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“Welcome to Texas, y’all,” one of the flight attendants drawls as the plane touches Austin ground. It’s just past 4pm and I started my travels 10 hours and two time zones ago, at 4am Seattle time. The last three hours were spent trying to block out the crying twin toddlers behind me, and I’m so excited to be done flying for the day.
Inside the airport, live music and a shuttle await me. Just one final leg to go: a two-hour shuttle ride to Fredericksburg in Texas Hill Country.
Cowboys. Stars. Steak. Longhorns. Lance. Bush. Botched CX Nationals. — I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about Texas and certainly not a lot of positive things. But when Rapha asked me to come along to Texas Hill Country to ride bikes with their ambassadors, it was easy to say yes. I had never been to Texas and always enjoy new places and new people to ride with.
As it turns out, Texas Hill Country is absolutely lovely, and well worth a visit for riding, sight-seeing, vacationing or a spring training camp.
One of the fun things about simply going along for the ride is that surprises await you at every corner. In case of Texas Hill Country, these were all very good surprises.
“Who knew?!” was a common phrase escaping my mouth throughout the weekend.
The location: Texas Hill Country
Located between the San Antonio and Austin metropolitan areas, the Texas Hill Country is over 80,000 sq km in size (twice the size of The Netherlands) and home to no less than 25 counties. The region is known for its rugged hills and karst topography with lots of limestone and granite, including the Llano Uplift and the second largest granite dome in the United States, the Enchanted Rock. Aside from its geography, tourists come for the wine, the food, wildflowers and historic sites. Cyclists will enjoy the endless backroads with rolling hills.
Prussian immigrants settled in this central part of Texas and the influences are apparent in the food, culture and German naming of towns and streets. It’s kind of funny coming to Texas to a town called Fredericksburg and navigating the “Haupstrasse” and “Marketplatz” on rides and drives.
We stayed at Baron’s Creekside where the region’s European heritage is alive and well. It’s like stepping into the Alps.
The proprietor, Daniel, is Swiss and decided to take his home with him when he moved to Texas – literally! When Daniel’s 250-year-old family farmhouse in Switzerland was being torn down, he saved all its doors, windows and artifacts and shipped them to Fredericksburg. Here, he bought a piece of land, built a mountain creek and, like a phoenix from ashes, reincarnated the historical items into beautiful cabins using old logs from a nearby tobacco drying barn. The cabins at Baron’s Creekside feel authentically Swiss because, well, they are.
Cabins sleep two and come with a fire place, Jacuzzi and a porch with rocking chairs. Personally, I loved sitting down in the rocking chairs listening to the running creek.
If you’re going with a group of (riding) friends, the lodge offers multiple bed and bathrooms, a full kitchen and gathering space.
It’s a good thing everyone was wearing sunglasses because this was the first riding I’d done without arm and leg warmers and I was awfully pasty. Soon to be remedied however thanks to the gorgeous Texas weather of a sunny 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (18-27 Celsius).
Luckenbach loop: 31 miles, 1000 feet of elevation (50km, 305m of elevation)
Spinning the travel out of our legs, the first ride took us to the famous Luckenback. Memorialized in song by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, Luckenback was at first an old trading post serving pioneers and Comanche Indians. It later became a venue for festivals and the backdrop and recording site for many artists. It continues to be seen as the embodiment of the Texas, laid-back state of mind and is a popular tourist attraction.
The Luckenbach loop is a popular route with local and visiting cyclists alike. With just over 1,000 feet (305 metres) of elevation, the 30-mile (50-kilometre) loop is a fairly easy. There are some busier roads but the loop is mostly on backcountry, smooth chipsealed roads.
Little Switzerland Loop – 50+ miles, 2,600 feet of elevation ( 80 kilometres, 793 metres elevation)
This loop visits a popular area that local cyclists refer to as “Little Switzerland”. Northwest of Fredericksburg, this area features quiet roads, a few historic sites, rolling climbs and terrific Hill Country scenery. You even get a glimpse of Enchanted Rock in the distance.
Normally this loop can be completed in around 42 miles but USA Cycling coach Neal Henderson got us a little lost so we got a bonus out-and-back in search of the popular Crabapple road. It was well worth the extra mileage though! Crabapple road may be my new favorite road in the country.
The white smooth road winds up and down the Fredericksburg foothills and Mt. Crabapple. A real rollercoaster of road, speed is easily gained (and lost) and serves as a great, uninterrupted training or product testing road. Be aware that there are cattle guards everywhere and the wind can be a factor, too.
Throughout the entire loop you’re going either up or down, but there are a few more distinct climbs such as the three-mile Mt. Crabapple climb and short-but –steep climb up Swiss Miss. But what comes up, must come down so after climbing you are treated to some fun, fast descending.
The road back into Fredericksburg is on a slight decline, allowing you to coast back into town for ice cream, beer or whatever post-ride, warm-weather treat you prefer.
The summer-like weather caught some of us Northwesterners by surprise and there were some definite sunburns and tan lines added that day.
Willow City Loop – 65 miles, 3,300 feet of elevation ( 104 kilometres, 1015 metres of elevation)
This last ride being the longest, we started out early in the breathtakingly beautiful morning glow. We all started out with arm warmers, vests or jackets, but with temperatures rising quickly, we were soon shedding layers.
The Willow City Loop is an attraction for cyclists and motorists alike as you’re treated to beautiful wildflowers in the spring and the Enchanted Rock year-round.
We started out on some of the same roads as Little Switzerland, which means we were treated to a second run on Crabapple road. Equally fun as the day before, though the wind played more of a factor this day.
The road into the Valley and toward Enchanted Rock is a very fun and long descent. The wildflower fields start around the halfway mark and despite it being early spring, the blue bonnets were in full bloom. Although cattle guards were plentiful, it wasn’t until after the midway stop on that third day that we saw our first roaming livestock. A large black cow came up to say hello as we passed.
To get out of the valley, you must tackle the Willow City Loop climb: a solid 20 minute, category four climb that reminds you that you are in “Hill” Country. It’s a lovely climb. Remember to look back once you’re at the top for a nice country view.
With temperatures rising to 79 degrees Fahrenheight (26 Celcius) and wind growing stronger by the hour, the last part of the ride was tough. The road was never quite flat and some people were starting to bonk. If you’re doing this ride unsupported, be sure to carry enough water and food and consider doing a water drop the morning of the ride.
But all that effort made the beer and sandwiches that followed the ride taste that much better!
The food. The wine. The bourbon.
Once off the bike, Fredericksburg has a lot to offer to replenish your calories. From traditional German fare and Texan barbeque to fancy, farm-to-table dining, Fredericksburg offers a surprising amount of dining options for such a small town. Plus, with over 30 wineries in and around the town, Fredericksburg is a hotspot for wine enthusiasts.
We experienced a little bit of everything during our four-day stay but the farm-to-table experience on Saturday night was exceptional.
Hosted on a private ranch just outside of town, the chefs of Otto’s German Bistro prepared Germanic food with a local, organic spin. Flammkuchen with crème fraiche, gruyere and garlic pesto as appetizers, ribeye or halibut with broccolini as the main dish and a flourless chocolate torte so rich and irresistible, I didn’t even feel guilty eating it! That paired with local wines and an incredible sunset, made for a special dining experience.
I’m not a whiskey drinker, but Fredericksburg is home to the first and oldest legal whiskey distillery in Texas, the Garrison Brothers Distillery. Others tell me the distillery and its product is worth a try when you visit Hill Country as it’s not available elsewhere.
Bottom line: I was very much impressed with the riding in Texas Hill Country and would love to come back for some good training!