Tag Archive for 'Mountain Biking'

Bluff Creek Ranch

Bluff Creek RanchI went on another mountain biking excursion this past weekend. I originally intended to swing by Rocky Hill Ranch but could not get a hold of anyone to make reservations so I opted to visit Bluff Creek Ranch nearby. I had read on on austinbike.com and MTBR that the trails there were very quick and enjoyable. I asked my father if he would be interested in coming along so he could hike and snap some pictures.

We left San Antonio around 9AM on Saturday and arrived in Warda, around noon. I was very surprised at how laid back the place was. When we arrived there were several cars at the owners house where you register for camping/biking etc. The rates weren’t too shabby. A campsite was $10 a night and included unlimited use of the ranches 7+ miles of trails. Firewood $7 and Ice 1$ per pale. They also sell organic, homegrown, beef and steaks (which we vowed to try the next time out). The campsites at BCR were remote, private, tucked away in the pines near a small lake. The unlimited supply of firewood also made camping enjoyable. in the end, I would go back to BCR just for the camping alone.

We had been there about an hour when I decided to give the 7 mile loop a go. Navigation was fairly easy, just keep the pink markers on your left. After about 10 minutes I caught up with a group of 7 or so riders and decided to wait back for a few minutes so I would not be stuck behind them. The next portion of trail consisted of scores of bermy switchback. The sandy loam that is prevalent in the piny areas of Texas kept me honest enough as there were a few occasions where my back-end slid a bit. After another 5 minutes of riding I came across the same group of riders and decided I would attempt to overtake them. One by one they moved aside and let me by. By the time I got to the front I noticed that two of their stronger riders we giving me a chase. I went all out for about 10 minutes or so in a point of increasing our separation. In all honesty I was a little nervous of possibly gassing out midway through the ride since I did not know what to expect. Eventually I could no longer see or hear them behind me. I came up on “Gas Pass” and locked what remained of my rear brake. The back end of the trail was very fun and included quick ascents and descents. In hindsight it was significantly more demanding than I anticipated. On two occasions I came off my bike during climbs, one of which I never successfully made it up. Around 48 minutes later I arrived at our campsite thrilled but exhausted. The back end of the trail has several table top jumps but I simply did not carry enough momentum as I approached them to clear any of them. I was a bit bummed that I could not take my phone with me to capture the ride via SportyPal since it was practically dead (dad’s truck did not have a charger). I opted to take it on my final ride instead.

After resting for a while I showed my dad around the back portion of the trail. He was game for taking pictures as I attempted again and again in vain to clear the tabletops. For some reason I was feeling a bit sheepish and for the most part was not even lifting up on the bike. It was starting to get dark so we went back to the campsite and set everything up. As some point of time I spoke with the owner about the work he had done on the trails and about the level of riders that race out there. The prior week he had 539 contestants ranging form beginners to experts riding the course. I asked him about the times in order to get figure out where I would fit in. He informed me that some of the faster pros could finished the 7.5 miles in little under 30 minutes. The intermediate class usually finished in the high 30’s and low 40’s. The beginners anywhere in the 40’s or 50’s. I had pretty much peddled my ass of the first round and I am almost positive I finished around 42 minutes, putting me at the back of the intermediate pack at best. I instantly had motivation for the ride the following morning.

I had one of the best nights of sleep I have ever had camping. The temperature was nice and the sound of the wind sweeping through the pine trees put me right to sleep. When I awoke in the morning I felt refreshed and ready to go. We starting packing everything up and I used the opportunity to stretch and warm up while listening to my Ipod. I decided it was time to head out around 10AM, and for the first time ever opted to take my music with me. I was a bit more reserved toward the beginning of the trail this time around. I did not want to burn out toward the end like I did the first ride. I also opted to hike-a-bike 3 portions in an attempt to sacrifice a little time for energy down the road. Midway through the ride I came up on a legit 6-foot-horned longhorn. Thankfully I scared him as much as he scared me. As I peddled away he actually contemplated rushing or bluffing. That was an interesting situation I tell you.

I had a little bit more energy toward the end of the loop than I did the previous day. I fumbled with my riding gloves in order to turn off SportyPal (all the while losing another 30 seconds). In hind site I should have attempted to climb every ascent sans the carpeted one which I cannot honestly see making it up on my Cake. My final ride result are here. I finally found some of the limitations to my Android GPS capabilities. Since many of the switchbacks were tight and practically overlapping, the final SportyPal distance read about 6.5 miles, instead of the actual 7.5 I will take the owners word on that one 99.99% of the time. After all he lives there and built and has ridden the course for the last 20 years or so. This also lowered my average speed. I noticed I was above 10mph the majority of the ride, yet finished in the mid 8’s.

BCR has to be one of my all-time favorite rides. It doesn’t zap you so much that you swear off riding all together for weeks as is the case with Mt. Laguna and Flat Rock Ranch. I could have ridden it 3-4 times comfortably in the day I was there. The speed of the course is a welcome change from the rock garden friendly, hill country rides. I really want to ride every trail worth riding within a couple of hours of my house, but BCR is going to make that hard. I have already vowed to take Alan there the first week of April, Pickle sometime in the Spring, and Laura any time we can. In all honesty I cannot think of many things I would improve except for a couple of teeter totters in place of cattle guards. I talked my father into swinging by Rocky Hill Ranch on the way home, so I would know where it was and what it was all about. The riders there looked very competitive, and I now understand how so many people bitch about “Fat Chuck’s Demise”. The hills out there are much larger than I expected. Maybe that will be my next destination. Who knows?

Below are my GPS exports:
Bluff Creek Ranch .kmz
Bluff Creek Ranch .gpx

Check out the gallery also.

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 @ singletracks.com. 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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