Cross the bridge from McAllen, drop into a world where the chipped paint on the buildings is merely a backdrop for the bold written proclamations of things for sale. Evident right away too is the smell of gasoline fumes, off cars predominantly older but also smaller from their counterparts across the bridge. But there’s also a big public park right across the street too, and at least one in nearly every town big enough to have more than just a main street.
Drivers have all been courteous so far. The secondary highways have little enough traffic, and the main ones usually have at least two lanes per side, so plenty of room for drivers to pass. Everyday to Ciudad Victoria featured strong winds coming off the Gulf, so with those and to avoid stressing my knee I’ve been sticking to 100km days. Nice to be back in the metric system again, though Celsius temperature reports still take some getting used to. The weather warmed up again, sunny cloudless sweat-filled ice-cream-in-the-afternoon days.
From Ciudad Victoria, heading more or less south with mountains looming visibly to the west. Need to improve my Spanish pronto, the usual anticipated questions aren’t too bad but everything else takes a few seconds to process. Thankfully there’s time, and nowhere to go but up. Until next time.
Resting for a few days, cleaning equipment and sending some final unneeded things back home. Flashbacks to Tok, Alaska when the same thing was happening, all the Americans shipping stuff away at US postal rates to avoid carrying it through Canada. Been spending most of my days here out and about at various coffee shops and taquerias eavesdropping on Spanish conversations to start getting used to the accent. Right knee was giving me a little bit trouble on the final two days into McAllen, hoping rest and ibuprofen takes care of it. Thankfully the land around here is flat.
Planning route into Mexico. Main advice from other cyclists has been to get 2-3 days of riding south of the border to get through questionable border violence area, so next town I’m aiming for is Ciudad Victoria. On a positive note, a few weeks ago the New York Times published an article about conditions in Juarez starting to improve. So there’s hope?
Happy new year!
Sometimes, there always seems to be a reason to stick around somewhere longer than planned. Such is currently the case in Houston. Came to visit Sarah, go to visit Lydia in New Orleans when Sarah leaves, madre flies in to visit Lydia and me so I drive to Louisiana with her and eventually drive back to Houston to where I left the bike. Then the Lloyds are kind enough to invite me to stay for Christmas so I do that too. But that’s not even the end, since Facebook informs me that another good friend is in Houston for the holidays, so gee, might as well stay another day to see Fady. Why not?
Someone asks if I consider driving/hitching/any other form of transportation cheating; I don’t, because the bike is merely the primary facilitator of this journey, and why close doors by being inflexible? It’s a nice goal, to stick with the bike 100% of the time and accept whatever comes, but sometimes other things take priority. In the end, the number of miles traveled off the bike will be negligible compared to on the bike, so that too puts the engineer’s mind to rest.
Chapter 1-USA/Canada-of this trip is almost over. Part of the reason I’m here is to travel through Latin America, and biking is the best way I know. The riding will be difficult, so will the language change, maybe water too, more? ok, so be it. Hopefully everything so far has been good preparation, but regardless, at this point the die have been cast, time now to ride out whatever comes. Forward, forever onward.
Time with the Lloyds on the beach. Back at the water!
Learning to pick prickly pears time with Hyang. Though contrary to the name, they actually taste more like apples.
So ends this portraits post.
Hitchhiking involves lots of waiting. Took three days to get out of Tulsa, the first before the storm hit, the second after the snow had stopped, both days standing outside a truck stop all day with a cardboard sign, because there was no good place to stand on the highway with the snow and ice. But either because of the conditions of the roads or just the location of the truck stop, no one was headed into Texas. Oh well. Being at a truck stop ensured warmth and coffee, so all I had to do was be patient. On the third day, a guy offered me a ride within 5min of showing up at the truck stop. Just had to wait for the right person. Thanks, Oscar Flores. Riding in the cab of a tractor-trailer, one dream fulfilled.
Ride #1 took me out of Tulsa, to another truck stop just before the Texas border. Again, everyone was going north, so I slept overnight in the Burger King there, with intermittent wifi. Finally got a ride the next day with an SUV driver going to pick up her son. She dropped me off on the other side of the Texas border, and a guy driving to Louisiana to spend the season planting trees took me into Dallas. It was only half an hour until dark, so I made my way to another truck stop where it seemed plenty of truckers were headed south and brought out a sign for Austin. Some truckers just shook their heads at me, others said no way would I be able to get a ride for me and the bike, others said sorry, they were headed north. But a fair number just stopped to chat, and within 3hrs I was sitting in the cab of an 18-wheeler en route. Rolled into Austin around 10:15pm, only a few days later than expected. Rested for a day then set out to Houston. Hitched one last time to get there in a day, Will pulled up alongside me on the road and drove me into the city, stopping at a gas station that could only be in Texas along the way. Huge place, food, so much jerky, cast iron skillets, state flags, anything and everything Texas. But no tractor-trailers allowed.
Will, thanks for all. 2hr bike ride left from one side of Houston to the other, dropping in on one last Stanford friend before heading down to Mexico. In Houston for the weekend, back by the water, and back in temperatures above freezing!
Daniel and Tara took me in for a few days. Daniel is a top mechanic at Spoke House, a great bike shop in the city. Tara is a coffee expert and goes to grad school, I got a lesson in coffee roasting. There was a cyclocross race today. People were simultaneously excited to ride the snowy course, and dreading how many layers they needed to wear. Temperature didn’t rise close to freezing all day. My toes would have been cold if I could feel them.
Ride to Daniel and Tara’s apartment. The bike path hadn’t yet been plowed.
No snow under the covered bridge.
Bikes everywhere, all so light.
Mass start. Can you pump your legs fast enough to warm up?
Across the frozen canal.
Daniel, getting past the barriers.
At the end of a race. Easier to collapse than to climb the hill again.
Thanks guys for the shelter from the storm! Tulsa is not a bad place to be stuck.
View from Tulsa truck stop. Winter snow storm descended today. I got a ride into town for a one-day opportunity to see a friend. That worked well, but the plan for leaving was to grab another ride out this morning before the storm landed. Got up early, got out to a good spot, waited, nothing. A few people stopped but no room for the bike. Suggestion was made to go to the nearby truck stop, probably a good suggestion, but nearly everyone was headed north and east, not south and west. Stood outside all day, watched my water bottles freeze. Cold not too hard to deal with, wore enough clothes and could go inside to warm up, harder was the feeling of powerlessness. Roads no good for biking. Rolled over to a nearby motel right before dark, a trucker very kindly paid for half of my room. Thanks. Will see what tomorrow brings.
4:30pm. Roll out of the gas station where I’ve stopped for a Coke, 20min later than expected because a man on a Harley pulled up then. He looked at Ace like he wanted to talk, so we did, though the conversation was pretty one-sided since he could never hear me. Leaving town-Frederick, OK-google routes me onto the maze of dirt country roads that are laced between all the farm plots here, each at least the size of a square block and filled with crops. Dirt’s all dried from last week’s snow, so cruising is good. Pass cotton fields still filled with the white flowers, they look like a sea of snow until you get close. Cattle graze or rest in some plots, and others have cornstalks left from harvests, or green grass. Three and a half hours from Frederick to Lawton, promise of seeing someone again keeps me going, already been on the bike for 100miles today, woke up before dawn, got to see the sun rise. Temperature drops at the end of the day, not cold but cool. Even the slight valleys here are noticeably cooler in their bottoms, making the return to the top feel that much warmer. See nearly no cars, listening to podcasts for company in the emptiness. Arrive safely, into a warm house and warm embraces.
Too bad it’s winter now and the sun sets at 5pm.
Here’s what’s been happening lately. I’m trying to escape this:
And now I’m here:
I’m back on the Divide, for now, after saying goodbye to Virgile and Marion and then heading to Manitou Springs for a week to rest and relax. It was a great week, with warm and casting hosts. Thank you, Tanabes. I’m consolidating photos and working on posts, but for now am headed full speed to Phoenix, looking forward to warmth and friends. There have been many adventures since Fraser, but the short days and incessant, remote passes crossed to leave Colorado aren’t allowing much internet time. Planning to be Phoenix by the first week of November, so more updates coming then.
Campsite; tents pitched, bikes sprawled on the ground. Pots and bags of food out and about, food still the main focus of all cyclists. We’re not in bear country tonight so we’re lazy putting food away, though we still sleep with the bear spray handy out of habit. We had a fire tonight, a celebration of people sharing a common destination and community. Friendship? It’s a fun night, filming dinner, laughter. As the sun goes down the short sleeve shirts that are helping cement those tan lines get supplemented with a long-sleeve layer, then the down jackets, a beanie. We roast sausages in the fire, and marshmallows afterward. One by one we retreat to our tents. Time to read, to write, to rest and recover. Expecting it to freeze tonight, might be a bit chilly in the tents, but no matter, we sleep soundly and look forward to tomorrow. Full moon tonight, shining bright. Sleep well.
Photo courtesy Pignon Voyageurs.
The road ahead is empty save for the trees. Dirt road, gravel, pavement, doesn’t matter. Swing the right leg over the saddle, put the left foot up on the pedal, push off and start going. This is the movement getting ingrained in muscle memory. It felt natural before, but now it’s even more familiar, happens without thinking. On the bike is where I belong; sometimes I don’t know where I fit in elsewhere, but here, on the saddle, legs pumping up and down, there’s no judgment, just movement. Riding, one kilometer at a time.