Last time, I told you about the friends Brent and I visited after doing a bike ride in my home town. But now I’ve got to brag about the ride itself, in hopes that all my cyclist friends will come to Palestine next spring to participate.
The ride is called either the “Gatherin’ Steam Bike Ride” or the “Dogwood Trails Bike Ride,” depending on whether you are reading the Chamber of Commerce info or the T-shirt. I’m confused too; don’t worry about it. (The phrase “Gatherin’ Steam” refers to the historic Texas State Railroad, which runs excursions between the towns of Palestine and Rusk.) The bike ride takes place the first Saturday of April, during Palestine’s Dogwood Festival, which means the scenery alone is worth the trip. The four routes range from 10 to 100 miles.
It’s a bit early in the season for me, so I had registered and trained for the “30-mile” route. Brent, of course, went for the 100-kilometer (62-mile) route. When we looked at the route maps online, my 30 miles had ballooned to 34. Good thing I had put in an extra few miles on my peak training ride!
Brent and I drove down on Friday afternoon, first stopping at the Chamber of Commerce for our rider packets and then hustling straight over to Eilenberger’s Bakery, which has been sending out a steady stream of scrumptiousness from the same location since 1898. We didn’t go overboard, though — just bagged a dozen cookies and a loaf of apricot bread. Next item: a drive through Davey Dogwood Park, with stops for photos. By the time we got checked in at the motel, it was time for a pre-ride pasta dinner. We fulfilled that requirement quite well at Giovannis Restorante Italiano. It’s all part of the Gatherin’ Steam experience, at least for us.
Saturday dawned clear and mild, absolutely perfect cycling weather, which is never guaranteed and so all the more welcome. “Texas Top Guns” caters the post-ride meal, and sure enough, the chuck wagon was in full cook mode when we arrived. Whiffs of barbecue floated around the area, as did a handful of cowboys and ladies in period costume. I had to smile at the men in handlebar moustaches, hats and chaps or dusters, milling around among the garish lycra-and-carbon-fiber set.
We took off to a shotgun start and found the first few miles mercifully flat. Turning onto the Loop for a short stretch, we soon headed north away from town, past mounds of red clover and patches of other wildflowers. Then we hit the hills.
No amount of training in Ellis County’s gently rolling hills can prepare you for the ridiculous steepness that is Anderson County. The roads themselves were surprisingly good, which helped a lot, but my quads and glutes started complaining pretty early on. I tried to help them out on the climbs with frequent breaks of standing out of the saddle, but our relationship still suffered.
My legs felt a bit wobbly when I finished, but I did finish. That (well-deserved) barbecue lunch tasted amazing. I even ate deep-fried jalapenos, and liked them. Best of all, the fully-loaded baked potato salad. Mmmmm…..
All I can say is that the experience was well worth the struggle. The scenery, the smell of pine trees as they whispered in the wind, the pristine dogwoods and abundant wildflowers, the sense of accomplishment at completing one challenging ride. I can’t wait for next year.
Thanks for reading!