First off, I must tell you the ride was back at the end of September, not recently. I had been riding my old road bike for several months, and because of my wife’s success in her first organized ride, I wanted to try one myself.
Looking at the ride calendar for this area, I picked the “Rip Roarin’ Ride” in Liberty Hill, Texas. The small town is a little northwest of Austin, just outside the built up suburbs. And the suburbs are slowly encroaching on Liberty Hill. The ride was sponsored by the local Lions Club, and had routes from 14 to 108 miles. I opted for the 49-mile route. I figured it was long enough to be challenging, since I’d never ridden that far before, but still doable even with my limited riding experience.
I registered online for the ride. It started at 8, and I was one of the first ones in the high school parking lot at 6:30. I got my goodie bag with ride numbers, a coozie, some printed handouts, a Clif Bar, and a long-sleeved t-shirt. I had stopped to get a fast food breakfast on the way up, and had plenty of time now to eat it.
After about 7, the lot really filled up fast. Lots of riders seemed to come from area clubs, by their jerseys. And it was fun to see the variety of bikes. Everything from very expensive Italian racers, to tandems, to families with hybrids and mountain bikes.
We had to pedal a ways to the junior high, where the ride actually started. For a raw newbie, it was a little intimidating to try to merge with the crowd of bikers (around 900 started) and fall in with the overall pace. The pace was easy as we entered the town and negotiated a left at its main intersection. In short order, we were out in the country. I got a kick out of passing sleek bodied riders on fancy triathlon bikes with aerobars, but reminded myself that going too fast now could lead to a bonk later.
The roads were Texas county roads, which are usually chip seal. These had been worn down with use, so were not as rough a ride as some chip seal roads are. There’s relatively light motor vehicle use, so they’re great for biking. In addition, Liberty Hill is at the eastern edge of the Texas Hill Country, so the ride is visually interesting. The hills also require some extra effort on the rider’s part.
The first rest stop was at 7 miles. I thought that was too soon, but it marked the turnaround point for family riders who were only doing the 14-mile route. I passed it by. But by the time I got to the second stop, another 7 miles along, I was ready. The Lions Club had really done it up right. Lots of volunteers, and picnic tables that were stocked with everything from chips and fruit to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to pickles and cups of pickle juice. I was to learn that pickle juice, because of its high sodium content, is considered a good electrolyte replacement drink by many cyclists. I filled up my water bottle with a sports drink, and put an extra energy bar in my pocket.
The ride crossed from Williamson County into Burnet County. It felt more rural here, more “out in the country.” I rounded a curve, and came upon an airstrip that had apparently seen a lot of use at one time. Several hangars lined the paved runway, and a Chevron sign stood next to an unused fueling station. The strip was out of commission and the fences surrounding it were padlocked shut. But parked in front of one of the hangars was a Vietnam-era MiG-19 fighter jet, still in its Soviet markings. How or why it got there, I don’t know, but it was the most interesting sight of the day.
Other sights included longhorn cattle, llamas, ostriches, and an American Bison, all on the ranches that lined the roads. The hills weren’t too taxing, until I made the big loop that marked the turnaround for the 49-mile route. That’s when I realized that the ride out was more downhill than up, and I’d really be working on the way to the finish.
By the time I got to rest stop #2, where I had made my first stop on the way out, I was bushed. I loitered at the picnic tables, taking my time over bananas and other food. I refilled the water bottle twice, once with water, once with a sports drink. The seven miles to rest stop #1 seemed like they’d never end.
At rest stop #1, I collapsed into a folding chair set up near the tent shelter. My bandana, which I tied around my head as a sweatband, was dripping wet. I got yet another bottle of sports drink, and spent awhile watching other cyclists pull in, get food and drink, and head out. Finally, I got back on the bike for the final leg.
My butt was killing me. At the time, my Raleigh had a gel saddle I had pilfered from my wife’s hybrid, after she replaced it with a saddle more suited to her. It had been fine for recreational rides in the neighborhood, but now it was agony to straddle. The sun was beating down as noon approached. I pulled into the high school parking lot, and the finish, about four hours after I’d started.
It was a great experience. I had proven to myself that I could handle longer distances. I learned a lot about handling hills and pacing myself. I learned that you don’t want to take too long at rest stops. And I had the first stirrings of desire for a modern, light road bike. Now, my sights were set on my next challenge: a metric century. There was one in five more weeks. I planned to be ready for it.