In and Around a River

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Jake had a calm, easy-going manner, and a relaxed pace of conversation when we met for lunch in Johnson City. Thinking we are likely the only two owners (so far) of Ocean Air Cycles Ramblers in the vast state of Texas, we took advantage of my business trip to the San Antonio area to arrange a meet-up. Fortunately, it coincided with a two-night stay I had planned at Pedernales Falls State Park. There was wonderful ramblin’ terrain in abundance.

He only had one afternoon to spend with me, so we didn’t bother much with planning ahead. We simply hauled my camping gear to the primitive camping area, dumped it on the ground, and set off for the trails. Jake rode consistent with his relaxed, easy-going manner. His excellent balance and smoothness over the rocky, switch-back climbs reminded me of a cat. He was deceptively fast. Every time I pulled out my camera on some reasonably smooth terrain, he vanished around the next curve. After a couple of hours of chasing him up and down the paths, double-track, and single-track, Jake headed home and I went about the business of setting-up camp…and resting.

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By morning, I was recovered and ready for more exploration…and coffee. I rode up to the northern limits of the park and found the falls for which the park is named. The area has some interesting geologic features, but to me it was simply a beautiful place for breakfast. Fly fishermen and a Blue Heron pursued their morning refreshment from the river. I sat up high on a flat rock, fired up my Trangia stove, listened to the rushing flow, and watched the sunlight sparkle on the water’s surface.

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South Texas was significantly warmer and more humid than where I live.  The air was steamy, and I experienced a couple of rain showers, but the river water was delightful. I spent the entire day exploring by bicycle, walking along the river bank, or wading in the shallow areas. At times I was wading knee deep in the Pedernales River, and awhile later I’d be up on a hilltop looking out over classic Texas hill country terrain.

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My camp was set-up on a rocky bluff high above the river. The vegetation was too dense for me to see the river, but I could always hear the flow rushing across the riffles. It wasn’t a tiny babbling brook, and it wasn’t a mighty roar. It was just right mellow river music for bluff top meal times and a little hammock lounging.

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There is a low water crossing that allows access to trails on the opposite side of the river from where Jake and I rode the day before. The park map indicated a scenic overlook on one of the trails, and that sounded like a perfect afternoon destination. I lifted my bike and carefully found my footing through the fast flowing knee deep water. When I reached the other side, the steepness and looseness of the trail forced me to push my bike up the first quarter mile or so. After that, I was able to pedal the rest of the way. I found the overlook, and it was (as we all say) much more spectacular than my photos would indicate. What luxury to find the breeze, see the view, and not be in a rush to leave.

On the descent, I came across this snake in the path. Figuring I could “encourage” it to scurry off, I tossed a stick at it and hit its tail. To which he responded by turning around aggressively, holding his ground, and daring me to approach. That’s when I got off the bike, and walked off the path, and stepped cautiously around him. In the end, it was me doing the scurrying.

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There are some remarkable Cypress trees along the river’s edge.  The knees made for some scrambling as I made my way for some views of the river. This is the part of the river down below my camp spot on the bluff. This is also the spot where I hiked through head high grass and picked up my first load of chiggers for the season. Why do these little buggers always take me by surprise?

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Wolf Mountain has a short ring trail around it near the top. The trail was almost level, and allowed for easy pedaling and views in every direction.

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After sundown on the second day, I was sitting at about this spot on the edge of the bluff with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It was too early for bed, so I sat still and watched the light leave the sky. I had told myself that once the lightening bugs came out, I’d climb up the rocks to my hammock and call it a day.

I heard a noise behind me. When I turned, a large horned animal, about 40 feet away, was staring at me. It was a light brown color like a deer, but larger and stockier. It also had those roundish spiral horns of a ram. I didn’t recognize what it was, but it was clear that I was offensive to him.  After giving me a motionless stare-down for about 3 seconds, he bolted up the mountain even more smooth and effortless than Jake pedaling his Rambler. After returning home and doing some internet research, I believe it was a Desert Bighorn Sheep that I saw. Magnificent.

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The grand finale included one more freshly brewed cup of coffee, with the sound of the Pedernales River flowing behind me, the warmth of the first rays of sunshine on my side, and rocky trails of Wolf Mountain in front of me. After two nights, and almost two full days in and around the river, it was time to return home.

Coffee Quest

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It was a lovely spring day in north Texas. Wildflowers were blooming, the sun was shining, and the Rambler was looking handsome. But there was a worrisome question that nagged us.

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Would three intrepid adventurers be able to travel roads they had never seen, and still find a suitable spot for a roadside coffee brew-up?  It would certainly take some rambling, some searching for shade, and some evaluation of alternatives seen along the way against future possibilities unknown. Would these three be up to the challenge? A troubling question indeed!

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After a few miles of tires crunching gravel, grins and chuckles, and coffee kits rattling as we bounced through pot holes, a delightful spot was discovered. It was a roadside protected from both sun and wind, on a hilltop, and overlooking rolling pasture land. Bicycles, coffee kits, and rambleneurs sprawled in the road for some luxurious lollygagging. How suitable was it?

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Good fresh coffee, great company, and not a single vehicle passed by to mar the silence.

Cheers!

(Rambleneuring over randonneuring, because deadlines are too much like work.)

Spring Mini-Tour (6 of 6)

This is one of a six-part series documenting my spring 2016 mini-tour from my house outside of Sanger, Texas to Wichita Falls, Texas. My route consisted mainly of gravel and dirt roads, and I covered about 130 miles over 2.5 days. Although this was a “credit card tour” which included meals and lodging purchased along the way, I did bring my coffee gear and had a roadside lunch on the second day. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, there were no towns or services along my route on the second day, and secondly, I’m a coffee snob. Documentation will be mainly in the form of photographs with a few captions or comments to relay something that might have caught my interest.

The series will be presented in six themes; (1) Flora and Fauna, (2) Roads and Rambles,(3) Little Texas Towns, (4) Classic Cars, (5) Lunch Outside, and (6) A Dog Agility Trial.

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PART SIX OF SIX – A DOG AGILITY TRIAL

The plan to meet up with Mrs. Pondero and watch  part of the dog agility trial was a great excuse for a mini-tour. I think we both like it when we can combine our respective hobbies in a way that allows us to spend time together. I enjoy watching her run the dogs. The only thing I know how to do is pedal a bicycle. But she knows deep secrets of animal behavior and can somehow teach these dogs to do things they would not naturally be inclined to do, and have a great time doing it. The other reason I like to attend these events occasionally is that I am reminded that bicycling aficionados are not the only geeky odd folks out there.

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I arrive at the agility trial venue. I can pedal a bike, and stand around and watch stuff.  Big deal.

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The area includes a dirt floor, and there are two separate areas in which courses will be set-up…and re-set-up for different types of runs throughout the day. There are obstacle course paraphernalia and dog crates everywhere.

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A slightly closer view of one of the courses. There is a wide variety of obstacles (jumps, tunnels, A-frame, an elevated dog walk, teeter, weave poles, hanging “tires”, fabric chutes, etc.).  Each run is unique and the dog has no advance awareness or practice on that particular course. The dog is entirely dependent on the handler to guide it through the course. The handler does “pre-walk” the course in advance.

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Mrs. Pondero putting on her game face?

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Or maybe simply socializing.

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Ah…this must be game face time. She’s got Ferris Bueller there with her. Maybe a pep-talk?

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What dogs do between runs. Ferris Bueller (lower right corner) and Oliver share a crate this time.

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Bad photos. I’ve got my camera on “auto” because that’s how I roll. But a manual camera adjustment for low light and the speed of the competitors is what is needed. I wish I knew how to do that.

The photo above show Ferris coming off the teeter. He runs up the opposite end, crosses the balance point, rides the teeter down to the ground, and dismounts. Training required.

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Ferris runs the weave poles. Dogs are supposed to always enter the weave poles with the first pole on the left shoulder.

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Ferris dismounting the A-frame. Some dogs aren’t too keen on climbing this thing, but Ferris flies up and over the top like is the greatest fun.

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Ferris rockets out of the tunnel and attacks the dog walk. Because it is narrow and elevated, it takes a fair amount of work to make some dogs comfortable with this obstacle. I don’t think Ferris was ever too bothered about it.

Above is a video that shows Ferris running a jumps and weave course (no A-frame or dog walk). He made a mistake that caused him not to “qualify” or be eligible for a ranking. Dogs that run the course correctly qualify for ranking, and the fastest dog wins.

…and finally, here’s a video that shows handler doing the “zombie walk”. Dog agility people are truly odd folks.

Spring Mini-Tour (5 of 6)

This is one of a six-part series documenting my spring 2016 mini-tour from my house outside of Sanger, Texas to Wichita Falls, Texas. My route consisted mainly of gravel and dirt roads, and I covered about 130 miles over 2.5 days. Although this was a “credit card tour” which included meals and lodging purchased along the way, I did bring my coffee gear and had a roadside lunch on the second day. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, there were no towns or services along my route on the second day, and secondly, I’m a coffee snob. Documentation will be mainly in the form of photographs with a few captions or comments to relay something that might have caught my interest.

The series will be presented in six themes; (1) Flora and Fauna, (2) Roads and Rambles,(3) Little Texas Towns, (4) Classic Cars, (5) Lunch Outside, and (6) A Dog Agility Trial.

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PART FIVE OF SIX – LUNCH OUTSIDE

There were no services of any kind along my second day route. As mentioned in a prior post, this day also included an unanticipated detour. It was a good thing that I had planned ahead and brought food along for refueling along the way. It was also a good thing that the kind construction worker offered me two bottles of water to keep me hydrated. With provisions in hand, all I needed to do was find a suitable (desirable) place to stop for a break.

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As a part of my planning process, I had identified a spot on the map that seemed to have potential. But you never really know how things will work until you arrive. In general, my research was spot on. The place was good. It was the weather, however, that I failed to factor in well. It was sunnier, warmer, and windier than I imagined in the research stage. So when I arrived, I needed to spend a few minutes to locate a shade and a wind break. I was ultimately successful, but still had to manage some sloping ground.

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A brief site rummaging effort yielded a few flat rocks that were used to level my Trangia stove stand and allow my pot to hold its contents.

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A mail delivery vehicle drove through during my time searching for a shade and wind break. After that, I saw no other vehicles during my hour long stay. I ate, rested, cooled off, and brewed coffee. I listened to the wind whistle across the prairie, the rustling grass, and the birds chirp. It was more than lunch outside. It was physical and mental refreshment, and it was a celebration of what makes bicycle touring such a blessing for me.

Next up – “A Dog Agility Trial”…

Spring 2016 Mini-Tour (4 of 6)

This is one of a six-part series documenting my spring 2016 mini-tour from my house outside of Sanger, Texas to Wichita Falls, Texas. My route consisted mainly of gravel and dirt roads, and I covered about 130 miles over 2.5 days. Although this was a “credit card tour” which included meals and lodging purchased along the way, I did bring my coffee gear and had a roadside lunch on the second day. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, there were no towns or services along my route on the second day, and secondly, I’m a coffee snob. Documentation will be mainly in the form of photographs with a few captions or comments to relay something that might have caught my interest.

The series will be presented in six themes; (1) Flora and Fauna, (2) Roads and Rambles,(3) Little Texas Towns, (4) Classic Cars, (5) Lunch Outside, and (6) A Dog Agility Trial.

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PART FOUR OF SIX – CLASSIC CARS

Nocona, Texas is host to Horton’s Classic Car Museum. I had time available and decided to visit. Beside the fact that I drive over 100 miles/day, five days each week, I’m not a “car person”. My 2008 Honda Civic is simply a tool. I spend way more time with a car than I want already. But I was there, and I do enjoy the design and aesthetic aspects of the automobile. So I might as well have a look.

As you can see in the photo above, the “Open” sign is lit. But the door was locked when I arrived. I peered into the windows confused. Nobody anywhere. Walking up and down, I looked for other doors. I tried the actual front door again. It was then the lady in the pick-up stopped in the street behind me and asked if I wanted to go inside (funny how things work out). After responding in the affirmative, she made a phone call, and said someone would be with me in a moment. He was, and that is how I toured the entire museum completely alone. Well, not entirely alone because my host checked on me occasionally, making sure I was behaving myself with the owner’s fancy cars.

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I was told that there is a single owner, and the museum includes 133 “cars”. I guess the 133 number includes the trucks, but I’m not sure whether the bicycles and scooters were counted. The owner has a thing for Corvettes. In addition to the “only one ever made” Corvette station wagon above, he owns at least one for each year they have been made, except 3 or 4. I was told which years (in case I had a lead on a new Corvette for the collection), but I don’t remember the years. I’m not a “car person”.

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I don’t recall seeing any motorcycles, but there were a few beach cruiser bicycles (I assume more as decoration than as collectibles), a scooter, and the bicycle “taxi” shown in my following photos, and several trucks. The collection spanned many years. A few modern classics and some from the early years. I think there were more of the tailgate benches similar the one shown above.

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It was fascinating and visually stimulating. I guess there good reasons why these cars are considered “classic”. Aesthetics is probably one of those reasons. I kept asking myself why so many cars in use today are so ugly. It isn’t like we don’t know what an attractive automobile looks like. Many of the cars in the museum were pleasant to my eye. I could imagine actually enjoying owning and driving a few of them.

Here’s the other fascinating thing. After reviewing my photos, I realized I didn’t really provide comprehensive representation of the collection. I lingered admiringly plenty alongside Mustangs, T-Birds, Novas, and Camaros and other cars from the 60s and 70s. Apparently, however, it was the big, round, swoopy curves of the 40s and 50s cars that compelled me to get the camera out. This was completely unintentional. Maybe that tells me a little something about myself.

Next up – “Lunch Outside”…

Spring 2016 Mini-Tour (3 of 6)

This is one of a six-part series documenting my spring 2016 mini-tour from my house outside of Sanger, Texas to Wichita Falls, Texas. My route consisted mainly of gravel and dirt roads, and I covered about 130 miles over 2.5 days. Although this was a “credit card tour” which included meals and lodging purchased along the way, I did bring my coffee gear and had a roadside lunch on the second day. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, there were no towns or services along my route on the second day, and secondly, I’m a coffee snob. Documentation will be mainly in the form of photographs with a few captions or comments to relay something that might have caught my interest.

The series will be presented in six themes; (1) Flora and Fauna, (2) Roads and Rambles, (3) Little Texas Towns, (4) Classic Cars, (5) Lunch Outside, and (6) A Dog Agility Trial.

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PART THREE OF SIX – LITTLE TEXAS TOWNS

This installment includes some of the things I saw in the small towns I visited. I built time into my schedule to allow for lingering and nosing around. I passed through Saint Jo, Nocona, and Henrietta. My route took me close to (but not through) a few others, and I rode through a few “named communities” so small I don’t think of them as towns. They are more like the four-way stop “named community” I live near called “Bolivar”. I finished my tour in Wichita Falls, but for the purposes of this post, it is considered a large town.

The photo above shows my bike outside a book/antique/coffee/tea party shop in the Saint Jo square. Based on looks alone, I didn’t fit-in well in this nicely decorated space with these refined ladies who are often hosting tea parties. Good manners prevailed, I suppose, because they couldn’t have been more welcoming and kind as I pulled up a wooden chair and sipped my post-lunch coffee on a fancy cloth covered table.

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The sign you might see rolling into Saint Jo, Texas from the east. This was my lunch and coffee stop for the day. In addition, it turned out to be my opportunity to see the inside of a custom bootmaker’s shop.

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I would have been content to simply take a quick peek inside to satisfy my curiosity. But it turned out to be a conversation that was more interesting than I would have guessed.

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I learned that the owner has another shop (mainly for repair work) in Aubrey, Texas, which is just a few miles east (and across Lake Ray Roberts where I often camp) of where I live. These gentlemen were friendly and welcoming even though it was probably obvious that I was not their typical customer. I saw sample boots, scraps of leather, partially completed orders, foot tracings, and several 100-year old tools/machines. Boots start at $1500/pair, and he has a one-year backlog. I was surprised to learn that they also offer a bootmaking class, similar to some bicycle framebuilders.  After two weeks (six twelve-hour days each week), the student goes home with a pair of boots he makes himself (with help from the master, of course). They tried to persuade me to take a class, and when I see these photos, I ponder that idea.

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Speaking of boots, here is one of the first things you might see rolling into Nocona from the east. This building is abandoned now. Nocona moved their production to Fort Worth several years ago. Nocona, the town, has a rich history of producing a variety of leather products, including athletic equipment.

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Nocona was my first day’s destination. I stayed at a sort of cross between a hotel and a BnB called Red River Station Inn. It was luxurious accommodations as compared to my more routine camping overnighters. The second floor balcony was pleasant lingering place and I made multiple visits to sit a spell (and take a few photos).

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Nocona, like Saint Jo, is going through a sort of revitalization effort. They have invested in a certain area in the historic part of town, and created a pleasant place for big-city folk to come spend their money. Hotels, restaurants, antique shops, art galleries, etc.

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After walking to the northern limits of the more obvious revitalization area, I came to the end of the block, and to an interesting structure. Was it a hotel, restaurant, or BnB? No, according to the long-haired gentleman with the cowboy hat, “This is my house. Come it and take a look!” So I saw the house, it’s covered porches, fountains, and first class BBQ area. I also enjoyed a tour of a couple of his next door businesses he was proud to describe, learned more details on the Clay Street revitalization and his part in it. Nocona wants to make it easy for you to spend money in their town.

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Not a lot of early morning activity in little Texas towns.

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There is a nice gallery on Clay Street, and this is the back (alley) view. My guess is that this is the living quarters of the artist.

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Gravel road ride to Henrietta? Yes, but first coffee.

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City park on the edge of Henrietta.

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Clay County Courthouse.

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Mural, little Texas town edition.

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Chamber of Commerce.

Henrietta, at first glance, seems to have some revitalization potential, but it doesn’t seem to me that they have made the same effort as Nocona and Saint Jo. Or they haven’t been as successful. Too close to Wichita Falls? I’m not sure. I had mixed experiences in Henrietta. It was visually amusing, and they have a wonderful store called “The Pecan Shed” that was full of friendly staff and delicious food products. But I also had a weird, bad service experience at one of their restaurants.

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The cool breeze blowing through the shade under the big trees on the Courthouse lawn was wonderfully refreshing after spending several hours out in the sun. Hopefully, these folks will see what they have here, become more accommodating to visitors, and enhance their community for the benefit of their citizens. Henrietta, Texas has potential.

Next up – “Classic Cars”…

Spring 2016 Mini-Tour (2 of 6)

This is part of a six-part series documenting my spring 2016 mini-tour from my house outside of Sanger, Texas to Wichita Falls, Texas. My route consisted mainly of gravel and dirt roads, and I covered about 130 miles over 2.5 days. Although this was a “credit card tour” which included meals and lodging purchased along the way, I did bring my coffee gear and had a roadside lunch on the second day. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, there were no towns or services along my route on the second day, and secondly, I’m a coffee snob. Documentation will be mainly in the form of photographs with a few captions or comments to relay something that might have caught my interest.

The series will be presented in six themes; (1) Flora and Fauna, (2) Roads and Rambles, (3) Little Texas Towns, (4) Classic Cars, (5) Lunch Outside, and (6) A Dog Agility Trial.

WARNING – This is an extremely photo-heavy post. Do you really have time for this? Do you have a snack and a refreshing beverage in hand?

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PART TWO OF SIX – ROADS AND RAMBLES

The purpose of this post (mainly) is to document the kinds of roads I traveled, and the kinds of terrain I saw. I’d estimate that 3/4 of my roads were gravel or dirt, and the remaining 1/4 was split evenly between chipseal and asphalt or concrete paved roads. There were a few flat areas, but it was mostly mildly rolling terrain. There were a few spots that were steep enough to make me stand and rear traction was a challenge, but those hills were short.

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Miles of gravel ribbon, lined with barbed wire and contented cows.

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This post also includes plenty of photos of my Ocean Air Cycles Rambler. I have been extremely pleased with this bike. This trip included a heavier load that what I normally carry on my #coffeeoutside outings, and I was delighted how well it worked. It was even better than I had hoped. Finally, the bike shows up often because I just like images that say, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I actually DID ride my bike here.”

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The long, straight wide open roads are plenty fine for a meditative mind, but I like me a winding road with a few ups and downs to keep me constantly curious.

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The photos in this section were from the segment between Saint Jo and Nocona. What a lovely stretch that was! More hills, more turns, more trees, and I can’t remember a single car (only a few dogs).

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This is the view my handlebars see. No wonder I have a happy bicycle.

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Well…the masonry appeared to be in good shape.

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Thursday was cloudy almost all day. It threatened rain early, but never delivered. Friday, however, was all bright sunshine and I was wishing I had my straw hat.

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Right before this photo, I had learned that a bridge was out. At first, I was a bit flustered because I was relying exclusively on my pre-programmed route in my Garmin device. But it didn’t take long to find me a 5-mile detour. Just think, if the bridge-out detour hadn’t forced a re-route, I wouldn’t have this photo. Roll with it.

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Apparently independent and self-reliant country folk don’t need giant, shoulder high solid concrete railing on their bridges.

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Here’s that patch of Bluebonnets from yesterday’s post.

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Where did those shiny black cows go?

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What’s bicycle tour without a little two-track, and a sprinkling of washboard?

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I was without shade for a good while on the second day. This image is a little disappointing in that it doesn’t seem to show how much I was sweating. I was longing for a little lunch and a reasonable shade in which to partake right about this time.

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Judging from the returned cloud cover, this must start the photos from Saturday morning. There was a severe weather forecast for Wichita Falls, and I was wondering when it would swallow me. But, other than a few sprinkles, it never did.

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Occasionally, I’d be out in the middle of some vast wide open country, with no house in sight, and I’d see pens, corrals, and even bleachers. It is good to be prepared.  You never know when a rodeo might spontaneously erupt.

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When I came over this rise, I told myself, “Just ride out there to the horizon, and turn left.”

As it turned out, that is exactly what happened. There was a “T” intersection pretty much at the visual limit of that photo. Yep, left turn.

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There was a lot of green at this time of year, but that tall reddish grass was good for some variety out on the open plains.

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I like these kinds of roads because they are slower, longer, quieter, and free from billboards, fast moving automobiles, and other distractions from the landscape. And the sounds. Oh my, the sounds of the continuous rolling crunch, the bird chirps, the grass stalks rustling, and the wind whistling through barbed wire.

Next post – “Little Texas Towns”…