The itch to get outside was painful by the start of the new year. After my quick trip back east, I found out just how many of my friends were going down to Austin for the Cyclocross National Championships and the idea of a warm, Texas January was all I needed to buy a train ticket. After a brief conversation with Erin, and a couple emails with Blackburn, we decided we would try out Beat the Clock Cycling's 205 mile camping route that went southwest of Austin.
We took our time with breakfast, eating with a nervous excitement but honestly still a little tired from the past few days of cyclocross frivolity. Staying true to our agreed upon instagram hashtag, we made quick work of breakfast platters and cruised south towards the hills. If you've been following my travels at all the past year or so, it should be no surprise that our tour was quickly being fowled by crappy weather. 30º and grey skies isn't really what you think of with Texas, but that just seems to be my luck. But who cares? It's still crazy-warm in comparison to Chicago, and our first blast downhill on loaded bikes had me excited for the next two days.
So we churned the rest of the day. Erin was on a flatlander's 1x10 gearing, so out of kindness I never went into my bike's granny gear up the hills, but that didn't stop him from getting some serious speed on the downhill portions. It didn't take long to be reminded of how much I love hills. Coming to Pedernales Falls State Park, the only change in the beautiful, rocky terrain was the sudden lack of barbed wire fencing separating us from others' land. The park rangers at the visitor center were actually hilarious and fantastically sarcastic, and set us up with a great camping spot and a warning of how steep the hill to the campgrounds was- much to our enjoyment.
Feeling super pro with a bundle of firewood on my front rack, we made pasta and sausages to have with our nightcap. We were tired, sure, but found nothing wrong with zoning out at the camp fire full of carbs. You'd have no objections from me if that was how every night went. I fell asleep with the hope that the weather would change before we headed out the next day.
I suppose you could say I got what I asked for, as the next morning we found the temperature had dropped a few degrees over night, and a drizzle was working hard to soak through our tents. The idea of turning around and heading back came up, but there was no way I was going to drop out of another bike tour after what had happened in Maine just a few months back. The drizzle stopped, we packed our gear, and figured we should take the morning to hike around the park instead of pushing forward. I reminded myself that this route was made when the days were longer and the weather was more appealing.
We finally left at noon, and the drizzle started as soon as we rolled back past the visitor's center. This part of the route, despite the shitty conditions, would be my favorite because of the dirt roads we ended up on. I'll take a dirt road over pavement any time. Figuring there'd be no way we would make it to our next camp site before sunset, we had all the incentive needed to stop frequently for food and photos, and generally opt for a more relaxed pace. We payed no attention to time, but the light began to leave the slate-grey sky and we still had another thirty miles to pedal to make it to Guadalupe River State Park. The rain continued on, and we rolled cautiously with only a single light through the country roads back to highway 46 (speed limit 70, y'all) before making it to a closed visitor center.
This- this is the part where things go wrong.
Confused because the park center ought to be open, I called the emergency number taped to the door. The park has been closed for a private hunt. The person on the phone explains to me that there were signs (invisible unless you're in a car with high beams, naturally) saying the park was closed to the public (I didn't realize that was a thing parks could be), except for licensed hunters. I thank the park employee for the information, and get off the phone The bathrooms were still unlocked, more importantly heated, so Erin and I took use of them to start drying out our clothes. Meanwhile the person on the phone decided to drive up to the park and make sure we were gone.
What followed was an hour of back and forth that cycled through the following ideas:
"It's late, cold, and raining, it's incredibly unsafe for us to go back onto the highway."
"I understand that, but the park is closed and you can't stay here."
"We aren't going back to the highway. No hunter would mistake brightly colored tents next to a lit-up visitor center for an animal. You won't get in trouble, and you wouldn't put us in danger like you are by suggesting we go back to the highway."
"I understand what y'all are going through, but the park is closed and you can't stay here."
There is nothing I hate more than someone who refuses to do critical thinking, especially when doing so puts others in harm's way. No, you don't understand what we're going through, because if you did you wouldn't tell us to go back out to a dangerous highway. (Writing this post is the first time I've actually let my frustration over the situation out. Catharsis by blogging...) Anyway, we're now in a stalemate situation with this park ranger. Realizing we really aren't going to leave, backup arrives. But, this ranger is far more sympathetic, and suggests we set up our tents by the park entrance. "Lots of folks camp there if they show up after the visitor center is closed." Erin and I shoot the dirtiest possible looks at the original ranger, wanting to scream "Why didn't you just tell us to do that?" but opted for a "Thanks, sounds good" instead.
Of the things we did wrong in this situation, the biggest one was making that first phone call. Being so well versed in hobocamping, I'm not sure how I managed to forget the old "ask for forgiveness, not permission" adage that night. Never again.
I can not accurately express how how awesome in a biblical way, how rewarding in a buddhist way, and how amazing in a primal way it was to look out my tent window and see a blue sky. There's not a feeling of relief more deep than the one I felt that final morning. In two days we had been through such shit luck, that something as simple as the color blue above had me giggling uncontrollably in the tent. Tucked away behind the cedars with room only for my tent, we took turns standing in the sunlight and packing up our bikes. Silent and smiling, the sunlight was the best thing to have happened yet and warmed deeper than any fire could.
But we wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of that park and thought nothing of the 85 miles between us and Austin. John said they had a tailwind, so we hoped for the same. Instead we were greeted to a mean headwind that lasted the entire day, but we pedaled ruthlessly- stopping only for as many snacks as our bags and clothes could hold. Let the sugar rushes get us back in time.
But, we did it. No backing out, no turning around, no reroutes or short cuts or taking an extra day. Flying down Congress Ave in the pinks and purples that remained in the sky after our sunset through farmland, we hollered and popped wheelies. We did some siqqq skidz and buzzed cars while splitting lanes, and bunnyhopped over nothing in particular but felt like bad asses all the same. We were done.