Superstoke 2018 rolled out of the Hill Country State Natural Area at a cloudy and cool nine o’clock Saturday morning, one hour behind schedule. Past rides had departed closer to dawn, typically routed through more than one hundred miles of variable Central Texas roadway. This year’s route topped out at ninety, however- less mileage and group’s need for caffeine overcame any concerns about being caught out after dark.
The original “Superbro” that began with a small group of former messengers, misfit roadies, and friends has since grown into a sort of family reunion-cum-new homies mixer. Throughout the previous day, a leisurely, scattered caravan of Beat the Clock Cycling members and their extended family arrived in the state park. Past Stoke riders from Seattle made the return trip and one displaced founder of the club rejoined the squad for the weekend. Nao of Tomii Cycles and Matt of Signal Cycles both pedaled some of their works through the creek lined hills and “Poppi” Wheeler even blew in on his world tour. Among the other local riders were a smattering of skinny tire racers, squishy bike huckers, a retired BMX pro, kooks and a couple of Red Hook stars, all convening for long gravel roads, campfires, tacos and whiskey.
This year saw them relocated from their previous Fredericksburg base to the wilderness bordered by roads connecting Bandera, Utopia, and Vanderpool. Nestled among some taller stretches of Texas landscape the Hill Country State Natural area embodies its name, cradling a network of trails that wind up or around several rugged hills. After pitching tents around the park’s group lodge, barn and rodeo arena some jumped on mountain and cross bikes and made for the trails. Those remaining settled into the camp rhythm until dinner, where the confederation gorged themselves on Josh Hine’s carnitas and tinga tacos.
Following coffee the next day the ride got underway under heavy grey clouds. The route Beat the Clock cobbled together elaborated on a race course Mellow Johnny’s had thrown some years earlier, “Graveltopia”. Aside from the exquisite climb and subsequent descent into Vanderpool, and one other brief stretch, the miles would stick to the whitish “gravel” that makes up much of the Hill Country’s unfinished roads, though what riders would actually roll over extended lengths of hyper-compressed dirt and limestone. The native granite is a far too valuable home building material to be broken down into road bits.
Along the way, riders would crisscross the Sabinal River and Seco Creek, pass homesteads with fence lines draped with coyote carcasses, and tackle what’s known among Harley enthusiasts as one of the “Twisted Sisters”. A sign reminds road users how many motorcyclists have died in the area recently. The carcass phenomenon stems from ranchers’ belief that the still living coyotes will smell their dead cousins and avoid the land within. There may be some truth to this: a fearless gang adolescent longhorns chased the cyclists, some still digesting yesterday’s Whataburger, through a stretch of open range.
Participants only got “coal rolled” once, ironically while regrouping roadside before the most rollercoaster dirt section. The cloud cover had blown off sometime after their lunch stop in Vanderpool, and people reconnected to the back half of the “Graveltopia” course under bright, springlike skies. As the cycling pack covered their last miles one rider moved to the front to remind the leaders to go easy on the tiring rear guard, and then jumped with a group of riders racing for the lodge’s showers. Afterward, some floated around camp like they’d just finished a cafe spin, others stared into a private abyss hidden behind their beer cans. Chef Hines served pozole for supper, returning people’s blood sugars to roughly equal levels, and festivity resumed.
Whiskey filled cups around the fire where Colin Strickland strummed a guitar, others hung around the lodge’s living room with Springsteen and Creedence in the background . While everyone stretched out Benedict commented, “I’m surprised, I thought this was just gonna be a road ride.”