Sunday, November 02, 2008

Rockin good time at Rocky Hill Ranch

Over the last couple of months we have explored trails that are south - southwest of town so we decided to explore the east side yesterday. We ventured out to Rocky Hill Ranch which is located in Smithville, about an hour + drive from Austin. There's 25 miles of mountain bike trails, a cafe, and camping. Based on what we've heard, it's basically a mountain biker's paradise where you can ride all day, camp out and ride all day again. We opted to just make a day trip out of it arriving in the early afternoon just as the day was becoming a real scorcher. Great timing. What can I say? I'm not a morning person. I like to take my time, enjoy a good breakfast and good coffee. I hate rushing on the weekends. It's the one time when I can really feel "present" in the moment. Anyway, as we were getting ready to hit the trail, we saw a group of riders finishing up their ride. They were all dressed in their race kits and talking animatedly about the course and the upcoming race and the 24 hour race that they participated in last weekend. I started to get excited - all these races means that it's a darn good course and a challenging one.

We started at the Trailhead which leads to the DropZone, Gray's Way and Fat Chuck's. We were quickly greeted with a fun descent and then a slow climb through a sea of fist sized rocks. I chose the wrong line and immediately lost traction coming to a complete stand still with a helluva lot more climb to go. There was no shade and I was faced with the awful decision of staying where I was and trying to get traction or walking my bike to a more suitable place. I chose the latter. I hate walking my bike up climbs especially on hot days. I mish mashed my way through the rocks which was not easy with my hard soled bike shoes. I finally made it to a more level area so that I could get going again and climb yet another scorching climb. The whole time I kept thinking OMG, I hope the rest of the course isn't like this, I don't think I have the fitness for it. I also kept flashing back to my race days at Tsali, NC. At Tsali, the race began with a huge climb. A climb much steeper and longer than this where the racers were quickly separated according to their climbing skills. Back then, climbing was a strength of mine and I quickly pulled in front and gained a big lead. That was not the case today. Today, my lack of fitness had me falling further and further behind Seth as he motored up the climb.

We continued on and the trail started getting really fun with longer descents, short climbs, twists, turns, singletrack, bridges, jumps. There wasn't very many "technical" sections other than a lot of loose rocks. I was also struck by the differences in the landscape. Tall pine trees with loads of pine needles covering the trail and some of the trees even boasted leaves that were orangish red. It's amazing what a difference an hour's drive makes. We are used to seeing alot of dry, desolate landscape with short squatty trees and open fields. I felt like I was back in the Piney Woods of East Texas. We ran into a group of guys enjoying a break at a watering station (no water) and they gave us insight on the best trails and how to get back to the parking area. They also told us that we could travel the trails that were marked off for the race. We followed their advice and really enjoyed Off the Lip, the Miracle Mile, Longhorn Loop and the Wall which turned out to be a huge swooping roller. Fun. We stayed on the marked race course. We didn't spot any wildlife or cows on the trails themselves but there was plenty of evidence that cows frequent the trails. Lots of cow patties!

By the time we finished the course, I was out of water, a real testament to the challenging course and the heat. I really enjoyed myself even though it took me a while to "recover" from the initial climb. We thought about grabbing a burger at the on-site cafe but neither of us were hungry so we headed back to town stopping at the gas station for some water. While there, the owner of the ranch pulled up next to us, asked us about our ride and encouraged us to come on back anytime. What a nice fella he was. Enjoy the pics of the trails and the wildflowers that I spotted along the trailhead - I didn't spot any others further in.

Off the Lip

Seth descending

Me pedaling on up

I bet you have seen this Crow Poison everywhere! Everywhere the wind blows that it is. The scientific name for it is Nothoscordum bivalve (L.) Britt. and the common name is Crow Poison or False Garlic. This little gem is from the Liliaceae (Lily Family).

This time of year there seems to be alot of yellow wildflowers. In trying to identify this one, I had to peruse through over 200 kinds of yellow flowers. Whoo! However, I was successful and discovered that this is Perityle vaseyi Coult. or Vasey's rockdaisy from the Asteraceae (Aster Family).

Not a great pic below but good enough to make an identification of this little blue Aromatic Aster otherwise known as Symphyotrichum oblongifolium (Nutt.) Nesom, Fall aster, Wild blue asterm, etc. from the Asteraceae (Aster Family)