Weather is a pretty big consideration when heading out on a two month bike camping trip. Another big consideration is where you can stop for the night, and who can forget routing.
We have all heard and said something similar to the following: “if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute”. I picked a leave date of March 28th, well, mostly because I had tickets for the NASCAR race at COTA. Not very scientific, but I also had to make sure I am back on or before Memorial Day; something about a wedding my youngest daughter prefers I attend. So as the weekend approached I looked at the Weather Channell app over and over again. I was heading north and for 3 days starting Monday, I would have a tailwind. A significant tailwind, with the numbers in excess of 20 mph. I designed a route to take we to a couple of campgrounds and tried to keep the wind behind me.
I’m on my way to Mansfield to stay a night with the 4 grandkids daughter and son-in-law number one have so graciously provided their grandparents. This is cheap trip, although the dollars invested in camping and bikepacking gear would argue, and I searched out “free” camping sites. The first night would be at the Iron Bridge Campground near the northernmost point of Belton Lake. The first days ride went well although I learned just how heavy a load this rig is. My pace is roughly half speed from my road cycling, and my knees protested both the turns into the wind and the occasional hill.
I crossed a bridge over the “Leon River”, which is Lake Belton and in the sun I tried to look at Google Maps to see my way to Iron Bridge Park. It was a long way around a winding, and as it turned out, hilly, road. Not long after I started this trek, I came across another park, White Flint Park. My research had told me that there were 3 Army Corps of Engineer parks on this strech of the lake and it seemed that they all offered free camping. I decided to stay at White Flint for a couple of reasons. I was already at 50 miles and this park would be closer to the road out. The fact that it had covered cabanas, electricity and showers didn’t hurt the decision process. I looked online and saw that it would cost $30 to spend the night in the cabana, $24 with the RV spot, and decided to take a shower, charge the devices and then move over to the free camping area and set up my tent. As I was packing up a couple of locals showed up and asked me if I had a reservation. I told them I waw packing up and going over to the free camping spot and that was how I learned that only Iron Bridge had free camping. They circled the campground about 3 times as I finished packing and made sure I left.
It was close to dusk when I hit Iron Bridge because I rode right on by the entrance road. Apparantly “Dead End” is all the notice you get for a boat ramp campground. That added 4 extra miles to my trip making my day just about 60 miles. I set up as it got dark. With the wind howling away at some 20 mph, I decided to forgo the rain fly and enjoyed the breeze that crept into the tent. About 3 hours later it was cold and I put it on fumbling in the dark. In the morning I realized I had it inside out!
My family had been expressing “concerns” about my safety all along but now they were pressing me to change my route and spend the next night in a hotel. Iwas planning on heading north to Lake Whitney and do what I just did again, but the forecast, remember that quote about the weather, the forecast now said it was going to be wet, windy and maybe unsafe. We did just have a couple of local tornados in Central Texas. So I changed my plans and agreed to spend the night at an IH35 hotel, Motel 6 as it turned out.
That was when the adventure began. My road north was to take a nicely shouldered State HWY, 236 if I remember, but when I got to it it said there was a detour. Google Maps agreed so I continued west on SH36 until the map so “go this way”, which entailed turning back into the wind. Fortunately there were lots and lots of turns in and out of the wind, but the route got pretty hilly, the kind that allows the downhill to help with most of the uphill that always followed. Another right hand turn took me back into the wind and into my first uphill climb. I found myself traversing to make it up to the top. This is not something road cyclists allow themselves to do, it is bad form, but heck, there was no one in miles. As I approached an road change after that scenic run, I begain to hear the familiar sounds of rock quarrying. It was a hum at first but as the road turned uphill again, another steep one, I knew I was getting “somewhere”.
Somewhere turned out to be SH 236. What a nice road! I went about a quarter mile and turned off again, on the road north. I am betting that the detour cost an hour extra ride time. I think the next time I see a detour I will ignore it. I can walk my rig around it. The wind was somewhat in my face on the leg to Oglesby, but in retrospect, it was nothing. Oglesby was also nothing. The only thing open was the Post Office. The lady there walks the mail out to the older folks who stop by to pick up their mail. With no cafe of other lunch options I dug into my Salsa “Anything” stuff bag and retrieved a one serving tuna and crackers and some fig bars and called it lunch. I looked at the Google Map and it seemed like the road I was on headed to McGregor, my next stop. Mr. Google was telling me to continue northwest a little more and pick up SH84. The Postmaster lady and a local assured me that the old road was the better choice and that I would see the grand old “home” coming into McGregor. The road was well paved, a nice strectch and I did see one historic home but the rest were just old.
McGregor was a decision point. Here I was to catch the tailwind to Lake Whitney, or continue east to Waco and on to a motel for the night. If I had it to do over again I would go north. Highway 84 was well built, a great road, for cars. For me I caught most of the wind coming from the southest at over 25 mph. I had to climb long slopes, probably less than 2 percent, for overpasses and gentle rollong terrain. With the wind it was tough, very tough. When I stopped at the top of a hill a couple of times the wind tried to push my bike over. It was better in motion. I guess tanks and pretty stable.
I finally got to Waco and after a bunch of annoying exit cross overs where the shoulder goes away and it seems everyone is getting off not recognizing that the crazy cyclist has the right of way. I tried to maintain ownership of the lane, but traffic was such that I mostly rode the should until it went away and waited my turn. I didn’t mind stopping because I was completely gassed. I made my way onto Waco Drive and found an Academy “superstore”. They continue to disappoint me. They had neither of the cycling staples of “Butt Butter” or “Body Glide”. Close by I found a great outdoorsy store called “Bear Mountain”, and they fixed me up.
My night at Motel 6 started with a 3 hour nap. I charged up all my devices, learned that 2 of my 3 power “blocks” were worthless and missed checking my tablet and keyboard, assuming they would hold a charge for 48 hours. They don’t. Thus my plan to write this update this morning while I waited for the rain to pass through failed. I also learned that the black charger I brought along for the Samsung Tablet was actually just a phone charger. A tablet needs 3 to 6 times the power to charge up. Ibought one this afternoon and maybe, just maybe, I can keep this thing charged.
I left this morning in an occasional shower that cleared up very quickly. The route, one I had not reseached, turned out to be on the old “Dallas Road”. The first 10 miles went well, with a section through some older strips of homes but the road cross under IH35 and disappeared for a while. After a roundabout trip using some other roads I was soon on the Dallas Road again, but now it was a dirt road. The road was freshy graded and my bike, a Specialized Sequoia with Schwalbe 35 MM wide Marathon tires loved it. There were a couple of sections that had homes but this road was otherwise all mine. Soon I arrived in West, the first stop of the morning. I checked out the train station, dumped the gravel out of my shoes and picked up some PowerAde at the local Dollar store. By the time I was done with West, Mr. Weather, said it was time for a change. Now the wind shifted from behind me to directly in my face and the unforcasted “norther” packed a punch.
I think it was in Abbot that the road changed over to old highway 77, still mostly dirt. I stopped at a sweeping turn, looked over the quiet town on the other side of the raolroad tracks and looked up Google’s plan. A friendly mid sized dog amble over ignoring the pickup truck coming the other way. I pointed out the dog to the driver, afraid he would be looking at the kook, and not see the pooch. He stopped, told me that the dog was real friendly and we had a little chat before he drove off. Next a tractor trailer rig came from the other direction and I held the dog by the collar for his safety as the truck passed. This little guy paced me out of town for a good mile until some barking fenced dogs distracted him.
Old 77 was a bit worse for wear than the Dallas Road, which I am betting would have been SH 81 back in the day. Bigger aggregate but the bike liked it better than chip seal. Occasionally I would pass a section that had the original concrete sections exposed and in other areas I would see the old, abandoned brdge culverts. Took this road straight, and I mean straight, into Hillsboro, where tonight I sit in another Motel 6. I decided to stop a little early, catch up on this blog, with the knowledge that the wind will be half of what it was today, even if it is still from the northwest.