RSF - The Off Road Cycling Club

The Adventure Starts Here

The Lost Pines and Gotier Trace

by Bob Damper

The cowboy church, Austin, TexasA period spent working at the University of Texas in Austin in the autumn of 2009 gave me a chance to get in a three-day tour over the Thanksgiving holiday at the end of November. Central Texas enjoys a beautiful climate in autumn, not unlike late summer in the south of England, although I would not want to be in Texas in summer when, as a friend of mine put it, it is "hot as the hinges of hell".

It was bright and sunny if still a bit chilly when I left Austin at 09.00 on Thanksgiving Day, heading east. A pleasant morning's ride entirely on tarmac saw me crossing the Colorado River into Bastrop at about 13.00. Pretty much everywhere was closed for Thanksgiving but I did manage to find an Asian-run store where I got some fruit juice, iced coffee and a pack of Trail Mix. After a pleasant sunny morning, it was clouding over and cooling off as I munched my frugal lunch and I was not too unhappy to get going again to warm up.

A brisk climb on Highway 21 took me to the entrance to Bastrop State Park, where I had to pay a $2 fee to use the scenic road through the forest, linking with Buescher State Park 12 miles distant. This, as it turned out, was something of a bargain. The park is stunningly beautiful. It is preserved as the western outpost of the Loblolly pine, and is the only forest of large trees in this area, adding to Bastrop's commercial importance in days past as a supplier of timber to central Texas.

The forest is separated by some 80 or 100 miles from any other Loblollies to the east, leading to the forest's alternative appellation of "the Lost Pines". Although the pines are evergreen, there was nonetheless a profusion of autumn colours to be seen among the other trees. The winding, undulating road with its short, sharp climbs and dips was a delight.

While riding this stretch of road, I clocked up my 5,000th mile of 2009, and the sun came out again. After a couple of miles, I turned left onto Gotier Trace. Here, the clue was in the name. The 'trace' refers to the remains of the old pioneer trail, also known as Gotcher's Road ("Gotier" being a corruption of Gotcher). It dates from the early 1830s and linked the Colorado river crossing at Bastrop with San Felipe on the Brazos river, this being the area of Stephen Austin's American colony in Mexican Tejas that grew into the Republic of Texas after the war of independence.

James Gotcher was the first white settler in Lee County. He established the Trace and led several wagons of immigrants along it. With his family, he settled near Rabb's Creek. In the winter of 1836, Davy Crockett was at the Alamo in San Antonio and seeking to defend it against the advance of Santa Anna's Mexicans, he sent for his Tennessee Volunteers.

On their way to the Alamo, the small force of Volunteers travelled along the Trace and stayed with the Gotcher family, who supplied them with provisions for the campaign. Gotcher's son-in-law elected to join the volunteers and was subsequently killed at the Alamo, along with all the other defenders. Most of the Gotcher family, including James, were killed in a Comanche raid in March 1837. Fortunately for me, there were no warlike Indians in evidence this fine afternoon.

Well, 'trace' it certainly was, with the surface a mixture of sand, mud and gravel for the next 14 miles. At one point the road disappeared into a bog for a short distance but it was otherwise entirely rideable, and I managed to keep up a concerted average just under 10 mph. Leaving the State Park, the road flattered to deceive with a couple of hundred yards of tarmac, but then it was back on to loose sand, with an occasional stream (or 'creek' as they say in these parts) running across.

I was now in an area of scattered, isolated cattle ranches, with Longhorns and Herefords in the fields to either side. They were obviously quite unused to passing cycle tourists and scattered in fright at my appearance. The country was undulating grassland with clumps of post oak, and the road occasionally confronted me with a short, stiff climb.

This stretch of the ride, crossing wild country on a rough, exposed road entirely devoid of traffic, was a real pleasure (even a bit of an adventure) in the November afternoon sun, but I reckon it would quickly become a nightmare in bad weather. However, all went well with the weather and mid-afternoon saw me emerging on to FM2239 and tarmac at Grassyville (FM stands for "farm to market road"). From here, it was a ride of about 12 or 13 more miles to my overnight stop in Giddings, which I reached at 16.30 with 72.6 miles on the clock.

This part of the Gotier Trace can be found on County Maps 462 and 492, published by the Texas Department of Transportation. For those interested in these things, I was riding my 2005 Dawes Galaxy. Having upgraded the fairly low quality wheels originally supplied to 36/40 spoke Shimano Deore XT hubs with Rigida Sputnik rims, I find this a pretty robust mount for heavy touring. I never got near to using its bottom gear of 22 inches (or the top of 118 inches, come to that) on this short tour.