Sunday, November 29, 2009

Western Texas

Today, Cynta (the woman that John and I are currently couchsurfing with) asked me what I found most surprising thus far on my trip. My answer would have to be western Texas. Granted, I had a terrible image of what it would be like, and what I was told by many others didn't help my expectations one bit; however, this area has not only far surpassed any expectations, but has turned out to be spectacular in so many ways.

Leaving Van Horn where I last posted, John and I had a fine days ride. However, come dusk and finding ourselves surrounded by barbed wire fencing and locked gates all day, the only spot to camp where we could get out of view of the road was near the train tracks . We picked a spot under a little bridge, set up and enjoyed dinner and conservation under the night's sky. All day riding next to the tracks no trains ran, John joked that they were probably all night running trains. Unfortunately, he turned out to be right. During the night 10 trains passed, each with their bright lights and whistling away, shaking the ground beneath us. If this wasn't enough to keep us from a good night's sleep, what I'd anticipated would happen one of these days finally did: Boarder Patrol found us and gave us a nice 4:30am wake up. I'd expected to be woken up with a gun in my face, but luckily they just had their flashlights in hand. We showed our ID, they asked some silly questions, then left us alone. Not the best night, but could have been much worse.

John's tent by the tracks

Luckily, the next night (Thanksgiving) was a much better camp spot. We stopped early in the afternoon outside of the boarder town of Presidio where I spotted partly built, abandon home just outside of town, the perfect place to spend the holiday! It was a nice change to sleep in a clean, flat area. I made a great Thanksgiving dinner of rice, beans, and veggies and happily got to talk to some friends and family.

Our luxurious accommodations (John joked that even inside a house, I managed to tuck myself behind a bush!)

The next day brought morning rain, the first I'd seen in weeks. We stocked up on food in Presidio fearing it'd be a week before another decent market, then pedaled off on a 60 mile road that followed the Rio Grande along the Mexican boarder. I'd been told this road was hilly, but usually that means no problem; however, this road was HILLY! Nothing long, but constant short steep up and downs making for very hard work.

At the Rio Grande, that's Mexico behind me!

Me riding along the river road

The views were spectacular, riding in the mountains. This was one of the most scenic roads of my trip, totally unexpected! It was also maybe the most difficult riding on the trip. We rode up "Big Hill," only half a mile, but 15 percent grade which may not sound too bad but man it was steep. Many of the hills were similar grade up luckily shorter.

After a hard riding day, we pulled into Terlingua Ghostown where I'd set up a Couchsurfing stay with Cynta. She warmly welcomed us into her beautiful home and after showers we heated up Thanksgiving leftovers so I got my traditional thanksgiving dinner, and man was it good! Cynta says that her couchsurfers always stay longer then they plan on. Well, I'm no exception; I'd planned on one night and now I think I'll be spending four. Cynta is much too amazing of an individual, and this town is too intriguing to rush through. A winter storm also came in this afternoon which hasn't made it too enticing to leave.

Cynta has the warmest, most beautiful spirit. She's an old river guide, having guiding around much of the world. She's come back from being completely crippled and having been given two years to live (this was many years back) to walking everyday and being able to swim again. Although she's still having to live on disability, she uses it as an excuse to put her time and energy towards helping the community around her. When Homeland Security closed off the boarder crossing with Boquillas, Mexico within Big Bend NP, the town was then separated from their source of income, food, medical, etc. Cynta started up a quilting cooperative, teaching the women to quilt, then taking and selling their quilts to Americans to raise money for the village. Due to her extensive knowledge and activism, she is a liaison between the the people and the Boarder Patrol. She's the town historian and reads books over the local radio station every week. I could go on and on about the things Cynta has done and I'm sure I don't even know the half of it. Needless to say, Cynta is a true inspiration and I feel blessed to have this chance to meet her.

Terlingua is an old mining town, I think the second largest mercury mine in the country. When the mine closed down it was abandon. In just the past forty years or so it has been re inhabited, started up by river guides who after guiding down here, moved in. So, this is an old hippie town. For a population of 4-29 in the Ghostown and up to 300 in the surrounding 20 miles, this place keeps blowing me away with all that it has. There are guide services and a bike shop (great news since my bike shorts got eaten by one of the pups and it was going to be a week until I could get a new pair), an art gallery for local art, restaurants, a vibrant music scene, a theater and more. This is also a community unlike any I've ever heard of in the US. They have no government (they had a beer-drinking goat for their mayor), no permitting, can bury their own dead, and take care of every person in the community. They're building an area for housing the elderly in the center of town so that they can easily help them. Just today one of the guy's houses burnt down and the whole community is getting together to do everything they can for him. It's just nonstop how tight-knit and caring this town is. It's the kind of place you dream about (if it didn't get into the 120's in the summer). Even with the tiny section of Texas I've seen thus far, I'd say this town is it's biggest secret, but I've been told to keep hush, so don't spread word too far.

Ruins in the town. This is about what Cynta's house looked like when she bought her property for $2,500.

Over many years and a lot of work, she built her house into this. She has a composting toilet and outhouse, solar power, rainwater catchment. It's gorgeous, extremely well thought out and built and can comfortably hold 14 people!

View in the town, ruins amongst the current houses, some permanent,
others more temporary

My first day off here Cynta was heading to the hot springs in Big Bend NP, so John and I were happy to join in. Cynta took us on a little tour of the park on our way, driving into the basin ( the remains of an ancient volcano's innards).

Inside the basin, looking out of "The Window"

The hot springs were excellent, right on the Rio Grande with Mexico feet away. Even though it was hot outside they felt amazing, especially with the river to jump right into and float down a ways. We arrived early and had the place to ourselves for a little while before the afternoon tourist crowd got there.

Hot Springs

And the crowds rushed in as we left

The unfortunate part about this day was the overzealous, and over sized Russian woman from Dallas (in a too small bikini of course), who accidentally splashed my sunglasses into the Rio Grande. A couple people helped me search, but to no avail. The woman offered me her glasses, but they were cheap tiger print and I knew they wouldn't even stay on my face. Right before the glasses disappeared, Bill and Katie whom I met on the road the day before arrived at the hot springs. Bill was incredibly kind and offered me his aviators. They live in Austin so I promised to give them back when I got into town, thankful for such a kind gesture. People really do just come up and help when you need it!

Bill and Katie

View of the Chisos as we drove out of the park.

For some reason I've never been able to put my finger on, I've wanted to come to Big Bend for years although I knew nothing about the park. Making the trek down here, meeting the people I have and learning what I have, I'm so glad that I followed that feeling. I'll definitely never think about western Texas the same again!

Today was spent relaxing, chatting, and walking around the ghostown. A storm came in this afternoon bring intermittent rain and a cold front. We may get snow tonight and the next two days. I hope to get in the park and hike tomorrow, then take off the next day for the push to Austin. I can't believe it's almost December; soon I'll be getting on a plane to watch my big sister win some more SuperTour races!


  1. Hi Robin!

    What are SuperTour races? Is that car racing?

    Cynta sounds delightful. I have long known of Terlingua for their annual Terlingua International Chili Cookoff. It is very high zoot stuff in the Chili world. I believe the contestants have to have won or placed highly in other chili cookoffs to even be invited to participate.

    You may very well already know this, but just in case, I wanted to tell you that Cascade Designs (MSR) is located in Seattle. I have heard that they can completely refurbish their stoves. I have often thought about sending my Whisperlite to them. Anyway, here is the URL if you are interested:

    Good luck! Sounds like you are having a great trip.

    Tom and Anne, Modesto

  2. Just found your blog Robin. Hope the shades work out. Enjoy the ride!

    Katie & Bill, Austin

  3. Bill's brother Adam here. When you get to Austin I've got a new pair of shades for you. Just shoot me an email adam(at)thebutlerbros(dot)com

  4. Bill's dad, Jack, checking in. Your visit to West Texas sounds like a real eye opener in many delightful ways. My 3 sons are totally sold on the area. Adam even named his 2nd son Davis, after the Davis Mtns. Do check in with Adam when you come thru Austin... He and his wife are serious biking folks. Enjoy your travels, Robin.

  5. Tom- SuperTour races are cross country ski races with the top US and Canadian Skiers. My sister is trying for the US Olympic team!

    Bill, Katie, Adam, and Jack- Thanks so much for your comments. You are all amazing! I'll check in once I get to Austin.

  6. Thanks for the info Robin. Please tell HB that she now has a new routing section in central Cal and my sister near Chicago!

    Tom and Anne, Modesto