Malvern AR – Bastrop TX
Wed April 27, 2022
I was up and at ’em early, retrieving coffee and breakfast sustenance from the hotel lobby, then retreating back into my room, a.k.a. road office, for the morning to work until check-out. I had a rare unpleasant experience dealing with the front desk clerk who was in the process of putting out breakfast. He outright refused my request for a late checkout at noon, citing “my manager told me not to allow any late checkouts”. I was a bit taken aback, as generally all the Choice hotels I’ve stayed had have been very accommodating (especially considering I’m at their Platinum points status), and at least offer to check with the housekeeping staff if there might be a problem.
So I planned for departure at the normal checkout time, and six hours later I had the bike packed and rolling right around 11:00. On the way out, the new desk clerk asked about my stay and, since he asked, I mentioned the inflexibility about late check-outs. He said the night clerk was brand new and was completely mistaken – it would have been no problem to stay and work an extra hour. Oh well, too late now. Beware all the clueless newly hired hospitality staff out there post-pandemic!
I had originally hoped to make a slight detour to check out some motorcycle pull-behind trailers at a dealer in Dennison TX on my trip down, but had finally received a call back from the business owner just this morning, letting me know that he had nothing in stock. So now, I just had a straight shot down to my start hotel just east of Austin in the small, charming town of Bastrop, situated on the banks of the Colorado River, where I’d now booked an additional night.
I jammed to the Texas Tornados over my bluetooth, appropriate background music as I cruised down through the remainder of Arkansas and through Texarkana, into the Lone Star State. The weather was beautiful and I-30 was quite a nice ride for most of the way toward Dallas, with rural scenery and wildflowers in the median. I always enjoy seeing the bluebonnets down here, but they weren’t fully in bloom yet.
The heavily industrialized and commercial concrete-and-steel landscape of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex began about 30 miles outside the I-635 loop, and the riding became decidedly less scenic for the remainder of the day. I-35 though Texas seems designed for the sole purpose of handling huge volumes of traffic at high speed. While it appears to be fairly successful in that regard, it sacrifices any hint of scenic beauty along the way. You are literally traveling on a huge concrete slab with at least six lanes of traffic, and almost an equal amount of concrete shoulder area on either side and in-between.
The towns and cities you are passing through are mere glimpses of chain stores and restaurants, set back at least a quarter mile and only recognizable from their colorful attention-grabbing signage. More concrete walls and barriers block most of it, and power lines dominate the skyline. Not to mention the sprawling interchanges with concrete ramps arcing and interweaving around each other to funnel the almighty automobiles where they need to go. While impressive in its engineering and efficiency, it’s not the most eye-pleasing roadscape for this New Englander, used to limited horizons with plenty of of trees and hills to hide the ugly human stuff, creating visual interest and depth of field. I feel more in touch with nature in metro Boston!
Ah well, I know Texas is big enough to house plenty of beauty in addition to the ugly parts. I was hoping to see some of it this weekend. The interstate fulfilled it’s primary function and delivered me quickly southbound to the Austin area, which I skirted to the east as evening fell to pick up Texas 71 towards Bastrop.
I pulled off the highway near my hotel just past 18:00, but decided to go find some dinner and scope my rally start receipt location before checking in. Turning under the interstate onto the Highway 150 Loop, I crossed over the Colorado River on a modern concreate span paralleling a more historical-looking steel truss bridge. Apparently now a pedestrian walkway, it’s one of the town landmarks as it’s included in some of the murals and other local signage I spotted around town.
My gas station of choice for obtaining a start receipt was a modern convenience store at the intersection with TX 95, but the pumps did not have accurate receipts. Luckily, I found a working ATM inside with good receipts and confirmed the store would be open 24/7. Then I headed back the way I’d come to the picturesque historic downtown sector to find my meal at a local catfish joint called Paw Paw’s, on Main Street.
It wasn’t too busy this late on weekday, just a few tables occupied with locals enjoying their dinner. They had a few spots on the sidewalk, but as pleasant as the night was getting, I was ready for some air conditioning and opted to sit inside to enjoy my meal. The place was sparsely furnished with several blown up photos of the owner’s family showing off huge catfish caught on a rod and proudly held up for the camera. Fishing gear of all sorts was strung up piecemeal on the walls to round out the effect – simple but not pretentious.
I ordered a basic fried catfish basket with hushpuppies and fries, with a lemonade. It was very relaxing to just sit and take in the local surroundings, feeling great that I was already at my destination and could settle in to get some work done tomorrow before signing off for the weekend’s ride. The fish was delicious and I made quick work of it.
Afterwards, while prepping the bike for departure, I noticed the Bastrop Beer Company right next door and went in for a look-see, hoping to purchase a sample to consume back in the hotel room. Unfortunately, they are not a brewery, but more of a bar/retail store combination. They did have a cooler case full of microbrews from all over Texas, so I went with a recommendation from the bartender.
On my way back to the hotel I noticed the gorgeous sunset and pulled a couple ueys to position myself for a shot of it over the river. Very peaceful. Then, I headed back to the commercial district by the interstate with my waiting room at the Quality Inn. I checked in and put in a couple more hours of work before bedtime, capping it off with a cold brew. The IPA was satisfactory.
Thur April 28, 2022
After a standard hotel breakfast on Thursday morning, I headed out on a stroll to get the blood moving and gather a feel for my surroundings. Though the hotel was plopped right in the middle of a strip mall district, turning a corner I found myself walking on brand new residential streets in the middle of a huge expanse of fields and marshland.
Looks like they’d built out the infrastructure for a new neighborhood, including sidewalks, but perhaps hadn’t gotten started on the actual house building yet. I could see construction of new homes farther away from the interstate on the edges of the expanse. Anyway, it made for a rather peaceful and quiet walk, with wildflowers and birds swooping around to catch bugs. I enjoyed just breathing in the morning Texas air and taking it all in. The interstate was a distant hum as I gained my land legs again after the two days of riding.
Back at the hotel I got my work done, taking a couple more mental breaks throughout the day for additional strolls outside through the un-development. I began feeling peckish around midday and searched online for a likely solution. One of the things I missed most about Texas is the authentic tex-mex food, probably my favorite cuisine. I was happy to see that one of the higher rated Mexican restaurants in town was right next door, and decided to head over for a late lunch/early dinner at mid-afternoon, so I’d be in the clear (gastronomically speaking) by rally start time in the morning. 😉
With last year’s IBR Tuscon bonus featuring the origin story for chimichangas still fresh in my mind, I ordered one. It was AMAZING. The salsa was extremely tasty with a nice kick to it, and I enjoyed los frijoles very much as well. Though I usually enjoy a margarita or two with my Mexican food, I prefer not to drink on the eve of a rally. Luckily the food stood up well on it’s own and I ate in blissful repose while watching the drama of local birds fighting for scraps on the sidewalk outside my window. When I got the check for $11.90 I could scare believe it – a meal like this would be close to $20 back home. 😍🌯🌮
I wrapped up my work for the week back, and set about last-minute prep for the rally, getting clothes laid out, GPS data loaded, and everything pre-packed. Generally, with a distributed or “anywhere” type start, you end up seeing other rally riders at or near your chosen start location, since we usually choose a place strategically near a bonus. My wondering as to whether this would be the case this time around was answered early that evening when I heard a bike pulling up near my window in the parking lot. I peeked out and saw a big GS backing in.
Shortly after, I saw a photo of my bike, parked under the porte cochere, come up in rider Kerri Miller’s feed on Facebook. I went out to say hello, but she’d already moved on to whatever pre-rally tasks drive her process. So I settled for a few messages to touch base and welcome her to Bastrop, passing on my newly-expert restaurant recommendations for the town. 😉 From the group Spotwalla map, it looked like there might be at least one other rider in town for the start as well. I wondered how similar all our routes would end up being.
I had been planning to watch the actual movie “Days of Thunder” tonight as a way to pass the time and get in the groove of the rally theme. However, my streaming services all wanted extra moolah for the privilege of watching a 30 year old movie, so I opted for a more modern, less pretentious substitute from Down Under: