Day 36: April 27, 2007
Fayetteville, Texas to Pflugerville, Texas
Distance 98.4 miles in 6h 45m
Total Distance: 1,583 miles
Looking for Czechs...in all the wrong places.
The Bed and Breakfast I stayed in had a coffee table displaying several books and magazines about the local area, and also a printout of a document entitled "Czechs in Texas." Apparently, Fayetteville and the towns around it are known as the cradle of Czech settlement in Texas. The first group came over in the 1850's and from here scattered to other parts of the state. Maybe we should just call this area Czech-xas.
Of course I felt compelled to walk around town this morning looking for Czechs - and maybe some checks too, so I could help defray the cost of the B&B. It was still early and I saw only one person, an elderly gentleman, taking his morning stroll.
"Hi, are you Czech?"
"Well, I understand this area was settled by Czechs, so I thought I would go out looking for some."
"It was settled by Germans first."
"Are you German?"
I chatted with the man, named Kermit Hinzen, and he told me more about Fayetteville, where he had spent his entire life. He was right. As with many parts of the US, Germans were among the first Europeans to arrive. Others came later. In this part of Texas, groups of settlers such as Germans, Czechs, and Slovaks, had their own churches, schools, newspapers, and athletic clubs.
Since I wasn't having much luck finding actual Czechs, my thoughts naturally turned to food. Jerry Brown, the B&B owner, gave me some suggestions for places where I could find kolaches (pronounced 'kuh-LAH-chee'). This is a type of Czech pastry filled with fruit or cheese, or sometimes meat. He mentioned that some of the old-timers still spoke Czech with each other but there weren't too many around anymore.
I ran into Joe again - from Joe's Place - and he told me to swing by the grocery store on the corner of the square if I was looking for Czechs. The shop owner, Jerry - no relation to Jerry from the B&B - and his brother are full-blooded Czechs and they told me about the Czech presence in the area. They still speak the language, though they had never been to the old country. I told them about my two visits to Prague during the end of communism, and I also remembered how to say thanks in Czech, thereby exhausting most of my Czech vocabulary.
I took one last stroll through the town square before getting on the bike. I really like this little town, and was glad I hadn't made it to La Grange the night before because I would have missed this. When I try to imagine what a typical 1950's-era American town square looked like, this is exactly what I pictured. For anybody driving between Austin and Houston, please stop in Fayetteville. You might not find any Czechs, but don't be disappointed because you will still enjoy the time-warp experience.
As soon as I started pedaling west across the town square, I came across three cyclists. Brad lives in La Grange but used to reside in Fayetteville. He knows the roads well and gave me some advice for ways to reach Austin. He was doing a cycling loop of the nearby towns with Tom and Carol, natives of Virginia Beach who came to La Grange for the weekend to participate in a tandem cycling event. Tom served with the US Army in Vietnam as a member of the 187th Pathfinders.
I asked the group for some lunch suggestions, and Tom and Carol suggested I follow them into the center of La Grange, where they would lead me to a bakery which made the fabled kolaches. Arriving about an hour later at the Lukas Bakery, there were only a few leftover cream cheese kolaches from the previous day. Not bad, but I was hoping for a larger selection. I cheered myself up with several gooey cinnamon pastries. Of course, I had to ask Steve, the baker, if he was Czech, and of course he said his background was German...but his wife's family was Czech.
I said my goodbyes to Brad, Tom, and Carol, and made my way out of La Grange. On the western edge of the town, I crossed a bridge leading over the Colorado River. I had to scratch my head, wondering what this river was doing in central Texas. I was also starting to wonder what I was doing in central Texas. I don't know how I did it, but on today's ride I somehow managed to cross this river four times!
As I passed through the town of Bastrop, I noticed a sign for the local chapter of the American Legion, one of the veterans' organizations I joined just before starting the journey. It was nearly 5pm, and the bar was already full. Looked like everybody was having a good time, and I think I caught them off guard as I walked in wearing my screaming yellow cycling jersey and bike helmet with attached mirror. When I announced what I was doing, and mentioned that I was a member of the St Augustine chapter - with the license plate to prove it - they were very supportive and even took up a collection to donate to the cause. I really enjoy these unplanned visits. They gave me a license plate from their chapter and I continued on my way.
Texas continues to kick my butt. You think I would have learned my lesson by now, but this is my third day in Texas that I have managed to turn a day of "60 miles or so" into nearly 100 miles on the bike. It took me 98 miles to reach my destination, the city of Pflugerville, just north of Austin. Wendy Smith, the designer of this great website you are currently viewing, has an extra apartment here she never uses, and has graciously allowed me to take over the place during my visit. I've never met her, but feel like I already know her since we have a mutual friend, and she has helped me with this whole effort from the beginning.
I cycled the last 10 miles in darkness and didn't finish until after 9pm. Of course I only have myself to blame, since I devoted most of the morning to looking for Czechs and kolaches. Luckily, both of my lights worked fine, and there was little traffic on the road I was using.
As I approached Pflugerville, I started to wonder about the name of the place. I wasn't sure what a Pfluger would look like, having never seen one before. How big do they get? What do they eat? My friend Fernando, a long time Austin resident, wasn't sure either but guessed that a Pfluger is "about 6'3", drinks a lot of beer, and eats sausage."
I was trying to work out these mysteries in my weary mind, when I saw headlights behind me. I came to a stop, and pulled the bike off the road just to play it safe. I put my foot down on the pavement, only to discover that there wasn't any. Instead, there was a drainage ditch right next to the shoulder, which I promptly fell into. For a brief second, I thought to myself: "This is it...the trip is over...I'm going to die in Pflugerville and I never even got to meet any Pflugers."
Luckily, the ditch was only a few feet deep and I didn't do any major damage except for a few scratches. I had clearly overreacted, since it quickly became obvious that the car I was trying to avoid was much farther back then I had thought. The baseball-cap wearing Pfluger who was driving this car was actually quite concerned. He stepped out of the vehicle, walked over to the ditch, asked me if I was okay, and also helped me lift my bike back on to the road. Lesson for the day: Don't judge a Pfluger by its cover.
Local businesses in Pflugerville like to play on the "pf" sound. I saw a billboard advertising "Pfysicians for the Pfamily."
After meeting Wendy and devouring the burrito and Dr. Peppers she provided, one of the first things I did when arriving was to weigh myself on a scale. To my dismay and amazement, I have managed to lose only three pounds after cycling more than one month and 1500 miles across four and a half states. No doubt I will regain those lost pounds during my days in the Austin area.
I think I've reached the approximate mid-point of the trip, so I guess I will close out this chapter and sign off with:
Getting Pfat in Pflugerville...
Day 37-45: April 28-May 5, 2007
Pflugerville, Texas and the Austin area
Rest Days and a little bit of cycling at Fort Hood
Austin is close to the mid-point of the trip and I've always heard people talk about how much they enjoy the area, so it seemed like a good place to stop for a while. Even before I reached Austin, I noticed several people wearing t-shirts or displaying bumper stickers that said "Keep Austin Weird". I wasn't sure if the weirdness was part of an official campaign, but I did get to see plenty of freaks at an outdoor festival on Saturday called "Eeyore's Birthday". Eeyore was the donkey from Winnie the Pooh. I'm not sure why his birthday is celebrated, but huge crowds came out to celebrate, eat, drink, juggle, and just watch the revelry. If you want to see a collection of bizarre tattoos, body piercings, and outlandish costumes, you have come to the right place. This year marks the 44th year they've been observing old Eeyore's birthday.
A gathering like this wasn't something I expected to see in Texas, and I was told by my friend Fernando Labastida, an old friend and long-time Austin resident, that you won't find this in other Texas cities. He said Eeyore's Birthday hadn't changed much since he was in college here in the 80's.
Fernando and I lived in the same apartment complex in New York City, and we haven't seen each other in 30 years. While in Austin, I got to spend a good deal of time with him and his family. I'm realizing that this trip is not just about maximizing visits to Waffle House. Even better is the fact that I get to link up with friends who I haven't seen in ages.
My friends in Austin know how much I enjoy eating, and after Eeyore's birthday I went with Fernando and his daughter Adriana to The Salt Lick, a well-known barbecue place south of Austin. We were joined by Wendy Smith, the designer of this website, and her friend Cam, who bought me dinner after seeing how much I was enjoying myself. Not only was the food great, but you can also see barbecue in action at the huge grills near the entrance. It was the type of place that made me wish I had two or more stomachs so I could keep eating. Definitely one of those evenings when I really felt sorry for vegetarians.
The CBS station in Austin, KEYE, was interested in what I was doing (I'm talking about the bike trip not the eating), so I linked up with photographer Dennis Bateman at the KEYE studios on Sunday morning. Wendy brought along her two boys, Ben and Jordan, and Dennis treated us all to a tour of the studio, including a visit to the spot where the news anchors make their evening broadcasts. Seeing a TV station up close was an unexpected surprise and something new for all of us. Dennis suggested we conduct the interview at a nearby public park, and it worked out well. I put about 20 miles on the bike getting to and from the station, and also during the interview. I don't know how he did it, but Dennis managed to edit the story and get it broadcasted a few hours later on the 5pm news.
After the interview, Wendy took me to a great Lebanese restaurant called Byblos. She was an Arabic linguist during her time in the Army, and she enjoyed practicing her Arabic vocabulary with the owner, Elias Azam. When she told Elias about my cycling trip, he treated us to free lunches. I had forgotten how much I missed the cuisine in the Middle East.
In all the larger towns and cities along the way, I am trying to arrange informal gatherings - at a restaurant, of course - to talk about the ride and the underlying cause, mingle, and just get folks together for a good time. In Austin we went to Guero's Taco Bar. Luckily, there was nothing weird on the menu like menudo or tongue tacos. Two West Point grads, Elisabeth Claus and Mike Bradley, both from the class of '97, showed up. Elisabeth is an Army lawyer stationed at Fort Hood and she and her sister Victoria drove over an hour to meet us. Mike, who left the service a few years ago, brought along his fiancee Christine. They are both avid cyclists.
Bob Jones, an Annapolis '64 graduate and retired Navy Captain, is head of the local Annapolis alumni society, so I was very happy he was able to join us as well. He brought along his friends Tom and Ruth, both very supportive of veterans. Bob graciously picked up the tab for everybody. Thanks, Bob!
For most of the week, the weather was lousy. It was either raining, or looked like it was about to rain. Probably good that I didn't do much cycling this week. The weather finally cleared for a bit on Thursday, so Wendy took some time off from her job to take me on a sight-seeing tour.
There is no better way to start your sight-seeing day than with some kolaches. These are Czech-style pastries, filled with either fruit, meat, or cheese. The "Kolache Shoppe" in Austin had a huge selection, and some innovative kolaches including one with sausage and jalapenos. Wendy, who is getting the hang of this marketing thing, explained the cycling trip to the owner, Robert Ahrens. Robert treated us to several items, and I walked out of that store carrying about 5 pounds of kolaches. I can't imagine how I have spent more than 40 years on this planet, and never heard of kolaches until coming to Texas. My favorites were the raspberry, and the ham & cheese. Aaahh, the memories!
Our tour for the day included: the Willow City Loop, where we could see a stunning and colorful stretch of Texas wildflowers; the "Knot in the Loop" saloon, which doesn't look like much on the outside but inside looks like the kind of place where people congregate on weekends; and Enchanted Rock, a billion year-old enormous pink granite pluton (translation: big rock in the middle of nowhere). We hiked with a backpack full of kolaches more than 400 feet up to the summit, where we could see for miles around. It's one of the most popular places to visit in this part of the state.
We also stopped in Johnson City, the hometown of President Johnson. In a booth next to the road, a lady was selling fruit preserves and jellies, and during our chat she mentioned that her great-aunt had dated LBJ before he met his future wife.
On the way back to Austin, we went to the top of Mount Bonnell, which offers one of the best views of the city and the Colorado River. The view was great in the late-afternoon sunlight, but by this time we had run out of kolaches.
6th Street, and the area around it, is where many of Austin's bars and live music venues are located. Fernando took me out to some of these places, and we were joined by my old Army buddy, Sean Kirby. Sean and I were lieutenants in the same tank battalion in Germany, and he now lives in Dallas with his wife Kathy and their two girls. He drove down to Austin, and we enjoyed a few drinks while listening to live music. One of the bars we visited, "219 West", even passed around the hat among their staff members and took up a collection to support my ride.
Well, after hearing about Fort Hood for more than 20 years, I finally made it there. The Fort Hood Police department sponsored a "Ride of Silence" in memory of cyclists who have been killed while riding. Wendy drove me to the base, where I linked up with Army Captain Philip Crabtree, a Public Affairs Officer with the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood. Philip and I cycled to the staging area to meet the police escort and other cyclists.
Even though the weather looked really nasty, the turnout was good and some families even showed up with their kids. Renee Holmes, a reporter with the Fort Hood Sentinel, took several photos of the cyclists as the police escorted us along the route. Renee also gave me a brief interview, and I made sure to say thanks to the soldiers and families of Fort Hood.
Eric Turner, an experienced cyclist and Blackhawk helicopter pilot, invited me to join him and a few others for a 20-mile ride. Fort Hood is so big that you can cycle more than 100 miles around the training areas without leaving the base. Eric is a member of the Team Roadkill Cycling Club. Click here to see their entertaining but disturbing logo: http://www.teamroadkill.org/. I told Eric to look me up after he retires next year so we can do some cycling together.
After leaving Fort Hood, I started pedaling south towards Austin, but the wind was rough and the weather was getting worse. I was also a little worn out from riding with the cyclists earlier. So Wendy picked me up and we stopped at her friend Jenny's house for dinner. Jenny's husband, Jesse, is a Fort Hood soldier, and he helped me by connecting me with Eric and a few others on the base.
A week of eating kolaches and laying around waiting for the storms to pass have finally taken its toll on me. I am sure that I now weigh more than I did before starting this trip. Although I enjoyed my break in Austin, I'm sure I will be paying for this in the weeks ahead during the tough ride through west Texas and beyond.
Red & White grocery store - Fayetteville, TX
Old gas station now used as an antique shop - Fayetteville, TX
Fayetteville town square
The Country Place Hotel was built in 1900 and sits on the corner of the town square in Fayetteville. The town has a population of 280 people.
It's pronounced Bacha - not Baca. One of the many Czech names you will see in Fayetteville, TX.
Tom and Carol of Virginia Beach came to La Grange, Texas, for a tandem cycling event. Tom is a Vietnam veteran and served with the US Army's 187th Pathfinders.
Colorado River - now in Texas! For some reason I crossed this river four times in one day on my way to Austin.
Wendy Smith, an Army veteran of the Gulf War and native Texan, developed the Bike4Vets website and keeps it updated during the course of the journey. Here we are visiting her friends in Austin after the ride at Fort Hood.
The Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas.
Only in Austin...!
Fernando Labastida and I grew up in the same New York City neighborhood in the early 70's. He now lives in Austin with his wife and four children. This was the first time we've seen each other in 30 years.
Robert and Michelle Ahrens, owners of The Kolache Shoppe in Austin.
Check out this variety! And this is only half!
Diner in Johnson City.
Home of the World's Best Chicken Fried Steak!
Learning the local history is one of the many joys of traveling.
Willow City Loop Vistas
in the Hill Country
near Fredericksburg, Texas
Practice makes perfect.
You never know!
Getting ready for a ride with members of 'Team Roadkill' at Fort Hood.
Eric and Steve are experienced cyclists and active-duty soldiers stationed at Fort Hood.
Silent Bike Ride at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas.
Pfun for the whole pfamily in Pflugerville!
Don't let this happen to you. Traffic snakes finish last. This snake failed to yield on the I-35 exit ramp.