It must be after one o'clock. I can tell because the hunger pangs are starting to hit with a consistency matched only by the Heritage Softail's staccato, V-twin thump ricocheting off the warm Texas asphalt. According to a friendly reader I met at the Fort Worth International Motorcycle Show, I'm in the neighborhood of a barbecue joint that scores high marks. Coming from a Texan, that means something. Turn on the smoke detectors, boys. It's time to put some brisket in the basket.
My first hint of the recommended 'Q' sneaks up on the outskirts of Stephensville, Texas. The smoky, sweet bouquet of slow-cooking beef floats onto my olfactory radar screen and immediately the "all hands on deck" call goes out for the other four senses. Eyes seek signage featuring flames or a hoofed animal, ears are peeled for even the faintest strains of country music, touch maintains control of the bike to assure safe arrival, and taste patiently maintains the alert, knowing that its job is the most critical. Soon the diligence of all five scores pay dirt as the Softail rolls, as if by instinct, into the mesquite-hazed "hog pen," the motorcycle-only parking area outside the Hard 8 Barbecue. The beefy scent from the pit is at once comforting yet oddly intriguing to a North Carolina snout more accustomed to tracking pig. Believe me, the old quip "Where's the beef?" is the epitome of superfluity in the great state of Texas.
Whether it's the delicious brisket, endless rounds of sizzling sausage, the steaming cauldron of complimentary, jalapeno-laced pinto beans, the motorcycle-friendly atmosphere, or all of the above, I rejoin the journey preeminently sated and grinning wide enough to corral every bug in the vicinity of Route 281 - as if the Hard 8 hadn't provided me with enough protein this afternoon. I'm already quite fond of Texas and I still have nearly 200 miles to go before Austin and the start the tour.
The final hours of a long ride seep away effortlessly as the warm, late afternoon rays dance atop the Harley's white, pearlescent finish. This Texas November is as rider friendly as the barbecue joints, and the retreating sun has little effect on the warmth of the breeze playing across the hills west of Austin. As I descend into town I realize I should have taken my new friend's other piece of advice and avoided the Texas capital's rush hour. I'm accustomed to heavy, early evening traffic, but it's not usually going into the city, a clear indication of the city's robust nightlife. After all, as many claim, Austin just may be the live music capital of the known universe.
The crowding aside, my navigational research has paid a dividend, and, easily finding Congress Avenue, I head straight toward center city. Short story writer William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry and once an Austin resident, referred to it as the "City of the Violet Crown," and I do believe I detect a hint of plum gracing the undersides of the dusky clouds drifting lazily above the dome of the state's massive capitol. Shortly before reaching the Colorado River, I peel off the main road and dive into the shady, winding streets that make up the Travis Heights neighborhood. Within a few blocks I locate my digs for the next few nights, the Park Lane Guest House.
As proprietor Shakti Khalsa shows me around, it's apparent I've stumbled across something special. Not only do I have a beautifully appointed room, there's also a very private swimming pool, off-street parking, and an outdoor shower actually intended for a good soaping up rather than the obligatory pre-dip rinse by the pool. As an amenity, starlight showering is a feature you don't see too often this far removed from the South Pacific. I immediately sense a very appealing vibe to this town, and I'm tickled to have four more days here. A short hike back out to Congress Avenue to scout the immediate surroundings reveals a lively thoroughfare of shops, clubs, and restaurants. Finding a plate of tacos and a couple of Lone Stars, the "National Beer of Texas," is easy as pie here.