An eventful few days since Marathon. I’m pitched up at El Cosmico in Marfa after taking a tangent through Big Bend country. I’m going to take a couple days off – today is day 1 – to recharge after a few big mileage days. It’s not that I’m turning into a marathon hound, more that 60 – 70 miles seems to be typical distance between water sources out here in W Texas.
No deep thoughts to share. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that a lot of my thinking this leg has been of the “one more hill, John” and “jeez my ass is sore” variety. That’s part of bike hoboing too, it’s not all meditation on glyptodonts. One observation: it seems that I start to notice altitude somewhere around 3600 feet. Nothing super obvious – just not quite as much oomph in my legs and a bit of lightheadedness and the occasional flashbulb going off when I stop to rest after a good climb. We’ll see how quickly I acclimate.
One last random observation – there are a lot of bike tourers here at El Cosmico, And I’ve met a few on the road. It’s likely a function of the time of year (not summer vacation), but I seem to be right in the middle of the demographic age-wise. I’m obv hors catégorie when it comes to co-pilot, unusual bike and general hobo attitude 🙂 .
I thought Thursday 3/21 was going to be a pretty easy roll into Big Bend NP. It was not to be. As an aside – I’ve found National Parks to be just about the most bike unfriendly places ever. Their strong default is that people will show up in something with an internal combustion engine, so distance to places you /must/ go is NBD. I knew that I needed a back-country permit to pitch a tent w/in the park boundary. I thought I could make arrangements at the entrance – if nothing else, check in and settle up at park HQ on Friday. Hahahahahaha no. Permits are ava at 2 places in the park, the closest is 27 miles in and it closes at 5pm*. I looked at time and distance and figured that if I rode hard, I could beat the deadline. Time trial Doc H and Lotte: off to the races. I was ahead of pace until mile 22. I could see Panther Jct. Park HQ. It was *points* up there. A hard climb and I made it with 15 minutes to spare. After regaining my composure (first time I noticed altitude), and responding politely to “Hey you’re the old guy on a bike we saw riding up the hill! Are you OK?”, I found my way to the permit office. Because I’m traveling w/ Lotte and pets can only go places internal combustion engines** can go, I needed a car accessible permit. They were all gone. 🙁 I asked the v pleasant ranger what my options were – was there some kind of curfew? She said that as long as I hadn’t pitched a tent and/or wasn’t sleeping, they didn’t care what I did. I asked if I could cook some dinner, eat and rest at the picnic tables in the courtyard. “Yep.” So I did. I also had a good chat with a local (Lotte being once again an A+ icebreaker). He told me the road to Terligua was easy, filled me in on where I could camp illegally just within the Park boundaries in a spot the rangers would be very unlikely to find me and gave me his number in case I got desperate – his place being 8 miles beyond Terlingua. I rested for a while, then as the sun was beginning to set (so, 7:30PM or so), we loaded up and started west.
Because the (super)moon was full, it started rising before the stars could fully manifest. As it came up I glanced back over my shoulder and had to stop. As remarked to K (with her strong assent), the full moon coming up over the Chisos is a transcendent sight. For once, someone’s assessment of bike ride difficulty was spot on – the night ride was lots of swoopy descending. I kept a lid on speed – slamming into a whitetail or even a skunk would have been sub-optimal. We pulled into town and stopped at the first motel we ran across. Room, booked; shower, taken; bed, collapsed into.
Up with the dawn (8AM) the next morning. Lotte was still out, so I snuck two doors down for a nice plate of Huevos Rancheros and a gallon of coffee. Back to the room, where I wrote some postcards to chillun back east. Packed up, we went next door to the the Post office. Coming out, we encountered this little ground dinosaur:
I took it as a bit of an omen – one of the postcards I’d just dropped has a roadrunner on the front.
I figured Friday’s (3/22) ride needed to be a short one so I set sail for Lajitas in search of a campground. Coming into Lajitas, I saw the Park HQ for Big Bend Ranch State Park. I’d tried to book a campsite online Thursday night, but found the website impenetrable. What the hell, at least I can fill my water bottles. I stick my head in and, praise be, there were campsites available 11 miles up the road at Grassy Shores, on the Rio Grande. Off we went, and pulled into the campground early enough that I had time to just sit and think. One surprise – no water at the campground. Live and learn. I had enough water to get through to the next for sure water stop if I was careful. I have a filter and a collapsible bucket (for silt settling), but even filtered Rio Grande water made me nervous. I walked next door and asked the nice folks if they had a park map (I’d spaced on grabbing one at the office) – I wanted to see if there were any intermediate water sources before Presidio. Alas, no. We talked over the sitch and I went back to camp, still wondering about Rio Grande water. A half hour or so later, my neighbors swung over, apologized for not seeing the obvious, and offered me a water fill-up from their lovely new Airstream. I guzzled my hoarded water and re-filled. Once again, problem solved. As the sun set, I watched a kettle of vultures thermalling in to their roosting spots – started thinking about Tibetan sky burials and how, though they get a bad rap sometimes, vultures are lovely parts of the ecosystem. With all of the small challenges overcome, signs and portents, I figured it would be a good evening to accomplish something I’d been waiting for a good moment to do. I burned a journal I’d kept back when things were going especially poorly (at least in my own head). I thought that if I could get some of the grief and despair out onto paper it wouldn’t be quite so overwhelming. Must have worked? And one of the things I wrote over and over was, “I need to change my life.” *grin* Guess that worked, too.
The stars that night were amazing. The moon rose late enough that there was a good long window of dark sky with Milky Way, some shooting stars and so many lights up there that picking out constellations beyond the obvious ones was nigh-on impossible. A proper coda.
We rolled out unusually early Saturday morning. I’d been warned about The Big Hill just west of Grassy Shores and I wanted to do the climb before the heat of the day. Friends, let me tell you, The Big Hill is big. They say a mile of 15% grade and I am not going to contradict them.
Over the other side, there was nothing comparable in terms of distance or grade, but a lot of extreme rollers: 7% down for 300 yards, 7% up for the same distance. It was at the top of one of these grades that we had an unpleasant bee encounter. I had a chain-suck problem (issue with shifting up front) so we walked the last hundred yards up the hill. And suddenly we were surrounded by very angry workers. They started stinging Lotte – ears esp – and started in on me. She panicked and managed to throw herself out of her harness and the basket. I scooped her up and tried to hide her in my arms against my body. Then I saw what was going on. A flatbed loaded with hives was just pulling on to the highway – right where we were. They were stopped, aghast, I’m guessing. I finally (minutes at most, under a minute more likely,) stuffed Lotte into her basket, held her there, and pedaled like hell down and out of there. Once we were well clear, we stopped, i tried to scrape stingers from Lotte’s ears (NOPE) and scraped a half dozen stingers from my arms and thighs. I was more than a little worried: Lotte weighs maybe 12 pounds at this point and she got a lot of venom per pound. Long story short, adventure teckel prevails! Pulled in to Presidio, stopped at the western Big Bend Ranch HQ for water, composed ourselves (again) and looked around for a campsite. Turns out the RV park we’d passed a mile back would give us a tent site with water, shade, (notional) electricity and a shower 100 feet away for $10 for the night. Bingo! Got checked in. rode into town for pizza with the Seattle/Connecticut/now AZ&TX desert rat campground manager, then a good night’s sleep.
I knew yesterday (Sunday 3/24) was going to be a tough day, and it delivered. Sixty plus miles horizontal, almost a mile vertical, and 7 hours in the saddle. I did like watching the transition from desert back to savanna as I got closer to Marfa, and I really liked seeing the entrance to El Cosmico! Tent pitched and Lotte fed, watered and snoring in the tent, I set out for the Bar St. George on the recommendation of a friend of a friend. What a good recommendation. Delish cocktail, actual vegetable (temura cauliflower, but damnit that’s a veg!), and steak frites. Walked back to camp, allowed myself to stay in the sack until the sun warmed the tent a little, showered, coffee, blog post and now we’re current.
Perhaps another post tomorrow, perhaps I’ll just lounge.
*would have been awesome if the ranger had warned me about likely availability
**again, strong default – bikes don’t exist