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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Still in Texas...

It's been almost two weeks, and we're still in Texas. I knew it would take a long time to get across. I did not know how varied, how interesting, how beautiful, the state would prove to be. From the mountains, to the desert, to the lush rolling hills, to the area now where it begins to flatten out, Texas has had all kinds of terrain and scenery.

Our descent from McDonald Observatory in the early hours of the morning was bitterly cold. It was the first time I needed the Bar Mitts and thermal balaclava I'd been packing all trip for the cold weather. It was also the last. Though upon buying food at the end of the day in Alpine, I found myself with no place to put the Bar Mitts away, and then got stuck having them on for days to come. We had a short day and spent time exploring the historic town of Ft Davis before making our way on to Alpine. Our host there had a sick son so she put us up in the apartment attached to her home she normally uses for vacation rental. It was really nice, a welcome place to relax. And it allowed us time to explore Alpine, Joel hitting up a bike shop, while I checked out the Big Bend Museum (making me wish we could have gotten down to the National Park all the more), and we both did our own grocery shopping. It was probably the shortest day of miles we've had, coupled with it being mostly downhill, so we had a nice amount of free time.

The next day we did a longer distance to Sanderson, biking through desolate country with not a whole lot to see. We camped at an RV park that was cheap and allowed tent camoing, but also was full of thorny plants and right next to a train track. The wind was terrible in the evening, and I was glad that my tent managed to hold up. I used the extra guylines to support it for the first time. Thankfully it died down as the night progressed, and I managed to at least somewhat sleep through the night.

The next day we headed on to Langtry. It was another 60 miles of mostly empty desert. At the end of the run, we came upon a really impressively nice visitor center and museum for such a small town. As soon as the lady at the desk saw us in our gear, she gave us the rundown she gives all the cyclists. She told us about the Judge Roy Bean Museum, offered us use of the wifi, electrical outlets, and water, and told us we could camp at the community center right across the way. Funny...supposedly this whole stretch was devoid of any such services according to ACA, Sanderson where we had water and electric the night before, and Langtry where we had it now.... As a secondary note, she then mentioned that there was also a trailer that a man had been allowing cyclists to stay in for years, and had told her to direct them to when they came through. But apparently she hadn't had contact with him for awhile, and the door to the trailer had just been left open for some time, with him not around. We decided we had time and might as well check it out. I had read about his trailer on a number of blogs, and knew people had been staying there for years. The door was wide open just like she said, but there were jugs of water strewn about, a note...left in the freezer, talking about people being able to stay and water damage in the bedroom, and...a lot of mouse poop. Camping would have been the sensible choice. I'm not always sensible. I opted to use my emergency blanket around me and the cleanest bed space I found (not wanting to get my sleeping bag gross...yeah, I know), and a garbage bag over the pillows. I'd never actually tried an emergency blanket, and I was curious how well it would work. ...It did trap my heat in as described, really well, until I sweat, and the sweat ultimately made me cold late in the night, and I spent the early morning hours curled up in a ball, waiting for dawn. I ultimately got up and got around well before the sunlight actually came, Joel getting up not long after me. It was not a great night, and it's fair to say it was in part my fault for opting for the trailer. But I've had colder nights, and I've had grosser nights, and we got through this one just the same.

I got us a hotel in Del Rio. I needed one even if Joel didn't. It was nice. I had WiFi and got a chance to video chat with Rachael, electricity to charge everything, a warm, clean bed, and even breakfast in the morning. We stocked up on food at the Walmart. And we both got fast food for the night. I got pizza again, begrudgingly, after I realized nowhere else was going to give me a veggie friendly option there in Southwest Texas. Cattle country is not now and has never been my friend on that front.

The next day we entered Hill Country in earnest. It was gorgeous, but definitely some difficult climbing. Still we made it through the day in good time. We were facing a headwind toward the end, and for the first time I found myself truly struggling to chase after Joel. I asked him to slow down, as we had no need to hurry, especially into a headwind. He pushed back at me a little and said I could go whatever pace I wanted and meet him there. Ultimately it led to a discussion at the day's end where he felt that he had been struggling all trip until then and had been holding his tongue and pushing through, and it felt unfair that I should complain the first time I had to struggle to keep pace with him. He wasn't wrong. I wasn't wrong either that after all this time I knew exactly what pace I could do and still get up the next day and do it again day after day. It was just something we had to talk out. He'd kept more in and toughed more out than I realized (in my head just thinking it's always  tough early on), and I had thought I'd listened better than I had. It's also inherently hard to follow someone, especially with different gearing, as you'll always be playing slow down and speed up, and I had underappreciated that effort, being unaccustomed to it. We had a good talk, and I realized a number of my failings. We camped properly this time, at my favorite site of the trip so far. There was a wonderful camp store nearby to get provisions, our campsite was right on the edge of this beautiful river, the ground was soft and grassy, there was a clean bathroom, there was even wifi! I couldn't have possibly asked for better.

The next day was hard. Really hard. We ended up doing another vertical mile worth of climbing, more than even that day on Apache Trail to Roosevelt Lake. There were several extremely steep hills (we hit 40mph going down one!), divided by one rolling hill after another. We rode one stretch that was a popular motorcycle route, where we were passed by one motorcyclist after another, many offering encouragement, and a bunch of trucks with huge cattle guards (that we joked were so they could hit cyclists and not notice). There was a sign on that road noting how many motorcyclists had apparently been killed on it, but no notes of cyclists killed (so we were safe, right? Hah). Through all the endless hills, we ultimately made it to our Warmshowers home for the night, up one last steep climb to their place, of course. Our hosts had a wonderful little separate space set up for guests. There was stew left for us (though it was not vegetarian, as I'd failed to make my dietary needs clear), and later our host came by and left us beer and other goodies for the night, those I diligently consumed. He left us be with only a short talk that night, but we we had a really wonderful talk about our respective touring experiences and other topics in the morning over breakfast (which was vegetarian!).

Our next day saw us through more hills, but thankfully less bad. Our host for that night was out in the country, 50ish miles to Austin. It was a truly unique spot. She fed us dinner (I ate mostly salad as she had put meat in the lentil soup, indicating I really need to be better about letting folks know I'm vegetarian), and we talked about her long years she'd had out there in the country. She had built up her home piecemeal over the years, part of it from a shop she had bought cheap and relocated. She had a cute, cozy cabin for Warmshowers guests, with an outdoor kitchen at the back of it. No bathroom though. Just a bucket with a toilet seat and a big pile of mulch. This led to a dilemma, as I really had to poop, but wasn't too interested in the bucket. I ultimately decided I would be happier to just get it done, and well it wasn't as bad as I expected. ...The bad part was when I had to wake up in the middle of the night to do it again (of course, the first time all trip that I'd needed to go in any form during the night), and I had to use the bucket in the dark by the light of my phone. Again, it wasn't great, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been; at least it was only cold and not freezing. I'll admit though, I would have built a composting toilet or at least an outhouse if I was living in the same circumstance.

Oh, there was also the fox! It was really neat. She had a fox who came around every evening for scraps. We got to offer him so cornbread and have him come right up to us. ...He would also come around again while I was on the "toilet", doing awkward circles around me much of the time. It was definitely a unique experience.

The next day was a gorgeous ride into Austin. I couldn't say why exactly, but the rolling hills, golden wheat along the road, green trees, it just made me happy. We also finally ran into some other bike tourists! Though they weren't quite doing it the way we were. They were two older gentlemen, supported by their wives in two separate RVs, carrying their gear and giving them a place to sleep every night. I reminded Joel that while it seems less interesting a way of doing it for us, it's not so much "cheating" as it is just a different way of doing things. That said... There was a low water crossing with a few inches of water over the road across a creek in a valley, and they offered that their wives could take us across. We saw the RVs waiting when we got there, went right past, and plunged right through the water, only a little wetter for it. We got a good laugh when the RVs caught up later (we would see them a couple more times through the day), to hear the two tourists had been "forded" across. The ride into Austin wasn't bad. We veered off the ACA route and did our own thing, navigating through well enough and on fairly safe roads. The ride along the river trail was truly gorgeous. At the end of the fairly leisurely ride, we met up with Joel's cousin at her truly unique apartment in an industrial building where they make cabinets. I can't begin to describe how cool it was. Joel's family arrived a little later, having made the drive down to see Austin and meet up with us, as well as bringing us a care package (and more importantly, taking BACK stuff that we no longer needed thanks to the temperature warming up, including those bar mitts I'd been stuck with so long).

This post is already getting long, so I won't delve much into our rest day in Austin with Joel's family, save to say it was really fun. Joel's parents drove us downtown, where we split up, me wandering around the capitol, then the UT campus, before meeting up to have lunch at a Mexican food truck, and then checking out a bike shop/coffee place, before heading back to chill for the evening.

That night, Joel's cousin, Joel (yeah, I know, jokes were made), came in so he could ride with us the next morning. His dad rode a little ways with us out of Austin, then Joel met us at a gas station outside of town, his dad took the truck, and Joel (the cousin) swapped in for Joel's dad. He was in good riding shape, with a very light gravel bike unloaded, so he could do laps around us if he wanted. He kept our morale up with all his energy and enthusiasm, and provided a fun splash of new blood, someone different to talk to for the day. It was a really fun day. We met Joel's dad one more time in Giddings, to do lunch together, and to take Joel (the cousin), back to Austin. It was a good meal at a little Mexican spot (that whipped up something vegetarian not quite on the menu just for me), but I will admit my body kind of went into shutdown afterward, assuming it was done riding for the day, making the last almost 20 miles harder going. We stayed that night at an awesome spot in the country, in a bunkhouse above a barn, with a really cool older lady who was a skilled builder and had made her home, the barn, her workshop, and all. She reckoned over the many years of hosting that she'd had nearly 800 guests, and with her impressive hospitality and amazing location, I can't say I'm surprised.

The next day saw us to College Station where my friend Lilly has lived for nearly a decade. We got in early in the afternoon, giving us time to chat, go out to a local sort of Chipotle style place called Freebird, which offered a nice "beyond meat" option, get a sangria (from tap, which is apparently a thing) from a fancy movie theater in a faux upscale part of town, see some of A&M campus, including the statue in front of Kyle's Field that she was one of the models for (awesome I know), and shop at the local giant grocery chain, HEB, for all sorts of refrigerated, frozen, and microwaveable food (novel I know!) to eat on our rest day today. And all that before going out to a gay bar way past my bed time and see a really fun drag show. It was a really great day, even if I didn't quite get enough sleep last night as a result.

And today? Nothing. I have done nothing. Joel went to a coffee shop, for a walk, all sorts of stuff. I stayed here all day, contacting hosts, writing this blog, stuffing my face, chatting with Rachael, all that stuff. It's been great, a much needed rest day, even if it followed so close to another. There won't be another until New Orleans. And I guess that's likely when you'll hear from me next.