Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Take The Long Way Home

Last Thursday, the computer terminal in my area went down. Everything I do has to run through that thing, and Tech Support took a message and told us they'd call back “later”. “Later” can mean fifteen minutes or four hours. I started thinking the weather sure was nice for a ride, and my paid time off balance had just reset.... 

About that time, Tech Support called back and fixed the problem in less than five minutes. Dammit.

Well, it turned out to be a light workload kind of day, and that ride just kept calling my name, so I took the second half of the day off and mounted up. I work in Westlake, TX, which is a suburb southwest of Austin, right on the edge of the Texas Hill Country, where God himself intends to retire one day. It's beautiful country – rolling hills, sage and green, and curvy roads seemingly made just for Those Of Us Who Ride.

I started north on Loop 360, also known as Capital of Texas Highway. It runs north/south and provides several good views of the Austin skyline as it cuts through the natural rocky hills.

One of these views is seen from a neat bridge over the Colorado River called the Pennybacker Bridge, which was only the second bridge of its type ever built.

Just after the river, I exited and took a left onto Ranch Road 2222. RR 2222 runs west from Austin, up more of those scenic hills. Some days, while you're riding up that hill, you can actually feel your ears pop as if you're in an airplane. As I crossed Highway 620 at the summit, RR 2222 became Bullick Hollow Rd and started turning and twisting. This is what Hill Country riding is all about. After a few miles of downhill twists and turns, I arrived at Hwy 2769, also known as Volente Rd. Again, I took a left turn and the curves got even sharper and more frequent here, as the road starts to skirt the shore of Lake Travis. Volente Rd comes to an end at the village of Volente, but the ride is just beginning. I took a right onto the notorious Lime Creek Rd.

Now, Lime Creek Rd, in case you've never heard of or experienced it, is sort of reminiscent of the Dragon's Tail in North Carolina. I doubt it has as many curves in as many miles, but I bet it's pretty damn close. A word of caution here, too. It's probably more dangerous than the Dragon, due to the fact that it's residential, and you have driveways, sometimes on both sides of the road, and sometimes around blind, Dragon-worthy curves. 

It's tempting to blast through it if you're on a sport bike, but visions of a car backing out of a driveway usually temper my throttle hand. Usually. Okay, a little bit. In the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday, it turned out I had the road to myself. Lime Creek is a fun road, but do exercise caution on it.

If it were safe to do so, you'd get some great views of Lake Travis both on Volente Rd and Lime Creek. Well, also if we weren't under drought conditions. It was sad to see boat docks just stretching out onto a dry lake bed, nowhere near the current water line.

Lime Creek comes to an end at Anderson Mill Rd. Another left turn took me a couple hundred yards to Farm to Market Road 1431 in Cedar Park. FM 1431 is just an outstanding motorcycle road. It has a little of everything: scenic views, small towns, gentle curves, and some challenging areas for the more aggressive riders.

I rode from Cedar Park, through the towns of Jonestown and Lago Vista, past Smithwick and into Marble Falls. Some of the views seem to be straight out of a western movie. The Hill Country never disappoints me. Rolling hills, dotted here and there with scrub brush and trees. A small town here, a ranch there. I would have stopped to take some pictures of the views except for two things. One: you just can't frame a view like that. At least not without some high quality professional equipment. Two: a combination of a months-long drought and more than sixty days of temperatures over 100 degrees have given my beloved Hill Country a bad sunburn. Even if I'd had better photographic equipment, it wouldn't do justice to what this area normally looks like. It would be like snapping a photo of a beautiful woman who's just spent three days in bed with the flu. Not fair, not fair at all. So, I respected Texas's dignity.

When I pulled into Marble Falls, I stopped at the intersection of 1431 and U.S. 281 to get gas for the bike and water and an energy bar for myself. 

Once gassed up, I headed south on Hwy 281 through the town of Marble Falls, home of the Bluebonnet Cafe, world famous for its tasty huge pies. Unfortunately, there was no time for pie this trip. Just south of the Bluebonnet, 281 crosses over Lake Marble Falls. Trivia: Lake Marble Falls, Lake Travis, and the Colorado River in Austin are all the same body of water. As is Lady Bird Lake south of downtown.


A few miles south of Marble Falls, I left U.S. 281 and headed east on TX 71, back toward home. The hills here are more gentle and spaced out. Something about the scenery here always makes me hear the theme music from M*A*S*H* and I envision helicopters cresting the hills.

Hwy 71 took me through the towns of Spicewood and Bee Cave and brought me to the place where U.S. 290 and TX 71 merge headed east into Austin, or diverge heading west away from town. This area is known affectionately by Austinites as “The Y”.

Once at the Y, I turned west onto 290 for a quarter mile or so and made yet another left onto the colorfully named Convict Hill Rd, and on home from there.

I managed to turn my normal ten mile commute into a 115 mile ride. I got home hot and a little tired, but with a smile on my face.

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