Cleburne 400k

Texas Longhorn

Last weekend I rode a 400km brevet to complete the annual brevet series (riding separate 200, 300, 400, and 600km events). Once a series is complete the rider receives the honor of being a “Super Randonneur.”  I probably wouldn’t put my self through something like a brevet series if the word “Super” was not attached to it.

The 400km came only two weeks after riding the 600km. I had not completely recovered from both the previous ride nor the hellishly long ride report I posted afterward, though it seemed some of y’all enjoyed reading it and actually read most of it.

From the start of the ride my only goal was to get through the ride and finish the series. Randonneuring does not  offer any bonus for finishing first or having the best time. However, there are time limits that a rider must get to each “control”(check point) and complete the whole ride. The time limits tend to be on the generous side, but riding too hard from the start and then spending extra time in controls trying to recover can eat away at those limits or even worse, getting worn out to the point that one can’t continue and then receive a “DNF” (did not finish).

Out of all of the brevet participants there was only 5 of us attempting the 400km. The other members of the Lone Star Randonneurs were riding the 200km route as most of them were tapering for this weekends ultra-cycling Texas Time Trials.

Glen Rose, TX

The ride left from Cleburne, Texas at 7 a.m. The 200km and 400km would share the same route for the first 100km, and the 200km riders would turn back. The route followed some of the same roads as the Annual Tour de Goatneck. The first control was in Glen Rose, one of my favorite small Texas Towns.

Leaving Glen Rose the group began to splinter into slightly smaller groups as we made our way to the next control, Bluff Dale, TX. When we reached Bluff Dale we were greeted by another group of bikers, though they had engines on there bikes and had some sort of religious affiliation.

Burning rubber for Jesus

The 200km riders began to head back to Cleburne. Four of us went the opposite direction to continue on the 400km route. The fifth person attempting the 400 was a chap who had travelled all the way from Minneapolis. I believe his name was Ken, but I had only exchanged “hellos” with him at the start of the brevet. Ken was here to finish up his brevet series as well, though it seemed like he was also content in making this an opportunity to take in a gorgeous Texas countryside like a true cyclotouriste.

With Ken a bit behind us, I headed out with seasoned riders Debbie and Vickie, and Broc who is one of the few club members close to my age. I might be wrong, but I am fairly certain that all of us were trying to gain our “SR” award. We collectively shared the mentality that we were out here simply to get through the ride within the time limit. I was keen to ride as a small group as we were really the only ones out there. This would be beneficial if any one had a mechanical or health problem, as there would not be anyone else coming along later. Broc seemed to share the same feeling, but I think the ladies kinda expected the 2 of us young guns to shoot off at some point.

However, Broc and I both seemed eager to learn from the more experienced riders and to get to know them better personally.  In one of my previous posts I wrote about how tough the LSR members are. Debbie and Vickie are no exception to this. Debbie is a long time ultra-cyclist. She completed RAAM(Ride Across America) in 1991 in 13 days. Debbie has also completed Paris-Brest-Paris twice, and both times in 60 hours(the women’s record is 54 hours). Vickie is a little newer to long distance cycling, but equally tough. Before taking up the sport she was a rodeo trick rider. During the 600km brevet a couple weeks back she rode through very painful cramps which were then followed by severe stomach issues.

Our small group made our way to the 3rd control in Santo, TX There wasn’t a whole lot in between Bluff Dale and Santo, other than  the wide open and gorgeous Texas’ countryside. We reached Santo in good time and refueled. We took a little more time in  Santo mainly to psych ourselves up to get to our next control; Mineral Wells via none other than Cherry Pie Hill. I had nearly thrown a fit the night before when I decided to have a peak at the route map, only  notice that the route shared about 20 miles(40 if you count the return) of the 600k route I had done not more that 2 weeks prior.

During the 600k brevet Cherry and her wee sister Apple did good work to break me. They chewed me up and spat me out like a timid school boy during his first visit to a cat house. I had to basically drag myself back to Mineral Wells, using the handle bars more as a prop for myself than a way to steer my bike.

The mood began to somber as we left Santo and began to see Cherry in the distance. Debbie, Vickie and I were not looking forward to the climb. Broc didn’t quite know what he was in for, as he had only gone over Apple Pie and Cherry Pie from the other side. But we brought him down with us  by continuously saying things like “its bad, its horrible, its long, its steep.”

Approaching Cherry Pie Hill

Approaching Cherry Pie Hill

There is a slight downhill as you approach Cherry. However, its quite a bendy, narrow road so its hard to build up any speed to take with you once you start hitting the incline.  At the base/start of the hill there is a sharp turn right, and the hill basically starts right there, so the climb basically starts with nomomentum.

Right before the hill started I got a little ahead of the others. I wanted some alone time with Cherry. She may have treated me really rough the last time, but I missed her, and wanted things to be different this time.

Beginning of the Cherry Pie Hill climb

Our mid afternoon rendezvous at around 100 miles was a completely different encounter than at 355 miles during our last meeting. A little bit cloud cover gave us some privacy from the overbearing Sun.

Half way up Cherry Pie

I danced on pedals around here windy, blind curves. The sound of the chain passing along the cogs and chain ring serenaded Cherry, while the woosh of tires whispered sweet somethings to her.

View looking down Cherry Pie Hill after a successful climb

Feeling fresh, I powered through the climb with plenty of energy left at the top. Chuffed by my strong climb I sped across the slight plateau of Cherry Pie, and zoomed down the short side into Palo Pinto. I turned the corner and began to head towards Mineral Wells.

Local inmates provide the most well maintained stretch of of road between Palo Pinto and Mineral Wells

The other 3 caught up with me as we began to reach Mineral Wells, and we rolled into the next control, and turn around point, together. Mineral Wells is a very scenic little town, and I highly recommend a visit for anyone in the DFW area who is after a little weekend or day trip. It used to be a bit of resort destination in previous years, so a lot of the local architecture is quite nice and the sense of history is easily observed. The main attraction is the Baker Hotel. It has laid vacant for decades, and is said to be haunted. Though I have heard that it  was recently bought by the upscale hotelier that owns The Driskill in Austin, TX.

Baker Hotel

We had a little extended rest in Mineral Wells as it was the mid point. The route was an out and back, which is normally not as much fun(at least to me) as a looped route. Though in this case I was looking forward to the return because the roads were scenic, a different perspective would be experienced in the dark, and I would see Cherry again.

Shortly after getting back on the road, we saw Minneapolis Ken approaching Mineral Wells. A few waves and shouts of encouragement and we were steadily on our way back towards Palo Pinto.

It was much easier going over the north face of Cherry Pie Hill than the south. It was a little odd seeing Cherry so soon after that momentous climb. It was  like running into someone in the grocery store the day after a having short fling. The fast decent didn’t leave much time for conversation between Cherry and I, it was more like a quick exchange of hello’s and goodbye’s.

View after descending Cherry Pie Hill

We once again stopped in Santo, but got in and out of the control quickly as we had a longer stop in Mineral Wells. We also needed to get back to Bluff Dale before 10pm. The control time limit was open much longer than that, but the actual convenience store that the control was located shut at 10. If we missed the store we would not able to get more fuel/supplies for about 60 miles.

Luckily we made it in by 9:30 pm, and that included changing a flat on Debbie’s bike after a snake bite puncture crossing some nasty railroad tracks.

By this point it was getting dark, so we had out lights and reflectors on. We all felt good getting into Bluff Dale, but upon leaving the town, the road got pretty hilly on the way to Glen Rose.

Debbie and Vickie leading the young yins

I believe it was just before midnight when we arrived in Glen Rose, but my sense of time had evaporated by this point and lack of time-telling device makes it a bit hard to say. Though we felt good in Bluff Dale, it would be fair to say that our collective energy was beginning to diminish.

We left Glen Rose and were now on the last but longest leg of the brevet. It was roughly 37 miles back to Cleburne. We rode on some of the same roads, or should I say climbed the same hills, as the Texas Time Trials course. We then climbed the brutal Goat neck hill.

Vickie knew the last stretch of roads by heart as she has rode them countless times. The rest of us were perfectly content with riding behind and following her lead. The last leg had the most amount of turns than the other sections. Some of were more difficult than others, especially the ones that said “Easy to miss” on the cue sheet.

Gallus Shadow

We were all exhausted by this point but in high spirits. And let me tell you, the bright lights of tiny Cleburne had never looked so wonderful when they began to appear in the horizon. We made our last turn onto Nolan River Road and took it all the way back into town. We reached the last control at 3:05 am, 20 hours and 5 minutes after starting. Broc waited for his wife to pick him up, and the rest of us packed up. I was eager to get to bed, so got everything loaded quickly, said my goodbye’s and thank you’s to Debbie and Vickie, and headed back to Fort Worth.

It was a great ride, and it was a pleasure to get to know the others better. Though I wasn’t looking forward to it, it was fun riding over Cherry Pie Hill again and seeing this part of Texas some more. I highly recommend heading out to these roads for some nice country riding that isn’t too far from home.

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