My hotel room is right across the street from Bastrop State Park. Bastrop is 31 miles from Austin Texas and 15 miles from the Lone Worm Ranch.
I had taken my mountain bike earlier in the week and poached some of the hiking trails in the park. I was riding the Lost Pines 8.5 mile loop for the first time. I usually do not get lost or disorientated when I am on my bike, but there is a first time for everything. I had so much confidence that this park was no big deal that I left my GPS at the hotel and proceeded to head off on the trail for a short ride.
The geography of this part of Texas is a lot like eastern Oregon in a lot of ways. This pine forest that makes up a large part of this area is so strange because it seems out of place here in Texas. Bastrop is on a little plateau, I say little because most of this area is flat and this plateau is only about 300 feet higher that the surrounding land, but it is so different. By Oregon standards these pine and juniper trees are just shrubs. This forest is about 30-60 % the height of the trees in Oregon. Still it is nice to have single-track trails in the woods so close to the city.
So I am riding down this trail not caring where I am going, as I am confident that in this park the trail will loop on another road and lead back to where I entered the trail complex. There were lots of roots across the trail and there were several large ruts that showed that when it rained the trail had become a stream in some parts as the water ran over the hard rock. As I was riding the trail would switch from hard solid rock, to thick beds of pine needles to 6-inch deep white sand. It was a nice easy challenge to keep up speed with my mud tires.
I started my ride in the late afternoon about 3:30. After heading towards a trail that promised to bring me to an overlook I noticed that the forest shadows were getting longer and I decided to turn back. I figured that I would get to the over look another day. I turned my bike around and headed back uphill towards the park entrance. I passed several landmarks that I remembered passing and stopped to drink some water at the sign that marked the trail to the overlook. After my drink I took what I had thought was the trail out of the park. After riding a few hundred yards I got a strange feeling that I was going in a circle. I dismissed the thought and kept on riding enjoying the changing lighting as the sky turned a brilliant red as the sun started to set in the west. Just as I wondered if west was the way that I should be going I came upon the same sign that pointed to the trail to the over look. I had just spent 20 minutes riding in a circle.
Well normally I have no fear of riding my bike in the dark as I usually pack my light when I know Iâ€™ may get caught riding after dark on a long ride. This was not one of those rides, as I was not expecting to be gone long. This was supposed to be a short ride in the park and now I was starting to feel a mild panic in my stomach as I was stating to think that I was lost. I started thinking about being in an Outer Limits episode and being stuck in a endless looping trail, or that I may be meeting a bunch of red necks like in Deliverance. Riding my bike in Texas alone is one of the fears that I said I would have to overcome in order to really say that I would live here an now on my first ride I think that I am lost.
So like a good mountain biker I decide to stop trying to figure out where I am in my head and just ride and feel my way out. I put a stick on the sign to mark the way that I had come from and looked at the sun and made note of the compass on my watch as to the direction that I was going and took off. As I started riding I soon forgot for a moment that I was lost and soon began to enjoy the ride. The enjoyment faded as I heard something running through the woods just in front of me. Before my imagination had time to become fearful a large female mule deer ran out in front of me, without stopping crossed the rail, and disappeared into the forest. I decided to head down hill because when I left the trailhead I climbed most of the way so I figured that taking trails that went generally down would eventually take me out of the forest. So after about 20 minutes of riding I am looking at the tracks in the trail and I am noticing 2 sets of tire marks. Since I am the only one out here on a weekday I again come to realize that I am on another trail going in a circle.
So I stop once again and vow never to go on a trail without my GPS and my head light. I am grateful that the trees are only 40-50 feet tall and I can still see light above the tops. I decide that I am going to get out of this park before it gets dark. I start riding this time really fast and get excited as I jump roots and dodge trees. Before too long I come upon a sign that points to a Boy Scout group camping area. I take that trail and then hit a wide gravel road that leads me to the trailhead and I am out onto the paved park road that I started on. I was relieved that I was not going to have to be in an embarrassing situation to call for help on my cell phone from a state park within the city limits, whew.
Which brings me to Sundayâ€™s ride. I decided after not making it to the over look on my mountain bike that I would take my road bike and get there and then ride toward Smithville. The Bastrop State Park has a park road that connects with Buescher State Park. Buescher State Park is about 5 miles from the ranch. The park road is parallel to Highway 71 which goes from Austin to Smithville. The park road is narrow and is low traffic and ideal for biking. I pack my GPS for this ride even though I know the road as I have driven it before with my dad last May.
The total round-trip ride was 24 miles. The ride was not as exciting as the mountain bike ride earlier in the week, but I got a better workout. Generally the whole time I was riding down this country road though a pine forest I could have been out in Bend exceptt for the fact that I came upon a car club rally. Texas has some interesting customs that will take some getting use to. Drive through liquor stores, drive in hamburger joints so you can eat while your car is on running the air-conditioning and lots or red soda are some of them. One that I had not expected to see was a car club. I was riding up a hill when I came upon 8 Mazda Miatas parked on the edge of the road. There were several couples and singles talking. It was really quite nice to see the young folks all dressed up and out for a real Sunday drive. They were not hot roding, just driving as a group for the fun of it and to be sociable.
One thing nice about Texas is that even strangers say “Hi how are you doing?â€ Drivers on the road wave a greeting to you as you pass. In Oregon there are a lot of Volvos and Subarus, in Texas there are a lot of Nissan Path Finders and every kind of big pick-up truck manufactured in the USA. So after my first week in Texas I have found a few safe places to bike. I will try to hook up with a bike group soon. I have heard that there is a big ride in April similar to the Seattle to Portland ride except it goes from Austin to Houston. Some of the hotel managers have told me about the ride when they see my bike.