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.