Monday, December 7, 2009

Almost to Austin

Whew, I'm just over a day away from Austin! That's very exciting for me, especially with some of the challenges of the last few days being sick and very cold-fortunately both have improved a bit now.

During my time at Cynta's hiding out from the bad weather I started to get anxious to exercise and explore the Park. Cynta was fabulous in offering me her car so that I could hike in Big Bend and come back to a hot shower. I managed two hikes, the first up to and along the rim of the basin, the second in the basin to "the Window." The first brought me through great vegetation and into the trees, but I was up in the mist and clouds the whole time so missed out on all the views. The lower hike had better visibility the first half, then also went into the clouds. The hike ended going through a little canyon with a gorgeous stream carving pools in the rock and ending at a steep drop with a view out of the basin, "the window." It felt wonderful to get out and explore the Park some more, but after being out in the cold and damp all day the hot shower back at Cynta's was most welcome!

Clouds in the Basin

The Window

More Basin
Driving to and from the Park was harder then I'd expected. Though I've gone much longer without driving before, I've never been so unused to speed. Riding everyday I rarely get above 20mph for any period of time, so this is a very comfortable speed for me. When I started driving I found I couldn't get over 30mph (in a 55 zone), it just felt too fast! Of course, I quickly piles up a few cars behind me, I'm sure wondering what my problem was. As the miles passed, I managed to get up to 40 mph, but that was it, I just felt out of control going any faster-now that is a strange feeling in such a car-driven society.
That night back at Cynta's, she made good on a promise to teach me how to make real Mexican enchiladas. It was awesome to cook, making the sauce and corn tortillas, everything with straight from Mexico ingredients. They were fantastic and much different from out Americanized version!

Cynta demonstrating pressing the tortillas
After obsessing over weather forecasts and the miles ahead of me, I decided to leave the next day. Leaving Terlingua, John and I parted ways. It was a valuable experience riding with him. He helped me regain perspective and opened my eyes to a whole world of cycling opportunities with the stories of his journey. Best of luck through the rest of the US!

John, feeling strange without his bike clothes and an unloaded bike
The day I left had rain forecast, and although I could see it all around me, I was fortunate to avoid it. After three days off the bike it felt great to ride again and I was able to put in a long day. The next few days started cold and got colder. I rode into the town of Marathon and found a coffee shop to warm up in. As I sipped my hot chocolate and talked with the owner, he offered the place for me to run-he was pretty serious too! (He wants to move to Austin and needs someone to take over i order to do so). Maybe next fall, for now I've got more riding to do.
Back out on the road, I met my first riders headed west. Pete and Ben, two young guys started in Florida and are ending in California. After meeting a rider who was riding to benefit the rhinos, they decided they were riding for "spandex awareness." they'd just made it a month and although very bundled, looked to be having a great time. They did warn me the the SE is mostly development or swamp, what I'd feared.
The next day started in the 40s and got colder all day. Once again I took refuge in a gas station and sipped coffee while I thawed out. The owner calling me "frosty" and "Rudolph" the whole time. I'd also come down with a bad cold which didn't help things out any. I met a guy from Ellensburg while I was there-crazy coincidences.
View from the road
The next morning after a near sleepless night barely able to breathe, i arose to snow flurries and two flat tires-wonderful! An extremely cold ride brought me through Amistead National Recreation Area and into the first gas station I saw for more hanging around and drinking hot chocolate as I slowly regained feeling in my fingers. I then made it into Del Rio and was grateful to get in touch with Rachel, my couch surfing host for the night. She got out of work to let me into her and her housemate, Jen's, place then went back to work while I enjoyed a hot shower, tea, and plenty of tissues (what a great guest I was). Rachel and Jen are finishing up their flight training in the Air Force. They're great gals and awesome to meet young female pilots and learn about the Air Force.
Having a warm, relaxing evening, I slept much better but still wasn't anxious to get riding the next morning. Luckily the sun had come out, though it still wasn't warm. My head was still a blur, my nose gushing, and legs powerless. That day I made progress only by the grace of gentle terrain and a little tailwind.
Now for the exciting news: I saw armadillos!!!! The first was just after I passed through a Boarder Patrol Check Point (it took 5 guys and a k-9 unit to say "US citizen" "yup" I replied and they waved me on), I jumped off my bike as I saw the armadillo on the shoulder so excited. It was a tiny little thing, about the size of a guinea pig which really surprised me, I'd always thought they were at least raccoon-size. The little guy was skittish, but I got a decent look as he rummaged through the leaves. The next I saw a few miles down the road, he was about twice as big and less afraid. These guys just make me crack up, they don't seem real and are hilarious to watch run! I'm hoping to see a lot mote of these little guys, and not road kill (though I'm fascinated by what they would feel like and road kill is probably the only way I'll find that out).
I'm riding through Hill Country now, rolling hills with lots of trees. Tons of ranches earlier and the place has been crawling with deer hunters making for much busier roads then I'd expected. I've also come across numerous exotic game ranches. I'd heard about these being in Texas, but had forgotten all about them until I started seeing all these antelope herds and types of deer behind tall fences that just didn't belong. I then saw the advertising for "Bow Hunting $695," "Bison $1,895" and so on. They advertised native and exotic deer including many African species, no wonder I was so confused at first. I have to say, I have a terrible impression of Texan hunters. Prior to these "come and shot a fenced in animal" ranches, most of what I saw was "Deer Corn" advertised everywhere and jeeps with car seats bolted to the tops with blinds and sights built in, so that the hunters wouldn't have to walk anywhere or do any work to kill their corn-fed deer. It may not be right (in my opinion), but it sure is successful judging by the high percentage of trucks passing me with antlers and hooves sticking out.

The real meaning of the phrase
I'm starting to feel a bit healthier now and the weather got into the 50s yesterday! Today is overcast and damp though. Besides the stream of hunters, my only other trouble recently has been more tire drama. One finally blew out, so I had to rotate and now I have one that will make it and one that I'll be extremely luck if it makes it-no more backups. With 150 miles to Austin I'm counting down the miles, keeping my spokes crossed that I can make it, I'm on borrowed miles that's for sure. After being in such sparsely populated areas for so long, it's strange to get into these highly populated areas now, lots of traffic and strip malls. It may be like this for quite awhile now. I'm in Kerrville at the moment and headed to Fredericksburg, then hopefully just one more day into Austin!

Guadalupe River, in the Hill Country

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