I recently found myself in Texas thanks to my son, Sam. He had qualified for the national Junior Olympic cross-country championships in College Station as a member of his team here in South Carolina, the Mt. Pleasant Track Club. And while travel days would fall during the school week (as well as crunch time for this issue of Garden & Gun), there was never any doubt we would make the trip.
With a tight schedule, I knew any extracurricular fun would be limited, but my first text went to former G&G food editor and Texas superfan Jed Portman. Given we’d be arriving in Austin, his list ran deep, from Veracruz All Natural for breakfast tacos to a swim at Barton Springs. At the top of the list sat Jester King Brewery.
But first came the race. In no time, the urban highway views out of Austin morphed into ranch gates, roadhouses, and rolling pastures. The kids had fun looking for longhorns and amusing road signs (Old Potato Road! Dime Box!). I delighted in crossing the Little Brazos, which reminded me of one of my favorite Texas books, Goodbye to a River by the late John Graves, whom Rick Bass described in the pages of G&G as “the best-loved writer in Texas and one of the least-known beyond the state lines.” Graves wrote a love letter to the main Brazos before it was dammed. I thought of Bass, too, a Texan and an environmentalist whose books Oil Notes and Why I Came West should not be missed.
Those of you who ran cross-country (I did not), or raise kids who do, know you are sometimes called on to travel more than a thousand miles (one way) for, say, twelve minutes of action. As a parent of a nine-year-old running three kilometers, you will remind him to pee beforehand, stretch, warm up (but not too much!), check his laces, re-pin his number, and then remind him to pee again. But in the end, you realize the kid already has it figured out. Sam clocked his personal record for the year, and the team finished seventh in the nation for his age group—an accomplishment deserving of a celebratory trip to the Buc-ee’s in Bastrop for its seemingly endless rows of candy (the giant gas stations–cum–superstores originated in Texas, naturally).
As for the parents, that night a group of us (with kids in tow) did make it to Jester King, in the Hill Country on the outskirts of Austin. The amazing wood-fired pizza, wild-fermented brews, honky-tonk band, and some of the warmest folks you’ll meet did not disappoint.
Speaking of warmth, it radiated from just about everyone we met in Texas, whether at the coffee shop in College Station or sharing a picnic table at Jester King. That spirit of friendliness comes up more than once in this issue. It’s one of the reasons we dedicated a good portion of the pages to the state, along with its remarkable food and drink, music, conservation efforts, art, and the many cultural influences that make up its fabric. My family can’t wait to get back.