But it was in Texas, which is a long, long way from Thailand. I regretfully decided against it.
Then I was in on a work trip to Oman at the same time as one of my best friends, Ed. We were chatting, and he mentioned he and his partner were heading to Austin this year – the five days before the conference I wanted to attend. No, none of us had been there before…
…It was a sign! (I know, I know, I don’t believe in signs, but I’ll take an opportunity!).
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Texas. Outside the US, it has a reputation for oil, guns, cowboys, big food, friendliness and conservative politics. Some of those I felt I’d be fine with, others…less so. But I had a great time, and found the people friendly and the portions huge.
The highlights of the trip were the Rodeo for its sheer alienness to three Brits from London, a bike tour because we got to explore the city on what turned out to be a gloriously sunny day, and then the writing conference that drew me there in the first place.
The Austin Rodeo
Once my friends Ed and Justin arrived in town (who provided some of the photos for this piece – basically, if it’s a better picture than usual, it’s probably one of theirs), we headed to the Austin Rodeo.
None of us really understood what the Rodeo was. It’s not a thing in the UK as far as I know. Exploring the grounds, we found a lot of fried food (deep-fried oreos anyone?), a carnival, show-animals and a lot of people with cowboy hats. There’s definitely a rodeo look – women wear cowboy (-girl?) boots, with long tanned legs, either a short loose dress or a denim skirt, and there’s often a cowboy hat too. Men wear smart jeans or plain trousers, cowboy boots, and a check shirt, and most definitely a cowboy hat. No guns though – the Rodeo has a ‘weapons policy‘ prohibiting firearms at the event. Ahem.
We caught a pre-show, which was a rope artist who, while riding his horse, was able to make his huge lasso do all kinds of tricks (this is not a euphemism). His finale was to ride his horse while standing on its back, and dance the rope around it in giant loops and whirls.
I wasn’t quite as enamoured with the dog-riding-pretend-cowboy-monkeys, as it just seemed a little bizarre, but the monkeys seemed to be having a good time. And they certainly looked chic in their tiny cowboy hats.
The main event was in a huge stadium which quickly filled up. The whole thing was extremely professional and well staged, from the lighting to the music. One of my Uber drivers told me the Austin Rodeo is one of the smaller Rodeos, and if that’s the case, I can’t imagine what the bigger ones are like.
There was a bit of pre-show, where we were unsurprised by the singing of the national anthem (while an attractive female rode around the stadium at speed with a huge flag), and a little surprised by the inclusion of a prayer. Mind you, when I saw what the cowboys actually did in the Rodeo, I could see how you might want to take all the help you could get.
It’s hard to describe what actually happens with a real-life ‘bucking bronco’ or bull. And it’s too fast to get much in the way of photos. To get an idea, watch some of this clip.
We also got to see the country singer Josh Turner, who is a huge, multi-grammy award winning US country singer who we’d never heard of. He’s quite, er, religious, but his voice is amazing, and I bought his album. My favourite of his is ‘Everything is Fine’, but try ‘Backwoods Boy’ (which is a real cultural education!) and ‘Why Don’t We Just Dance’ too.
How I Rode My Bicycle on Highway 165
One of the most fun things we did was a bike ride with Austin Bike Tours. I’m not an especially good bicycle rider, or that confident on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, so I’d checked if we could meander rather than race at the start. Happily we had a very chilled out Austin guy as our guide, who took us a route where we saw things we never would have had we not done the tour.
We were lucky enough to be a group on our own, and had a leisurely and personalised tour of Austin, which included the Texas State Cemetery, which contains America’s smallest highway.
Why does it? Good question. The tour told us that person who built the cemetery wanted it to be a real tourist attraction, and wanted funds from the federal government to support this. But that could only happen if a federal road ran through it. So they found an old road that could be considered as such, and thus the smallest highway in America is in this cemetery.
But my googling to check this story (yes, I do do this!) didn’t really clarify this for me – I can’t remember, or tell, whether the tour guide was talking about Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, who restored it in 1994, or the person who got it declared as a State Highway in 1932, Louis Kemp. Here’s the brochure in case you want to decide!
It’s a peaceful and well-maintained place, and an interesting part of the tour. We also took in much of the boardwalk along Lady Bird Lake. I had thought this was named after the insect, but in fact it’s named after the wife of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, even though she didn’t want it to be. She’d done a lot for the area, and they wanted to name it after her when she was alive, but she said no. As soon as she died, they renamed it after her. Bit naughty of them. The boardwalk has has wonderful views of the Austin skyline, and we rode across South Congress Bridge, under which the largest colony of bats in America lives.
The weather can change quickly in Austin – it was cold, grey and windy when we started the tour, so none of us had suncream on – when the sun came out we all caught a little sun!
The other highlight was the writing conference which pulled me there in the first place. I’ve talked before about my idea of a lovely holiday, which is combining some kind of learning, workshop or educational experience with a visit to a new place. I was a little defensive about it at first, as a few people commented I should have a ‘real’ holiday. But I feel more comfortable now that this kind of combination really works for me.
The conference, or Summit, was a real pleasure. I already have communities that I connect with around blogging, travel, and consulting, but I haven’t met many people in real life who write. At the conference I met a number of authors in self-publishing from all walks of life, all genres, many of whom were making a full time living from their writing, which is something I aspire to – in that I’d like the choice about whether to do consulting work or not, whereas at the moment my consulting is the main part of my income.
There were plenty of great speakers – about the future of self-publishing, about marketing, success stories and more – and there were several big romance names, like JA Huss, Julia Kent, and Lindsey Buoker, who were speaking. I helped facilitate a romance mastermind group with the writers attending who write in the genre, and we’re still going strong in that group several months later.
Just as last year’s ‘World Domination Summit‘ helped me to realise I love the life I have, this year’s conference honed my focus a little further. I love the combination of things I do, but I’m realising with only so many hours in the day, I might have to make more choices about how I spend the time I have. I don’t intend giving up anything any time soon, but writing would be my priority if I had to choose.
I’m interested. Do you know what the one thing would be you would do if you had to give up everything else?
I found it a helpful reflection on priorities. Tell me in the comments below.