Sunday, April 12, 2009

Texas Scenes Slideshow

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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.