Alex Bikes

Ottawa bike politics.

Category Archives: Texas

So what happened in Texas?

The last time I wrote on this blog was back in February as I was planning my bike trip across Texas. Here’s a quick review.

The ‘why on earth would you bike in Texas?’ question continued well into the trip and after I got back. My values and political views don’t match a typical Texan’s, although typical is part of the problem.

Here’s something I learned: political views don’t really show through that much when you’re just visiting somewhere. Sure, there were a lot of pickup trucks with gun racks and wildly xenophobic views of Hispanics. If you can look past that (without forgiving it), you’ll find the people caring and genuine. And you’ll have quite an experience.

I learned a lot about nothingness and loneliness. Often there were no cars for an hour. There were no trees to ruin the views. I’ve never gone so long in my life without ever talking to someone. Emptiness. You should experience this, just not all the time.

Here’s a rundown. The average here is 150km / day, by far more than I’ve ever done.

Day 1 – El Paso to Ft. Hancock

IMG_2600.JPGI’d stayed the night before in El Paso with the president of Velo Paso and his wife. The cycling movement in El Paso is further behind Ottawa, shall we say.

I got up before my hosts. Most of the morning was spent exiting, among the avocado trees until we hit the highway. An 80mph road sounds terrible, but with an 8ft shoulder it can actually be okay. There were service roads which I used plenty of.

The population was thinning out, there were more abandoned buildings. The emptiness was starting to show.

I spent the night in a flea-bag motel. The owner warned me not to go to the other part of town as the police no longer had control over it. Fun!

Day 2 – Ft. Hancock to Marfa

This was magical. Suddenly I was on Highway 90 which has nothing on it. Chispa, Valentine and Quebec are abandoned.

I’d filled up on water (around 8 litres) in Van Horn but was completely empty by the time I hit the Marfa Prada, this art thing in the middle of the desert.

IMG_2656.JPGIMG_2662.JPGIn the parking lot, some tourists in a truck saw me and said ‘you don’t look so good, everything okay?’. They gave me a gallon of water which I drank right there. I have never been so thirsty ever.

I finished off the day in Marfa itself and camped in the desert. A fantastic and tiring day, around 170km.


The hostel in Marathon.

Day 3 – Marfa to Marathon

Just 90km this day, mostly windy. I was still tired and thirsty. I’d heard about this great hostel in town and hunted around for it. Marathon has few paved roads and I sense there’s a lot of unlocked doors. I found one guy on his front porch and I asked him if he could help me find the hostel. Guil invited me to drink bourbon while we talked about it. He owned the hostel, he said it was free for cyclists. I had the place to myself, so it was a great deal!

Day 4 – Marathon to Sanderson

Not much to report. Windy. Desolate. Road runners.

Day 5 – Marathon to Comstock

Here, I’d deviated from the Adventure Cycling Association’s prescribed Southern Tier route, which meant fewer bikes. I hadn’t actually seen anyone on a bike since El Paso.

I wandered into Comstock and partook of all their retail: gas station (junk food), hotel (room) and newly opened restaurant. This was an experience… the owner had never seen anyone on a bicycle before. Beer was $1.50 a pint. I had two main courses and still left with paying just $20. You can’t plan vacations like this.

Day 6 – Comstock to Eagle Pass

The desert was changing. Still, very few people. I could pump Van Halen on the headphones and nobody could hear or judge.

Eagle Pass is a gambling town. I found a fantastic taco stand and ordered several main dishes. It was a crappy hotel that night with mirrors over the beds.

Day 7 – Eagle Pass to Laredo

What a shitty day. All tours must have a day or two like this. It was so windy, I almost gave up before I started. Many years ago I’d met someone from Laredo and I’d envisioned it being this great place. I was looking forward to it. After a day of constant wind, it started getting dark. I’d done just 130km (after 13 hours). I got a flat tire (the first one in 5 years) so thought I’d camp out by the side of the road. But then I came across an RV park. They’d never had someone show up on a bike (and rarely without an RV), so I was a novelty. What a terrible place.

Wild dogs tried to run off with one of my bike shoes the next morning.

Day 8 – Laredo to McAllen

The last day of biking. McAllen’s a huge place compared to anywhere else I’d been. I stopped at this all-you-can-eat pizza place and ate until I could eat no more. Then met up with Anouk, a full day early.

The next day I slept to 9 and had two breakfasts and lunch. It was nice to be off the bike.

The astute will notice that I missed a day, I lost it in the emptiness of Texas.


“Biking in Texas? Why?”

The title of this post is the most common response when I tell people we’re taking a two-week vacation in Texas. Anouk and I struggle to find vacation destinations that feature both good birding and biking. Texas promises to be a new experience. I’m going to bike solo from the north west to the south east for ten days, then meet up with Anouk for a few days of birding, then fly back from Houston.

The route

This is the intended route. Reality will be quite different.

This is the intended route. Reality will be quite different.

It starts in El Paso. Sing it with me:

Out in the West Texas town of El Paso
I fell in love with a Mexican girl.
Night-time would find me in Rosa’s cantina;
Music would play and Felina would whirl. 

At the end, the protagonist turns into a murderer and is shot, dying in the arms of his love (an illegal immigrant). I’m married to a lovely Dutch woman, so this won’t happen to me. (The Pyrenean tour’s theme was Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé’s Barcelona, which is a bit more of an upper and frankly a better ear worm.)

From there it continues along the border with Mexico, following the Rio Grande.  I’m expecting huge empty stretches of ranches and deserts, with small towns in between. I’ll camp, but I’m not afraid to cheat and take a hotel here or there.

The equipment

Here’s what I’ve packed:

  • camping gear: tent, mat, sleeping bag. No stove or pots.
  • the Surly LHT. I like my bike, but I know it can be replaced. I made that clear to it when the index shifting failed near hilly Renfrew. In the Rockies I met Ryan, who has an image of his Raleigh Sojourn tattooed on his arm. That’s not me.
  • the iPhone: partly because of the shitty selection of paper maps, I’m going to use Galileo’s offline maps. We’ll see how this goes.
  • the usual stuff; clothes, tools etc.

I’ve packed way too much. This always happens…

I’m sure there’s a balance between too heavy and forgetting something crucial, but I have yet to find it.

The worries

All bike tours come with problems. In BC it was being distracted by stunning scenery. Jim and I struggled with forcing poutine and great beer down on La Tour de la Nouvelle France. And the Loire Valley? Hard to find fresh croissants on Monday mornings. Progress was slow in Holland because of the koffie en gebak. These things happen, but you get through.

My early concerns for this trip are:

  • huge stretches with no facilities,. In BC there were a couple of days of 80km, here much of it is 100km+ without water. There may be some wild camping, which is new to me.
  • I have just 10 days to cover 1300km if I’m to meet Anouk on time in McAllen. I’m incredibly out of shape, I’ve covered just 500km in 2014. I haven’t been on my touring bike for 4 months. I am physically not prepared.
  • I’ve flown with my bike maybe a dozen times. I always worry the bike won’t arrive or will be severely damaged. This time I’m testing United Airlines.

Things like fast highways (80mph!), getting lost or running out of food don’t worry me much. I can fix flats, true a wheel or fix a chain if I need to.

More to come?

Maybe I’ll blog more about this, I’m terrible at that. I leave tomorrow.