Big Ride for the Death Ride

Our pal Don Blount is at it again, as he prepares for his big ride of the year. Here’s his account of a little(!) training ride.

BlountOnBikingTo prepare for big rides, you have to train for big rides — and often that training is painful. On Saturday, July 12, I am riding the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride. It is 129 miles (207.6 kilometers) with 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing over five mountain passes.

I have done a number of “big” rides to prepare for the Death Ride, including two double metric centuries and two century rides.

But I had never ridden at altitude, so two weeks before the Death Ride I headed up to the mountains to do a few training rides.

I joined my buddy Paul, who is also my doctor, and is experienced riding up in the mountains. He also climbs like a billy goat. The most I would see of him would be his back as he climbed waaaaay ahead of me.

Our plan was to do an 83-mile ride (133.6km) with 11,000 ft (3,353m) of climbing over four of the five mountain passes that are included in the Death Ride – both sides of Ebbetts Pass and both sides of Monitor Pass.

Mountain views can be spectacular. (Click pix to enlarge.)

Mountain views can be spectacular. (Click pix to enlarge.)

We started at 8:55 a.m. from Hermit Valley, Calif. at about 7,100 ft. (2,164m) elevation and we gained just under 1,600 ft. (487.68 km) within the first 5 miles (8km) to the summit of Ebbetts. Riding at altitude was difficult. I felt that no matter how deeply I breathed in that I could never take in enough air. This would be more problematic later in the day.

We headed down the other side of Ebbetts, dropping about 2,800 ft (853km) in 13 miles (21km). The views would be spectacular, the downhill riding fun.

My friend Paul channels Martin Short with a "There Amigos" pose while taking a break during the descent of Ebbetts Pass.

My friend Paul channels Martin Short with a “There Amigos” pose while taking a break during the descent of Ebbetts Pass.

Monitor Pass was next. These two climbs were difficult. The first gained 2,400 ft (731.52km) in about 9 miles (14.5km), then dropped into a canyon that we had to climb back out. This back side of Monitor Pass was a bear. It would take me nearly two hours to ride just nine miles. But that nine miles included 3,100 ft. (945m) of elevation gain.

I learned or was forced to learn to keep moving; to not stop and lean over the bike but to get off and walk. Mentally this was tough to accept but pushing my bike at two miles (3.2km) per hour was better than standing still; at least I was still moving. PHOTO MONITOR_PASS (CAPTION: DON BLOUNT LOOKED FRESHER THAN HE FELT AFTER SUMMITTING MONITOR PASS ON THE SECOND BIG CLIMB OF THE DAY)

Don Blount looked fresher than he felt after summitting Monitor Pass on the second big climb of the day.

Don Blount looked fresher than he felt after summitting Monitor Pass on the second big climb of the day.

After climbing the last side of Monitor we headed into Markleeville, Calif. for lunch.

The final climb, over the other side of Ebbetts, would be the toughest of the day. It was hot and long. Starting from about 5,604 ft. (1,708m) of elevation, we would ride 17 miles (27.3km) and gain 3,000 ft. (914m). It would take me nearly two hours and 22 minutes to summit. Again, I stopped and walked several times. And three times someone stopped and asked if I needed assistance. I declined in part because I wanted to “HTFU.” I also wanted to punish myself by not taking the easy way out. And I did not want the mental image of quitting when I came back on this route for the Death Ride.

I was more than happy to reach the top. Paul was waiting, anxious to escape the mosquitoes that nagged him.

Returning to Hermit Valley and the car was bliss. The ride took about eight hours and 10 minutes. Total time out was just under 10 hours. Click here if you want to see my stats for the day.

The following day we did another ride of about 21 miles (33.8km) with 2,000 ft. (609.6m) of climbing. I actually felt much better this ride. Here are my stats for this “recovery” ride. Over the two days we would ride 104 miles (167.4km) with 13,000 ft. (3962m) of climbing. I left anticipating that the Death Ride would be hard. I guess that would be expected for any ride with “Death” in its name.

Felt Like Old Times

Judy, one of our club’s A riders, has been bothered by knee pains lately, so when she posted that she would like to do a slower-paced ride instead of the usual A riders’ sufferfest, I was interested.

She wanted to go at about a 14-15 mph pace, out to the gas station in Kyle, about 23 miles to the south. The main A ride had left at 7:30, and when we showed up for the 8:15 ride, we found about seven others who wanted to take the ride.

It started out briskly, with a run down the four-lane divided Slaughter Lane. At this hour, traffic was light. We turned onto Brodie, and I saw that instead of the 14-15 mph average Judy had advertised, we were cruising at 20+.

One of the newer riders packed it in at that point, deciding that he wouldn’t be able to keep up. Judy razzed the guy who had been setting the pace about going too fast. He said he wasn’t aware of the posted speed, and slowed down.

He dropped back, and I stayed on his wheel. I could feel myself being pulled along by his draft, and was glad not to be using too much effort so early in the ride.

The pace stayed steady. We cruised through Buda and out to Ranch Road 1626. I was a bit worried about my rear tire. It has a gouge in its tread, and I’ve bought a replacement, but after a day of yard work the previous day, I hadn’t bothered to mount it on the bike yet. I crossed my fingers that it would hold up through the ride.

As we approached Kyle, I took stock of my situation. I felt great. I was keeping up with the bunch (the remaining four in the group were all A riders) and I wasn’t working too hard to do it.

At the Kyle convenience store, I came across a weird combination I've never seen before. Hangover remedy?

At the Kyle convenience store, I came across a weird combination I’ve never seen before. Hangover remedy? (Click to enlarge.)

At the convenience store where we turned around, I treated myself to a PayDay bar, and noticed how short these folks make their rest stops, compared to us B’s. We’ll sit around for at least 15 minutes and maybe longer. Today, we were back on the road in 10.

Although the route is essentially an out and back, we do make a few variations. One of them is a run on Cement Plant Road. Its real name is ranch Road 2770, but since it passes a cement plant…

The nice thing about this three-mile stretch is that it’s a little bit downhill. I always look forward to it, because I can turn on the jets for awhile. But today, I was losing contact with the group. I had to pedal hard to close the gap, just in time to reach a section where we could cruise at 28 mph.

Cement Plant Road. It ain't scenic, but it's fast.

Cement Plant Road. It ain’t scenic, but it’s fast. (Google StreetView)

About a mile out of Buda, we were in a quick pace line, but I at the rear was moving faster than the group. I pulled out into the traffic lane, and stomped on it. The bike responded, no doubt helped by the light tailwind. I passed all four of them, and stayed in the lead until we reached the first intersection in town.

There some mutters of “sandbagger” under a few breaths, although most of them congratulated me on the move.

“You realize I’ll be toast for the rest of the ride,” I said.

I was a bit tired, but still managed to keep up the rest of the way back. Judy, her husband Joe, and I were the only ones left when we reached Starbucks. We grabbed an outdoor table in a shady spot, since the temperature had climbed. It wasn’t long before the A ride came in, and a little table for four was surrounded by 10 or 12 cyclists, sharing wisecracks about each other’s performance on the day’s ride, going off on tangents about any number of topics, and generally just enjoying the day.

When I joined the club six years ago, this is the way rides were. Lately, I’ve ridden apart from most of them, sticking with a few B-level riders, riding slower, not going back for the post-ride coffee klatch. My connection to the club was becoming weaker. Today, I reminded myself of the improvement that comes with riding with people who are faster. In fact, my Strava stats for the day included 14 personal segment records. It felt good to be back on track.

Rollers, Rollers, Rollers

That squeak turned out to be a worn chain. I’ll get a new one this week. In the meantime, I lubed it up and headed out to meet my biking buddy Maggie for a Sunday ride.

I didn’t want to go far because of the chain. She had done a longish ride the day before, and wasn’t up for a long one, either. We set off for Buda, about 15 miles away. When we ride there with the A’s, we often get there in record time. This week, we lazed our way along.

On the outskirts of the small town, we took a bio break at the Walgreen’s. That’s a favorite stopping point for both of us, because the water fountain by the bathrooms always runs cold.

“Where should we go from here?” Maggie asked. We have a routine route — head for the historic downtown area, then make a choice between turning toward Cole Springs Road or heading out on the road past the cement plant. Cole Springs is the more scenic, if rougher, road. The cement plant road is slightly uphill for three miles, and we prefer to take it on the way back, where we can rack up some real speed.

The bike was rolling well with its freshly-lubed chain. I suggested a route we hadn’t taken yet — one I hadn’t ridden in four or five years. We’d turn in the opposite direction, cross under Interstate 35, and pick up the country roads.

Almost as soon as we crossed east of the Interstate, we hit the rollers. This land might be called “Blackland Praire,” but it’s anything but flat. Rollers can be fun, though. Work a bit on your way up, then coast at anywhere from 20-25 mph on your way down. This went on for several miles.

A typical view as we approach more rollers on Turnersville Road.

A typical view as we approach more rollers on Turnersville Road.

A left turn sent us north, but still up and down hills. We saw a dog stick its head out from a driveway some distance ahead, and got ready to fend him off. But he apparently called his friends, and as we got closer, four other dogs dashed out onto the road, charging us and barking loudly.

Two of the dogs were little things, and a shouted, “Stay!” was enough to stop them in their tracks. The first dog we saw looked friendly enough, and hung back, but a brown and white pooch bared its teeth and made some threatening moves. Maggie pulled out her water bottle, ready to squirt. But her yells kept that one away, too — until I drew even with him. He let me get a little ahead, then came after me. I yelled, but that didn’t faze him. Finally, I built up enough speed, and we were far enough past his place, that he stopped.

We turned at a busy ranch road, that led past the local landfill. It’s a huge operation, and its claim to fame is an exotic game ranch around the back side. But this time, a beautiful large African antelope of some kind was right next to the road, behind a fence, of course. I would have stopped for a picture, but the animal was skittish. He backed away when Maggie drew close, and I figured if I stopped, he would run off. I kept going.

Turn again, past some back holes on a golf course, and up and down more rollers. Suddenly, I was having trouble catching Maggie, who was pulling away from me. I realized it wasn’t my bad chain — it was my bad fitness. The previous night, I went to bed an hour earlier than usual, since we were planning an early start this morning. But the dog barked to be let out at 3:45 a.m., and I never got back to sleep. Now, I was feeling it. The tiredness just washed over me.

We had a civil conversation with some guys in a Boss 302 Mustang while waiting at the light to cross I-35 again. They thought what we were doing was dangerous, because the intersection is always busy with heavy traffic. We explained that this was the only way for us to cross the highway, and we’d grit our teeth and get through it as best as we could. Of course, the unspoken subtext was that we weren’t supposed to be riding on the roads. As I say, at least the conversation was civil.

Two miles farther on, I called for a stop at a convenience store. We don’t usually take a break there, with only about eight miles to go before reaching home, but I needed to recharge. Some Shot Bloks, Fig Newtons, and ice water, and I was good to go.

Still had to climb the backside of Davis Hill. By this time, the food from the stop had kicked in, and I had little trouble. “I hate that hill,” Maggie said, and I agreed. I pedaled well all the way back, but later at home, was knocked flat by cramps in my thighs. I got to the kitchen, made myself a good lunch, then conked out on the bed for two hours.

Rollers are fun, and are a good conditioner. But next time, I’ll make sure I tackle them with a full night’s sleep under my belt.

 

Blazyk-Zyle Ride – A Tale of Two Roads

One of the joys I get from biking is looking around at the areas I ride through. I’m sure most of us enjoy that part of riding.

Recently, a friend mentioned that he doesn’t always stop when he reaches a busy two-lane road on one of our routes. Instead, he heads out on the road for just a bit, and turns onto Blazyk Drive — a residential road just out of the city limits. Then, he takes a jaunt a bit farther south, and picks up Zyle Road. Both are dead ends, so they’re short out-and-back legs in longer rides. But they offer a nice Texas-style contrast between each other.

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 9.03.31 PM

Blazyk is a good road to ride, because it’s a decent uphill for most of its seven-tenths of a mile. It’s a Strava segment, too, although it’s not one I usually try to post a good time on. Blazyk is also nice because of the houses. These are relatively new, high-end places on large lots. It’s always fun to see how the other half lives.

The a couple of the "modest" houses on Blazyk Drive. (Picture from Google Streetview.) (Click pix to enlarge.)

The a couple of the “modest” houses on Blazyk Drive. (Picture from Google Streetview.) (Click pix to enlarge.)

At the top of the Blazyk hill, a panoramic view awaits the cyclist.

At the top of the Blazyk hill, a panoramic view awaits the cyclist.

Because it’s a relatively new road in a rich neighborhood, the road is smooooth. Unlike much of my ride, I don’t have to worry about dodging potholes or rough patches.

It takes only three and a half to four minutes to climb Blazyk, and about two minutes for the return trip, rolling briskly on a downhill. Back out on the two-lane, I can turn south for another short spurt to the next turnoff — Zyle Road.

Zyle is just a hundred yards or so from Blazyk, but it might as well be a hundred miles. The contrast between the two is striking.

Zyle Road has been around for awhile. While Blazyk is newer, Zyle is quite a bit older. While Blazyk is hilly, Zyle is tabletop flat. While the houses on Blazyk stand proudly for passers-by to see, the houses on Zyle are screened from view by mesquite, live oak, and other scrub brush. The houses on Blazyk are suburban-style McMansions, and the houses on Zyle have more of a rural, ranch-like flavor.

There's a house back there somewhere. (Google Streetview.)

Zyle Road. There’s a house back there somewhere. (Google Streetview.)

Roads like Zyle can be found all over Texas. They’re fun to ride, because traffic is almost nonexistent. Zyle has more character, too. When houses do emerge from the foliage, they’re older, well used, and sometimes feature interesting architectural details.

The spire on this house's turret can be seen for quite some distance.

The spire on this house’s turret can be seen for quite some distance.

Zyle is a little more than a mile, so a bit longer than Blazyk. Put together these two make a nice addition to routine routes in my part of town. I’ll keep riding them, and keep looking for new sights along the way.

Riding a Double Metric Century (Part 2)

Guest poster Don Blount continues his account of his metric double century, a ride he’s using to prepare for his killer “death ride” next month.

BlountOnBikingI was nearly halfway through the Tierra Bella Double Metric Century in Gilroy, Calif. as the voices began getting louder in my head. I had been riding for nearly 4½ hours, which is a long time to spend with your thoughts. When doubt takes a seat in there, strange things happen.

And as I thought about being able to stop if I had a mechanical problem with my bike, an unsettling crunching sound came from my cranks and they jammed.

I got off the bike, looked and tried pedaling them again. Nothing.

The front derailleur had fallen into the big chainring. As I fiddled with it, one rider stopped to help and another. One held the bike, while the other chatted. The talker was local and told me that a bike shop was not far away.

And then the SAG van pulled up. By that time I had gotten the front derailleur into the low chainring. Instead of hopping into the SAG wagon, I pedaled to the bike shop. I was not the only Tierra Bella rider there, several others were also getting repairs. A mechanic there confirmed that my derailleur was broken and that the bike could be ridden within the small chainring without worry.

And now that I had an excuse to quit the ride, I did not want to. I had too much time and effort invested.

I decided to do the last part of the ride in the small chainring. I still had a lot of climbing to do and would spin on the flats.

So I spun. And I spun and spun and spun for the next 25 miles (40km) before reaching the final climb at Hicks Road.

This climb gained 739 feet (225m) in about two miles (3.2km). It would take me about 20 minutes.

On the return trip I missed one turn but traced my steps to get back on course and ended up with a group of riders that I would stay with the rest of the way.

It was good to ride with someone as the afternoon winds in Gilroy picked up.

I rode 127 miles (204km), and my Garmin showed me with 8,632 feet (2,631m) of climbing in 8 hours 54 minutes. That does not include the hour of time I lost while fiddling with my front derailleur.

The Tierra Bella Double Metric Century was a challenging ride that I would do again. I learned how to deal with adversity and work through those negative voices that creep into your head during challenging rides.

I had a long car ride in front of me and just wanted to get home for a hot shower and to unload my gear. I also wanted my quads to stop screaming at me.

Riding a Double Metric Century (Part 1)

Guest poster Don Blount is gearing up for a big, big ride — and he’s using what a lot of us would consider a big ride to prep for it. Here’s his account.

BlountOnBikingMy big midyear ride is The Tour of the California Alps, Death Ride on July 12. It covers 129 miles (208 km) with 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing over five mountain passes.

I have other things planned after that ride but my preparation has been geared toward the Death Ride.

Intensity, climbing and saddle time are all components of my training. And yes, I used to hate hills but a 30-pound weight loss (13.61 kilograms) and improved fitness changed my attitude toward them. I can proudly say that I am a decent climber.

Through mid-May I have ridden about 2,800 miles (4,506 kilometers) with 71,000 feet (21,641 meters) of climbing in about 164 hours.

As part of my training, I took on the Tierra Bella Double Metric Century in Gilroy, Calif. in April. The 200K was listed as having 9,600 feet (2,926m) of climbing.

Gilroy is about 1 hr 45 mins from my home in Stockton, Calif. The early start required an overnight stay in Gilroy, which bills itself as the garlic capital of the world. The Ramada Limited was not five-star but it was fine for a night. I spent less than 12 hours in the room.

I rolled out from the Gavilan College starting point at 6:51 a.m. It was cool and I started out wearing a vest and arm warmers. I thought about wearing a long-sleeved jersey and for the first three hours of the ride I wished I had, but one thing about long rides in the spring is that the temperature can fluctuate by 30 degrees (16 degrees Celsius) or more and that is what the forecast called for. In a few hours I would be grateful for the short sleeves.

I rode at a comfortable pace, speaking with a few people along the way. Yet I was still thinking of the climbing that waited ahead.

By the time I reached the first rest stop at Gilroy Hot Springs, I was still cold but felt good. My goal was to finish in less than nine hours.

 

It was cool early in the double metro century as Don Blount arrived at the first rest stop.

It was cool early in the double metric century as Don Blount arrived at the first rest stop.

I had never ridden in this area before this day. However, I noticed how many areas reminded me of routes where I ride regularly. I felt fortunate to live in a good biking area and felt confident about being able to handle what waited ahead.

The real climbing began at about mile 38 (61 km) on the way to Henry W. Coe State Park headquarters. Over the next 11 miles (18 km) we would gain nearly 2,300 feet (701m). It would take me 1 hour 16 minutes to complete the climb.

The big climb is completed. Arriving at the Henry W. Coe State Park rest stop in Morgan Hill, California.

The big climb is completed. Arriving at the Henry W. Coe State Park rest stop in Morgan Hill, California.

I was spent by the time I reached the rest stop. I lingered as I waited to recover. A friend had told me about eating some chicken soup at a rest stop when he was not feeling well during a ride. Son of a gun, there was some Cup Noodles soup. I never eat this stuff but I did this time. It was hot, salty and won’t be a regular on my menu anytime soon. But it helped.

 

Despite the smile, Don Blount was not feeling that great.

Despite the smile, Don Blount was not feeling that great.

Eventually, I started the descent. I exited the park and thought about the remaining 62 miles. I specifically had two thoughts: 1) If a SAG van came by right now, I would be tempted to get in. 2) If I had a mechanical, I could quit now and blame the bike.

I would soon be reminded to be careful what I wished for.

In his next post, Don recaps both the mechanical and mental challenges of the ride.

Revisiting the Short Ride

From time to time, I’ll dip into the Bike Noob archives and rerun a post from aeons past — or in this case, three years. I was going to write about today’s ride with my wife, but realized that it would have been almost an exact duplicate of this old post, and since we’re in the middle of packing for a vacation, I thought I’d save myself some effort. But I did tag on a bit of new info toward the end.

My wife has a favorite ride in the neighborhood. It’s only a nine-mile out and back route. It features a long, mild uphill on the way out and a fast fun descent — really a slight downhill incline — for much of the way back. It takes her anywhere from 40-45 minutes to finish it.

I ride it a lot with her. Sometimes, there’s a time crunch, and that’s about all I can fit in. Other times, I’d just as soon do a ride with her as go off on my own. I can’t call it a favorite ride of mine, because it’s not challenging, and in my mind, it’s too short.

But short or not, it’s a bike ride.

My friends over on Bike Forums were discussing this point earlier this week. It seems a lot of them have the same reaction I did: If the ride lasts less than an hour, it’s not a “real” ride. But one old-timer jumped in to point out that a ride is a ride, and regardless of length you will get some physical benefits from it — and the mental benefits might be better.

“Besides,” he added, “just by being out there puts you way above average for your age group.” (This post was on the 50-plus forum.)

We did the ride the other morning. It’s been really humid around here lately, but we’ll put up with that if an early start means we get to finish well before the 100-degree temps we’ve been having kick in.

The first mild incline takes us to the cross street where we turn right. I usually pull over and wait for Pat here, but this time, she was less than 100 feet back. I led her out to the dip into the dry creek bed, then the long incline coming out of it. I got to the end of the street over a mile farther on, and waited at the curb for her to catch me.

She led me around the corner onto a broad new street in a recently-build subdivision. The street ends at a T-intersection with a busy road. We make our turnaround there. We stopped so Pat could take a business call on her cell phone.

On the return leg, I kick it into overdrive for the long downhill. It’s a fun part of the ride for me, and I don’t hold back. Pat trails me by quite a distance here, and I wait for her before we have to make a left turn at a stoplight.

We’ve got one more nice mild downhill and one longish mild uphill in the last two miles of the trip. That uphill is what Strava calls the “HEB Escarpment” segment, because it goes up Escarpment Blvd. past the HEB supermarket. Two days after setting a personal best on that stretch, I got another one today — and not just by a little. I bested the previous mark by a full 10 seconds! I think when I come back from vacay, I’m going to have to really test myself on some of the tougher hills around here.

Bikes and Planes

One of my biking goals this year is to get out and ride in areas where I haven’t ridden before. A friend shared some ride ideas with me, and mentioned that he and his son would not be able to attend the Kingsbury air show. They were planning on riding from San Marcos down to Kingsbury, about 20 miles away, but the boy had some scouting obligations.

It sounded like a great idea to me though, so I decided I would make the trip. I tossed the bike in the back of the SUV and drove from Austin down to San Marcos, about 30 miles south. San Marcos has the best outlet mall I’ve ever seen (Tanger on one side, Prime on the other — it’s huge). Lots of parking around back for cyclists to start their trips. I had ridden from here a couple of times, but not for several years. A check of Google Maps the night before reminded me of which roads to take, and I started out about 9 a.m.

Some of the roads were in good shape. Some had a rough chip seal surface, that I couldn’t wait to leave. Lots of rolling hills all along the route, although the farther from San Marcos one gets, the more the land flattens out. The corn is looking pretty good already, but we’ll need some rain soon.

 

The road to Kingsbury, looking north. Some bluebonnets are still hanging on in roadside ditches. (Click all pix to embiggen.)

The road to Kingsbury, looking north. Some bluebonnets are still hanging on in roadside ditches. (Click all pix to embiggen.)

Kingsbury, Texas, is a forlorn little hamlet on U.S. 90 alongside the railroad tracks, about halfway between Seguin and Luling. Glad I could clear that up. There’s nothing in Kingsbury, but about a mile south, on Farm Road 1104, is the Old Kingsbury Aerodrome. A group of aviation buffs has assembled a collection of old planes, and has built replicas of several World War I era planes. About twice a year, they have an Air Fair day, and all the planes are assembled on the grass field outside the hangars.

If you're not expecting the entrance to the aerodrome, it's easy to miss it.

If you’re not expecting the entrance to the aerodrome, it’s easy to miss it.

Fokker D-1 Triplane, the plane most associated with the Red Baron. This is a replica, but it can fly. The wind was too strong this day for it to go up, however.

Fokker D-1 Triplane, the plane most associated with the Red Baron. This is a replica, but it can fly. The wind was too strong this day for it to go up, however.

Fokker D-VII. The Allies respected it so much, it's the only plane they required the Germans to turn over intact after the war. Replica.

Fokker D-VII. The Allies respected it so much, it’s the only plane they required the Germans to turn over intact after the war. Replica.

A Canadian-built Curtiss Jenny, called the "Canuck." This one is real, not a replica. Apparently, a lot of the Canadian Jennys found their way to Texas flight schools after WWI. It's painted like a 1920s barnstormer.

A Canadian-built Curtiss Jenny, called the “Canuck.” This one is real, not a replica. Apparently, a lot of the Canadian Jennys found their way to Texas flight schools after WWI. It’s painted like a 1920s barnstormer.

Bleriot. A replica of the plane Louis Bleriot flew across the English Channel in 1909.

Bleriot. A replica of the plane Louis Bleriot flew across the English Channel in 1909.

Cars were featured, too. Lots of rods and customs, WWI ambulances, Model Ts. But this unrestored Model T got my attention. Looking for a little restoration project?

Cars were featured, too. Lots of rods and customs, Model Ts, WWI ambulances. But this rescued Model T got my attention. Looking for a little restoration project?

Period costumes were much in evidence. Note the flag whipping in the wind. Too dangerous to fly the wood and fabric contraptions this day.

Period costumes were much in evidence. Note the flag (48 stars) whipping in the wind. Too dangerous to fly the wood and fabric contraptions this day.

Since this is a bike blog, I wanted to add this photo of an old bike. Poor job on my part, but it's a Chicago-built Crescent single speed. Notable for its white tires, wooden wheels, and that saddle looks familiar, doesn't it? Yep, it's the same Brooks B-17 a lot of riders still swear by today.

Since this is a bike blog, I wanted to add this photo of an old bike. Poor photography on my part, but it’s a Chicago-built Crescent single speed. Notable for its white tires, wooden wheels, and that saddle looks familiar, doesn’t it? Yep, it’s the same Brooks B-17 a lot of riders still swear by today.

I took too long looking at the planes and such, and it was past time to leave. A  cheeseburger and a Diet Coke were on the agenda before heading back to my bike. “What’ll it be?” I asked the nice lady at the food stand. “Just a donation, whatever you think it’s worth,” she replied. I was generous.

I was looking forward to the return trip to San Marcos, because I would have a tailwind. But I also remembered the rollers I dealt with on the way down, and figured I could bypass them if I took a different route. So I turned west on Farm to Market 20, and headed for Geronimo. Bad move. The turn took me right into a strong headwind. The 10 miles to Geronimo were a slog, and I began to tire.

But then I could turn north on Texas 123, a straight shot back to San Marcos. It’s a four-lane highway with a small shoulder, and I made great time. Amazing how a tailwind lifts your spirits. Even five miles from the outlet mall parking lot, when I got off 123 onto country roads again, the rollers weren’t so bad as long as the wind pushed.

So, I had a great time, but the downside of a great time on the bike is that domestic chores go by the wayside. Instead of my usual Sunday ride with the club, I stayed home to cut the grass, trim the bushes, rake some stubborn leaves, and sneak in a short ride late in the afternoon. It was a tradeoff I was glad to make.

 

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.

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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.