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Cycling Heaven in the heart of Texas

It’s Springtime and Texas Hill Country beckons with its offer of warm temperatures, blue skies and bright sunny days. Our group of ten cyclists has journeyed deep into the heart of Texas. Here we’ll pedal along quiet rural track and farm roads, ride the rollercoaster hills and conquer a few not-so-moderate ascents. This is after all Lance Armstrong’s training ground.

We saddle up in Boerne, a quaint small town, about 40 miles from San Antonio. Over the next five days we will ride about 250 miles (400 kilometers) along winding country roads through Texas Hill Country. Our first day’s destination is Comfort. The next day we’ll cycle to legendary Luckenbach and finally end up in Fredericksburg for several “hub-and-spoke” rides.

Soon we become attuned to our new Trek bikes. These have been provided by a company that specializes in two-wheeled travel. The tour guides cater to our every need. Each morning when we hop on our bikes for the day’s ride, the tires have been freshly pumped, the gears checked and the water bottles replenished. And, of course, there are optional extra distances for the enthusiasts in the group. Some days, we enjoy lunch in funky roadside eateries. Other days, our guides provide appetizing picnics to replenish our fuel gauges. And always there are those tasty but ever necessary mid-morning snacks. Come evening, we dine on flavorful “Tex-Mex” food, Texas comfort fare or hearty German dishes.

Our route followed roads less-travelled. Rarely were there ever more than a couple of pick-up trucks in sight. We cycled past large expanses of wide open ranchlands. Tall golden and russet-coloured grasses waved in the wind. Majestic Live Oak Trees, historic vintage windmills and the occasional dilapidated farmhouse dot the rural landscape. Imposing wrought-iron gates presage the entrance to many a cattle ranch. Oftentimes we passed rusting farm machinery carelessly abandoned. Herds of Texas Longhorns were a daily spectacle. These hardy cattle are defined by their characteristic horns extending up to seven feet in length. Livestock often roamed across the roadway. Luckily they moved away without much encouragement and didn’t hinder our progress. On one occasion a roadrunner zoomed across our path at full speed intent on his own urgent mission.

But no-one told us about the strong prevailing winds that blow in Hill Country heaven. This was much, much more than a gentle breeze. Cycling uphill became quite a challenge. At times, we seemed to be almost at a standstill. Nonetheless, we were definitely exerting a ton of energy. But all things pass. And in good time, we found ourselves at the top of the rise. That exhilarating swoosh downhill was certainly well-earned. However, complacency can be dangerous. There were the ever-present cattle guards to watch out for. These demanded careful negotiation in case one of the steel rods was missing. And, then, oops down can go both bike and rider. Another hazard is “Slick Slab”. This phenomenon is found on low-lying stretches of roadway barely covered with water. On the ground beneath grows the treacherous algae. It’s certainly not wise to traverse this slippery surface astride a bike.

The Hill Country area was originally settled by a group of free-thinking Germans in the mid-1800s. These people were idealists who believed brotherly love and goodwill could replace civil law. However, these idyllic communities soon collapsed. Today, Comfort is known for its collection of antique stores as well as its many century-old buildings along the main street many of which display an official historical medallion. Tiny Luckenbach (population: 2) recalls the American West of yore with its dance hall and combo beer hall saloon, post office and general store. The store first commenced business in 1849. We were lucky enough to come across Jimmy Lee Jones, a locally well-known country singer, strumming his guitar and singing “I’m not Leavin’ Texas” during our visit. The community of Fredericksburg, situated in the centre of Hill Country, blends German traditions with Texan hospitality. It is the boyhood home of Fleet Admiral Nimitz. Throughout the war Nimitz remained in command of the vast majority of the naval forces in the Central Pacific. The National Museum of the Pacific War is dedicated to telling the story of these battles. The town itself is on the National Register of Historic places and is surrounded by multiple wineries, thriving peach orchards and wonderful herb and lavender farms. Nearby is Enchanted Rock State Park offering a variety of hiking trails, picnic spots, sightings of white-tailed deer and amazing views. The Rock itself is an imposing pink granite dome rising over 400 feet (150 meters) towards the sky.

The Texan people are fiercely proud of their Lone Star State, their colourful history and their cowboy culture. Visitors are greeted enthusiastically with a welcoming “Howdy”. We linger and chat awhile. But our trail continues onward … and ever upward. So with regret we bid farewell to our new-found friends. As we jump into the saddle again and pedal off, that now-familiar Texan drawl follows us down the road: “So long … Y’all come back again”.

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