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Over two years had gone by since my journey across the United States by bicycle. Not too long after completing the trip, I had settled back into the familiar work-life 9-to-5 routine. As fall approached, I found myself without real plans for the four days of free time during the Thanksgiving holiday.
The predictable weekly shuffle to an office in the morning and back to my apartment in the evening made me long for another adventure, preferably on two wheels. What area would be attractive to travel to in late November and worth exploring by bicycle? I found my answer in Adventure Cycling Association’s interactive route network: The Texas Hill Country Loop.
Starting and ending in the State capital Austin, this bike touring route would let me explore an area of the United States so far unfamiliar to me. At a length of just over 300 miles, I had to put some confidence in my legs to be able to complete the tour in three days with some buffer for time spent on airplanes from and to California’s West Coast.
From Downtown Austin with the sun in my eyes, I headed east on quiet city streets on an awfully early November morning. I crossed the Colorado River on the Montopolis Bridge, a Parker truss bridge built in 1938. Not too long after, I found myself in the countryside with gently rolling hills in a southwesterly direction. The property lots soon seemed to get bigger, with houses set back quite a distance from the road on sizable pieces of land. Vegetation was primarily dominated by mushroom-shaped brushes and trees. I stayed on a southwesterly course, keeping inside the Blackland prairies‘ boundaries, named after its dark soil. Had I decided to do this ride in the spring, I could have enjoyed the sight of Texas bluebonnets blooming in the fields. Instead, the occasional fall color made itself visible within the otherwise persistently green fauna. More and more opening up into open space the further I went.
Roughly 60 miles into my ride, I reached the northern outskirts of New Braunfels, known for its German Texan heritage. Instead of venturing into the city proper, the route called for a 90-degree turn to the northwest. Soon after that, I was on a quiet country road, hugging the flow of the Guadalupe River. I followed it all the way to the eastern edge of Canyon Lake, a reservoir and dam on the Guadalupe River. Shortly after that, I entered proper Texas Hill country with plenty of ups and downs and a gradual uphill trend, culminating in the city of Blanco, my first overnight stop.
This being the day after Thanksgiving, most of the handful of eateries were either closed all day or had already shut their doors early. So it fell on the local Subway to provide me with a footlong Spicy Italian to somewhat replenish my energy stores. I was eagerly chowing down my illustrious meal as the sun was setting behind the trees across the road.
I again headed out from my motel accommodation reasonably early to make the most of the available daylight hours. However, I had to double back to the reception with an excuse: “Sorry, can I have the room key again?” I seem to have forgotten my water bottles in the fridge…” With this embarrassing moment out of the way, I continued west, passing ranches one after the other. I took my first break of the day at Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park, located along the Pedernales River. The historic site encompasses the 36th president’s birthplace, home, and ranch.
As I rolled into Fredericksburg not too long after that, I stumbled upon post-Thanksgiving festivities on the “Marktplatz”, the town’s market square. The smell of grilled sausages, sauerkraut, and beer filled the air and let my mouth water. Unfortunately, I knew I couldn’t linger for too long if I wanted to make it to my next destination by sundown. After a short break, I stuck to a northerly bearing. I was met by wide-open prairie land and the occasional but frequently expansive housing structure set back from the road. The massive and heavy-looking automatic driveway gates were occasionally adorned by an artistic arch spanning across the street.
Via the farming and ranching community of Crabapple, I ended the day in Llano, filling up on some provisions at the local Dollar General and feasting on an El Burrito Gigante dinner plate at the local go-to place for Mexican fare. To aid digestion, I ended up taking a stroll across Roy B Inks Bridge into the southern part of town. Already dark, I found the Llano County Courthouse decorated in festive light garlands, spanning from the top of its clock tower all the way down to the street lamps at the edge of the block. After all, Christmas was only a month away.
The start of my third and, if everything went to plan, the final day of my tour through the Texas hill country saw me heading east. The clear water and expansive views of Lake Buchanan looked too inviting not to stop and enjoy the scenery for a bit. Not too long after that, the unexpected installation of a swing in the middle of a pedestrian/cyclist-only bridge across the Colorado River provided some spontaneous child-like fun.
The route meandered through Inks Lake State Park, with elevated views of the body of water and its tree-covered banks. From there, it was a gradual downhill via the communities of Burnet and Bertram into the Austin suburbs on lightly traveled country roads. As the sun was setting, I was still twisting and turning through quiet residential neighborhoods. I cruised past a mix of modest and opulent family homes, catching glimpses of kids playing in their grassy front yards.
Under the light of street lamps in downtown and navigating around some construction zones that obstructed the established bike route, I eventually dismounted at Congress Avenue Bridge, across from my accommodation, concluding my whirlwind three-day tour.
The late fall weather in central Texas ended up being ideal for cycling this loop. However, one must not be fooled by the seemingly unspectacular elevation profile. With the frequent and sometimes steep ups and downs in the hill country, I had plenty of reasons to huff and puff and felt my heartbeat rising. The tour gives an introduction to Texas’s hearty and hilly ranch and farmland, a visit of historic sites, including some German heritage, and one or the other bodies of water that invite you to stop, rest and relax. For that, however, you might want to plan slightly more time than three days.
Prior to the trip, I purchased and downloaded the GPX data for this route from the Adventure Cycling Association’s website. I am certain you could find ways to retrieve the data for free from one of the many GPS data-based route platforms, however, supporting the ACA just felt like the right thing to do.
Austin, start and end point of the loop, is well-connected via the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, serviced by major national and international airlines.
For convenience, I opted for an accommodation in downtown so I could be close to the path of the official route. However, given that Austin is a very bike-friendly city, even places to stay further out wouldn’t be a bad choice.
The route passes through major settlements on a regular basis, so refilling on water and stocking up on food is never an issue.
This being my first foray into bikepacking, I used my well-tested regular aluminum-frame mid-level road bike. As for luggage, I used an Apidura Saddle Pack combined with an Apidura Top Tube Pack to carry all I needed for those three days.
I decided to stay at motels along the way, which I had booked in advance. This meant there was no need to carry a tent, and reduced the amount of items to carry significantly.
- Texas Hill Country Loop on ACA website. Details about the route and logistical information.