By Coleman Patterson, Ph.D.
It was meant to be a one-time experience. However, the first Bike Ride Across Texas from El Paso to Texarkana proved to be an even more intense, real, and valuable learning laboratory than initially hoped for. The sense of accomplishment that came from successfully reaching each day’s destination and the final triumph of reaching the finish line in Texarkana proved to be an addictive feeling that wouldn’t go away.
Final preparation meeting on May 9, 2014—the day before departing to Brownsville to begin BRAT2.
Even before we reached the finish line in Texarkana, plans for a second ride were already in the works.
When the 2013-2014 school year started, recruiting for a south-north ride also began. As with our first ride across the state, we eventually built a team of eight riders—five students, two faculty, and one alumnus (who missed the first ride because of graduation, graduate school, and a wedding). Individual and group training rides throughout the year helped get participants in shape for the second trans-Texas expedition.
BRAT2, as it came to be known, was developed to stretch 925 miles from Brownsville, Texas, to Liberal, Kansas. The students reasoned that if they were going to ride the length of Texas to the Oklahoma border, it wouldn’t be much more work to ride another 40 miles across the Oklahoma panhandle to Liberal. In that way, BRAT2 covered Texas and Oklahoma.
The two-car system of cyclists and support vehicle drivers developed for the first ride with eight participants worked well for the second ride. Two teams of four would split into two vehicles. One person in each team would drive their vehicle in support of the others from their team cycling on the road. About every 15 miles, each team of cyclists would rack their bikes on their vehicle and leapfrog 15 miles ahead from their stopping point—passing the other team of cyclists who were riding the next leg of the journey. The leapfrog system of riding allowed the group of eight to cover miles relatively quickly.
The lessons learned from BRAT1 allowed the BRAT2 team to move quickly through the processes of securing lodging, making media contacts, and securing funds and resources. Generous donations from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas, local companies, and friends and family members resulted in $4,800 raised for lodging, gasoline, food, and gear—including a larger bike rack, a Garmin GPS unit, and a used 2011 Specialized Secteur road bike. A couple of loaned bicycles and participants with their own bikes gave us all the needed equipment for the ride.
On Saturday, May 10, 2014, the team loaded up two vehicles with bikes, gear, luggage, and supplies at Hardin-Simmons University to drive to Brownsville. With a stop in San Antonio to pick up our alumni rider, it took most of the day to arrive and get settled in our hotel. A good night’s rest and a filling breakfast had us ready to roll the next day.
The first leg of the ride, my leg, took us out of Brownsville on Highway 281. With a steady tailwind blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico, we averaged 19.1 mph for the first 25-mile leg than ran adjacent to the border and the sections of border wall. The warm, damp, humid air in which we rode was a drastic difference from what we are used to in Abilene. We had to wring the sweat out of our gloves after each turn on the bikes.
Our starting point in Brownsville—ready to roll on our first day on bikes.
Once we emerged from the congestion of the border corridor, we began heading north. We wiggled north and west on less-crowded highways until we linked back up with Highway 281 to Premont. The wind that aided our departure from Brownsville continued to help us throughout the day. Despite a gradual gain in elevation, we were able to average over 20 mph on 15-mile legs on 281 north. The Walmart in Falfurrias was the site of our first flat tire repair and a welcome resting place before the final push into Premont riding as a group.
First Baptist Church in Premont was our host for the first evening on the road. Showers at the homes of several church members and places to spread out sleeping bags in a couple of Sunday School rooms were all that we needed for the night. Dinner at the Dairy Queen and a chance to share our story at the evening worship service rounded out an eventful first day of cycling.
The weather report for the coming day and night created anxiety among the team. More than five inches of rain was forecasted for the second night on the road. Our planned stop for the next day was Tilden, Texas. Tilden Baptist Church had planned to host us, but with the impending rain, we decided to nearly double our mileage the next day and ride past Tilden and go all the way to Uvalde—200 miles. If we had been delayed a day in Tilden due to rain, we would have missed school presentations in Abilene at the end of the week. Pushing hard to Uvalde seemed like the best alternative.
Day two of cycling—from Premont to Uvalde. Pearsall marked 150 miles of the 200 miles for the day.
For bodies not yet fully adjusted to the demands of long-distance cycling, the push to Uvalde was tough. We stopped in Tilden for lunch and met with a newspaper reporter for a story about our ride. Sections of road with tiny shoulders and heavy truck traffic made for some anxious moments and route adjustments on the fly. The mother of one of our cyclists found us a motel online in Uvalde and reserved rooms for us for the night. It was close to 8 p.m. by the time that we made it to Uvalde. Dinner at a family style restaurant next to the motel, a laundromat visit, and a food and supply trip to Walmart put an end to a long, hot, and exhausting day.
The anticipated rain arrived during the night in Uvalde. Continued rain and wet roads in the morning permitted us a chance to sleep in and get some needed rest from the long previous day. The winds that had been favorable for the first two days turned on us with the cold front that had blown through in the night. We rolled out of Uvalde at about 10 a.m. in a light rain and hard wind from the north—about 20 mph with stronger gusts.
Riding into a relentless headwind from Uvalde toward Junction on Day 3 of cycling.
The HEB Foundation Camps, about 12 miles north of Leakey, was our destination for the night, but we hoped to make it 100 miles to Junction for groceries and to set up the departure point for the next day’s ride—we planned to have friends join us in Junction the next morning for a group ride. The late start caused by the rain, a consistent gain in elevation, weary legs from a long ride the day before, and the brutal headwinds (which at points made it necessary to draft behind the support vehicle) caused us all to feel disheartened. When we had made it about 10 miles past the HEB Foundation Camp, about 60 miles into the day’s ride, we had reached our limit—and had a moment of epiphany.
Since we had already committed to driving north to Junction to get food for dinner (there are no towns or substantial grocery stores between Leakey and Junction), we decided that both teams would drive to Junction and while one team went to the store to buy food, the other team would begin cycling south from Junction and back to the place where we had just stopped riding. By coming up with that creative solution, we were able to average about 20 mph heading back to HEB Foundation Camps from Junction instead of cycling 8-12 mph as we had done throughout the day. Riding up hills at 20-24 mph in the final miles of the day, after having struggled so hard earlier, was a freeing and glorious experience.
The temperatures were in the 50s when we woke up at HEB Foundation Camps and drove to Junction for the fourth day of cycling. We were meeting three gentlemen from the Bandera-Kerrville area, John Lusby and friends James and Rufus, to ride together for about 10 miles up U.S. Route 83 out of Junction—where they would turn around and we would continue on. The wind from the previous day had died down a little, but we now faced a morning of riding hills from Junction to just north of Menard.
Meeting up with friends in Junction for a group ride into the hills north of town.
As the temperatures warmed through the day, the winds also kicked back up. After making it through the hills, we found ourselves riding into a stiff headwind from Eden to Tuscola. Instead of cycling in 15-mile legs, we opted for 10-mile legs and putting one cyclist on the road at a time instead of two. The two vehicles continued to leapfrog, but cyclists only had to endure 5 miles, or about 30 minutes, of relentless headwinds during their turns. The plan to ride from Junction to Abilene was cut short and we opted to stop cycling at Tuscola and drive the remaining miles to our homes in Abilene for the night. The following morning, after the winds had changed in our favor, we drove back to Tuscola to ride into Abilene for school presentations and a mid-point break.
Cyclists with Blue Bear from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas at Taylor Elementary School.
The quick ride from Tuscola counted as our fifth day on bikes—we ended up with a short day because we had doubled up on miles from Premont to Uvalde in a single day. After two days of cycling into harsh headwinds, it was a relief to enjoy a short rest in Abilene. We were welcomed to campus by news crews from all of the local television stations and the Abilene newspaper.
On Saturday morning, the team gathered on campus to begin the second half of the ride. Our destination for that night was Paducah, Texas—120 miles up U.S. Route 83. We were hosted by First Baptist Church in Paducah. Showers at church member houses, a dinner at Nana’s Café, a refreshing night of sleep at the church, and a quick escape on Sunday morning before people arrived for church characterized our brief stay in Paducah.
As we began the final two days of riding, we decided to forego the leapfrog system of cycling and spend the final 230 miles riding as a group. Several of the cyclists wanted to ride 100 miles in a day—the remaining rides to Wheeler and to Liberal would provide them with two opportunities to reach that goal. With our new system of riding, we would stop about every 15 miles along the route to rest, eat, and swap riders and support drivers. At each stop, those who wanted to take breaks could jump into a support vehicle and those who wanted to cycle could stay on the bikes. This system would allow cyclists to ride as many miles as they wanted over the final two days.
The ride from Paducah to Wheeler was long and rather uneventful. We stopped in Shamrock to meet with a newspaper reporter and got to learn about the charming little town on Historic Route 66. The final push into Wheeler gave us 103 miles for the day—and a century for one of our cyclists. First Baptist Church in Wheeler hosted us for the evening in their new and spacious youth building.
Story from the County Star-News in Shamrock/Wheeler, TX on Thursday, May 22, 2014.
The 34 miles from Wheeler to Canadian on the final day of cycling were some of the best of the entire journey. A favorable wind, nice temperatures, good company, and the excitement of reaching the Oklahoma and Kansas borders made for a fun and exciting morning ride. The long descent into Canadian let us top 45 mph on the bikes as we approached the town for a stop for food, gasoline, and a visit with a reporter at the newspaper office. The newspaper staff warned us about the impending climb on our departure from Canadian. Their words, as we soon discovered, were accurate. The price paid for the long, fast downhill into Canadian was digging our way up a long uphill heading from Canadian toward Perryton—we all agreed that the cost was worth the thrill of the 45 mph downhill.
The push toward Perryton was miserable. Just past Canadian, U.S. Route 83 turns northwest. The strong wind that aided our ride into Canadian was blowing from the southwest and now gave us a strong and uncomfortable cross-wind. The wind, combined with long patches of highway construction, complete with the smells of fresh asphalt, made that section of road one of the most arduous of the journey. When the road finally turned north toward Perryton, we began to fly to the border.
At the Oklahoma border on U.S. Route 83 north of Perryton.
A stop at the Dairy Queen in Perryton gave us a chance to refuel, rest, fix flat tires, and energize ourselves for the final push of our journey. The Oklahoma border was a short ride from Perryton. Another 40 miles across the hilly panhandle of Oklahoma put us at the Kansas border and only several miles from our destination in Liberal, Kansas. First Baptist Church in Liberal let us camp out in their Family Life Center for the night. A victory dinner at the Applebee’s in Liberal followed by an early start to a six-hour drive home on the next day would mark a successful end to our second bike ride across Texas.
The Kansas border at the conclusion of our 925-mile ride from Brownsville to Liberal.
Two team members hit century marks on the final day of cycling. Over the last two days of riding, three cyclists logged 186, 188, and 193 miles respectively from Paducah to the finish line. The system of group riding and getting big mile totals would set the stage for BRAT3.
BRAT2 provided a new set of challenges and obstacles for the team to overcome. Landscapes, changing winds, and longer distances brought about variables that had to be planned for and reacted to during the ride. The BRAT2 cyclists, each with different personalities and abilities, brought dynamics to the second ride that were different from the first. Thirteen flat tires (compared to five on BRAT1) and on-the-road decisions about riding and coping with environmental conditions provided students with practice thinking creatively and solving problems. BRAT2 proved to be just as educational and rewarding as BRAT1. It also set the stage for a third ride.
To learn more about BRAT2 and other BRAT rides, visit www.BikeRideAcrossTexas.com.
BRAT2 photo movie: https://youtu.be/SGnLRHmNSgc
BRAT2 video movie: https://youtu.be/VSYbmTmW6MU
Coleman Patterson, Ph.D.
Director of Leadership Studies and Professor of Management and Leadership