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WORDS: Daniel Wakefield Pasley | PHOTOS: Daniel Wakefield Pasley
Many rides, especially the most memorable and heroic, are remembered, defined even, by deeds and events. Often the route, especially in a race, is reduced to a collection of roads, topography and various opportunities, and is at best a back drop. Of course, when it comes to the stunning natural beauty of lakes and valleys and majestic mountain passes, even the hurried and otherwise engaged can’t help but notice the terrain through which they navigate. But otherwise and far too often, in the absence of heroism and world class geography, the route is simply a means.
The Rapha Continental was inspired in part by the belief that a ride should be a character as much as the setting. A well-constructed, well-plotted route orchestrated to exhibit flow and rhythm that exalts the natural beauty of a region, is and can be story enough. That distance, road surfaces, communities, sights and people are all part of an experience sometimes more interesting and noteworthy than our average speed or total elevation.
337 is the story of Texas Hill Country, a time and mood as much as a place, possibly better befitting the setting of a Cormac McCarthy novel. The ride, named for the county road where the hardest climbing and grandest vistas come, is a variation of the Leakey (lake-ee) Death Ride, named after the township of Leakey through which many major hill country roads emanate.
Texas Hill Country is 10,000 square miles of escarpments, springs, lush valleys, limestone and granite outcroppings, caves, dude ranches, wildflower fields, riparian hardwoods and frontier towns. It’s called the heart of Texas and yet many remark it is grand enough to be it’s own state—a second Texas, this one rolling and verdant. The Spanish called it ‘Lomeria Grande’, which translates simply enough as ‘great hills’. Texas Hill Country is where eastern Texas ends and central Texas begins. It’s where cotton and cornfields yield to wildlife, rugged ranches and rocky pockmarked hillsides.
The ride like the countryside is at once unremarkable and marvelous. Both are dusty, faded and rough. The sun is muted but strangely intense. The flora is scraggly brown, olive green and sage. The rocks riddled about the hills and lining the dry riverbeds are brown and red, stained and mottled with holes. It smells like sand and rain and rust.
The air and the world about feels peaceful for the moment, but not unaccustomed to moments of intense violence. Small markets packed with locale sundries, taxidermy and old-timers milling about coffee pots in towns with names like Medina, Utopia and Camp Verde, are terse but polite.
337 is like stepping into the Old West of the past and riding through it. 337 is a deep and infinitely interesting character. It’s not the Rockies and certainly not the Alps, and when we rode it, nothing particularly remarkable happened. But, as we sat waist-deep in a cold river under the still-hot setting sun, there somehow was still a bit of disbelief that hills like we’d seen that day existed here in Texas.