Texas Episode 3: Fredericksburg and Cycling the Texas Hill Country

February 3 – 15

Our drive north to Fredricksburg wasn’t all that interesting. We saw the usual large ranches, herds of beef (with all their legs), and goats and sheep. We passed roads named Rifle and towns named Geronimo, all quintessential Texas. The roads got hillier and the trees changed from short oaks to short oaks mixed with junipers. 

We drove into the outskirts of Fredericksburg to the Lady Bird Municipal Park Campground, had an easy and hospitable check in, and quickly found our site, sitting in the back corner of the park, Pecan Loop No. 11. The campground sits within a large city park that includes a golf course, baseball fields, nature walk, pool, tennis courts, several group picnic areas, and has a small river running through it where park goers fished along the banks. The town of Fredericksburg airport runs along the eastern side of the park bordered by the large dog park on one side and the county fairgrounds on the other. Each site has a hard pebble, almost asphalt base, and is equipped with water, electric, sewer, and cable TV hook ups. Oh, and each site has its own residential style garbage can which is sort of a strange luxury.

After setting up, we headed into town to pick up prescriptions we had filled at the local Walgreens, then farther into town where we stopped at a local bike shop to inquire about rides. The bike shop dude was extremely pleasant but directed us to the visitor center to find bike maps. We did and they had several. Lysette went in and spoke with the staff who was extremely helpful providing many maps of local bike favorites and lots of other good information on area attractions. 

We got back to camp and settled in for the night with dinner and conversation. There is admittedly excitement flowing through the team about the prospect of a week of great weather and being out on our bikes.

Since we were here to bike the hill country, it was decided that the remainder of this blog be organized around our daily bike rides.

Ride 1. Twilight Twenty

Our first ride was a loop from camp. We chose it as this was the hottest day forecasted so we wanted to remain close to Toohey who stayed behind because he has no opposing thumbs allowing him to grip and because we needed him to protect the assets of the Tacoma. The loop is titled the Twilight Twenty as locals ride this loop during the evenings after work.

The ride started from camp with a mile or so section of State Highway 16 passing along the fairgrounds and airport to our left. We turned on Pyka Rd then Kerr Rd to intercept with the actual loop ride. We rolled along enjoying the mostly quiet roads, flowing over the hills with interesting ranch land on either side. We both agreed that our favorite section of the ride was Hayden Ranch Road that twisted and flowed up and down hills, curves, through juniper trees, small oaks, prickly pear cactus and with visuals to include deer, turkeys, goat ranches, and beautiful sunshine, sweet sunshine. 

The most interesting of animal sightings was a rather large mature looking but odd fawn that jumped up while on the opposite side of a fenced pasture along a strand of trees. It took off in full run, leaping the fence in front of us, and then the one on the opposite side of the road before quickly disappearing out of sight. What made this more interesting was the adult size of this animal but with all the spots of a fawn. It was an oddity we’d seen once before, dead on the side of the road, but at the time we simply considered it bloated versus linking its unusual size to it being an adult. After further post ride investigation we learned that both the live and roadside dead bloated one were actually Axis deer. Axis were introduced to Texas around 1932 for game hunting but have since escaped and successfully bred in the wild to number around 125,000, or now 124,499 with previously mentioned bloated roadside carnage. Anyway, we never heard of an Axis deer before this and luckily we saw one healthy frightened doe in the wild. Here you go for more information and photographs of Axis deer.

The roads around here are narrow, rough and twisty, reminding me at times in form, shape, and flow of riding in the English countryside, but the similarities cease at the foliage, fauna, history, rules, and bloody accents. The surface condition is rough with exposed rock imbedded in asphalt but interestingly enough, few potholes or anything more dangerous than a cattle guard crossing, at least yet.

We were told by the local bike shop employee that the Farm to Market roads (FM2323) and Ranch Roads (RR2323) were paved along private farm land after WWII to help ease the transportation of goods along dirty, muddy roads as they moved to market. The road beds remain in the ownership of the locals but based on the agreement to pave them, must remain accessible to the public. With all that, some pleasant weather, and extremely light traffic, we found them quite fun and pleasant to ride! 

We finished the ride as the winds seem to pick up and thankfully mostly from behind giving us a nice tail wind to push us home. 

The remainder of the day included some relaxation and then a drive around town with the last stop at the HEB grocery store for some provisions. 

Ride 2: Luckenbach Texas Loop

Our ride day 2 was a loop starting from the town owned and made famous by a man named Hondo Crouch. The owner and self proclaimed Mayor of Lukenbach, Texas, population 3, coined the phrase, Everybody is somebody in Luckenbach. The self promoted town really hit the charts though with the country hit song by Waylon Jennings, Luckenbach Texas (Back to the Basics of Love). 

We had a friend accompany us on the ride, a fellow traveler who we’d previously met while staying at the Buccaneer State Park near Bay St Louis, MS. We got to know him while he was walking past our camp one morning with his dog Lily. We met today for the ride in the large dirt parking lot sitting alongside Luckenbach town limits, providing evidence based on the size of the lot that this place can be busy. But today, a Friday, we got the choice spot, left of a large tree, making it a perfect place for Toohey to protect the assets for a few hours while we rode.

Accompanied by our friend, we headed out for the clockwise loop based on the ride map provided by the Visitor Center. There were several busy roads we had to navigate along the way but our souls were filled with the fun of those smaller farm and ranch roads with light traffic and fun scenery. The route took us on roads called Cain City, Old San Antonio, and Jung. The named hills we climbed included Cain City Climb, Landfill Hill, and Climb to Jung Lane, all quite unoriginal as they were pretty much just a description of where we were. We entered and exited the town of Fredericksburg at the mid-point of the ride passing one of the two bike shops in town. Mostly the large trucks were friendly, giving lots of room while passing on the busier roads we had to ride so we never felt any near death experience. We also saw the first of many, according to our friend, old school houses that are scattered along these drives.  The clouds stayed around for most of the ride but broke just before we reentered the parking lot and town making for a beautifully sunny afternoon. 

We said goodbye to our friend who needed to head back to attend to his pooch Lily. Lysette and I headed into the city to have a further look-see. The town is as much an event center with the Post Office serving as a gift shop and a wooden bench on the front porch made famous in many tourist photos. There is a small restaurant with window service and the Hondos Bar where we found a couple of cold beers that accompanied us to our seat at a wooden picnic table where we sat outside to listen some old timer play his guitar. There were 2 stages around the common area behind Hondos Bar for entertainment, a small kissing booth that was frequented by folks grabbing photos and otherwise just a nice shady spot to sit or wander. There were no paved streets or sidewalks. We enjoyed the nostalgia and headed back to the car for our drive home. 

We came across a human who was something of a spectacle. As we were about to take our selfies on the front porch of the Post Office, we heard a loud voice say, “No, give me the camera and do it right.” Looking back we saw a stout maskless man with stubbly face hair, about a weeks growth, a baseball cap, jeans with Texas style cowboy boots that were slightly worn giving him some credibility. He quickly approached us with his hands out continuing to rant about the proper photo opportunity. Before realizing what’s what, he had Lysette’s phone and we became victims of the tourist photo. With our masks back and securely on, we proceeded to open the door to the post office slash gift shop. Our first inclination was to not go inside as the space was tight and somewhat crowded for COVID days.  But he and his wife, now off the bench from a photo, came from behind us with him still loud talking. We were trapped with no way out and him, spewing his thoughts on the safety and severity of COVID. His opinion apparently mattered since he had it back in October and his professional advice was spoken with authority, “the sooner everyone gets it the better, so go on in.” He went on masklessly (a word just made up for him to reflect his lack of mask and the appearance of COVID germs crawling all over his moving mouth) telling us how it was nothing, sort of like, and I quote, “the way you feel after your first few two-a-days. You know, where your body just hurts all over.” The reference to two-a-days is a football thing and a pretty good indication that we are in the land of Friday Night Lights where Friday night football is king in the fall. We stood there as he seemed to want to get even closer to our faces, close enough to where we could almost see the COVID, now having evolved with wings, flying off his lips with a warm 98 degree tail wind in our general direction, and with us, nowhere else to go. Later, we would come up with all the right things we should have said, but nothing profoundly confident came during the moment, just our nervous laughter and relief when he moved on to his next victim. We heard him as he walked away continually loud talking as he approached others. Already contaminated, we grabbed a few postcards before making a break for it. 

We chose the scenic roads of Grapetown, River Road, and Boos Lane to get home which are all more great cycling roads full of old scenery, more school houses, goat and sheep farms, and just plain interesting things to see. One of the things I’ve enjoyed seeing are the older homes that were constructed from limestone rock walls and wood. We found several of these along the drive to include one dilapidated skeleton of a building but a good representation of what interest me. 

We ended the day back at camp, enjoying more blue skies and warm sunshine with a cool breeze. We walked Toohey, took him to the large dog park, but mostly he just wanted to come back to camp and lounge around. He seems tired today, not really up for the puppy stuff, preferring to sit and idle his sore aging joints, which makes us a bit sad.

Ride 3: Ride Towards Comfort (Fredricksburg, Kerrsville Loop)

The ride de jour was an out and back towards the town of Comfort. This was recommended by a Golden friend of ours who has ridden here often. The roads from the campground include Boos Lane, River Road, Center Point, and Hasenwinkel Rd. The road was rolling with an uphill trend going out and headwind. When we got to the top of Guadernales Ledge, a steep 17% grade downhill, we stopped to snap a selfie and photo showing that the road ends and the descent begins. Most descents and ascents on bike rides are referred to as “hills’’. This one is called a “ledge.” At the bottom of this ledge, we decided to turn back. The start of our return trip was then a 17% uphill that took as much gear as we had. About three quarters of the way up, some young dude with long red hair on a road bike (with no electric motor) came out of nowhere stating he was on our left. He passed us quickly, spinning like it was a 4% grade. Damn it. We survived the ledge both ways and completely enjoyed the return trip, and as the cycling physics played out, a headwind now accompanied us home. 

One of the most amazing things I noticed while cycling these hill country roads is the extraordinary amount of dead wildlife along the roads. Seemingly the result of impact from the front end of the large Texas sized utes (Aussie for pick up trucks or utility vehicles) that work the farms and ranches along these roads. On today’s rides we saw maybe 15 dead deer, a wild hog, raccoon, possum, several armadillos, and skunks. It was a graveyard of dead animals. It also makes the front bull guards that many of these utes have an invaluable add-on to protect the body of the ute.

We returned home to find Toohey comfortable, but ready for a break, from protecting the assets. We talked with a few neighbors, showered and after a spell, drove to the HEB for some food for dinner. We opted for a warm roasted veggie dish with pan-seared salmon. 

Ride 4: Gypsum Mine Loop

The tour director made the decision to drive with the bikes to the Marktplatz in downtown Fredericksburg to start this ride. Being early on a Sunday, we didn’t have any trouble finding the perfect place to stick the Tacoma with Toohey. The spot was beneath several decent sized oak trees. Besides the great shady spot, there were really clean public restrooms which came in handy.

The ride was titled Gypsum Mine Loop and consisted of, as the name suggests, an FM road past an active Georgia Pacific owned surface mine sitting on the top of the Gypsum Mine Summit. Following that, we dropped down into a narrow road lined with lush juniper trees and a small creek we’d stop at to enjoy the rocky western style scenery. There are a few short sections with turns before hitting Lower Crabapple Road which delivered one of the historic schools and churches and eventually back to town. The main climb on this loop is called Mount Crabapple and was long with a nice short section of a double digit percentage incline. We dealt all day with strong winds, first a tailwind that moved us along the first and busiest road and over Gypsum Mine Summit and to Lower Crabapple Road where it turned into a headwind. All in, another really enjoyable ride.

The Friends of Gillespie County Country Schools is an organization that is committed to the preservation of the old community buildings that began as small, one room school houses for the local farm and ranch children who couldn’t get to the town. The schools eventually became obsolete for teaching but are wonderful to see, a reminder of the historic charm of this place. Drives and bike rides through the hill country that pass along these and are a must see if in the area.

https://www.historicschools.org

The scenery had me day dreaming about early life when the settlers shared these parts with Native Americans who were in the fight of their life to keep it from the intruding occupiers. The land is rugged, dry, with lots of rocks mixed in with large prickly pear cactus, junipers and small oaks. We didn’t see as many dead deer or wildlife on this loop as the previous loop and we speculated that it may be fewer large pickups, fewer fences, the travel speed, or maybe they just clean them up, We really aren’t sure. We also saw ranch areas containing horses, donkeys, lamas, and one with a large herd of the spotted Axis deer.

The final hills were coined the Fredericksburg Foothills and rose along an edge of a valley that gave some nice views to the left of pasture and other hills in the area. The short descent was followed by the next rolling hill until we finally hit the main road back into town, the park, and then Toohey, napping nicely in the Tacoma with assets protected.

Ride 5: Willow City

Toohey, having been the trusted, steady soldier of protecting the assets for several days hadn’t had a run, so after a slow start, we hooked him to his tether and headed out from camp. We ran the nature trail that loops through and around the small creek that cuts through the south side of the park. We ran more of the park roads before heading back into camp. Along the way we stopped for a spell to catch up with the two full-timers we met down in Flamingo, Everglades. They gave us some stellar advice on a BBQ restaurant in Llano where they had goat ribs. Their description of it had us intrigued for another day. It was fun catching up with them and sharing stories of where we were heading. Based on that there is a chance we will be in the same campground again in the near future.

We finished the run and then decided on the Willow City Loop. This route requires a drive to Willow City where we’d find a parking spot, so we set off with gear and pooch. We found the junction of Willow City and a sign indicating Willow City Loop. There were a few houses, a small church, and a large beige metal building with General Store in faded letters and a single gas pump out front. Lysette went inside to ask where we should park and found inside, more a machine shop than a market and several older men who told her to park along the opposite side of the road, just don’t block the mailboxes. So we obliged. 

With the day a bright one, temperatures forecasted for the 70’s, my legs feeling a bit fatigued, we decided to not go as hard or far. What we didn’t know was the ride profile. We quickly learned of the hill because we coasted the first 7 miles downhill along the signature curvy farm roads we’ve enjoyed. The difference was the steady drop and a tailwind with views of a deep canyon off to our left, rocky with red and mossy rocks. There were Christmas cactus mingled in with the prickly pears, junipers, and yucca. 

With all of that interesting stuff passing by quickly, we turned to climb back out figuring it would take a solid hour back. The climb was slow, uphill and now a headwind, using all the gears and effort. Some bits had short significant grades with others more modest. This pace gave us time to enjoy the scenery while maintaining a forward upward effort. There were 4 or 5 cattle guards and an equal number of concrete padded dry river bed crossings. When we got closer to the end, the rode flattened a bit where we stopped to enjoy the wire fence with wooden posts, each topped with a cowboy boot. There were also other old rusty farm devices and then finally at the end, our favorite, Toohey lying comfortably in the Tacoma.

From there we decided to drive the entire farm road out which delivered more beauty and natural features. We saw deer, many birds, and a bag of potato chips. This road emptied us on Highway 16 which we followed for a few miles before a left onto Eckert which delivered us to Lower Crabapple Road where we cycled the previous day. 

We made it back to camp having had a good day. Not quite the overall effort of previous rides but given the morning run was a good day of exercise, and beautiful scenery. The evening was clear and we spent time outside, talking with neighbors, and enjoying the camp. 

Ride 6: The DOOT Ride 

With grumpy weather forecasted for about the next week rendering the thoughts of cycling unbearable, at least for us. The ride was designed and titled as a Do Our Own Thing (DOOT) ride as the Bike Route Department of the TWT team went to work to design the perfect day on some of the best roads. The start of which began in downtown Fredricksburg then out on Highway 87. New roads in order included Old Mason Road, Cherry Mountain Loop, Keese (pronounced Casey) Rd., and a few old favorites like the one along Gypsum Mine. We conquered climbs with names like Swiss Miss and the Grinder. We saw live animals to include armadillos, deer, and of course livestock. We saw lots more dead things to include mostly hogs. But in the end our conversation with a live couple who lived along Keese Rd delivered the magic. 

We had stopped along the road for a break and were appreciating the extreme quiet of the place when a woman walked out of her fence at the end of her drive to possibly check her mailbox. Lysette commented to her that we were just taking a moment to enjoy the quiet when the conversation started. After a few minutes her husband and dog, a border collie named Sugar, showed up in his old Chevy pick up. We would learn from them the long history of the land they own, the ranch operations, and more on living in this stretch of earth. They recently moved back here from a second home in McGregor Texas for the quiet as they commented on the SpaceX rockets being tested near their house rattle their windows. They took us up the road to a place on their property where we could see Enchanted Rock, which according to her, is the second largest granite dome after Stone Mountain in Georgia and that the natives thought it had mysterious powers that kept them off of it. In fact, she told the story of the Texas Ranger named Hays who knew this and would retreat there when his team needed a time out of sorts, as the Indians wouldn’t attack them out of fear of the rock. I always remember as a child the value in have a safe spot for time outs when battling other kids. Usually it was a comfy chair in the den or maybe a tree.

The couple told us of the exotic animals that weren’t welcome such as the Axis and Black Bucks which, according to them, have no limitation on how many you can shoot based on them being invasive to the native white tail deer.

She went on to talk about the community schools and that she in fact attended the one room school house called Cherry Springs, which we’d pass along our way home.

This couple was very kind for taking the time to talk with us, sharing their life long joy and history of the area. My guess is conversation with others is valued in these places where homes, cities, and even neighbors are more than an ear shot away, giving more credence to the fact that humans need other humans, communities to be happy.

We ended the ride, our longest on the trip so far, finding Toohey happily snoozing on the job of protecting the assets. We walked him around the park, gave him some water, and a long good ole butt scratch. We stopped by the H-E-B to pick up some dinner material then headed home for showers, dinner, and some simple time. Life is good.

None of our rides were long as measured against our history of riding but they were quality. Also, given that we haven’t been riding long distances or hills since October, these rides proved perfect for the scenery, low traffic, and resulting safety, and most for moving those underused cycling muscles.

I can’t end this blog without sharing one of my favorite signs that we saw at each cattle guard crossing with each ride. the this one. We have seen similar signs in other states that say things like Free Range Cattle. However the term “Loose” make me think of it in terms of their morals, with images of sheep, cows, and goats sitting around a bar drinking, smoking, and acting provocatively. This type of play on words led me to another Far Side comic strip.

This blog provides a wonderful “calm before the storm” experience as the weather quickly turned into what would become two named winter storm events and a FEMA declared Natural Disaster. We made the decision to hunker down through the storms and as of the blog posting, we remain at the Lady Bird Johnson City Campground with warm sunny skies. We are waiting on the supply chains to restore to some level of normalcy so we can have the confidence in gas along our journey west.

5 thoughts on “Texas Episode 3: Fredericksburg and Cycling the Texas Hill Country

  1. Great blog, you gave me a nice respite back to TX while I’m confined to my LaZ Boy. Tell Toohey I feel his pain. If he wants to come hang out with me I will not require any running.

  2. A most excellent read.

    I particularly enjoyed the description of Ride 3, being passed by the redhead. Likely kitted with hill gears something like 34/50 X 11/28? Where do these freaks come from anyway?

    And the Loose Livestock mental images. A loud guffaw there. Reminds me of the “Speed Hump” signs in Bisbee, AZ.

    If our paths cross again we’d be happy to sit/play/scratch Mr. Toohey while you spin the countryside.

  3. I need to read in more detail but will admit I fast forwarded to the end to make sure you both are safe and warm down there.

  4. I’m enjoying reading your blog and looking forward to your comments regarding Big Bend!! You’re gonna love it. It was very nice meeting both of you – safe travels and have a wonderful time for the rest of your journey.

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