Day 98 (2016-12-02): ~55 miles from Bastrop State Park to Fayetteville, Texas. Country highways.
Bastrop State Park connects to Buescher State Park to the southeast by way of a narrow, hilly, winding road that traverses a landscape highlighting all the ways fire can impact a forest, from total destruction to simple ground-clearing brush fire. The road provides a nice quiet ride with almost no traffic but damn, it is hilly. Measuring grade is tough, but many of the hills are above 10% grade and some spots probably even push 15% – such that I am standing up in my granny gear, inching along.
After Buescher I hit another country road and worry about traffic, but my theory proves correct – this country road has almost no shoulder and, for the most part, traffic shows me more respect. I continue to battle headwinds on my way to La Grange but enjoy seeing my first Texas Longhorns – geez, those horns are huge! In La Grange I stop at a cafe for lunch: sandwich, soup, and sweet tea. I also spend at least an hour researching the health care market – two weeks until I turn 26 and get booted from my mom’s insurance!
I don’t really know where I am staying tonight and it is too early to set up camp so keep riding, figuring more miles today will make tomorrow’s 60 miles shrink to a nicer distance. I finally make it to Fayetteville about an hour before dusk and follow signs to the ballpark. This isn’t you average high school baseball field – it is professional sized with bleachers and a huge metal fence connecting to the chain-link the defines the outfield. I would love to camp under the shelter of the awnings but the gate is tall and locked so I decide it is not worth it. Mistake.
I don’t camp on the field or under the awning, unfortunately, but I have a front row seat from just behind the left-field bullpen. This field reminds me a bit of Owl’s Field, where I played my junior legion games. Ah, the memories…
By the time I get set up in begins to rain and I bring all my food and stuff into the tent so I don’t have to leave again, except for the bathroom. By the time I finish dinner it is raining pretty hard, and soon it is a solid downpour. I take advantage of small breaks in the rain to use the bathroom and brush my teeth. I wake up around 3:00 to the sounds of thunder and the deafening beat of a torrential downpour on my tent. I count the seconds between lightning and thunder calculating if I will need to ditch my dry enclosure to find safer shelter. Luckily, my counts have the lightning between 3-4 miles away, so I stay. I end up eating first breakfast and reading for a while – it is just too loud to fall back to sleep!
Day 99 (2016-12-03): ~45 miles from Fayetteville to Steven F. Austin State Park, Texas. Country roads, soaked.
Well, it is not raining anymore but everything is wet. I am dry inside my tent, but as soon as I step outside my feet sink in a giant puddle and become soaked. Everything is oversaturated and standing water is everywhere. Last night after I ate my first breakfast at 4:00 in the morning I just reached out and put my pot out beyond the rainfly – i promptly filled up and left some oat chunks in the grass. Well, I certainly won’t get dehydrated. I pack up everything but the tent and then carry it over to the concrete entrance to the field, which is dry underneath the awning. As I attempt to minimize the water transfer from rainfly to tent I meet this little buddy who happily tracks his muddy paws all over my tent. Thanks man!
For the first 15 miles I ride comfortably, not quite drying out but not getting any wetter. I stop at a small cafe in the equally small town of New Ulm. I only intend to use the bathroom and fill up my water, but it is empty except for one couple and I am greeted by 3 waitresses – hard to blend in. I end up eating a burger and watching locals filter in for lunch. When I leave I count 14 vehicles in the parking lot – 11 pick-ups and 3 SUVs. Yep, still in Texas.
I ride for a bit longer and am feeling really tight. I break to stretch and think about how I have been chugging along slowly for much of the riding since leaving the coast – the wind is rarely in my favor and road conditions definitely drop my speed. I feel slow and, because of that, time creeps by and motivation is low. I decide to kick it up a notch and power through the last 10 miles into Sealy. It’s a good decision – my body heat rises and I border on getting hot. Then it pours. By the time I get to Sealy I give up on dodging the now massive pools of water – I couldn’t possibly be more wet anyway. I turn down one of the side streets that should take me towards the Steven F. Austin State Park and it soon transforms into a dirt road. Or, more accurately, a mud road. I should have never even tried, but I was foolish and just wanted to get to camp. The relatively hard packed dirt gave way to mud, and I dropped my foot to hear a lovely squelch as I came to an undesired stop. Nope, turning around.
By this point my bike produces a banshee wail, a sound I never imagined possible from such an efficient machine. Mud coats my brakes and chain, with rocks sticking to everything. For the first time on my trip I am forced to switch to friction shifting and am thankful for that option. I manage to ride over enough big bumps and through sufficient deep pools to knock lose and wash away much of the grime. I’ve calmed the banshee to a more manageable temper-tantrum. Still, I have a bad feeling as I head towards the park. I don’t know why, but for some reason I can just imagine the park will be closed. It is.
The gate is down with a big “no trespassing’ sign, closed due to damage from flooding earlier this year. I look for a person and call the delivery number with no response – I am shivering and soaked to the bone so I don’t really care. I take a study the map and read a note about the flooding to determine the safest location in the park. I settle for the day-use area, furthest away from the two rivers, and awkwardly pull my bike underneath the gate. I pass a few buildings gutted like the main office, probably from all the water damage.I consider putting my tent on a tiny porch of one of the gutted buildings – not very stealthy and probably not a good spot considering it’s pouring and the place was gutted by flooding…
I see a bathroom in the day use area and, wonderfully, it is open! The lights are on inside, although there is no power in the outlets, and the sink and toilets work. My new home! I wheel my bike inside, hang all my things to dry as best I can, and set up a little sleeping mat on the floor. Talk about living in luxury!
Dear Texas, I apologize for wishing for “real” rain and thunderstorms. In Seattle it just mists and is miserably gray. I had no idea you would be so overwhelmed with water. I take it back. I wish for the sun!