It’s early morning in Camp Wood, TX. So… if it’s morning and camped in Camp Wood, is that morning wood? What’s the rent on something like that? The rent is too damn high. However, the sounds of dogs and cats and roosters wake me up out of the tent at 6 or so. I replace that leaky tube, which is now completely flat. Shitty gas station coffee and a gas station shitter lie before me. Before the hills that lie before that shit. And I hear these hills have hills, not unlike the ones I caught on the northern bound Natchez a couple years ago.
Nuclear fallout. Yeah these hills are unlike those. Part or maybe most of me wants to blame the road surface, which is so roughly and constantly jarring — even at 2 mph.
The sheer steepness of today’s hills are the distinction. We are on rural roads. Not trucking roads. No trains. Hills. Hills. Hills. We gain massive elevation in like a mile. A mile that happens in slow motion. Typically, I get to use my highest gear and get moving downhill then, you know, use all my gears and go down in some sequence or another on my way back up the hill. So action! I’m sitting on my ass, not moving except to turn while moving downhilll at 40 mph on the descent of what we thought was the first climb. Negative. Wrong answer. It was not. Damon is psyched and tells me he hit 30; we cruise side by side for maybe 40 seconds and the actual first climb begins and I’m realizing now that we were wrong. Like right now. Except this kept going and this kept going and this is some ridiculous unspecific grade and I’m not googling it right now either because I’m bicycling right now and also because there’s no AT&T FirstNet phone coverage and no WiFi, which is pronounced wee fee.
This is climb one of four like this today and the grade is indeed a challenge, I’m in first gear and stay there and spin, zig zagging my way up. I’m going 2mph. I’m sure because I’m looking at my odometer as I pedal. Damon is ahead of me taking a break. A minute later and Damon is walking his bike alongside me riding my bike; he does well for a bit but I don’t see him again until I’m this little town called Leakey. Climb one, done, hun. Fun.
Five minutes of descent and we’re in Leakey, gobbling up whatever calories we can from their town market. It doesn’t offer much, but we make due. They have a portable toilet which is literally as bad as that bathroom in Trainspotting. I resist the urge to dive into the toilet but I do take a picture… from outside. The mere thought of accidentally dropping my phone into this shit-abyss and then having to decide whether to reach in after it means I don’t even take my phone in with me.
Climbs two and three lie ahead, with another small general store on the other side. These two are almost identical to the first. Ain’t nothing to it but to do it. The scenery has really started popping and I’m finding the climbs to be very meditative. There’s little traffic too. We regroup at the next store, and which offers even less. We have one more of these climbs and then we’re sort of plateaued for a bit of nothingness, with our proposed daily destination still 35-40 miles ahead.
Damon rolls up as I’m borrowing another traveler’s floor pump. This guy is legit pumping up his sport cars tires with it; it’s a nice one with a gauge, so I ask to use it. He obliges. I pump my tires up and we look at the map. It’s clear we aren’t making another 40 miles, even with only one climb left, there’s simply not enough daylight. And theres very little, if anything, in that next 49 miles. Damon is gassed and is ready to turn it in. So, despite the map instructing us to have advance camping reservations, we roll five miles up to the Lost Maples State Natural Area without one, hopeful for special treatment.
This place is fantastic. Five stars for sure. They are most definitely completely full, though the Texas Parks & Wildlife folks here are familiar with bicyclists coming through unannounced. They roll put the red carpet for us. The woman at the office comes outside, let’s us know of the special spot just for those on bike, informs us we can use the campground showers, and that we can pay the fee in the morning. This familiarity with our situation extends to another park employee and another and another. It’s refreshing to meet folks who understand enough of what it is that we undertaking and to make concessions for us.
I pop up the pop up penthouse next to the old Murphy House and head over for a wonderfully refreshing shower. We rock the campground meals and hydrate, knowing we’ve saved one last super climb for tomorrow morning. Night falls and the temperature drops. We hook up the camp site gourmet dinner of rice and beans. A little peanut butter and banana for dessert too. The last climb of the day is the easiest — it’s into my tent. It’s a peaceful and quiet night in Lost Maples.