Southern Tier: Del Rio to Austin, TX

Desolute, dreary, bleak, barren… Just when I am about to give up on Texas, I hit the Hill Country. Scrubland is replaced with juniper, oak and maple stands; desert scene with gentle rivers and lush valleys. White tailed deer jump around. Armadillos — flat, half or quarter — sleep by the side of the road.

Yes, there are hills, too.

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Cold spell continues and I run to a clothing store to grab a pair of warm gloves — the best $15 I’ve spent so far. I shop for food at H.E.P, a chain supermarket common around these parts of the country. I keep riding on quiet ranch roads with light but fast traffic. I pass an odd solar panel farm near Montell.

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Not finding any spot secluded enough to camp, I end up at Wes Cooksey County Park along Nueces River just before dark. The host is apologetic when announcing the $20 cost per night for a tent site. He says if I was with another cyclist it would be cheaper. Why, you can’t divide by two?

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Camp Wood is up next and then the climbs begin before reaching Leakey (pronounced LAY-key). A sunny day, and it’s also a Sunday, so most places are closed. At 2000ft elevation, the whole scenery changes for the better.

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Just north of Hwy 337/187 junction there is a busy state park: Lost Maples. Apparently this is a place to see the fall colours and people are flocking. They let me camp near a ‘bird blind’, a funny small cabin with hummingbird feeders at front. I choose a calm spot for the tent and run to the trail to catch the last rays of the day on those lost and found maple trees. Colours are indeed pretty. The winds are strong through the night and it’s freezing in the morning. I’m supposed to leave before 8am, not that I would want to stay any longer.

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The rest of Hwy 187 is a hard climb with headwinds but when I reach 39 the road levels out. It’s a beautiful ride along Guadalupe river until Hunt where traffic picks up. I pass through small tidy communities, River Inn and Japonica. When I reach the large town of Kerrville, I go into the library to look for a motel, but then decide to stay at the city park for another frozen night.

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I lay in the tent until 8am, warming up by the rising heat of the morning sun. I hit the road and stay at Hwy 16 to reach Fredericksburg — a nice touristy pioneer town — quicker. I camp at the Ladybird Johnson Park and bike three miles to town to explore the restored buildings and to taste local beer. The video at the visitor centre tells the story of a German settler (Frederick?) who created the town and also made the only unbroken treaty with indians (Comanches) who roamed on these lands back then. Not sure what those natives agreed to; not a trace of them anywhere.

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The next morning I stop at a donut shop to taste ‘kolaches’, which means, in German, ‘donuts’. The shop owner asks me why my home country Turkey is named after a bird. I try to explain to him that it’s the other way around. In fact, turkey is called ‘hindi’ (indian) in Turkish. If the States had adopted turkey as their national bird, then it would be much more interesting.

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Rest of the day I ride long hours to reach Austin, the much fabled milestone of my trip. It sits exactly in the middle of the Southern Tier route. And if what I hear is true, the rest of the route should be ‘easier’ — we’ll see. Austin is beautiful, clean and organized. It feels like the whole city is inside a giant park. And they have the sensibility of putting an REI and Whole Foods store on the same block.

28 days, 1668 miles.

st4View the full route

Date Destination Miles Duration
2014-11-15 Wes Cooksey County RV Park, Camp Wood, TX 79 07:52
2014-11-16 Lost Maples SP, TX 45 04:57
2014-11-17 Kerrville-Schreiner Park, Kerrville, TX 53 05:42
2014-11-18 Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, Fredericksburg, TX 33 03:03
2014-11-19 Hostel, Austin, TX 86 07:27