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Texas Hill County 2012

‘Haulin arse n suckin gas’

My trip started in Washington DC

Met Mark at the hotel and had a swift drink to relax after the airport. M somewhat outpaced my one bottle with his 5 and a vodka chaser (plus whatever he had before I arrived), he then went to rest his liver for half an hour before we went out. The usual theme, he was 30 mins late.

When we were in the old 33 High Holborn office, I won a United Airlines promotional competition and got a USD$100 voucher for the Legal Seafoods restaurant chain. As I had always been on my own in cities, I had never used it. Strange chap Mark, so very confident and always negotiating deals and knocking down prices, but he was dead embarrassed for me to even ask if my 15-year-old voucher was valid. I was quite happy, as it didn’t have validity and the voucher was numbered too. I asked and they said yes it was OK, at that point Mark came out from hiding behind the pillar, the big baby. Mark’s notorious double whammy of scallops for a starter and main, was avoided this time and we had a great meal with some margaritas. The total was USD114, Mark paid the difference. The waitress almost wet herself when we told her how old it was as we left.

It was a balmy evening so we went a block up the road to the Monaco Hotel, whose central courtyard is an open-air bar, with nice music, and plants, quite busy and flood-lit, it was a smashing way to spend an hour. Met a chap from their environmental agency, whose responsibility is lead paint, he was rather tipsy and seem to think the UK was covered in the stuff, it was too bizarre to discuss or change his view.

The next morning – Oops found that I had forgotten the bottom half of my business suit, so went out a bit more casually than planned in grey jeans.

Friday morning had me wandering around the Hyatt lobby asking ladies with glasses if they were my client. In return, plenty of people came up to me too, but we still managed to miss each other, or was she hiding? Wasn’t wasted, I did meet another client of mine.

Mary would have been proud, I took the bus to Georgetown USD$1/way. Walked up the hill and the further from the main street you go, the fewer chain shops there were. I came across a cluster that was focused on outfitting for ‘proms’, there was some outrageous kit and not a scrap of natural fibre in sight. Women you could expect to be a bit OTT, but I am sure some would have made even a hooker blush. The men’s version of a tux-come-shell suit with matching diamante trainers was a fashion crime.

Towards the top of the hill is the famous P Street, a residential area with the original houses, it was charming, clapper board houses and very leafy, all of them immaculate. The gardens were open that day so there was a carnival atmosphere.

It was so hot and sticky, I needed a few smoothies to keep me going. Picked up Giuseppe’s IPAD as soon as the store opened, it felt strange so empty of customers, just blue shirts looking at me, spooky geeks (which Brian told me started off as the term used at travelling circuses in the USA, they are the men that bit the heads off the chickens).
While waiting to cross the road there was a black dude next to me all in white, with one of those baseball hats with the straight brim that you want to grab and bend. Clearly, a pair of white flip-flops would finish off the outfit, but there is the age-old problem of how to deal with socks (white obviously) and flip-flops. The easy option is to jam your foot in forcing the sock between your pinkies, but not the comfiest unless you get those strange Jap socks. This sophisticated player went for an all-new angle, he swivelled his feet to the outside, therefore, avoiding the uncomfortable ‘FF jam’, but it did require him to shuffle along, showing some fine foot dexterity and curious likeness to a penguin. The twit, why not get sliders?

Another bargain was taking the Metro to the National (city) airport it was very simple. Although I needed a lot of help with the ticket machine, it was information overload. It was only USD$1.85 but somewhat negated by the 5 block walk needed from the hotel dragging my bags in the very sticky heat. I was gasping at the end of it. The amount I saved I blew on changing the flight to an earlier one. Despite my techno breakdown at the Metro station, I achieved the change all by myself at the automated check-in for USD$75

So I flew a few hours earlier to San Antonio that evening via Dallas, I had a very tight connection 45 mins, but we arrived 30mins early which was no mean feat and left me with a relaxed connection.
On boarding the next flight I had an aisle, where there were just two seats together. In the window was an anxious-looking woman with her hand luggage on her lap. Despite my friendliest grin and good evening, she stayed tense. Once I was settled down with my bike mag, she asked if I would take the window, so she could be across the aisle from her friend. I said yes and with that, she started to clamber over me, I had no chance to unbuckle. It was like some booze-fuelled game at an Ibiza night club, lots of bum in the face etc. Once I had slid across to the window, I soon realised why she was anxious and swift in her exit. She wasn’t being 100 per cent true in what she had said. At that point, I saw her slip across the aisle and a dark shadow loom over me. Hagrid’s long-lost sister attempted to come into land next to me, which required the armrest raising and a shimmy of her hips to wedge herself between me and the aisle armrest. She was HUGE and my eye was about shoulder level. She was actually a
very nice lady over from the Virgin Islands for a conference. Thank heavens it was only a 45min hop.

Met Mark and Brian in the bar, the former was experimenting with an apple martini as he has seen it on TV, much to our amusement as it was horrid in so many ways. They’d already had already dinner with the rest of the group on the waterside but said it was too hot and humid to sit out even in the evenings. All the others had gone to bed early.

I had booked us into the Menger Hotel a grand old pile next to the Alamo. The price was very good so had expected a very tired hotel, but it was not, a few bits in the bathroom could do with looking at, but if it had a slick decor it could command 5x the price. Lots of memorabilia and a resident who was slightly mad, they sat most of the time in one of the corridors and collected cans.

At 4 am I was woken by the crash of thunder and the most enormous thunderstorm with rain lashing again my window, not very encouraging for the coming day’s ride.

That morning, the recently formed big n bad chapter of Kaballa Reunion Riders was assembled in San Antonio. The group was uncomfortably large for us, with 8 riders. We all congregated ready to go on Sunday morning at 1030am by the bikes, which were left under the hotel’s portico, so they had been protected from the storm that night. When I say WE all congregated, I obviously I didn’t mean Mark he seemed to be late (er hem).

From the Utah run, we had our Road Captain Warren (Reno Air Races) and his brother Brian (ex-army chopper pilot, now flies for a water park operator). Others – Warren’s wife Barbara (who was the teacher when Mark learned to fly 15+ years ago and is a captain flying around the west). New Jersey Brian who started it all with the Catskill’s Kabbala ride with Mark and me. The last two were friends of Barb and Warren from their Denver chapter of HOG (Harley Owners Group). Larry was in his 60’s and spent every moment in Harley decorated kit, looked dead mean and grumpy but was a mild and delightfully friendly chap. A lifetime devotee of Dairy Queen and with the 100-degree heat meant we stuck our head in every day for some shakes and ice cream, yum yum. A forklift had rolled on him 20 years ago, so has weak legs. As they had driven for 3 days to get to An Antonio, he came on a Harley trike, that almost had more adornments than him. What a blooming great thing it was loaded to the gunnels. His wife was a Mexican called Maria of roughly the same age and was a great friend of Barb, they giggled and laughed all the time. Apart from Maria the lot of them were bright red and burnt to a cinder from their ride south, none had heard of sun cream. We all had our own bikes to ride.

Mark arrived about 15mins late with his bags for the bike, then had to go back to check out and leave his main case with the bellhop. As he left he said, “I’ve lost my keys to the bike” and started to panic, with lots of rolling eyes and heavy sighs from the rest of us.  We said check your bags, he said no, I had them in my jeans pocket they must have fallen out. I followed him in, checking the floor and asking reception while he went to get his main case from the room. No joy, but it was funny to see other guests also looking around the floor, not that they knew what I was looking for. It was uncomfortably hot and very stick in kevlar jeans, so everyone was getting a bit grumpy with Mark (as usual). As he has not returned for a while, I decided to look in his bags. I had bought in the UK Harley bag liners that were shaped to fit the hard panniers; I wish we had done it a few trips ago. As you know in the UK before you leave, what will fit and then on the trip, grab them to take in and out of the hotels very easily.

In opening the lid there were the keys on the top. We had decided to wind him up about this, but he was so long coming we sent a text. Rapidly all goodwill expired as he fluffed around. Brian’s sister had come down for the weekend and they were seeing us off. We then started the bikes and began to manoeuvre them out, they had been packed in tightly. The noise and heat in the confined space were like purgatory. Then Marias’ bike just stopped and wouldn’t start. We three were trapped behind, our bikes were quite new and almost impossible to get back into neutral, so we kept squeezing the clutch, getting hot and deafer as the clock ticked on. Larry and Warren started to fiddle with Maria’s bike, so we eventually shut down. The short-run had created enough heat to start to boil us good n proper. Mark and I had our jackets on (others rode in T-shirts = scary to me) and with helmets on and no breeze it was unbearable, Arrrr let us out, we were trapped! They eventually got it going and we moved out an hour late.

At that point, it has stopped raining, but there was a huge amount of water and it was very cloudy. Having been held up and sweating like a racehorse it was not the best start.

Before we left, to our amazement Warren went through a load of hand signals we were expected to pass down the line of bikes, but after about the sixth signal (for road kill) I drifted off. I wasn’t about to remember half of them and was planning on using the indicators most of the time anyway. There was a good bit of advice on the bits of truck tyres in the road they call gators because if you touch them the tail end will whip round and git yer!

The first leg was about an hour and a half, much of it along the freeway and in Warren’s prescribed formation it was a pretty boring slog. We stopped at what was called ‘Texas worst BBQ’. It was a gas station and BBQ, about as far away from the BP and Marks and Spencer petrol stations as you can get. It was great but HOT. You lined up in a tin shed and there was a long counter manned by dozens of people shouting out orders. Behind was an army of people chopping meat or working on piles of onions. You were given a coke bottle crate which they dumped in paper trays with the food. I had creamed corn (yum); potato salad; 1/4 pound of lean brisket, half a banger and two slices of unbuttered Mother’s Pride, I also got a free slice of turkey. To try to quench a monster’s thirst, I had a bottle of mountain dew and like the others drank it while in the line, with a bottle of water to eat with. We sat under a tin roof in the shade watching the cars come into the gas station and gloating over the gleaming line of bikes, with their own heat haze. The cracking view was shared by many other diners too it was very popular. The food was fantastic. Sounds dead rough, but was great and you couldn’t have got a more authentic Texan place to eat. It also gave us a chance to get to know each other more. With the fluid intake, we all felt better.

When filling up my camelback I found it was all mouldy in the pipe and I had clearly not drained it correctly the last time. So I had to buy some false teeth tablets to clean it out, but it was unsuccessful and I had to leave it to work on at the next overnight, I really wish I had it.

We had a pleasant ride into the country, but Warren said he would be driving at the speed limit. He may have been but the rest of us seemed to be 10-20 mph under, Mark, Brian and I were very frustrated. In the Catskills, Chris had been the opposite and we had to strain and focus on playing catch up with him. We stopped at a motorbike museum which had a couple of Harleys and Indians but loads of British bikes including a Vincent Black Shadow; a Borough Superior; a 1939 AJS and many other Nortons and Triumphs etc. It was a nice rest stop and once again huge volumes of fluid were drunk. The old chap who ran the museum still rode the bikes.

There had been a mix-up with what bikes Mark and I had ordered to rent, as there had been a crash and we couldn’t have the Street Glides we booked. We both now had Road Glides, a design based on a good thrashing with the ugly stick. Despite this we actually liked them a lot, the faring was fixed to the frame and not forks so was lighter to steer when manoeuvring slowly and in a crosswind. Being fashionistas that we are, we had short windscreens of 3 inches, which gave a good breeze, but the airflow with me was wrong as it kept flipping my visor down. Causing an instant greenhouse effect, that had me gasping. In the end, I had to remove the clear visor from my helmet; stored it in a pannier and had this flip front up, making it a more bearable ride.

The next leg was quite twisty, pleasant and not that technical or difficult. Some sharp u bends needing you to turn at 20mph and one very steep one with a 10mph sign. Once again the overriding feeling could have been more enjoyable if the ride was faster and not so regimented. Overnight was in Leakey at a motorbike or cycles-only motel. Pre-warned from the internet that the women owner was barking mad much of the time, but we only found her mildly eccentric. The place was charming with cottages clustered among the trees and motorbikes sitting outside each one, the decor was very nice too, an impressive place. I was in one of the hotel rooms and not a cottage like the others. Much to the amusement of the others, a couple of bikes turned up with matching his and hers white Harleys and were next door to me. They looked big n meaty and gave off the air of not to be messed with. Bare arms, no helmet, and lots of leather and tattoos, but like Larry, they turned out to be a cheerful regular couple, who like their biker image. I must say on closer inspection, the bikes looked rather middle class and twee in spotless white. They had a 4×4 and trailer round the back that they had driven the bikes here on. It turns out, quite a few at that place had done the same too. No bar etc so had to go out to a gas station for a huge bag of ice; beer; water; subways and pizza. The motel provided massive cool boxes to dump the drinks in.

They had a tin roof shelter over the picnic table where we spent the evening. The white bike couple joined us and had a BBQ using a massive iron BBQ that looked like Stephenson’s Rocket with a tall chimney. Brian the chopper pilot was a funny bloke, he has a bad back so limps a lot; uses that tobacco you jam a ball between the inside of your lip and gum them spit out like Rosco P Coaltrain. He also was trying to convince us with Warren’s help, why everyone should have a gun. Us three didn’t agree but obviously didn’t to get into an argument with them on the subject. They played a dice game called Left Right Centre, you pass coins left right or centre, it looked fun but Barb and Maria were obsessed with it. Most of us were very tired and left for bed at about 10 having seen a great sunset. I am glad I didn’t stay, I had taken a few mozzy hits as it was. In unpacking found the queen’s diamond jubilee union jacks I got from Sainsbury’s, so set about with cable ties to attach them to our two bikes.

In the morning we found lots of unused beer and water bottles left over, so put them in bin bags with lots of ice in Brian’s panniers. later that evening when we finished for the day there was no sign of ice. You could easily have cooked a fish in them, the water was almost too hot to put your hand in. A combo of 100-degree sunshine on black fibreglass panniers and running underneath the tailpipes from a 1800cc V twin I suspect was the cause.

Breakfast was plastic eggs at Subway. Then after about 20 mins, our first stop was at a biker’s place, with a bar; restaurant and T-shirt shop offering many things emblazoned with ‘I rode the wicked sisters’. These are the famous ranch roads we had come to ride. One of which was yesterday, quite twisty and quite nice but dull in convoy.

Once we left it was on to RR335 and there was a transformation with both the type of road and Warren. I was getting frustrated behind the trike which seemed to be ok but was clearly sluggish uphill, so had overtaken Mark and Brian firing off a few rude gestures as I passed and slotted in at position three.

The road became more twisty and Warren faster, it was a very enjoyable run. Much of the time with small rocky hills to our left and a river gorge to the right. It then changed to a peculiar terrain like a roller-coaster. There were lots and lots and lots of small hills. The road went up and down within a very short distance. We ended up with a bike at the peak and one in the dip with another at the peak. You could accelerate and roar up the hill as if you were taking off from an aircraft carrier and as you came to the top up popped the bike two ahead, it was almost like ballet and at this point, it was fun being a big group. No idea how long it lasted, but there were bursts of 10 more hills in 3-4 sections, RR335 took about an hour and a half. You could see the huge Turkey Buzzards that look like vultures way off. There was a real pong of dead animals as we passed. Along one road a small dead deer (dog-sized) was in the middle of our lane, with a lot of these birds on the road, I assume it was fresh as they were very reluctant to move until the last moment with warren honking furiously, nothing coming the other way so our bikes scattered wide either side of the body.

After coming off the Ranch Road we were on a deserted main highway and Warren whipped up the speed too much more of what we liked. The sun was shining; I had my camelback with ice water; my i-pod hooked up to the bike’s radio, with some nice curves and at a reasonable speed, at that point, all was right in my world. Larry directed us to a dairy queen, having also topped up the bike with half a tank of fuel for 9 dollars, about 150 miles. Much to our amusement, the DQ staff area a hopeless shower as various shakes of ours had been given to others. There was a fair bit of tension with the others, they had ordered ages before us, while we scoffed our frozen hot chocolate (that doesn’t sound right but I am sure that’s what they called them.

Another fast run into Fredericksburg, the home town of Admiral Nimitz. Arrived about 4 pm, so a good hearty 7-hour run on unusual but enjoyable roads. Now that’s what we had come for, yes sireeeee.

Went for a splash in the poolette, brrr. Rather chilly and with very ominous dark clouds ahead. Brian bad back/chopper pilot (who had just become a dad 11 months ago) bought a massive fat bottle of Jim Bean which the yanks were all gulping down while bathing. He was a little distracted while in the pool and realised after about 10 minutes he still had his iPhone in his pocket! In the end, we went in as it was getting chilly. Bikes were herring boned under the canopy as the rain storm arrived. Trees were bending and Malteser-sized hail stones bounced off the ground to tinkle against the bikes. We three couldn’t face any more takeaway pizza, so got a cab into town to a microbrewery, with Mark deciding to drink rather than eat and Brian who was rather loud already from the Jim Bean. We came across a mid 50’s couple from Southampton on a 6-month 30,000-mile round trip of America. He had done it alone in 2008 and had now shipped his triumph back with a trike for her and were doing it again. Started in April and had done 16 states so far. Also met a young couple on their first anniversary riding on his Harley. All she talked about was wanting babies NOW! Due to the rather scary and abrupt barman, we went to another bar, it was still raining. In the other bar it was a nice evening with a mixed crowd. Brian was out of his tree when I left them both at 1230 and got a cab back in the rain. Neither of them was sure when they returned.

I was up early the next morning to find suitable rain gear for the ride back to San Antonio for me, Mark and Brian. At the local strip mall, I found matt black rubber fishing gear, an oversized rubber jacket and trousers. The locals all headed off in various directions with Mark and Brian as usual up late, which was a problem as the forecast was worse later on. I had memorised the route to San Antonio and was excepting the other chaps to direct us to Eagle Rider as I hadn’t been there to collect the bikes. It took about three hours and it was torrential rain the whole way. At least being in front you have a better idea of what’s going on with the spray, trucks and standing water, which added to the nervous ride. We must have sailed past Eagle Rider having entered San Antonio, which then took some time to get back the way we have come. In the taxi to San Antonio, Brian showed is his hands, and the drenched leather gloves and stained them black. That night Mark felt ill, so Brian went for a steak dinner, Brian chose a $100 Kobi steak and massive prices bottle of wine, the bill was split in half and he didn’t suggest paying more for his portion. I had already had an argument earlier in the trip with them both about splitting bar bills, me having a couple of beers and they having numerous cocktails. This was clearly Brian punishing me and I felt (and still do) stupid for being weak and not complaining. They also didn’t pay me for the rain gear. Mark has always been like this at the bar, but it’s reached an extreme. I’ll not put myself in that position again. It’s also put me off wanting to ride with him again.

Texas Hill Country is an area of America I would not have even considered, the riding was interesting, but could have been so much better if the group was smaller and not so regimented. I am thankful for the planning and it was really nice to get to know the others, but not again for THC or larger group riding.