Midway up the giant hill near the end of the Willow City Loop, my quads whimpered and I wished, ever so briefly, that I was flopped on a hammock somewhere instead of pedaling up a twisting Hill Country road.
Then I turned and looked down into the valley, where so many bluebonnets clustered together that I thought I was looking at a stream of blue water.
Thousands of tourists head to Willow City northeast of Fredericksburg each spring, where they spend about 30 minutes motoring along the 21-mile route, admiring wildflowers. That’s fine, but I prefer to take the tour on two wheels. You see the flowers up close, and you get some great exercise along the way.
If you start in Willow City proper (town consists of a bar called Harry’s, a couple of houses, a historic school, a few goats, a single intersection and a scrappy looking white dog that marches around greeting everyone), you can park on the side of the road and ride the loop by itself. Hardier souls can tack on more mileage by heading south and east after they’ve finished the official loop.
If you’re biking, ride the loop in clockwise direction, heading west first until you reach State Highway 16. Turn right on Highway 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. At the bottom, you’ll see a green highway sign directing you to the Willow City Loop on the right.
Pay attention to the signs. 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 and a few small creeks, weave alongside some craggy boulders, and spy fields of Indian paintbrushes, bluebonnets and wild white poppies. We also spotted a llama, a dozen or so wild turkeys and plenty of prickly cacti.
Most of the car traffic takes the loop from the opposite direction, which is good. You’ll see cars coming at you. Most of the loop rolls along, with small ups and downs. But about 3 miles from the finish, an imposing ridge rises 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.
If you’re still feeling strong, ride on. This year we tacked on some easy flat miles, spinning past green fields of crops before turning back and loading up our bikes. Other years we’ve started at the LBJ Ranch, turning the excursion into a 65-mile ride.
Whatever you do, go now. The wildflowers will make you swoon, but they’ll be gone by May.