Making It Up As I Go Along

I got the bike back from the shop a few days ago, and things are better. Not 100 percent better, but I can shift much smoother than before.

I park my bike in the garage, along the left wall. It’s right next to my car. Apparently, I smacked the derailleur with the car door when I opened it a couple of weeks ago, and it knocked the derailleur off kilter. The bike mechanic pointed it out to me when I picked up the bike, and he said he bent the derailleur back. So now I can shift from the small to the  big ring. There’s a little bit of clatter, but I’ve found that if I concentrate on easing up my pedal pressure, I can make a smooth shift with no noise.

I practiced that on Sunday’s ride, because I missed the club ride departure by a few minutes. And since this was an ad hoc ride, separate from the main ride that left an hour earlier, they weren’t going to decide where to go until they all got together. So I would be guessing which way they headed if I decided to try to catch them.

Instead, I set off on my own, with only a vague idea of where I would go. Perhaps I would make a Convict Hill run. I haven’t done any hill work for over a month, and I can tell. Maybe I’d head south and go to Buda on my own. Or maybe I’d head east, and think about a run to Creedmoor.

But the weather didn’t make a long ride particularly palatable. It was 49 or 50 degrees (10C), overcast and damp, but little wind to speak of. Let’s do about an hour and call it a day.

Going east on Davis Lane, there’s been some road construction. The road narrows to two lanes, unmarked, no shoulder, and fairly rough. But they’ve been building a new section of Davis, that would curve to the left a bit, and meet up with the Davis Lane extension where it crosses Brodie. Before, we had to take the little two-lane to Brodie, and then do a left turn followed by a right turn to pick up Davis again.

Well, son of a gun, the work on Davis is finished! It stays a four-lane road with a nice bike lane on each side. I picked up speed as I reached the curve, and enjoyed the smooth surface. I hadn’t planned to keep going east on Davis, but what the heck?

Davis has a nifty hill that that point, and the road reverts to two lanes. On Sunday morning, there’s not much traffic, so I can labor my way up the hill without worrying about blocking cars. Less than a mile farther on, Davis bends to the left again. It’s always been that way, and for some reason, it stops in the middle of a residential area. If you want to continue east, you go straight on another two-lane, make a right angle left turn, then another hard right, and you’re back on Davis again.

The Davis Hill from Google Street View. It's a lot steeper than the camera shot makes it look.
The Davis Hill from Google Street View. It’s a lot steeper than the camera shot makes it look.

Well, that’s fixed, too. Davis now goes through all the way to where we used to take that right turn. Again, it’s wide, with a bike lane. There’s a traffic circle at the end — traffic circles are all the rage here in new subdivisions, even though Americans can’t seem to figure out how to negotiate them — and then we’re back to our familiar old route to the east.

But I turned and started exploring some side streets I’d never been on. This is a newer subdivision, right in the middle of the city. A traffic circle at almost every intersection(!). I rode around here for awhile, then headed my way back west — but on a different collection of streets.

By now, I was adjusted to the temperature and felt comfortable. The rest of the morning ride went much the same. I turned off on a new, previously un-traveled road whenever the mood hit me. Although I was in familiar areas, I was on unfamiliar streets. On a bike, you just see more of your surroundings than if you whiz by in a car, and you cover far more ground than you would if running.

After about two hours of this, I headed home. I’d hoped to hit 30 miles, but Strava says I topped out at 28.4. Still, I had a lot of fun just making it up as I rode along. One of these days, I’ll do it again.

Two State Parks — Two Different Rides

I’m a member of a Meetup group, the Austin Mountain Bikers. Earlier this week, I got a message from them that an interpretive mountain bike ride would take place at Bastrop State Park in Bastrop, Texas, about 25 miles east of Austin. We would be led by a park ranger on trails that are normally closed to the public. Sign me up.

Maggie had the same idea, so we loaded the bikes onto the SUV and set out for Bastrop. The park and the area are known for the “Lost Pines” — a substantial acreage of loblolly pines that somehow detached from the piney woods of East Texas. it’s the farthest west stand of loblollies in the United States. In 2011, the area — including most of Bastrop State Park — was devastated by a forest fire. Most of the pines are gone, but the park is starting to come back. For naturalists, it’s a gold mine of information about regeneration.

In all, about 13 riders turned out. Rangers Mick and Cullen told us that we wouldn’t be pounding along rough singletrack — instead, we’d be stopping a lot to hear about different aspects of the area. A few riders apparently hadn’t realized that when they signed up, and there was a little grumbling, but Mick pointed out that there’s a lot of mountain biking in the area, including nearby Buescher State Park.

Rangers Cullen (center left) and Mick (far right) herd the cats at the beginning of the ride.
Rangers Cullen (center left) and Mick (far right) herd the cats at the beginning of the ride. (Click all pix to embiggen.)

The ride was along a grassy truck path, the grass beaten down by park maintenance vehicles. Most of it wasn’t technically challenging, but we did have a nice longish downhill through some rocks that made riders pay attention, and a tough climb near the end of the ride.

Maggie and I both enjoyed the many stops to find out about the challenges facing the park. The area where we rode was outside the park proper — it had recently been acquired by the state, but not added to the park yet. Mick pointed out the damage being done by feral pigs, which had not been a factor in the park before the fire. He said a lot of the native predators like coyotes and bobcats fled the fire, and never returned.

Ranger Cullen displays the decomposing head of a deer found along the trail. A nice set of antlers, but this being a state park, they must be left here.
Ranger Cullen displays the decomposing head of a deer found along the trail. A nice set of antlers, but this being a state park, they must be left here.
Ranger Mick points out damage done by feral hogs.
Ranger Mick points out damage done by feral hogs.

We also stopped at an abandoned town site. Yewpon, Texas, existed from about 1902 to 1918. The only signs remaining are the town’s cistern and a mound that shows where the steps to the post office used to be.

Ranger Mick answers a question from Maggie at the remains of the town cistern in what used to be Yewpon, Texas.
Ranger Mick answers a question from Maggie at the remains of the town cistern in what used to be Yewpon, Texas.

Pines thrive in sandy soil, and we were caught unaware by the depth of sand in some of the tracks we rode. A few riders lost control and had to stop to regroup. In some of the more densely forested areas of the ride, we could see evidence that the forest is regenerating.

A new pine pokes up through the ground near some trunks of trees that had been damaged in the fire.
A new pine pokes up through the ground near some trunks of trees that had been damaged in the fire.

 

A nice-sized King Snake basks on a rock next to a creek. Snakes like this are vital to culling the mice in the park, which increased exponentially when natural predators left after the fire.
A nice-sized King Snake basks on a rock next to a creek. Snakes like this are vital to culling the mice in the park, which increased exponentially when natural predators left after the fire.

 

Even with the large stands of ruined trees, majestic pines still populate parts of the park.
Even with the large stands of ruined trees, majestic pines still populate parts of the park.

After the short ride — only about 4.1 miles (Mick said he eliminated some of the planned ride because of impassable conditions) — we decided to go on to Buescher (BISH-er) State Park, a few miles east. We drove the well-known Park Road 1C, which dips and twists for miles between the two parks, and I remembered how I had tackled the tough hills during my MS150 ride back in 2009.

We got to a trailhead, and took off into the woods. This turned out to be a great singletrack. It was a little bit sandy, often hard-packed, sometimes rocky, but not with the difficult rock gardens we deal with around home. Although the area is quite hilly, the track doesn’t put the rider in any jeopardy, and we were treated to some fun, twisty downhills, some steep uphills, and constantly changing terrain. No pictures for this section — we were too busy having fun riding to stop.

So, a good, if not long, morning of mountain biking. We’ll be returning to Buescher State Park for some more time on the trails. As for Bastrop, Ranger Mick said there would be more interpretive bike rides like today’s in the future. If you’re interested, keep an eye on the park’s website.

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.