Posted by Miles Arbour
As a native Texan, it can be easy for me to overlook what’s in my own backyard while I’m dreaming of traveling to iconic destinations in far-off places. I’m wondering if fellow Texans feel the same way, because when you look for bikepacking routes in Texas it doesn’t take long to realize there’s a huge gap. In 2019 I looked to change that by exploring local routes and resources with the goal of building a community. It’s worth mentioning that there are some great routes in Big Bend, and there’s a Texas Bikepacking Facebook group that’s a great resource, but Texas is a big state and I felt like there was an opportunity to add my support to this growing community.
I live about 50 minutes away from the Sam Houston National Forest, which is a rare swath of 163,000 acres of public land in Texas. It’s also positioned to be easily accessible for people in major metropolitan areas like Houston, Austin, and Dallas/Fort Worth, making it a prime spot for Texans looking to escape city life and hit the reset button on a quick weekend trip on the gravel roads and between the loblolly pines of the East Texas Piney Woods. After a year of exploration I published my first route, called The Sam Houston Restaurant Tour, and will be hosting a ride on that route April 25th-26th. It has already been ridden many times, and for some it was their first bikepacking trip. I think that’s pretty much the coolest thing ever!
Earlier this year, Aggieland Cycling (my local bike shop) asked if I’d be interested in leading a group ride starting and ending in College Station, TX. Little did they know I’d been working quietly in the background to create community through bikepacking trips. I’ve been a customer of Aggieland Cycling since the age of four when my parents bought my very first bike, a blue Schwinn with sparkly paint. They’ve been helping and supporting me ever since, so I was more than happy to collaborate on this ride.
The route we chose is a fairly common option for bikepackers here. It’s a 65-mile out-and-back to the Sam Houston National Forest on mostly rural gravel roads with a couple of good resupply points at miles 30 and 50. It was also the route that I used on my first bikepacking trip. We wanted this event to be attractive to new or beginner bikepackers, so that was definitely a consideration. The plan was to meet at Aggieland Cycling at 8:00 am on Feb. 29th. The ride was self supported, but Aggieland Cycling had a mechanic running sweeper just in case. Everyone was free to ride at their own pace, but we banded back together at each resupply point. We had a route, a plan, a day and time. Now, like any party host, I started to wonder…will anyone show up?
On that fateful leap year day of February, 11 bikepackers gathered in front of Aggieland Cycling. There was a great mix of cyclists from a first timer, to very experienced riders/bikepackers, who came from all over the state, including Houston, San Antonio, and the D/FW area. I used all of my bikepacking karma and was able to arrange for good weather and a tailwind! There was a great vibe that morning, and everyone was excited for a little bike riding. So with an obligatory “Go Ride Your Damn Bike,” we set off. We all stayed together for the first 18 miles as we navigated our way out of town and onto the glorious gravel roads we all know and love.
From there, everyone set the pace they wanted as we rolled toward our first supply spot at mile 30, which was Yankee Doodle Donut. I rolled mid-pack to see a young girl doing laps in the parking lot on her pink bike and took that as a good omen. Some of the first to arrive learned the hard way, “Don’t eat the tacos, they’re moldy.” Good to know, “I’ll take two glazed do-nuts, please.” After a short stop we set off again toward our next supply stop at mile 50. Throughout the ride I was able to ride with and chat to many of the people who made the trip. I saw others doing the same as well. We rolled into camp at Lake Stubblefield at 3:58pm with plenty of time to set up camp and palaver around a campfire as we fed off the good vibes from a good ride and great group of people.
The next morning Aggieland Cycling organized a group breakfast and some strong coffee that featured a nice sprinkling of coffee grinds to really get you firing on all cylinders. We rolled out of camp at 9:00 am with full bellies, but our appetites for adventure not yet fully satisfied.
Overall, the trip went off without a hitch. We had great weather, great conversation, and great vibes the whole weekend. I am continually impressed with the bikepacking community. It’s great to be able to put on a trip like this and have people of all walks come together and commune over a shared interest. I believe the “sport” of bikepacking is still very young and it seems to be exploding in every direction. We have an opportunity to help define what this space is and will be going forward. For me, bikepacking is a space that accepts, encourages, and accounts for all wanting to participate. I saw so much of that on this trip, and every other one I’ve had the pleasure of participating in. Thank you to everyone who attended and lent yourself to that shared experience, and to Aggieland Cycling for your support and tacos.
I was happy to hear many requests for more rides like this. Requests fulfilled: the next Bikes or Death bikepacking trip will be on the Sam Houston Restaurant Tour route on April 25th & 26th.
To learn more about Patrick and the Bikes or Death Podcast, make sure to check out this Q&A we published last spring.