Every year while the wildflowers are blooming, I load up my bicycle and head to the Hill Country to pedal the Willow City Loop.
The hilly circuit makes me whimper a little – especially that giant hill about 3 miles from the finish, which turns my quads to jelly – but the reward comes in the form of classic Texas vistas of blue, yellow and red blooms, limestone outcroppings and, if you’re lucky, a flowing creek or two.
This year, I missed the bluebonnets, which peaked about three weeks ago. That turned out OK, though, because instead of a steady stream of motorcycles and slow-moving cars, I encountered hardly any traffic. Plus, I saw something new – fields of blooming cactus with fuschia and yellow flowers.
To do the ride, park your car on the side of the road in Willow City, which consists of a bar called Harry’s, a couple of houses, a historic school, a single intersection and bunch of goats.
For best results, bike the loop in clockwise direction, heading west first until you reach Texas 16. Turn right on Texas 16 and head north along this busy two-lane highway. (This is my least favorite part.) Keep your eyes open — you’ll get a quick glimpse of Enchanted Rock to the left just before you start the big downhill glide. A few miles after you reach the bottom, you’ll see an official highway sign directing you to the Willow City Loop on the right.
The land along the road is private, and vehicles aren’t supposed to stop along the right-of-way. (They do anyway.)
You’ll cross lots of cattle guards (caution!) and a few small creeks, weave alongside some craggy boulders, and spy fields of flowers and cactus. We also spotted a wild turkey, a tortoise meandering down the road, a bunch of cattle and a gray fox. Near the end, take note of the long stretch of fence, with cowboy boots capping each post.
Most of the motorized traffic drives the loop in the opposite direction, so you’ll see cars coming at you. About 3 miles from the finish, you’ll see an imposing ridge rising in front of you. Take a big gulp of air and prepare to mash your pedals.
We call it the hill that keeps on giving. The first part is steepest, with a break followed by another moderately steep stretch. Even when you think you’re done, the gradual incline continues all the way to Willow City.