Friday, May 29, 2009

This is THE place!

Day 3
We awoke to partly cloudy skies on Wednesday, so we steered west through Ingram, Hunt, and points yonder on TX-39. The first 20 miles out of Kerrville are nothing short of awesome - rolling hills and gentle curves as we follow the creeks through the valley with a tree canopy overhead to soften the morning sunshine. It's a little cool, so we resist the urge to stop and dip the toes in the spring-fed creeks, we'll save that for the return trip.

Yesterday was good, but this is it, I thought. We've found "THE place" for Thunder Road. Hell, "THE place" is all around this part of the Hill Country! Wow, look at that 6-point buck in the woods! You get the drift, we were already into sensory overload and hadn't eaten lunch yet. Once we pass the FM-187 turn-off, we leveled off to a classic scene from an old cowboy movie. "Home, Home on the Range" begins to go through my head...I'd be able to actually hear it on the XM radio had I bought the Ultra yesterday.

Yet another thunderstorm was brewing about 50 miles out and headed our way. With nothing but longhorns and an occasional ranch hand's truck in sight, I twisted the throttle back to race the storm to US-83, then TX-41 where we would turn back east for our return loop. We beat the storm, but it was gaining in intensity. Coming south on FM-1340, we began to descend through the canyons, passing the summer camps, and we came upon...well, what looked to be Stonehenge! The site attracts a fair amount of visitors each day, but we opted to keep cruising to stay ahead of the rain.

We spent the afternoon looking at property in and around Bandera, ending up in the 11th Street Saloon for a beer briefing. We’d seen some good site options, but need to look further. "Can I get another beer, please?" I ask as I'm looking around the bar whose walls are lined with bras of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Rodney Carrington's Titties and Beer song immediately comes to mind. Maybe these cowboys are on to something...

Day 4
We headed south on our new favorite road, TX-16, for breakfast in Medina. On a whim, we stopped at The Rusty Rooster, a tiny cafe located in what used to be "the" gas station in this tiny, quarter mile long town. OMG!! Get Ride Texas or Texas Highways on the phone, the food was awesome and the proprietor was very friendly! Note to self, we'll be back tomorrow...and this time, ask his name!

Today was reserved for the Three Twisted Sisters. RR-337 is a dream road - starting with gentle rolling turns, then heading up the mountain pass (OK, a Texas mountain pass) and along the ridge for 36 glorious miles. The road is in great condition, but not too many places to pull over and enjoy the views or water the flowers. As you come down from the final ridge, you cross a (normally) flowing Frio River and into Leakey. A word to the wise, if you don’t pronounce it “LAY-key”, they’ll figure you’re a tourist and charge you double at the counter.

We make a pit stop and run into Ralph and Doris, a retired couple from the valley (South Texas). Ralph wants to buy a motorcycle, but Doris seems to think he's too short and fat to hold it up...and she's not about to get on the back of one of those things! Does she really think that was his intent? Sometimes loud pipes have a purpose.

We continue on RR-337 towards Camp Wood and about 10 miles out, come-up on two bikers ahead of us...and a herd of Axis deer in-between. LOTS of deer - probably 12-15 of them of all sizes! The problem was, they were scrambling along the left shoulder of the road, where they kept bouncing off of a game fence and back towards the road. Not wanting to become roadkill ourselves, we slowed to allow them to disperse and cross over to jump the low fence on the right shoulder. Note to self, I responded admirably, but could have reacted even better if I had that new Ultra with ABS brakes.

While refueling in Camp Wood, we met the town jester. He was about 75 years-old and pulled up on his little 50cc scooter that he uses to go down to the senior center for a hot lunch with the ladies. He was born in Camp Wood but saw the world in the military.

The gentleman gave us a quick historical tour, pointing out the old hardware store that Charles Lindbergh crashed into back in 1924. They ordered a new wing for his plane and once installed, he crashed again on take-off after he hit an overhead wire. Apparently, the third time was charm and he never returned. For those more macabre, the chopped-up bodies of the famous atheist Madelyn Murray O’Hair and her son were found in a barrel in the gravel pit down the road in 2001.

He was also full of jokes, but the best was his closing line about why he likes to ride his scooter while wearing baggy shorts, “I like the feeling of the wind on my wiener.” Perhaps no truer words have ever been spoken by a seasoned biker.

RR-335 is often referred to as Roller Coaster Road. Once you get into the hills, the road criss-crosses and follows a ridge overlooking the Sabinal River. It is an excellent scenic tour for the passenger, a little less so for the rider given the curves and constant terrain change, but a must-ride road for anyone on an iron horse.

After a boring, but short eastward run across TX-41, we turned back south on RR-336. I can’t really top the descriptions about the other Sisters, but RR-336 brings in a new challenge…cattle guards. You see, this road cuts through several large free-range ranches, where there are no fences along the roads. So when you’re moving from one tract to the next, you cross through a cattle guard.


Where there are cattle guards, there are...well, cattle. Now, cattle aren't inclined to jump into traffic like deer might, but they also don't clear the road just because you happen along into their world. That's safety lesson of the day #1. Safety lesson #2 is for you foreigners who ain’t ridden' across a cattle guard before. Here are three words of advice – slow and straight – especially if the roads are wet! The road gets really interesting as you descend from the plateau, with lots of switchbacks and terrain changes to keep the thrill factor high.

By the time we got back into Leakey, we needed a pit stop and a cold brew. Both were ready and waiting at the
Frio Canyon Motorcycle Stop.

We spent the remainder of the day cruising through the Frio River Canyon and Utopia, then headed back to Kerrville for some much needed showers. Probably could have handled another 100 miles had we been on the Ultra.

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's for her comfort, not mine!

Day 2
As we were eating breakfast, Liz notices an ad for the H-D dealer in Boerne, Javelina Harley-Davidson. "I've got to have one of their t-shirts," she proclaimed, "that should be a cool one!"

And just like that, my weeks of planning this journey changed.

We finished our Rooty Tooty Fresh with No Fruity and multiple cups of java, then headed south on TX-16 towards Bandera. About 11 miles south of Kerrville, the road turns to biker heaven. "This is the place," I exclaimed, "This is where we need to put Thunder Road!"

Seems the storms from last night stalled just west of Bandera and by the time we turned east for our final leg of the run to Boerne, the storms came rolling in. It was a race to the dealership...we won. The reward for our victory was a covered parking space on the side of the building.

Now, I must confess, I have the occasional drifting eye...and the 2009 Ultra Classic has caught my attention for some time. It would be for Liz's comfort, not mine, of course - her having a bad back and all. Truth be told, I've had my eye on a 2007 and 2008 as well, ever since H-D started introducing upgrades to the touring models. My '99 Road King Classic has been my steady for 8 years, so I'd been breaking it to her gently. Besides, I didn't want to piss her off while on the road, you know.

So we walk in the door of Javelina H-D and there she was - long sleek lines, all the chrome right where it ought to be. New suspension and wide rear tire, "This baby's got back!", I thought to myself. While Momma was distracted making her t-shirt selection, I strike up a conversation with John Wheeler, salesperson extraordinaire. John first acts hard-to-get, reading the paper while I walk the bike and we go through some idle chit-chat. Noticing my drooling, he begins to sneak-in some features and benefits of the new touring line. "In fact, I just bought a new Road Glide just for the ABS feature," he says.

"Wow," I think to myself, "I can make Liz comfortable and ensure her safety too."

Then Liz walks up behind me and asks, "Is that the one you've been wanting?"

"Yes," I reply.

“Well, if THAT’S the one, why don’t you go ahead and buy it? Your burthday is coming up and that's what I wanted to get you!” she says aloud in the practically empty store. My cover is blown. John's ears immediately perk-up as he awaits my response – the sales manager puts his doughnut down and began reaching for the phone to call Detailing and Prep.

"No, we need to rent one for a weekend first, so that we get the real feel for it before buying. We have to make sure it is comfortable for your back.” I reply, ever the concerned and caring husband.

John, ever the professional, listens in the background a while longer, then politely interrupts and says, “Excuse me, sir, do you realize that your chance of getting struck by lightning last night was better than the chance of a wife TELLING her husband to buy a Harley?” The man was starting to make some sense!

He then tries to ‘force’ me to take a demo ride, but I had him there. "No, I want to have it for a couple of days, a 10-mile demo ride just isn't enough. She has a bad back, you see. Besides, we're traveling by bike and I'm sure I can't get enough on the trade to make it worthwhile." I'm cheap that way, I was planning to buy used and list mine FSBO. "Checkmate," I thought to myself. By this time, the sales manager is just shaking his head in disbelief. "Idiot!" you can hear him say behind his now closed door.

"Well let me take a look at your bike and at least give you a price on the Ultra, we really want to move these before the 2010's come out," John says with every bit of respect he can muster. To make an already long story short, his trade-in offer sucked, but the no-trade, out-the-door price was impressive...and below MSRP too, an uncommon occurrence within the hallowed walls of an H-D dealership.

We head-off to lunch and an afternoon ride to mull it over. I think better when I ride...

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Kickstands Up!

The purpose of our trip to the Texas Hill Country is two-fold. First, to stop the craziness we call life and breathe a little, just the two of us. Second, to look for some new craziness. You see, we're on a life-changing journey to start a hospitality company dedicated to the needs and comfort of touring bikers.

Our goal is to build a portfolio of a dozen properties spread along popular touring roads across the South and Southwest. Regardless of what brand, all bikers share one thing in common - we’re looking for places to ride. We prefer to travel in groups along scenic roads, and to frequent establishments where bikers are welcome and the bikes are safe – places where we can share tales of the day’s ride with friends, both new and old, while enjoying a cold beer and a roaring fire. Then adjourning to a comfortable cabin with a king size bed where the old muscles and bones can heal before hitting the road again tomorrow.

After months of planning and market research, we've set our sights on the Hill Country for the flagship property. The properties will be called the Thunder Road Motorcycle Lodge. But once you've been there, we hope you'll call it home.

Day 1
We arrived in Kerrville around dusk on Monday and the clouds were building to the west, just over the hills. By the time we unloaded and had adult beverages in-hand, the light show began. Mother Nature had the stage to herself last night, providing a spectacular storm with crackling thunder and lightening that would have made Zeus proud. The eternal biker optimist, I figure she was just cleaning the roads on our behalf. And, given the area is in a two-year drought, who was I to complain?

Once the storms passed, a constant rain sang its sweet lullaby and we were off to sleep.

© 2009 TRHG Holdings LLC