Back on the Saddle and Exploring GPS Capabilities

Flat Rock Ranch Ride Government Canyon: I have been back in the central Texas area for 6 months now. During the course of the first 20 weeks I did not even think much about biking as I did daily in San Diego. That all changed recently after I took Laura on her first MTB trip to Government Canyon State Natural Preserve, a popular mountain biking destination about 15 minutes from our house. It was a pretty descent ride, but not a great choice for a ‘first’ ride for Laura since it is pretty difficult to sustain any speed on it due to its rockiness and since Laura was riding a bike with a blown front shock. She still managed to enjoy herself as she went comakazi down many of the medium sized loose steps without ever wrecking to her credit and my amazement. She did get beat up pretty bad though. If it weren’t for some of the downhills she probably would had sworn off biking forever. We discussed the ride afterward and I was relieved to learn that she was much like my old riding buddy Alan who would ride (or hike-a-bike) up to the summit of Everest if it meant that he could bomb down about 20 feet of trail. I reviewed the trail here @ We will be back again when I purchase and install her new front shock and when she wants to go for some revenge.

The Collective – Seasons: Though I had a lot of fun at Government Canyon, and even started sporadically riding the 11 mile trip to work on my Wingra (San Antonio drivers might possibly hate bikers more than any other city. Once some douchebag drove across three lanes and into the shoulder and missed my left peddle by about a foot going about 60mph just because he wanted to scare me or prove a point), I still was not daydreaming of riding all day as I used to the last few years in Maine, Afghanistan, Maryland, and San Diego. A LT.-commuter where I work randomly dropped by my cubicle to talk to me about riding and he expressed interest in Mountain Biking. After a while I told him about The Collective’s “Roam”. He went on his way, and I decided I would look to see if they had done anything else since “Roam”. I learned that they had released “Seasons” in 2008. 1 amazon visit, 10 minutes, and 50 dollars later, The Collective Trilogy was on it’s way to my house.

I had watched “Roam” about 50 times in the last few years. Whenever I needed an immediate shot of need-2-ride, I would watch some of the B.C. trails and instantaneously I was ready to go. Laura called me at work one day to inform me that DVDs had arrived. I could not wait to get home and throw “Seasons” in. I was loving every minute of the music and cinematography when a portion involving Stevie Smith practicing a local downhill run at an insane speed grabbed me. Between clips of Stevie commenting on his mother’s commitment to his success (she shuttles him up the mountain, sometimes 6 times a day) and his overall progress, Wintersleep’s “Orca” plays in the background.

i’ll be a killer whale when i grow up
i’ll be a vulture
i’ll be an animal
a carnivore
i’ll be a monster
clenching my jagged jaws
over the capture
i’ll be a killer whale when i grow up

i’ll be a tidal wave when i grow up
crashing on harbours
i’ll be a tempermental element
a raging water

i’ll be a perfect storm swallowing over
i’ll ba a killer whale when i grow up
i’ll be a monster

i’ll be a hurricane when i grow up
an ugly thunder
i’ll be a forest fire about to flood
over an empire
i’ll be an avalanche chewing its rupture
i’ll be a killer whale when i grow up
i’ll be a monster

i’ll be a killer whale

This portion of “Seasons” is a drug to me. I have watched it so many times I have lost count. The lyrics are beautifully appropriate. Steve absolutely nukes the mountain with a combination of speed and grace that I cannot recall ever seeing on film. Slow motion shots of him transitioning positions and blasting through puddles add to the allure. This 2 minute clip of film just might be my favorite in any genre. It would be an amazing music video by itself. It is video crack and I have since been in need of an almost daily fix.

Flat Rock Ranch: So the local gouge is that if you are serious about mountain biking in Central Texas/Hill Country Area then you need to go give Flat Rock Ranch a shot. It is a full-on MTB ranch with about 33 miles of well kept trails. Lance Armstrong even races some of the endurance races there. Most of the reviewers say that it can be quite technical and fun. I asked Laura if she wanted to give it a shot and she was game.

We arrived at Flat Rock Ranch at noon, a bit later than we anticipated. We opted to ride the 17 mile lower loop since it had an 11 mile bail out. We turned on our Android – GPS tracking apps and set off (more on that later). I was surprised when I immediately came across a fun little step on a small portion of speedy downhill that led through a creek crossing. The was the first time Laura ever attempted a water crossing so she was a bit reluctant. The next 15-20 minutes consisted of a relatively uneventful climb. After about 45 minutes we reached a very quick portion of singletrack that eventually led us to a couple of sick berms. The next hour consisted of a long and steady climb to the top of Pipeline Hill. By the time we reached the top I was really feeling the effects of the stomach flu I had a few days earlier. “Evil Worm” was fun, but not as fun as all of the reviews of it would suggest. Our favorite lines were “Crazy Ivan” and “Angle Tree” both pretty quick. It started to get dark and we had not come across another trail sign after “Angel Tree” so we blasted down the loose gravel of one of the fire roads that led us back to our car. All said and done, 14 moderately technical miles, no significant wrecks, mishaps, or bike damage, and a ton of fun and experience for us both. I will definitely pay many more visits there. For more information regarding the specifics of the “Lower Loop” at Flat Rock Ranch, check out the GPS data and maps in the next section.

Flatrock RideThe Great GPS Debate: I began researching Android based GPS tracking apps a few nights before our trip to Flat Rock. I wanted something that would record distance, elevation, and max, min, and average velocity without eating through my battery in an hour. I envisioned using the app to record all of this data and to upload our rides to Google Maps for sharing.

I had already installed an app called BuddyRunner on a whim that I might soon go hiking or running. It seemed to do just what it advertised. Eventually I stumbled across SportyPal. Many riders on bike forums had recommended it though I was not terribly excited about having to use their mapping application over Google’s. I found out that I could export my rides to a GPX format which I could then open with Google Earth and save in KML or KMZ format. Another recommended application is called RideTrac.

After playing with all three I decided to get rid of BuddyRunner since SportyPal has a very similar functionality including estimates for calories burned etc for over a dozen specific activities. RideTrac is a biking specific app that includes a wealth of ride information. I installed SportyPal on my Android, and Laura installed RideTrac on hers (she forgot to turn it off until we had almost reached the highway in our car so our numbers may be a bit off). Here are the results:

I decided in the long run to use SportyPal. I liked its ease of use, and was a bit wary of RideTracs report that we gained 1800 feet in elevation. I also like the idea of being able to compete with yourself. SportyPal has the capability to analyze your fastest 2000 M, and other random time metrics.

What Next?: I am presently making plans to visit Rocky Hill Ranch, out in the Lost Pines near Smithville, TX. The trails are said to be very quick and I love riding through pines. I will post GPS data and pictures afterwords. Laura and I are expecting our tax money back soon. We have allocated a chunk of change for biking, namely a new fork (likely a Dart3) for the Stumpy, 4 Kenda Nevegals, 15 tubes, A work stand, a LifeFitness Exercise Bike, and a bunch of Twin Six apparel. Those that aren’t familiar with Twin Six should check out their site. Their designs are very slick.

Below is the link to my Flat Rock Ranch Album
Mountain Biking -> Flat Rock Ranch – Comfort, TX

Peace, and happy riding

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