Day 28: Spring Branch, TX to Castroville, TX

Based on knowing that San Antonio is a very large and congested city, plus the recommendation of our friend Tom, we mapped out a route that took out around the city in a large loop on the western side. Unfortunately, this involved some more pretty tough terrain in Texas Hill Country. After only about 20-plus miles, we felt the need to stop for lunch in the tourist town of Boerne (pronounced “Bernie”); we found the Daily Grind Cafe and Bakery.

More Hill Country followed, and at one point we had to stop and look at a map with some men selling goods by the side of the road, to confirm that we were headed in the right direction. We stopped to use the restroom and refill our water bottles at the public library in the town of Lakehills. Further into Hill Country, we passed near Medina Lake in Medina County, although down here they pronounce it “me-DEE-nuh,” not “me-DIE-nuh” like we do back in Ohio. We stopped and talked to some motorcyclists at a bar to confirm that we were on the correct road. One particular side road turned into a gravel road, and then into a dirt road, but finally turned back into pavement.

We arrived in the city of Castroville pretty worn out, realizing that attempting to make the full loop from north of San Antonio, around the western side, and south to Jourdanton all in one day was too ambitious of a goal. So after grabbing a snack and beverage at a gas station, we decided to find a place to stay for the night. We had passed an RV campground about a mile back, so we went back there to check it out. They did not appear to have tent camping sites, although we talked to one couple who were staying in their RV, and they suggested that we talk to the owners to see if they might let us camp. The owners lived in a trailer on the edge of the campground, but after looking around and seeing that the place didn’t have showers, we decided to see what might be available back in town.

We asked a couple of people in town, and they both pointed us up the road to the Hotel Alsace, the only hotel in town. We rode the mile out to the hotel, but Ray went in to inquire and found that the rate was $140 per night. We got a brochure which listed several bed & breakfast inns in town, plus a city park that has tent campsites. We started calling each of them to see what they had available, but there was no answer at any of them.

As we sat on the steps outside the hotel, a couple in motorcycle gear came up and started chatting with us. They noticed our bikes, and were curious as to what kind of trip we were doing. We told them about our tour, about the long day we had just had, and how we were having a hard time finding a place to stay for the night. They suggested that we go down to the city park, and we should be able to check in for a camp site even though nobody there answered the phone.

As we got our bikes reorganized and made our way back towards the road, we saw the couple again in the hotel parking lot. They said that they decided to come back and invite us to stay at their home near San Antonio. We gladly accepted their offer. They introduced themselves as Mark and Michele, and said that they were avid cyclists as well. They had to ride their motorcycle back home, then Mark returned a short while later with his pickup truck to haul us and out bikes back to their house. Ray and I waited and got a snack at Sammy’s Restaurant.

Mark and Michele’s house is in a very nice neighborhood on the west side of San Antonio, very near Sea World. They provided a delicious dinner of bleu cheeseburgers to us and their other friends Ray and Felicia.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Day 27: Austin, TX to Spring Branch, TX

The first part of our route out of Austin today took us into real Texas Hill Country, and they aren’t kidding when they say hills. We took Lost Creek Blvd. and Barton Creek Rd. through some very ritzy housing developments, up and down several very steep hills. This finally led us to the Oak Hill suburb on the soutwest side of the city, where we stopped at the local Sherwin-Williams store. We chatted and got photos with Store Manager Greg Ross and Assistant Manager Adam. We got some breakfast just up the road at Jim’s Restaurant, then headed out on US Route 290.

We passed through the town of Dripping Springs, home of Lance Armstrong. This appeared to be a formerly sleepy little town that is now booming with many new strip malls and housing developments. We took a shortcut off of the main highway on Route 165, which led to the town of Blanco and a very nice little cafe called The Deutsch Apple Bakery, where we had a delicious apple muffin and coffee snack. From there, we headed down US Route 281 South, which leads straight into the northern San Antonio suburb of Spring Branch.

We stopped by the brand-new Sherwin Williams store, just opened three weeks ago, and talked to Robert, the Assistant Manager. Also waiting for us there was a Blackberry phone provided to us by Sherwin-Williams and T-Mobile, for our use after we leave the United States. T-Mobile also provided us with a pair of backpacks containing some snacks and t-shirts.

We got in touch with our friend Tom, who happened to live less than a mile away. He met us at the store, and we followed him home, where he and his wife April prepared us a dinner of lasagna and cheeseburgers.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Day 26: Austin, TX

We were enjoying the rest in Austin so much that we decided to take one more day off here to relax and decompress some more, as well as catch up on a few more errands. Mainly, I had to find a box to ship the Xtracycle back home in, so we found a UPS store further out in the hills on the western side of the city. They did not have any boxes big enough, however, but they directed us to a bike shop just up the road. We stopped next door at Austin’s Pizza to grab some lunch first.

The bike shop (Spin City Cycling) just happened to have received a bike frame in the mail that day, and had the box from it that looked to be just the right size, so they let us have it. We went back to the house and packed up the Xtracycle, as well as a few other items that we had decided we could live without.

In the evening, Alison, Ray, and I we met up with Johnny again for dinner at Mother’s Cafe.

Day 25: Austin, TX

We took a rest day to get some errands done. The main thing I did was to remove the Xtracycle attachment from my bike. I really enjoyed using the Xtracycle for it easy cargo-carrying ability and stable handling, but had decided that the extra weight (especially in the hilly areas) was not worth it. As I removed my rear derailleur from the Xtracycle frame, it seemed to be a little stubborn as I unscrewed it. My fears grew as it seemed to resist as I tried to screw it into the derailleur hanger on the Diamondback Transporter frame. The threads on the derailleur bolt looked a little mangled. Ray helped me as we got the brakes, cargo racks, fenders, and everything else re-attached to the bike, but we figured we better get to a shop and let another professional take a look at the rear derailleur.

Phil let us borrow his pickup truck, and gave us directions to the Bicycle Sport Shop near the downtown area. Before heading to the bike shop, we made a stop at a nearby Sherwin-Williams store. They were very busy, though, so we did not get the opportunity to chat or get a photo with them. We met the local District Manager Monty Jay, and he treated us to lunch at Houston’s Restaurant right across the street from the stores.

We got to the bike shop, and even though it was the middle of a weekday, they were pretty busy, and there were a few other people with walk-in service problems. I didn’t have to wait too long, though, until one of their mechanics took my bike back into the shop area. He was able to clean up the threads on the derailleur, and fortunately, the threads on the hanger looked okay. I had my chain with me, unattached to the bike, and he asked me if he should go ahead and put it back on, so I told him to go ahead. I bought a thorn-resistant tube to be my spare, to replace the Slime tube that I gave to Ray yesterday, and when they rang me out, they only charged me for the tube plus $5 for the chain installation. That was fantastic service and a great deal, so I recommend this shop if you are ever in need of bike stuff in the Austin area.

Since we’d be heading into hotter, drier weather as we headed further south, I figured I better start using my third water bottle cage. I looked around the shop some more, and picked out a Twin Six “Bike Nerd” bottle. Ray bought a couple more thorn-resistant tubes and new Specialized Armadillo tires to replace his WTB Slickasaurus tires; hopefully this will give him better luck in avoiding flats.

Later in the evening, we went for dinner with Alison once again, and met another friend Johnny at Thai Kitchen near the University of Texas.

Day 24: College Station, TX to Austin, TX

The selections at the Days Inn breakfast buffet were a little weak for the needs of touring cyclists, so we stopped back in at the Kettle for breakfast. As we left the hotel room, Ray noticed another flat tire, so he took care of that before we got rolling. He got another one just a few miles outside of town, making a total of 8 flats for him so far on the trip. He was running low on spare tubes, so I gave him my spare Slime Heavy Duty tube to use.

Despite the filling dinner and breakfast, I felt very tired and lacking in energy most of the morning, even though the route was relatively flat. To avoid traffic and go a more direct way, we picked a minor county road based on looking at our road map, even though there were signs at the beginning of the road warning us that it was closed about 8 miles ahead. It ended up okay, though, as it was not really closed, there were just a couple of short patches of dirt and gravel surface where some sections of pavement had yet to be replaced. Outside the town of Rockdale, we stopped for a very delicious lunch at a place called Becky’s Sandwiches & More. The good meal made me feel much better for the rest of the day’s ride.

As we approached Austin, we stopped in the suburb of Round Rock and contacted our friends Phil and Alison. Phil gave us very good and detailed directions through the city to their home, which was about another 20 miles; we ended up arriving almost at dark. We drove with Alison out for dinner to Mangia’s for very satisfying deep-dish pizzas.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Day 23: Livingston, TX to College Station, TX

As we left the campground at Lake Livingston State Park, instead of heading directly back into town the same way we came yesterday, we took a gamble, and followed some back roads that appeared to lead back to the main highway on the western side of town. This turned out to be a good choice, and we ended up reaching the highway and saving about 4 miles.

We stopped for a snack as a gas/convenience store in the town of Onalaska. There was still lots of hurricane damage and no power; this store again was open just for cash sales. We passed through a couple of police check points where they were turning some people away, we guessed in order to cut down on storm sight-seeing and looting, but they let us pass through without any problem.

We got to the city of Huntsville about 48 miles into the ride. The hurricane damage appeared to be getting less and less as we rode west, so we were hopeful that we’d find food and other services open. As we first got into the city, this was not the case, though, as many neighborhoods still had no power, and most businesses still weren’t open. However, we eventually got to the other side of town, which appeared to be the main shopping area, with a mall and other plazas, and most things in this area were open. We settled on lunch at Chili’s.

As we headed out of town after lunch, Ray got another flat tire, so we had another short break as he took care of fixing it. 52 more miles brought us to the city of College Station, home of Texas A&M University. We asked a couple people if they knew of any campgrounds nearby, but they just shook their heads as if they didn’t even know what a campground was. We stopped in at a hotel called the Inn at Chimney Hill. They had one room available, but it was a rather expensive suite. As Ray stayed outside to fix another flat tire, I talked to the woman at the counter. She was very nice, but warned us that most hotels in town were booked with either hurricane refugees, or people coming to town for the football game this weekend. However, she was nice enough to call about a half-dozen more economical hotels in the area for us, until she eventually found that the Days Inn had a room available, and asked them to hold it for us. We thanked her profusely, and headed further down the road.

It seemed that the Days Inn really did hold onto that last room for us. When we walked into the office, the woman at the counter said “You must be the bikers we’re expecting.” Immediately after we checked in, she had to turn away two other customers looking for rooms. We checked in and got dinner at the Kettle diner next door.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Day 22: Jasper, TX to Livingston, TX

The forecasts were calling for a more high winds and heavy rains in the afternoon and evening yesterday, as the trailing edge of Hurricane Ike passed through the area. This never really materialized, though, and the rest of the day just had light rain and very little wind.

This morning, we fueled up at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, and headed out on the road under a light rain. The rain did turn a bit heavier for a while, but then things pretty much cleared up by the time we reached the town of Woodville.

We had hoped to find some lunch here, but this area appeared to be in the worst path of the hurricane. The town was without power, and no businesses were open. We stopped beside one of the town hall buildings, which appeared to be a former bank branch, as there was a drive-through canopy under which we were able to stop and take shelter. While we were having a snack from our supply of energy bars, the city manager pulled up in his pickup. He appeared to be busy with trying to get things in town back in order, but he did take time to come over and chat with us, which we appreciated. He was impressed to hear about what we were doing, and wished up luck.

We proceeded to the town of Livingston. All along the way, there was evidence of much hurricane devastation, with lots of downed trees, power lines, and very visible damage to homes and other buildings. So, we didn’t have high hopes that we’d find a lot of options for food and shelter in Livingston. Our fears were confirmed when we got to town and found pretty much the same situation as in Woodville; no power, no businesses open. Near the center of town, there was a convenience store that opened up for cash purchases only, so we stopped in and found some instant food that we’d be able to cook if we found a place to camp for the night.

We had noticed the sheriff’s station on the way into town, where a Red Cross station had also been set up, so we rode the 1/2 mile or so back there to ask if they had any suggestions for us. They told us that we should go to Lake Livingston State Park, and use the campground there. They figured nobody would be around there to hassle us. So, we headed on out of town, and it was about a 7-mile ride to the park. They were right; we didn’t see anybody around at first, and we made our way into the camping area and selected a secluded site away from the main access road. At one point, a park service truck did go by, but they either didn’t see us or decided that they didn’t need to come talk to us.

There were lots of trees and branches down all over the campground; it would not have been a safe place to be during the actual hurricane. The restroom/shower house near our site had missed being crushed by a falling tree by about a foot. But, things were safe and serene now, so we pitched our tents, got cleaned up, and settled in for the night. We went to sleep fairly early after making our dinner.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Day 21: Hurricane Ike in Jasper, TX

The first severe part of the storm hit town during the early morning hours today. Ray and I slept through most of it, although for a while we did hear a piece of partially-detached aluminum siding banging against the side of the building. The power went off briefly a few times, but surprisingly, it’s been on most of the time. That was a good thing, as the hotel was still able to set up their breakfast buffet, which at 8am, we got up for just in time, as they were starting to put it away as we sat down.

There are a bunch of roof shingles laying all around outside the building, but other than that, the hotel is sturdy enough and holding up fine. All day, it’s mostly just been a steady rain and winds. They say that the worst part of the hurricane is supposed to be coming later this afternoon. At worst, we’ll have to leave our rooms and congregate in the hallways or conference room to stay away from the windows, but other than that, we are safe here.

Most of the other guests here appear to be locals who did not feel their homes were safe, but did not want to leave the area completely. The hotel owners and staff have been very accomodating, and we really appreciate all they are doing to keep us safe and comfortable. They put out some cold-cuts for us to have sandwiches for lunch, and the coffee pots have been kept full!

The cable TV is out, but surprisingly, everything else seems to be working well–phone and Internet service are working, and as I mentioned, power outages have only been momentary. If possible, I’ll post updates on the Hurricane, as well as if and when we can continue on our bikes, later.

Day 20: De Ridder, LA to Jasper, TX

We couldn’t stand sitting on our hands for another day without progressing further west, so we made the quick 50+ mile ride to Jaspter, TX this morning assisted by a tailwind, powered I’m sure by the pre-effects of Hurricane Ike. The last we heard before leaving De Ridder, LA, the Texas counties south of here were under mandatory evacuation, but this area was still supposed to be safe. However, while on our way we learned that Jasper County is now under evacuation as well. We had a contact here through warmshowers.org who agreed to put us up for as long as necessary to ride out the storm, but we haven’t been able to get back in touch with him, I’m sure due to the evacuation.

Most of the shops, hotels, and motels in town are already shut down, but fortunately the Holiday Inn Express was still staffed, and were willing to take in hard-luck cases such as ourselves. So, this is our official hunker-down spot for the hurricane. It’s a more expensive option than we would have liked, but at least it’s dry, secure, and we’ve got some extra food in the room to hold us for a couple of days if necessary.

I only got one photo on my camera today as we crossed the state line, so the rest in the album below are what Ray has taken on his camera so far on the trip. Hope you enjoy them, and enjoy the rain we’ll be sending up to the Midwest in the next couple of days!

Oh, and we’ve got video now, too! Check out the clip of Ray riding the Ohio to Erie Trail on Day 4.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Madison County Herald and Marshall Ramsey

The other day, we had the pleasure of speaking by phone to Leah Square of the Madison County Herald, based just outside of the state capitol of Jackson, Mississippi. Her resulting story appeared in today’s edition of the paper. Thank you to Leah, and also thanks go out to freelance photographer Will Smith (no, not THAT Will Smith), who provided the photos included with the story.

You can read the story online at here (no longer available).

Another big thank you goes to Marshall Ramsey, editorial cartoonist for the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, and is nationally syndicated by the Copley News Service. Marshall also happens to be a melanoma survivor; he stopped by when we were visiting the Madison, MS Sherwin-Williams store to offer his support. Thanks, Marshall, and thanks for writing about us here on your blog.