- Posted by Jan
- On April 3, 2017
- 11 Comments
Bob Lee suggested to Jan that when someone came out to ride with him in his past rides he invited them to write about their experience, so this is my attempt to share what it was like to spend a week with Jan on his journey.
Like most of you reading this, I have been vicariously experiencing Jan’s journey through his blog. This past week was my opportunity, along with my husband Ed and Jan’s two brothers Ron and Pelle, to ride along side Jan and experience a week on the Southern Tier.
After a 17 hour drive with 4 bikes on a rack and a Suburban full of camping gear and car snacks, we met up with Jan in Johnson City, Texas. Johnson City is located in the Texas Hill Country approximately 46 miles west of Austin. It was the homestead of President Lyndon Johnson.The area was settled by Germans in 1847 with the help of a treaty with the Comanches in the region. It is a common day trip destination from Austin.
Jan was already checked into the roadside motel when we arrived and had just finished cleaning up from his sixty mile ride that day. My first impressions, as I saw Jan for the first time after 6 weeks of riding was,” Oh my God, how much weight have you lost?” After some hugs and unpacking, Jan mentioned he met a fellow rider biking the Southern Tier east to west from Switzerland and could we invite him along to dinner with our family. And so we met Peter. We enjoyed hearing Jan and Peter share their experiences so far, coming from different directions. We ate a great BBQ and made a toast to both of them making it to their halfway point, give or take a few miles. Peter, as it turns out is quite an accomplished rider and has toured with his bike all over the world.
The next morning we had a donut and coffee with Peter and then parted ways. Peter if you are reading this, I hope your journey is going well.
Johnson City to Austin, TX (46 miles)
The plan today is to bike from Johnson City to Austin. I volunteered to crew, which translates to driving the truck. After a few miles into this 46 mile ride, I realize why they call this area Texas Hill Country. It is full of wildflowers, long horns and mountain vistas. I so enjoy the many views and the Blue Bonnets that are in full bloom. I also must admit, I take great joy in watching my boys and husband ride together. They are not only out there enjoying their time on bikes, but also supporting Jan. The key moment of the day is where the road was washed out and Peter, having come from the east, forewarned us of this rather dangerous spot. All but Ron, took the precaution to dismount and walk across. We soon arrived in Austin and went to Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop. A big thanks to John who managed to replace Jan’s rear rim which was cracked at every spoke due to weight from panniers and 1,500 miles of biking.
In the evening we ate dinner and caught up with Ryan Woodlock who studies in Austin and Rohan Mathur a friend of Ron’s.
Austin to La Grange, TX (83 miles)
Top of the morning and we are back at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop picking up Jan’s bike. After a good cup of coffee and a scone at the connected coffee shop we are on the road and this time I am on my bike riding with Jan. Initially, I suggest we avoid the traffic and drive out of Austin, but I was shot down by the group. As we bike out of Austin I view the city from the seat of my bike. Jan leads us through various neighborhoods and you can see old mixed with new and the gentrification of different areas. We find ourselves having lunch in a town called Bastrop,Texas. This place could be a backdrop for an old western movie. The food at the local Main Street Cafe is fantastic. We soon are on our bikes again and riding through Bastrop State Park and Buescher State Park. Bastrop State Park experienced a wildfire in 2011, a flood in 2015 and a Hidden Pines Fire in 2015. The park is recovering and there are still a few Houston Toads which are an endangered species.
At this point I need to share with you what it means when you see FR as in FR153. FR means Farm Road, which translates to a biker as chip seal shoulders. For a mother of four, this means a sore bottom and multiple reasons to find a place to relieve oneself.
At the end of an eighty three mile ride we find ourselves in La Grange, Texas. I confess I was pulled and put in the truck at sixty miles so Jan could get to destination before we ran out of daylight.
LaGrange is a great town with a lovely town square. The location is close to the Colorado, River, and if not for an overpass with pretty constant traffic we would of tented in the park for the night. We ate a truly delicious dinner at the local bistro. Hanks Express is run by a retired local nurse and offers a fantastic breakfast of quick bites and coffee.
LaGrange to Navasota, TX (65 miles)
At breakfast I may have heard mention of the Marburger Farm Antique Show and what a big event it was by the locals, but apparently it went in one ear and out the other. Little did we realize when we saddled up that morning that we would encounter back to back traffic on this small farm road towards Round Top, Texas. I am sure my husband, crewing and in the truck, was happy I was on the bike to avoid miles and miles of purchasing opportunities of these rare and unique items.
We ate a picnic lunch in Burton, which happens to have a Cotton Gin Museum. We soon were back on the road and I enjoyed passing several ranches and watching the 50 heads or so of cattle follow me as I biked pass them. Jan has a way of passing time by listening to music or audio books and he has most certainly found a rhythm that works for him. Independence General Store (a.k.a. W. C. Lueckmeyer) showed up at the perfect time. I was thirsty and needed a bathroom. As I made my way to the back of the grocery store to find a bathroom I happened upon two locals enjoying reruns of Gunsmoke at the bar. I could not help but smile and ponder what a simpler life might offer.
Navasota, Texas is where we ended the 65 mile ride.
Navasota to New Waverly, TX (40)
The morning began with thunder and lightning and waiting for the storm to blow over. I went ahead of everyone to set up a campsite near New Waverly, Texas in the Sam Houston National Forest. The lesson I soon learned when you have a ‘“walk-on” is that unless the tent is set-up anyone can take your campsite. I am sure I provided great entertainment for my fellow RV campers as I struggled to put up a four person tent all by myself.
The campsite was truly nice and just as I was ready to jump into the nearby lake I took note of the sign that mentioned alligators. The local “park hosts” Jim and Bubba joked with me and said, “ the alligators will be more scared of me than I of them.” Yet, I noticed no one else was going swimming, so I reluctantly took a pass on a quick refreshing dip in the lake.
New Waverly to Thicket, TX (65)
Camping has its perks and its setbacks. Let us put it this way, I was all too happy to wake up and start moving early the next morning.
The diner in New Waverly was very good to see as we were all hungry and I definitely needed a cup of coffee.
The sign above our table said, “Enjoy the little things in life for someday you will realize they were the big things.” As I look around the breakfast table of unshowered, bug bitten, hungry and tired family, I said a little prayer of thanks that we were all together. All except Ashley, our daughter who could not make it because of work, but might of disowned us if she saw this motley smelly crew.
With full bellies we were ready to put on the miles, but good intentioned plans were changed up rather quickly when I ran over a tack and got a flat a few miles out of Coldspring,Texas. We told Jan to ride ahead and we would catch up with him. Ed changed out my tire only to get another flat. We had Ron and Pelle come back to drop off some more tubes, as they were crewing that day. With a fresh tube, Ed and I were making up time to catch up with Jan, but realized we had no map after Shepard. By the time we found the boys and the map, too much time had passed and Jan spent most of the day riding alone. The highlight of this day was watching Ed get chased down by a dog as we were biking passed the pups home. I saw him out of the corner of my eye and took to pedaling hard, Ed figured the dog would go home, but the chase was on and Ed had to put some life into his pedal stroke to drop the barking dog. All the while I don’t recall the owner of the dog even acknowledging the events as they occurred. Just another day on the Southern Tier.
Thicket to Buna, TX (45 miles)
Ed and I are crewing today and all the brothers are riding together. From the comfort of my vehicle I notice the large logging trucks and semis traveling over 70 mph on the narrow farm to market roads. I am not sure what I expected the adventure cyclist roads to be like, but it was not this. The local owner at the Donut Express looked at us like we were crazy to be biking these roads. And the word from westbound cyclist is that Louisiana roads are worse. So here it is a day before we leave and a big storm is coming over the weekend, and Jan is insistent that he bikes every mile. The boys were able to get to Buna, Texas when Jan got a flat. We decide to call it a day. We drive to DeRidder, Louisiana and take in the next 60 miles of what Jan will be biking alone the next day, as we drive home.
Buna, TX to DeRidder, LA (60 miles)
It is 6 am in the morning and I am grabbing a cup of coffee as Ed and I are getting ready to drive Jan the sixty miles back to Buna, TX to bike his way into DeRidder. I feel uneasy and very anxious this morning. I suggest he might start closer to the Stateline as yet another large logging truck goes barreling by. Jan is insistent that he wants to be dropped off in Buna. Ed is quiet. We talk a little about college stuff and then just sit in silence. I am having an internal struggle with being Jan’s mother and wanting him to be safe and respecting his decision to bike. I believe the old saying is something like, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” Before I came here I simply had no idea what Jan was riding on and yet he managed to bike some 1,500 miles without issue. Now after a week of being with him, I know what it is like, and I see this adventure is not without risk.
We arrive in Buna, and unload his bike. I go through a few of the checkoffs in my head. We say our goodbyes and I love you. I watch the blinking reflector light as Jan gets on his bike and rides away.
We arrived in Barrington, IL at 3 am this morning.
Jan arrived safely in DeRidder, Louisiana.
He took today off to rest after two straight weeks of biking and to sit out the thunderstorm.
Yesterday, while looking for something in Jan’s handlebar pannier, I found the pair of shoes given to Jan from Dr. Hande Ozdinler. We met Hande last summer when she explained to us the research her team is working on for ALS. After her presentation she handed Jan a tiny pair of shoes and explained when a son leaves home in Turkey he is given this. ”One shoe will take you on your journey, and the other will bring you home,” she told Jan.
Thank you Hande, I look forward to the rest of Jan’s journey and his coming home.