update 48: truth and confessions25 November 2009
Total distance cycled: 66,505 kms/ 41,010 miles
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain
the truth about texas
Two things are certain when traveling through West Texas: the wind will blow, and you'll meet some of the friendliest people in the country. Depending on the direction it blows, the wind can be either a curse or a trusty companion.
West Texas is a land of sagebrush and tumbleweed. A place of vast tracts of ranchland where every Podunk town is a welcome sight and a chance to replenish water supplies. There's nothing to break the wind in West Texas. In West Texas, the wind is master of your mood.
When it rages from the west, the wind propels us along at amazing speed with minimal effort. I sing and chatter and moo at the cows and giggle when they trample away in a cloud of dust.
When it blasts us from the east, the wind slaps us back to a crawl. It's like someone has hit the slow motion button and we grumble and plod on. I shelter behind Eric. Drafting provides some comfort and eases the strain of battling my unseen enemy. I hunker down and avoid, at all costs, a glance at the cyclo-computer. A rapid survey of the kilometers will leave me despondent. Better not to know that we've advanced three kilometers in the last 20 minutes. Better not to have justification for my growing concerns. Worries that we'll run out of water before the next ranch house appears on the horizon. Growing angst that night will sneak up on us when we're miles from no where. Yes, better just keep those eyes fixed forward.
from fickle to friendly
The West Texas wind, fortunately, proves to be fickle. As often as a pre-teen school girl comes home with a new crush, the wind, too, alters its affections. In the morning we're on a high with a headwind helping us along. Mid-day we're depressed as a crosswind whips us from the side. And by afternoon it's a full frontal assault that's bringing us to beg for mercy from the cycling gods.
Luckily, when I'm on the verge of another wailing attack, some friendly Texan slows down and calls out from the cab of his humongous pickup-truck, "Ya'll doin' okay? Got some cool water right here if ya'll need some."
Nice folks. Caring folks. Folks you can depend on if you're a stranded cyclist out in Timbuktu. I like Texans. Back in California I'd been warned about Texans. Best to stay away from that state altogether if you're on a bicycle, I'd been told.
Sure glad I'm as stubborn as I am. Otherwise, I would have missed out on meeting a whole lot of nice people.
confessions of a trespasser
Have you ever ended up doing something you swore you'd never do? Something so completely out of character that you're astounded by your own behavior? Done something, perhaps, that you know you shouldn't do? Fudged on your taxes, maybe? Used the company phone to call your best friend long distance in Switzerland? Wasted time reading a senseless blog about someone's silly bicycle trip around the world when you were supposed to be busy working?
Back in Montana I was raised by your average hard-working, church-going middle-class parents who did a pretty good job of teaching me right from wrong. I had a few lapses of judgment in my teen-age years, but who doesn't? Even President Obama had a recent lapse of judgment when he failed to wear a helmet when biking while on summer vacation with his family.
A few days back we were riding a desolate section of road headed for a place called Lobo, Texas. We thought we'd spend the night in Lobo--camp out at somebody's ranch, maybe pitch the tent at the local school. In Van Horn, the nearest town, we'd asked locals about Lobo. "Ain't much out there," was the general consensus. Which doesn't mean much. To a New Yorker that might mean there's just a Mc Donald's, a Motel 6 and a Safeway. To somebody from Montana maybe that means there's three bars, two churches and a gas station.
Well, to West Texans, nothing means nothing. Lobo, once a thriving desert town, was abandoned by its last residents in 1991. There's nobody out there. Just some abandoned buildings which have been fenced off behind a big padlocked gate. In fact, almost all the land in West Texas is fenced off. Most of it behind foreboding No Trespassing signs.
So there we are stranded in Lobo (population ZERO) at dusk with our hopes of spending the night in a warm church or school dashed. What to do? Jump the fence? Camp out on the narrow strip of land bordering the highway before the fences start? Cycle on into the desert night?
We continued to push the pedals, reasoning that if we hazarded hopping the fence surely some crazy cowboy driving by would spot us, reach for his rifle and start shooting. Lobo, after all, is situated just 15 miles from the Mexico border and in those parts folks wandering around after dark are treated with suspicion.
To our surprise, we soon sighted a farmhouse just off the road. There had been nothing for miles and miles and now a house, just in front of us. And we were in luck-- the front gate was unlocked and there were no threatening signs to welcome us. A quick reconnaissance mission (ah, memories of ROTC) confirmed that the house was vacant. The front door was locked, but the back door was open and the water was still running, the lights worked and even the toilet flushed. Ok, the shower was out of order, but hey, as trespassers you can't get too demanding. In a flash, we wheeled in the bikes, locked the back door (who knows what dangers lurked outside) and set up in-door camp, thankful to be sheltered from the rapidly dropping temperatures.
So, if you're like millions of Americans who leave the back door open, don't be surprised if one day you come home to find cyclists sprawled out on your couch. I warned you.
eric the anarchist.
No, not my Eric. He may make cheeky remarks to sheriffs, but he doesn't go so far as advocating the overthrow of the government. Eric the anarchist is a blue-eyed, blond haired ex-Mormon we met at La Loma del Chivo (The Hill of the Goat). La Loma del Chivo (motto: wackos welcome here) is an intentional community on a dusty patch of land near the tiny town of Marathon, Texas (population 540). It's meant to be a creative and safe environment where people can gather to live their dreams.
We ended up there because Guilford, the founder of the community, has a great admiration for anyone stupid enough to travel around the world by human powered transport. Mostly out of pity, I believe, perhaps tinged with curiosity, Guilford regularly invites bicycle tourers to his place for a soft bed and a warm shower. Nice guy.
Even starry-eyed hippies need to eat, and while Loma del Chivo gets off the ground, Guilford dons a uniform and transforms himself into an airplane pilot for UPS. With Guilford off ferrying packages to Midland, Eric the Anarchist was in charge.
Unless you're used to hanging out with guys who've got tattoos on their face, Eric's appearance would probably shock you. I asked if it had hurt. "All the Americans ask if it hurt. The Mexicans ask me what it means." Clearly he was disappointed by my ordinariness.
Slowly Eric's story unfolded. In the early 90's he'd taken part in anti-globilization protests and became disgusted with his fellow demonstrators when he learned that these same people who covered their faces and took to the streets marching against Mc Donalds and Starbucks were in fact employed by the same establishments. He didn't have anything or anyone to hide from so he tattooed his face. To stand out in a crowd. Then he got fed up with the restrictions of living in the US and hopped over the border to start a new life in Mexico. He'd built a new life in Mexico, got married, started a family and finally realized that working as a laborer for the equivalent of $7 a day wasn't very lucrative.
Now he's back in the US working for $12 an hour and saving money to send back to Mexico. Just like millions of others. He's still an anarchist, but a pragmatic one.
Eric the Anarchist may just be the last slightly crazy character we meet in the US. The border crossing into Mexico at Eagle Pass lies just 100 kilometers south of here. Time to find out if all the scares about drug wars, petty thievery and swine flu have any substance. We're looking forward to fresh tortillas, sandy palm-fringed beaches and Mayan ruins. Hope you'll stick around and join us for the ride.
Any confessions to make? Travel tips for Mexico? Encounters with Texans?
Please comment below or send us an e-mail and let us know what's up in your world.
We've put together a calendar for 2010 featuring some of our favorite portraits from our World Biking tour. It's available for sale via Red Bubble. Proceeds will help keep us on the road and allow us the occasional trip to the pastry shop as we continue our tour in South America. Check out the calendar now.