It’s vacation time! Nowadays, that means a long road trip with overnight camping, beach, and lots of courthouses. I’m in heaven! I’ve taken a few days off here and there this year but they were all so I could work someplace else – not exactly a vacation. This is the real deal.

The original plan was to leave town Saturday after my WW meetings, but there was a Panther Creek Sweaty Hog ride Saturday night and we decided to do that instead. Of course, I ended up doing no riding to speak of because I needed to help Honey’s daughter move. Oh well. That still left Sunday through Wednesday to ride and that’s plenty.

Because Honey did the Sweaty Hog ride the night before, he got home really late. That meant no early start Sunday morning, but when you’re on vacation, you don’t have to get anywhere by a certain time so it doesn’t matter when you start, right?

Of course, in Texas in July, later means hotter so getting on the road by 9:00 am meant we at least had a few minutes of riding before the thermometer grabbed hold of 100 degrees. We did a straight shot to Waco where we stopped at one of our favorite Starbucks for a quick break. Then we broke away from I-35 to begin the fun part of the ride.

That begins with US 77, a sweet road we’ve taken a number of times, north of Waco and south. The road is good and the scenery is pleasant, even though I’ve ridden it several times. Before we left, I’d mapped out about 50 courthouses for the trip that I wanted to visit (not really, but it was a fair number). However, Honey was tired from his long ride the night before so that meant I had to suck it up while we rode right through towns with courthouses in sight forging ahead to our final destination…and sleep.

To be honest, I was pretty tired myself from packing and moving boxes the day before so, while I’d have stopped at every courthouse on the way if I’d been on my own, I didn’t cry too many tears over pushing on. It’s a long ride to South Padre Island, even without a bunch of stops!

Our first courthouse stop was Lee County. That courthouse, in Giddings, happens to be very familiar to me because my great aunt’s house sits right on the square, facing it. It is now a museum housing the Lee County Heritage Center (no website but they do have a FaceBook presence here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lee-County-Heritage-Center/109469552425322).

I spent a lot of time in that old house when I was a child and I found the large red brick courthouse across the street to be fascinating but, in all those years, I believe I only went inside once – with my father, who knew that that being on the inside of a courthouse is almost never a good thing. He was almost certainly indulging me after a sustained period of pestering him to see inside. It must not have been very impressive because I remember exactly nothing about its interior – apparently it was more impressive from the outside.

Lee County Courthouse, Giddings, TexasI do remember that what my brother and I loved most about it was the clock on the tower. I have no idea if it worked or not at the time but it still stands out on the courthouse today because it’s black with bold yellow numbers. It worked today and it said we’d better hurry along if we were going to see much more so, after a couple of snaps of my great aunt’s old house, we were off towards LaGrange and the Fayette County courthouse.

LaGrange is further along US 77 from Giddings. I remember this ride from my childhood because, every time we visited my grandparents in Giddings, we would take a trip to LaGrange to eat at the BonTon Café. It was as desperate an attempt at fine dining as its name implied but my brother and I always loved it for a couple of reasons. First there was something about the restaurant itself that was enticing and I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I think it involved a fake stream and a little bridge walking over it.

The second thing I remember very well: the road between Giddings and LaGrange was a small two-lane (at that time) drive with the tall pine trees seeming to grow right up to the road. I grew up in the Panhandle of Texas where trees were a dream in a city planner’s eye and not much more. In a few towns, you might be able to bribe some elm or a cottonwood trees to grow in clusters around the oldest houses and buildings but everywhere else, the idea of a tree was laughable. We were so short on trees we occasionally had Christmas tumbleweeds instead of trees. I’m not kidding.

So the drive between Giddings and LaGrange not only had the kind of trees we only read about in fairy tales like Red Riding Hood, there was also a roadside park right in the midst of the forest and you could always count on my dad to stop there so my brother and I could play…a vain attempt to wear us out so we would go to sleep, I’m sure. It worked no better for him than it has ever worked for any parent trying to wear out a kid. And yet, we all keep trying.

When my brother and I ran among the trees, it was always dark and a little cooler – really noticeable in the summer time when it was not only hot, but hot and humid (something we had exactly no experience with back home in Canyon). And, we found amazing treasures like pine cones, which my mother always instructed us to collect so we could make Christmas presents with them. I remember she would spray paint them with gold paint and occasionally add some decorations. I think I may still have one of them in our Christmas ornament box.

Now the ride is completely different. For starters, US 77 is a four-lane road all the way. Also, the trees have been cut back quite a bit. Honestly, I don’t know for certain if perhaps there never really were that many trees and we just didn’t know any different because we had so few trees where we lived. I do know the roadside park is closed up now and when we rode by, it was nothing like I remembered it. It’s one of the greatest perils of growing up and returning to places from your childhood: they’ve changed. And once you go back to your old haunts and find them changed, some of the magic seems to evaporate away, just like the years.

It’s laughable now, but the ride always took about 45 minutes. That’s because we – and everyone else – drove it just around 50 miles anFayette County Courthouse, LaGrange, Texas hour. Now the speed limit is 70 and it seemed to take no time at all to go between the towns.

So the Fayette County courthouse is another typical style on a reviving square in an old town. We had hoped to find a place to eat but everything was closed (what is the deal with Sunday in small towns?) and Honey (who has only about four hours reserve in his personal fuel tank at any given moment) was getting pretty desperate to eat. He likes to find local dives (as do I, but I don’t like to go to as much trouble to find them as he does) but he couldn’t find anything appealing (meaning not Mexican food, which he hates) on his “knows everything” iPhone.

Then we noticed one shop open there on the square: of all things, it was a kitchen store. We went inside to ask about possible places to eat and got a great recommendation. We also got to visit a bit with some local people and I met a woman whose husband’s parents had lived next door to my grandparents. However, we didn’t make that connection immediately (my father pointed it out later when I told him about the visit); instead, we connected because I told her about my Great Aunt Eleanor’s house in Giddings and she said her mother-in-law had written the history of the house that is used in the museum.

It was a nice visit and we even bought some little bowls for use in the kitchen – something you just do NOT do when you’re on a bike trip…buy things, that is because where the heck are you gonna put them??? We took the recommendation and ate at Reba’s Deli and Pezzeria, a fairly new sandwich and pizza shop in an old house near downtown. We were the only ones there (except, of course, for the Lavaca County Courthouse, Hallettsville, Texasemployees, who were absolutely delightful) and the food was terrific. I had a salad that geared me up beautifully for the rest of the ride. Honey had a half a sandwich along with his salad and was revived. I didn’t find a website for them but they have a Facebook presence here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Rebas-Deli-Pezzeria/149430625101208?sk=info

Back to US 77 headed for the beach. Next stop was Hallettsville and the Lavaca County courthouse. It’s so similar to the Fayette courthouse that I had to study the pictures for quite a while to determine which was which! That was a very quick stop on a very dead square and we were off towards Victoria, still traveling US 77.

Victoria is a town I remember well from my childhood because we drove through it on a trip to take my grandparents back to the Rio Grande Valley, where they had met and married, back in the 1920s. Wow! That’s almost a hundred years ago. I am a person who clearly remembers her grandparents, one of whom was born at the end of the 19th century…that means the 1890s. How can I possibly be that old?????

But, I digress. I remember Victoria from my childhood because it was a relatively large town full of houses that were painted brightVictoria County Courthouse, Victoria, Texas pastel colors. I realized pretty quickly that was the Mexican influence there. It was very evident just how different the culture of the area was from the gritty cowboy (I mean REAL cowboy) and farming culture of the panhandle we lived in. I loved those houses and, while I could never convince my parents to paint our house lavender, I was able to nag them into letting me at least paint my bedroom that color. I’ve never outgrown the love of bright colors!

Today, Victoria has almost 100,000 people and it required the Garmin to find the courthouse. Since I’d (in a fleeting moment of brilliance) programmed in the coordinates of every courthouse I hoped to visit on the trip, I was responsible for taking us to the actual courthouse.

So, for the record, I love to be in charge of the ride…when I’m the only rider. I hate to be in charge of the ride when Honey’s following me because I always mess up. Everything from missing turns (incredibly hard to do with a machine yelling at you to “turn left in 500 feet” but I’m very good at missing them, just the same) to speeding because I forget to check the speed limit to (one of my personal winners) riding in the wrong lane in front of a policeman and turning left on red because I assumed every street going by every courthouse in every town in the world is a one-way street when, in fact, some cities have changed up the rules and made their courthouse streets two-way.  Ugh. I HATE to lead.

When we do group rides, my greatest fear isn’t having a wreck, or even causing a wreck (although THAT should probably be my greatest fear). No, my biggest concern is that our pod may get broken up somehow and I’ll be left in the lead of the remaining section and won’t know what to do because I don’t really know where we’re going and I have a bad habit of losing my head completely and not knowing I’m driving in an oncoming traffic lane. Seriously, you do NOT want to be behind me on a group ride if I suddenly am leading the group. Use your common sense and don’t follow me if I start doing something stupid!

So I got the pictures and moved back to my preferred spot: back of the line. And we were off to our camping spot. The rest of our ride included a stretch along the ocean and even a very short ferry ride. Then we hit our spot on the beach and set up camp – a story reserved for a blog NOT about courthouses of Texas.

That’s four more down. I’ve done 15 and have 239 to go.  Texas is one big state!