Day 17 – 18 – Back on the Road

Houston, TX – Fredricksberg, TX
213 miles

Today I left Houston and continued my westward journey heading towards California.  The quickest way out of Houston is the big I-10 Interstate which runs East-West from Houston to El Paso (and beyond).  I left Randall’s house and drove on the highway for about three hours.  During that time, all I could think was that I had nothing to write about today.  Nada.  Just riding a big suburban interstate with the same 40 or so chain restaurants and hotels being advertised beside each exit.

That being said, this guy looks likes he’s going to have some fun somewhere.

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However, one thing kept nagging at me.  Every 30 or so miles this giant bucktoothed chipmunk, apparently named Buc-ee, kept showing up on billboards and extolling the virtues of his clean bathrooms, cold drinks, free beef jerky and all-around family fun.  My father once had his finger bit by a chipmunk so I generally regard the rodent species with a high degree of suspicion.  But the repetition of his message finally wore me down and I pulled over to see the famous Buc-ee’s and understand what this pushy chipmunk was talking about.

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The first thing I learned is that Buc-ee’s is a large chain of roadside gas and general merchandise stores.  However, the one I was visiting was one of their three largest.  The first third of the store was dedicated to clothing depicting the cheeky chipmunk that drew me in.  Think about that.  Imagine walking into your local Stop N Shop, Food Lion or Wegman’s and seeing the first third of the store dedicated to T-shirts with an A&P logo.

But what really blew me away was the next third of the store which was dedicated to food (no surprises here).  Most kwik-ee marts might offer a few gross hot dog roasting since the beginning of the Regan era or some cold sandwiches in a depressing refrigerator.  But Buc-ee’s had a massive selection of fresh Southern delicacies, a giant sandwich bar, and a touch pad system for ordering hot entrees.

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But what caught my eye was the huge selection of beef jerky.  Jalapeno, teriyaki, mild, spicy, elk, buffalo, turkey jerky were all sold by weight.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a selection that large in person, but I finally settled on a ¼ pound of buffalo jerky (after sampling 8 others of course).

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Randall had given me an idea for a detour from 1-10 which involved entering the Texas Hill Country and finding a road called The Devil’s Backbone.  How could I resist?  I pulled off at the Luling exit and remembered an article I read that claimed the town was home to some of the best BBQ in all of Texas.

They were wrong.

Luling, Texas is home to the best BBQ on the entire planet.  It is quite simply the best BBQ I have ever had in my life.

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Right off Main Street lies City Market BBQ, home to a temple of slow roasted meat since 1968.

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You walk in and quickly see a separate hermetically sealed chamber in the back where you enter to place your order for BBQ.  It was like going inside the humidor room at the Davidoff Cigar Showroom.  Inside, the pit crew takes your order and serves it up on some butcher paper with pickles and bread on the side.  I went with a half-pound of brisket and a half-pound of ribs.  No plates.  No forks.  No knives (not that you would ever need a knife – so tender).

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You leave the pit chamber and go to a separate counter to order your drinks (for me, sweet tea is the only libation to accompany BBQ of this caliber).  I sat down in a secluded booth to enjoy my feast much like my dog Piper goes into a quiet room with her bone.  The meat was so succulent of full of smoke and richness.

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A dash of their secret BBQ sauce added just the right notes of sweetness and vinegar to the luscious beef.  Just a hit of firmness would give way to the luxurious softness that everyone associates with BBQ.  Again, it was the best I ever had.

After finishing, I took the opportunity to walk around Luling and saw signs everywhere for the annual Watermelon Thump that would be happening in the next few weeks.  Apparently, this famous festival brings people from all over the area including live bands, eating contests, and amusement rides.  A local waitress was telling me how Main Street was wall-to-wall people during the Watermelon Thump.

But what interested me the most were the signs all over the streets and establishments of Luling soliciting votes for teenage girls to be elected ‘Thump Queen’ of the Festival.

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Now, I’ll be honest.  I’ve done a lot of thumping in my time.  But I’ve never heard of a town rallying behind, celebrating even, a girl who thumps the best.  Perhaps more towns should, given the value of the girl’s contribution to small town life.  The reality is, I sadly can’t stick around Luling long enough to evaluate for myself so I pushed on to Fredricksberg, Texas where I’d be staying for the night.

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Along the way, I found The Devil’s Backbone which coasted gently along the scenic ridge of Texas Hill Country.  The speed limit was 70mph and I didn’t push it much further than that.  It felt refreshing to get a little bit of altitude after the monotonous flat roads of Alabama and Mississippi.  But this was no Blue Ridge Parkway so I took a few photos and pushed on.

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Fredricksberg was founded by German immigrants over 150 years ago.  Their influence can be seen in the beer gardens, and German restaurants that still populate the town.  Everyone that knows me understands how much I love German food.  But after eating BBQ earlier in the day, I really wanted to indulge in a bit of lighter fare.

I spent the night at a Howard Johnson’s (the temperature at 102 degrees ruled out camping) and asked the lady at the front desk where one could get the best salad in Fredricksberg.

“Um…I don’t really eat a lot of salad.  I guess that’s really bad.” She admitted sheepishly.

“No,” I said reassuringly. “That’s not bad at all.”

But I did manage to stumble on one of the coolest restaurants I’ve discovered on my trip.  I drove 10 miles north out of town to the Hilltop Café.  This small roadhouse with neon highlights outside, camouflaged a fully gourmet menu and wine list.  Old jazz from Count Basie and Fats Domino played on the jukebox and old tin placards adorned the walls.  I had a salad along with red snapper ceviche served with homemade chips.   For an entrée, I enjoyed southern fried shrimp with a jalapeno grits mash (I know – this is light eating for Christof).  Everything was delicious, and soon I was back on the bike with a full belly riding back to the hotel.

Interestingly, this was the first time I had ridden on my bike in the evening.  Within one mile, I saw two families of deer cross the road.   I quickly slowed back down to 40 mph for the remainder of my ride and activated my auxiliary lights and my PIAA lights.  I was really grateful that I installed the extra lighting system because I could see the entire road like it was daylight.  And because I was wearing shorts and flip flops, having an accident would have been….severe.

I have to say there is something special about Texas.  The trip definitely no longer feels like the South, but rather, distinctively western.  Signs for ranches litter the roads as well as other reminders that I’ve crossed the half way mark to the West Coast.

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Tomorrow, I’ll try to make it to El Paso!

Comments

  1. 1. Reading your descriptions of Texas make me feel like I live on a different planet. It’s amazing how diverse our country is.

    2. Turkey Jerky. That’s fun to say!

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