A few days ago, Peggy and I took the truck out and scouted an area in western Llano County for additional great rides. WOW! We hit pay-dirt!
Eight or ten years ago the old town of Castell, sitting on the south bank of the Llano River about 18 miles west of the Llano town square was essentially a ghost town. Today it still has some of the flavor of a ghost town but has become home to a number of Bed and Breakfasts and the old Castell General Store has reopened, mostly as a rural Texas-style watering hole/eatery/community gathering spot / hub of social activity and partly as a kicked back destination for the few city slickers who have found it. The drive out to Castell, on Ranch Road (RR) 152 was hilly and really pretty with lots of views of the crystal clear Llano River flowing a little ways north of the highway. We also discovered some smaller roads with even better scenery, but no pavement, on the north side of the river. Soooo…. I decided to screw my courage to the sticking place and make the 37 mile round trip from the Llano Courthouse to Castell. Though I have been building up for long rides, I have not made a ride over 20 miles in a couple of years, so this was gonna be interesting, and maybe painful.
I elected to stick to the main road and not over-do my over-doing. But… in this ride report I will use some pictures taken just off RR152 and describe a little of what we observed when we scouted the side-roads in the truck. This way readers can see what awaits them if they are willing to push just a little harder than I was ready to do this week. An additional motivation for not taking the more scenic route was that I had, by then, heard that the folks at the General Store make great hamburgers on Thursdays and Fridays from 11am to 2pm. Time was tight to get there and still have a shot at trying one of the burgers, so… no side trips for sure!
While I started from the Courthouse in Llano, it may be smarter, especially on weekends, to drive west about a mile out RR152 and unload your bikes at Robinson Park where parking is less likely to be an issue. There are also public “facilities” to allow preparation for an “urgency-free” ride to Castell which is the next “facilities rich environment”.
Cranking out the west side of Llano, TX on RR152 the ride immediately becomes an up/down affair.
The ups are not bad, as I was able to make the whole distance without ever dropping down to the small ring up front and the downs made the ride go much quicker with it being easy to hit 20-25 for short periods. There are a couple of almost right-angle turns that felt a little tight as I hit them at 25, but they were nothing remotely like what I experienced in the earlier report on riding from Inks Lake State Park to Longhorn Caverns State park and back on my Catrike. There are now some noticeable patches of wild-flowers in bloom, though it looks like the show will be really “on” next week (14-21 March). If our temperatures stay in the ’70s and ’80s and we get a little rain every week or so, the wildflowers can last well into June, though the mix of what is at its peak changes from time to time.
About 9 miles out of Llano, County Road (CR) 102 takes off to the north toward the Llano River (which is just out of sight along there). If you have time, you can either ride down that road to the Llano River to enjoy the scene before returning to RR152 and
proceeding west towards Castell, or you can ride the low water crossing (if the water is
really low) across (it is about 100 yards long and one pickup wide) and take county roads to the west on the north side of the river. If you go across and take the county roads down to Castell, they are dirt roads mostly made of decomposed granite material with a large number of cattle guards and low water crossings on tributaries of the Llano. These roads are very rideable on a trike or mountain bike, but I would not take a road bike that way without a broom-wagon with lots of spare tires and wheels, and maybe a box of band-aids. And, from driving them in the truck, I can attest to this route being VERY scenic. It is also a couple of miles longer than going via RR152.
Resuming my westward trek on RR152 in search of a Castell General Store hamburger (and a Lone Star Longneck), the ride was a real treat. There was little traffic and what there was, was more curious about what the heck that thingy on the road was than anything else. A couple of cars passed with much multi-fingered waving ( I have still never had anyone wave at me in Llano County with fewer than two fingers!) and turned out to be also on a mission to get a burger at that store. More on them and the burgers later. After one hour and forty minutes I cruised up and stopped next to the picnic tables just off the porch of the Castell General Store, to the astonishment, and subsequent hilarity of some bikers whose Harley’s I parked by. They had never seen a Catrike before. The laughter and interest were not the sort that one might encounter from Harley Bikers in California. This was the Texas Hill Country and I have learned that, around here, most Harley riders with ponytails turn out to be bankers or lawyers with artificial ponytails. Whatever they were, they were not Bandidos and they were very friendly. One of the ladies in the group wanted a picture of me on my contraption as soon as she was able to stop laughing.
Peggy had driven out ahead of me and had already ordered burgers, which were ready about 5 minutes after I arrived. These were serious burgers, but not because they were big, though they were big. They were made with the recognizable parts of the cow, not the ground up nose, horns and hooves that I am convinced some of the big chains use in order to claim 100% beef patties go into their products. I got to meet the ladies who operate the feedery side of the store, Karen and Wendy. They were delightful and gave off signals of commitment to the quality of their products that Dr. Deming would have been pleased to see. Add that Lone Star I had secured and I was a happy camper.
The apparent main man of the establishment, Randy Leifeste, wandered over and joined us, at which time Peggy asked about his last name and commented that she had a choir teacher of that last name at Bellaire High School in Houston, at which point Randy said, “Lucille… Lucille Leifeste, a lot of people ask about her and yes she was a relative.” Hummm, small world. Then a few minutes later, when Randy said he had lived in Horseshoe Bay for several years, I asked if he knew Gil Jones, a highschool class mate of mine from Big Spring (but I did not tell him that Gil was from Big Spring). He knew Gil (and Gil’s Dad as well) and asked if I knew… and he rattled off a bunch of people from Big Spring, several of whom were in high school around the same time Gil and I were. Really small world.
We sat around in the shade and visited with “regulars” and others who were, like ourselves, newcomers to Castell. It truly felt like sitting around my grandparent’s place in the summers back in the ’50s out in west Texas as various friends and relatives would turn up and visit for a while, start a game of dominoes or 42 (which always struck me as being as incomprehensible as Cricket) and sit around visiting all the while. A couple of locals who live right on the river invited us to stop by and swim in the river at their place any time we wanted… and they did so without any mention of needing to sign any waivers of liability or any of the other cultural scourges of American Urban Life.
Castell is coming back and Peggy and I will be coming back to Castell. While I was recovering from that hamburger a couple engaged Peggy and me in conversation. It turned out they are from Kansas and organize “Social Rides” of several hundred miles, made in sixty-mile-a-day segments. They are staying in the RV park at Robinson Park in Llano for a few days and invited me to come ride back out to Castell with them Saturday morning… which I missed since I was up most of the night working on this post. It turns out that brisket is served on Saturdays at the Castell General Store… didn’t want to miss that but I was still unconscious… maybe next week! I keep thinking about those sixty miles a day rides and they call them social rides! Sixty miles a day for days on end… even on my wonderfully comfortable and pretty zippy Catrike would leave me able to do a “social moan” by the third day. Those Jayhawks are of tough stock!
Today there are 10 or 11 B&Bs and a vineyard is going in down the street from the Castell General Store. In the summer the folks at the store will not only supply a cold beverage, feed you and amuse you, they will also rent you a kayak for use in the river. This summer, you can bet that I will ride back out there, rent a kayak and spend a few hours cooling off in the river, then head back home to Lake Buchanan about 18 miles the other side of Llano. By late June it will be best to ride out in the cool of the morning, then ride back home after 6pm when the temperature drops from “Like the Molten Core of the Sun” to merely “Hotter’n the Hinges of Hell”)
Having slaked my thirst and loaded up on proteins as well as carbs, I mounted my trusty Catrike and headed back east toward Llano. A cold front had moved through, bringing stiff winds out of the west-northwest. I had fair winds and following seas, so to speak. The return trip took only one hour and twenty-nine minutes, a solid eleven minutes less than the trip out. Most of that quickness was due to the wind and some was due to the overall descent of a few tens of feet over the 18.5 miles. Upon arriving back at the truck and loading up, I looked at the data off my heart rate monitor and found that I had ridden three hours and nine minutes, with a max heart rate of 144 and an average of 125 and burned an estimated 2122 calories. I am not sure how much of that 2122 calories was offset by that killer burger and Lone Star, but life was clearly good for a man cycling on a Catrike in western Llano County. Now I know I can handle longer rides and will be doing more exploring of the rural county roads of western Llano County.
And I know a man who has “the goods” on my friend Gil.
Comments and suggestions on this post and others on my blog about Cycling, Sailing and Surviving in the Texas Hill Country are welcome. I invite readers to contact me if you would like to have an adventure and come ride some of these roads with me. The terrain and scenery are varied and the next three months are the best time of year for cycling in this part of Texas, so drop me a line and let’s go riding!
An important note. If you are going to ride out to Castell for a burger on a Friday, it is wise to call ahead and reserve some meat patties. They run out and you can miss out entirely!