Tour de Vineyard at Florence, Texas
Once a year a little vineyard in Florence Texas plays host to small bike ride. The winery is one of the nicer ones that I been too. It has a small restaurant with the typical winery menu of expensive salads and mixed cheese plates. I didn’t get a chance to sample any of the food for reasons I’ll get into in the story portion below, but I did see a few delicious looking plates cross my way. For whatever it’s worth though, it did look tasty. For the same reason that I didn’t get a chance to eat the food, I also missed out on any wine. So what I’m really trying to say is that this review of the winery is pretty terrible, so I’ll just stop here.
A little about the ride though! The routes came in 15, 32, and 53 mile variants which started at the vineyard, obviously, and ran north to create a balloon shape loop. There were stops at 10, 30 and 44 mile markers, I’ll get more on that later. Each stop had, in theory, water, fruit, cookies, and PowerAid. Red, green and blue chalk marked the road with the direction you were to travel, the different colors were for the different routes. With that, the story/review!
If you want to see the TLDR version, skip to the bottom
I can’t say that I’m a fan of waking up before the sun crest the horizon, but sadly, bike rides such as these give me little decision in the matter. Shortly after taking this picture, I slithered back to the sheets while the Lady did whatever she does that takes 20 minutes in the morning. At 6:30 I forced my body up, put on the required clothing (cycling bid, t-shirt and sandals) and put the bikes on the car. When I finished The Lady came out and we were off!
The town of Florence is only about 45 minutes away. I took the slightly longer route down Palmer because I though it would be a prettier drive, it was. We arrived at the vineyard an hour before the start of the ride at 8, and parked next to the other people who had shown up early. They had a single table set up for sign-ins. I thought that wouldn’t be enough, but with the number of people who turned out to ride, one table was fine. The Lady and I picked up on ‘packets’ which included a paper map of the route and our number tag. Honestly I’m not sure what they are called.
Two things about the number. First is that I have no clue why they gave us one. The event wasn’t timed and no one on the staff was monitoring the returning riders so the purpose of this little paper still eludes me. Second, you can see from the picture that I didn’t clip down the bottom two holes. So if the wind caught my back just right the little paper would flap, providing me with a small red cape. It’s a shame I didn’t get a picture, but my shadow looked hilarious.
After we signed in we both hit the head(bathroom) only to find a long 20 minute line. Why a place that sells alcohol would only have 2 toilets… Bathroom line ride complete, we went back to the car so that I could change into my cycling clothes and the retrieve the bikes. I use a rack that attaches to the car hitch. The hitch I bought from U-Haul for 100 or so dollars. And the rack I bought at Amazon for 300 I believe.
The Lady and my bike. Mine is the one with orange wheels and blue/green bar tap.
Next I took some time to snap a few pictures.
The Lady and I
It was fairly small group of riders.
I called him the Banana Bike Man.
A little behind schedule, a woman walked out and greeted us over a loud speaker. She told us a little about the vineyard and dedicated the ride to a man who passed away. On the ride that we were about to do… This was a very obvious case of TMI and more than a few people looked visibly nervous. Anyhow she finished her speech and looked around questioningly for a couple seconds before picking up an air-horn. “Is this how I do this”, she asked before blowing the horn. People looked at each other for a second before deciding that the ride had begun.
The first stretch of the road I knew was going to be rough simply because I drove on it to get to the vineyard. By rough I mean cobble stone rough, though I must admit the humor in that the ride fee went towards road repair. Anyhow I hoped that once we got off that main road, things would improve. I was mistaken.
The Rough in the Roads
It’s a good thing that the ride fees went toward the roads because did they ever need repair. Technically most of the route was on asphalt. But it was asphalt that had to have been laid 40 years ago and then run over by an overweight tractor every hour of every day since then. To say it was bumpy would be an understate of the word. I was honestly shocked by my poor road bike didn’t rattle itself to pieces during the ride. And how I survived with getting a flat? Amazing. Some parts were of course worse than others, to the point that I had to at times decide what I wanted to be in pain, my hands or my posterior. Decisions decisions. I guess I would have been OK with the state of the roads if the organizers had bothered to inform us of them. But they didn’t. 🙁
Journey to Rest Stop 2
This was to be my longest ride to date, 53 miles, so I started at a pace that I thought I could maintain for a good 3-4 hours. As disheartening as it was to see people fly by on their expensive tri-bike with carbon wheel, and it was, I stayed the course at my lowly 15 mph pace. Tortuous and Hare. Still I managed to stay in the middle of the pack. Along the way I would stop ever now and then to snap a few pictures.
Pretty Radio Tower
Top of a hill overlooking the valley
You can kind of tell the road condition here.
The first rest stop was 9 miles in and from what I could tell, most people decided to stop. I made a decision early on to stop at each one and drink at least 1/2 a bottle of water. In this case I downed a 12oz bottle of Arctic Blast PowerAid.
After guzzling the PowerAid I set off down the road once more. The next 10 or so miles went by with incident.
I didn’t know at the time that I took this, but the woman here was going to become my buddy. She and I would rubber band passing each other throughout the race. Also, look at that road! My poor tires.
If you look back at the riding map, you’ll see that a 3 mile portion ran along HW195. To provide context before I describe the rest, my normal everyday rides run along Palmer. This is one of those weird highway/road roads. So the speed limit is 65, but you’ll find stoplights every 2-4 miles. I say this because I’m used to riding next to cars going high speeds. As never racking as it can be, you sort of get used to it.
HW195 however was a different beast. In the picture above you can see that the shoulder is in pretty bad shape, the highways should was about half that width, about 3 feet, and easily 3 times as rough. I don’t think I have ever felt more in danger cycling. I thought about hopping off and just walking the section more than once. Oh to top it off, it was all uphill. This part alone would be enough for me to give this ride a pass. Sadly, more ‘fun’ was still to come.
After doing a sort of cycling jig when I turned off the highway, the road if not smoother, became safer. The road did some winding up and around hills for another 8 miles. It also lead to the prettiest part of the route.
This was the view from a small single lane bridge. Not only was the scene gorgeous, but the bridge itself was silky smooth. (A welcome reprieve from the rough)
The other side. Traffic was a little to constant for me to hop off the bike and run to the other side, so this is the only picture I got.The next 10 to the second rest stop was more of the same, save for a wonderful 1/4 mile 8-10% grade.
From the Second to the Third
I stopped for some orange slices, of which I had exactly 1 because they ran out. Tisk Tisk ride organizers. The next 8 miles was glorious in that it was all down hill! It was a welcome reprieve from all of the climbing in the first part of the ride. Once I hit I35, things sadly went downhill but not in a happy way. In another wonderful route decision, we rode along Frontage Rd. of I35. Problem One, no shoulder, so we were taking up a lane. Problem two, the left lane was closed for construction so not only did we take up a lane, we actively blocked traffic. Problem three, it was all uphill. So we blocked traffic slowly. I actually had a truck pulling a trailer of hay come within 1 foot of hitting me. Wish I could I was exaggerating the 1 foot part.
Turning off the highway, I began the long, slow, uphill travel to the next and last rest stop.
The Last of the Third
The last rest stop, which was approximately 7 miles from the finish was out of everything but water and a couple of cookies. Tisk Tisk Tisk. You see my ridding buddy here wishing for the end. Don’t worry lady, I was right there with you. I feel like now is also a good time to bring up rest stops. Cycling can be hard. The Lady is also an avid running and compared this 53 mile ride to a 1/2 marathon in terms of effort. Having not done a marathon I can’t say if that’s true or not, so I’ll trust her judgement, but to only have 3 rest stops is ridiculous. There should be at a minimum 1 per 10-15 miles. The first to second stop had a 21 mile gap, and the second to third had a 18 mile gap. This is definitely not a case were less is more.
The race to the finish was fun and grueling. There was a good 1-2 mile stretch were the road had a 5% grade. Thankfully the last 3 miles was downhill. I finished the route in 4 hours and 18 minutes. A rather slow pace, but I was just aiming to finish. It was a slight disappointment that the ride organizers didn’t have some people at the finish cheering. It’s a petty thing I’ll admit, but hey we just rode 53 miles! A little Woot! wouldn’t hurt. 🙂
The Post in the Ride
We had originally planed to stay after the ride and enjoy the vineyard. Perhaps indulge in some much deserved wine, but the road conditions had made The Lady feel ill, so after putting the gear up we headed back for a quick shower. Following said shower we stopped at Smash Burger for a much deserved meal.
Will we be doing this ride again? No, not a chance. Hope you enjoy reading!
Terrible roads, to few fest stops, unsafe route, and staff whom didn’t see to know basic things like distance to next turn/rest stop make this ride a pass
Verdict: Skip the rideby