The What’s it
This yearly event, set up by Bicycle Sport Shop of Austin and hosted by the Real Ale Brewing Company, draws riders from all around Texas. The two companies became acquainted when Real Ale created the Fireman 4 beer. Paying homage to its Texas roots the logo for the beer included a spur. To make the tap handles the Brewery decided to use a bicycle cog as the spur. To keep making tap handles, the Brewing needed a fresh supply of cogs and so they started a relationship with Bicycle Sports Shop who the provided the cogs. And from that beginning, we have the Real Ale Ride.
Friends is a volunteer non-profit organization whom rely on membership fees and donations for funding. Those funds go toward creating and maintaining the Blanco State Park for all those who wish to come and see its beauty.
Bike Austin is an organization whom seeks to educate the public on how cycling can improve their quality of life as a form of transportation, exercise, and recreation. Their current main goal is to make cycling a safer sport through public awareness and the installation of more cycling lanes. If you’re curious how adding a bike lane to a road, and thus leaving less space for vehicles can improve traffic, here’s how New York City did it.
More than 1400 individual riders took part in the ride and at least 150 volunteers provided support for the often weary road warriors. The routes, which included a 15, 30, 50, 65 and 80, went winding through the beautiful hills south of Blanco. Those who dared the 65 and 80 were greeted with a 5600 ft climb that would test the hardiest of riders. The 30 and 50, however are not to be taken lightly as both still boast a challenging 2600 ft climb that many, myself included, found to be quite strenuous. The roads are a mixture of chipped pavement and concrete, perhaps not the smoothest ride, but nothing to complain about. The most popular distance was the 50 as it was challenging, but doable with training. The oft dreaded section starts on Crabapple Rd. The road runs between two large hills and over the course of 2 miles climbs 600 ft and includes some lovely 10-15% grades. But for those who conquer the hill a treat awaits them in the form of a 10 mile decent that starts off with a blood chilling -14% hill. If you’re curious here is the 50 mile Strava route.
Every 12-15 miles a rest stop greeted the travelers with supplies of water, cookies, electrolyte tablets, PB&J, and most importantly, oranges. Those wonderful delicious oranges. All of the stops were well equipped and not once did I see them run out of anything. The people manning the stops were friendly, often offering to hold a bike or fill a bottle. Many of them would cheer the riders in, especially at the last two stops. Truly wonderful people.
After the ride, riders could partake in the BBQ sandwich, 2 glasses of beer, a soda, and a cup of Rita’s Ice Cream. All of which was included in the registration fee. A live brand was present to provide some easy listening and the ever present Clif Bar table that seems to be at every sporting event you can imagine.
Always there…lurking…and waiting
With that, the ride!
The day started as all days involving an hour drive and 7:15 arrival time, at 5:48 am. In reality it started at 5:30, but The Lady does require a bit more time to get ready than I. So at appointed time of 5:48 I got out of bed and put on my Cycling Bib. The bikes were then loaded onto the car rack,a quick check to make sure we had everything, and finally a quick run back inside to get the thing that I forgot.(My Garmin 510).
The drive there was actually kind of fun. We would see a car here and there with a bike and wonder if they are headed to where we were going. By the time we were half way to Blanco, why, we had a small caravan of bike toting vehicles. Because of El Niño and the heavy rains it brings, the parking lot that sat across from the Real Ale Brewery was washed out. But they had a backup plan! Roughly 2 miles away was the local High School with all it’s yummy parking spots.
A fine example of my paint skills. The red block is the school and the black star is the Brewery. So we parked, got our gear all set and headed on down or rather up, to the Brewery. Thankfully there were a couple of cops at the intersection, were the solid black lines meet, to aid in traffic control. You’d be surprise/annoyed if you saw 1400 cyclist trying to make a left turn.
There was small road leading up the Brewery, complete with speed bumps to keep riders on their toes. The Brewery itself sat on the left side of the road and right was an open field were we would have parked if not for the rain. Outside an announcer was playing music and telling random bike jokes. Pretty spunky guy for 7 a.m. In theory the various distances had signs indicating where they would be starting. In reality people just hung out on the road and moved to the front when their time came to depart.(The groups left in 15 minute intervals.)
A long metal pole lined the right side of the road providing a place for riders to store their steed. With this many people though, space was a luxury that I was not afforded.
Waiting for the ride to begin.
At 8:30ish the the horn and off we went!
Up Them Hills
The various routes. I did the green, the one that makes an oddly shaped figure 8.
The weather for the day, while cloudy and ungodly humid, did not call for rain. So I guess that was a plus. But because of said humidity, I was soaking wet after an hour into the ride. The trip to the first rest stop was mostly uphill so there would be no easing into this ride. I’m not sure what the average grade was, but 3-5% was common. One spots in particular was tough. A 8-13% incline was enough to get me, and others, out of the saddle. Yes I could have done it, but since I didn’t know what would be coming up, I didn’t want to expend to much energy. In hindsight, it was a good call.
Some people rode. Some people pushed…
A nice view of the morning fog
After 15 miles I made it to the first rest stop. It seemed as though most people had skipped this one, but quite a few were still about.
I only stopped to take a few picture before once again heading down the road. By this time The Lady was long gone. Thankfully I had the company of a couple hundred other people. I departed this stop at the same time as this other couple, one of which had a small music player attached to his handlebars. It provided a welcome distraction. And speaking of music, sometime between the 2nd and 3rd rest stop, from behind me I head Miley Cyrus ‘Party in the USA’ blaring. A few seconds later just as the song ended, a rider passed me on the left. A guy. Not what I expected, but we all have odd things in our playlist. Not a second after he passed me a Taylor Swift song came on. Well, can’t say I approve of his musical taste, but more power to him!
Second rest stop with the crème de la crème of snacks. Orange slices
Shorty after the 2nd rest stop, there was 10 or so riders stopped in the road. At first I thought that something was wrong, but as I got closer it became apparent that they were looking at something. According to one of the riders, whom was also a local, the bridge hasn’t had water flowing under it in over 5 years. But today, because of all the rain, there was this.
About 1/2 a mile past the bridge I hopped off the bike to snap a few shots of the farm animals
This guy just kept starting… A bit creepy
The 2nd rest stop marked the point were you would be climbing for the next 12 miles. So climb I did, stopping every once in a while to get a few shots.
Eight miles after the 2nd rest stop, I once again found myself at the 1st rest stop. This time however I would be returning on the dreaded Crabapple Rd. I say dreaded because the road ran down the middle of two large hills and most of the time the grade was 5% or more. Two spots once again forced me off my bike. Later I learned that the first spot was a 12% grade and the 2nd was a 15%. Yikes! It should be noted that before I decided to walk the bike up, I was going slower riding than when I was walking.
Here the first hill. You can see a guy on the right zig-zagging trying to to make it up. He did. 🙂
And the second hill
At the peak of the hill was the next rest stop. About 20 ft in front of the stop 3 ladies were cheering riders onto the free food. PB&J never tasted so good in my life. I did however learn one very valuable lesson at this point. Always drink water with your food. You see, I didn’t realize that after 40 miles of panting my way up hills, that I had gotten ‘cotton mouth’. If you’ve never heard of it, it’s basically when your month is dry. And a dry month is not all that useful for swallowing food. So the short of it is that I torn up the roof of my mouth with a PB&J. Lesson learned. It was here that I also tried something new. They had these electrolyte tablets that you threw into water.I’m not sure what brand they were, but they added a little taste to the water and replenished the lost salts. Awesome stuff!
And following the rest stop, the longest and steepest hill I’ve ever ridden down.
According to my handy Garmin, I hit 45.3 mph! Woot woot! Thankfully it was all downhill to the last rest stop where this awesome volunteer was cheering me on. The next and last five miles was slow going. My energy was all but spent and it was slightly uphill. To rub some salt into my tired legs, the return route took us past the High School, and thus my car. Thankful a short 2 miles later and i was greeted by The Lady cheering at the finish line.
The After Party
As I mentioned earlier, the ride registration can with tickets for BBQ Sandwich, a soda, two beers, and some Rita’s ice cream. I didn’t partake in the beers as water was the only thing I wanted. But the brisket was very good and Rita’s was amazing!!!! I ended up purchasing a couple of shirts, mostly out of desire to be out of my sweat drenched jersey. We hung around for a little while before hopping back on our bikes for the trip back to the car.
Verdict: I look forward to next year! And this time I’ll conquer those hills!
If you want to see the rest of the photos click here
Thanks for reading!