Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
A friend invited me out to a get-together on Easter weekend. Every year, a group of old friends get together, rent a house outside of Leakey, and go for a bunch of rides all weekend, on both kinds of bikes. By that, I mean with motors and without. They had some extra room, so I was invited to join. There were 10 people, eight motorcycles, and 12 bikes in the house.
I had an obligation in town, so I wasn't able to arrive until Friday night. Met the gang, hung out for an hour or so, and went to bed.
Saturday morning, most folks decided to go for a motorcycle ride, since most everyone had gone for a long bike ride the day before. Lucas and I headed out on our bikes together.
The house happened to be situated between two large hills, one in either direction. If you wanted to get anywhere, you had to climb one of them. We headed east, spending the first few miles of the ride going uphill. There was a decided lack of conversation until we'd reached the summit.
Once on the other side, it felt as if the whole day had turned around. For the first few miles, both of us felt like it wasn't our day, and we might cut the ride short. Since the first miles were entirely uphill, we hadn't been able to put that in perspective and simply felt like we were doing badly this morning.
Eventually we found our way into the town of Leakey, population 425. It had a reasonably-sized main street, but half the buildings were vacant. I always feel a certain sadness when I see that. At one point, those buildings were new, and perhaps were even bustling with business. These small towns are shells of their former selves. Even as our population continues to grow, these places are in decline. I'm not even from a small town, but I feel a kinship with them. Maybe because I've spent a lot of time in them while on bike tours.
While the area is still part of the Hill Country, it looks different, in a way that's hard to explain. But the most notable feature was the gorgeous Frio River. I dunno how I spent all day riding past and across it without stopping to take a dip.
Lucas found a side road and we decided to take a chance on it, though it might become unpaved and/or private. It didn't take long before we were on gravel, but since both of us were riding our touring bikes, no problem! The road was only one lane wide, paved about as often as not, and quiet. Virtually no traffic whatsoever. It mostly followed a tributary to the Frio, crossing it on multiple occasions. Once, we decided to walk the bikes across.
After coming to a dead end, we simply turned around and went back the way we came, making the route an out-and-back. I normally hate that, but since the area was unfamiliar to me, seeing the same places in reverse still felt fresh. Good scenery doesn't hurt. Climbing back over the hill at the end wasn't easy.
We'd covered about 80 km by the time we made it back to the house. I still felt good, so I set off to do another 40 km on my own. A look at a map revealed a gravel road that went south and took you around the big hills on either side of the house. Eventually, the gravel road would take you just north of a town called Utopia.
The road to Utopia wasn't quite as well-maintained as the gravel one Lucas and I had done together, but it was still manageable on Valeria. After about an hour, I reached a point where I could loop around and make my way back to the house on a paved road. But Utopia sounded too good to pass up.
Like Leakey, Utopia had what would be a charming main street if it weren't depressingly empty. But flying on what looked like some kind of historical building, a flag caught my eye. It almost looked like the French flag, but with a star in the blue panel, like the Texas flag. What was this?
I managed to look it up later, which took multiple tries, because Google has a hard time understanding "Flag that looks kinda like the French flag but with a star kinda like the Texas flag." It turns out this flag design was one of the early flags of the Republic of Texas before we eventually settled on what's still the state flag.
Since it was right on the main street, I decided to check out the high school. From what I could tell, all of Utopia's schools are on the same schoolgrounds, and each of them was a single building smaller than a grocery store. A couple of them looked like warehouses. Utopia HS is a 1A high school (the smallest classification) and doesn't field a football team. In Texas, that's unheard-of.
On my way out of town, I found a historical marker for the site of a former one-room schoolhouse that taught all grades. Eventually, it was absorbed by nearby Utopia ISD. When your school gets absorbed by a 1A, that says it all.
Coming back meant I had to climb another giant hill. Shift down, be patient. Got 'er done.
We only had the place until Sunday, so the next morning, a handful of us managed to squeeze in a quick ride before cleaning up and leaving. If possible, it would've been cool to ride all the way back to Wimberley, but my car had to make it back somehow.