If you’re a Texan (or not) and an avid cyclist, you simply ought to do the Easter Hill Country Tour! I’m a girl that loves climbing, and this was some challenging climbing. Plus, the tour is well organized, cheap ($45 for two days of riding & support), and in a gorgeous area of Texas. There are no mass starts, and most of the cyclists are fairly experienced, so you don’t have to worry about trying to get around crowds of riders. I can’t recommend the tour enough – do it next year if you can. And the routes change annually, so you won’t get bored.
Day 1: 86 miles, 5300’ elevation gain
We decided to set out at 8 AM on the 85 mile route (there were also 25 and 49 mile options) with a couple of friends from my corporate cycling team. We had perfect weather, starting around 60 degrees warming to 70 and overcast, with some mild winds. I loaded up with water & Secret Drink Mix, and a bunch of bars/Gus, and we donned the arm warmers.
The first four miles into the ride I thought, “crap, this is going to be tough!” because we encountered some seriously steep grades!! I’m sure a couple of them were greater than 12%. I was certainly happy I’ve been diligently doing squats and lunges, otherwise I might not have made it. On one of the first hills there was a guy in a recumbent that turned on a motor assist. We all had a good laugh later about how we wanted a motor too. We skipped the first rest stop, but stopped at every rest stop (every 15 miles) after that. My Garmin showed 5300’ of elevation gain, so it was no walk in the park. You can see the first half was mainly uphill, but we had some really fun down-hills, clocking in at 45 mph max!
A few more shots from the first day. Let’s be honest – I didn’t pull much, the guys were stronger than me, so my view was of backsides most of the day!
I found my new favorite long-ride fuel: pickle PB&J’s. And just lots of pickles in general; I think the salty pickles saved me from dehydration. We joked that the rest stops were pickle buffets. Don’t knock it till you try it (preferably on a long ride, I wouldn’t eat this at home).
With the first day down we were feeling pretty good and met the group for Italian food for dinner; we had to fuel up for a possible century ride on Day 2. I really enjoyed the route – long, but not too long, and some decent hill climbs with beautiful scenery.
Day 2: 105 miles, 6100’ of elevation gain
Somehow the guys convinced me to do the long 102 mile ride, and I convinced David. The alternate options were 56 or 67 miles, which just seemed short at the time (maybe not in retrospect…). We started once again at 8 AM, from our friend’s campsite, so we added a few miles on. It was drizzly and muddy upon starting. By the first rest stop we were covered in grime, everyone with mud splatters up the back of their jerseys.
Here’s the crew around mile 30, still feeling relatively fresh. The first half of the ride was on some great back country roads, with no traffic and a lot of hill climbing.
We were all pretty excited to stop in the town of Luckenbach, Texas (famous from this song). It’s tiny, with not much there except a few fun, touristy buildings.
We were only around half way at that point. The second half of the ride got tough for me. I hit a wall around mile 65 where I was a bit mentally challenged and just hung on; I guess I was getting a little tired. I made it from rest stop to rest stop though. Here are a few more fun rest stop shots – a bike statue, a super cute little girl with a cowgirl hat to greet us, Brian (the organizer of our group) taking a break, and kid volunteers with rabbit ears.
Around mile 70 I started experiencing some knee pain – not good. It didn’t get much better for the remaining 30 miles. I think it’s my new shoes (they’re about a month old) and the cleats not being arranged right causing a tweak in my knee rotation, or it could have just been a ridiculous amount of climbing. Any little imperfection in fit is going to rear it’s ugly head after that many miles of hills. So I had a couple rough spots and curse words filled my head as I dropped back from the group a bit (David as well). Still, David and I rode in to town together, finally stopping at 105 miles, probably my longest ride ever.
We ended the day by meeting our group for burgers & beers overlooking the river.
I’m not too happy with my knee condition, so I’m resting it over the next few days. Other than that minor issue, I loved the tour. My conditioning is in a pretty good spot – kept the heart rate around 130 – 145 bpm, minus the tough climbs and we stopped at most rest stops, so I don’t feel overly sore today, which is slightly amazing. I think I ate more than I needed on this tour and feel like I gained weight instead of maintaining (funny how that works on endurance events).
There’s something about a long ride that I love – the challenging point of hitting a mental wall and overcoming it, of continuing on when your body doesn’t want to. I love clearing my head and enjoying the countryside; trust me, I didn’t for one second think about work the whole bike ride! However, I do agree that shorter fast-paced rides are the key to my improvement. This ride was more “for fun” and the enjoyment of the outdoors and camaraderie. Glad I did it, and the upcoming week will be somewhat of a rest & recovery week for me – speaking of which, it’s time to do some more resting on the couch now!