I think that I’ve now had enough pain which, according to some is necessary in order to write a funny book.1 The plan was hatched months ago when ace cycling-buddy and former high school classmate Don Bynum started laying out routes for a Century Ride.2 I didn’t pay much attention to the notion at first. I should have.
“A man’s got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book.” – Hemingway. Letter (6 December 1924); published in Ernest Hemingway : Selected Letters 1917-1961 (1981) edited by Carlos Baker ↩
(update: after an extensive email repartee, the Llano-Castell route has now been officially named Tour de Longneques — in recognition of one of the prime goals thereof, Lone Star Longnecks!) (further update — GPX file of the route and of this ride).
The morning haze from the constant humidity and warm mornings was just breaking as we got underway from Llano. With a mere 44 miles on the Peugeot, 17 of it just yesterday, three “Boys from Big Spring” and three friends set off to Castell, the little hideaway on the Llano River. With the promise of 18.1 miles of hilly fun ahead, I had loaded the water bottle with Elete electrolyte drops and the Osprey Raptor 14 with about 1.5 liters of water. Serious, experienced riders will scoff at this adventure but for us rookies it promised to be a challenge.
Don is retired up on Lake Buchanan and enjoying cycling and sailing (and now, having been corrupted by me, kayaking), while Eric is an elementary school principal in Waxahachie. As Don has previously written, he and Eric have been riding some (and Don, a lot). They have even done this ride recently. Add Eric’s superintendent Tom, Don’s friend Doug and my friend David and we had a real entourage. Don’s wife Peggy and Jennifer would tag along as support vehicles.
We had quite a variety of bikes. Don is on a 3-wheel recumbent, and Eric on a 2-wheel recumbent. Tom and Doug both had fairly new, modern machines while David and I were on fairly ancient, but capable equipment.
I stoked the fires with a short stack at Atwoods and then Jen and I headed for Llano. Getting there first, I had plenty of time to check out the bike and get all of my equipment ready. The courthouse grounds were beautiful in the early morning light.
Doug was just back from vacationing in Colorado and riding in cool mountain air. He looked to me to be an experienced rider and that turned out to be the case. He found these puny “hills” to be merely a bit of a warmup.
I had not previously seen the Catrike up close and personal. It’s quite a contraption. I have to admit being jealous of the 28 gears. It looked really good going up the hills as I struggled in the higher gear ratios. But hey, it’s exercise, not a race!
We finally got gathered up with all the tires aired, water bottles ready, chase vehicles prepared, cell phones at the ready for possible 911 calls for this geezer-brigade of the three 66-year olds trying to re-capture their frittered-away youths. And thus we began to Pedal Into Perdition.
The route from Llano is Westerly on Hwy 152 along the Llano River. I’ve ridden that route many times with ease but today would be different because, you see, on those prior occasions the ride was astride my trusty Beemer, a BMW R1100RT touring motorcycle resplendent with the power of 90 horses pulling me along. A recreational cyclist in excellent shape can make about 1/2 horsepower, but not over a long period of time.
It’s the upstream direction, thus generally uphill (see the elevation profile below). It’s a beautiful road that everyone should experience sometime. It was already 83 degrees when we started off and climbed to over 100. Even in the throes of an incipient drought the countryside still bore a lot of green.
We got spread out pretty quickly. Doug and Tom charged out right away while David and I hung back with Don and Eric around the middle. I liked being near Don with his tall flag wagging in the breeze. We had a great ride. Hot and hilly. Struggled on some of the steeper hills and wished we had started earlier, but overall it was a fun time. Did we flat-landers conquer the Hill Country? Hardly, but we’re working on it!
Here is one reason for the ride! The water was surprisingly warm, I’d guess at least 80 degrees, but compared to the heat we had just escaped it was delightful! The stream flow was such that I had to find a rock to hang onto while minnows nibbled at my toes. We marveled at the beauty of the area as if we had never been there before. It’s always that way when I get outdoors.
(a postscript) Getting outside and doing this with friends is something I’ve come to live for after years spent in offices and courtrooms. I once wrote a piece entitled “God rides a motorcycle” and it is now clear to me that he also rides a bicycle — but I’m sure it’s a 2-wheeler and not that 3-thingy-contraption. It was interesting in church this morning that the sermon was on tending to your vineyard and appreciating your connection to God’s creation. I felt quite “connected” yesterday!
The “Big Spring Boys” finished with the dip and were ready for the next reason for the ride: the BBQ. And since this is Castell, it’s a bit of redneck heaven. Note the “hog pen” sign just beyond the front of the rather “interesting” truck. The BBQ is great at Randy Leifeste’s General Store and we all enjoyed it along with a couple of adult beverages that I saw crossing lips.
As always, there are the stats. Total mileage was 18.1, avg/top speed 9.7/25.7. Heart rate avg/max 140/164. A bit over 1000 calories burned. Activity documentation PDF for the Castell ride is in this file. It shows a bit less mileage because I forgot to start the Timer on the FR305. The Garmin Oregon showed 18.2 miles, 10mph avg speed, 1:52:09 total time. And the GPS profile is pretty interesting. It really shows the undulating progress in the overall steady climb. The elevation at the start is 1096 feet MSL and at the end is 1242. Not much, it seems. But the Garmin FR305 tracks total ascent (487 ft) and descent (322 ft).
My sterling kayaking companion, Robert Henley, should have had a counseling session with us both before setting out on this adventure. Recent rains made it seem like a good idea to paddle the Llano. Reports were that the water was good. We had previously done the Highway 87 bridge (near Mason) to Castell so taking a different route was in order as we finally made our schedules coincide.
Castell to “Scott Slab” (a/k/a Llano CR 102) would be a good 10 mile paddle. Then, as we passed the Llano City Park, and each of us having day-long kitchen passes and being filled with visions of flowing waters (and probably sugar plum fairies as well) dancing in our heads, we dropped his truck there — at the park — which would add an estimated five miles to the trek. No step for a stepped as they say. After all with my “Couch to 5k” training program I was in great shape. It seemed like a good idea.
On to Castell and unload the “yaks” and away we go.
On the water by about 8:30 with an overcast sky to limit the heat (but, of course, not the UV rays!), fishing gear on board, the estimated 15 miles would be nothing.
Right away we started fishing but all day we would have little luck. Robert caught a few perch on his fly rig but I was skunked. I did not have the right lures, having left them in Jones Valley because I did not expect a fishing opportunity prior to getting back up there.
The Llano is a beautiful river.
There are many scenes such as this one where calm waters can be found for a rest or a chance at sneaking up on a bass. We know the fish are there, but today would not be the day to do anything about it. Some of the trick of floating this section of the Llano is to determine whether to go left or right when approaching these rock clusters which often divide the lazy river into multiple routes through what can become a maze of granite.
Robert paddles a bit faster than I do and then fishes while I catch up. Here he ties on a fly, ever changing the bait with which to entice an unsuspecting fish. He ties a lot of his own flies and has an endless array of what should have been tantalizing treats.
Shortly after this photo was taken we decided that we should pass some water under the keel and not spend quite so much time fishing. Hey, we were “fishing,” not “catching.” So putting down the fishing poles for the most part and picking up the paddles we started covering some ground, er, water. That photo was taken about 9:15 after we had been on the water only 45 minutes. With 15 miles (we guessed) to cover, we needed to paddle. It seemed like a good idea.
Now remember that I said those rock formations could divide the river. Like Yogi Berra said, “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The same idea applies on the river as well.
We had come to one of those “forks” and took it. It seemed like a good idea. But it wasn’t. Wrong turn and the result was dragging the kayaks through shallows. This was not too bad but we would later give up on this “channel” and drag the yaks across a wide sandbar and over a sand spit of about four feet feet in height to gain access to the main river channel. Such are the foibles of attempting to float an unknown section of river. Imagine what Lewis and Clark encountered!
We would up doing 10.2 miles. More later on just how that happened. Here is the track on a topo map.
After we began paddling in earnest we had a bit of a surprise when a breeze came up. OK, paddling in the breeze is nice, except when it’s against you! We had a steadily increasing wind (15 mph and gusting) and were facing that with the thought of “gee, why did we add five miles to this trek?” It would eventually abate, but we had nearly two hours of a relentless wind that would occasionally try to rip the hat off of my head — and as I had already (last year) sacrificed one nice hat to the Llano River gods, I had the chin strap down on this one.
There were some nice rapids even with the water flow not being what we had hoped. On one really nice chute that had the most drastic drop we encountered, it required a hard right and immediate left — both of which were impossible. So I took the alternative route (and later learned that Robert did as well) which amounted to taking the huge boulder head-on, riding up on it to the point where I thought surely I was shooting over it — and understand, from the water level this boulder rose a good three feet — when the boat slid off to the right and the current took me on around followed immediately by a blood-curdling scream. Oops, that came out of me!
As I said at the beginning, the river’s basin had gotten heavy rains just two weeks prior and the reports were that the water was good. A primo opportunity to get on the Llano. It seemed like a good idea.
But the rest of the story is that the water had already dropped to a level that would present more than a few “opportunities to excel.” On rapid after rapid we would hang up on a rock and have to “hump” the yak off the rock or, on more than a few occasions, dismounting and dislodging would be in order. Those hangs plus the wind was making this trip not the fun back when it was conceived as being … a good idea.
That is what led to Robert calling Janet, who was already in the Llano area, to come-a-runnin’ and bring the truck to the Scott Slab Road. Praises to Verizon for good cell coverage in the area! She surely looked like an angel when she drove up. As a bonus I got to meet her dad. I’ve known Janet for way over 20 years but never knew her dad. Nice fellow and he allowed as how our decision was a good one as the next segment, Scott Slab to Llano City Park, got rougher than what we had been on. Turns out he’s been all up and down that river.
So, slightly chagrined at stopping short, but with aching arms and shoulders we loaded up the yaks and headed on our way.
It seemed like a good idea.
Here is the river gauge data that shows why we were faced with the conditions leading to dragging and hanging. (click to enlarge)