A few weeks earlier we had received an invitation to make a ride out to the Marble Falls area with the Sabre/Magna group of Oklahoma/Texas (SMOT). As luck would have it, I don't have to work this weekend and we, my wife Beth and myself, can actually go along. We are both excited as it will be our first group ride and we will be meeting new people from Houston that I had met through the VF/VFR mailing list on the internet. We just have to work out the details.
The Houston area riders are going to be leaving early Friday morning and taking the long way to Austin. Beth and I can't get off of work and can't leave until Friday evening. The plan is to head to Austin after work and stay with our friend Will at his place. Then we will get up early Saturday morning and head to Marble Falls to meet the SMOT group. We would then form into groups and head out to explore the country side. It seems the weather has other plans.
Beth and I get away about 7:00pm and head out of Huntsville on HWY 30 towards College Station. The skies are full of high cloud cover and the light is all but gone. The temperature is hanging in the low 60's and the humidity around 85-90%!! While this is not all that cold, it is quite damp. About 30 miles out we hit Roans Prairie, a small town that consists of a few houses, a bar and a gas station at the only intersection in town. There we head South on HWY 90 to Anderson and then over to Navasota where we pick up HWY 105 heading West to Brenham. HWY 90 and 105 are both very nice rides with blooming flowers all along the shoulders. In Brenham we hit US Route 290 and take that the rest of the way to Austin. 290 is four lanes and not real exciting on the East side of Austin. We get into Austin around 10:30pm and settle in for the night.
During the night I wake several times to the sound of very heavy rain and rumbling thunder. This makes for great sleeping and makes it hard to get up early on a Saturday. We get up and make breakfast. As we are getting ready it starts pouring down rain outside. The clouds are dark and low and the temperature is in the mid-sixties. We consider bailing out on the ride but we have no way to let everyone else know we aren't coming. Finally it comes down to the fact that we all have rain suits, and what are they for except to ride in the rain? We suit up and head out.
The heavy rain subsides soon after we get on the road. We head North on US Route 183. It starts out as a three lane freeway in Austin and after a few miles turns into a two lane highway with lights every half mile or so. Traffic is heavy and the roads are slick as it is still drizzling. The cloud cover is still solid and hanging very low. In White Stone we head West on FM 1431. The road is still wet now, but the rain has all but stopped.
We are running behind and there is no way we are going to make it to Marble Falls by 9:00am, the agreed meeting time. I hate being late, especially for a first meeting and I hope that they will wait for us. Will is in the lead and despite the wet roads he is hauling. He rides a 1999 Kawasaki ZRX-1100. Once we get a few miles out of town the road drops down to one lane each way and becomes a really awesome ride. Will just can't resist the curves. Beth and I take a more subdued pace. The tops of the hills vanish into the cloud base producing the feeling that we are driving through tunnels. Everything is wet and the colors of the wildflowers really come alive. We have no visibility problems at all.
FM 1431 twist and winds it's way for nearly 35 miles generally following the contours of Lake Travis and the Llano River. Bluebonnets in full bloom line nearly the entire way. For the most part this road is great. There are not very many side roads or driveways and you are basically out in the sticks with very little traffic. There is a section a few miles long where livestock are free to roam unchecked by fences. You know you have entered this section when you go rumbling over the cattle guard in the road. In dry conditions this is no big deal, but in wet conditions, it is another matter. The guards are steel pipes laid across the road flush with the pavement with about an inch and a half between them. Both of the guards were in the middle of curves! Let's just say that wet steel pipes are slippery and let it go at that. I never did actually see any livestock.
Eventually, Beth and I catch up to Will because he is stuck behind a truck he cannot find room to pass. We drive through some areas of construction as we near Marble Falls where they are widening the road to two lanes each way and are straightening some of the sharper curves (bummer!). We are about twenty minutes late and I fear no one will be there when we get to town. As we approach the main intersection in town, I spot a bike parked in the Pizza Hut parking lot across the intersection from us.
We pull in the parking lot and meet Mike Guillory. His wife Charlene comes over a minute or two later. I gratefully thank him for being so patient and waiting for us. We then spend the next thirty minutes or so chatting in the parking lot and checking out everyone's bike. Mike fires up his 94 VFR 750 so we can hear his TwoBros Carbon Fiber pipe. Man what a sweet sweet sound. I am now one step closer to getting a pipe for my bike. Mike's VFR is not your run of the mill VFR, check out that TURBO sticker on the side of the fairing! I bet he can go real fast! hehe.
We mill around for a while getting to know each other and discussing the rest of the day. With the bad weather expected to get worse, Charlene decides that she would like to head back to Houston now and try to beat the weather rather than risk getting caught in it Sunday. Mike shows us where they were planning to ride and he decides to head back with Charlene. We decide to ride despite the weather because we can always head back to Will's place within a short time. I snap some pictures and we say our goodbyes.
We head over to an Exxon and gas up the bikes, all of which are unbelievably filthy from the road spray and the construction zones. Then we hit the local Dairy Queen for some goodies hehe. Due to the possibility of the weather getting worse we decide not to explore Mike's proposed route and instead head right back down FM 1431. We figure it was a blast coming out and should be just as fun going the other way. It is.
We are almost at far end of 1431 and we come around a corner to see flashing emergency lights and have to get on the brakes in a hurry in the middle of a wet corner. We all manage to stop with no problems and are then directed to the side of the road by the local law. We are perched at the top of a fairly steep ravine. It seems that a car heading the other way did not make the turn going into the ravine and went off the road and flipped. Fortunately the woman driving had on her safety belt and walked away with a few scratches and shot nerves. The tow truck drags the car out of the ravine and drives off. We get to go to the head of the traffic when they start letting us through, that was cool.
We get back to US 183 with no problems only to get stuck in heavy stop and go traffic for the next twenty minutes as we make our way South back towards the freeway section in North Austin. After some wrist wracking clutch work, we finally get to the freeway section of 183 and hustle back to Will's place. We munch and hang out for the rest of the day generally being slugs.
Sunday morning rolls around and we get ready to head home. After brunch we load up the bikes and head back out 290. Rather than go to Brenham, we decide to take HWY 21 to Caldwell and then to College Station going back. HWY 21 is scenic and has less traffic than 290. Also, it is four lanes and we don't have to worry about getting caught behind anyone. The cloud cover is high but there is very little rain. Once we hit the East side of College Station, the temperature gets into the low seventies and we actually see some patches of blue sky through the clouds.
Despite the weather, we had a really great time. Riding in wet conditions can be fun as long as you remember to ride within the limits. It is a great time to really focus on being smooth and setting up your corner speeds BEFORE you get into the turn. Our Tourmaster Cortech suits worked great at keeping us warm and dry. Our Tourmaster luggage performed great. This is really the first time we had ridden in wet conditions for more than a few miles. I still won't go looking for wet conditions, but neither will I be as uncertain about riding in rain anymore. It was nice meeting the Guillorys and putting faces to names. Hopefully we will get to ride with them in the future. They are one of two couples that we know where both the man and the woman ride their own bikes like us. That is cool.