Thursday, October 8, 2009

Time travelers

We came across this little guy early one morning on the streets of Carrizozo, New Mexico as we cruised around on our tandem bicycle taking in the sights. Unfortunately, there was this language barrier that we were unable to overcome and thus his exciting stories were but squeaks to us. And yet, there was a connection, a feeling, a sense that we shared intimately a sense of strangeness in the world that we were passing through. Traveling to locales of first contact or even returning to places that we have once upon a time traversed puts each of us in a different time, not so much in the sense of chronological time, but of a different time and thus a different reality.

Sometimes the reality is so subtle that is only little things like the strength of the mid-day sun or the length of shadows as the sun sets, or that soft drinks are no longer called cokes but are pops. And then there are times when the reality smacks you upside the head and you don’t have to be told that you are in a place or time that’s really strange: you haven’t seen a tree for miles and miles, you’re passing by ice fields that are still there in late summer, or like the little town of Choteau, Montana where we took our daily bicycle ride just the other morning, which had No Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Burger King, 7-Eleven or any convenience store/gas station of any kind. They had a well-stocked grocery store, but it wasn’t a Safeway, Walmart, or an Albertson or any big chain. They had a restaurant but it wasn’t a Denny’s, an Applebee’s, a Chili’s, or a Dunkin Doughnuts. I mean the little town was complete but it had no franchise-type businesses. Now that was a different reality.

We’ve seen all kinds of things on our little trip to the northwest. Many have been just subtle differences of our own reality back home, many have been radically different, as if we were on a distant planet, but all have had that wondrous infusion of novelty that makes traveling without purpose so rewarding. It is a regular feast for our spirits. It’s this stimulation of atavistic emotions, this buzzing attention that we will take home and sprinkle a little of the time traveler’s perceptions over our old routines and add a touch of shine to our life.

We paralleled the Columbia River most of the day and I kept thinking about an article I read on a guy swimming the length of it to raise awareness of saving it from civilization's pollution. While the bit did peak my interest in reading his story, I’m afraid that it lies outside of my empathy zone. First of all just looking at that big expanse of water is scary, but I also lack motivation in the doing good deeds for civilization. I mean, I compost my food scraps and turn out lights when I leave a room and I don’t throw trash out of the car window, but I don’t march, run, or even bicycle to bring attention to Personality Dysfunction in America (or any other societal weak point). We once had a kid, in a neighborhood in some Midwest city ride up to us as we were pedaling through his town and ask us for what cause were we riding. We told him, “No cause. We just do it because we LIKED to ride." He just shook his head. He couldn’t understand that concept and stated that we were selfish. Since the swimmer was drawing attention to the 'poor state of the river,' would he succeed more if he ended journey with one leg 3 times bigger than the other or with purple running sores over all his body?


We made it home safely 6,000 miles later. After being awed by four National Parks:
and Bryce
floating down the Columbia river
learning about the end of the Lewis and Clark expedition and the different types of salmon, visiting my neice, then Charley's cousin and his wife, we found ourselves pulled home.
Then next to last day the nature gods decided that we were running out of time so they helped us see more of this marvelous world by blowing great amounts of it past us in a lovely sandstorm.
All said, the whole trip was really nice. We went over the mountains at Sonora Pass, which was pretty spectacular all by itself. The grade was so steep dropping down the east side that our brakes started smoking and I had to pull over and wait a few minutes before going on. Then a trek across Nevada, which should be considered a National Park all on it's own. The cruise through Zion and Bryce that left us retracing part of our route from the 2002 bicycle trip, Kanab, Lake Powell , and both of us were kind of amazed that we actually climbed all those hills on a loaded tandem.
And then home, which is always good, no matter how great the trip. Reyes and the animals were glad to see us.
Charley's cousin's and his wife gave us a tandem sculpture has already taken a prominent spot amongst our various treasures.

Yes, traveling through time is a marvelous adventure!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Two old farts floating around on Lake Roberts

The wise old traveler once said, "The art of travel is to be able to deviate from one's plan."
We started out last week for a rather large lake called Navajo Lake located on the New Mexico, Colorado border, but we heard of a bluegrass festival in Cloudcroft (Sacramento Mts about 130 miles from El Paso) so we took a day off and swung by and had an enjoyable day watching people pluck strings and sing songs with a nasal touch. Then, of course, we realized that we were only about 20 miles from one of our favorite hikes, (Bluff Springs, water spurting out of a cliff, lots of wild flowers and fresh from a rain the day before) so naturally we had to take a day for this.
Morning found us on the flatlands of the Tularosa Basin where The Whites Sands National Monument is located and that along with a beautiful morning just begged for a tandem ride around the area. By the time we finished it was starting to get a little hot so we tried to think of somewhere within striking distance that we could go to get cool. And then "POP!", we remembered the little lake in the Gila Wilderness that's up about 7,000 feet and is only a 4 hour drive and we were on our way. We told ourselves, "It's just a stop on the way to Lake Navajo."
Well, bright and early we put the kayak in the
beautiful calm water of Lake Roberts and float around and exploring the little nooks and
crannies and by the time we made it back to camp we decided to stay another day. Lake Navajo will just have to wait another day.
Next day . . . (read ditto here.... beautiful weather, nice calm water...yada, yada, yada). We pay for another day of camping. Lake Navajo will still be there tomorrow!
And the next day (another ditto....) Well, by now you're getting the picture, the cool mountain air had us trapped and we spent almost the whole week there paddling and hiking.

Then, on our way to (we thought) Lake Navajo, we stopped to visit our friends in Rio Rancho and explore the beautiful Aquarium and play games. Each morning coolness begged for a tandem ride which we obliged and rolled around the hills of Rio Rancho among baloonists.

We came the realization that Lake Navajo will have to wait until next time.
We did have a great time even though hardly any of it went according to plan. I'm beginning to like this retirement shit, but, alas, it probably is making me even more flaky or undependable to those that are expecting me do things or be places on time.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mental snapshots

As we traveled through the green and boggy South, green corridors of the East, green farmlands of the Midwest, and then home again to our beloved dry desert Southwest (but still greener than usual), we realized that we weren’t taking as many pictures or writing journal entries as we do during a bicycle tour. In fact, the only time we did write journal entry was when we went for a bicycle rides.

We also wondered if the bicycle has trained us to tour in a certain way or if bicycle traveling had just fit us from the beginning. For example, we don’t tend to go out of our way for the traditional tourist sights, (like monuments, seeing where someone died or was born, etc.). We used to think that this was because those extra turns of the pedals just weren’t worth it or were way out of our way. We were fulfilled by watching and talking to people, landscape changes, and just being together and sharing experiences. But after our last little road trip, traveling in our little truck pulling our little pop-up camper, we began to notice that we still didn’t go out of our way to look at names carved in granite or a reenactment of the good ole days of the “Founding Fathers, or see where General Stoop N Poop “lost” everything (Would that have been a statue with the General upon a horse with the horse squatting on his haunches?). What we did was watch people, talk to folks, and enjoy the changing landscapes. It was like we travel on a bicycle, but hindered by the element of speed.

Chugging down the road in our little truck allowed the landscape to change very quickly as our eyes were glued to the window watching it all pass by so quickly (even though we traveled at about 50-60 mph). Even this slow speed was often way too, too fast as one beautiful or interesting “snapshot” after another presented itself again and again to our eyes. While we were able to snap off quite a few pictures of what passed us by, many times the camera was not attainable quickly enough or a bush blocked what we had just seen by the time we did get the camera, or the camera just wouldn’t turn on quickly enough that we began to joke about it. We developed a motion of taking a picture by tapping our forehead with our finger and then with an invisible camera and called out “Mental Snapshot!” We got some really great “MENTAL SNAPSHOTS” on this trip. Can’t show ‘em to you though. Unfortunately only the two of us can see them and, you know how that is, they will fade quickly without some external stimulus. Oh some will pop up much later at the mention of, say, the Shenandoah Valley, or that campground on the Louisiana coast. Alas, most will fade like the memory of yesterday’s clouds, lurking somewhere in our minds, but with no way to retrieve them. Still we had a good time and a few laughs tapping our heads, mimicking snapping an invisible shutter and yelling “MENTAL SNAPSHOT”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What have we been doing?

Traveling in tandem in a more traditional mode: a truck pulling our little '72 pop-up trailer (tandem packed--of course!).
After 3 days in Washington D.C. we feel the weight of seriousness and, dare I say, even piety, of all these somber memorials and institutions. We feel uniquely blessed (along with several thousand other people on any given day) to have been able to see it. I enjoyed it, I did, but 3 days was about all we could take. Obviously there were many more things to see and do, but we tasted the flavor of the whole thing.
Our first trip to Capitol Hill was by bicycle. We stayed at a National Park only about 12 miles from the Capitol Mall so the distance to the "sacred ground" was not too far (there and back and around-about 33 miles) While it was nice to see all those places that I've heard about and seen in the movies, it was the streets of D.C. that were memorial. First it was just the trying to figure out where we were and secondly, the adrenialine rush of riding in crazy traffic, but even more it was the smell and sights of the neighborhoods and streets that provided more of a "Wow" factor than all the big buildings and statues of dead people.
Sitting on a bench on the Capitol Mall, watching a really diverse segment of people walk by, I was once again struck by the how much humans LOVE symbols. From giant edifices, to names on walls, to uniforms, to pagents, we really love the "dressings" as much, maybe more, than we do the substance. I know that I must fall prey to the majestic lure of symbols myself, but a good portion of humanity seem to have their heads stuck so far up their ass that they never even really see the difference and that's got to make life simpler and grander for them. God bless America, apple pie, and Nike.
Kamala and I are also struck with how much more one sees from a bicycle seat than a car seat. We are moving too fast, most of our pictures are taken out the car window and, of course, the best shots are missed. Interstates, since we hit Lousiania have been huge corridores of trees which cut out most culture with the exception of large billboards every now and then. You may get there faster, but you sure as hell miss a lot. Therefore, while we do at time take to the freeway, most of our travels have been on back roads. That gives us a bit more of the cultural flavor, but America is experiencing the homoginazation of it's local culture by all the Walmarts, Pizza Huts, Wendy's, etc . . .

On an earlier note in the trip:

God's Will
The fickle finger of fate. Sometime during one's early years, providing one's intelligence is slightly above the amoeba level, each of us rubs into that nice little paradox of freewill and predetermination. Some people ask the right question of their learned elders, receive a convincing answer and tuck the question away and should it ever arise again they just parrot the correct answer and allow any built up stress that it might have caused to just dissipate. The key to this approach is just don't think about it. God Bless 'em. Most of us wrestle with it 'til we are completely frustrated, give up as a lost cause, an unanswerable question or, like I'm beginning to see, answer the question according to the situation and whatever makes you feel best. That being said, God chose our path across Texas. Yep! Well not all of it, but a lot of it. You see we (freewill) decided that the first leg of our little jaunt would be to Kermit to visit with Kamala's sister and family. So on to Kermit it was, but on the way we look out the window on our truck's windshield and read, backwards, of course, 08 - 11. This means that our safety sticker was due in November of last year. Now God or the Spirit of Texas takes over. We now know that we are doing something illegal and therefore it is only a matter of time before we get busted. Now, of course, if we had not noticed the expiration date we would be innocent and could drive all around this big state without getting caught like we did last Christmas. So now we are forced to stay in Kermit an extra day to get a safety sticker. We arrive at the inspection place early on a Monday morning, but he has run out of stickers and won't have any until the UPS man delivers them around noon. Unrelated factor in delay? I think not. It's God wanting us to stick around. Probably saving us from some great traffic disaster by keeping is off the highway for the morning. So feeling relieved for missing such a calamity we blow off the morning and return at 1 o'clock, but when he sees that we are from El Paso he informs us that we need to have an emissions check that can be obtained in only the higher populated counties of the state and the nearest one is El Paso, now 250 miles away.It's decision time. Do we proceed as outlaws to a big city, which we usually try to avoid, make a run for the Oklahoma-Texas border? We choose to alter our path from slanting south across Texas to going straight east for Dallas/Fort Worth. And since we didn't get stopped and we did see some purty scenery, we must have chosen right for God to smile on us like that. But there was still one more catch. When we got to Weatherford in the same county as Fort Worth we stopped at an inspection station and, "Yes, we do stickers, but No, we can't do yours because it's a 91 model and vehicles that old have to be set on one of those thingamyjigs that you set the tires on and speed up to 30 miles an hour." Well we felt bad but the old man, who must have been an angel in disguise, sent us to a place where the truck passed with flying colors. We got our sticker and we were now legal and had gone a long way off of our original route all due to God, a few angels, and our own freewill and an UPS man that I'm still not sure about.
Next attached is a notice on the washing machine that we saw while doing our clothes in a Laundromat in Mississippi. NO PUTTING PEOPLE IN THE MACHINE. Now that's just one more thing that is sucking the joy out of life. Actually I had not thought of stuffing some little person in one of those twirlly washing machines with the window until they told me I couldn't, but now I want to and I want to even more because I know that someone else must have beat me to it for them to have put the warning label on the machine.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Texas Scenes Slideshow

You can speed up the slideshow by using the slidebar below the show.

Texas Scenes


Meandering wherever the wind blew us, we ended up south of Austin at the state park, Bastrop. The wind was going to blow from the south for the next few days, so it seemed right that if we stayed with our friends, the Caldwells in Texas, that we should stay in Caldwell, TX. Thoughts of home entered our minds as we discussed how very close we were to our destination: the Eastern edge of Texas. Our pedals now had renewed strength to quicken our destination.

From there, we again meandered with the wind to a campground, just north of Bryan. We stopped at a grocery store to stock up on supplies to spice up the evening meal and for the next few days. Before reaching the intended campground, we happened upon another one. This is good, it’s closer.

Following instructions and ringing two bells, the manager responds with a smile, but then disappoints us, “We don’t take tents.”

“How about the one down the road?”

“I own that one also, and we don’t take tenters anymore at either one. We don’t have shower or bathroom facilities.”

After seeing our disappointment, he took pity and started to think and called another campground nearby. Good news, they’ll take us. So we head out the door, start pushing the bike, but something is wrong. It happened while it was sitting there, waiting for us. The wheel had a drag to it.

Now, what probably happened is that our tandem, Echo, was probably listening to our previous day’s conversation about going home and thought that was a good idea and had plans to hasten the end without having to roll the heavy burden down the road anymore.

This is how he fixed us: the back wheel’s rim split. Sad. With only four days left of the trip. A tandem rim would have to be ordered from a bicycle shop, which would take several days, not to mention the time it would take to rebuild the wheel and work that into the schedule of other people’s bicycles waiting for repair. Just because we’re touring really doesn’t make us special. Without any conversation, Charley and I both knew the verdict, the trip was over. Releasing some of the drag by disconnecting the back brake, we slowly followed the RV/campground owner’s directions to where we would pitch our tent the last time for this trip.

The campground, pristinely cared for, welcomed us. In concern for our predicament, advice and a telephone book was passed on. We quickly arranged for a rental car for the next day. Next problem: how to get to the airport 10 miles away. One of the campground caretakers informed us that buses would not run on Good Friday. Echo, the crippled tandem, could probably make it if we left all of our luggage behind.

We were led to our campsite, and began setting up. A neighbor camper came up to me, “We saw you several days ago and really admired you and your husband. You are on quite a journey. We drove ahead and stopped, and when we started up again, we saw you again! We couldn’t get over how you got ahead of us? Where are you coming from?

“El Paso.”

“Wow! That’s a long way away. What’s your destination?”

“Well, actually, it turns out that this is it,” and I went on to explain our situation.

Later, her friend came over and we had a similar conversation, and she offered to take us to the airport to pick up our rental car. They were going head out to find the George Bush Library anyway.

We both had a look at the map to see where the airport was and lo and behold, it was right next to the Bush Library! My new friend exclaims, “Serendipity!” Plans were made for departure the next morning.

It seemed whatever needs we had were quickly tended to at this park. For example, Charley and I were going to walk a couple of miles to get some ice. No need--the campground’s community refrigerator had ice for us. We didn’t have a picnic table so another neighbor, who saw us sitting on the ground, brought us two patio chairs and a table! He even provided coffee the next morning. This was meant to be!

The bicycle journey throughout Texas, from desert to hill country, then on to the gentle lush, green slopes of the Eastern side has been a truly beautiful experience. Traveling by bicycle always shows me what I’m made of, what I’m capable of. Summiting the Guadalupe mountain pass, desert wild camping, distance cycling, hill climbing are little victories of this adventure which was enriched with visits with families and friends. I might add--without a single flat tire!

But traveling on a tandem is not just a bicycle tour for us, it’s a marital affair. Just as in our life, we talk, love, deal with conflicts, laugh, worry, work together, and maintain flexibility. The strength and love of our relationship as we have journeyed together on the highway of life only adds to the ability to cycle down it also. And just when we think that it is impossible to get any closer, guess what? We’re even closer and more in love than before.

So serendipity played with us in the end.

Serendipity--was it chance, fate, karma, luck, coincidence, or destiny that our trip was cut short 185 miles? I’ll let you decide.

The next day (yesterday, the 10th), the car was rented, Echo broke down effortlessly, everything packed, and we headed out and arrived home today. Home sweet home. Cats and dogs greeted us and the house seemed to smile.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sometimes when you get into Texas, Texas gets into you

If we’ve become a little neglectful lately in our journal writing it’s because Texas has been getting into our senses; in our eyes and ears, and noses and, mouths and, yes, even in our skin.
We chose this time to ride across Texas on purpose and we haven’t been let down. We’ve experienced a touch of summer, a bit of winter and a lot of spring.
The wind has roared through ears and around our heads with great velocity. There have been other trips that it would have been a curse and we would have met it with a stream of profanity such as “oh you dad-gummed wind, stop it!” or “oh fudge, Wind you are certainly a miserable, rotten sort of air!” You know, really nasty sayings that I learned in the Marine Corps. This trip was different which meant that our attitude has been different. Our daily destinations have been only general and we have been able to use the wind to our advantage. On only a very few occasions have we not been able to adjust our destinations where those spring winds did not help us in some way and when that happened we just found ourselves a cozy place and sit it out.
But, more often than not, it’s been howling and pushing at our back. We call it our tumbleweed philosophy of travel.
We’ve had flowers painting our path from the get go, but as we move east they became wide swashes of color along the side of the road. During the Bastrop to Bryan segment the floral displayed reminded me of the closing shots at a forth of July fireworks display.
Mornings greeted us with the smell of pine since we made our way out of the Hill Country, past the Escarpment, into the green hills of East Texas (Oh yeah, just because you leave the Hill Country doesn’t mean that you’re out of hills). In places it has the real feeling of being in the mountains because of the cool weather, but even the natives talk about how hot and humid it gets in the summer. (So much for that fleeting mountain feeling).

As far as Texas taste, everything we’ve eaten has been great, but then when you ride a bicycle 50 miles a day, it all tastes great. There are lots of Mexican Restaurants standing side by side with BBQ shacks. One, I saw the other day, said Tacos and BBQ.
A bicycle trip is a real sensuous experience as one takes in all the sounds and smells and colors, but let’s not forget that inner aspect of adrenalin pumping, lungs sucking air, and muscles crying for oxygen as we compete for space on a four-lane highway with no shoulders, lots of hills and a 70-mph speed limits. We’ve been doing that a lot lately; but I’ve got to tell you that all the traffic has been treating us really good.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The soak

Burnet Hill Country

Touring on a bicycle definitely has its advantages: discoveries along the way like Niagara Falls, an unexpected western view of Mt. Rainer, climbing the black hills to view Mt. Rushmore, just to name a few. But the one thing that is at the top of the list is arriving at family and friend's homes. The surge of energy that pulses through our systems that enhance the speed to shorten miles is no match to see landmarks. Greeted by smiles and open arms to welcome us creates an even stronger bond.
Visiting with our Caldwell-Fox family, we danced with the cows, soaked in a hot tub, giggled at the buzzard-chasing dog, ate feasts, were given a personal tour to see the beauty of the rolling Texas hill country and the surrounding lakes and river, and the conversation rejuvenated our spirits. Now how can that compare to landmarks?
Bouquets of bluebonnets and wildflowers are now lining the road and are fighting Old Man Winter who does not want to give up his grasp and keeps sweeping the land with cold blasts of air. Since the beginning of our trip this time, we joked about how Texas forgot to take down the ‘Caution-Watch for ice on Road’ but maybe its there because of this late winter draft. Coats continue come off and on. What's wonderful is not having to deal the scorching heat of summer. Retirement has allowed us to explore this part of the world that would be inhospitable during the summer, which is why we have never ventured into Texas before. Texas is not letting us down.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Burnet Waltz--A MUST see!

This is the unedited version, folks! Enjoy! Tell us what you think!
No cows were harmed in the filming of this video!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Midland waltz

Remember to play the videos!

Hard times brings about desperate measures

Apparently this area likes toilet paper, but doesn't like to buy it. Management posted a sign in the bathroom at the campground between Odessa and Midland:
We stock the bathroom with toilet paper daily. If you find yourself in a stall without any toilet paper it's because some of our customers would rather steal than buy their own.

It felt like a rude statement. The statement was addressing its honest patrons and at the same time accusing its dishonest ones.

Then at our campsite outside of Big Spring, another notice inside the stall:
Don't steal the toilet paper. If you need a roll, come to the office and I'll give you one.

I guess the recession has hit harder than I thought if people are down to the point of stealing toilet paper.

Touring came easy

We haven't toured for close to two years, but it's as if we toured yesterday. In the past, it takes two weeks of packing, repacking, and rearranging before everything is settled in a place where I can find things. All our stuff was packed right where it should go and there has been no repacking and shuffling.

At our camp outside Big Spring at a mobile home-RV park combo, an old timer came by to pass his wisdom down to us and among all his jabbering he told us the next morning was going to be cold. The night was warm, I kept thinking that he had to be wrong. Up until five in the morning he was wrong, then the north wind blew fiercely in as we shuddered in our tent wondering what the day's ride would bring. Seeking refuge in the warm laundry room, we discussed what would be the best attack on the day. I must add, leaving that room was becoming less and less of an option. Every time we poked our noses out the door, the cold wind tried to bite it off. Nourishment became important. I made coffee and oatmeal. Now we can attest to the strength and vigor of oatmeal. We're ready to make a commercial for this iron man meal of the day. A strength filled our bodies and our spirits we were now ready to fight back. Once packed and on the bike we noticed we had lost time and it was already late in the afternoon which didn't give us much time to make the 33 miles to Colorado City. Pedal hard, pedal quick, push, push, push all the way. The north-northwest wind helped more than we had anticipated. Off the bike my foot was numb from cold. We grew soft and welcomed a room with a heater and hot shower.
Incredibly, the next day we are ready to roll down the road again. Of course the prediction of another tailwind was a good incentive.

So here we sit, resting in Robert Lee, TX.

Oil Patch

Day 9
Kamala’s sister and brother in law live in Kermit so we get a bed, good munchies, and pleasant conversation. The cherry on top was that Kamala’s niece, Kim, was there and that allowed Kamala and her time to catch up.
We stay an extra day, but It’s not really a rest day because we’re up and at it all day to wash clothes, replenish supplies, and make minor repairs.
Kermit is this nice town in the middle of the oil patch surrounded by boondocks of sand, mesquite and a variety of scrub bushes that can exist on a highly alkaline soil. It was on the verge of drying up and being blown off the map when oil prices began to climb a few years ago and gave it a shot of energy in it’s economic ass. So, unlike what we’re finding in so many of these small West Texas towns, there’s not a whole lot of empty buildings and storefronts. House prices have gone up and there is activity on the streets. The neighborhoods are generally middle class with lawns trimmed, flowers in the gardens, enough evidence on curb addresses and mail boxes to tell that you’re in Dallas Cowboy country.
And my personal favorite characteristic is all the pecan trees. About 50 years ago, when Kermit was in a true oil boom a large section of present day Kermit came into being to meet the housing demand and they planted pecan trees with each house. Today they provide a real nice shade, but, it would seem, not many people really go for the nuts, because they are just left on the ground. Every time we go to Kermit, Kamala and I take long walks in the neighborhood, filling our pockets to ‘til they resemble the cheeks of a greedy hamster, and munching delicious pecans as we stroll the neighborhoods.

We’re off in the morning with the wind. Now, I’m telling you this wind is getting down right eerie. This will make three days in a row that we ride with a strong wind at our back. I mean like 30 mph wind; not some puny breeze. There is something very unreal about a loaded tandem, climbing a slight grade at 21mph. I guess what I’m afraid of is that Mother Nature is going to want some payback for all these wind blessings and, I’m fantasizing, it won’t be pretty.
Anyway, we end up on east side of Odessa at a RV park called Midessa (½ way between Odessa and Midland--oh that’s West Texas humor) The price is a bit high for a tent (21 dollars) but to make matters worse the girl at the check-in counter won’t honor the discount we have because we’re tenters. Kamala has been researching all these places and the discounts that they offer and now, rejection. That ain’t good. Kamala goes into attack mode. She grabs the ear of the fellow who is assigned to guide us to our campsite. He takes us to owner (you can tell by his hat, t-shirt, and golf cart). After listening to Kamala and seeing her determination he apologizes, reaches into his pocket and comes up with 2 dollars and 10 cents and we are happy again. Well, at least I’m happy again. It’s going to take a few minutes to stop composing letters of complaint in her head, but setting up camp and getting a meal starts to mellow her out to her normal self.
Day 10
What can I say? A strong back wind again. We fly through Big Spring and alight at an old, clean, but TIRED, RV park. The nice lady lets us know that she’s been doing this work for 27 years, but next month is the last.
We sit up camp in a strong west wind, but in the night it shifts to a strong north wind that’s coooold! Burrrrr! That makes this day’s travel a little tough. A strong north wind means a cross wind, which is definitely not a wind at your back (and I was beginning to get used to that little environmental attribute). Did I mention this? It’s cold. And it’s predicted to be freezing tonight. Now our sleeping bag is rated to 20 degrees, but I have found that those ratings are pretty accurate only if you are Saskwatch. Otherwise they tend to be off about 20 degrees on the tootsie freezing scale. So brave souls that we are, we choose to face the elements and ride like hell to Colorado City where there is a motel, a cozy warm, out of the freezing wind motel.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Day 7 - Waltz Across Texas

(1st Photo: K & --friendly desert-rat Ben pulls us off road and gives us free drinks)
(2nd Photo: Gloves from Oil Patch wave us on)
What? 2 days of favorable wind?
Yes, Yes, Wind is wonderful, We fly over the pavement, which is so damn rough that I would ordinarily be cussing it, but with wind nudging us along what the hell have I got to complain about? Big point of the day was the Burger in Mentone (population 16 which triples during election according to the café owner). Because we have taken a couple of extra days and there have been no stores to buy anything, we have been existing on soups and snack bars for about 4 days. About 8 miles from Mentone we are waved off the highway by a fellow named Ben standing in front of small building with a railed porch and K and K over porch. He offers us a cold drink and we listen to his story: Retired Navy Medic and 4 wives brought him to the desert. He won’t take any payment for the sodas and we exchange pictures and he tells us that there is a restaurant up ahead that only opens for lunch and they will be open for about an hour. We mount and ride with abandonment, arriving just minutes before it closes.
And we eat a burger that makes a Whopper seem small. Ahh solid food!
We leave full and ride (slowly) off. By the time we get to Kermit in the afternoon the wind is probably 25 to 30 mph and at our backs. I don’t want it to sound to damn easy because we are still exhausted by the time we pull up and order two large root beer floats at the Kermit Dairy Queen--which we feel is well deserved because sometimes it was hard keeping up with Myriah!

Day 6 Waltz Across Texas

Myriah turns sweet
As my son, Tao, noted, Guadalupe is the highest point in Texas and so we ought to be able to coast all the way the rest of our trip through Texas and by damn, if today is like the rest, then he is right. Not only do we start off with a nice down hill, but the wind starts kissing our backs. And while there is a few hills, the wind helps us up them and on the down hills, well we’re in the zone. By the afternoon we able to do 20 miles an hour on the level with Myriah’s help. I guess Myriah is trying to make up to us for torturing us earlier.
Our only disappointment is that the café in Orla (population 10) is closed, but we find a real nice wild camp in the desert and gently drift off to sleep.

Day 5 Waltz Across Texas
Just roll around heaven all day
We just lounged around, no riding, not doing sh… but enjoying it. Hey, it’s vacation.

Day 4 - Waltz Across Texas

Up, up, we go
Today is short, hard, and sweet. We only went 11 miles today, but it was straight up. We have wanted to climb Guadalupe Pass for years, but summers would be just too hot for us. It’s just a long climb with only one real 90-degree bend. Pine Springs campground is at the top and because it’s a national park it’s only 4 bucks for old geezers like me. And, of course, one of it’s biggest attributes for us is cool, clear, water. No showers, but lots of cool clear water. Kamala was chuckling to herself because she gets to wash her hair which had turned to straw the last few days.

Day 3 - Waltz Across Texas

(Photo--Salt Flats with El Capitan in the background)

Wind--Friend and Foe
“Way out West they have a name for rain and wind and fire. The rain is Tess, the fire is Job, and they call the wind Myriah.”
I know how boring it is for traveling cyclists to talk about wind (and food, and hills), but, hey, without talking about last week’s wind there ain’t a whole lot interesting because old Myriah was a blow’n and a go’n and just generally stirring things up. Some days she was a real bitch and other days, an angel sitting on our shoulder.
The day started great, a slight downhill and absolute calm. We have a short day planned; only 36 miles. Yeah, there is a small 2000-foot climb up Guadalupe Pass at the end of the ride, but we’re feeling good. And then…. And then……about 3 miles into the ride I feel this slight breeze in my face. After 10 miles the breeze is a pretty good wind and by the time we get 13 miles we’ve got a good size “BLOW” coming at us and our speed is about 6 miles an hour and when the ground starts to tilt up our speed slows down. At around the 19th mile Myriah is laughing through the loud gusts and she knows that she is winning. But Myriah, if you are going to be a bitch today, hell, we just won’t play.
We start looking for a secluded place to set up camp even though it’s only about 3 in the afternoon. At a point where the road cuts through a hill, we leave the road and roll our bike and gear to the top behind a ridge and some small shrubs and we’re home. We will just have to wait and see what tomorrow brings.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Day 2 of our little “Waltz Across Texas”

Today’s 48 mile ride was a pleasant cruise through a beautiful serene desert. We ended up at a small little gas station at the Dell City turn off. Out here in this dusty patch of nowhere an old man spends his day (7:30 - 7:30) in a small room with a small satellite connected television and a icebox full cold drinks selling gas to those poor souls that forgot that there was 120 mile stretch of gasoline void between White City and El Paso (with the single exception of this one. Which of course becomes a wonderful short lesson teaching the law of supply and demand. It strikes home immediately when they peer out of their car window a view a price that is about 25% higher then the one at home. The old guy spends his day out there with 2 big tom turkeys that act as greeters to anyone that stops for gas (they especially love motorcycles), a big golden rooster and a sleek guinea hen. The proprietor, with no hesitation, gives us permission to pitch anywhere “outback”.
We see a nice spot of soft brown grass that would be a nice flat place to erect our little fabric home for the night. We roll the bike right out to it and I put my hand down to pat the ground and …ouchie… owwie…. There is at least 10 goat head stickers in the palm of my hand. We turn and look at the tires on our bike. Yep! They’re both full of those nasty little buggers. We are smack dab in the middle of Goat Head Paradise. After several minutes of picking we gently roll the bike to the dirt area of the front. Picking as we go along. Our one salvation being that we weren’t riding the bike, adding our heavy bodies to the weight pushing those horns into our tubes and we must be living clean and thinking pure thoughts because we don’t get a flat, but there is no way we are going to be able to set up the tent with our inflatable sleeping pads out there in Sticker Land; so we look around and off to the side we spy a old cement foundation where once a small trailer stood.
So the tent will be set up on cement, but that’s no problem (after we sweep the stickers off) ‘cause our thermolite inflatable mattresses are absolutely wonderful. There is a wee bit of a problem when we notice that we are right below a large light so tonight there will be no need for a flashlight in the tent; but hey, it’s free so as we wave good bye to the owner who heads off toward Dell City we, and the animals, settle down for the night in enough light to make an amusement park proud.

El Paso to Kermit, TX success!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Training day gone bad!--by Charley

Ok, so we're trying to get in shape for our little "Waltz Across Texas" next month which has led us to going on shopping errands with 50 pounds of water in our panniers (panniers is a sissy name for saddle bags, as any good cowboy would immediately recognize) and, one of my great ideas, a little jaunt to Alamogordo where our old bike mechanic has built up a new wheel for us. Alamogordo, or as the gringos say, Fat Cottonwood is about 75 miles for us if we leave our truck at a friend's house that lives in northeast El Paso, and about a 100 from our house. We figure that 75 miles with a half loaded tandem is a "do-able" thing even though we really aren't in touring shape yet. By half loaded, I mean that we are not going to take our tent and sleeping pads. We'll be doing what is referred to as a credit-card tour and in this case, a mini-tour, as we will go up one day and back the next. There is a reason that we have never done a credit card tour before, but we are thinking, two days, 75 miles up and 75 miles back, piece of cake.
But Murphy is listening. "Those two idiots are thinking that they will just treat this as a little training ride, treating themselves to the luxury of sleeping in a soft bed in a motel and eating at the fat man's buffet (Golden Corral) Well, I'll show them. Ha, ha, ha!"
So we start out in the early morning with a beautiful sunrise, a Burger King breakfast sandwich and, Glory be to the Wind God, a tailwind. We're flying. We're in the zone. We've got about 1/2 the weight we would have on a regular tour, but I mean we're flying, 17, 18 miles per hour. Of course one of the things about a tail wind and a little speed is that it touches a place in your spirit that you want to go just a little bit faster so that what would be an easy, push the pedals around, ride at 15mph, but we have to do 18 mph. So, of course, we're feeling great and pushing harder than we should, but we're flying and the first 4 hours is great and then....then Murphy changes wind direction and the push is not on our backs, but in our faces and the speed has slowed to 8 to 10 mph and the pedals are harder and harder to spin and the miles are going by agonizingly slow. Somewhere in the bushes, that we are struggling by, I can hear Murphy laughing.
Still we continue to push because we need to get to the bike shop by 4 o'clock (a self-imposed deadline) and even though the afternoon has been less than ideal, the morning's average speed is going to get us there on time and then..........then the rear tire goes flat and I swear that I can hear Murphy laughing, and snorting through his nose as we fix the flat. Not going to make that 4 pm appointment. Oh well!
Well, we laid over an extra day, slept in a comfortable bed, and ate at the Fat Boy Buffet and, although I hate to admit it, it was probably a good thing. Our muscles were sore which complemented our sore butts. So a day of rest was a good thing. We leisurely rolled around Alamogordo taking in the sights, even found a little house on a 1/4 acre for 30,000 which tickled our brain. Now with a day of rest we ought to be ready for a ride back to El Paso. There was one little problem. The TV said that tomorrow would be breezy. Breezy? Just what the hell is the difference between breezy and windy? They had said that the day before was breezy, but it really didn't start blowing until about 3 in the afternoon. "Ahhh, we will just get up and leave early and we will be in El Paso before it really gets bad."
Wrong!!!! We're scarfing down a couple of bananas and the remains of a Wal-Mart giant sandwich from the night before by 6 o'clock and we're on the road by 6:30 in the morning. But the wind has already started. It's not terrible but it's head on, out of the south. We're turning the pedals over and are able to maintain 10 -11 mph. Not great, but still, not depressing. Around 9, it hits. The wind shifts so that it's a little bit of a headwind and a whole lot crosswind. We slow to a 5 - 6 mph crawl and a constant fight to keep the gusts of what must be 30 to 35 mph cross winds from blowing us into the traffic. It takes us an hour to struggle the last 5 miles into Oro Grande, where we find refuge along side the wall of a closed filling station, eat our peanut butter sandwiches (which ,in spite of the misery of the journey, were great on Kamala's homemade bread and which proves that silver lining crap is true).
Now here is where traveling without the tent and sleeping gear comes in. You see if we would have had a tent, we would have gotten off the road, set it up, and climbed into our little sanctuary to let the damn storm blow itself out. Strong winds out here in the southwest usually blow themselves out with nightfall. There is absolutely no shelter around, no overpasses, no culverts, nada, zip , so we push on. The wind worsens. Last year was a particularly wet year around here and what would usually be pure sand, and greasewood is now filled with 2-foot high grass, which means, thankfully, that the sand which usually lifts off at 25 mph, is not sandblasting us, but the crosswind is smashing against us and we've still got 30 miles to go. What to do? Push on bravely? Or stick our thumb out? Having long ago given up that pride thing we stick our thumbs out. 1, 2, 3 , 4 pickups pass; but, finally, after a half-hearted thumb, a white pick up slows, pulls over, and we mount and pedal like hell to where he has stopped. The guy recognizes our tandem, his friend, Richie, had painted our tandem in his shop. Go figure! So Kamala and I sat, with smiles on our faces, as we zoom the next 30 miles to Northeast El Paso in the back or a pickup with our trusty steed leaning up against the side. Sometimes it's good to have no pride!
Tents-Don't leave home without one.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Let's get started

Well, our strained expressions suggest we are out training for our next bicycle tour. We've decided to call it .....The Waltz Across Texas Tour.... We've downloaded Ernest Tubb's song and taken to riding with 50 pounds of water in our panniers. I think it's obvious how hard we are working at getting shape. We leave the middle of March which should be just in time to see the wild flowers in central Texas. We have never headed south on a bicycle tour because, frankly, summers are, as hot, if not hotter than hell. So finally retirement presents the perfect opportunity to see Texas in milder times.

So stay posted!