a.m. deadline. The nice part about this ride is that it comes out to almost exactly 15 miles, so if my goal is to complete it in one hour, I have to push a bit in some spots. So in addition to being a nice one-hour ride, it’s also a good workout. I can work intervals or fartlek into the ride with no trouble at all.

Some days, I just don’t want to spend more than an hour in the saddle. When that happens, I know I’ve got just the ride.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Maybe I’ll Get Back To Normal

After my trip to the doctor Wednesday to attend to my gout, I was looking forward to a quick reversal of my condition. But these things don’t happen overnight.

I continued to limp around Thursday and Friday, and still had trouble walking the dogs around the block. The saving grace was my biking. As reported, I can ride with a gouty toe, because it doesn’t move when I pedal. After a morning of meetings, I was anxious to get back on the bike Friday afternoon.

I set out on my usual Friday evening jaunt, a neighborhood ride that includes a couple of laps on the Veloway. It’s been a good starter for my weekend rides, because I can stomp on it over a few stretches, and take it easy on some downhills. It’s not all that long, but does keep me out for more than an hour, so it works for me.

Except this time. A frontal system was heading through the area, and the skies opened up on me. Since I was at the farthest point away from home when the rain hit, I figured I’d be wise to cut the ride short and head home. I’ve alluded to my dislike of riding in the rain, but maybe all that public concern helped. Anyway, I didn’t feel skittish as I have in the past, and kind of enjoyed the ride home in the wet. Still, at only 11 miles, it wasn’t much of a ride.

Saturday went better. Pat wanted to ride our Mopac loop, which is about 13 miles, mostly along a busy highway. But the traffic wasn’t so bad this morning, and we moved along nicely. Until we got close to the turnaround. There, the scudding clouds passing overhead decided to let loose, and we found ourselves in a summer shower again. But this was one of those freakish things were the delineation between the wet and the dry is a sharp line — drenched on one side, bone dry on the other. I knew when we turned around that we would be in the wet for only a quarter mile or so.

When we got home, I continued on for my Saturday trip up Convict Hill. I hadn’t been there for several weeks, and wanted to see how much uphill ability I’d lost going up the hill. Yep, it was a downer. I can do it in about 2 minutes, 30 seconds — sometimes a little better. But today I took 2:55. Not my worst of the year, but a definite decline in performance. I chalked it up to the weight I’d gained because of the enforced inactivity due to my gout. I’ll do better next week.

Today, we were making plans to travel south and ride along the Guadalupe River. But that was nonsense even during our planning. Weather radar showed another frontal system — this one huge — moving in from the west. I ended our email exchange with the caveat that if it was raining in the morning, I wouldn’t ride. About midnight, the torrent hit.

It rained hard for over an hour, and lightly for another hour or so after that. My little chihuahua mix is terrified of thunder and lightning, and sat shivering in my lap until 2:30 a.m. We woke up to no rain, but drenched streets, and canceled our riding plans.

By this afternoon, things had mostly dried out. I was busy working on some things for my wife, and running errands. Finally, I got out this afternoon for a little over an hour. It was a modified version of the ride I’d done Friday — a little longer, but nowhere near what I normally do on Sundays. The result was that I ended September with my lowest monthly total since February. September in Austin is a summer month. I should have had 150 miles more.

But today, my foot is almost all better. A twinge of an ache in the toe joint still, and I expect that will be gone in the next day or two. The rain is past, the weather will be milder, and I’ll try to get back to normal soon.

Changing a Flat

I was delighted when my friend Debra invited everyone out to ride with her and Russ south of Dripping Springs. I haven’t been out there for some time. Debra is just about recovered from foot surgery, and is easing back into riding. So I responded that I would be there.

The usual B contingent bowed out, because of injuries or out-of-town commitments. I thought I would be the only one joining them on this morning’s ride.

So I was pleased see a group of people unloading bikes when I arrived at the park on the west side of Dripping Springs at 8:15 Sunday morning. Brian, one of the B’s, had just returned from out of the country, and George and Steve, two A riders, had showed up. So had Don, who is new to the club. An eighth, Ira, was running late, but said by phone that he would catch up to us.

He did, about nine or ten miles into the ride. Ira is really fast when he wants to be, although he maintains that distance riding is what he does best. It wasn’t long before he and the other A’s were well ahead of us.

But we had agreed to meet him at the crest of a hill with a great view, and even though he joined us before that point, everyone stopped when we got there. Debra was befuddled, and wondered why we weren’t going down the hill. But we all seemed content to rest and chat a bit.

Debra anticipates the big downhill we'll soon enjoy.

Debra anticipates the big downhill we’ll soon enjoy.

A curious sound made everyone pay attention. It sounded just like air escaping from a tire. We pinpointed it to Ira’s bike.

“Yep,” he said, pinching the rear tire. “It’s dead.”

The group watches Ira work at changing his flat.

The group watches Ira work at changing his flat.

Okay, we were going to be here awhile. There are worse places to take a break. Ira fiddled with the tire a bit, trying to find the cause of the leak. And why, when he was stopped for several minutes, would it suddenly start leaking?

He narrowed it down to a faulty tire valve, and began the process of replacing the tube.

Ira works on his flat.

Ira works on his flat.

Now, Ira is old school, and prefers to use a hand pump to inflate his tires, but he had neglected to bring one on today’s ride. Don offered him a mini-pump, and Ira started pumping up the tire, but the process was slow, and another rider suggested he use a CO2 inflator.

“Here, I’ve got the kind with threads,” said one.

“I’ve got this kind, unthreaded,” said another

Debra was getting impatient. “I’ve got this, I’ve got that, you got that? I got this!” she muttered.

Ira came up with one of those hand-held containers for a cartridge, but couldn’t figure out how to get it to trigger. He was concerned his cartridges would misfire, and wanted to get it right the first time.

He tried a little chuck that screws onto the cartridge, and fires by turning it slightly. “It works!”

“Hey, I got this one to work, too,” said George, who had been messing with the plastic unit with the trigger.

Didn’t matter, Ira was satisfied with the pressure in his tire, and he mounted it back on the bike.

"I know what you're doing," Steve says. "You're getting proof that I do slow rides, too."

“I know what you’re doing,” Steve says. “You’re getting proof that I do slow rides, too.”

The odd thing about this whole adventure was, every one of the riders out today has been at it for years, and every one can change a flat in about 10 minutes. And yet, we resembled the Keystone Cops getting this one tube replaced.

And that’s probably why our Sunday B rides are such low-key events. No pressure, no sense of urgency to complete the repair and get back on the road. We flew down the hill, through a ranch, and then decided to take the short route back to the start. It would mean only about 26 miles for us, although with the hills it felt like 40. Several of us capped off the ride with Mexican food for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

“What do you think?” asked Ira, sipping his iced tea. “Was that a typical B ride?”

“More like a B-minus, I think,” I replied. The A’s did 57 miles and had several flats on messy roads. Once again, their ride broke up as some riders shot off the front, and others were unsure about the route. We finished mostly together.

“I like riding out here,” said Steve, who has been the state champion in his age group for both the time trial and the road race. “I can look at the scenery and talk with my friends. Not every ride has to be a hammerfest.”

I agree.

Riding Backward

A good friend of mine has been missing from our club rides lately. When I ran into him recently, he said he had just become bored with riding the same old routes.

It’s true — because of our location on the southwest side of the city, we’re limited in our options for getting out and exploring different areas. Mostly, we head south or southeast. Going north toward downtown is problematic, because we’re blocked by freeways and a rugged creek valley. Going west — well, there just aren’t a lot of roads in that direction. So we wind up riding the same set of routes over and over.

That carries over into my solo rides, as well. There might be more variations possible over 20 miles compared to 40, if I’m willing to try different residential streets just to mix things up. But riding in a more restricted area becomes predictable pretty quickly.

But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found a way that breaks up the routine — at least for me. I ride backwards.

No, I haven’t mastered a circus rider’s trick of actually mounting the bike backwards and pedaling that way. I’ve broken up my routine by changing the direction in which I ride my usual routes. I reverse direction.

Take Sunday’s ride. It goes through a nice neighborhood that has its own ring road. I ride along a major arterial until I can enter the neighborhood at a stop lighted intersection. Then, I ride the ring road in a counterclockwise direction. It’s about four miles in all, much of it in a bike lane, but almost all of it on wide, smooth roads.

But I was with a group I don’t often ride with Sunday, and they entered the neighborhood via the back door, so to speak — a little two-lane street that feeds into the ring road. Then, we rode the ring in a clockwise direction. One thing that became clear riding this way is that the four miles is just enough downhill to make it quick and entertaining.

One of the guys in our group was surprised when I told him I ride in the opposite direction. His routine is to always ride it clockwise. He said he’d have to try it my way sometime.

Then, this morning I went out for a 20-or-so mile ride. I did a version of my Friday evening route — but I decided to ride the whole thing in the opposite direction. Instead of finishing up with a couple of laps on the Veloway, I started there. Then, I rode through a residential area to a decent hill that I usually come down. This time, I went up it. It’s not all that tough, and I was able to do some intervals on the hill.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like that big a deal to you. Maybe you already do this as a matter of course. Well, I’m often slow in catching on to these types of things. But if you’re in a riding rut, try reversing your routes. It might be just the thing to snap you out of it.

Herding Cats

Our club president was out of town this weekend, mixing business and pleasure (he brought his bike on a business trip so he could sneak in some rides in the San Francisco area).

That left a big hole in our club organization. You see, he’s the guy who plans the routes for our club rides on Sundays. He urged someone — anyone — to come up with a plan for rides while he was gone.

So, the messages started flying on our club’s Yahoo group, which is where we do all our communicating.

Shane:  “Pepe hates Fitzhugh and I hate riding in the city so it looks like we might end up doing some different rides. That’s all good too though, options make life interesting right? Leaving at the usual time for a 57mile round trip and probably somewhere in the region of 3800-4000 ft of elevation.”

That drew almost immediate reaction. Jim was concerned about a potentially dangerous stretch of road:

“The Slaughter to Nutty Brown stretch of 1826 suggested is 5 miles and probably the most dangerous section in most people’s opinion (no shoulder, steep rollers, and heavier traffic than Fitzhugh).”

Clark suggested we depart from our normal routine and drive to a starting point some 10 miles west of our neighborhood. He pointed out a variety of scenic, low-traffic roads we could choose from.

But the afore-mentioned Pepe didn’t want to drive to a ride. To his credit, he came up with two options, one of 49 miles, and a shorter one of 34 miles.

Jerry said he had to be somewhere about an hour’s drive from town by 1 p.m., so couldn’t do the 50 milers that had been suggested. He came up with a plan of his own — one that we’ve done before and is about 32 miles. It has some potentially hazardous stretches, and some challenging rollers.

Frank, Yasmin, and Maggie — who all are B riders (Frank’s really an A, but it hasn’t sunk in yet) — declared themselves in for Jerry’s route.

But Shane, who was first to come up with a route plan, was getting frustrated by all the different options:

“I have now used every damn course creator I know of so if this doesn’t work, just assume we are doing Fitzhugh Road with an added loop on the way back. No 1826, no 290 – so NO WHINING!!!! Only whining allowed is my whining as I suffer up the little hills on the ride on Sunday.”

And Janice decided to add her two cents’ worth:

“I feel left out of the clusterfreak of the Sunday ride ‘planning,’ so I too will propose a ride.  My ride will start sometime between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.  The location of the start will be announced 2 seconds before the start, and the route will be depicted on an encrypted map which will be distributed after the ride.  I can tell you that the ride will travel on the left lane of Interstate 35 for several miles (only because it is probably the only road more dangerous than 1826).   A preride breakfast of baked potatoes will be available Easter egg style – you will have to find the potatoes hidden around the ride start.  This is not the worst ride posted, so I would anticipate a big turnout.”

In the end, we had three groups for the Sunday ride. One did Shane’s long route, another group started out with them, but shortened the distance considerably, and I joined Maggie and Brian for a B ride on another route that had never even come up for discussion on the online group.

As it turned out, we had three excellent rides.

And Joe, the club president, who was watching all of this online from his California base, was so pleased with the way things turned out, he has relinquished ride planning and is leaving it all up to us.


July Fourth Solo Ride

Someone in the club posted a ride for the Fourth of July, with one big difference: He wanted to start it at 7:30 a.m. instead of our usual 8:15. Since the mornings around here have been delightful lately, a lot of folks chimed in that they would be there.

His route was pretty ambitious, and he let it be known that the pace would be fast. I proposed an alternate route for the B’s, and said I would be there ready to go at 7:30.

The best laid plans…

It was 7:30 when I pulled out of my driveway. The Starbucks where we start our rides is less than 5 minutes from my house, so I wasn’t too concerned. I don’t recall a time when the club has begun its rides exactly on time.

But as I pulled into the parking lot, there was not a cyclist to be seen. Some folks at an outdoor table told me the group had left about 3 or 4 minutes earlier. “They went out on Slaughter,” the man said.

That made sense. It’s the quickest way to get to the start of the route they’d planned, and this early on a holiday morning, there wouldn’t be much traffic. I turned out onto the road and pedaled briskly.

If I could just catch a glimpse of them in the distance, I was pretty sure I would catch up to them at some point. A couple of B riders should be with the group, and we could branch off to an easier ride of our own.

In another couple of miles, I saw three cyclists ahead. Hm. They probably weren’t part of the club ride, I thought. But when the road curved left, I could see a large peloton ahead of the three. A ha! That must be them after all. I redoubled my efforts.

But I caught a red light, and lost ground to them. Still, after two more miles, I could see them in the distance once again. By now, I had gone about 10 miles, and realized I had yet to drink from my water bottle — a bad habit I get into if I’m distracted by other cares, like catching a group that was probably riding faster than me.

Now, the route approached Buda, which is usually a stop and regroup spot for us. I wasn’t sure if they planned to stop this early in the ride, but my hopes were high. Sure enough, when I turned into the Walgreens at the edge of town, there they were — a large bunch of cyclists.

Problem was, they weren’t from my club. This route is a popular one with Austin bikers, and it was clear that another group was taking this same way. I didn’t stop, but pedaled past them and struck out on the road again.

South of Buda, a good two-lane road passes a cement plant. It’s just uphill enough to be annoying, and it’s not a fast stretch for me. But today, I pedaled hard.

It didn’t do any good. I soon heard the familiar, “On your left,” and moved over slightly to be passed.

“Me too,” said another voice. “And me,” warbled a third. “We’re not done yet,” said yet another. That whole bunch I had left at the Walgreens passed me, with the most embarrassing one being a guy on a fixie. Fixies are cool. Unless they pass me.

Kyle was another six miles ahead. A convenience store stop there is almost obligatory for Austin cyclists, and I figured I’d catch my club at that point. A few riders from that Walgreens group straggled enough that I jumped into their little train, and we cruised into the convenience store stop.

Nope. This strage group was the only one around. I refilled my water bottle and had a couple of fig bars. My bike computer said I’d come 20-some miles at a 16.9 mph pace.

That both cheered me and concerned me. I don’t ride that fast. It felt good to have done that pace for 90 minutes, but I worried about having enough gas in the tank for the return trip. Only one way to find out.

The group ride left before me, so when I hit the road again, I was by myself. I rode steadily, not trying to push it on sections where I know I can go fast. The return trip was uneventful, until I cut through the local high school’s parking lot and prepared to turn onto Slaughter. “That looks like Ray,” said a female voice. It was Victoria, a fairly new member of our club, with her husband, Mark. I rode back to Starbucks with them.

“We got dropped just outside of Buda,” Victoria said, when we were back at Starbucks. “They were on a mission, and were determined to go fast and far. I was the only B on the ride, and just couldn’t keep up.” Victoria is more like a B+ rider — maybe even an A-. Anyway, she’s faster than me when she wants to be.

I looked at Mark. “Nice of you to stay back with Victoria,” I said.

“Happy wife, happy life,” he replied.

I said my goodbyes and headed home. The bike computer showed that although I had slowed some on the return leg, I was still averaging over 16 mph for 41 miles. Compared to the 14.7 or so I typically register on B rides, that was hot stuff. I put the bike away, pleased at how the day had gone.

Maybe missing the ride start wasn’t so bad, after all.