Wednesday, November 18, 2015


     Earlier this year I participated (I'd use the word "raced" but that would be highly over-stated) in the Fort Davis Hammerfest.  Apparently my system was so shocked I failed to post a blog on it.  A short recap: Three races on the weekend, a hill race of sixteen miles, six of which are steep; then in the afternoon a race on "flat" roads (in my case it was slightly uphill against the wind), and on Sunday a forty-nine mile race with a lot of climbing.  I was in with the 60+ folks, so got dropped early on both the Saturday races.  On Sunday I was too pooped to start, so we cut it short and went home.  We were a hundred or so miles north of the Big Bend, and it was still on my riding/seeing agenda.  Enter Velo View Bike Tours.
     Earlier this year I went to Colorado with Velo View (see post) and had a fine time, even if my cycling prowess was less than optimal.  Shannon Burke offers a variety of quality bike tours, one of which includes Fort Davis and Big Bend National Park.  This would be the best way for me to cross one more spectacularly scenic area of the country off my list.
     This past Friday morning (7am) Shannon and Morgan (mechanic/driver) picked me up for the drive out to Fort Davis, about seven and a half hours.  I joined Barry, with whom I'd ridden several years ago on Sunday rides.  We stopped in Johnson City to pick up Sherri, husband Rich, and friend, Joe (from Cleveland) and continued on to Balmorhea for about an hour relaxation at the famous pool.
There we also met Dan, Hunter, and Robert, who drove themselves due to various logistics.  This made for a nice group of eight riders plus Shannon who rode with us.  Then it was on to Fort Davis and the very nice Veranda Inn.
     What trip to Fort Davis would be complete without going to the McDonald Observatory?  We had dinner at 5pm then loaded the van for the ride up.  This is the same route as the Hammerfest morning race.  Unfortunately, clouds rolled in and the outdoor Star Party had to be cancelled.  We attended the informative indoor presentation.
     Saturday morning we got down to business, although first we took a van ride out ten miles (mostly the "flat" Hammerfest race) since it really is quite boring, plus we already had fifty-nine miles of planned route.  Even so, we still had fifteen minutes of slight uphill, then some downhill, all with a hefty headwind.  Things got better once we made a right turn, and the first hour went by without too much damage.  Then we had five miles of slight climb followed by five addtional miles of steeper pitches.  Some nice downhill, then some rollers, and then we rolled up to the observatory.  After a short break, the bravehearts took on the final climb to the telescope.  I did not, opting for the van.
Photo op over, we enjoyed the downhill.  Of course it was steep from the telescope, but most of the next seventeen miles was downhill.  We enjoyed a late lunch at the Stone Village Market.  They make great sandwiches (fresh) and one of us observed it was like a mini-Whole Foods.  For dinner, after a short rest, we drove over to wander around Marfa (especially the Hotel Paisano), before having an excellent meal.  The chef did a veggie plate for me, as the only vegan dish was the superb squash soup.  We drove back to Ft. Davis and the other folks told me about a hard rain, but I slept through it.
     Sunday after breakfast we rolled out and down to the Rio Grande Village Campground in Big Bend National Park, about a three hour drive.  We had a packed lunch from Stone Village Market, consumed along the way.  This was a mere thirty mile cycling jaunt.  However, a review of the elevation graph shows a steady upward slope from 1869 to 5713 feet, followed by a short, steep downhill and rise into the Chisos Mountain Lodge.
 The last five miles were brutal and I was in serious bonk.  Shannon nursed me up the final pitch, and after a short stop, I wheeled on down and into the parking lot of the lodge.  Upon reflection, while I was drinking my normal amount of water, it should have been double and should have included Nuun or Powerade (although I was chomping Shot Blocker gels and Clif bars).  My body really, really didn't like the punishment I gave it.
     After getting cleaned up and a short rest, I sought out the bar for a carbohydrate replacement drink.  The restaurant had a great looking menu, which included a spinach-stuffed portobello for me (hold the cheese).  Two additional porters and a fine meal ingested, and my body was beginning to forgive me.  I had to pass up additional post-dinner exploring and rest.
     Monday we started out with the one mile climb, back the way we came in yesterday.  But then we had the screaming descent, with me maxing out at 45.2 mph.  This was a very scenic riding day of forty-six miles or so.  We continued on downhill or flat or slight grades, until two really steep climbs.  The difference today was my Nuun infused water consumption, maybe three times normal.  I used all my gears (28-28) and kept the heart-rate steady and managed to power my way up.  We had a short stop at the top, then had our second screaming descent of the day.  The wind had come up so I held the speed to 42 mph and held on to the handlebars for dear life, eschewing a tuck position until lower down.  After that we meandered on down to the Santa Elena Canyon.  At this point my computer ran out of juice and had to be shut down.


 Tuesday morning was had a hike scheduled, but because of the cold front moving in, we discussed over breakfast whether or not it was a "go."  I had dressed for the occasion, but would have been happy to forego the experience.  But, hiked we did.  It was cold and windy.  But we hiked the Lost Mine Trail, 4.7 miles and almost 1,000 feet of altitude.  The rising sun with brilliant blue, cloudless sky (the ones in the picture were moving away from us), provided excellent vistas.  Of course, I have a few pictures, but they really don't capture the scene.  It took a little over an hour going up, under an hour going down.  We were especially grateful for our early trek, in that the trail became busy with hikers, including a bus-load of teenagers.
     Then we drove home, stopping in Johnson City to eat dinner and say goodby to Rich, Sherri, and Joe.  We arrived back in Austin about 7:30pm.
     This trip is what my books are all about: short cycling vacations to incredible scenic areas and making it all palatable with good food and lodging and additional touristy stops.  I can't say enough about Velo View and their tours.  I don't think another bike company has Big Bend on their itinerary.  Shannon makes it easy for you to say "yes" to going here.  Added bonus: Shannon contorts his body on the bike and gets incredible pictures of his cyclists.  Here are a few of his pictures, full complement at Velo View.