Having been told by Frank Barrow that DeLeon hosts an annual cycling tour and that the 2010 edition was being held on the 7th of August, my friend Eric Brewster and I decided to go ride in it. Frank had hoped to join us but family matters overtook those plans so Eric and I would go it alone. On Friday afternoon Peggy and I loaded up the truck, tossed my Catrike Road in the bed and headed north from our home in Llano County to DeLeon. Eric loaded his Sun EZ-SPORT recumbent onto the rack on the back of his trusty Mustang convertible and headed west from Waxahachie to meet us in Dublin, about 15 miles south of DeLeon. We both approached the event with some trepidation as neither of us had ever done one of these organized rides before and temperatures had been topping out well over 100 degrees for a week or so. Add to those two issues, the fact that Eric had not had much time on his bike this summer and was hauling a bunch of extra weight… we were planning a cautious approach to the ride.
We met up in Dublin, as planned, checked into a hotel there, then drove up to DeLeon to get registered for the ride, so that we would not have to go way early the next morning and stand in line to get that formality out of the way. The Cycling tour is just one event in a week-long extravaganza put on by the good people of DeLeon, under the overall umbrella of the DeLeon Peach and Watermelon Festival. While we were there (Friday evening and Saturday morning!), there were Tractor Pull contests, Mini Rod pull contests, a street fair on the main drag of DeLeon, a School Reunion (especially for the class of 1943) and the Melon Patch Tour, in which we were to participate. There had already been parades and beauty pageants and no tellin’ what else, yet the people of this small, rural, town (and a good many folks from nearby towns helping out as well) handled around 400 cyclists coming to town and making their choice of 8, 18 29, 42 or 71 miles with a total of 10 rest stops, most with fluids, food (watermelon, frozen peach slices, cookies, bananas, dill pickles, shelled pecans, peanuts and various other stuff), porta-potties and shade all available for free. Each course had several SUVs or pickups cruising the route to render assistance should it be needed. At the finish there was a shower trailer supplied by the Texas Baptist Men’s service group that takes it to disaster areas to provide the chance for victims to get cleaned up. They darn near converted me just by smiling and pointing to the door to the men’s shower section after Eric and I had completed the ride! There was more fruit, snacks and fluids also available at the finish area in a booth manned by the Stephenville Kiwanis Club. There was a medic station, manned, I suspect, by a local doctor or nurse, though Eric and I happily avoided needing to go find out who was staffing that function. Volunteer firefighters stood out in the heat in their safety gear directing us through Gorman and also as we moved through DeLeon both on the way out (heading west to Duster, TX) and on the way back in heading south, from Gorman.
Everything just worked, though I suspect that few locals were not working somewhere on one of the events (oh, I forgot, there was a car/rod show going on also). The hospitality was as it should be in Texas, and the organization was extremely well done. Good Job folks of DeLeon and neighbors! Very Good Job.
Eric and I decided Friday evening that we could handle the 29 mile ride so Saturday we arose and headed back to DeLeon from our hotel in Dublin with Peggy riding shotgun to make sure we had next of kin available to the officials, should we do ourselves in. There had been some nice thunderstorms through the area Friday evening, so the temperatures were down in the middle 70s, though the humidity was a little higher than usual out this far west. We found parking places and unloaded and got up to the starting area with just a few minutes to spare. Eric and I sat
around meeting and visiting with other riders. I met a guy, older than me, who was riding a shiny new red Catrike Expedition on the 42 mile route and a lady on a TerraTrike who was going on the 29 mile route that Eric and I would be riding. While sitting waiting for the time to start, the Terratrike rider mentioned that she had undergone hip surgery in May! Unbeknownst to Eric, there was a rider somewhere in the glom, who would be riding the 42 (or was it the 71) mile route on a Rans recumbent, and who had been Eric’s roommate at a band camp at McMurry College in 1959 or there-abouts. Eric discovered him later as the old friend’s name was called out as he finished.
In this ride, there are no trophies and the organizers asked that folks on tandem bikes move up to the front and start as the first group. An effort was made to sorta casually get groups starting two minutes apart just to reduce the safety issues of having 400 cyclists heading off down the narrow streets of DeLeon in one Tour de France-class tangle of arms, legs, wheels, elbows and helmets. The second group to start were the folks doing 71 miles, then those doing 42 or 29, then I think the 18 milers and 8 milers started together. The first half mile or so was pretty bumpy, as we moved from the baseball park down a back street to make a short trip southwest on TX6 then right onto FM587 heading for Duster… about 8 miles on this leg.
There was a rest stop at Duster. Duster must have gone the way of many very small communities. There were a couple of nice farm houses and a deserted service station at the intersection with FM679. And there were 8 or 10 friendly volunteers handing out water, Gatorade, bananas, frozen peach slices, and a bunch of other goodies from the shade of the deserted service station driveway. There were also 4 or 5 shiny clean porta-potties (Eric may have tried them all). I was visiting with some folks who had a teenager and his dad riding. They were already tiring due to the rising temps.
Eric was ready to go so I told him to go ahead and that I would catch up. After waiting a couple of minutes for him to get some distance out ( part of a diabolical plot I had hatched to get him to ride a little faster ), I took off down FM679 in pursuit of Eric on the way to Gorman, TX. I had begun to worry, on the first leg of the ride, that if Eric did not get the lead out, we would be still out on the course three or four hours later when the temps were forecast to be well over 100 degrees. I knew that once he had a lead on me he would ride with all his energy to keep me from catching up before Gorman. It worked. Catching up took about 3 of the 6 miles on the FM679 leg of the course. By then we had overtaken many who had gotten to Duster well ahead of us and left rest stop#1 before we had even gotten there. Since many of those riders Eric had passed were riding conventional bikes costing thousands of dollars and were dressed in normal cycling gear, mysteriously making them a target of outrage and derision from Eric, he was not gonna slow down once I caught him. He was gonna humiliate those folks, for sure, by beating them on a recumbent, by golly! This was working even better than I had hoped. It had not occurred to me how he looks down on those who dare to wear cycling gear to ride their cycling machines and how motivated he was by trying to finish ahead of them, even though we were not actually racing. That was a windfall motivator.
Coming ripping into Gorman at around 22 mph (we averaged about 17 on that leg, after averaging a little under 10 on the first leg on similar terrain) we saw a Gorman VFD volunteer out in his black uniform with a yellow and orange safety bib, directing us through a stop sign and around a corner to head up toward the second rest stop. That man must have felt like he was trapped inside an inferno being out in that outfit with no shade. Volunteer firefighters are a special breed.
The Gorman rest stop had even more volunteers than the one at Duster. They were looking after our needs for fluid, nourishment, and encouragement very enthusiastically and successfully… those frozen peach slices were really nice! As we pulled in, a preacher of some sort pulled in to assist the other volunteers and Eric quipped to him that we really did not need “last rights”, just yet, he hoped. They had all the goodies again and even more shiny clean porta-potties for Eric to test. As the folks we had passed started arriving Eric suddenly felt inspired for us to head out again to be sure they never caught us.
The leg from Gorman back into DeLeon was on TX16. It that area TX16 has great wide shoulders ( we sure need them in Llano and Gillespie Counties! .) The leg was about 12 miles in length with one more rest stop about half way along. Like the other rest stops, this one was populated by friendly, solicitous, folks dispensing much-needed fluids, nourishment, and encouragement. As we were leaving this last rest stop we were passed by 3 riders in the hated cycling gear. It turns out they were inbound on the last leg of the 71 mile course and were obviously in MUCH better shape ( and 20+ years younger ), so once I explained that to Eric he backed off a bunch. I was sure glad I convinced him that we were just not gonna be up to humiliating those three hated wearers of actual cycling pants and jerseys, as he was starting to turn funny colors and weave around a little. It was getting rather toasty. I just did not want to have to explain to Cheri and Irene that I could not figure out a way to talk him out of burning himself up trying to humiliate those darn wearers of outrageous cycling stuff. With all the riding I have been doing, I was not suffering anything like as much as Eric was, and he had me a little worried that he had blown a gasket over those dreaded giant cyclopses in those threatening uniforms.
Anyway we backed off and cruised into the outskirts of Deleon when, lord help us, a guy on a nice road bike… yes in cycling gear… who was coming in from the 42 mile ride, passed us at a pretty good clip. All at once Eric started pedalling like a mad man, and I actually had to let my heart rate run up to almost 140 to catch back up to him as he passed that poor guy. We both blew by the very surprised looking cyclist in his nice outfit, in a pretty exciting railroad crossing and hard-right turn at high speed, and finished 15 or 20 seconds ahead of him. The look on his face was kinda funny, as Eric wobbled past… all 280 sweating, cursing, pounds of him… then I blew by in hot pursuit of Eric. The unfortunately garbed rider realized that was 2 geezers, easily 20-30 years his elders on a recumbent 2 wheeler and a Catrike that had just eaten his lunch! He almost “lost it” trying to make the turn just behind us. After we had crossed the official finsh line and our young victim came stroking in, he smiled, rode over to me and asked how fast we were going when we passed him. I told him that I was making over 25 mph (the GPS is hard to read on rough surfaces and in wild turns) as we crossed the train tracks and immediately made the hard right turn, on a reverse bank, into the last hundred yards to the finish, but that I was sure Eric was closer to 20mph, as I was catching him. He just shook his head and grinned said “Wow! I guess y’all don’t have all that much left to live for. That was pretty hairy!” I laughed and explained that we are still punching off our bucket list and that what caused the burst of speed was Eric’s outrage at being passed by someone in nice cycling gear.
Peggy had, while we were out sweating buckets, seen a prime parking spot under a tree near the finish line open up and moved the truck in right quick. Getting back and pulling up into the shade and having my “young lady” hand me a nice cold bottle of water and some almonds to munch made it all pretty nice. Then, heading over and getting that shower was even more welcome. About the time Eric and I had both showered, the folks of DeLeon announced that the spaghetti was ready and we went into the air-conditioned building where lunch was being served. We just left our machines sitting and went inside. In Dallas, Austin, Houston or San Antonio they would have been gone in 60 seconds, but not in DeLeon, Texas.
As we ate our lunch, we were joined by a couple who were in town for the school reunion. Then some of their classmates came along and we soon found ourselves surrounded by members of The Greatest Generation. As they told stories of their lives, I was reminded of my Dad and Eric’s, who both served in WW-II, in some of the same places these people had been. Thank Goodness these delightful folks were not wearing cycling gear. I am not sure we could have taken them.