by Bill Minter
One of the things about serving as Tour de Gap co-director with my friend Mark Spurlock is that we no longer have time to ride in this fun event. At least not on the day of the Tour. On a Saturday last summer we got a group together and rode the 100k route to do some “recon” and help those who will ride in it this year get ready for the ride.Yep, it was hot… and humid that day. I felt like I did in my first few Tours… “can I just make it?” Not being in my best form this year, I knew I wouldn’t have a very fast time. But with total elevation gain of a nearly 2,000 ft, it would be the challenge it always has been.
We had 12 riders meeting at the Old Settlers’ Reunion Grounds in Buffalo Gap, starting out at 7:30 near the starting line.We rolled out of the Gap on FM 613 – a segment we call “the Rollers.” I thought the pace was, well, a little too spirited. I knew I would be burning more matches than I had that day and stayed to the back.
Not the first or only time I had been the lanterne rouge. The speed of our little peloton was varying so we kept yo-yo’ing and splitting into several groups. The coach he is, Shane (HSU Tennis) gave us a little primer on riding in an échelon at our first water stop. From then on, at least for a little while, we were all together like a well-oiled machine.
Then we headed back into Taylor County. No more flat fields, now we’re in the rugged cedar covered hills of the Callahan Divide. If you’ve ever ridden the longer course before, you’ll probably remember FM 1086… it goes on for-ever. But that’s where you can gain advantage, as the climbing kicks in, usually with a crosswind.
We turn onto US 277, the highway linking San Angelo and Abilene. Since it’s a US highway, the gradients aren’t as steep, but they’re there. We go through the Horse Hollow wind farm, which vies for the world’s largest. There’s a good bit of chipseal, but the shoulders are generally wide, except when there’s a passing lane. Finally we saw the 1 mile to historic marker sign for Coronado’s Camp [click for history] and said a prayer of thanks. Taking a right on FM 89 back to Buffalo Gap, we’re in the home stretch. A welcoming rest stop will be there (also about every 10 miles along the route) to get you the remaining miles back to the Gap a lot fresher than we were.
We do have to address what we call the Twin Sisters. They remind us that this is the northernmost part of the Hill Country. Then it’s descending below the Lake Abilene dam, passing the landmark Abilene State Park (free showers after the ride). Keep going past the entrance to Perini Ranch Steakhouse and the new home of the Buffalo Gap Chamber of Commerce, you’ll know you’re back home.
Down Cherry Street to the finish line celebration, where there will be a Barbecue food truck, category awards given and one of the best swag giveaways anywhere. Just stay around a little while and there’s a good chance you’ll win something.
Just as our group found out, on the 100k pre-ride, all of the Tour de Gap routes are challenging, beautiful and a whole lot of fun for both the riders and their friends. But most of all you’ll know you’re doing something you love for a great cause that changes lives – Big Brothers-Big Sisters.