Southern Tier - Sun Oct 6, 2019

Day 22

Get out of New Mexico day

6:06am Today marks the 1/3 completion point of the tour. At the end of the day we will be in El Paso, Texas. Getting through Texas is going to take some time, it’s a big state. The ride today will be a bit shorter distance, but negotiating the big city will slow things down just a bit. I’m on deck to cook tonight, so tonight’s post will likely be a bit shorter than normal.

So far I have enjoyed New Mexico the most. Perhaps because I’m now more accustomed to riding. There is a certain charm to New Mexico that I just didn’t feel in California or Arizona. I can’t be too critical of California or Arizona, they were beautiful, but I showed up not completely ready for mountain riding. That fact made the days longer and more heads-down than they should have been. There are some challenging climbs in both states. If you want to do the Southern Tier (and I recommend it) it pays to train for hills before arriving at the start of the ride. In all fairness to ACA, they made that perfectly clear. My life this past summer didn’t make it easy to focus on serious hill training. It should be noted however, that I am not a climber to begin with. Some people have a knack for climbing, I’m not one of them. All of that considered, I would not have traded my summer experience for extra training.

One of the cultural experiences that has come out of this journey so far is a fascination with the Apache Indians and their history. Of course there isn’t time to do a lot of reading, especially with the writing that I am trying to accomplish, but I think that once this journey comes to a conclusion I will take the opportunity to learn more about the Apaches. I do believe that I will come back to New Mexico at some point to experience that cultural history in more depth.

Just outside Las Cruces is the small town of Mesilla. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but I still enjoined passing through. Church was just letting out. The church faces the town square, a real town square. The buildings are very old and the architecture Mexican. This town belonged to Mexico before it became part of America, and it shows. You could spend a fun day here just experience the food and shops selling local art and crafts. The old court house on the square is where Billy The Kid was convicted and sentenced to hang. Bicycle touring does not give you time to stop in a town and really soak up the atmosphere, but it does give you a very good preview of places worth returning to.

I’m staying in an old hotel in downtown El Paso that has been converted to a Hostel. Besides our group, there is a man that has just finished the Continental Divide Trail, an overland motorcyclist, a nice woman from Germany, and a young woman that has just accepted a position with the Park Service. Thirty feet down the street is a walk-down bar call “Dillinger’s.” I’m sitting there now having a Manhattan, possibly chased by a Bud, who knows. My taste in beer seems to be changing of late. Lighter brews seem to hit the spot a little better. They have photos of John Dillinger on the wall. I’m not sure what the connection between Dillinger and El Paso is, I thought he was an Indiana boy, be that as it may, the photos of John Dillinger look a lot like John Travolta.

God almighty these bar stools are hard. Could it be the 55 miles today? After many miles of travel by bicycle across three states, I finally have acquired a cyclist’s worst nightmare, a bit of chafing. This too shall pass, but you would think this would have occurred 100 miles out, not 800.

Tonight was my turn to cook. Cooks have to shop as well as cook. Tonight’s grocery stop was 4 miles before the Hostel. Everyone was waiting at the grocery store for me but I was no where in sight… I got a text from Trail Boss, “where are you?” I had over-shot the grocery store by more than 4 miles. Please don’t ask me how a semi-intelligent person can make such a bone-headed mistake, but I am here as living proof that it’s not that hard, if your bone-headed. I confessed my error and everyone at the grocery store came up with a “Plan B.” I’ll be the cook tomorrow night. When I realized my mistake I put in the address of the Hostel and to my surprise, I discovered that I was just two blocks away. This particular mistake had a happy ending. The dinner that I didn’t fix was very good too.

I have a new best friend at “Dillinger’s.” He wanted a dollar and i bought him a Budweiser instead. I guess I’m an “enabler.”

Miles: 55

Vertical: We are out of the mountains.

A third of the tour is complete. Entered Texas.

Southern Tier - Mon Oct 7, 2019

Day 23

West Texas

Today we faced a steady head wind, it turned out we were only doing 55 miles, not the 70 that I had expected. (I don’t always pay close attention in map meetings. I’m good at some details, poor at others. I call it selective cognitive dissonance.) I ate lunch in a small town at a Mexican restaurant called “Lucy’s. I had two tacos, chips and salsa, and an orange soda for $5. The food was excellent, and the salsa was hot! I ate every last bit of it! My tongue was burning. The last 15 miles I got into a pace line with one other rider. We are heading thru mostly flat country now. Being in a pace line didn’t seem to help very much, The wind was hitting us between head on and 45 degrees right. There was no shoulder on the road, so the person behind couldn’t really sit on the left side of the leader’s wheel.

I knocked dinner out of the park (again). The little Mexican grocery where I stopped to shop had everything I needed and the owner was a joy to talk to. It turns out he has vacationed in Washington so we had a lot to talk about and many laughs. He had everything we needed in his store except Starbucks coffee. I’m kidding there, actually I didn’t expect Starbucks. For coffee I had to go with instant NesCafe. The best part was the home made tortillas he sold, and the excellent chorizo. I picked out some tomatoes from his produce and he told me I couldn’t have them. He took them from me and went into the back. A minute later he came out with nicer ones!

We stayed at a community church with a kitchen. That always makes food prep much easier, rather than having to cook over small camp stoves (we carry three). I made Spanish rice, white rice, chorizo, hot pinto beans, hot refried beans, a sauté of poblano, onion, and jalapeño, fresh tomatoes, fresh cilantro, and of course the excellent tortillas. I got a couple of votes for best meal so far!

It’s not late at all, but I’m tired, so I’m going to bed. I have a great story from the bar in El Paso, but I’m too tired to write about it now. Hopefully tomorrow night I’ll be able to get to that story.

The next two days will be 74 and 75 mile days, respectively. Wind optional.

Miles: 55

Steady head wind all day.

Southern Tier - Tue Oct 8, 2019

Day 24

West Texas

Today we covered 75 miles. The first 40 were generally up hill. It was railroad grade stuff or slightly more, but for what seemed like more than half the 40 miles we dealt with the grade, the wind, or both. I stopped to eat a chili dog at mile 40, the only stop with food on the route. It’s a good thing I stopped, because the next 25 miles was more of the same. The last 10 miles of the route was on I-10 and I was pushing dusk hard when I got off I-10 and arrived in Van Horn, our destination for the day. I’m now in the Central Time Zone and have traveled over 1,000 miles.

I plan to write about why I’m doing this trip before I reach St. Augustine. Perhaps I’ll take up that bit of house keeping on my next day of rest, which mercifully is tomorrow. Today will be another 75 miles with 2/3 of it general climbing. I started about an hour behind everyone else because I was the cook. I also wanted to do some writing, and I was just generally poking around. I was fortunate to catch the leaders of the pack at the grocery store in Van Horn. If I had waited any longer to start in the morning, I would have been riding after sunset which is not a really sharp idea.

I’d like to say a few words about equipment. You can find photos on Instagram (@badkins65). Up front, I have a classic randonneur bag. It’s a great idea, but the fit is a bit off. It’s too close to the handle bars, so it prevents me from placing my hands on the top of the bar comfortably. That’s actually a big deal when you are on tour. The bag has a short future in my life once this tour is over. I love it and I hate it. It does a fair job of holding my maps, but they still get wet in a down-pour. Inside the map case on the top, I carry the tapestry book mark that Emma gave me last summer when she returned from her trip to Turkey. I love looking down at that. The first 1,000 miles of this tour I found myself looking at it quite a bit.

In the back I have two panniers, and all the “sleeping” gear, tent and accessories. It feels like too much in the back, but it all seems to work. When one of our company dropped off the tour a week ago, I inherited the large cook pot he was carrying. The only way I could manage that little gem was to strap it onto the back of the bike, it’s too big to fit in my panniers. I don’t have the gigantic oversized panniers that some are hauling. At first I was a little annoyed about carrying the thing, it’s not exactly aesthetically pleasing to the eye. It makes me look like Jed Clampett heading out to California after finding oil on his land in Texas. All that aside, I have grown quite fond of it. It turns out to be very useful. Today I carried a loaf of bread and my lunch in it. Probably the best feature though is it’s ability to hold 12 cans of beer, with ice!

Since yesterday was such a hard day, I had to stay focused on the work and didn’t spend as much time looking for photo opportunities as I usually do. I did have a pleasing experience with a train. As I was rolling along with tracks on my left, I heard a short whistle from an oncoming train. There was no intersection so I assumed the whistle was a simple greeting intended for me. As the train went by I raised my arm and gave the Engineer a big wave. I got another whistle in return. That was pretty cool. The Engineer was sending me a personalized greeting. Simple things on the road can make your day. That one certainly did.

Miles: 74

Vertical: I wasn’t expecting vertical today, the rollers kicked my ass.

One of my favorite photos so far.

Southern Tier - Wed Oct 9, 2019

Day 25

West Texas

Today we covered 75 miles. For me, it was the toughest day yet. I lost the odometer off my bike hauling beer ice on the handle bars a few towns back. We were “off the map” meaning for today’s ride we were not following the published ACA route. An improv of sorts. I believe we will be back on the map tomorrow. The distance and the terrain and my lack of spatial orientation (miles covered, miles to go) were messing with my head. The terrain was beautiful, but wicked. We were traveling through “High Texas Desert.” We climbed up to an elevation of 4,500 feet, over basically a distance of 65 miles. It was a gradual climb, probably only 1 or 2% grade, but the miles at grade took a toll. The last 10 miles were a gradual downhill with rollers. The town fathers of Marfa sadistically put a big “Welcome to Marfa” billboard, 5 miles out of town. It made you think the town was just over the next roller, which of course it was not, another head game to deal with. I did not deal with all the head games well today. I’d like to just say that covering 75 miles on a bike is not normally a big deal. I’ve done 150 in one day, the trick is these bikes are loaded, and each day they seem to get a little bit heavier. Yesterday all me tent gear was wet, adding literally a couple of pounds to the load, and I was carrying extra water since there were no services for the entire 75 miles. Extra water adds several pounds of weight. I don’t know exactly how much the bike weighs, but I’m guessing it is north of 80 pounds total.

The day started out with the discovery of the largest caterpillar I have ever seen. It was green, about 3 inches long, and it was happily sitting on one of my panniers. I took a photo which is of course posted to Instagram (@badkins65). The Van Horn RV park has one of the most useful weather stations I have ever seen. The accuracy is uncanny, in fact I would say the accuracy is near perfect. It consisted of a large sign with a rock hanging on a rope, the rock was about 2 feet in diameter. The sign read:

If the rock is wet… it’s raining

If the rock is swaying… it’s windy

If the rock is hot… it’s sunny

If the rock is cool… it’s overcast

If the rock is white… it’s snowing

If the rock is blue… it’s cold!

If the rock is gone… TORNADO

Along the route today, I saw a Prada store. I’m not exactly sure why there is a Prada store in the middle of the High Texas Desert. There was a plaque next to it that probably would have explained the purpose. I took it as high irony and humor combined, and of course took a photo. One of our company was standing along-side the building. I should note there were actual shoes and purses inside the building, the whole thing was built to look like a glass showcase. If you look carefully at the photo, you will see my reflection. Entertainment comes cheap when you’re on the road.

Miles: 75

Vertical: Guessing 1,500 to 2,000

Marfa is a very cool town.

Southern Tier - Thu Oct 10, 2019

Day 26

A well deserved day of rest. I’ll be in Austin Texas in 10 days!

Today we are at the El Cosmico Campground. This is the coolest place ever. I don’t see a lot of big RV’s here. It’s like the “Anti-RV Park” of all time. They specialize in renting space for tent campers, they also have available an assortment of ready made camping experiences. They have bell tents, rectangular tents, yurts, and classic/antique travel trailers (permanently installed). There are a lot of people here speaking languages other then English and Mexican. This place has got to be world famous. They have a nice outdoor kitchen and the “wash house” is outdoors. Pure charm. The pathways are lighted at night and the wash house has a huge red neon “TEXAS” sign so you can find it easily in the dark. The whole thing is just cool kitsch from start to finish.

Here’s what I plan to do on my day of rest:

  • Clean my water bottles
  • Clean my bike
  • Tighten all the screws on the bike
    • Adjust the right hood
  • Dry out all my gear
  • Do laundry
  • Write a bit, read a bit
  • Have a big steak dinner at the Saint George Hotel
  • Get a door stop at the local hardware

Sadly, sometime in the last couple of days I lost Barbie’s Little Sister (BLS). I guess she got tired of of being my scout and bailed. Too bad too, because just after she decided to bail on me, Trail Boss found a “Ken” doll for her along side the road. I think they would have hit it off, he was extremely buff. I was going to introduce the two and let them both ride with me to Austin, but BLS decided to bail on me a bit too soon. Her loss.

For the record, I spend most of my free time setting up my camp, taking my camp down, eating and sleeping, and of course writing this blog. But when I’m not doing one of those things, which is pretty rare, I’m reading a book that I picked up in Silver City. The book is “A Coney Island Of The Mind,” poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It’s pretty weird stuff. This is one of his earlier collections of poetry. A lot of people described him at the time as a “beat poet,” he denied that definition, but I would say, looking back, that he most likely was. His poetry is good for me. As a hack poet, novice non-poet, I find his verse inspiring both in its obtuseness, as well as its visceral reality. Lawrence was the owner of the famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco.

Yesterday’s long ride had its challenges, I wrote about that in the previous post, but there was an added element of frustration. My extra water was contaminated and I couldn’t drink it. I carry three water bottles in cages plus three extra water bladders each holding about 60 ounces of water. Yesterday I was running with one extra bladder. When it came time to refill the water bottles from the bladder. I discovered the water in the bladder was bad. My fault for not cleaning the bladder in the morning and filling it with fresh water. I drank some of it and started to feel uncomfortable so I did the remainder of the ride dry, about 30 miles. Fortunately it wasn’t too hot yesterday.

The kick-stand on my bike is a bit too short, so I need to pick up a door stop at the hardware store so I can use it to adjust the height of the leg. This becomes a issue particularly when trying to use the kick stand on uneven ground. I really need a two-legged kick stand. This is an example of a small thing that can get into your head when you are on the road. Inconsequential, but seriously important.

Tonight I’m going to have a big steak dinner at the Saint George Hotel along with a Manhattan and an IPA.

A look back

This incident goes back to my overnight in El Paso. I was having a couple of drinks in Dillinger’s Bar. I was sitting with no one around me and writing in my journal. A young fellow sat down next to me and asked me what I was writing. He was a good looking fellow, strong, probably late 20’s. I told him I was writing a bit of this and that, some poetry, some notes about my day. I mentioned I was on a cross-country cycling tour. He became very interested at that point. He wanted to see what I was writing, so I showed him my poem about birds. He read it intently and then remarked that his generation was not doing enough to save the planet. He called himself a “Millennial” That struck me as a remarkably open statement. We kept on chatting, he wanted to know all about the cycling tour. He asked me how old I was (he had a reason for asking, which I shall reveal shortly). I told him I was 65. I thought he was going to fall off his stool. He could not get over that.

After a bit more conversation ensued about the tour, I found out the real reason he was so impressed with my age and the endurance aspect of this tour. He told me the story about how his Uncle, an El Paso police officer was killed in the line of duty. On a routine traffic stop, the motorist pulled out a semi-automatic weapon and shot his Uncle 15 times as he was approaching the car. Damien, that was my new friend’s name, was devastated telling me the story. I could tell he loved his Uncle very much. He told me his Uncle’s badge number was 4928. Damien wanted to run 49.28 miles in honor of his Uncle. I thought that was amazing. We spent a bit more time talking about his Uncle and endurance events. He suddenly got up and fetched his posse, four women that he was in the bar with. He brought them over to were I was sitting and introduced my to all of them. At that point he insisted that I go through all the details of the tour so they could hear all about it. Damien was very cool, and after I answered all their questions, he took a photo of us. It was a remarkable evening, that came literally out of nowhere.

Southern Tier - Fri Oct 11, 2019

Day 27

Texas is big

The hot tub last night at El Cosmico was divine. It was wood fired and the perfect temperature. It was so nice I stayed up much later than I probably should have…

That was last night…

While I was sleeping, the temperature dropped 50 degrees. By 3am a wind came up that was slapping the rain fly on the tent so loudly it was difficult to sleep. When I finally crawled out of the tent at 7am, it was 36 degrees and a very cold wind was blowing out of the North. I was told later in the day that up in the Pan Handle the temperature had dropped to 28 degrees and the winds were 60mph. I estimated in Marfa a more or less steady 20mph with gusts up to 35mph. I started the day cold before even getting on the bike. I was experiencing what Texans call a “Blue Norther.”

I made the first 20 miles of the day’s 60, but it was a struggle. I was barely making headway and had been blown off the shoulder of the road four times. I had just been blown off again, and was calculating the odds of getting back on the bike and making it 100 yards before another gust blew me off the road, when a pickup truck pulled over. Out jumped one of my tour companions. I knew instantly I was getting a ride. The thought of turning down the offer didn’t even enter my head. Rick threw the bike in the back of his new Ford F-150 and we covered the next 10 miles to the town of Alpine in comfort.

Things seemed a bit calmer in Alpine. We still had 30 miles to go before reaching our destination for the day. Fortunately the wind was less harsh here. We were actually on the other side of a small range of mountains that separates Marfa from Alpine. I was able to make the next 30 miles at something like a normal pace, but I was cold as hell. Once you get chilled on the bike, it’s game over until you get off the bike.

The RV park where we are staying has an outdoor plaza with a covered patio and large stone fireplace. We’ve eaten and had our map meeting and I’m sitting in front of a nice fire, feeling almost human again.

We get to do it all over again tomorrow…

Miles: 60

Possibly the coldest day I have experienced on a bike.

Southern Tier - Sat Oct 12, 2019

Day 28

Still in Texas

Clouds came in last night! It’s going to be much more civilized today. I’m in a coffee shop in Marathon. Great place. I’m warming up with an egg sandwich, fruit cup, and coffee before the day’s ride. Tonight we are staying in a Budget Inn. Shower and a hot meal that we don’t cook on mini-camp stoves. The goal today is 56 miles. Trail Boss mentioned last night in map meeting that it was mostly down hill. I’m finding that a bit hard to believe. We shall see.

Time to get to it…

Much to my surprise, it was a near perfect day. I was able to do the “big-little dance” most of the day. That is where you leave the rear cassette on one of the smaller rings, and just shift the front chain ring from high to low. (I have two chain rings up front.) It’s efficient and simple, and makes the ride more enjoyable. My kit today was just what I needed as well. I wore long pants, a long sleeved base layer, a shirt, a puffy vest and a light rain jacket. It sounds like a lot, but in windy conditions you need extra layers. The rain jacket came in handy because it did actually rain lightly for about thirty minutes mid-afternoon. I covered the 56 miles in 5-½ hours, including stops to rest occasionally and to eat lunch. I felt good about that timing. That’s an overall average of 10mph, with a fully loaded touring bike, that’s pretty good, at least for me. I left an hour behind everyone else because I had “second breakfast” in a coffee shop. About twenty miles out I passed two people, at mile 25 I passed another.

Trail Boss was right, we did descend about a thousand feet in the course of the 56 miles that we covered. With only modest climbing involved, that means you are covering a lot of flat ground.

We all agreed to meet for dinner at 7pm at a nearby restaurant. I got to town at 4:15pm so I had lots of time before dinner. I got cleaned up and went across the street to a little bar with one of my companions. There were two people in the bar, the owner and one of his regulars. We sat down and watched the ALCS Game 1 preview show before going to dinner. I told the owner I’d be back after dinner. I did drop in after dinner for one more beer and watched three innings of the game. The population of the bar had grown to four by this time. Everyone in the bar was rooting for the Astros. I guess that’s not surprising. The owner was very nice. When I did finally leave, he walked me to the door, we were like old friends. Of course if I ever got back to Sanderson, I’ll go see him, but the town does not have a lot to offer. It’s a living ghost town really.The economy here does not offer a lot of opportunities for people.

We have a couple of 60 miles days the next two days.

Miles: 56

Southern Tier - Sun Oct 13, 2019

Day 29

Just assume from here on out that I’m in Texas

Today was a rolling 60 mile day to Langtry. That is the town where the famous Judge Roy Bean held court. I’m very tired tonight, we have another 60 mile day tomorrow, then a 75 mile day after that. I’m cooking on the 75 mile day. I’m going to crawl into the tent and try and get some good sleep.

Southern Tier - Mon Oct 14, 2019

Day 30

I feel like I got some good rest last nigh. We camped in the lot adjacent to the Community Center building in Langtry. This is a very small town. I don’t know what people do here for a living, but I suspect that most of the employment is connected to the Visitor’s Center and Judge Roy Bean Museum. The legend of Judge Roy Bean lives on in this town. The museum and visitor’s center was built and is managed by the Texas Department of Transportation. I overheard one lady say they get 40,000 visitors a year. It is a very nice facility. Much nicer in fact than you would expect to encounter in a town this size.

Last night after dinner I took a walk down to the Rio Grande river. I could not see any water, likely because I could not get close enough. Here the river flows through a very large canyon. On the Mexico side, the canyon wall must be 100 feet high. On the U.S. side the canyon wall is something less, but still significant. The entire landscape speaks of a mighty river that literally is no more. There are a lot of trees and vegetation in the bottom of the canyon, so it seems likely that water still flows here, I suspect mostly underground.

After a nice chat with our Community Center host this morning, our host came to unlock the building so we could use the rest rooms, I learned that the river does flow here. It flows right along the Mexico side of the canyon. She confirmed that the river is much smaller here than it was back in Judge Roy Bean’s day. I shared with our host my theory that Texans pronounce the “o” and the end of words like an “a” so they can tell who the “outsiders” are. She laughed and agreed with me. She is from Missouri and she married a native Texan. She told me that occasionally when she pronounces a word incorrectly, using “o” instead of “a”, her husband laughs at her and tells her that her “yankee is showing.”

I’m going to take it easy today and try to conserve some energy for tomorrow. Tonight we will be in Del RIo. It is a fairly large town and I need to try and find a new bicycle seat. I never thought a B17 would fail me, but it has become so misshapen that it is now uncomfortable. Time to pack up and head out for the day.

Drink before you’re thirsty, eat before your hungry, shift before you have to…

That’s my motto. I left Langtry and forgot to fill up my water bottles. The first town was 30 miles away. The mornings are a bit easier to negotiate without water than the afternoons, and this morning was on the cool side. When I reached the next town 30 miles down the road, I bought a chocolate milk, a 24oz Dr Pepper, and two bottles of water. That fixed me up and got me through the rest of the day. Shortly after I pulled into the town, a dozen (Harley Davidson) bikers rolled in. They were all from a vintage Harley club in Austin. They were riding bikes that were all pre-1970’s era. They were fun to talk to, every one was a mechanic, several were doing repairs to their bike at the stop. I left and they passed me several miles down the road, roaring by in a group. I waved, I don’t think any waved back. I do get waves from the bikers on BMWs from time to time.

Yesterday the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to two researchers doing work in the field poverty, specifically how to alleviate poverty. It was refreshing to me to see this award. Perhaps the four decades trend of selfishly accruing wealth at the top, also know as “Share Value” economics, is coming to an end. It may be too much to ask, but perhaps the science of Economics is growing a soul. It needs to.

I can’t say enough about today. The weather was perfect for cycling. Not too hot, the terrain very civilized. Some days are good days, and some days are bad days. You just have to power through the bad days. The good days like today make the entire experience absolutely worth doing, by an order of magnitude. Today I rode just how I like!

Eight miles out of Del Rio I passed a drive-thru “beer barn.” I have never seen such a thing before! Of course I pulled over and drove through. For my selection I had a Modelo Especial. I also stopped at a liqueur store and picked up a bottle of Crown. I might add I am enjoying that as I write this post.

Tomorrow is a 75 mile day. It will be challenging, but I’m sure it will not be without reward. Tomorrow we enter what is referred to as the “Texas hill country.” Things will probably get a bit more challenging. We will be in the hill country until we reach Austin.

Miles: 61

A truly marvelous day of riding.

Southern Tier - Tue Oct 15, 2019

Day 31

It’s Wednesday morning. I’m writing this post the next morning because I was in no shape last night to write. Everything I might have said last night would have been negative, or at least less than positive. So I saved the days reflection to the next morning. Here’s what I would have written last night, had I not been exhausted…

One of my companions said, “exhaustion makes cowards of us all.” I laughed when he said that, not because it’s funny, but because of how true it is. You really need to check your emotions at the door when you are exhausted. Some days you have it, and some days you don’t. Today I did not have the physical or mental strength to pull off a fully loaded 75 mile day with anything near my normal grace and charm. (This is where I would normally insert the laughing emoticon due to my use of the terms “grace” and “charm.”) I made it, that’s about all I can say. I will feel much better in the morning.

It’s been two tough days. I did not take a single photo today, the first day that has happened since leaving San Diego. That’s speaks volumes about how the day went. There has been some dissension in the camp over food. We have a vegetarian, one a vegan, and a companion that is highly allergic to many common food ingredients. Then there is the rest, half plus one, that likes to eat hearty. I won’t go in to details about what “hearty” means, but suffice it to say “deconstructed” is not always “hearty.” I see signs after the last two days that we are going to pull things together, we’ll see how it goes. It’s a good group of people. The group has a lot of strengths taken as a whole, but everyone, hearty and non-hearty alike, is going to need to make compromises. One of the compromises that I need to make is I need to give up my “one pot” cooking style. “C’est la vie.” Meals is really about the only challenge we face as a group, so as one companion commented, “it’s a tiny cycling problem.” I got a good chuckle out of that. Tiny in the abstract, sometimes big in the moment.

I arrived in camp at 6:30pm and immediately began setting up the cook kitchen. I didn’t unpack or change clothes due to my late arrival. The meal turned out well. I think the hearty and non-hearty alike enjoyed it… for the most part. We are now officially in the Hill Country of Texas. Tomorrow we will see lots of rollers and a fair number should be the type of rollers that you have to gear down to climb. We shall see. My mental attitude is much better this morning, I expect a good day.

Miles: 75

Entering the Hill Country. Some very challenging terrain today.

Southern Tier - Wed Oct 16, 2019

Day 32

I had fun taking photos today. The day started out by passing the “Dam Store.” I had to have a photo. When Kelsey and Audrey were little we took them to Grand Coulee Dam. They must have been about 9 and 12 years old. When we pulled in to town, I said, “look, there’s the Dam Visitor’s Center.” I laughed because of course I never spoke like that in front of them. After that it was “the Dam grocery store, the Dam gas station, the Dam cafe,” and on-and-on it went. I laughed every time, they were a bit subdued about the whole thing. Audrey and Kelsey remember that to this day. The photo I took this morning is priceless. It reminds me of those times. The photo of the truck with the smoker out in front of the cow catcher takes BBQ to a completely new level.

Today found us in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. We had to go over three very large hills, the were very challenging. After the first hill, I wasn’t sure if I could make it over the next two. Your mind likes to play with you and plant little seeds of doubt. I did make it over the next two, they were difficult but the trick is to keep pedaling. That sounds stupid, but that’s how it works.The feeling of accomplishment at the end of a day like today is wonderful. For those of you familiar with Seattle hills, each one of these is like cycling from the Nickerson Street Tavern to the top of Queen Ann Hill three times. There where rollers for several miles and a descent after each hill. So it was like doing the Queen Ann climb about nine times, with a nice challenging interlude between each set of three climbs. I know you think I’m crazy, but I’m really not exaggerating. Welcome to the Texas Hill Country.

After the first hill I reached a stretch of rollers that went for three or four miles. Towards the end of the rollers a County Sheriff drove past me going the other way. I heard him slow down and I figured that was not good. I was the only thing on the road. I heard him turn around and head back my way and I knew he was coming after me, I just couldn’t figure out why. He pulled over about 100 yards in front of me, got out of his rig, and stood with hands on hips waiting for me. I pulled up and said “good afternoon Sheriff.” He looked at me and said, “are you all right?” I breathed a sigh of relief, I wasn’t going to get a ride in his vehicle - although that might have been preferred to the next two hills I hadn’t yet discovered. He told me “people in these parts have a tendency to not mind their own business. A car passed you going up the hill and called dispatch saying ‘there’s an old man on the road that looks like he’s struggling and probably shouldn’t be out there.’” That made me smile. I told him I was struggling, but that was because the damn hill was so steep. (Maybe that Dam hill, either way.) We had a good laugh. That’s when I learned about the next two hills. He described them to me in lurid detail. I told him where I was going to be at the end of the day and he asked me if I had a tent. He obviously didn’t think I was going to make it. (That was amusing too.) Before he left me and drove off, I explained to him that there were three of my party behind me on the route, and the motorist must have been referring to one of them. I don’t think he believed me because he got in his rig and drove off without investigating any further. I was a bit downcast. His driving away made me the old man by default.

In this part of the country people drive fast and they don’t slow down for animals in the road, there is a lot of road kill along side the road. A lot. Every truck out here has a “cow catcher” on the front. You even see cars with cow catchers. I saw four cars today with cow catchers. I try and make an effort to wave at people whenever it’s safe to take a hand off the handle bars. Most people wave back. Everyone is very friendly. A car pulled over to chat with one of our company. He told her that he was planning to do this ride tomorrow on his road bike. He told her he could not believe we were out her doing these hills on fully loaded touring bikes. I can’t believe it either really.

Miles: 42

Three hills that will test you. Tomorrow is the half-way mark.

Southern Tier - Thu Oct 17, 2019

Day 33

Lost Maples Recreation Area to Ingram

Morning. I’m not expecting today’s ride to be as difficult except for the fact that the first hill out of the gate is nick-named “the widow maker.” The notes for this section of the ride say that the grade is 14%. For you Seattleites, If you will recall the road that went from the south end of Southcenter Parkway up to SeaTac, that was a 17% grade. I was never able to make it to the top of that hill, even with an unloaded bike. I suspect I will be doing some walking this morning. Last night we camped in a State Recreation Area. We are sheltered on all four sides by hills, consequently there was no cell service. Surprisingly, that was only the second time so far on this trip where I have not had service. Breakfast is calling.

14% Grade. ½ mile long. I made it!

After topping out on that hill, it was mostly rollers for the next 20 miles, gradually becoming rolling flats. The last 16 miles of the day was mostly flat and a welcome relief. I haven’t looked at the grades for tomorrow, I’m just going to be surprised when the day hits me.

I found a bike shop in Austin that will take me in on Monday and give me new tires and a tune-up, no questions asked. I called both REI stores and neither one would take me in on Monday or Tuesday. I guess I’m not shocked by that. Doing business with small bike shops usually works out best all the way around.

The days are beginning to wear on me. I need a couple days of rest. The Hill Country of Texas is every bit as challenging as the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico.

Miles: 52

Last 16 miles today was a breeze.

Southern Tier - Fri Oct 18, 2019

Day 34

Ingram to Lady Bird Johnson Recreation Area (Fredericksburg)

I suppose this is as good a time as any to talk about why I’m doing this. The short answer is I’m not entirely sure. That is to say, there is no single reason. It is incredible what can happen when you get an idea in your head. Let it grow for awhile and all of a sudden you find yourself with the motivation to do something epic. Never mind that it may take a lifetime. In my case, that was how it happened. When I was 22 years old, I wasn’t ready to become a productive member of the workforce (arguably that has never happened, but that is certainly another story) so I got on a bicycle instead. I rode from Seattle to San Francisco. That was as far as I could get before I ran out of money. That sealed the deal for me. I decided that some day I would cycle the entire West Coast. Over the years, that grew into, “why not cycle across the entire United States?”

So here I am, cycling across the entire United States, at least I have made it to the half-way point. I realize there are no guarantees in life, that includes having even started this trip, and of course finishing this trip. I’m glad I’m here, I’m having a blast, it is the experience of a lifetime, second only to helping raise three beautiful and talented daughters. Will I do this again? Probably not. Certainly not the same route. Not because this route is not beautiful, but because there are so many beautiful places to see in this country. There is nothing quite like seeing the country from the seat of a bicycle.

I hinted that there may be more than one reason why I’m doing this, and indeed there is. It is certainly an accomplishment to attempt a trip this epic in nature. I believe “bragging rights” is a good way to describe that. Certainly it is an accomplishment to be proud of. The older you are I think the more right you have to be proud, It is also a test of one’s physical and mental toughness. Honestly though, I think it is a lot more about mental toughness than it is about physical toughness. The bicycle is the most efficient form of human powered transportation ever invented, and likely ever to be invented. (There will be periodic improvements, like Roloff Hubs, but nothing dramatically different in nature than the basic idea of a bicycle.) It doesn’t really matter what shape you are in, if you are not mentally determined, you likely won’t be able to complete a trip of this nature. But why is a trip like this important? Honestly, I don’t know.

Other reasons? Why yes indeed there are other reasons. The thrill of the ride. Cruising down a mountain pass at breakneck speed after spending 2 hours straining every muscle from your shoulders to your ankles to get to the top. Drifting at 16 miles per hour across an open flat expanse of wilderness. Your pedals spinning almost effortlessly. Of course having a nice bike that allows for that helps a lot, but any bike really will do. The freedom of air in your face, the wind at your back, your sense of smell taking in the essence of your surroundings. It is an experience that I wish everyone could enjoy, even if it is for just a short distance. Anyone that has ridden a bicycle knows what I’m talking about. In this particular case, it is just a matter of doing it day-in and day-out, until you get enough, but once you start it’s not possible to get enough. That is what is so contagious about the experience. I knew it when I was 22, I rediscovered it at 65. It is something I will take with me and will be a part of me for the rest of my life.

That’s probably enough explanation. There are other reasons, but the last one worth mentioning right now is the fact that riding a bicycle is a magical experience. Pure joy. I want to be able to go for a bike ride when I am 90 years old.

A last word about bikes (for now). Bill Davidson knows how to build a bicycle. This bike is a thoroughbred race horse. It wants to go. It hauls ass on the flats and it goes faster down hill than I care to think about. It handles like a sports car, even when it is loaded. Without a load it is a dream machine. All of this, and beautiful too.

Miles: 38

A beautiful 20 mile stretch of back roads.

Southern Tier - Sat Oct 19, 2019

Day 35

Lady Bird Johnson Recreation Area to Pedernales Falls State park

I’m up early today, I can’t sleep for some reason. The cooking rotation has been swapped around a bit due to our extra day in Austin. I’m cooking tonight. Don’t know what will be served yet, I will need to consult with my cooking partner this morning after breakfast. If I am reading the map correctly, it looks like we will be doing about 52 miles today. The general elevation is down as we work our way out of Hill Country. I do expect some climbing today based on the elevation profile shown on our maps. Google says 800 feet up and 1,500 feet down, but It Google is plotting a different route than we are taking, The route we are on is more rural, so it is likely to have more climbing involved - that’s just the way it seems to work. We will be passing North of Luckenbach. An interesting town that we won’t see. It’s claimed that the first airplane was flown here, ahead of the Wright brothers. The possible home of outlaw country music, it is also the subject of the famous Jennings and Nelsons song “Luckenbach Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).” The towns folk purportedly dislike the song because it has nothing to do with Luckenbach.

Google was wrong, there was more climbing than descending. After we entered the park where we are staying it was three miles to the camp site. We will have a heads of a climb to get out of here in the morning. It’s between 40 and 50 miles to Austin. Looking forward to being there.

The dinner was great, again. Got lots of complements. I sautéed peppers, onions, poblanos, and jalapeños, with salt, pepper, and some smoked paprika. I fried SPAM in olive oil and the vegetable sauté went on top along with barbecue sauce. It was very good. My partner boiled some sweet potatoes and we had those with some sour cream. It was a very good dinner. Tomorrow for breakfast I am fixing French toast. That will be the first time we have had that on this trip. I’m hoping it will be a success. Like a dumb-ass, I burned my hand cooking the SPAM. It’s not serious.

I cant’ wait to get to Austin.

Miles: 52

Still in the Hill Country

What is SPAM? “Special Processed American Meat.” (Great for bicycle trips.)

Southern Tier - Sun Oct 20, 2019

Day 36

Pedernales Falls State park to Austin

It has been several years since I have been to Austin. I love that city. I’m looking forward to arriving there at the end of the day today.

It was several years ago that I attended a Perl conference at the University of Texas, Austin. It was a week-long affair. My plan was to rent a bicycle instead of a car. I did not tell the company travel office of my plans. I figured that if they rejected that expense for any reason, I would just pay for it out of my own pocket. Having a bike for a week to get around Austin would be worth the investment. UTA is on the north side of town, I stayed on the southwest side of town, about 10 miles from campus. It was June and it was hot. But it was also a lot of fun. When I returned to work, the travel office had a lot of questions for me about the rental. They told me “your the first person to rent a bicycle instead of a car on company travel.” I guess that is something to be a little bit proud about, since Boeing is such a big company.

I remember the music, the food trucks, the restaurants, Austin has it all. It should be a good stay!

I’m up early again. It’s still dark out and I’m just sort of puttering around (writing this post) and getting ready to start the day. I’m looking forward to making French Toast for this motley crew.

Miles: About 50

Southern Tier - Mon Oct 21

Day 37

Austin Texas - Rest Day #1

Last night I went looking for a good hearty meal. I more-or-less stumbled into Perry’s Steakhouse. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I say a 32oz pork dinner on the menu. The server explained to me that it is famous throughout Austin, and only served on Sundays. I thought the whole notion was preposterous, but when it came to the table, I realized immediately that the server wasn’t kidding, this is a one of a kind meal. Of course there was no way of eating a 32oz pork chop. I’ll likely be working on that for two more days. The best part, is that it tasted divine. It was the best pork chop I have ever eaten, or likely ever will. They smoke if for 14 hours before finishing it for the table. I can’t describe the flavor, I would like to know exactly how they prepare their rub. Obviously there was no room for desert, but it was a “dinner”, so desert was included. Just an incomparable meal. One that will not be forgotten.

The day today was strictly reserved for tourist activity while I rested from the previous 36 days of effort. First up was the Texas State Capital building. It is big as you would expect, but it was also elegant as well as daunting. The first thing you will likely notice is the Texas “Star.” It’s everywhere. Texas is very proud of its heritage as a “Republic”, whatever that means. If you look closely at all the door hinges in the building, you will notice that all of them are custom made and carry the “Texas Star” as part of their design. The rotunda was beautiful, and you can access it from three different levels, each containing offices and conference rooms, as well as the legislative chambers. The best part of the tour was my conversation with one of the Capital Guards, a former Texas Ranger. We had a great conversation. It turns out he has been to Seattle. Surprisingly, many of the people I meet and chat with have been to Seattle. Maybe I should not be surprised by that, but I always am. My Texas Ranger friend gave me a list of all the things in and around Austin that I should see and do. Unfortunately there won’t be time for all of that. The one recommendation I did have time for was his suggestion for barbecue. He told me to go to “Stubbs” for BBQ.

After visiting the Texas Capital building, I went to the LBJ Presidential Library. I’m really glad I went there. LBJ was a great President and a good leader. His involvement in Vietnam was his undoing, unfortunately. What he did for Americans might well be the biggest accomplishment of any President - ever. His “Great Society” has never been matched, and is in stark contrast to today’s “every man for himself” political ethic. LBJ where are you? In fairness, much of the Great Society was came from JFK, but LBJ made it happen, he picked up the gauntlet after Kennedy’s passing and took it across the finish line.

Following the advice of my Ranger friend, I went to Stubbs BBQ for dinner. It was very good, the portions were more than I could handle. Now I have more left overs. (Not a bad thing.) That is the same Stubbs that sells BBQ sauce nation-wide. I would not suggest that Stubbs is the best BBQ in Austin, I suspect not, but my Ranger friend was a big man, I think the large portions served there are right up his alley. I won’t have time to find the best BBQ in Austin, that might take a very long time!

Austin has a “Paramount” theatre much like Seattle’s, only a bit smaller perhaps. It so happens that Bill Bryson was delivering a lecture there this very evening. I decided to attend. He is very entertaining and funny. He’s a good story teller. You would naturally expect that from a writer with his skill. He was stumping for his new book. If I could carry an unlimited amount of weight, I would pick up a copy and read it on my way to Florida, but that will have to wait.

My first day of rest is over.

Southern Tier - Tue Oct 22, 2019

Day 38

Austin Texas - Rest Day #2

Today was a total down day. I slept in, tinkered around with my gear and then went downstairs for a breakfast in the hotel cafe. I added Perry’s Pork leftovers to my eggs. The pork was not the same cold as it was Sunday night, but it was still good. I doubt I will ever have another pork dinner quit like the one I had Sunday night at Perry’s. If you go to Austin and you are there on a Sunday night, you have to go to Perry’s.

I moved to a boutique hotel today for the next two nights. The East Austin Hotel. It reminds me of the Pineapple Hotel on Seattle’s Queen Ann Hill, only cooler. The price is reasonable. This is a really sweet place. The Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin is possibly the nicest place I have ever stayed. The room was luxurious. Twelve foot ceilings in the room where I stayed. It was impressive. Before checking out, I spent about an hour looking at the art work in the hotel. All of the hallways on each floor had original paintings hanging about every five feet. It was fun to look at all the styles and techniques. Every style and technique that I am familiar with was represented in the collection. There must have been several hundred paintings hanging in the hotel’s hallways. Someone had a lot of fun curating the hotel’s collection. Some of the paintings date back to the early 19th Century.

Before dinner I got a haircut. I’ve never gotten a cut this short, so it’s probably a good thing no one can see me right now. (I’m trying not to look at myself.) The bicycle helmet is going to be much more comfortable now, at least for two or three weeks. I can see why a lot of men prefer to wear their hair short, it is very comfortable.

A nice dinner at the East Austin Hotel, a hamburger made from ground beef, and of course ground beef brisket, consumed while watching the first few innings of Game One between Houston and Washington. I couldn’t stay awake long enough to watch the enter game. I’ll try and get a bit deeper into the game tomorrow night.

For a week I’ve had a poem about road kill rattling around in my head. The amount of road kill you see on a daily basis in Texas is beyond what you would imagine. It came out in a rush Monday morning and I wrote it down, it’s called “The Road.” Sometimes I sit down and a poem comes out. Most of the time it rattles around for a few days or longer. This is just like the problem solving technique I employed when I used to work as a software developer. I’m still solving problems in the same way, the problems are just different now. Instead of devising an algorithm, I’m devising a poem.

My second day of rest is over.

Southern Tier - Wed Oct 23, 2019

Day 39

Austin Texas - Rest Day #3

I spent a good part of the morning hanging out at Mello Johnny’s Bike Shop and Cafe. My bike is getting a new chain, tune-up, new tires, and a new seat. This is a cool place. My bike will likely be here all day, but I do need to leave the cafe at some point and go to REI to pick up some additional gear for the remainder of the trip.

Why additional gear?

I have left the tour behind. I’m going to complete the remainder of the journey to Florida solo.

I couldn’t stay with the group any longer several reasons. I enjoyed the experience and the people were great, I will miss them. Probably the best way to explain this is to say that the group was just too dissimilar in terms of food preferences. We had hearty eaters (as I have described earlier) and those that I refer to as not-so-hearty. Specifically we had vegetarian, vegan, and also food allergies that we had to take into consideration with every meal. This meant cooking “deconstructed, mix-and-match” dinners. My preference is hearty one-pot, spiced/flavorful dishes. Of course that doesn’t work under these circumstances. I finally decided a few days out of Austin that I would be better off, and happier, just trying to cook for myself.

That’s not the only reason I decided to leave the tour. The structured routine required to get a group of people moving in the morning and settled every night became too much for my looser style of travel. If you look at the top of the page, you’ll see my tag line is “I ride just how I like.” It turns out that is an important factor for me. I need time to stop during the day and write if the spirit moves me. I can’t be on a schedule every day. I want time to write and paint. I haven’t had time to break out the paints that I am carrying around with me. (I’m not a painter, but I want the time to play around with them.) As far as the food goes, if I see a cafe or restaurant that looks good (there are many along the way) I want the freedom to stop and enjoy them if I don’t feel like cooking for myself.

All of this probably makes me a solo tourist, or at the very least, a tourist that functions better in a small close-knit group of friends with similar taste and interests. One of my goals (it did not start out to be a goal of this trip) is to do an epic solo tour. It turns out now that I will accomplish two goals, an epic cross-country tour and an epic solo tour. I’m planning to reach St. Augustine two days behind the group. The ACA won’t let me rejoin even if I catch up to them. I probably won’t anyway.

I’m going to try and watch some Game Two tonight, and if all goes well, I’ll be on the road again tomorrow morning.

My third day of rest is over. Austin is a great town to have a little rest.

Southern Tier - Thu Oct 24, 2019

Day 40

Austin to Bastrop

Morning. Along the way I acquired eight 50ml (small) bottles of various Bourbons: Maker’s Mark, Woodford, and Pendleton. This morning packing to leave Austin I committed the ultimate sin, I combined them all into a single 16 oz flask. I will be reporting on the result in a future post. Please forgive me.

This will be the first day of solo riding. I’m carrying a bit more weight. A stove, two bottles of fuel, some cookware, misc food items (I’ll have to carry more food now day-in and day-out). To handle all the extra gear I had to buy a 40L duffel bag to strap onto the back of the bike. The additional weight is significant, but the good news is the mountains are now behind me. Of course I could turn around and head back to San Diego to see if I was up to the challenge of hauling all this over mountain terrain, but I think I will press on instead. I would like to weigh all of this to see exactly how much weight I am carrying.

I bought a cargo net so I could carry my palm leaf hat without it flopping around and acting like a drag chute. I resisted the temptation to buy a jersey at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop. They have very cool clothing there, but I don’t need more clothes and I’m already at capacity when it comes to carrying things. They did an excellent job tuning up the Davidson. I had them replace the Brooks B17 with a Selle Royal M1. When I arrive at my campsite later today we’ll see if I am happy with the change. The Selle Royal is supposed to be the best “anatomical” saddle available. Everyone has their opinion. I know that a lot of long distance cyclists prefer it over the Brooks. This will be a good test for me, I have always ridden a Brooks. I don’t plan to change the name of the Blog from “Life on a B17” to “Life on a Selle M1” so you can keep on reading right here.

End of the day. Today was only 38 miles but I’m still tired. I need to get used to the extra weight as well as the bike’s handling. Every pound that you add changes the handling just a bit. Right now the bike feels very different than it did before I arrived in Austin.

Not much of interest to take pictures of today. Today was “get out of town day” which means navigating a lot of big city sprawl for the most part. When I did finally get into the country side it was not very picturesque. I’m staying in a KOA Campground and the lady that checked me in gave me a great discount. My main objective tonight is to fire up the new stove, cook dinner on it, and also cook breakfast on it in the morning. Liquid fuel stoves can be a little bit fussy. I’m planning to make tortilla spaghetti for dinner and French toast for breakfast. I already see that I am missing a skillet so I may have to alter my breakfast plan slightly.

The Selle will take some getting used to.

Miles: 38

Southern Tier - Fri Oct 25, 2019

Day 41

Bastrop to Carmine

Morning

A front moved in last night. The temperature has dropped dramatically and things are going to get interesting for me today. I’ll definitely be cycling with warmer clothes today. Today’s goal is 65 miles and there is some climbing involved today. I’m going to just have to see how it goes. I’m not committed to 65 miles, if I need to stop short, I will.

The Camp Host told me a storm was blowing in so I didn’t bother to set up my tent. I slept in the pavilion last night. It was a large building enclosed on three sides so I was well protected - for the most part. It was a bit drafty. That’s not a complaint, just an observation. I slept comfortably and was very happy to have that option last night.

I got a message from Trail Boss last night that two more people have left the tour. That’s unfortunate. I had a feeling in San Diego that it was going to be difficult for me. It never occurred to me that others might feel the same way (probably should not be surprised). I’m glad I lasted as long as I did. I hope everyone is ok. Those that have left and those that are remaining. The group left San Diego 9 strong. As of today, there are 5 remaining of the original group. One individual abandoned altogether shortly after reaching Arizona. Three have abandoned in the last few days. So now there are three solo cyclists out there wandering around. I wonder what the odds are that the three wild cards will band together. Not saying that should happen, just curious about the odds is all.

I cooked last night for the first time on my new camp stove. I made a mock Southwest spaghetti and put the meat sauce into tortillas. It was pretty good. The camp host walked through the pavilion while I was cooking, and told me later when I ran into him that it had smelled pretty good.

The end of the day

It turns out I stopped in Round Top, that is about 10 miles shy of Carmine. That’s ok, because it was a heck of a day. The wind blew all day out of the West. Strong and steady. That was great when I was going East, but all afternoon was spent going North, so the wind was not my friend. In fact, the wind spent most of it’s effort trying to blow me off the shoulder of the road again. I survived without incident. It appears that when the wind comes out of the West in this part of Texas, the temperature can dip unseasonably low. It did today. By 5pm I was chilled to the bone. I had planned to stay in an RV Park tonight, but opted for a motel instead. Turns out to be a very nice place. The end result of the day was a real beating by the wind, happy to have a roof over my head.

The route took me through two state parks, connected to each other. It was a 15 mile bypass of a state highway. About halfway through I discovered the road was flooded from the storm last night. There was no way to cross, that’s how people get into serious trouble in this part of the country. (You see signs everywhere that say “Turn around or drown.” I turned around and it was retrace the 7 miles to the park entrance or take a side road back to the highway. Of course I chose the side road. Five hundred yards down the side road there was a tree blocking the entire road. A windfall from the night before. The road was impassable for cars, but I was able to sneak under the tree and continue on. An exciting morning for sure. (Pictures on Instagram, be sure and check them out.) That put me on a State highway for another 15 miles. About that time I decided that 65 miles for today might be a bit of a reach.

This is day two on the new saddle. I’m sure I will get used to it, but it’s a bit like sitting on a fence rail with a small dry kitchen sponge for padding. Good thing I have a small ass or consequently more of it would hurt.

As I was coming in to Round Top, about 5 miles out, I saw a sign that said “Blue Mule Winery.” It was only one mile off route, so I decided to go do a wine tasting. I pulled in to the barn tasting room and met Ashley and her husband Cooper. They were running the tasting room. They bottle 12 varietals. Six white and six red. Some estate grapes, some North Texas grapes, and some grapes from California. All of their wines were good, and all very distinctive. Ashley’s dad came in to the tasting room and we had a nice conversation. It turns out he is a cycling enthusiast, but doesn’t have time to ride much any more. He was very interested in my bike. When he found out it was Titanium, he went out to take a look. He came back in and told me how much I paid for it. He was exactly right. He knows his bicycles. I sampled 10 of their 12 wines then ordered a glass of my favorite red. It was quite good. Ashley and I talked about the tour and when I told her my destination was St. Augustine, she told me that was her favorite town outside Texas. I got some really good tips from her about where to eat and what to do when I arrive there. We talked about wine, Texas, and travel. She told me she had done the “Blazing 100” in Houston in August (quite some time ago). That’s a Century ride in Houston in mid-August. I asked her how anyone rides in Houston in August. She laughed and told me her Grandfather had a saying that summed that up. He used to say “If the Devil owned Texas, he would rent it out in the summer and stay in Hell.” That is the reason I am here in October.

Every Friday in Round Top the locals get together for a BBQ at the local Black Smith shop (really). There is live music and Texas BBQ. My motel is a mile from the Black Smith, but only 3 blocks from a real Texas Road House, the Stone Cellar. I opted for the shorter destination and it was a good choice. I had a beer and some queso dip and chips, then I had more beer, a ham and cheese sandwich, then more beer, all while watching the Astros/Nationals game. It was a true Texas Road House. The actual population of Round Top is 90, but I counted 100 people in the road house. It was stick framed with a metal roof and the walls were 2 x 12 rough sawn boards. Some boards had been replaced, but most were original. The room was about 30 x 80, no heat and no insulation, but plenty warm. The game was on four monitors and they had live music, it was amazing. The music was great. An acoustic guitar and singer and he was very good. There is nothing quite like watching the Astros in the World Series inside of a Texas Road House! I noticed a sign on the wall that read: “Our town is so small we don’t have a town drunk - we all take turns.” I thought that was pretty funny. As I sat and watched the game, I noticed that I could actually look through the cracks between some of the vertical siding boards and see what was going on outside. I wasn’t the least bit surprised, it just added to the charm of the place. I wish you could have been here with me. There were people there for the music and people there for the food. There was an eighth grade graduation being celebrated. Little kids were running around the bar having a good time and of course, there were people there watching the game. It was a wonderful place. The musician played my favorite song “Give Me Three Steps” by Skynyrd. It was a perfect evening.

Miles: 55

Windy and cold but the hills are becoming more civilized.

Southern Tier - Sat Oct 26, 2019

Day 42

Round Top to Navasota

Morning

The front that moved in 24 hours ago still seems to be presenting itself. I poked my head out of the door a few minutes ago and I will need to dress warm and also dress for wind today. I haven’t been paying particular attention to the weather. When you are cycling, you learn to take what you get. It seems kind of pointless to look it up on your cell phone because you’re going to be in it anyway.

After two days of cycling solo, I’ve realized it is different than cycling in a group. Of course you have to be more self-reliant. But there are some subtle differences as well. When I’m out there on the road, I’m not thinking about who is in front of me or who is behind me. Should I catch up? Am I going to slow? I simply don’t have those thoughts any more. Likewise, at the end of the day I don’t worry about arriving at the days destination too early or too late, when I get there now, it tends to be the perfect time and the perfect place. It may not be where I thought it was going to be when I started the day. What do I think about all day long while I’m riding? That’s a good question. Some people can’t be alone. Those people probably aren’t going to go cycling in the first place. Some people can handle being alone, but they need a distraction, so they listen to music. Listening to music while cycling has never been my thing. I guess you would say that I am simply alone with my thoughts. That’s ok, every once in awhile I actually have one. Sometimes I don’t have any thoughts at all because the shoulder is so narrow and the traffic so heavy that just holding a safe line pretty much takes all the concentration and effort that I can give it. Add wind to that situation and you are pushing the limits of my mental capacity. As my friend Terry says, “I’m just a hard working 81 IQ.” You probably shouldn’t be on the road on days like yesterday unless you are an 82 or above. Somehow I survived. When people ask me about the hazards of road travel by bicycle, particularly whether or not that scares me, I tell them the amount of fear you feel on the road is proportional to your IQ. An 81 is perfectly suited for road cycling.

End of the day

My goal today was the town of Navasota. Even though I am now riding solo, I’m still following the original itinerary laid out by the Trail Boss back in San Diego. That had us in St. Augustine in 66 days. If I keep on the itinerary, I will be there in 68 days because of my two extra rest days in Austin. I’m not sure I will keep to that. If I’m inspired to take an extra day here or there, I’ll do that. Reaching Navasota today meant covering an extra 10 miles since I cut yesterday’s destination short by that much. I reached Navasota easily. Good weather makes a huge difference when it comes to riding results. I’m stopping to take more pictures now. I’m going to really appreciate that when I look back on this experience.

Update on the new saddle. Today it felt great. I’m not really sure why one day it feels terrible and the next day it feels great. I hope to figure this out before I get to St. Augustine…

I rode ten miles this morning before I found a nice breakfast spot. It was an absolutely charming small town cafe. You can’t count on cafes in small towns being open every day, but since today is Saturday, I figured I’d have good luck, and I did. The cafe was called the “Blue Willow.” There is a theme going on here, at least the last two days. I seem to be attracted to things with the word “blue” in the name. I looked over the menu and decided to give biscuits and gravy a shot. That is not a typical breakfast choice for me, but I had an urge to try it in this place. So I ordered it and dedicated the experience I was about to have to my sister and my brother-in-law. The breakfast came and it was delicious. Not at all what I expected either! The gravy was meatless but very tasty, with just a hint of sage. A very tiny hint. The biscuit was somewhere between fluffy and scone like. I was taken aback at first, then started to appreciate what was going on. The sweetness of the biscuit and the savory but meatless gravy were perfectly paired. Yes there was meat on the side, and I ate all of it. But this particular version of biscuits and gravy was presented without meat as a component of the gravy. To say that the gravy was better than my brother-in-law’s, or the biscuit was better than my sister’s would put me in grave danger of being disowned. Suffice it to say it was very different from their version, and very good.

Lunch was at an old, I would say almost historic, gas station/grocery store. I purchased a chicken salad sandwich and a can of Bud. I ate them outside. A fellow on a Triumph pulled in and we had a nice chat. I asked him how far he was coming from and he said “ten miles away.” He told me I needed to have the hamburger there, but by then it was too late. He is also a cyclist, so we had a good conversation about equipment. He has been considering tubeless tires, so I got him all spun-up on that. I also introduced him to the Schwalbe G-One tires that I’m running. These are brilliant tires, fast and comfortable, I think that is a difficult combination to pull off.

I’m traveling at my own pace now. I feel much more relaxed than before. Henceforth my travels by bicycle will be solo or in the company of close personal friends rather than a group of strangers.

By mid-day, the previous front had cleared completely. I was able to shed layers and enjoy an almost perfect afternoon. The sky was blue. The sun was out. There was still a slight breeze and the temperature was brisk, but that made for good cycling. When I got to Navasota I couldn’t find the RV Park I intended to stay in, so I checked into the Navasota Inn instead. This place is a great value. I got cleaned up and took a late afternoon nap. That is the first one of those I have had in… about… 43 days.

I got some great photos today for Instagram. I should be in Louisiana by Wednesday.

Miles: 54

I’m now in East Texas farm country, the hills have become manageable.

Southern Tier - Sun Oct 27, 2019

Day 43

Navasota to New Waverly

I’m enjoying some Jim Beam in my tent and writing this post. Not the real Jim Beam, the one I made myself by combining expensive bourbons into a travel flask to make a so-so bourbon. I will drink it just the same.

Much of my writing is dictated by the words that I know how to spell. I start out with a nice word, spell check tells me it’s spelled wrong, so instead of looking it up I choose a simpler word, i.e., one that is easier to spell. This could mean I’m lazy, or it could be the bourbon making me lazy.

Not every day needs to be, or can be, exciting. Today was one of those days that was not particularly exciting. It was still good. Riding through the Sam Houston National Forest was nirvana. At one point I pulled off the road to chat with the Assistant Director of Tours for the ACA. (While I was on the phone, a park ranger drove past me and gave me a wave and a thumbs-up for pulling off the road to talk on the phone.) The conversation with the Assistant Tours Directory went very nicely. He wanted to know all about why I’m no long on tour with the group. I explained clearly that they failed the group with their too-lenient food policy, and also they had failed me by not releasing me from the ride back in San Diego when I made that request. He was sympathetic. He confessed at the end of our call that they have had this issue with their longer tours for almost five years now. He said they were working on revising their “accommodations” policy. I hope so. I also hope I gave him some good feedback that will move them along in that direction. This issue has now been put to rest as far as I’m concerned.

Tomorrow I plan to skip ahead and do two itinerary stops in one day. It will be about 70 miles, perhaps a bit more. My rationale is that it will give me an extra day in Chicot State Park in Louisiana. I’ve heard this is a beautiful place, with deluxe cabins for rent. I went on line to reserve one and there is a three night minimum stay - thus my jumping ahead one day tomorrow.

When the weather is nice, like it has been for the last two days, there really is nothing like tent camping, it can be very enjoyable with the right equipment. One thing about tent camping that I don’t enjoy, is camping in a pine forest and having pine cones drop out of the tree onto your tent. That is happening right now, coincidentally. Tonight for dinner I made mac-and-cheese with bacon, chicken and a spicy buffalo sauce. Pretty good stuff at the end of a long day of cycling. Ya, no salad, but maybe I’ll have one with my lunch tomorrow, or maybe not. I’m not going to die if I don’t get salad every day. My new camp stove is a blow-torch. The MSR gas stoves have one temperature setting, full-on blast furnace. You have to be on top of whatever it is you are cooking every second. The stove will boil four cups of water in less than two minutes.

All of a sudden, I can’t get pictures off my Nikon camera any more. I really hate to be negative, but I’ll just say this: If you want to buy Nikon, don’t go entry level. Get a more expensive model that has built-in WiFi so you don’t have to rely on a crappy vendor provided IOS app to get pictures from the camera to you iPhone or iPad. It looks like I am back to square one when it comes to taking photos. (Recall that the camera in my phone is broken.) I do not want to buy a new phone, but it is beginning to look like that is my best option. I’m probably a thousand miles away from a camera store that would allow me to trade my brand new D3500 for a better camera with WiFi.

Miles: 54

Passed through the Sam Houston National Forest.

Southern Tier - Mon Oct 28, 2019

Day 44

New Waverly to Shepard

Today was a pleasant surprise. I intended to double-down and do two days of riding but my legs wouldn’t allow it. Turns out to be a good thing, because tonight I’m staying in the weirdest place since the El Cosmico in Marfa. Very eclectic and completely off the normalcy chart. Small cabins, an open area for tents and a pavilion that is impossible to describe. Everything here is decorated for Halloween, in a big way. Just take a look at the photos on Instagram and you’ll get the idea.

The morning was cool and foggy. The fog didn’t start to lift until noon. I didn’t see any sunshine until 1:30pm. Very Seattle like. Today would not have been a good day to double-down on the mileage. Also, I thought doubling-down would mean 74 miles. When I looked more closely later in the morning, I realized it would have been a 94 mile day. It’s a good thing I didn’t attempt it. I would have made it, late in the day, but it would not have been fun.

It looks like I will be in Louisiana on Wednesday. When I got to Chilcot State Park I was planning to rent a cabin and stay an extra day or two. When I checked availability today, they were all rented. I’m planning to tent camp there, but just stay one night. At this point I don’t know when my next rest day will be. When I get to a place that is cool, I’ll make that my rest day location. It will be a surprise.

I’m excited to get to Louisiana. I’m very curious to see what the terrain will be like. East Texas is gradually becoming more forested and flatter. I expect that to continue. Based on the maps that I’m using, it looks like I will also be passing through areas of swampy lowland in Louisiana (not a surprise). I am quite eager to see what that will look like.

Miles: 43

The “Shepard Sanctuary” is a weird but very cool place.

Southern Tier - Tue Oct 29, 2019

Day 45

Shepard to Silsbee

I was chased by a Texas storm all day. When I left Shepard, I looked over my shoulder and the sky to the West was dark. As I headed East, I noticed the storm front was keeping up with me. It must have been moving about 10mph, which is about what I do when you average in my stopping time. I pulled into a gas station and got two breakfast tacos. A truck driver there told me I had better get some shelter tonight because a storm was headed towards Silsbee (my destination). I was inclined to agree with him, after watching the storm front follow me all morning.

About 1pm I pulled into a country store in Honey Island. I was about 20 miles from Silsbee at that point. I had a hamburger, even though I wasn’t terribly hungry, and watched the storm creep closer. By the time I got back on the bike, I was getting just a few drops of rain, the leading edge of the storm. No more stops for me until I reach Silsbee.

I was hoping for a nice hotel in Silsbee. No luck. Even though there is a bed, I’ll be sleeping in my sleeping bag tonight. I got checked into the room just as a burst of thunder seemed to shake the ground. It was perhaps the loudest burst of thunder I’ve ever heard. I looked West and the sky was dark. It was only 4pm. I opened the door to the room, moved a chair into the doorway, and waited. Within two minutes the storm hit. Thunder and lightening that you could feel. The rain came down in sheets that made the visibility a thousand yards or so. I watched the show for a good ten minutes. The foremost thought in my mind, how glad I was to be under a roof and not out in the open. I was fortunate to run ahead of the storm front all day.

This isn’t Seattle. Within an hour the front had passed over Silsbee, depositing (according to my weather app) an inch of rain. Currently, several hours later, the temperature is 70 degrees and the humidity is 96 percent. I’m almost in Louisiana, in fact, I’ll be there tomorrow. Seems like it has taken me a long time to get through Texas, and indeed it has.

For the record, my two favorite campgrounds in Texas were El Cosmico in Marfa, and The Shepard Sanctuary in Shepard.

My flask of Jim Beam is all gone.

Miles: 62

Chased by a Texas storm front all day.

Southern Tier - Wed Oct 30, 2019

Day 46

Silsbee Texas to DeRidder Louisiana

Morning

Brace for weather. I don’t usually look at my weather app. To tell you the truth, there really hasn’t been a lot of reason to look at it. Due to the storm that blew in behind me yesterday, I figured I’d better have a look. According to the app, I’m dry until noon then things will likely get wet, possibly very wet. The forecast at noon is 40% chance of rain, increasing throughout the afternoon to 90% by 5pm. I was planning to do another 60 miles or so today and camp tonight. I’m revising that plan as I write this. I think I’d be smart to try and make it 73 miles (to DeRider Louisiana) and get a hotel room again tonight. That’s the plan. One thing I have learned about cross-country travel by bicycle, plans are just that. Often the best laid plans somehow manage to get changed.

End of the day

Louisiana greeted me with a downpour about 10 miles in. I consider myself lucky. It only rained for about 5 miles. It stopped with 15 miles to go before reaching DeRidder. By the time I got to DeRidder, I was mostly dry. In Arizona they say “but it’s a dry heat.” I don’t know what they say about rain in Louisiana, but based on my experience today it wouldn’t surprise me if they say “but it’s a warm rain.” It was not nearly as uncomfortable as a Seattle downpour would be. Things will start cooling off as we get into November, so I’m told.

DeRidder doesn’t have a bookstore, or a bike shop, so I won’t dally here. They do have a liquor store (of course every town has one of those). This one was well stocked. Tomorrow my flask will be carrying Barrel Finish Select Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon. What doesn’t fit in the flask is my reward tonight for surviving the second rainstorm of the trip. That is something worth toasting; the surviving, and the fact that there have only been two. (Note the use of a semi-colon, the first one on this blog - I’ll have to toast that as well.)

This is day seven out of Austin. My body is beginning to need a rest day. I’m hoping that when I arrive at Chicot State Park on Friday, the weather will permit camping for a couple of nights. I’m just playing this day-by-day at this point. I won’t see a large town (10,000 population) until I get to Alabama. I won’t see a big town (50,000 population) until I get to Pensacola, Florida. The Southern Tier bicycle route is a pretty rural affair.

Now that I am out of Texas, things have change. The humidity is way up, the terrain is flat, and there is a lot more water in the form of creeks and streams. I’m guessing the water will become even more prevalent. Today I saw my first road-side crawfish shack. I didn’t stop. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even tempted. I also passed a Cajun Snack Shack, but I didn’t stop there either. Before this is over I will have grits and hush puppies for sure, if I can get them without catfish. Kolaches are big here. That’s a fancy name for a hot dog in a pastry bun.

Miles: 73

Louisiana, where the roads are narrow and the shoulders non-existent.