To the Training Grounds and Back

The Rio Grande Valley has many fine cycling routes to choose from. It all depends where you are at and what you want to do. For me, I like to be out on the country roads and away from all the hubbub of cars. You don’t need to go far before you start seeing pastures for the cattle or horses. Sometimes you get the goats or the more exotic animals such as Long Horn cattle, Emu’s or Llamas. One of my favorite route doesn’t have the farm animals but instead farm land and the Rio Grande river dominate the landscape. I call it To the Training Grounds and Back.

Training Grounds Map

To the Training Grounds and Back

Riding out on the route it passes the Hike & Bike Trail in Mission and I always take a glance at the parking lot to see if I recognize anyone. Mostly no, but every once in-a-while I do. A friendly wave or a “Howdy” is called for. It is clear that the trail is very popular with all the cars jammed into the parking lot. Once in a blue moon I’ll ride the trail to get to the other side but I usually don’t since the paved path is not is so good shape in certain parts. Riding it at night is always fun though!

Riding on past that you get to a turn and start heading to levee. Used to be crossing that stretch was relegated to those with 4×4’s or mountain bikes due to the excessive large pot holes, but no more. Improvements to the road makes it a nice ride over looking the sugar cane fields next to the border river called the Rio Grande. On the other side of the levee is rugged brush land that’s a combination of private property and part mountain bike trails. Often you see the Border Patrol parked over looking the land looking for illegal immigrants that cross the river. Yes, they do catch people here, especially when the sugar cane field is just planted or harvested.

After crossing the levee this bring you to the loop. The loop is at the end of the route before you have to turn back. Although the loop is only 3.5 miles long, you do get some good training because you get the wind in all directions plus a half mile stretch of chip seal road thrown in for good measure. Also at the loop leads you to Bentsen State Park that is very popular for birding and other family related activities. Often I spot a family riding into the park for some site-seeing. The Hike & Bike trail crosses here and continues on to the state park. I usually stay on the road because I can go faster but many other cyclist do ride the trail. It all depends on your comfort level.

If you are a Butterfly enthusiast be sure to stop by the National Butterfly Center which is also on the loop. The center is situated about a mile from Bentsen State Park and the two put together would make a nice time out with the family.

Besides the two parks, this stretch of road is popular with runners, walkers and people fishing along a canal bank that is near by. It’s all part of the Hike & Bike trail system that is about five miles long. One end is Bentsen State Park and the other end is the Hike & Bike trail parking lot. This makes the area a prime spot for outdoor related activity.

To the Training Grounds and Back is not a terribly long route. Straight out and back is roughly 15 miles but it’s fun, consistently low automobile traffic (most of the traffic is the Border Patrol) and the scenery is nice. If I want to do longer rides there are several point along the route that I can take off and add additional miles or take an alternate route back home. This is my favorite go to route.

Mapping Bicycle Routes in the Rio Grande Valley

One of the things I wanted to do with this blog is to share bicycle routes here in the Rio Grande Valley, specifically the Mission-McAllen-Edinburg metroplex area. I started out with individual routes of rides I have taken and those can be found in the Routes tab at the top. Initially, I thought I would just add a whole bunch of rides of me going to various places in the area and just build up a collection. But after some thought and laziness I came up with a better idea, Google maps!

Google Maps Overlays

If you don’t know already, Google maps has what is known as overlays (or layers) that you can choose to display on the map. They range from traffic congestion to terrain to bicycle routes. If you open it up and select Bicycles all the bike routes will be displayed for the area you have open. It also gives a small legend to describe to color scheme used to display the various bike routes. It is divided into three parts, Trails, Dedicated lanes and Bicycle friendly roads.

Now, with the Bicycling layer turned on, you can see all the routes in the area. This should make it easier to plan your route to your destination. Many of these routes I entered myself (and cycled on) with a little help of my friends. In the months to come, I’ll be adding more routes and hopefully get most if not all roads that are safe to ride on. Keep in mind that I don’t plan on adding neighborhood roads, but I will be adding major arteries that help you get from one town to another.


Texas and the Rio Grande Valley

For those that don’t know where the Rio Grande Valley is, we are located at the bottom of Texas. It comprises of four counties, Starr, Hidalgo, Willacy and Camron county. The area I live in is in central Hidalgo county near the county seat of Edinburg, Texas. The terrain is flat with overpasses and wind providing the hills. Temperatures typically exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months and in the 50’s during a cold front in the winter months. Riding is pretty much an all year in this area. Wohoo!!

Help me out, if you see a section of the road that is not marked let me know and I’ll work on getting it added to Google Maps. There is also another source for cycling routes and that is through the Hidalgo County MPO. Contact them for details and consider joining their Bike-Pedistrian Task Force and get involved.

Have fun exploring the bicycle routes in the Rio Grande Valley!

Mission/McAllen/Edinburg metroplex area on a Chip Seal Spree

In the last two months I have noticed that several of the outer laying roads in the Mission/McAllen/Edinburg metroplex area are being resurfaced in the Chip Seal way. First was part of my route that I cycle after work, Ware Rd from 107 to Monte Christo street. As a result, I no longer take that loop. I drive back home and ride afterwards. It’s not bad as I still have plenty of daylight left to zip around.

Sometime later, I was heading over to go see a movie, and I ran across another section of Ware road getting the same treatment of Chip Seal resurfacing. This time it is a heavily used cycling route from Expressway 83 south to Military road. Another one bites the dust.

Let’s not forget the Granjeno loop. That was such an enjoyable ride through farmland and county parks, but now, forget it. No one rides that section if they can help it. It’s not enjoyable with your teeth rattling form the bone jarring ride you get.

Now, today I was planing a route to Bentsen State park for the Ciclistas Urbanos cycling club and I ran into a 3-mile stretch on Bentsen Palm Drive from Business 83 to the park. Ugh! When will it stop! It seems that many of our routes are being chopped up and there is really nothing you can do about it. One or tow people complaining at a public meeting has zero effect and good luck getting cyclists to ban together and join a cause.

For those that don’t know what Chip Seal is or what the big deal is, Chip Seal is a method of road construction where they basically place a sticky substance (liquified asphalt) on the bottom and dump aggregate┬á on top. Then it is mashed down with a big roller to stick to the hot asphalt (acts like a glue). It is an inexpensive method of road maintenance that good for cars but terrible for cyclist. Riding on that kind of surface is akin to riding on a dirt road with a controlled distribution of rock sizes. Even on my carbon framed bike it was a rough ride. It also slows you down as it is harder to pedal on (at least to me). For those that want to learn more on it, I found this link that does a great job of what it is and the benefits of it for automobiles.

To me, this is terrible news. We are trying to encourage more cycling in our area with cycling clubs for all levels. Long distance riding or endurance rides will be the ones primarily affected. You know it wouldn’t be so bad if they just redo to road where the cars drive and leave the shoulders alone. Some say to turn this negative into a positive, the Tour de France has their cobble stone roads and we have our chip seal! If you ask me, I rather not have either.

What can we do about it? Pretty much nothing. City planners, TXDOT, and others don’t give a damn about cyclist or other minority users such as motorcyclist’s. Cars is where the action is at and they will not do anything to promote other modes of transportation.

I don’t know of anyone or group that has successfully launched a Stop This Shit campaign but if you have, let me know. I’d like to hear from you about it.