Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
The First Stuff Is the Steepest
Day 1, right off the bat, started with a 1,700 m (5,600 ft) climb. Set the tone for the next few days.
At the beginning of the climb, the hills were covered in saguaro cactus. Up close, they look like they do in roadrunner cartoons. From farther away, it looks like the hill has stubble and needs to shave.
By the time I reached the top of the hill, the weather had changed, my ears had popped a few times, and the landscape was entirely different. The cacti were gone, and instead, there were pine trees everywhere. This is southern Arizona? Isn’t Mexico about 200 km from here?
Most every uphill gets a downhill, this one included. As it began, there was a sign stating “Road not suitable for passenger vehicles”. Hopefully, Teeder would be up for the challenge.
And she was! Teeder came through like a champ. The descent had several rocky and sandy sections where I would’ve slowed to a crawl on Jackie, if not dismounting entirely, but Teeder was able to roll on through. This was exactly why getting a new bike was a good idea.
A few hours later than expected, I made it to the other side of the hill and into Oracle, a town that had not much more than a few gas stations. I was entirely out of water. Somehow, I thought it’d be in poor taste to ask for five free liters of water from one gas station, so I got two liters at one, then three liters at the other.
Winkleman was another 55 km, entirely on dirt road, and there were 3.5 hours of daylight left. It was mostly flat. It’d be a stretch, but I wasn’t ruling it out. If not, I could camp anywhere in between, but I’d have no access to water overnight. Given how quickly I went through five liters during the first half of the day, I didn’t like the idea of only five liters to make it through the afternoon, evening, overnight, and morning. I’d give it a shot.
For a dirt road, the surface was nearly perfect. Only a little sand/gravel, virtually no washboard. I’ve seen paved roads in worse shape. On top of that, it was mostly flat, only a stray hill here and there, with a steady decline into town and a light tailwind the whole way. I made good time and arrived in Winkleman just before sunset.
As you get into town, one of the first things you’ll see is a public park with overnight camping. And showers! Sort of. It’s pretty much a faucet coming out of the wall, about seven feet off the ground, but it’ll get you wet. And it felt great! Gave my clothes a rinse ‘n wring and set up my tent just before dark.
Evidently, the park is a popular hangout spot for the locals. Particularly people who like to park their truck and play music with loud bass. Had I known that, I’d probably have camped outside of town.
Somewhere between Winkleman and Globe, I was stopped by a legit cowgirl on a horse. She asked where I was headed, and remarked that the road up ahead might not be suitable for mountain bikes. Given how well Teeder had handled things the day before, I wasn’t worried. Teeder is a champ. Teeder can do anything!
“You might wanna skee-daddle,” she added, “There’re three cowboys comin’ down the hill right now with a very mad cow.”
I headed out.
If I had known the directions would include “Get off your bike and push it up this dry creekbed,” I probably would’ve taken the paved road to Globe. Even once I got back onto a dirt road, the grade was nuts. Teeder has a gear that’s low enough, you can barely stay upright. Today, it wasn’t enough. I walked some more. Also, it was hot.
Somewhere, on the hill, I noticed something funny about my shoes.
Like the day before, I got into town hours after I’d expected. This time, due to the status of my shoes, I decided to stay put. The best idea I had was to super glue the soles back onto the shoes, then wrap them tightly in duct tape and let them set overnight. I threw in the towel and got a hotel room. $44 for a hot shower, air conditioning, and a chance to get things fixed was a reasonable deal.
In the morning, the shoes felt good as new! I was three days from the nearest bike shop. Hopefully they’d hold that long.
For the third consecutive day, there was a long, difficult hill early on. This one was more the long steady type. After three days in a row, I was sick of it. But the good news was this time, the route would go up and stay up. That was good for two reasons: less hills and less heat.
Knowing how exhausted I was already, I made the conscious decision to stay in lower gears than I thought I needed. Pace yourself. It’s going to be a few hours this way. Riding in Texas Hill Country is hard, but the hills only go on for ten minutes or less, and then you go back down. So it’s OK if you get tired on your way up. But if you get tired during an uphill out here, game over. Because the hill’s gonna keep going, even if you can’t.
There were still plenty of rolling hills in the later part of the day, but those are more manageable. And with the cool air and shade from the pine trees, it felt nice! This is the kind of riding I’d had in mind.
Late in the day, I saw a big group camped out on the side of the road. I waved at them, they waved back, and I figured I’d ask some advice on camping. I slowly wheeled over.
“Are you allowed to set up a tent wherever around here?” I imagined that was the case, but maybe they’d had to make a reservation or get a permit or something.
“Yeah! There’s lots of space that way,” she waved in one direction, “we’re over here...where are you coming from?”
By the time I’d finished explaining what I was doing, I had an apple, a granola bar, a bottle of water, a beef taco, and an invitation to come join them when I finished setting up my tent.
I set up my tent and joined them. Turned out it was Melissa’s birthday! A good chunk of her family was there, as they often get together for camping trips like this one. At this elevation in the desert, it gets chilly as soon as the sun sets, so we huddled around the campfire and talked all evening. Brian dished out a killer apple cobbler he’d made in a cast iron dutch oven. At the end of trips like this, I’m often asked what’s the best thing I ate. We have an early contender.
I can’t remember everyone’s name, but Melissa, Doug, Zane, Brooklyn, Brian, Travis, and everyone else, thanks for your hospitality! And happy birthday, Melissa!
from Wild West