Caryl and Brian's World Bike Tour

Cleveland, TX to Blanco, TX

Back Home Up Next

 

Date: Fri, 23 Feb 96 03:07:00 UTC 0000

Copyright (c) 1996 by Caryl Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.

Chapter 15 - Feb 2 to Feb 13, 1996 Cleveland, TX to Blanco, TX 5675 miles cumulative

Temperatures in Texas, of all things, dropped into the low 30s down to the teens and just stayed put for about a week. Well, a good opportunity to see San Antonio and Austin now rather than later. Expenses really soared for the week as we stayed in the cheapest motels we could find which were still more expensive than camping. But, soon we'll be in west Texas where the camping costs will likely go down substantially. But it sure was nice having a warm, dry place to stay at night. We do like camping, but not in 20 degree weather.

You just can't go to San Antonio without a visit to the Alamo. Actually, the Alamo was the first of a serious of five missions built along the river by the Fransiscan Friars back in the early 1700s. The remaining 4 missions were located at about 3 mile intervals south along the river. Each was a self sustained commune comprised of the Fransiscan monks and whatever local Indian tribes, families, or bands they could cajol, either voluntarily or by force, into staying. The local Indians were actually loosly connected bands of family units, usually about 25 people, who survived by wandering, hunting, and gathering. Outside pressures from the Apaches and Comanches were already significantly weakening these bands when the Spaniards showed up. So many were quite willing to forsake their nomadic lifestyle and their religious beliefs in exchange for food, clothing, shelter, and relative security offered by the missions. So from about 1717 to 1767 the missions thrived on products from their farms and ranches.

The main objective of the extensive Spanish mission complex was to ensure Spanish dominance in the new world. When the French started establishing settlements in Louisiana, the Spanish felt threatened. So they moved to colonize major portions of North America from Texas all the way to California. They figured that by converting the Indians to Christianity and enlisting their loyality to Spain they had a ready made group of colonists. But in Texas, by 1767 the diseases brought by the monks and the continued harassment by unfriendly Indians had so drastically reduced the number of Indians living and working the missions that the church decided to secularize the buildings and property. The lands were divided reasonably evenly among all remaining Indians and the Spanish settlers. But the original objective of gaining dominance through colonization had been accomplished, at least for a time.

After their abondonment, the churches and other buildings making up the missions were left to deteriorate until the federal government finally took over and made them a national park. Wandering around the grounds you can still see remains of the wall that enclosed the mission grounds, the living quarters of the Indians and Spanish inhabitants, the granery, and other workshops. All were made from local stones quarried from areas around San Antonio. Everything has a grey color, yet in a few spots the original stucco and paintings can still be seen. Most buildings are essentially crumbled ruins, but the San Juan mission is in extremely good condition having been restored during the depression. This mission in particular gives one a good feel for what mission life was like.

The churches are all in good shape as services are still held regularly in all except the Alamo. Since we happened to be visiting on Sunday, we kept running into services that were in progress, forcing us to wait a while before getting a peek inside. Our biggest delight came at the San Juan mission as we were wandering around the back. Out of a tiny yellow building having the sign "mini center" popped a couple of small, gray haired grandmotherly looking women who promptly exclaimed that they were having a bake sale. Of course Brian couldn't resist. Inside we found a small table with just one box of cupcakes, a few bags of cookies, and a couple pieces of cake. It looked as though selection had been well picked over long before we arrived. Relishing the few moments of warmth, we bought a few goodies to take with us.

Sitting in the same building were two men of obvious hispanic or Spanish speaking Texas heritage. Musical instruments lay all around. They quickly offered to give us our very own mariache concert for free. Before we could say anything, the music of a guitar and accordian filled the tiny building. The accordian player was a heavy set man with balding head and blue eyes that twinkled when he smiled. His facial expressions covered his entire face not just his mouth as is the case for so many. He'd change from concentration as he enjoyed his own music to smiles when he saw how others appreciated it. Just watching his face was worth the price of admission. He wore a black mariache style suit complete with metal decorations and a black and white serape. Fortunately he had good taste and chose a suit that fit loosely. His large belly would have protruded substantially otherwise.

His partner was a rather fat man with brown eyes, black short cropped hair and he wore a black suit, white shirt and tie. He was the singer for the little group. His facial expression seemed to be a cross between shear boredome and downright agony. I'll admit, his singing was nothing to write home about and neither was his guitar playing. The accordian was the obvious star in this case.

Church services finally let out bringing a lot more people to this small bake sale and giving us the opportunity to peek in the church. So we bade farewell to our private concert and headed back into the cold, cold air. These two were just a small part of a mariache band that played for the 12:00 mass. They had arrived early and were waiting in the Mini Center where it was warm.

One item of the missions that we found of particular interest was the acequia, a serious of ditches built to provide water to the fields. Most of the ditches are now long buried under modern streets. But many south of town are still used by the local farmers. Also, there is a stone aqueduct built to pass water over a creek that was also built by the friars. Even though these aqueducts abound in southern Spain, this is the only one of its kind in the U.S.

Well, back to the Alamo. Until visiting the site and actually reading some of the history, I really had no idea precisely why the alamo was so important in U.S. history. In fact, it really is mainly important in the history of Texas, as the state of Texas didn't come into being until 4 years (I could be wrong on the number of years) after the massacre. And all of this came about because Spain had gained dominance in this area.

To continue to develop the Texas region, Spain through its govenor in Mexico continued to encourage settlers to come to Texas throughout the 1700s and well into the 1800s after Mexican independence in 1821. Well Folks over in the newly created U.S. of A decided the offer of good grazing and planting land was too good to pass up. So they came in droves essentially shifting the population from Indians loyal to the Mexico and local Spanish settlers to Americans. Then along came a Mexican president named Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna who decided to follow the example laid out by Napolean. He declared himself emperor of Mexico, outfitted an army in uniforms that were not only similar to Napolean's but in many cases were surplus from Napolean's armies, and proceeded to rule over Texas like a dictator. This, naturally, made the freedom loving Americans rather upset and they started to repel.

To put down the rebellion and to remove all Amricans from Texas soil, Santa Anna places a general, named Coz, at the Alamo. The American/Texas citizens didn't like this one bit and proceeded to oust the general and his troops. Some 400 Texas citizens participated in this rout. Unfortunately at this time they all believed the revolution was won, and most went back to their farms. However, at this time there had been no formal declaration of Texas independence and good ole Santa Ana was rather upset. Santa Ana mustered together a group of about 2,000 soldiers and headed right for the Alamo. Upon arriving he found a small group of about 156 men guarding the place. After an unsuccessful attempt to storm the old mission walls, Santa settled into a 12 day seige. General Travis, in charge of the men inside the Alamo, sent several desparate pleas to everyone in Texas for help. But only a small group of 32 men from the town of Seguin came. So the match was 2,000 against 188, a fair match indeed.

The Alamo was a good defensable position, but 188 men would simply be overrun after a while. On March 6, 1836 just before dawn, Travis gathered all the men and gave them the choice, stay and die or try to escape. Legend says he drew a line in the sand with his sword and All save one crossed the line thus choosing to die. That one, named Rose, did manage to escape and lived to tell some of the events that took place before the fall.

Santa Ana attacked in the morning of March 6, taking no prisoners, leaving no survivors. Actually a couple slaves and women and children hidden in one corner of the old church were permitted to live. But some men famous in western folk lore died that day including David Crockett and James Bowie.

Just prior to their demise, on March 2, a group of Texans under the leadership of Sam Houston gathered at Washington on the Brazos and wrote the Texas Declaration of Independence. The men at the Alamo never got the chance to know about it. But their deaths became a rallying cry for the remainder of the war between Texas and Mexico. It's hard to say whether the war would have occurred or been successful without the Alamo. Santa Anna was an agressive tyrant and eventually he would have overstepped the bounds of reasonablness. I suspect if it hadn't been the Alamo it would have been something else.

Well, enough of ancient Texas history. We decided to leave San Antonio to see something more recent. We headed directly north about 70 miles to the town of Johnson City where, you guessed it, our late president Lyndon Baines Johnson was born and raised. His former home, also known as the Texas Whitehouse during his term, his birthplace, his first school, and his boyhood home have all been turned over to the U.S. government where your tax dollars pay to maintain them. The ranch is really something. It still runs herds of cattle and is basically a fully working ranch. The current foreman was even a forman during the later years of LBJ's life. The house sits on the banks of the Perdenales river surrounded by ancient live oaks and pecan trees. The family cemetary lies close to the river with LBJ's grave, the graves of his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, and sisters. There a spot carefully saved for Lady Bird.

The house went through several additions, starting with a small stone cabin, with a two story addition added when his aunt and uncle moved in and finally two wings, a swimming pool, communications houses, and other structures added when he was president (probably at our expense). It's quiet under the live oaks by the river. But I imagine during its heyday the noise and hustle and bustle surrounding a visit from the president must have been something. Lady Bird still has live-in rights to the house and, consequently, it's not open for visitors. But, when she's gone it will be open and the public will have the opportunity to view the odd array of gifts bestowed upon our president by leaders of foreign nations. Evidentally back then the president was allowed to keep these gifts.

Back in town, the ranch is about 15 miles west, is the boyhood home and a ranch first settled by his grandfather. There is also an interesting display of personal photos of the LBJ, Lady Bird, the family, and other dignitaries taken during his term in office. Very fine and telling photos.

I don't honestly remember a whole lot about LBJ's presidency. I only recall thinking it was so cool that the president's name was so similar to my mothers, Lynda Johnson (no relation though). But I guess feelings for him range from adoration to shear hatred. Some feel he made a mess of the country with his Medicare and Medicade. My feelings are that like so many people in power he simply did not consider the long term effects of his programs.

As we headed back toward the town of Cleveland we stopped at the most wonderful post office. Just east of LBJ's ranch in the tiny town of Hye stands a battered old store that on first glance looks closed. There's the old concrete steps leading up to the inset store doors. Entering the glass double front doors you are immediatly hit with the strong smell of animal feed. The well worn wood floors are bedecked with original glass show cases. The ceiling is covered with stamped copper that has been painted silver. Antique glass lamps hang a good 5 feet down from the ceiling. The display cases are stocked with a little of everything, although they're not overstocked. A small wood stove in the back provides heat. Finally an ancient post office with old wooden P.O. boxes lines the back corner.

Huddled around the old stove nibbling of a lunch of homemade beef stew were a spry young couple in their late 70s. The Browns were the owners of the store. Before we left we were to learn that Mr. Brown is the second longest serving Post Master in the country, some guy in Ohio being the longest. Also, LBJ at age 4 mailed his very first letter at this post office and in later years he installed his Post Master General in this building, probably under the watchful eyes of our current hosts. This is a post office with real old fashioned character. We had to wonder what will happen when Mr. Brown is gone. They'll probably build some lifeless new building to suit the tastes of the new post master and this old post office will fade into the annuls of history. We were only too happy to see it in full, if you can call the slow pace of Hye full, operation.

After a brief stop in Austin to visit our most favorite place on earth, REI (a huge camping store named Recreation Equipment Inc.), and to look at potential replacements for our tent we headed back to Cleveland, TX. The temperatures climbed to an absolutely wonderful 72 degrees as we turned in the car and headed out on the bikes once again. We prayed that the cruel winter weather is finally over and that spring is on its way. After all, that blasted ground hog said that spring is only days away.

One more night spent in the Sam Houston National Forest and at long last we broke out of the trees on to the plaines. And I do mean it happened that fast. On the road is a sign saying "Leaving Sam Houston NFS" and within 100 yards are big open fields. We also started hitting hills, lots and lots of hills. Texas is divided into several regions based upon the terrain. To the south is the coastal Thornbrush country, flat, beachy like country. In the east is the wet forests and the "Big Thicket". In the west is the dry desert around Del Rio. Smack dab in the middle is the dreaded *hill country*. Dreaded for bicyclists that is. Not quite as many or steep as west Pennsylvania, these still are some pretty good climbs. Coupled with your typical 10 to 20 mph plaines type headwinds and you end up with some pretty difficult riding.

For days we struggled up and down the hills; up, down, up, down, over hill, over dale. A high pressure system sat over the Gulf of Mexico giving us wonderful warm temperatures, although a bit humid, but also horrific headwinds. With the clockwise motion of the air over the gulf winds on the west side follow northeast along the coast. Naturally, we happened to be riding into the southwest. Even when a cold front moved in switching the wind direction to the north, our route changed accordingly. After all bike tourist rule no. 1 is the wind will always be against you and it will switch directions as you do. After five days of this torture it was time for a rest.

Even though we were struggling all day long, we did have the opportunity to "smell the roses" a bit. We stopped at the Washington on the Brazos State Park to tour around the museum. This was the location where, back in 1836, 52 men from all over Texas as well as other areas it seemed, gathered to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence. It essentially said, we don't want to have anything to do with Mexico any more. There were a few old buildings scattered around but the town essentially no longer exists. There was a lot of information about the events leading to the war with Mexico, much of which we also read about at the Alamo, about the background of the men who signed the document (only two were born in Texas), and some stuff relating to the various industries in Texas during the mid to late 1800s. But, the most fun things were the tidbits of historical facts about things happening during the same 10 year period that the Republic of Texas existed. A couple are:

In 1839 the modern bike was invented by Kirkpatrick MacMilliand. Of course, we took note of this one. Also, the term O.K. was first coined. It stood for Martin Vanburen's town "Old Kinderhook" and was also the name of a club in New York city. We have no idea how it got to have a meaning of affirmation (although I'm sure someone out there does.)

Texan folks come in a very wide variety of shapes, sizes, and personalities, some nice and some not so nice. At the campground in the Sam Houston National Forest an older man in a blue denim jumpsuit and black hat emblazend with a "General Cinema" logo came over to ask the normal litteny of questions. Of course, over time we've learned how to shoot back with our own set. He worked as a pipe welder for many years in the 60s working on a lot of military type projects, like the nuclear missile sites in Montana. After a while he decided welding was bad for his health, "don't let anyone tell you that a little hard work won't kill you, because it will." He returned to Navasota to his first love, the cinema. He's a projectionist of the old school. "Today they just hire these kids who don't give a damn about the presentation. But, if folks were to go back to the 50s to see a show they'd see the difference right off." He says the theatres make almost nothing from the films. It's all made in the snacks. So that's why a small bag of M&Ms cost so much. The neatest thing was he got to go down to Houston to help out during the making of the film Apollo 13. He would show the "dailies" at the end of each day of filming to the cast and crew of the movie. We're not sure if these were original Apollo 13 film clips or clips from the scenes taken that day. He told of how they'd all tromp in after a day filming in the zero G airplane, hot, sweaty, and tired. Tom Hanks would sit with his soda water and bag of popcorn while the rest, Ron Howard (AKA Opy) included, had beers.

The next character we met was a little unsavory. Climbing up hill, against the wind natch, into the little town of Richards a couple of Black men yelled the usual, "Where are you going?", and "Where did you start?" qustions to Brian. Then one said, "Can you stop a minute?" He then asks, "Can you give me a buck. I'm in a bad way." Now I didn't hear the actual conversation since I was still struggling up the hill and he just gave me a "Howdy mam." greeting. But I could tell from the expression on Brian's face that he was not at all pleased. He was mad that not only did this guy have the audacity to ask a total stranger who happened to be passing by on a bike for money, but he even made Brian stop to do so. We had to wonder just what kind of person would have so little self-respect that they would beg for money on the streets of a town boasting a population of only about 200 people. Next time I think we'll respond, "You'd ask a couple of homeless, unemployed bike tourists for money. You aught to be ashamed." What's strange was that this guy appeared to be far better dressed than we typically are. So what gives?

Fortunately our next Texas encounter made up for that bit of unpleasant experience. When we stopped to munch lunch in the town of Anderson a bright read, brand new pickup pulled up to the gas pump at the gas station/grocery store we were using f or a picnic site. At first we didn't think twice about it. A fer all almost everybody, at least every male, in Texas has a pickup truck. Out climbed a man in his mid 20s, black jeans, white T-shirt, and short black hair. He headed straight for us with such determination. Out came his hand and he introduced himself as Joe. He sells insurance to the Texasfarmers and he wanted to tell us everything he could about Texas in 30 minutes or less. After all his business takes him all over and he knows much of the state like the "back of his hand". He sported what appeared to be fairly expensive snake skin cowboy boots, a richly engraved leather belt with a huge silver and brass buckle with the capital letter J, and spoke with what seemed to us to be a real southern Texas accent. But, he grew up in Tonawanda, N.Y. right near Buffalo. He said when he first arrived he would stick a coin or piece of paper under his lower lip and before long he was talking just like a Texan. Apart from speaking a might too fast for southern folk, he sure could have fooled most anyone. I must admit I couldn't help but think of those commercials for El Paso salsa. They all exclaim "This one's from New York City" and ride the poor kid out of town on a rail. He did give us some valuable information on the Big Bend National Park, so his visit was quite useful.

Texas roads and parks are just wonderful. Every road has either essentially no traffic or huge 8 ft wide paved shoulders. Drivers, even log truck drivers in the east, are very courteous and go way around even when we're off on the side of one of those huge shoulders. Fear of riding busy "red" lined roads disappeared as soon as we entered the state.

The city parks are like most western town parks, free or extremely cheap camping facilities with full hook ups if you are so inclined, extremely neat bathrooms with hot, hot showers, picnic pavilions with electric outlets and lights, and even many times great laundry facilities. All this for a price of about $8 and under. All of this usually within easy walking distance to grocery stores and restaurants (yes bikers do always think about food). National and state parks simply don't come close. But the Texas state parks are pretty nice and unbelievably plentiful. Every county seems to have its very own state park or historic site. Beuscher and Bastrop state parks are located just a short 13 miles apart. So the selection of excellent camping facilities is outstanding.

Like most car drivers, Texans still have absolutely no concept of distance. Ask how far it is to someplace and you'd better multiply that number by 1.5, 2, or even 3 in some cases. After riding 38 miles, over hills into headwinds to the Beuscher State Park we thought it'd be nice to walk into the town of Smithville to buy groceries. It was either that or have spaghetti for dinner and oatmeal for breakfast. Since the receptionist at the front office absolutely assured us the distance to the store was only one mile, we figured why not. That one little mile turned out in fact to be 3. Why is it once people get into a car their perseption of true distance goes completely our the window? We have to conclude the comment we received back in South Carolina was correct, "If you're in a car it's 2 miles. If you're on a bike, it's 6." So I suppose if you're walking it's 12 miles.

Another broken derailleur cable hit Brian's bike just outside Smithville. He'd been having trouble with shifting for some time and had been making adjustments. But it finally gave. We managed to pull out the broken cable and slip in the new in a time of about 15 minutes (thank you JT). But, getting proper adjustment was another matter. The rear derailleur of the modern 21 speed mountain bike is an engineering marvel that appears so complex but, in fact, is really quite simple. Springs housed in the mechanism are set up to hold it in a contracted position. Tension in the cable wants to pull it into an extended position. The specific amount of cable tension determines exactly the amount of extension and, consequently, which gear you get. Two set screws, labeled H and L, prevent the mechanism from going too far on either side.

Well, this whole concept took us a long time to finally fully understand. After all, we can't just take one apart to figure out how it works without destroying it. Of course, being two engineers, we both had different opinions. I kept insisting that the set screws would not make much difference in the derailleur performance. Brian said they might. We went round and round with discussing how to get it fine tuned and playing with the cable tension and set screws. Yet, the derailleur still would not behave quite properly. It would shift to the larger cog, gear 1 with a tight cable, no problem. But shifting to the smaller gear, no. 7 with a loose cable. was sluggish at best and often did not occur at all. We couldn't figure it out. Finally, after staring at it, fiddling, adjusting, tweeking, and trying all sorts of shenanigans it dawned on us that the cable was getting caught in the cable housing and not relaxing enough to drop into gear 7. Ah ha. Either the spring in the derailleur was not sufficiently stiff, doubtful since it worked so well for so long, or the cable housing was dirty. Evidently the reason the cable broke in the first place was because it was getting caught, Brian assumed it was cable stretch and he tightened the barrel nut many times, and finally the cable strength was exceeded and it snapped. It wasn't a derailleur misfunction, as he first thought, or an overloaded bike. Just a guy with a penchent for *really cranking down when frustrated*. We located some good ole WD-40, at our second most favorite shopping place, Wall-Mart, and got the whole contraption humming, or shall I say shifting, just fine. But now we're on the prowl for another spare cable and new cable housing.

What a difference a week makes. Normally we only see major changes in weather, terrain, and riding conditions when we go up and over mountain ranges. In fact, we've grown to know the ride over Logan Pass in Glacier National Park as the place where we go from wet to dry. But here in Texas we saw a huge change without any mountains. At the beginning of the week temperatures were hovering near freezing, the trees were tall, logging trucks still stalked us on the roadway, water was everywhere, and the riding was flat. By the end of the week we were once again over the 1000 ft. level (first time since Maryland back in October), scrub pines looking more like overgrown bushes than trees filled the landscape, not a cloud dotted the brilliant blue sky, and the logging trucks were replaced by tractors towing those huge round bales of hay that we've nicknamed "wheat rolls." Towns had that western characteristic of a single main street lined with early 1900s style, false fronted buildings and almost nothing outside of the town limits except the expansive ranches. We were in heaven. Eventhough it was "hotter'n blue blazes" we finally could see for miles and miles at the crest of each hill. No more tree lined roads giving us a tunnel feeling of claustrophobia. Even the stars at night seemed more numerous, clearer, and brighter. We were back in our favorite element at long last.

Appendix A - Route

Texas

Rt 1725 and 150 Cleveland to New Waverly Rt 1375 to Richards Rt 149 to Anderson Rt 90 to Navasota Rt 105 and back road to Washington on the Brazos Rt 390 tp Independence Rt 390 to 36 and backroad to Somerville Lake Rt 390 to Burton Rt 290 and 237 to Warrenton Backroads and Rt 153 to Winchester and Beuscher St. Park Rt 71 to Bastrop Rt 71 and 20 to Lockhart Rt 142 to Martindale Rt 80 to San Marcos Rt 12 to Wimberly Rt 2325 and 165 to Blanco

Appendix B - Campsites/motels

Texas

Generic motel in Cleveland ($), Sam Houston National Forest ($), Navasota city RV park, Round Top city RV park ($), Beuscher State Park ($), Bastrop State Park ($), Shady Grove Campground Martindale ($), Blanco State Park 2 nights ($)

($) indicates fee camping

 

Copyright 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.

Acknowledgements

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We'd like to thank my father, Charles Johnson, whose diligent mail forwarding and other logistical support make this journey far easier than it could be otherwise.

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Wendy Strutin Riedy for archiving the newsletters on her WWW site, http://outthereliving.com


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