My buddy Russell, who has a ranch in Rock Springs, had warned me that the riding from Camp Wood towards Austin was hard. “It’s not hard for me,” he said. “But for a California cupcake like you, it is some rough sledding.”
I had ridden to Camp Wood the day before and was unimpressed with anything except the magnitude of Russell’s lies. If he thought this was rough sledding, I hoped he never had to climb a real hill.
From Camp Wood to Leakey was going to be my little leg opener but instead it became an eye-opener followed by a kidney-opener followed by a leg-falling-off-er. This stretch of road is crisp, steep, hilly as fuck, and includes a couple of real climbs that would tenderize anybody, much less an old grandpa carrying more on his back than a donkey.
With that part of the misery done, I started the next 12 miles for Vanderpool. “How much harder could it be?” I asked myself. Answer: a lot fucking harder. It made the leg opener to Leakey look like, well, a leg opener. It was one brutal climb after the next, which explains why the round-trip from Camp Wood to Vanderpool and back clocks in at over 7000 feet of climbing. The only thing I could do in Vanderpool was eat ice cream and quiver. Oh well, the worst part was over. Right?
Wrong, oh so very wrong. There was a 4-mile descent to Lost Maples Natural Area, followed by a 3 mile climb, the first 2 miles of which went straight up through a canyon wall. If 3 or 4 mph sounds low trust me it was a lot faster than I thought I could go. However, it is a fact that since there are no long climbs in the Texas Hill country, a climb like this must be followed by a lot of descending. Wrong on all accounts, of course. After that there was an endless undulation of about 11 miles into a bitter headwind and crosswind through rolling climbs that for the most part went up and went down only a little bit. It took me a solid 2 1/2 hours to cover 18 miles. As I approached the intersection with Texas 39, there was an old boy standing next to his pick-up truck.
“Where you going?” He asked.
“I’d say I’m going to hell, but seems like I’m already there.”
He chuckled. “You’re not stopping here are you?”
“No, I was hoping to make it to Kerrville but I don’t think that’s going to happen. How much farther is Kerrville?”
“Oh, it ain’t nothing. It’s only about 35 miles. And it’s all downhill and I believe you will have the wind at your back the whole way.”
When someone in a car tells me it’s all downhill I know they are full of shit. How would they know? The only difference to them between uphill and downhill is a little more or a little less pushy-pushy on the gas pedal.
“You got any water?” I asked.
“Well sure I do. How much do you need?”
“How much do you got?”
“About 30 gallons. You reckon that’s enough?”
“I suppose I might be able to use half a gallon or so.”
“You know I met a fellow who was riding to California about 10 years ago. He got a flat in Kerrville and I took him to get a spare tube, and then we got to talking, he was a German fella, and had never been hunting, so I took him out hunting.”
“And how did he like that?”
“He wasn’t any good at it, but if it had been tree season he would have gotten his limit. Are you sure you don’t need a ride into Kerrville? I was thinking at first you was okay, but now I figure you are looking kind of green. You gonna be okay?”
“I’m not sure I was okay when I started this damn trip, and I for sure am not okay now. But if I can’t make Kerrville I will pull over somewhere and camp. But thank you for the offer and the water.”
The next place with food was Hunt, Texas, a piddling 20 miles away. The rancher had lied, like all Texans, because the road, although predominately downhill, had a lot of things in the middle of it called uphills each of which had to be surmounted not with a pushy/pushy of the ankle but with a groany/groany of the legs, lungs, and heart.
It seemed like I would never get there, but of course I did, and I have of late realized that the best way to ride your bike on long trips is not to think about where you’re going, but to think about where you’ve been. It makes the miles go by a lot quicker. In fact I have a little mantra I say to myself when the road is endless, my ass is sore, my stomach is empty, and my willpower is about zero. Here it is: “The rear wheel is rolling, so it’s all good.”
At Hunt the diner was shut down due to the covids but they had a little store that had a meat case filled with all kinds of good meat for camp cooking. Unfortunately all of it was frozen. That sent me over to the canned goods aisle where I got two cans of VanCamp’s and two cans of Campbell’s. As I was checking out I asked the guy, “Is there anywhere around here to camp?”
“You could probably sneak over to the pavilion at the city park over the way there, but if I was you I would ride on another few hundred yards and go down by the river. Take the little gravel road, it will go under the bridge and dump you out next to the river. There is all kinds of nice little places to pitch your tent and won’t nobody bother you there. And it is purdy.”
I took the man’s advice. It was good advice. The river was beautiful and after about 7 o’clock there were no cars at all. I wolfed down my soup and beans, crawled into my tent, and waited for sleep. It came, and it was deep.