10/12/17 – Camp Wood to Lost Maples State Park, TX

Can’t think of anything that stood out as special, today.  I was part of the duo responsible for laying out breakfast and lunch fixings, so I got out of camp a little late, and luckily ended up riding with Ed. We had a 42 mile ride ahead of us with 3 significant climbs indicated in Ken’s notes as being 6 and 7% grades.  No problem. 

The three climbs surprised us, but only because they were so much steeper than we expected. The 8 to 11% grades were challenging, but at this point, we are pretty unstoppable. We dialed in our lowest gears, got in a rhythm, and  muscled our way through them.  

Just a small portion of one rancher’s collection of rusted out farm implements
 

Last night, we stayed at the Three Sisters RV Park and actually thought the place was owned by 3 sisters until today when we stopped for a snack at a big high end biker (motorcycle type) hangout.  The place was stocked with all kinds of “Twisted Sisters” merchandise with 3 hot babes on it, each babe labeled with her own Ranch Road. Turns out that one of the roads we have been following is part of one of the most popular Texas Hill Country motorcycle loops, Twisted Sisters, which is made up of Ranch Roads 335, 336 and 337.  Having seen  large groups of motorcyclists on the route, this totally made sense.

Ed modeling the new do-rag he bought to protect his head
They need to make a smaller one of these for bike seats
 

A sign up ahead on our route read, “Caution Next 12 Miles, Since Jan. 2006, 12 Killed in Motorcycle Related Crashes.” That got my attention. Ahead of the sign was a winding road with steep ascents and descents and a complete drop off on one side of the road. On one of those descents, there was a 20 mph sign, and believe me, I took heed and slowed down. 

One of our steep descents
One of our steep descents
 

Some of the Texas Hill Country roads aren’t winding at all; they’re just plain Hilly.  

A short while later, we stopped in Leakey, a little tourist and fishing town, to get the milk shake that last year’s ride leader mentioned in his notes. Unfortunately, we never found the described place, but instead, we found a cool barn/shop full of handcrafted  gifts. I was with 4 guys, at this point, and they all bought something, so I caved in to the peer pressure and bought myself some cheap earrings that are made from part of a bullet casing.  Just my style, eh?

We continued to look for that milk shake, and in doing so stumbled onto a place with a chicken fried steak lunch special that was to die for.  After eating the dessert that came with the lunch special, we were ready for a nap, but alas, that was not to be.  We had an appointment to meet the rest of the group at a grocery store up the road to help them haul food for dinner a few miles up to road to camp. 

Our grocery stop


Mending my glove
 

I forgot to mention that along the route, today, we ran into two couples of 65 year olds from Spokane who are riding the Southern Tier route together. Turns out they left San Diego the same day we did.  It didn’t take us long to figure out that we were kindred spirits.  We shared some of our adventures with each other and had a few laughs with them before pushing on.  When we arrived our evening destination, Loat Maples State Park, there they were again–camping next to us.  

10/11/17 – Fort Clark to Camp Wood, TX (Houston, We Have Trees)

We only had a 53 mile day today, so I  spent a little time alone checking out Fort Clark before I started my ride. The fort was established in 1852 as a strategic base for defending frontier settlements and controlling the Mexican-American border.  Many Infantry Regiments and almost all Cavalry Regiments were at one time stationed there, back in its day.  It even housed Confederate troops during the Civil War.  Through its inactivation after World War II, it was an active Horse Cavalry installation

The main gate to Fort Clark
The empty saddle monument honors Mounted Calvary soldiers who did not return
Barracks that housed 64 Soldiers in 1873

The most interesting thing about the post is how military it still seems after all these years.  Most of the buildings are now privately owned homes, but many of the commercial buildings still serve the purpose they served back when the post was active.  And it seems like the people that live there behave like a tight knit military community. I like that.

The remnants of a military building in Bracketville

Once I left the fort and started riding through Bracketville, the town felt like it was an extension of the fort.  People were friendly, drivers were polite, and many of the buildings in town looked like they dated back to when the fort was built.  

The day’s ride was almost all on a bumpy chip seal road, the survival of which required several stops to add to the layer of ointment on my saddle zone.  

The scenery changed from rangeland to trees as we navigated non-stop hilly, winding roads with a few water crossings. The good thing about the hills was that for every bit of climbing we did, we got back an equivalent downhill run. 

A country Christmas tree

And for another entire day, there was no food or water available between our start and end points, so I had to ration my food and water to make it last through the day. 
The most beautiful stop of the day was a crossing of the Nueces River near its headwaters.  The river is entirely spring fed, so the water was crystal clear and looked like water you would see in the Caribbean.  


Shortly after resching the Nueces, I crossed over into Real county, and my life changed as the road surface was suddenly as smooth as butter.  Aah…the simple pleasures of a cyclist. 


Arriving Camp Wood, which, by the way, has no military connection, I was in the mood for chocolate. Even though it is a very small town with a population of only 706, there was a chocolate shop with an old fashioned soda fountain to boot.  I scored a huge chunk of milk chocolate and a chocolate malt, making my day complete.  


Well actually, our dinner completed my day. Tom C and I had dinner duty, and since he arrived the RV park 90 minutes before me, he emptied his bag and headed back into town to round up the food for dinner, breakfast and lunch.  For dinner, he bought 5 pounds of super delicious barbecued pork, canned baked beans, and ingredients for both a tossed salad and–get this–potato salad.  When I arrived, I found him busy chopping up potatoes to boil. Pretty ambitious fella, if you ask me.  I helped him chop all kinds of veggies for the 2 salads, then made a run to town for salad dressing and beverages.  Got back just in time for one of the best meals we’ve had on this trip.  


We camped at Three Sisters RV Park and occupied a huge grassy area and a pavilion with a full kitchen.  Tents were set up everywhere, with 7 on the grass and 4 under the pavilion.  I went for the concrete floor of the pavilion to avoid having to deal with morning dew on my tent and footprint. 

10/10/17 – Comstock to Bracketville, TX

We woke up early, this morning, to get an early start on the 64 mile ride ahead of us. Before putting my clothes on, I opened the door to see what the temperature was like outside, and it was raining–again.  The rush to get out the door came to a screeching halt. Eric and I rode out together at around 9 AM with an amazing tailwind that upped our speed to 20 mph on flat ground. 


Our first stop was the Amistad Reservoir. When the  dam that form the reservoir was completed in 1969, water flooded several valleys covering ranches in buildings that have been purchased by the government. Nowadays, scuba diving enthusiast have dive sites in the reservoir. 


While stopped on one of the bridges across the reservoir to take pictures, I put a phone call in to Dex Tooke, a member of our 2017 Race Across America (RAAM) crew and an ultra cycling icon with both the book he authored, “Unfinished Business,” and the  RAAM qualifying race he runs, “No Country for Old Men”.  It turns out that Dex lives in Del Rio, just a couple of blocks off our route and only 2 miles up the road from the reservoir, so we stopped in to see him and meet his puppy, George.

The modern day pictograph at the foot of Dex’s driveway gave yesterday’s ancient ones some competition


Eric, being the impressionable young man that he is, got a kick out of Dex’s man cycling cave, race memorabilia, signature glasses, way of life and persona.  He’s one of a kind, and seeing him again was the highlight of my day. 

In second position behind seeing Dex was our lunch in Del Rio.  Ken had offered to buy lunch with tour funds, as there was no food available for sandwiches and snacks. The group consensus was oriental food, so Eric and I rode over to meet the group for lunch at the designated Chinese buffet. No one else from the group showed up, and they really missed out. The food was delicious. 

My lunch appetizer. Yum!

After lunch, we backtracked to Walmart to restock our snacks, bug spray, etc., then I got caught up in a few phone calls.  Didn’t make it to Fort Clark RV Park till past 6 PM, and even though much of the day was downhill and with a healthy tail wind, I was still completely wiped out when I arrived.  

10/9/17 – Sanderson to Comstock, TX

You can’t dream this stuff up.  Yesterday, for 55 miles of cycling, there was no civilization, so we had to carry extra water and and snacks to survive the ride.  Today was going to be different.  Twenty miles outside of Sanderson, in Dryden, there was going to be a little cafe where we could get breakfast, so our breakfast offerings were pretty meager.  Then 40 miles after that, in Langtry, was going to be the only convenience market between Sanderson and Del Rio,  which is another 63 miles up the road.  Our plan was to all meet up at that convenience store to carry a portion of the groceries for the next 3 meals the remaining 20 miles to the campground at Seminole Canyon State Park & Historical Site, where we planned to bed down for the evening.  

Since we were facing our longest riding day yet–81 miles–we got an early start. Ed and I started riding about 20 minutes before sunrise, but some of the others started out in the dark.  

Ten miles into our ride, we ran into fog that not only erased our visibility, but was so heavy it felt like a mist. 


When we hit Dryden, the town with our planned breakfast stop, we were disappointed to find that it was no longer in business. There were no other open markets or eateries, so we put on our big girl and boy panties and kept cycling down the road.  

The plant Arizonans call Texas Sage. Texans have their own name for it

The best historical monument of the day. Good thing we’ve cut back on capital punishment in today’s world

At the 60 mile point we hit Langtry, where the entire group was rallied in front of the market to each pack a portion of the next day’s food on their bike.  The only problem was that the store closed a year ago when the owner died, so there was no food and no water to be had.  How was this going to work?  We had planned to camp at the state park 20 miles up the road, but with no food available for dinner or breakfast, we needed to move down the route to the next town with something we could eat.  

While all those details were being worked out by the people in the group with strong opinions, I walked over to check out the nearby train that was waiting on the tracks for another train to pass–an entire train of military vehicles headed to who knows where.  


It of reminded me of when I arrived at Fort Hood during Desert Storm. During my first few weeks there, one or more trains arrived on the railhead that passes thru Fort Hood and were loaded up with CONEX boxes, vehicles, and armored aircraft and vehicle to be moved out to a port for shipment to Iraq. Hopefully today’s load is not headed to Korea. 

Meanwhile, back at the former store, the guys called ahead to Comstock, another 10 miles up the road from Seminole Canyon, to verify that there was food in town and that there was a place we could stay.  Hallelujah, there was.  

With that settled, Ed, Eric and I embarked on a couple of side trips–the first to the one and only available water stop for the entire day–the Judge Roy Bean Museum.  

Judge Roy Bean’s home
The bar and billiard parlor where Judge Roy Bean dispensed justice

We were pretty focused on that water, but would have been thrilled to find a vending machine with either snacks or soft drinks, but that was not to be. We fell back on looking at the museum exhibits full of stories on the judge, who was quite a character.   

Following the museum, Eric and I high tailed it up the road to get to Seminole Canyon, where the last guided tour of ancient pictographs departed the visitor’s center at 3 PM.     The 20 mile ride would normally have taken us 90 minutes, but being in Texas hill country, half of the ride was uphill, which slowed me down big time.  Eric flew past me, as I chugged up the hills, and I told him I didn’t think I would make the tour, but I would still go to the visitor center to see the exhibits.  Even though I was in a major hurry, I had to stop for a couple of photos of spectacular scenery.  After all, there was a good chance I would miss the tour anyhow. 

An empty wash that has seen a lot of water in its day
The Pecos River

I killed myself on those hills, but still didn’t arrive the visitor’s center till 6 minutes past the start of the tour. I was a little disappointed, but it never hurts to ask for an exception, which you can always count on me to do.  When I explained to the ranger that I had ridden my bike 80 miles to get to get to that tour, she let me run up the trail to catch up to the tour group.  Well actually, the running was down, as the trail dropped 3/4 mile down into a canyon where an Indian tribe once lived.  The tour would have been better if the young lady who was our tour guide had facts about the tribe and pictographs, but she didn’t.  She instead pointed out things like the prickly pear cactus and other plants I grow in my yard.  

When the tour was over, we climbed back out of the canyon to find the visitor’s center was closed.  I was out of water, with still another 10 miles to ride, so the rangers let me and Eric back in to get water, and from there we talked them into letting us buy ice cream and soft drinks.  They totally made our day.  As we sat outside in the shade and snacked, the temperature, which had risen to 97 degrees, dropped a little, making the last 10 miles to Comstock a little more pleasant.  
Our motel was nice and clean, and these signs in each room explain why. 

Ed had an incident on his bike, today.  Hooefully he used one of the old towels to dry the abrasion on his arm. 

10/8/17 -Marathon to Sanderson, TX

Today is Sunday, again, and I’m trying to figure out how I’m ever going to get to church on this ride.  If I ever do anything like this again, I will plan the route so I have Sundays off and also so I am in a town where there is a church to go to. I just don’t have that control over our itinerary this time around.  So there was no church today, but I can say that today was the most restful day we’ve had on the tour.

Today’s riding conditions were the most restful we’ve had on the entire tour. When we pulled out of Marathon this morning, there was a little bit of climbing, but the grade was only 1 – 2%. The temperatures were cool, the road surface was perfectly smooth, and there was very little traffic. 

 

About a third of the way through the ride, the road pointed downhill, and for the last two hours into Sanderson we were going between 16 and 22 mph down hill with no headwind.  We couldn’t have asked for better riding conditions.

    The scene when we stopped at the first convenience market in Sanderson
     

    The short riding day allowed me time to both watch Music and the Spoken Word and take a short nap.  It was a very nice, laid back day. Tomorrow we kick back into high gear with an 81 mile day.  Followed by a 74 mile day.   

    10/7/17 – Marfa to Marathon, TX

    One third of the miles we are covering on this transcontinental bike ride are between the east and west borders of Texas.  That’s a lot of Texas.  Last night was another super windy night, and it was still blowing when we woke up this morning. Ahead of us was a 58 mile day, at the end of which it was my turn to shop for the next 3 meals and prepare dinner with Ken.  Riding out of Marfa, we (Ken and I) were riding into a strong headwind.  Not a good start to the day. 

    Our first stop was the Marfa Lights viewing area.  It was 9 miles down the road from Marfa, so none of us ventured out to see the supposed cosmic experience that takes place there.  

    Check out the map on the side of this RV that shows where it’s been
    Parked in the parking lot was the Cruising Nomads RV–the coolest RV I have ever seen in my life.  A couple from Czech Republic have been traveling the world in it for almost 3 years, and after finishing the US, Central and South America, they will return home and be done.  Talk about an adventure. They were asleep when we rode through so we didn’t get to talk to them, unfortunately. I’ll bet they have some stories to tell. 

    For the next 17 miles, as we rode toward Alpine, we fought headwinds–even when we were going downhill.  

    The grass is shows the direction the wind is blowing

    At one point, we were passed by 49 Mustang Shelbys owned by members of the Terlingua Preservation Society, which was having it’s annual gathering in Alpine.  


    There was so much going on in Alpine that we forgot about the headwind.  


    All those Mustang Shelbys that passed us on the highway?  They surrounded a performance automobile business in town and had people crawling over and under them.   

    A talented mural painter who lives in Alpine has left her mark all around town. 



    My favorites surrounded the Thai food truck where I ate lunch. 
    A few miles outside of Alpine, we ran into a take-off on Marfa Prada–Marfa Target.  Okay, so it’s not an official art installation, but it caught my eye.  


    The wind died down just as we started a descent that lasted through arrival in Marsthon, where we were spending the night.  We were so happy to get to the RV park early, but our joy didn’t last long. There were stickers everywhere in our large group campsite.  I found some cardboard to put under my tent to keep them from puncturing my Therm-a-rest, and all of us had to park our bikes away from the campsite to avoid flat tires.  

    The second tent on the left is mine

    I The only grocery store in town just barely had enough food choices for us to put together a pathetic breakfast. Our lunch fixings were even worse.  There was no way to squeeze a dinner out of what they had on the shelves, so we had to order out the only other food available in town that fit our budget–pizza.  

    After dinner, some of the RVers were flying drones, so we wandered over to check them out.  In talking to them, we learned that they are both  amateur astronomers.  One of them owns the RV park, and the other is an astronomy and photography enthusiast who comes to Marathon every year to view the sky.  Being in the middle of nowhere, the stars and constellations are more visible here ethan most other places in the United States.

    So these 2 guys invited us to a star party at which they rolled out 6 telescopes, a couple of them very large ones donated to the local schools by the McDonald Observatory.  The RV Park owner apparently has so much expertise and knowledge that he is the keeper of the telescopes and teaches astronomy to the school kids.  So tonight, he and his guest spent about 2 hours teaching us and about 10 other people about astronomy and telescopes, and showing us constellations, planets, the surface of the moon, etc.  We could not believe what a fascinating learning opportunity we stumbled upon in a little RV park in Marathon TX. 

    10/6/17 – Day off in Marfa, TX

    After sleeping in till almost 10 AM, I was feeling great, but wasn’t moving too quickly.  Ed and I hopped on our bikes, dropped my laundry off at the laundromat, then headed to Marfa Burrito for breakfast.  The burrito was huge, but flavor-wise, it didn’t come close to the breakfast burrito at The Burrito Company in Ahwatukee. 


    While waiting for my laundry to dry, I watched a mural painter working at the business next door and overheard people talking about the 5 PM start time for the annual Marfa Open Art Festival.  

    So I decided to head back to El Cosmico to take a nap in one of the hammocks and finish yesterday’s blog.  I could see the art galleries after 5 PM when the festival began.

    Also hanging out in the hammocks were two beautiful young ladies, Asiya and Isabel, medical school students who were taking a couple of days off from their studies in El Paso.  

    They reminded me of how I sold myself short by not doing something big with the brain power I had back when I was their age, but it was a different time back then.  They really inspired me with their confidence and ambition.  When I get home, I plan to do something big with my brain too.  It’s never too late. 

    Later in the afternoon, Erwin, Tom C, Chris and I headed into town to eat dinner at the food truck and check out the art festival. When we learned that the food truck was not going to be open for another 1.5 hours, we went back downtown to the festival.  While down there, we ran into 3 friends who are riding their third section of the Southern Tier route together–the El Paso to Austin section. At the rate they are going, it will take them 5 more years to finish the route.  

    The poster on the back of one of the guys bikes
    One of the 3 guys,not
    One of the 3 guys, not someone from our group, had added the second item to the list on this piece of art

    The art in Marfa is all minimalist, and most of it is very abstract. I wandered through over 20 galleries and, while most of iwhat I saw was interesting to look at, I didn’t see a single piece of art I would want to own. 

    I did see a couple of posters and puppies I wouldn’t mind owning.  In fact, the pup posing on the matching cowhide is high end performance art, in my opinion. 



    After eating dinner at the food truck, we headed back to the RV park to get things organized for totmorrow and to hit the sack. 

    10/5/17 – Van Horn to Marfa (Google it), TX 

    If you asked each of us how our day went, today, the answer from a good part of our group would have been that it was the hardest day on the tour.  But there have been so many days, where, within minutes of starting the ride, I thought there was no way I could finish the route, but somehow I just kept hammering at it and muscled through it  And after the fact, it would be hard to rank one of them against the others, because the factors that make them difficult are all different.  For me, yesterday would be in the top 5 most difficult.  

    During our dinner, last night, even though there was only a 15% chance of rain, it poured.  I ran back to gather up all the electronics that were charging and to zip up the open rain flies on 6 tents.  Crisis averted, but then as we went to bed, the wind kicked up and gusted all night, an omen of the day to come. 

    The moon setting as we went to breakfast
    The sun rising as we went to breakfast

    Ahead of us, this morning, were 74 mostly uphill miles with absolutely no services of any kind on the route, so we were all loaded up with extra water and very aware of how much food we were carrying to replenish our energy. We pushed out at first light, which in the central time zone was now an hour later, and immediately found ourselves peddling into a heavy headwind.  I would have been happy to ride the entire day by myself at my own pace, but there’s no way I could ride into that wind by myself. 
    I frantically started looking for someone to ride with so we could trade off on breaking the wind.  Catching up to Tom C, Erwin, and Eric, was impossible, as they were going too fast.  Pedaling ahead, I ran into Tom R and Joe, who had stopped to take a photo and were riding a little slower. 

    Photo Tom R took of me when I caught up with them
    The two of them ride out together each morning, but at some point, Joe kicks into his Superman gear and jettisons ahead.  When Joe reached that point and rode ahead, Tom and I made a pact to ride together and trade off breaking the wind a mile at a time, and I will love him forever for hanging with me throughout the entire day.  For the half of the rest of the day, this was my view, as I attempted to stay within a wheel of his bike.  


    The first 20 miles of the ride was on perfectly smooth pavement, but that all changed when we entered  a section of road that was under construction to get new chip seal and bridge barriers. 

    The chip seal surface was bumpy and was taking a toll on our sit zones for 25 straight miles when we crossed into Presidio County, where the road hadn’t been maintained in who knows how long.  For 35 morenmiles, our wrists, shoulders, and tender sit zones took a serious beating.  

    Stopping numerous times to apply and reappply shamy cream helped, but the headwind, the grade and the bumps were conspiring against us.  

    About 10 miles into that last section of road, I clipped Tom’s rear wheel, as I followed him, apparently a little too closely, and me and my bike went on a collision course that for a split second was pretty scarey.  The last thing to hit the ground was my helmet, and I thank the good Lord for that.  I was completely decked out on the pavement with my bike laying on me while I assessed the damage:  nothing broken, no concussion (I was still thinking clearly–I think), no bleeding, but a hole in the right knee of my sun legs, very minor raspberries on that knee, my right hip bone and my right shoulder, and a little scrape on my right shift lever.  Am I lucky or what? (Don’t answer that. We may not agree on the correct response.)  Tom lifted my bike off of me, and I layed on the pavement for another minute or so. Thank you Tom!

    As we rode on, I recommitted myself to doing everything in my power to keep myself safe on this ride.  That fall could have easily played out much worse, and a broken bone would have ended the ride for me.  I have come way too far to not finish this ride over something as stupid as inattention, and I need to make it home safely so I can continue to be my daughter’s Mom and my grandbaby’s Grandma. 
    I know this is out of order, but there were a few highlights in the day, besides Tom’s sharing the load with me.  

    Tom, who saved me day

    A little before the halfway point of the day we rode into the town of Valentine, which in 1881 was a Southern Pacific Railway station. At one point it had a booming population of–get this–600. When the railroad stopped passenger service to Valentine and then in 2010 relocated the train station to Van Horn, the population dropped to 134. So now the place is almost a ghost town, but the families have come together to make sure the library stays open, and it is a really cool library.  


    The second highlight was just a couple of miles further down the road in the middle of nowhere–the “Prada Marfa” permanent land art installation.  It looks like a Prada store, I guess  (I’ve never really paid attention to designer brands and stores, so I can’t be sure), but the doors are sealed shut, and I heard that the glass is bullet proof.   I also heard that it is a tour bus stop on West Texas bus tours. 


    We lucked out, and the last little bit of the ride was downhill.  We arrived Marfa low on water, out of food, and starving.  


    We headed straight for  Dairy Queen (Pecan Cluster Blizzard) to refuel ourselves, then headed to our resting place, El Cosmico RV Park, with just enough time to pitch our tents before nightfall. 


    I plan on catching some quality sleep tonight.  We have a layover day tomorrow, so will be able to get some R&R and check out the galleries here.  


    10/4/17 – Fort Hancock to Van Horn

    We shaved 6 miles off our route, today, by riding on I-10 for 12 miles.  Lovely, eh?  Five miles into the day, we had the choice of riding on the freeway or a winding, zig zagging country road, and all of us opted for the freeway.  After 18 miles of that, we were ready for the frontage road, where there was barely any traffic in either direction. 

    Once again, the wind was relentless.  Ken and I were moving along at 5 – 6 mph on a 68 mile route, and I was wondering how we would make it the whole way without burning out.  That’s when Ken told me, “You got this.”  Hey, isn’t that a line out of a movie?  Or was it one of the lines one of my drill sergeants used on us back in basic training?  Regardless, I didn’t know whether to laugh or punch him in the chops.  

    Our last view of the mountains across the Mexico border before our route veered away from the Rio Grande
    Our entire day was spent either on I-10 or the frontage roads, when they existed.  The wind never let up all day long, but we got help in that we met up with Eric and Ed at the Subway sandwich shop in Sierra Blanca, a little town with mostly closed and vacant buildings and businesses, that happened to be the midpoint of our ride.

    One of the many abandoned buildings in Sierra Blanca

    Sierra Blanca is almost a ghost town with only a handful of open businesses

    After lunch, the 4 of us took turns at the front of a paceline–something Eric and I have zero experience with. Killing myself for 1 of every 4 miles gave me 3 miles of easier peddling as I drafted off the other 3 guys.  Time and miles seemed to slip by more quickly, suddenly. But then Eric fessed up that he really wasn’t getting any benefit following Ken, because Ken’s Bob trailer kept him from getting a draft off of Ken, and the next thing I knew, the paceline dream was over.  

    One of the many recently wet desert washes we crossed today

    A roadside break

    The day had 2 highlights.  The first was crossing over into the Central time zone and resetting all our electronic devices.  I mean, come on.  This is progress, right?  The second was an almost 8 mile descent into Van Horn.  The headwind took a little bite out of it, but it was still downhill, and my legs were pretty much wasted, by then, so it felt like a gift.

    We wondered what took a bike out of the left side of the sign

    10/3/17 – El Paso to Fort Hancock

    It seems like every day has a new challenge for either me or someone in our group of cyclists. Today, everyone planned for a late departure from the hotel where we stayed last night, as we only had a 45 mile ride to Fort Hancock, and per Ken, there is nothing to do there.  

    So we ate a late breakfast, had a morning map meeting, instead of an evening one, and just took our time getting ready to go. While using the toilet adjacent to the hotel lobby, I was working at getting a chunk of food from my breakfast out of my teeth, which I know is probably not the type of thing you should be doing while using the toilet, but I was doing it anyhow. Suddenly, one of my crowns fell out and landed in the toilet. What the heck! Do things like this only happen to me?

    Luckily, I had a couple of extra baggies with me, so was able to cover my hand while I felt around for the crown and was fortunately able to recover it.  I washed it off in the sink, being careful not to drop it down the drain, then went to work finding a dentist who would put it back on for me. After today, it would be several days before we would be in a town big enough to have a dentist, so this had to be taken care of today in El Paso.

    The only dentist who could get me in and would reseat a crown they did not put in originally was at Kool Smiles Dentistry for Kids, just a short distance off the route to Fort Hancock.    

     I cycled about 9 miles to get there, then waited for a break in the dentist’s schedule, that did not occur until 1:40 PM.  

    Most of the guys had already completed the ride to Fort Hancock when I started the medical history review with Dr. Le, prior to his actually starting to work on my crown. I was really irritated with how long they drug out the process, but in the end, I was happy with how detailed they were in resetting the crown.  

    When I hit the road, I was under the gun to get the miles behind me before the afternoon headwinds picked up. The problem was, they already had.  It was a tough slog to get to our evening resting place–Community Church in Fort Hancock.  That is not to say that I did not enjoy the scenery along the way.  

    The land around the Rio Grande is fertile farmland, and I passed more cotton, peppers and pecan groves throughout the day.  Ed and I bumped into a local fellow who was out cycling, a couple of days ago, and he circled back to talk to us while we rode along.  When we commented on how nice the gentle downhill was, he told us that the Rio  Grande drops 5 feet per mile, which explained it.  Our route has been following the Rio Grande for 4 days. Tomorrow will be the last day of that treat.    
    View of the mountains across the border

    My speed averaged about 7 mph over the last 10 miles, for you cyclists who know what that means in terms of suffering.  i just barely made it to the church before the sun started setting.  The guys were all waiting for me so we could all go to dinner together.  They apparently had all been napping all afternoon while I fought the wind.

    Ed and I had cooking duty, so we were pretty pleased that Ken had decided on a restaurant meal at Angies, the one and only restaurant in town. 

     

    The pickings for breakfast and lunch were so slim in the local market, that we fear an uprising in the morning. I’ll let you know how that goes. 

    Did I mention that we slept in a church?  As one who has dozed off in church a time or two, sleeping in this church gave a whole new meaning to sleeping in church. 

    Rich packing up his bedding and gear in the AM
     
    My sleeping spot. The left bench is my gear and the right bench is Eric’s

    We were bedded down all the over the place: in front and  behind the pulpit and communion table; and on and under the pews.  And I must say, we all slept very well. 

    10/2/17 – Las Cruces to El Paso, TX

    Today was a great day for me, but for all 10 of the guys, it was their worse day of the ride.  Ed and I got an early start on a lovely little country road that wound through pecan groves and ranch houses and delivered us to Mesilla, a little Spanish village with a bustling market square that, unfortunately, was not open at 8 AM (go figure).


    Following Mesilla were miles and miles of pecan orchards.  Catching up to Neal, we rode with him for a while, and he told us of a Spanish friend of his who told him that many of the larger orchards in the area are stilled owned by the families of former Spanish Conquistadors.  That was totally believable, as some of them were very well groomed.

    The sign on one of the orchards made us wonder how fishing could be a problem
    Neal dropped back, and Ed and I found ourselves at a little country market where we bought soft drinks and snacks and took a break.  And I had to take a few minutes to make phone calls to my insurance company and the company that is doing the restoration on my house to get things moving on the repairs.   A good friend has been checking on it, and had reported to me that mold was growing in the house, because it is not completely dried out.  So while I had cell phone service, I had to make calls.
    Well, that took over an hour, so Ed rode on without me. I hit the road again by myself, which is just fine.  I put an earbud in my ear and listened to music as I pedaled on.  About a half hour into my ride, Ken, Eric, Erwin and Tom C, who had stopped for a one hour coffee break, caught up to me–moving at high speed.  I hung with them for a few minutes, but as soon as they saw a place to pull over (a post office), they were ready for a break, and I had just had a long one, so I kept riding.  About 40 minutes later, they caught up to me again, just at the point where the route makes a turn to enter Texas.  Again, they stopped, and I went on alone.  I never saw them or anyone else from the group for the rest of my ride.

    After entering Texas, the route turned onto a walking/bike path that parallels the Rio Grande–a path that looked like it hadn’t been used in years, though I could see wheel prints of about 5 bikes that had recently passed over it–probably the guys in front of me.  The path had high weeds growing on both sides, a lot of plant litter in the path, and occasionally, there were puddles of standing water covering it completely, with no way to get around them.  My last flat tire happened on a path like this one, and I wasn’t enjoying riding through puddles of water where there could be tire hazards concealed by the dirt on the bottom.


    Rio Grande on the left; bike path on the right; weeds everywhere.

    After about 6 miles of worrying about getting a flat, I came to the only road that crossed the path.  Checking my map, I found a parallel road a couple of blocks north that would avoid another 6 miles of puddles and plant litter.  Apparently, all of the guys continued on the path, and that is where our routes diverged.  Up ahead, the puddles turned into mud puddles, and at least a couple of the guys fell over in the mud.  The tires and fenders of a few of the bikes were so bound up in mud, that they wouldn’t turn.  One guy had to completely unload his bike and remove his fenders to get the mud out of them.

    In the mean time, I was happily moving down a nicely paved road with a wide smooth shoulder on my way to the Quality Inn east of the airport in El Paso.


    The road into town ran right along the Mexico border for a few miles, and I felt like I was in Mexico.  A couple of times, I stopped to verify my location on the map, and when I asked locals for location assistance, none of them spoke English.

    I learned that the Soviet looking industrial complex that for 13 months I thought was on the Juarez side of the border, is actually on the US side.

    img_6693

    After about 10 miles of feeling like I was in Mexico, I re emerged into normal civilization.  I was now on a busy street with no bike lane of any kind, and cars moving about 50 miles per hour.  Scarey, but I kept my eye on my rear view mirror and held my ground.

    img_6686

    I passed through the UTEP campus, stopped at Crazy Cat Bikes to look for a new skull cap, passed the really cool street sign below, and rode through a really nice downtown area.  I mean, it was really nice–with an arts district and cool public art installations that I didn’t have time to stop and look at.  And I wondered how I spent 13 months in El Paso and no one ever took me downtown to see any of the sights there.

    I was about 43 miles into a 63 mile day, so I had to keep moving.  I had a date to meet up with MAJ Rivas, who worked for me when I was stationed at Fort Bliss.  When I arrived at the hotel, the 4 guys who were passing me earlier had not arrived yet.  The guys who had arrived all had stories of fighting the mud and having to wash their bikes off behind the hotel.  Mud?  What mud? I never saw it.  The 4 guys arrived about an hour later, muttering and complaining.
    After hearing all the stories, I just barely had enough time to take a shower before MAJ Rivas arrived with her three adorable kids, her sister, MAJ Jones, and MAJ Jones two beautiful daughters.

    MAJ Rivas had made me a caramel cake to share with the guys, and it was super delicious.  I got to meet and love on her new baby girl, Nia, and see Jonathan, who was started crawling, back we worked together, but is now a big boy.  And David is an even bigger boy.  It was so much fun seeing her and the kids, and talking about how our lives have changed since we worked together back in 2012 and 2013.

    The kids and I were drooling over that cake, so we knocked on 3 doors–looking for some of the guys to help eat it, but they must have all been on bike wash duty, so we had to break into the cake without them.  Sorry guys.

    And that last big piece of cake?  I ate it before I went to bed.  I love you MAJ Rivas!  Hope to see you and MAJ Jones again someday soon.  And someday, when your kids are grown, I hope we can do at least one epic adventure together.

    MAJ Jones’ daughter’s + MAJ Rivas, Nia, David and Jonathan.

    10/1/17 – Caballo to Las Cruces, NM 

    A request:  Friends from church.  I have been unable to watch Conference.  If you watched it, comment with your favorite talk (s), and I will watch those first when I get a day off.  

    And now for today’s post;

    You know, there was only a 35% chance of rain, last night.  Against the odds, sometime after midnight, it rained for two hours and supposedly there was worse thunder and lightning than the night before.  It was so close that Ed thought it hit my tent (glad that didn’t happen). I was so wiped out that I only heard the rain, because I woke up to use the restroom.  I have my own accomodation for that that does not require me to exit the tent–top secret stuff that I won’t divulge here, except to say that it doesn’t involve wearing Depends.

    Once again, we packed up wet tents and tent footprints before hitting the road, which made for another late start for what was to be a 65 mile day with no significant climbing.  

    Right out of the chute, there was a headwind.  For the first time, Ed and I drafted off of each other, with Ken drafting off of us, but not taking turns out front, due to the fact that he pulls a trailer.  It gave each of us a break from the headwinds, which made us stronger when we were out front pulling.  We made good time as we followed the path of the Rio Grand, passing through Arrey, Derry,  Garfield and Salem on our way to Hatch.  

    Along the way, we saw flooded out yards and property, owing to the previous night’s rain.  I was a little surprised at how brown and silty the Rio Grand was, and wondered if it is always mud colored, or if that was a result of run off from the storm too.  Anyone have a clue on that?  

    Chili farms and chili processing plants seemed to be the primary industry for most of our route, though there were a significant number of pecan groves and a few cotton and maize fields.  

    Here are just a sampling of the chili enterprises we passed:

    As soon as we hit the chili farms, Ed started to have an unexpected allergic reaction that thankfully responded to the eye drops I am using now.

    When we arrived Hatch, chili stores, memorabilia, restaurants, museums, etc. were everywhere.  

    Tom R and Eric at the children’s table
    We ate at Sparky’s, a famous barbeque place that was packed with people from towns as far away as El Paso who appeared to be out for a Sunday drive. 

    Once on the road again, the wind was much stronger and now was constantly changing direction.  Or maybe it was the road that was changing directions.  Regardless, there was very little joy in the ride.  

    A stop at the Fort Sheldon Historical Site got us some air conditioned time to learn about both the fort and El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro.  The fort was established in 1865 along the banks of the Rio Grand and also along the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro.  

    All that is left of it is just a few portions of adobe walls, but back in the day, it was a US Army outpost that protected locals from desperadoes and Apache Indians.  It’s first soldiers where Buffalo Soldiers (African American infantrymen) who had served during the Civil War.  During the 1880s, one of its residents was the post commander’s son–a boy named Douglas MacArthur.

    El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro is another “place” I had never heard of before.  It was gradually established, starting back in 1598, as a trade route between Mexico City and the San Juan Pueblo, which is north of Santa Fe.  At first it was used by native tribes, but it later became a route for trade between Spanish villages and for missionaries spreading Christianity.  By 1881, railroads had replaced wagon trails, so the route was decommissioned.  It’s historical significance is recognized by 60 World Heritage Sites in the Mexico portion of the route being designated on the UNESCO World Heritage List, while the US portion of the route is part of the National Historic Trail system, overseen by the National Park Service.  How did I miss learning about this during all those years of US History I had in school?  

    While Ed and I checked out the fort, Ken headed down the road to take care of his ride leader duties.  Then along came Eric who gave us some inspiration as we rode the rest of the way to Las Cruces.  

    Eric and I stopped at Sonic for milkshakes, while Ed continued on.  The last 5 miles to the Las Cruces KOA were almost inhumane.  I don’t know who picked that location for a KOA, but they must not have known that bike riders could have a heart attack climbing the mile+ super steep hill up Highway 70 and into the parking lot.  

    The only saving grace was passing this 52.7 foot long chili pepper in from of the Big Chili Inn.  

    9/30/17 – San Lorenzo to Caballo, NM

    Last night was crazy.  When we went to go to bed, elk started bugling up the road from the RV park where we were staying.  The bugling got closer and closer and louder and louder, till we thought we were going to be overrun by them, but it didn’t happen. 

    Around 2 AM, the rain we have been expecting for days finally hit–a torrential downpour, with steady thunder and lightning, that lasted over 2 hours.  It was so loud that none of us could sleep through it, but there was no getting out of your tent without getting completely soaked.  ​

    I received a text message from Ed at around 3:20 AM.  His tent had failed, and he had escaped to the women’s bathroom, because it was more accessible than the men’s room.  A few minutes later, Eric joined him, also due to a failed tent.  Ed tried to sleep sitting on the toilet seat, using the towel I had dried off with earlier as a pillow.  Eric tried to make a bed out of the benches and chairs gathered from both the women’s and men’s rooms.  I never heard how that worked.  When I went to use the restroom in the morning, it was completely occupied with all their soaked gear.  

    Later, during breakfast, the locals told us that the storm had dropped 3 inches of rainfall–the worse they had seen in over 4 years.  Can’t believe our timing.  

    Wet everything slowed us down in getting on the road, and the last group leaving–the one I was in–didn’t leave until 10:20.  Just a mile or so into our ride, we had to turn around and find another route, as the road was covered with over 2 feet of water and mud. Once we got on the alternate route, there were piles of hail on the sides of the road and throughout the day, we came across places where large rocks, dirt and other debris covered the road.

    The ride started in flat prairie type land, then took us back into the Gila National Forest, continuing to follow the Mountain Spirit Scenic Byway for most of the day.  

    We climbed over 3300 feet in the first 21 miles, much of it with 6, 7, 8 and 9% grades, which are pretty dang steep. 

    On the way up to Emory Pass, the highest peak on our transcontinental route, we passed some spectacular scenery, including an amazing rock canyon and areas burned during the 2015 forest fire. 

     
    When we finaly arrived at the top of the the 8228 foot pass, there was a scenic outlook that required additional climbing.  And that is where we found out how worth it all that climbing was. 


    The views were magnificent that Tom C commented he may as well go home after seeing them.  His thinking was that there is no way anything else on the tour could top that scene.  And I agree, it was definitely the most beautiful thing we have seeen yet.  I’ll let you know later if we see something that beats it.  

    Erwin, Ken, me, Tom C, Ed, Eric and Neal.

    The downhill that followed our climb was another great reward for all that climbing.  As we descended, we saw the terrain gradually transition from tall pines back to plains and desert as we passed through Kingston and Hillsboro on our way to Caballo, where we camped near a huge reservoir.  

    Tomorrow, we head out to Las Cruces by way of Hatch, where we hope to sample the famous Hatch Chilis.