“Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” That’s something I heard my mother say more than once when I was a child and unable to eat everything on my plate. Our third long-distance bike ride with Leadership Studies Program students at Hardin-Simmons University proved to be bigger than realized by a number of would-be participants.
Originally conceived to run from the Gulf of Mexico at the Texas-Louisiana border to Sault Ste. Marie at the top of Michigan, our third ride was planned to span 1,600 miles and include all of the Natchez Trace Parkway. The route was mapped, roads check via street and satellite views on Google Maps, and overnight stops identified. Besides training, money, and finding places to stay, the biggest thing lacking from making the ride a reality was complete student commitment.
Tour de Ted training ride with BRAT3 participants in Abilene.
With less than a month to go in the Spring 2015 semester and seven weeks before the scheduled start of the ride, four of the six student participants dropped out of the ride. The remaining participants were committed to a cycling expedition and quickly re-conceptualized an alternative adventure.
To accommodate schedules of several additional participants who didn’t have time for a ride to Canada but could do a shorter excursion, a new ride across Texas was mapped and planned. Within weeks, a route from Surfside Beach to Texline was developed and lodging arranged—through families, former students, churches, and sister universities. The 825-mile route, like the first two BRAT adventures, would put us in Abilene for a mid-point break. Once again, we would drive to the starting line, cycle four days to Abilene for a day of rest, cycle four more days to the finish line, and drive back to Abilene. The logistics of the third ride were similar to the previous rides, but the route, participants, and on-the-road variables would all be different.
Loading up on campus for the drive to Surfside Beach.
The team of cyclists would also be different from the previous years. We ended up with only two HSU students enrolled in the workshop class who actually planned the trip. One cyclist from BRAT2 came back for an encore ride with BRAT3 as well as the two faculty members. Three friends, including an emergency room nurse and experienced cyclist, and the rest of the team set out from Surfside Beach at the beginning of the ride. Another student, recovering from a broken ankle, joined the team as a support vehicle driver. At the mid-point break, one team member dropped out of the ride for a family emergency and another joined us for the second half. The ride started and ended with nine participants—with eight completing the entire journey. We once again used two support vehicles for the ride.
Starting point at Surfside Beach on Day 1 of cycling heading to LaGrange.
Our ride began on a Monday morning from the beach house of team member’s uncle at Surfside Beach. After eating, lathering up in sunscreen, and loading up gear and supplies in the support vehicles, we rolled out of Surfside Beach on our way to LaGrange and our evening hosts in Giddings. The pleasant temperatures and breeze on the coast gave way to hot and humid conditions later in the day. At West Columbia, we took our first rest and food break. Fred Green, a friend and former colleague of one of our riders, joined us on the ride to West Columbia. Fred had previously completed a two-month, northern-route, cross-country ride. Being familiar with the roads in the area, Fred helped us navigate from the causeway at Surfside Beach to West Columbia.
After nearly 75 miles of riding together in a group on the first day, the team decided to split into two groups and begin our traditional method of leapfrog riding in order to make it to LaGrange for dinner. By the time that we arrived for our first night of rest, we had completed almost 140 miles. We stopped riding in Fayetteville and drove into LaGrange and Giddings for relaxation, repairs, food, and rest.
First rest break in West Columbia, Texas with Fred Green, a veteran cross-country cyclist.
On the start of the second day, we drove back to the town square in Fayetteville to begin the day’s ride. The mostly flat terrain from the first day, with a gradual elevation gain, gave way hillier roads. Sore legs from the first day, when two riders completed century rides and one made 93 miles before cramping up, prompted the team to leapfrog for most of the day. The long ride of the first day was nearly matched on the second day—our lodging for the night was 125 miles away in Belton at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. The day’s route took us through LaGrange, Bastrop, Elgin, and Taylor on the way to Belton. At UMHB, Dr. Jamey Plunk had arranged accommodations for us at the university’s Peacock Ranch. We all had beds to sleep in and a hearty home-cooked dinner with the family of one of our team members. Our overnight stay in Belton was relaxed and enjoyable.
Dinner with the Dennis family in Belton, Texas.
We left Belton early the next day and took roads away from the congested highways through and around Belton and Temple on our way to Gatesville, Goldthwaite, and eventually Brownwood and Howard Payne University. Day three, like most of the trip, presented us with a consistent and gradual gain in elevation throughout the day. When planning the ride, we chose to ride north and gain elevation with the hopes of having tailwinds from the south to aid us along the route. Reflecting back on the completed ride, we discovered that winds were not much of a factor on BRAT3. One day in the panhandle presented us with favorable winds, but they were otherwise rather uninfluential.
The ride from Belton to Brownwood was 125 miles. Combined with the mileage of the first two days, the team completed almost 400 miles in the first three days of cycling. The 80-mile ride on the fourth day from Howard Payne University to Hardin-Simmons University seemed like a piece of cake for the team. Local news crews and campus supporters expected us back on campus at 1 p.m. for a campus celebration. We needed to time our arrival back to campus to coincide with the arrival of the news reporters on campus and the return of university staff from their lunch breaks. We arrived into Abilene quicker than expected and ended up killing time at a convenience store on the edge of town to get us to campus at the right time.
Mid-point stop at Hardin-Simmons University.
Since BRAT3 occurred in June, instead of May like the previous two rides, schools were out for summer break and we didn’t get to make school presentations on our mid-point break. Instead, we rested, washed clothes, stocked up on food and supplies for the second half of the trip, and made some needed bike repairs.
Preparing to begin second half of ride with members of the sTEAMboat Cycling Club.
The second half of our ride began on a Saturday morning. Members of the sTEAMboat Cycling Club in Abilene were invited to ride out of campus with us that morning. We were honored to have close to 20 club members join us from Abilene to Anson—three gentlemen even rode with us all the way to Hamlin. By the time we made it to Aspermont, we were hungry and ready for a Dairy Queen break. We also suffered our first flat tire heading into Aspermont—an amazing accomplishment after getting 13 flat tires in BRAT2 (we ended BRAT3 with only three flat tires).
Rest stop and photo opportunity in Anson, Texas with sTEAMboat Cycling Club.
After Aspermont, we made the final push of the day to Jayton. We were fed and hosted by the family of former students at HSU who went on to get married after graduation. Wonderful hospitality, route planning, and good conversation made for an enjoyable evening together in Jayton. The next morning, a Sunday, we rode from Jayton toward Spur with B.J. Baldridge, whose family hosted us in their home.
Getting ready to roll out of Jayton, Texas with HSU alumnus, B.J. Baldridge.
At a rest stop between Jayton and Spur, we realized that we had a slow leak in one of the tires of a support vehicle. Being a Sunday morning, we couldn’t find a tire shop to fix the leak. We decided to keep an eye on the tire and inflate it during the day if warranted. We would get the tire repaired the next morning in Plainview.
A giant spur in Spur, Texas was too hard to pass up for a photo.
The greatest anxiety of the 110-mile day was riding up onto the Caprock on the way to Plainview. From Spur, our route went through Dickens, Dougherty, Floydada, and Aiken before rolling into Plainview to spend the night at Wayland Baptist University. The dreaded ascent onto the Caprock wasn’t nearly as bad as expected. Like all the days before, the ride to Plainview was marked by a steady gain in elevation.
The next day’s ride from Plainview to Vega was also characterized by a gradual gain in elevation. With little assistance from a tailwind, the consistent elevation gains prevented a reprieve from pedaling while on the road. Wind was the challenge on BRAT2, the steady gain in elevation was the challenge on BRAT3. The ride to Vega was hot and exhausting. We stopped for lunch at a Sonic in Dimmitt before turning north to Hereford and Vega. Lodging and dinner was provided by First Baptist Church–Vega. An outdoor gospel music concert, a walk around downtown, a visit to the local museum, and breakfast at a local burrito stand made for a pleasant and memorable stay in Vega.
Route check and planning in Dalhart, Texas. The final push to the finish line!
Our final day of riding started off wonderfully. The sky was cloudy and the temperatures were pleasant. The road from Vega to Boys Ranch was newly paved with a wide, smooth shoulder and we finally enjoyed a long decrease in elevation—for the first 25 miles of the day! The remaining 77 miles of the day was characterized by the typical steady gain in elevation like we had experienced for much of the ride. The final leg from Dalhart to Texline also brought with it a challenging cross-wind.
Ending point at New Mexico border past Texline, Texas.
The full team rode together through Texline to the border. A time for pictures and reflection at the state line gave us a sense of closure and accomplishment. First Baptist Church—Dalhart hosted us in their Family Life Center for the final night of the trip. We woke up early the next morning and drove back to Abilene to successfully wrap up our third trans-Texas bike ride.
Victory BBQ dinner in Dalhart, Texas.
It was refreshing and inspiring to have encountered so many friendly, gracious, and generous people along the route. The Krueger-Proske families in Surfside Beach, the Jatzlau family in Giddings, the Dennis family in Belton, the Baldridge family in Jayton, staff and members of the First Baptist Churches in Vega and Dalhart, and the staff and administration at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Howard Payne University, and Wayland Baptist University were all very giving and hospitable to our team on the ride. People opened their homes, went above and beyond their normal job duties, and took care of weary and hungry travelers. Biketown in Abilene and Austen Stokes helped us with equipment repairs and gear. Without the help and hospitality of all of our sponsors, we couldn’t have succeeded in our journey.
Although we didn’t make it to Canada, we had a wonderfully challenging and gratifying ride across Texas. Riding more as a group on this expedition, each of our full-ride cyclists completed more than 300 miles over the 825-mile route. One rider ended with 550 miles, one with 640 miles, and one, our high-mile cyclist, reached 700 miles over the eight days on bikes. The dream of a cross-country ride to Canada wasn’t crushed, it was simply delayed by one year.
To learn more about BRAT3 and other BRAT rides, visit www.BikeRideAcrossTexas.com.
BRAT3 photo movie: https://youtu.be/7i0cSs13yp4
BRAT3 video movie: https://youtu.be/f8xzfe4Ye6M
BRAT3 GoPro movie: https://youtu.be/keVBO86NuIg
Coleman Patterson, Ph.D.
Director of Leadership Studies and Professor of Management and Leadership