Day 26: El Paso to Fort Hancock, TX (63 miles); April 5, 2021
Not sure if it was the massive amount of food or the super comfortable bed, but boy did we sleep well last night. Getting up was a chore, but we knew that we had to roll out early to avoid El Paso rush hour and the heat. We had breakfast with Rebekah (Mike left for a 6am bike ride) and she gave us tons of Easter leftovers. Spending the holiday with them was such a blessing.
Getting out of east El Paso is dicey no matter how you slice it. Even Mike couldn’t come up with a safe route. But with his help, we came up with the safest possible route, because the one ACA suggests is apparently a death trap. After 8 miles, the treachery ended and we were safely on our way. We’ve ridden on worse roads before, but the hype of almost anyone we talked to caused a lot of stress about getting out of town. Luckily we did just fine.
Again, not much to report on with scenery. We skirted the Mexican border for a while out of El Paso and returned to farms (mainly pecans) for most of the ride.
After lunch we ran into 3 retired guys who we knew were catching up to us. We rode with them for a good 15 miles just chatting. They know each other from meeting on the Appalachian Trail in 2016. They kept in touch and one of them suggested doing the southern tier and they all jumped aboard. Jim even hiked the John Muir Trial in 2019, so it was great to relive some memories chatting about that. They’re a fun group of guys that I’m sure we’ll see plenty in Texas.
We got into Fort Hancock around 3pm. In spite of the 93 degree heat and temperamental winds, we made good time. We got cold ice cream and drinks and just relaxed before leaving for where we were staying for the night. Because the motel in town looks sketchy (to put it lightly), we called a local church to see if we could stay with them. Unfortunately because of Holy Week, Sister Silvia said no one was around to let us in, but we were welcome to camp in the backyard. Great!
Well, what wasn’t so great was rolling in and seeing that the backyard was home to a feral cat colony. So, definitely not ideal. I love a good cat (I have dreams of mine almost nightly), but 11 feral cats roaming around with the potential for marking our stuff is not what I would consider fostering of a good night’s sleep. But, it was free and we felt safe. After an hour, two women showed up. It was Sister Silvia and her friend Sister Darlene! They stopped by to try and catch a sick cat. After 2 hours and much coaxing, little Blanca proved to be too agile and got away.
Voicing our concern about staying outside with a bunch of roaming feral cats, Sister Silvia invited us to stay inside. We were so thankful to just be indoors, so imagine our surprise when they gave us Gatorade and all the food we could need. They were so giving and willing to help.
The guys we met are staying at the motel. Hopefully we run into them tomorrow to get their review of the place!
Day 27: Fort Hancock to Van Horn, TX (68 miles); April 5, 2021
As I said before, finding places to stay in Texas is difficult. Towns are small with limited services. So when faced with the option of staying in a sleazy motel, a yard full of feral cats, behind a restaurant at a truck stop, or inside a haunted church, the haunted church was by far the most appealing choice. Not to say we weren’t grateful for the hospitality of the Santa Teresa Parish, but neither of us slept particularly well. There was a terrifying latch floor door to the basement that made both imagine something crawling up from the depths in the middle of the night. Between that and the 5 noisy refrigerators going off all night, I woke up every hour terrified. But after hearing all the roosters and cats making another unharmonic symphony in the morning, I knew we made the right choice.
The ride into Sierra Blanca wasn’t really noteworthy, shockingly enough. We hopped on I-10 for some of it, keeping an eye out for the retired men crew. They said they were leaving their motel early and having a half day to avoid the afternoon winds, which confused us because according to what we saw, we were in for some epic tailwinds. But to each their own – bike your own bike.
We got into Sierra Blanca at really who knows what time. Our phones and ourselves were confused by the time change or if there really was even a time change. Either way, we got there at 11am MST or 12pm CST and had an early lunch. As we were leaving, we ran into the retired guys! We chatted a little and figured we’d see them down the road. They were cutting it short and we were sailing on. Depending on what we end up doing the rest of this week, that may have been our last run in with them. Wish I got a selfie with them!
The winds were in full force this afternoon, all to our back. We rode 18 miles in one hour and were having a great time. That is until, however, we got on I-10 and had a small climb. Now I enjoy climbs, they’re usually my strong point. But dangit if this little climb wasn’t the most difficult hill I have ever encountered. It felt like I was hauling a 300lb bike up Mt. Everest with 50mph headwinds. I was struggling and could not figure out why. So when Sheena said “wow, these winds are awesome, I’m barely pedaling!” you could imagine my intense confusion and exhausted death glare I casted in her direction. “What’re you talking about?!”, I could barely get it out I was panting so hard from pure exertion, “I’m dying!” That’s when the lightbulb went off in Sheena’s head. She looked at my back tire and saw I had a flat. I wasn’t crazy or going through heat stroke – I had my first flat in nearly 8,000 miles of touring.
I’ve only ever had to change a flat on my road bike, so I’m a little out of practice with Ol’ Bessie. I found the culprit of the flat, a wire from tire beading, and after seeing that the tire wasn’t holding any air at all, I knew I had to fix it right there. With Sheena’s vast tire fixing knowledge, she guided me along and we patched the tube. After only about 15 mildly frustrating minutes, we were back on the road.
AND IT WAS EPIC! Seriously. The winds were in full gear and we rode the last 10 miles to Van Horn in less than 20 minutes. It was amazing. We barely had to pedal, the winds were pushing us so hard. It was thrilling and I hope to relive it someday soon. It was the perfect way to make up for getting a flat.
We rolled into Oasis RV Park in Van Horn at 4:30pm (we are officially in CST). As we pulled into our camping spot, we encountered more feral cats. Two nights in a row sleeping in a cat colony, fabulous! I have been craving grilled cheese and tomato soup for a while, and since the supermarket is right down the street and we can grab fresh ingredients, we satisfied my craving. It was so darn good. And on a 93 degree day, what’s more refreshing than soup?! Exactly. It was the perfect meal.
The forecast is looking like more tailwinds for tomorrow, though not as mighty as today’s. But after our experience coming out of Lordsburg, we will take any tailwinds we can get, lest they turn to headwinds.
Day 28: Van Horn to Marfa, TX (75 miles); April 7, 2021
Not sure if it was cause we were so exhausted, but we both slept so well. The temperature was perfect for a good night’s sleep and there were no dogs or roosters to keep up awake. We woke up refreshed and ready to go.
Because we crossed into a new time zone yesterday, we’re all mixed up with the time. Now the sun doesn’t rise until 7:30am and it really makes getting out early to ride difficult. But we’re getting the hang of it.
The ride into Valentine for lunch was (per usual) what we’re used to. More desert landscape. The only thing new is pretty severe lower back pain that affects my ability to ride more than 15 miles without stopping to stretch. I have a feeling it’s from overused and tired legs affecting the mechanics of my pedaling, ultimately manifesting in poor posture affecting my back. I’m going to start adding core exercises to my routine in an effort to correct it. Cause it is really no fun.
On our way to Valentine, we stopped at a Southern Tier staple – the Marfa Prada! A tiny little store, someone built it in 2006 (maybe – I forget) as an art piece. It’s weird to see a designer store in the middle of nowhere, but hey, all in the name of art. It truly baffled an older gentleman who was dragged there by his wife. To be honest, I don’t get it either but it was cool to just see. There used to be a tiny Target, but that was torn down a few months ago. What a shame, I could’ve really gone for a good shopping spree.
At lunch, we noticed the winds were picking up. Still riding the high from the end of yesterday’s ride, Sheena thought to put a makeshift sail on her bike to propel her forward. Great idea, but unfortunately the first flight lacked the needed results and the idea was scrapped. But can’t deny her contraption made for some good laughs.
As we left Valentine, a dust storm was rolling in. We just narrowly escaped it. Along the way to Marfa we saw countless dirt devils off in the distance. They are pretty neat to look at, but I would not want to be caught in one.
We rolled into Marfa around 5pm, perfect for happy hour. We ordered a bottle of champagne and hatch chili burgers and just enjoyed being off the bike and people watching. It was a short ride to El Cosmico, the campground we’re staying at. It has a definitely hippie/vaguely cultish vibe that makes for an interesting atmosphere. But overall, it’s really awesome and beautiful, though the showers leave you pretty exposed. I would love to stay longer and explore the town more, it seems like a hidden gem out here.
Day 29: Marfa to Marathon TX (56 miles); April 8, 2021
One month on the road! It’s kind of mind blowing to me how quickly, but also how slowly, this past month went. A lot of it has been a blur and we have trouble remembering where we were this time last week. The days blend together, but the strong memories that made impressions (good and bad) stick out. Who can forget the disaster of a day in California or trying to catch a sickly feral cat with a bunch of nuns? Really, of all the tours, this one probably has the best stories so far.
We woke up late because it was freezing in Marfa. Eventually we convinced ourselves it was time to get moving and got coffee along with all the other cult members in their matching robes. As we were getting our bikes together, we spoke with three different people about our tour. Two of the couples rode often and the third has his bike all set up to do his first tour soon. One couple even invited us to stay with them down the road in Fredricksburg, an offer we’re likely going to take them up on.
As we were leaving, one of the couples wished us bon voyage by filming us as we went. We have a fan club! Unfortunately, not 3 minutes later, I incurred another flat in my rear tire. Upon inspection, it was noted the patch failed from the other day. Instead of messing around with it, we put in a fresh tube and were on our way in 15 minutes. Sheena is a pro at changing flats. But we gotta stop talking about flats with strangers – it puts a jinx on us.
With strong tailwinds, we made it to Alpine, TX in no time flat – without anymore flats. We had plenty of time to eat a huge food truck lunch, go grocery shopping, and visit the visitor center. For such a small town in the middle of nowhere, Alpine seems to have a lot of culture. Like Marfa, it’s unique and artsy. Near Big Bend National Park, I hope to revisit Alpine and spend some more time there.
After an extended break, we were on our way. Our original plan was to take a half day to Alpine to recover from the long week. However, because of the awesome tailwinds, we decided to take advantage of the optimal conditions and continue to Marathon. The wind was lackluster for the first half of the ride and Sheena wasn’t feeling great from such a big lunch. It served as a lesson to take lighter lunches, especially with the heat. Eventually the winds kicked up in our favor and pushed us the rest of the way to Marathon. We’re staying in an RV park. Marathon is known for its dark sky and optimal star gazing. It might be a little overcast tonight, but hopefully I’ll be able to see a few shining stars.
In Alpine, some girls suggested we go to Brick Vault for some quality BBQ. Craving good Texas BBQ since we got here, I was all on board with that. And their suggestion was perfect. Great food (BBQ sauce was one of the best I’ve had) with an amazing sour beer. While enjoying the food, we planned out the next week. We’ll be at our half way point in a couple days and Austin by last next week! It’s unbelievable how quickly we’ll be flying through Texas.
I’ve noticed I’ve stopped taking scenic pictures. Call it scenic overload or what I consider unphoto worthy scenes, but regardless I’ll try to fix that an add more scenery to the posts. I’ll let you be the judge if it’s worthy.
Day 30: Marathon to Sanderson, TX (55 miles); April 9, 2021
This morning wasn’t nearly as cold so we got up and zipped out of camp early for a 1 mile ride to coffee. So imagine my surprise when we’re sipping coffee and we see the guys rolling in! Already 30 miles under their belt, they were planning on continuing to Sanderson, an 84 mile day. And with predicted tailwinds, they were well on their way to achieving that goal.
We rode 21 miles without a problem (we saw javalinas!) and had a quick snack. The guys caught up and we went off. The next 25 miles were glorious. The tailwinds pushed us all the way to a lunch spot in a little over an hour. The guys again caught up and we talked for a while. Only noon with only 10 miles left of a ride, we didn’t mind chatting it up. Plus, the 10 miles into town only took us half an hour. The wind gods surely have been nice to us in Texas, but I fear our luck may soon change.
The ride today was gorgeous. Maybe cruising with tailwinds made me able to sit back and appreciate it more, but I really enjoyed the scenery of the day. I had no problem taking pictures of our surroundings without exerting too much effort.
Sanderson is another small Texas town, but not nearly as artsy. We hung out at the convenience store for a while before heading to Canyons RV park, which is the cheapest we stayed with the nicest amenities. Unfortunately the wind caused our tents to sail away (I was in the shower and sprinted out mid rinse to help Sheena), a deeply frustrating experience.
We had dinner at the only restaurant in town (would not recommend) and met up with the guys. We’re riding the next 2 days with them, which is reassuring because we’re not super confident with where we’re staying tomorrow. Having safety in numbers will surely put our minds at ease.
Day 31: Sanderson to Langtry TX (60 Miles); April 10, 2021
Today started out as great as we could hope for. Yesterday we ran into a couple in the RV park who asked us a bunch of questions about our trip. They offered us help in any way they could, and we took them up on in by asking for coffee in the morning. They were happy to oblige! Not only did they make us coffee, but Joyce gave us cereal and home made coffee cake. It was a real pleasure talking with Joyce and Steve, a retired couple who bought a luxury RV to travel the US in. They were lovely and we were pretty thankful to have a caffeine fix while getting to know them.
I slept very poorly last night, so I knew the ride today was going to. be anything but pleasurable. But we persevered and rode slow and steadily the easy 30 miles to a good lunch spot where we caught up with the guys. As they were leaving, David promised us that the next 30 miles to Langtry were “all downhill”.
Well, David was wrong. In the afternoon heat we not only had the temperatures and headwinds to contend with, but obnoxious rollers as well. They were steep at times, but manageable. The rest day in Del Rio on Monday was what motivated me to not have a mental breakdown.
Eventually we made it to Langtry, where David promptly apologized for giving us bad intel. Not on the map, there was a tiny convenience store we treated ourselves at to cold drinks and ice cream. The owner, Jerry, even gave us free water and Reese’s cups. He also warned us to keep an eye out for illegal border crossers, saying that though we’ll be safe in Langtry, this area of Texas has the most crossings of the country, with up to 850 apprehensions a day.
We used the restrooms at Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center before they closed and learned a little about the history of the area. Though, not much of it sank in considering how tired we were from the day’s ride.
We’re camping at the community center, only a quarter mile from the border. There’s an RV here as well as the 3 guys. I don’t feel like setting up my tent, so I’m cowboy camping under the stars. Since the last 2 nights were horrible for sleeping, I’m really hoping to catch up tonight! Fingers crossed.
Day 32: Langtry to Del Rio TX (60 miles) April 11, 2021
I slept surprisingly well last night, must’ve been from just pure exhaustion. We got up before sunrise and hit up the visitor center for the restrooms before setting out for the day. The winds started kicking at 4am and I knew they would not be in our favor. 60 miles over rollers in headwinds. I knew what I was in for so I put in a podcast and just rolled.
Because the winds knock me around wickedly, Sheena rode ahead and I started straying back, probably a good half mile. We kept leap frogging with the guys, who were also getting their butts kicked by the wind.
Still in good spirits, we reached Comstock (our halfway point) for lunch. I was pretty famished so I grabbed a really good slice of gas station pizza. Anyone out there want to pay me to bicycle tour and write reviews of small town food joints?! That’s a niche I would love to fall into.
After putting off the inevitable for long enough, we set out for our final 30 miles. Only now we had pretty intense heat to deal with. Luckily, the bumpy road turned into freshly paved asphalt that made riding directly into wind less taxing.
Today was probably a record for the amount of roadkill I’ve ever ridden by. Able to smell it before seeing it, I must’ve rode past close to 100 carcasses ranging from deer to javalinas, to cows, to hawks, and even tons of salamanders. Pretty grotesque and entirely unpleasant to smell.
The scenery is a lot greener. It no longer feels like we’re in a vast desert, but more like a grassland. It’s more humid too, which feels more like home to me. There are farms along the highway and in the confusion of the heat, wind, and difficulty of the day, Sheena swore a bleating goat was me screaming at her in distress. Luckily I know that should trouble befall me, Sheena will stop on a dime to ensure my safety.
With the rest day in Del Rio motivating us and preventing a mental breakdown, the last 13 miles were still pretty brutal. We rode past and over the 1 mile bridge over the Armistead Reservoir. After that we knew we were in the home stretch!
After some shopping at Walmart, we checked into the hotel. Extremely hungry and relatively late, we were happy that a Del Rio staple BBQ (Rudy’s) was still open. So we took a shower and headed over. We must clean up well because David (part of the Retired Guys) didn’t even recognize us! We scarfed down that BBQ (maybe a little too quickly) and were ready for bed. Today was an exhausting day, my body is so ready for a rest day tomorrow.
Rest day: April 12, 2021
What a great night’s sleep! Wow, it feels so great to sleep in air conditioning in an actual bed. Woke up without a blaring alarm and enjoyed a pretty substantial breakfast at the hotel – complete with a Texas waffle!
After laundry and shipping stuff home at the post office, we did a little food tour of Del Rio. We got a plate of nachos and had BBQ with the guys for dinner. Any weight I lost in the beginning of this trip is certainly going to be back soon if I continue eating like this – the food down here is so good and we haven’t even hit Cajun country yet!
We have a long haul tomorrow, so we’re going to go to bed early to get up early. I’ll probably have another Texas waffle to really get charged up for the ride.
One thought on “Southern Tier Bike Route: Texas Part I”
Dear Emilie – I have been looking thru your Posts from the latest and back thru others. I am in amazement on just how you can pedal a bicycle with all that gear packed on it, plus your weight for so far & long. You must have some very strong legs & have endurance for that kind of travel. I know that I could never do it. Too old. Putting up with Mother Nature and most everything else must take a whole lot of courage & stamina. I wish you well.