Solo Camping at Pedernales Falls State Park

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/7.1, 1/125 sec, ISO250
“Campsite” Johnson City, 2020

I’ve been wanting to go for a solo camping trip ever since I watched the shows Yurukyan and Hitori Kyanpu de Kutte Neru, which both feature a lot of solo camping. Since I had Friday off, I checked the campsite availability at Pedernales Falls State Park and saw that they had one site open for Friday evening, so I quickly grabbed it and decided to go for my first solo overnight trip!

I actually have a few new items of camping gear I wanted to try out before I head out to Big Bend National Park next month so this would be the perfect opportunity. My original plan was to hike to the campsite, set up camp, then hike some more trails before calling it a day. The following morning, I would break camp, return to the car and then bike around the park.

While I was checking out the cycling opportunities at Pedernales Falls State Park, I found a few videos on YouTube that showed people cycling on the trail that leads up to the primitive campsites where I’d be staying. So then I thought, hey, why don’t I try bikepacking, and load all of the gear onto the bike and ride to the campsite? Most of my camping gear is compact and light which make it easy to pack onto the bike. Even my relatively bulky Nemo Switchback sleeping pad was easily strapped to the handlebars.

Photo info: motorola moto g(6), 3.95mm, f/1.8, 1/1400 sec, ISO100
“On the Trail” Johnson City, 2020

The campsite is actually only 2 miles or so from the parking lot which isn’t far at all, but I thought this was perfect, because if for some reason my bicycle broke or I got a flat, I could easily just push the bicycle to the campsite or back to the car. I haven’t ever fully loaded the panniers before, after all.

However, my worries were unfounded, because the bike performed great, even with road-oriented touring tires. I did have to push the bike once when I got off my line while going up a steep hill and lost forward momentum, but other than that, it was 30 minutes of non-stop fun, and so much easier than lugging a heavy backpack on my back.

Now that I know how my gear fits on the bike and how the bike performs, it opens up new possibilities for longer trips on the bicycle. Time to check the map!

Some of the new items of gear this trip are:

  • REI Quarter Dome SL1 Tent – Perfect size for me (I’m 5′ 6″). I can keep a good amount of gear inside the tent with me. At about 2.5 lbs including poles, stakes, and footprint, it’s half the weight of my 2-person Marmot Catalyst tent.
  • Soto Amicus Stove and Cookset – Boils water fast and it’s very compact. Even has a built-in igniter! The Soto pot and cup have a good width to match the flame size of the stove.
  • Aegismax Down Sleeping Bag – The temperature dropped to the low 50s (F), which I would say is the lower limit of this sleeping bag. Very small and light, so it would be great for warmer evenings.
  • REI Flexlite Air Camp Chair – At one pound, this is a really easy “luxury” item to bring along. After a long hike, a chair is so much better than sitting on the ground or a log.

All-in-all, everything worked out nicely, and I had a great time solo camping. It was a relaxing getaway, completely unplugged (no cell signal). Highly recommended!

Here are a few more photos from my solo camp excursion, including some from the hiking trail, an armadillo that I came across, and a few from the Bird Blind on the other side of the park. Enjoy!

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/7.1, 1/400 sec, ISO200
“Wolf Mountain Trail” Johnson City, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/7.1, 1/60 sec, ISO800
“Armadillo” Johnson City, 2020

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Packed Up

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/5.6, 1/18 sec, ISO6400
“Packed Up” Cedar Park, 2020

I’m planning on camping (solo) overnight soon at Pedernales Falls State Park, so I was putting all my gear into my backpack in preparation to hike into the primitive campsites. I also wanted to bring my bicycle along and explore the park by bike if time allows, and when researching the bike activities in the park, I learned that most of the trails are open to bicycles, and that the trail to the primitive campsite that I will be staying at is very bike-friendly, therefore I will try my hand at a bit of bikepacking.

One of the nice things about having some ultra-light camping gear for backpacking is that it is also great for bikepacking. If you aren’t familiar with that term, bikepacking is similar to bicycle touring, but more off-the-beaten-path.

With my current pannier setup, I can fit all my camping gear, food/water, camera, and clothes. As much as I dislike having anything on my back while riding, I will probably wear a small daypack which will come in handy if I want to hike at all, and also, I can pack it with my kindle, camera, and camp clothes which will be very light (just a beanie, sleep clothes, and extra socks & underwear), and not stuff the panniers too much.

I think this setup will be good, but I’ll let you know how it goes!

Gravel Bicycle Ride in Castell, Texas

“31 Miles” Castell, 2020

Today I headed out west to the Texas Hill Country to do my first proper gravel ride. The route I took starts in the small town of Castell, and loops around to the south before ending back at the town for a total of 31 miles. I rode in the counter-clockwise direction, which pretty much starts out on gravel, and ends on paved roads. I think that worked out great, because at the end of the 31 miles, I was pooped, and hitting that smooth asphalt was welcomed.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/11, 1/320 sec, ISO200
“Gravel Ride” Castell, 2020

As I mentioned before, this is my first proper gravel ride on my bicycle. I used to ride roads like these on my motorcycle quite a bit and that actually gave me some good experience that translated well to the bicycle. For instance, when there’s a sandy part, it’s best to have a decent amount of speed so you can keep your momentum going, and when things get squirrelly, the best option is to give it some gas, or in the case of the bicycles, to just power through. You might think being in a granny gear would be good for sand, but no… if you are going that slow, you won’t have enough momentum. Better to be in a middle/low gear and push down hard!

But this route is really not too difficult as far as sand was concerned. I only had to get off and push twice, and each time was only for half a minute or so before reaching firmer dirt. For a newbie like me, this route was perfect. Not too easy, but not too tough either. About half way through, there was a pretty steep hill where I had to shift into my lowest granny gear. It was awesome! I have a triple chainring on my bicycle, and I keep it in the middle chainring 95% of the time, but I had to throw it into the low chainring in order to make it up that hill without spending too much effort. So much fun!

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/11, 1/160 sec, ISO200
“Shady Spot” Castell, 2020

One thing about this trail is that there’s plenty of washboard surface to deal with. You can usually find a smooth line but it takes a lot of attention, which means that it’s not a completely leisurely ride. You have to actually watch where you’re going! 😄 A couple of times, there was no smooth line through, or it was on the other side of the road and I couldn’t reach it quick enough, and I went over the washboard a bit too fast. I thought my bike was going to fall apart with all that rattling! But luckily she held together, and the only “damage” was that my top-heavy phone/holder would work its way downward with each big bump and I would just have to readjust it. 😊

My bike has a cheap suspension fork, which just about everyone says is junk and should be replaced. I think that is good advice if you are are using the bike for proper mountain-biking, but for the type of riding I do, the simple spring suspension is really nice. It doesn’t require maintenance, removes road vibration, and I don’t think there’s a lot of energy loss when pedaling. Modern gravel bikes have rigid forks, but I’m very happy with the simple suspension fork and appreciate the comfort that the 2.5 inches of travel provides. I’m sure my wrists are better for it after all the washboard today!

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/11, 1/3200 sec, ISO3200
“Big Dip” Castell, 2020

The nice thing about this gravel route is that there were no cars to deal with. For the first half of the ride, which was all gravel, I only saw one ATV. That meant I could ride anywhere on the road to find the smoothest line. It was great! Towards the end of the ride, where there were more homes, I saw maybe 4 or five trucks, which were all going at a slow speed and gave me a wave. I suspect most gravel roads have a similar lack of traffic which makes gravel rides so appealing.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/11, 1/480 sec, ISO200
“Granite Section” Castell, 2020

The remoteness was refreshing, but if you are riding this route, make sure to have some basic tools and a way to fix a flat tire, since you might not see another person for a while. I always carry a tube, patch kit, pump, first aid kit, and basic tools in my pannier, so I wasn’t too worried about getting stranded. If worse came to worse, you could always walk back and pick up your bike later.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/11, 1/400 sec, ISO200
“Gravel Ride” Castell, 2020

This loop goes to the south of Castell, but there’s also a north loop, which looks like it would also be fun. I’m looking forward to riding that in the future. Actually, there’s an event called the Castell Grind where you can ride the South Loop, or both loops if I understand the description correctly. It looks like quite the race! Not really my thing, but it’s neat that something like that exists.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/4.5, 1/2000 sec, ISO200
“Gravel Ride” Castell, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/11, 1/400 sec, ISO200
“Mango” Castell, 2020

If you are a newbie to gravel riding, and live in Central Texas, I highly recommend a visit to Castell. It’s a terrific ride! I enjoyed the solo trip, but I think it would be great with one or two friends, and pack a lunch to enjoy together halfway through the route. Next time!

Overnight Getaway

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5.6, 1/120 sec, ISO200
“Bed View” Wimberley, 2020

We took a mini-vacation not to far from home at Getaway Hill Country with a couple of good friends. Mariko and I were in one of the tiny cabins, while our friends were in another one, but we got to relax together outside and enjoy a campfire and some yakiniku in a safe setting. And even though the moon was out, I was able to take a half-decent photo of the stars. 😀

Here are a few photos from our over-nighter:

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5.6, 1/320 sec, ISO200
“Driveway” Wimberley, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5, 1/100 sec, ISO1250
“Small Cabin” Wimberley, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5, 1/100 sec, ISO2000
“Dinner Fixins” Wimberley, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/4, 1/100 sec, ISO320
“Rice Cooking” Wimberley, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/4, 1/100 sec, ISO250
“Tequila” Wimberley, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5, 1/100 sec, ISO800
“Campfire Friends” Wimberley, 2020
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/2, 13 sec, ISO800
“Hill Country Sky” Wimberley, 2020

A Visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.5, 1/125 sec, ISO3200
“Viewing Triptych” Houston, 2020

I’d never been to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston before, so I was excited to visit today. There was an exhibit of Francis Bacon’s later work which was pretty good. I was not familiar with his work, so it was a nice education. But what I really enjoyed was the permanent collection on the 2nd floor.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.5, 1/125 sec, ISO640
“Slaying the Minotaur” Houston, 2020

This Greek wine vase was very interesting to me because I just recently finished the novel Circe, so I was familiar with the characters shown in the painting: Ariadne, Theseus, the Minotaur, and Daedalus. I love the style of these Greek depictions.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.5, 1/125 sec, ISO2000
“Matisse” Houston, 2020

One of my favorite artists is Henri Matisse so it was thrilling to see two of his paintings. I especially love his line work in the faces of his subjects.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/3.6, 1/125 sec, ISO4000
“Virgin of The Annunciation” Houston, 2020

I’m not so interested in religious depictions, but I thought this painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was excellent.

I would have liked to stay longer in the museum to look at the paintings more closely, but sadly it closed at 5 pm. I guess I’ll just have to come back again! 😊

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.8, 1/125 sec, ISO2500
“Walking By” Houston, 2020