“This world is the movie of what everything is, it is one movie, made of the same stuff throughout, belonging to nobody, which is what everything is.”
-Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
I’ve been halfway to my destination for the past two weeks. Which is not something that I mind, though I usually tack on “well, I’m a little more than halfway.” Being halfway to a destination is a friendly milestone if you don’t dwell on the tribulations of the past nor have too much expectation for the future. Being halfway is 0.5, 50%, or one-half of the whole – which sounds relatively minor and belittling to a life changing adventure – but considering how big of a goal it is to be accomplished, it’s a description I’m proud of. Better than nothing.
Austin, TX -> Alpine, TX = 496 miles
Segments (It’s all in Texas):
“Riding days average” = 62 miles/day
- 11/8: Austin, TX -> Fredericksburg (Peach Tree Inn) = 80 miles
Today was the day of the election, it was also rainy, and the day I got my first flat tire of the trip. I got a late start due to entropy – my things were disordered after taking a whole week off in Austin. The night before leaving I chose to go out to eat and drink beer with a long-time friend and adventure partner, Matt, who went to Virginia Tech with me and was now living in College Station. I left the apartment wearing my rain jacket and ended up taking it on and off about a dozen times as the rain stopped and started, and my body heated up and cooled down as I stopped and started as well. After patching my tire about 20 miles outside of Fredericksburg, the sun was setting and I got into town at dark, kind of wet, and wanted to see the election results; so I called my mom and she paid for my hotel room. Which was the best deal ever, $55 for a perfect room and a complimentary bottle of Shiraz, so I cooked some Ramen and got drunk while watching the talking heads slowly lose their shit and chefs getting Chopped on the food network. I dozed off and semi-drunkenly woke up to see that Trump had won (which seemed highly likely before I fell asleep), got a drink of water then sadly-laughed before getting a little sadder before falling asleep.
- 11/9: Fredericksburg -> Kerrville (Warmshowers) = 38 miles
I woke up late and watched the news again while eating the complimentary breakfast and waited for Hillary’s “shocked” rejection speech. I like her politics way better than Trump, but I never really liked her. I left at 11 or so, and rode on one of my favorite stretches of road EVER. This was hill country at its finest, complete with ranches that have cows up to the road, tons of whitetail deer, javelinas, strenuous hills that twist through scenic countryside and dip into the filled creeks (due to the week of previous rain). Best of all, very little traffic.
I had put a new chain on in Austin, and it had skipped about three times yesterday so I stopped into the Kerrville bike shop to get a second opinion about replacing my cassette or freehub. Turns out they just said to let it ride, the chain may have just been settling into the slightly worn cassette. Good advice because it never skipped again! My warmshower hosts in Kerrville were awesome people and also hosted another cyclist Steven (https://transmutationalcycling.com/). The hosts, Janice and Fred, provided pizza, beds, good conversation, and breakfast plus coffee in the morning – what else could you possibly ask for?
- 11/10: Kerrville -> Leakey (behind the Wash Barn laundromat) = 63 miles
I finally got to ride with someone again! Steven, Fred, and I rode the first 20 miles to Hunt together and stopped at the general store to eat, review our maps, share advice, and tell stories. Steven’s friend Carter also happened to be there, he was trying to get to Austin in two days, which I had just done, so things are looking good.
It’s completely fine to get advice on places to stay and things to do, but I wouldn’t want anyone planning this trip for me. I like going it alone, taking things as they come and as they are; even if I miss cool and important sights the mental exercise of freedom is far more valuable to me than having an itinerary of top sights. I’d rather roam a city than tour the landmarks.
I rode for 25 miles while holding in the desire to poop because I had no toilet paper. I ate PB&Js at Lost Maples State Park- the maples originated from the last ice age and are the last ones left in Texas, holding out in the cool canyon environment. I saw a tarantula. Met the owner of the Wash Barn through the librarian, and was allowed to camp there. I talked to some locals by the mexican restaurant who warned me of drug cartels and scorpions and bears – which have never appeared thus far, thankfully. The better conversation of the night happened in the laundromat, with a guy named Steve, and although we disagree on the legitimacy of an active ISIS threat or guns providing safety, we could agree that life is best lived in an interesting way.
11/11: Leakey -> Brackettville (Fort Clark campground) = 72 miles
I conquered the last of Texas hill country today. The dome shaped hills are like small mountains, not quite as steep as the Appalachians, but strenuous. It was a beautiful place. I want to go back again one day to re-live the speed of long downhill descents, with the dry desert air cooling the hard earned sweat on dusty arms and a sun-burnt face.
Fort Clark campground was a very cool place, as I understand it it’s a community mostly for elderly people located in an old WW1 or WW2 fort. I skipped out on paying for the campground because I didn’t have cash and nobody was there, does that make me a bad person? Las Moras Creek forgives me.
- 11/12: Brackettville -> Seminole Canyon State Park = 75 miles
Today I bought groceries in Del Rio, and didn’t stop to check out the city. The Amistad Reservoir was a huge body of water but from the bridge it didn’t seem like it. I met a lady named Kim in the visitor center that was from the same city that I was born in, in Maryland. I stopped in a run-down little town called Comstock to get two beers and mozzarella sticks at the pub restaurant. The bartender and I got on nicely, but a rancher ended up asking too many questions and found out that I voted for Hillary and gave me a lesson in Texan anti-hospitality. “Boy, who lied to you?! Give me one reason you voted for Her [insert disgust]. me: [meekly] her reasonable stance on the environment and climate change. “You really think she cares about that?!?”
We didn’t really say anything to each other after that, but I did not feel threatened.
Seminole Canyon was stunning in the sunset as I rode in. It’s about 3.5 miles from Mexico, which lies just over the canyons surrounding the Rio Grande. Seminole Canyon is made of bathtub-smooth rock carved from flash floods, and is famous for the thousands of ancient (10,000-3,000 years old) Indian artwork inside the cave shelters. It was here that I was truly camping in the desert for the first time. Always wear shoes in the desert, it ain’t no beach.
- 11/13: Rest day in Seminole Canyon
I toured the Fate Bell Shelter and saw hundreds of faint red pictographs of Shamans and panthers and animals drawn by the Pecos People of yesteryear. They almost exclusively drew in red ink, and all the evidence of them living under the shelter is pretty fantastic. It’s hard to describe, but knowing that these people lived in this fairly uninhabitable place for thousands of years and left their mark with only artwork, carved sticks and stones, and woven mats…incredible.
I rode my bike down a super rocky trail for 3.5 miles along the canyon rim, and wished that I had shocks and mountain bike tires. Saw the Rio Grande and Mexico a few hundred yards from me then laughed at Trump’s idea of building a wall across the whole border.
Across from my campsite was a guy from Poland, whose name was pronounced Mehoff, but spelled like Michal. We talked for a few hours over Bourbon and Chef Boyardee about travel and life in different parts of the world, and I tried to give him my limited perception of America. I learned a lot from him, as he had been traveling and working part-time around the world for the past 10 years; not because he is looking for something, but because he simply wants to travel and enjoys the adventure. Plus, the shit jobs in Poland leave you with nothing besides a flat (apartment), food, and perpetual poverty. One of my favorite takeaways was that, in traveling, you don’t find the meaning of things (if you set out to find certain ones), instead, you learn new things and gain new experiences, obscuring your previous search for meaning and ending up with new meaning.
- 11/14: Seminole Canyon -> Sanderson (Warmshowers) = 82 miles
I started off with about a liter of water because it was only 21 miles to the next town, Langtry. But, I pulled up to a closed general store. The next stop was 40 miles away (I didn’t realize that I could go to the Jim Bean museum at the time, 1 mile into Langtry). There was a guy getting into his truck so I introduced myself and asked for help, he did the same thing for me as he did for the last cyclist two days ago; he gave me two peanut butter cracker packs, a bottle of gatorade, and a liter of water. Bless you Nitch[?] and your “stinkin’ pigs sons o’ bitches” I hope you can sell them soon, sorry that polio messed up your legs, safe travels to Utah for unspoken reasons.
A long ride through the desert got me to the next town, daydreaming is my friend yet again.
I got into Sanderson at dark and ate at the Mexican Plus Dairy King, which was actually really good and filling for a $5 plate of tacos, beans and rice. I lucked out by meeting a lady who told me to get in contact with the Warmshowers hosts in town because they welcomed me into their home even though I called them at 7:30pm. (There was no service all day previously). Alex and Mark were great company and inspiring people, and eager to help my stay be as comfortable as possible. They drank Franzia while I had a beer and we talked for hours in the kitchen about various things before I retired to the most comfortable memory foam mattress I’ve laid on since my bed at my mom’s place in High School. They cooked a delicious breakfast too!
- 11/15: Sanderson -> Marathon (Marathon Motel & RV Park) = 55 miles
55 miles of nothing but Highway 90 and mother nature between Sanderson and Marathon. Which is actually quite fun because the sun isn’t so hot this time of year and I had plenty of water.
Marathon is a very cool town. I met a guy named [Anon] who had just come back from Standing Rock, taking video of the pipeline crews and is now helping protest the pipeline construction in West Texas. Super nice guy who lives an inspirational life, “I don’t want to look back on my life and know that I worked at a single job for 20 years, I want my path in life to be full of mountains and valleys of adventure and fun and interesting things.” Which is a sentiment I’ve shared with a couple people on this trip.
That night in Marathon I shivered and didn’t get good sleep because it got close to freezing and my sleeping bag is rated for 55 degrees, I put on all my layers but it wasn’t until I was wearing my windbreaker and rain jacket that my upper body was warm but my feet remained cold even though I had thick wool socks on.
- 11/16: Marathon -> Alpine (Warmshowers) = 31 miles
I got up at 7am with the sun-rise and went straight to the coffee shop in town. Over an egg sandwich and an Americano I bought a new sleeping bag off REI and express shipped it to Fort Davis, which is about 55 miles away.
I lucked out with an awesome host in Alpine. At the library of Sul de Ross college, I was able to send emails to faculty at App State (where I will hopefully attend grad school in August). That night we went out for beers and burritos with the self-described “Drunken Ape commune” librarians. It was a great time with some hilarious story-telling, laughter, music talk that I knew nothing about, and ended in sipping Mexican liquor on their rooftop overlooking the streets of Alpine surrounded by a herd of feral cats. Life is so good.
- 11/17: Rest day in Alpine
It’s strange to call a day where I don’t ride anywhere specifically a “Rest day,” this whole trip is made up of a couple months of rest, not resting because I’m tired, or fed up with the tedium of life, but resting from participation in what is considered normal life. Days are either a riding day or a non-riding day, every day night is restful even if I don’t rest in the literal sense – exercise is a jovial activity, and bike touring contains very little of the same tediousness that other parts of life seem rife with. Oh, it will be difficult to end this trip but every day I long to be stationary and complete something (whatever that may be); a transient lifestyle is still an ever-changing [ironic] monotony.
Anyways, that day I went to the natural foods store and picked up ingredients for lentil soup and pitas. I made it all from scratch, besides the chicken broth and chopped tomatoes. I walked around a bit, read my book (Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community by Wendell Berry), and talked with my friend who I miss very much. It was a blissful night, Betsy and I had some deep conversation over food and wine and a friendly game of Scrabble. Shout-out to my sister and mom for honing my skills.
Now I have a new book to read: The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.
“I’m always horrified whenever I finish anything. Horrified and desolate. My instinct for perfection should inhibit me from ever finishing anything; it should in fact inhibit me from ever beginning. But I become distracted and do things. My accomplishments are not the product of my applied will but a giving away of my will. I begin because I don’t have the strength to think; I finish because I don’t have soul enough to stop things. This book is my cowardice.”
“I’ve always been an ironic dreamer, unfaithful to my inner promises.
Like a complete outsider, a casual observer of whom I thought I was,
I’ve always enjoyed watching my daydreams go down in defeat.
I was never convinced of what I believed in.
I filled my hands with sand, called it gold, and opened them up to let it slide through.
Words were my only truth.
When the right words were said, all was done; the rest was the sand that had always been.”
- 11/18: Rest day in Alpine
Today is the day I wrote this post. I ate leftover lentil soup for breakfast and drank 4 cups of drip coffee of decreasing potency as I poured boiling water over the grounds. It’s also the event Artwalk in Alpine and now I’m going to leave the library and go see some stuff.