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Beer and bicycles.

That combination prompted me to drive nearly three hours from Victoria to Blanco, Texas to take part in the Real Ale Ride on Saturday, May 31st. I'm glad I went but I'm not sure I'll return next year.

 The terrain was somewhat hilly, which was to be expected as Blanco is in the Texas Hill Country. Also, for some reason, the ride began a bit later than the 8:30 a.m. start time. That might not seem like a big deal but it's a big factor when dealing with hilly climbs AND the Texas heat in the afternoon.

 For the most part, I enjoyed this ride but I did two things I rarely, if ever, do: walked a steep hill and called it quits before completing my ride.

 The hill was very steep and the majority of my fellow riders also walked it. I guess I was following the herd but my odometer said I had only pedaled 10 miles and I figured I should conserve my strength for the rest of the ride.

 The first rest stop was jam-packed with riders loading up on fruit, cookies, water and sports drinks. There were only two portable toilets so the line was long. There were 973 registered riders and more were expected the morning of the ride, a volunteer told me earlier.

 South of Blanco, in the little community of Kendalia, a deputy sheriff blocked traffic and directed us 50-milers to take the first left. I took a left but it was the second left. Not to worry - I just went the opposite direction of a looped route. I figured something was amiss when scores of riders were passing me from the opposite direction on Highway 3351 and no one seemed to be behind me.

 Finally reached the second rest stop and refilled my water bottles. The folks at the rest stop figured we were the last of the riders and starting packing up the refreshments. They didn't know that there were still thirsty riders heading for this stop. Back on the bike, I pedaled north on Edge Falls Road toward Kendalia, crossing a few dry creek beds, several cattle guards and a field filled with grazing goats. A fellow rider and I considered ending the ride at the next rest stop. At one point, I pulled over to massage my right foot. It was then that I got a painful cramp in my right leg. Fortunately, no one was around to hear me yelling in pain.

 About a mile or so from the next rest stop, at my 31-mile mark, I halted briefly. Just then, a ride volunteer driving an SUV pulled up and asked if I needed any help. I told her that I wanted to end my ride. She handed me an ice cold bottle of water and loaded my bike on the rack in the rear. I climbed inside the vehicle and joined a couple who had also decided to call it quits.

 We three riders felt somewhat embarrassed to have ended our ride early but our decision was confirmed shortly when we reached the next rest stop and watched volunteers packing up their supplies. Had I reached the stop on my bike, there might not have been any water there or anyone to help me. In the comfort of the SUV, we three riders saw the steep hills we would have faced on Crabapple Road. Once again, we felt we had made the right decision.

 I returned to the start/finish point - the Real Ale brewery and stood in a short line for a cup of the tasty brew. Most riders stood in a longer line for a barbecue dinner with trimmings. For some reason, I am not hungry after a long ride but I was thirsty, especially for a cold beer.

 After finishing the beer, I went inside and latched onto a group taking a tour of the brewery. One of the owners explained the beer-making process from brewing to bottling to cooling. That last part was a treat as we tour-goers stood in a 37-degree cooler for a few minutes as our guide explained the cooling process. Back outside in the heat, I helped myself to another free beer then headed back to Victoria.

 My suggestions for ride officials: Keep the rest stops open long enough for slowpokes like me to make it there. Also, maintain cell phone or radio contact so you know where the riders are on the road. Other than that, it was a decent ride.

-Eric