Sunday, July 16, 2006
Kerrville to Houston
I’d been agonizing over Sunday’s route for over a week. Essentially, we had half a day to enjoy some hill country highlights before turning back toward Houston. At the preceding bike nights, I asked for tips and road condition updates. I corresponded with Bushwhacker on TWT to improve my route.
I’m told that the Hill Country has a hundred little roads that are twisty, nicely paved, and virtually deserted. They’ll still be there for me on future trips. I finally decided on a 545 mile base route that included the “Holy Trinity” of hill country roads (335,336,337) and several other highly rated connector roads before heading back to Houston on some more fun roads. I was hoping to complete the entire planned route, but was careful to create “escape hatches” where we could break off and hit the interstate if we ran out of daylight.
With this optimism in mind, Rebecca and I agreed to attempt to pack the bikes before sitting down to our free continental breakfast at 7AM.
6AM came waaaaay to early. I stood dully in the shower, waiting for the warm water to wash away my exhaustion. When I emerged, dressed, at 6:40, Rebecca denied a desire for a shower. I knew that she’d planned on it before I’d sucked up all our time. I told her to get in and stop worrying about making us late. We left the hotel and gassed up around 7:45.
Bushwhacker had suggested starting the morning by visiting the Stonehenge replica in a field just outside Kerrville. Rebecca had been to the hill country before and never seen it. Slightly smaller than the real thing in England, the Stonehenge II replica is made of gunnite instead of stone, and not oriented in any way to the sun or stars. It would have been so much cooler if they hadn’t built an ugly metal fence around it. The fence really ruins picture composition.
Turning back toward Hunt, TX, we headed down highway 39 for our first sweepers and creek crossings of the day. We passed but did not stop at the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum near Vanderpool before turning onto 337.
I’ve been pining for the tight, switchbacky mountain roads I loved so much in California, and 337 fit the bill. At first I kept the pace easy, watching to see how Rebecca did. Between her fear of heights (which I share) and her inexperience with these kinds of roads (TX doesn’t have many), Rebecca was very nervous. I’d feared that she’d slow down so much that we’d fail to make any time on these roads, but after she followed me through the initial curves, I realized that she was doing fine.
I relaxed and flowed through the tight curves at my normal pace, enjoying the rapid transitions required. Each time I came to a long straight, I slowed down until Rebecca’s headlight appeared. She was right behind me when the one real switchback of this section appeared. I flashed my brake lights at her as I shifted down to first and “dropped” the bike into the switchback. Sooooo much fun! I used to be afraid of those kind of curves. Practice and experience really are the only factor between immobilizing fear and enthusiasm. (now if I can just apply that to dirt roads?!?!)
We reached Leakey around 10 and stopped for a photo op at a large turnout next to a river swimming area. Rebecca eyed the water, wondering if she could get her V-Strom into it for a picture. I wished her luck and informed her that if she dropped her bike getting it into or out of the river, she was on her own. I planned to stand on dry land and laugh at her while documenting the fiasco.
She wisely decided to save the river photos for a time when BSG’s (big strong guys) were more readily available (earth to Scott?).
We stopped at the Frio Canyon Motorcycle Stop in Leakey. I bought a t-shirt at the gift shop and Rebecca bought a pin to join the others on her jacket. It was early in the day, so the parking lot was deserted.
336 and 335 were fun, but not on the same level as 337. Rebecca passed me at one point on 335 and pulled over by another river swimming area. She was finding it hard to keep her eyes open, so we lingered for a while, sitting on the sloping wall of the bridge and idly snapping pictures of the landscape. When we got back on the bikes, I suggested that Rebecca should lead, hoping that the extra challenge would keep her more alert.
I don’t think that strategy worked, because when we pulled over briefly before turning onto highway 55, she claimed not to have seen the camels at a game park 3 miles back. You snooze, you lose!
Back on 337, we found a repaving project underway just east of Camp Wood. I was leading at the time, but waved Rebecca forward as soon as I saw the “Pavement Ends” sign. She sailed down the gravel road at a good clip. Initially I tried to follow her speed, but found my rear tire beginning a dangerous oscillation. I backed off the throttle and slowed down to a more comfortable pace. The gravel turned to hard packed dirt after about a mile, and I was able to relax and speed up. Rebecca was waiting for me a mile later where the asphalt started.
The unpaved area was not nearly as bad as some I’ve been on. I knew that it was coming and had been nervously anticipating it all day. It wasn’t as awful as I’d expected. I think my successful traversing of the unpaved road upped my confidence for the next few hours. The hill country had thrown it’s worst at me and I’d survived!
After going through a few more enjoyable very tight passes, we stopped in Leakey for lunch at the Frio Canyon Lodge. We both ordered the special, which was roast beef, hash brown casserole, and vegetables. Rebecca immediately pushed a piece of fresh looking broccoli to the side of her plate.
“I don’t eat broccoli.”
She continued to pick through the vegetables and asked me what one was.
“Yellow zucchini? I’m eating zucchini? I gotta get a picture.”
I had to laugh as she carefully photographed her lunch plate.
We’d planned to get gas after lunch, but I didn’t see any stations as I led us out of Leakey. The gps showed the next town to be within striking distance for both our tanks.
In retrospect, we should have gassed up when we had the chance in Camp Wood. We rode the entire length of Medina and didn’t find any open gas stations. The gps claimed that the next gas station was 14 miles away near Kerrville. Both of us were near the ends of our tanks, but I knew I had about a gallon remaining. Rebecca’s V-strom doesn’t have quite the range of my BMW though.
Highway 16 between Medina and Kerrville was everything I’d hoped for in Hill Country roads. Tight curves, steep switchbacks, and beautiful scenery. I would probably have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been so worried about the gas situation.
After the last switchback, I noticed that Rebecca was missing from my mirrors. I slowed to a crawl, fearing the worst. Just as I’d talked myself into turning around to go look, Rebecca appeared. I was still going slow, so I waved her past me. A few miles later a Shamrock gas station appeared. We pulled in and Rebecca bowed her head against her tank.
She told me that the V-Strom’s engine had cut out while going down the last switchback. She’d coasted through the turn and then managed to get it restarted after a brief pause. Rebecca had wanted to lead from there because she wanted me around if it happened again. The gas station couldn’t have appeared at a better time.
I can only imagine the fear she must have experienced with her bike malfunctioning through a scary turn. I’m so glad that my lack of planning for sufficient fuel didn’t result in a serious incident.
After refueling, we rode up to Kerrville and got on I10 to begin the trip back to Houston. It was already 2:30, and we needed to make up some time.
While circumventing San Antonio on highway 46, we stopped in New Braunfels for a break. Realizing that we were doing better than expected, Rebecca and I looked over a map to find a more scenic route back into Houston.
We decided to head up I35 and take 21 and 71 to Bastrop before retracing the GPS breadcrumb trail from Saturday.
Nearing Bastrop on 21, I noticed a sign for FM535. Somehow I recalled it as a fun road, so I honked and signaled Rebecca (who was leading at the time) to turn onto it.
This turn was pretty adventurous for me. I usually like to stick to a planned route, and I had only a faint hunch that 535 would get us where we wanted to go. Rebecca on the other hand was riding in the dark. All she knew was that I waved her forward whenever we hit intersections with other roads. I’m sure she was happy though, because 535 really is a FUN road.
Just as I’d hoped, FM535 dropped us near the eastern entrance of Bastrop/Buescher state park. We skipped the park road this time. From here on out, the roads were familiar and all within easy reach of Houston.
Rebecca and I swapped leader several times on the way back into Houston, enjoying the swoopy curves and prairie scenery. Once again I reveled in the experience of being totally relaxed and confident while riding with a buddy.
During this ride, Rebecca was constantly playing with her camera, and took some great shots of my bike on the move:
After a wrong turn in Cat Springs, we stopped at a McDonald’s near I10 in Sealy. After indulging in a mutual guilty pleasure (double cheeseburgers) we enjoyed soft serve ice cream while viewing the day’s pictures on my laptop.
It felt sad to be gearing up for the last time, but I was very happy that we’d had such a good, safe, and enjoyable weekend. Both of us had worked on eradicating our personal hang-ups and fears in motorcycling, and came out stronger for the experience. We’d made a lot of great memories together. Here’s to many more!