Fire and Rock | Octane Press

Fire and Rock

50 Fridays #4

As has become the usual Friday drill, I intended to be riding by 1 pm and in fact didn’t do so until late afternoon. My idea was to ride Bueschler State Park’s new patch of singletrack. I’d heard this was a good patch of trail, out in the lovely pines near Bastrop.
So I drove in to the park headquarters, renewed my annual Texas State Park pass and just as I was getting my stamped paperwork, said, “I’m really looking forward to mountain biking the new park trails.”
“Oh,” the ranger said, “we only have 1.5 miles of any trails open since the fire. And the mountain bike trails are all closed.”
Well, hell.
Thankfully, Rocky Hill Ranch is less than 20 minutes away from Bastrop State Park. So I could ride there. I decided to drive through Bastrop on the way to Rocky Hill, to check out the damage.
Besides, I’d just dropped nearly $100 on passes. Might as well get something out of that.
I’d heard about the Bastrop fire in October, but hadn’t been out to check the area. This was the second large fire to hit the park. The first came on September 4, 2011. Joan and I had ridden the road between Bastrop and Bueschler park that day. It was windy as hell, and branches were literally raining down on the road.
As drove out of the park, the fire trucks were screaming down the road towards the park. The fire raged for five days, burning 34,000 acres and nearly 1700 homes.
The October 2015 fire was much smaller, burning just over 4,300 acres and destroying only 9 homes.
The 2015 fire’s affect on the park, however, was catastrophic. Sheltered by tall pines, the road between Bastrop and Bueschler stayed cool even in the depths of Texas summer and the twisting, little-traveled made a lovely road ride.
Much of that was unrecognizable. The October fire’s 4,300 damaged acres appeared to have been centered right on top of one of my favorite places in Texas.
Thankfully none of this had affected Rocky Hill Ranch. My start was already late—this is a trend I hope to reverse in coming Fridays—and the delay at the park meant I didn’t get out on the trails until 3:41 pm.
Rocky Hill Ranch is a private spot, and you drop your ten bucks and a signed waiver in an old metal box, grab a map and go.
A guy was loading up as I was unloading, and we chatted a bit. He told me that the trail map “wasn’t very useful” but I shouldn’t worry---just follow the path.
So off I went. The property is a long, skinny parcel, and the trail winds fiendishly, curving into itself without crossing. As you might guess, the trails are rocky and the terrain hilly. While not terribly technical, the loose rock, off-camber turns, and tons of short, steep climbs make it reasonably challenging and good fun to ride.
Contrary to what the guy at the trailhead told me, I found the map pretty easy to follow. Many of the trails are marked with names, and the map—which appears to have been drawn on a Commodore 64—has two-letter codes on it and a key on the right.
For the most part, it was pretty good. Until I got onto a longer segment that wound through a pine-filled series of valleys. The valleys were low, the sun got lower, and the trail was on the pine needles. At times, you had to look carefully to see where it ran.
I wondered for a bit if it got truly dark, how in the hell would I find the trail?
I rode on, and eventually came out at one of the bailout points. I burned my way home, and took a series to completely excellent trails whose name I told myself to remember and I don’t anymore. I do remember The Grind and The Wall, which are both short, deep valleys that are a gas to bomb down and grind up.
The losses of the Bastrop fire were sobering and perhaps a bit of lesson: Don’t take things you love for granted—they may be gone tomorrow.
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