Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lone Star

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Texas, the Lone Star State.  The home of the 36th, 41st and 43rd President's of this Great Nation, the world's largest parking lot, defamed bicyclist Lance Armstrong and the Great Willie Nelson.  It is land where you can still be hung for stealing or defacing another man's cattle and homosexuality is a misdemeanor.  It is an interesting place to say the least.

It is a little difficult to fully comprehend the enormity of the second largest State in the Union without experiencing it, and after a week of riding several hundred of the State's 70,000 miles of pavement and hardly making a dent in the map, I think I am beginning to wrap my head around the fact that we are going to be in Texas for a while.  I must admit that it was with a bit of trepidation that I entered the Lone Star State.  Images of rednecks with huge trucks, blaring horns and airborne beer bottles haunted my mind as Jen and I rolled through thick canopies of pecan trees and chile fields of Southern New Mexico into the metropolis of El Paso/Ciudad Juarez. After a week of pedaling Southeast along the the Mexican Boarder, I can happily say that my estimations of Texas couldn't have been more wrong.

We rolled into El Paso late in afternoon as the sun painted the smoggy sky of Ciudad Jaurez sienna orange to the south.   Our leisurely rural tour along Highway 28 transformed quickly into heads-up city cycling down the four lanes of Mesa Avenue as we approached the heart of the city.  Despite the heavy traffic, drivers gave us plenty of room and waited patiently to pass.  Bus stops full of hispanic folks smiled and waved as we rolled by. We found a specialty beer store and I procured a six-pack of canned Happy Camper IPA from Santa Fe;  I heart Texas already.  Ten miles of urban navigation brought us to the home of Doug & Pam Rowley, old family friends of Jenny's family.  Jenny and I enjoyed a magnificent weekend and the warmest hospitality I could possibly imagine.  As we depart, I am again reminded that it is the people that make places we visit most memorable.

Rolling out of El Paso, we head south under I-10  and cycle within spitting distance of Mexico.  I expect the slums and urban decay associated with the drug wars being waged along this border, but feel ashamed of my own preconceived notions as we cycle through small border towns that are obviously poor; but clean, peaceful and full of pride.  Old hispanic women stare, smile and give a thumbs up to us as we rolled pass and men look up from under the hoods of their cars and nod with warm approval.

We climb up into the mountains of West Texas through Sierra Blanca on frontage roads completely void of traffic, occasionally returning to the wide shoulders of I-10 for long stretches.  Semi trucks  change lanes to give us extra space; good natured honks and waves of approval come from both sides of the four lane interstate.  Without a doubt, this is the friendliest place Jen and I have visited since leaving home.

Past Van Horn, we leave the noise of Highway 80 and turn east on Texas 118 into the desolate ranch land of the Davis Mountains.  For hours we pedal the vast open valley without seeing a single car.  We spot a huge desert bighorn sheep and packs of wild javalina before settling in among the cactus behind a giant water tank in the evening light.  In the morning we climb easily 2000 feet over the top of Mount Locke and descend into Fort Davis.  A half-dozen flat tires in the past two days brings out my inner hulk and propels us forward another 25 miles to Alpine Texas where we can buy some badly-needed tubes.  We arrived in town at dusk and made the the uncommon choice to dine out instead of cooking dinner over the Whisperlite.  After an unfruitful search for the Big Bend Brewery we located the Cowboy Grill on the outskirts of town.  Loads of obese bus tourists waddling through the door indicated that the establishment would suit our needs well and we weren't disappointed after destroying a couple of burgers and beers.

We woke in the morning to another round of flat tires and our planned morning departure didn't happen until one p.m.  The late start, a stiff headwind, two more flat tires and a roadside redhead temper-tantrum limited the day to 30 miles.  We arrived in Marathon, Texas (population 400)  on the eve of the annual "Marathon in Marathon" and the town was bustling with pre-race activity.  We stopped at the French Grocery (yep, that's right the French Grocery) for provisions and made our way to the La Loma Del Chivo Hostel for the night.   The Hostel is an eclectic mix of "alternative" buildings, colorful characters and howling dogs and reminded me immediately of Tatooine, the backwater desert home of Luke Skywalker.  Concrete, stone and beer bottle structures litter the landscape and the caretaker Mike laughed so hard I thought he might die when I asked about local building codes.  "Hell boy there ain't no building codes out here!", but as quickly as the smile had come to his face it vanished, "but don't go and hurt yourself on anything now, cause we ain't got a lick of insurance!"   Jen an I slept soundly in a second story open loft overlooking Chihuahuan Desert and Puertacitas Mountains to the east.

Today, we woke early with the intentions of a covering lots of ground, but another round of flats ate up hours of riding time.  We pulled into Sanderson Texas and checked into the RV park nestled right between the railroad tracks and the highway (earplugs have become essential kit).  Not soon after our arrival, the Sheriff stopped by and invited us to the town Halloween Carnival at city hall.  We dressed up as Seattlite's and our Chaco Sandals with socks make us more of a spectacle than adults dressed up like zombies in this neck of the woods; we enjoyed a little trunk-or-treating before heading back to camp for one of our road meal favorites, egg-drop Top Ramen noodles.

Rumor has it that a cold front is blowing in tonight which should put the wind on our backs tomorrow and push us south towards Del Rio.  If the weeks ahead in Texas have been anything like this first, I look forward to seeing what the next bend in the road will bring our way.

Kloshe konaway
Kloshe nanitch


Beautiful Franciscan Mission adorn the small towns of the US/Mexico border.

Nothing quite make me a Happy Camper like a Happy Camper.  

Van Horn Texas Saturday Night Ride.  Oh, if this Cadillac could talk!

Jenny is really turning over some new leaves on this trip and pushing her culinary boundaries.  Nothing like a 24 of Bud at the end of a hot Texas day!

Not quite the Holiday Inn Express, but a nice wind block none-the-less.

Being from Snohomish, this sign got me all hot and bothered.  Jenny explained that it simply meant that the cattle were unfenced. 

The University of Texas McDonald Observatory sits at 7000 feet atop Locke Mountain.

Jen in full bloat stage.

Mojo the dog had a little lame tongue issue, but we became fast friends anyhow.

Room with a view.

Desert structure recipe:  Dome of rebar covered with chicken wire, as many beer bottles as you can find, couple hundred bags of ready mix.

Policemen even wear cowboy hats in Texas!

Road meal:  Egg Drop Ramen.  In a pot of boiling water mix 3 packet of Chicken Top Ramen, 2 sliced Mexican Zucchini, and 5 eggs.  Boil until eggs are just done.  Top with avocado and garnish with red chili flakes.  

Monday, October 21, 2013


That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.

~Albert Einstein

Jen and I went to church today and I was immediately transported thirty-odd years back into my youth.  Sitting in South Lake Steven's Covenant Church in a stuffy v-neck sweater and polyester slacks with the heavy weight of my Dad's hand on my the small of my neck reminding me that church was not a place to fuss.  The strong scent of Old Spice permeated the air as I restlessly swung my short legs from the hard pews.  I detested the children's talk when I had to go sit in front of the congregation and nod my head like I understood what in the world the pastor was talking about; protest was futile and I endured knowing it always signaled the time that I would soon be able to escape to the refuge of  Sunday School to play Bingo and steal a cookie or two from the kitchen along the way.

I have spent more hours than I am proud of arguing validity of divine belief with my poor Mother but had a bit of an epiphany today as Jen and I walked away from Saint Paul's Methodist Church into the warm El Paso sun.  Arguing faith is a waist of precious time and that I am man of great faith.
I have faith that drivers will give us a few feet and maybe slow down a little when they approach us from behind.  I have faith that more folks we meet along the way will be kind than hostile to a couple of dirty pedaling travelers from the Northwest.  I have faith that Jenny and I will reach the East Coast in a few months and feel better about this country than when we left our home in the Northwest last July.
Logic is not really on my side, to saddle a bike with my lovely wife and try to ride across this great country of roads where the car is king really defies quite a bit of common sense.  This is not lost on me,  and all I can say is that sometimes you just have to have a little faith.

Kloshe nanitch
Kloshe konaway


A bets are off now!  Jenny has hit a new low. 

San Marita copper & gold pit mine.  A mere 1600 feet deep. 

Emory Pass (8228 ft) is the last major climb in NM before dropping into the Rio Grand drainage 

 Jen, Dimitri and I stopped at the Black Range Lodge in Kingston, NM looking for water and ended up staying two days.  Catherine and Gary were the most gracious and hospitable hosts and any traveler would be remiss not to stay with them if visiting this beautiful region of New Mexico.

The Kingsnake is non-venomous and eats other snakes.  I am buying my Mom one for Christmas. 

Hatch, NM.  The chile capital of the World.

We met Fred on the road outside of Radium New Mexico and shared a drink and few stories from the road.  Riding for over eight years and ninety thousand miles, Fred is a member of what Jen and I have come to call the "Life Tour Club".

 The Rio not-so Grande

I ordered a set of these for our place in Seattle.

Our wonderful El Paso host Pam Rowley. 

 The city of El Paso is visibly  indistinguishable from it's neighbor Cuidad Jaurez to the south.  Separated by the ditches of the Rio Grande and 30 foot razor wire, Jaurez is different world entirely.  Drug violence has made Jaurez one of the most dangerous places in the world while El Paso enjoys one of the lowest murder rates in the United States.