AUSTIN – Weather warnings and watches murmur and squawk as creeks flood, thunder rattles the windows and lightning rips holes in the churning sky.
Perfect day for a small bike ride.
We weren’t riding small bikes; I mean it was a short ride. I mean … my new Surly Troll is a size small, but Justin’s Origin8 29er something is a bigger size, but that’s not important now.
As with every other ride and adventure, we made up plans last minute and changed then enroute. We both made our way to Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery, which is close to where he lives and even closer to where I used to live in Hyde Park. It gives me a chance to ride through the unpaved alleys in the neighborhood, an opportunity I never pass up.
I should mention that he and I have four or five multi-year conversations going at the same time. They never really begin or end, and generally overlap and punctuate each other. So, a quick meeting to start a bike ride turned into an hour-long discussion physics, philosophy and the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, among other things.
We found a pedestrian bridge over a creek on our created-as-we-go route northwest. I pointed out a large tree with roots that encompassed a rock strewn bank of the creek. They grew over everything and
under the water, across to the other side.
Justin decided to check it out by climbing down to a concrete wall with a broken sidewalk on it, past the “no trespassing, private property” sign. Austin has many ruins like this: old bridges and concrete
walkways and tunnels around and through creeks. Some look like they were destroyed in floods 100 years ago, some look like they were never finished, or were built half-assed and never maintained. This sidewalk, or whatever it was, looked like a combination of everything: cheaply built, poorly maintained and partially destroyed by some epic flood.
I was still nursing the ankle I destroyed in Iceland a few weeks prior, that was my excuse for not exploring the mangled and curious concrete structure below.
I thought we should head to an area north of 51st Street, bordered on the west by Springdale Road, and on the east by Ed Bluestein Blvd/US 183. It’s right behind a hotel and apartment complex.
The entrance is technically Rangoon Road, but it doesn’t have any signs and it’s not paved. Maps show the road going farther than it actually does (although satellite images are more accurate). In the area, there are jeep tracks, single track and a swamp-like access road for a utility, with a bridge over Little Walnut Creek. Just riding the access road and the flat parts of the jeep track are an adventure in mud, swamp water and thick vegetation. If one rides the singletrack up the 10000 percent grade, deeply
rutted hills, then it’s a whole different thing.
This is where I wanted to go with Justin.
We headed in that direction amid showers and dropping temperatures – just as forecast.
Our path wound through the Hyde Park, Cherrywood and Mueller neighborhoods, keeping to grass and unpaved bike paths whenever possible.
“Let’s go up there,” Just said, pointing to the plateau of sorts in the middle of Mueller.
Mueller is a planned community on the grounds of an old airport of the same name. It has green spaces, sidewalks and the homes have garage doors in alleys behind the houses. The center of the community is slowly coming together, with lots of undeveloped areas of various nature.
We rode down a new street. It was only asphalt and sidewalks that more resembled a marina choked with mud and coarse gravel than a planned community.
“I wonder how muddy this is,” I said as I pedaled into it, mud immediately clinging to both wheels, frame, fork as I started to get bogged down. The mud had a variety of pebbles in it, which helped jam up the bike even more (and helping to remove some of the new “Steve’s Pants Blue,” paint, as
Surly calls it).
The plateau was a block away, which we rode on the brand-new street. More mud, more gravel, more bog. More pebbles, less speed. More wheel spinning, less rolling.
We pushed our mud-laden bikes through a swamp of some sort choked with undergrowth, and up a mud hill, rear wheel dragging along. I found I could roll the bike backward to dislodge the larger pebbles, and roll forward collecting more pebbles.
The rain became more than a forecast or suggestion of a possibility. The dark clouds and wind gave way to light rain, which cleared, then began a little harder, then cleared, becoming a bone-crushing torrent,
which also cleared.
That mud was as angry as the sky and it intended to show it.
With some more pushing and climbing, we reached the top and took in the view of downtown – distant under threatening skies, lightning to the west, oddly bright skies to the east. In a strange stroke of luck, I found a piece of bent rebar to carefully dug the mud out of my bike, making it mostly
ridable, if not very heavy and ungainly.
Back down we went, navigating ruts and mud, to the bottom. More swamp, more vegetation, more mud.
We reached the new cycletrack where we took a break and made plans to ride to Cherrywood Coffeehouse, in a roundabout sort of way, after we addressed the mud jamming our bikes, and giving he and I an “adventurous” appearance.
After a short break, we pedaled around a bit, stomped our feet. I found a wooden stake and dug more mud out of my bike and off the wheels. Justin said he found a working spigot on a new and unoccupied house. I pointed to the new and unoccupied houses and said that was not where he was.
Some nice family let him use their spigot, unbeknownst to them.
We were rolling again, with some woops and shouts of approval from a woman on the sidewalk as the remaining mud flew from our wheels in a developing rain shower. The more we rode, the messier we got, the lighter the bikes became; all whilst leaving muddy tire tracks for a curiously long distance.
Under threats and promises of rain we arrived at Cherrywood, where we found an outside table on the patio. We had an umbrella above us, and a corrugated-plastic sign on the fence next to us, so we were covered in an oasis of relative dry.
As always, we continued our simultaneous conversations, while adding plans for next time: north, farther south. A few overnight tripsfor fun and so I can prepare for the Great Divide.
From there we parted ways, until next time.