I broke away from my usual weekend routine Saturday, by getting up really early and heading west to ride in Le Tour de Longneques. The brainchild of my blogging friend Don Bynum, the Tour started a couple of years ago as an easy 18-mile jaunt between Llano and Castell, Texas.
But each time it’s been run, it has grown in popularity. And as cyclists have gotten better, the Tour was extended. It now starts in Castell, (pop. 72) a hamlet along the Llano River, and goes to Llano (pop. 3,300), the county seat, then back to Castell.
What’s the attraction of Castell? The Castell General Store — one of the funkiest local businesses you’ll ever want to see. It appears ready to fall down in a heap. The grounds are patrolled by a huge rooster — the “mayor” of Castell. The store is a community gathering place, as much a bar as a general mercantile. On the weekends, it adds food to its offerings. Friday is burgers, Saturday barbecue, and for people who want to enjoy an upscale Sunday dinner — steaks.
The problem for me is that Castell is more than 90 miles from my home in Austin, and Don made it clear that we would leave at 8 a.m. sharp. That necessitated an early morning wake up. I don’t mind, but my wife sure does. The dog took care of the wake up — an hour earlier than I had set the alarm clock. I hit the road before 6:15, and reached Castell around 7:40 a.m.
A number of riders were already there, in various states of preparation for the trip. When I last rode with Don, I was the youngest person out there. This time, more than half the riders were younger than me, and were more serious riders. Two young women with tri bikes joined us. A couple of recumbents promised to set a fast pace.
I put my stuff together, mindful of the 8 a.m. start time. But more riders kept dribbling in, and Don would say, “Let’s wait for him to get organized, then we’ll leave.” As soon as that happened, another car toting a bike would turn into the sandy parking area. Then there were two flat tires that had to be fixed (Before a ride?). At 8:30 sharp, Don said, “Let’s take off.”
I’ve indicated before that I like riding in rural areas on lightly-traveled roads. This trip was a straight shot between the two towns, never leaving Ranch Road 152. But RR 152 wasn’t straight. It dipped and curved and rose again for the whole 18 miles. The chip seal two-lane road wasn’t as rough as some I’ve been on, but it still has a way to go before traffic smooths out the surface. Still, I pedaled at what seemed an effortless pace, and noted that I had a good chance to get to Llano in just an hour.
I almost made it. My average speed on the outbound leg was 17.4 mph. The picturesque Llano County courthouse made a nice rest stop, because of the generous shade cast by trees surrounding the old building. We even had two sag vehicles along for the trip, driven by the non-biking wives of two riders. They made sure we topped off with water and ice before hitting the road again.
But it turned out that the reason for a smooth ride on the way out was that Llano is about 200 feet lower than Castell, and on the way back, I found myself resorting to some small gears in the small chainring. Those same rolling hills we covered on the way out were long uphills now. It took a lot more effort to get back, and the temperature was steadily climbing.
I was glad to see the Lutheran church on the outskirts of Castell. Just a mile left! My average speed on the return leg was a meager 12.4 mph. “You didn’t tell me the trip back was twice as far as the trip out,” I ribbed Don, when he pulled in 10 minutes after I did.
But this ride is not just about the ride. True to its name, many of us grabbed a Lone Star longneck to wind down. Then, another treat — we trooped several hundred yards down to the Llano River, where we soaked in what Don calls its “restorative” waters. After awhile, it was time to head back to the store for a lunch of barbecue with all the trimmings, and another Lone Star. Or two.
This would be a nice ride under any circumstances, but the river, the barbecue, and the social aspects of the ride make it special. Don schedules the Tour whenever he feels like it. “It’s a militantly unorganized ride,” he says. Another installment might be in the works for fall, when we won’t have to start so early, and the river might actually run cool.