Monday, February 11, 2013

Texas Wild

Fifteen minutes before the 4:30 alarm was set to go off, the crashing boom of thunder woke me up. The flash of lightning illuminated my hotel room in Dallas, Texas. I had planned to ride the Wild Willie's 100K but now I wasn't so sure. Last night, Ken from Oregon called to let me know that he wasn't going to ride because of the rain, so I was already looking at a solo 100K. The rain seemed steady and persistent. The Weather Channel was in full-on hype mode:

Severe weather warning for Dallas, Texas
60 mph hour winds reported
Shingles blown of buildings
Tornado watch until 9:00 am
Thunder! Lightning!
Death! Destruction! 
(okay, they didn't say death but they implied it)

The Doppler radar was showing red and green with squares of danger zones. I had scheduled the ride to start at 7:00. I  rolled over and went back to sleep.

Twenty minutes later, I got up again. Looking out the window, the rain was a drizzle and the storm seemed to have abated. The Weather Channel had not changed their tune. Still death (implied) and destruction. More to follow on the hour.

All weather is local. I'd come too far to not at least see what the weather was like in Alvarado, Texas, the town where the course began. I got dressed and packed the bike into the rental car.

The Denny's across the street was open 24 hours. Inside, at 5:20 a.m., two drunk young men were making plans for the future, loud, insistent  drunken plans. The only other occupied table was a six seater, with three Mexican girls who were too young for the hot pants, gauzy tops and high heels they wore, far too young for the jaded expressions set in the soft lines of their faces, too shamefully young to have the hard shell with which they tried to hide their vulnerability. The three men with them, all older and fully dressed, did not seem to notice-or care. Their table was quiet, restrained, as if a long night was coming to an end.

I ordered my breakfast to go.

In the car, I had a rental bike - a  1983 Trek 720 hand built in the United States out of lugged Reynolds 531 steel. In 1983, it was the state of the art for touring bikes. Now, it is a hard to find collectors item for people like me that have a soft spot for hand built steel bikes.

I rented the bike from Jeremy at Oak Cliff Bicycle Company. Finding this shop was a stroke of pure luck. I cold called him looking for a rental and we got to talking. When he found out that I wanted to use it for Randonneuring, he offered me use of the Trek, his personal touring bike. When I went to pick up at the shop I was in for more pleasant surprises. This was a place for a guy like me. It has  a varied selection of bikes, art work and accessories. Velo Orange, Compass Bicycles, Crane Bells, a Toyo Godzilla single speed build hanging from the ceiling. Even better was the service. Just walking in, I felt like a long time regular customer. If I ever get back to Dallas, I will be sure to stop by again.

On the drive to the Alvarado start of the permanent, the rain dissipated and the roads dried. Then my phone rang. It was Chip, a Texas Randonneur.

This would be a good place to share some of what I learned about the Lone Star Randonneurs. They have a Google Group. I posted the fact that I would be in town and looking to do a permanent. I also mentioned that company would be welcome. Turns out that if you post a ride to LSR, then those who might ride assume that the poster will take care of  the paperwork. Even if the person posting is from out of state and riding in Texas for the first time.

Stephen H. sent me an email to clue me into the local custom:

If you invite people to ride a perm with you, they'll be showing up assuming you have the paperwork for them to ride.  

The usual routine:

  • Pick a route
  • Contact the perm owner, request the files for it; they'll email you one or more files with the waiver, the cue sheet, and the brevet card.  This is usually all on one Excel file.
  • Post the ride if desired.
  • Check the time and dates in the file and adjust if needed.
  • Print the waiver, sign it, scan it, email it to the perm owner.
  • Print up brevet cards and cue sheets for other riders planning to ride.
  • At the ride start, have any other riders sign the waiver as well.
  • Ride the ride.  Get receipts at each control, including starting and ending, and ask the store clerks to initial and put the time on the card.
  • Collect the cards and receipts from other riders if desired.
  • Return cards and receipts and the signed waiver to the perm owner. 
(Did I mention I was only in Texas for the weekend??) Nevertheless, when in Rome . . .  I printed extra cards and cue sheets and had them in the car.

But I digress.

Chip got my number from Dan D. who had  fielded some calls from other interested riders. When Chip saw that the weather was clearing, he got out of bed and decided to ride with me. He was calling to let me  know he would meet me at the start. Excellent. I would have company. 

Alvarado, Texas is just south of Dallas but the difference between the two is greater than the miles would suggest. The land was wide open to the largeness of the dawn sky. Chip and I set out on the course turning away from I-35E into the open fields south of Dallas/Ft Worth.

The roads rolled gently on the out and back course; no real climbs but variations in ups and downs throughout. 

The land itself seemed familiar yet different. I have ridden on many quiet roads, so that was not new. I have ridden past many farms, so that was not it. The difference was there, I could see it, but not name it.

Funny and hospitable, Chip made a grand riding partner. We rode past ranches and through small towns. Carls Corner,Texas, has a population of 134. The entire town could fit on the plane I flew in on. We rode a tailwind through Itasca and Grandview to the turnaround to start the back of the out and back.

A freight train was running parallel to the course, slow and steady, sounding its long whistle at road crossings. The train passed me and I raced to pass it back. The old trek responded to my inputs and slowly, surely I took the lead. The train continued on but I fell back.

I took pictures and I took in the scenery. 

And then it struck me. This land has a wildness about it. Not the untouched wildness of a nature preserve or northeastern forest, a different kind of wild, an unbroken wild.  There were no manicured rows of crops, or fields of lush growth. This was land that had been worked hard but not domesticated. The land and these small towns seem defiant, toughened from use, but still capable of nurturing life. 

The wind blew steady on the trip back. But Chip and I pushed back, past the ranches and through quiet small towns on a restrained Sunday morning.

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