Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Day 954 - Morgan City, Louisiana

I left Silsbee with just the intention of taking it easy and trying not to make myself feel worse. I plodded into a slight headwind but made reasonable progress. By the time I had passed through Mauriceville it was time to start looking for a place to camp, the road ahead looked good, plenty of pine trees, but the whole way along there were properties with large areas of land, it wasn’t looking so good after all, but it was getting dark. Things started to look a bit desperate so when I spotted a wrecked old mobile home with a junkyard around it I went in for a little look around. With all the recent rain the track was muddy and by the time I had gone just a short distance the tyres were all clogged up with mud so I got off and walked which just meant my shoes got muddy too. Despite it being totally unsuitable for camping I decided this was where I had to stay, I really had no time to carry on. I crossed over a little stream and found a small compacted mud area between the debris of cleared woodland. Water was all around, but it would be fine if it didn’t rain, I felt pretty sure it wouldn’t, it hadn’t really rained all day. Thankfully I was right for a change……for the first hour, then there was a thunder storm that resulted in heavy rain for half an hour leaving the vestibule under water, I would just have to cook with the stove in water. If it didn’t rain again at least I had a chance that it would drain away by morning.
At 5am I was awoken by another thunder storm, this one even worse. Lightening flashed overhead followed by deafening thunder, all assisted by strong wind and heavy rain. It was Christmas Eve morning and my plans were already being washed away. I had intended to stop and ask to camp behind a church, then join them for the service and see what happened from there, but who would even want to sit next to me if I was covered in mud and soaking wet? By the time I packed up the worst was over, the bike and my shoes picked up half a ton of mud but other than that things weren’t looking too bad. I cycled along in the rain riding through all the puddles to try and clean as much off as possible. A few miles brought me to a bridge over a river and away from Texas and into Louisiana, where everything seemed to change quickly. People called out to me as I passed through a village, though I couldn’t understand a single word, I can only assume they were speaking English. The rain stopped and I reached a junction with gas stations and casinos, gambling is obviously very legal here. Having had a bite and a warm drink my spirits were lifted. I didn’t so much as people watch as people listen, their accents were completely different and very strong. I carried on to Lake Charles, I was running out of map and didn’t have one of Louisiana yet. I crossed another large river on the I10, it was steep and horribly narrow, you just take you life in your hand and try and get across as fast as possible, but this was a big bridge. I searched around in Lake Charles for a map, I couldn’t find one, being Christmas Eve most places were shut. I had no idea of my route out, though I guessed it was east so I could at least use my compass….oh, hang on a minute! I would have to ask people the way, “Excuse me, I don’t know where I want to get to and have no idea of the road name or number, but I think I need to go east, can you help me?”. I wasn’t feeling confident. But I am an experienced and resourceful cyclist, I have other navigational tools, I had the wind, it had been pushing me nicely along, I just had to make sure the wind was still pushing me along “Can you tell me which way the wind is going?”, “Hell Boy, it gonna be blowin’ THAT way”. Thankfully I found a map and continued eastwards on the US90, I cycled with ease, cruising along at an effortless 30kph, it was so easy that I didn’t want to turn south and head to Hayes and route 14, but that was the way I had chosen to go. The landscape was now was very flat, I don’t expect to see even a slope for days now. The land was pretty though, fields were interspersed with house that had plenty of land, mainly smallish wooden houses, some were mobile homes. I decided that I would not go any further than Hayes and as I rode along I thought to myself “Some poor family is quietly making their final preparations for Christmas and some smelly, muddy English cyclist is about to walk into their lives and bugger everything up for them“. Hayes wasn’t big, but despite churches being everywhere there didn’t seem to be one here. I asked a family outside their house and was told it was a little further on. I soon found a Baptist Church and checked around the back for camping. Despite being decent grass it was very squelchy under foot, but I would still hope to camp there. I checked the church and the small building next door, nothing was open, time to try a house to see if I could locate the Pastor. There was no answer at the first, there was at the second. There were two women there making there final preparations on some lovely looking Christmas food. They told me the Pastor was in a village that was miles away and the Christmas service had been on Wednesday, I had already missed it by 24 hours. “The nearest one will be Lake Arthur another 18 miles further on”, “Hmm, I will never make it today, thanks, but I think I will have to give up on a church service tonight”. “Do you need anything? Do you need any money?” I was asked “No thanks I have everything I need…oh, hang on a minute, can you spare a little water?”, so as I filled my water bottle I was asked “Where are you going to stay tonight”, “Oh I will just head out of the village a bit and find somewhere to camp”, “Well if you ask my husband you could sleep in our camper van”, she gave him a call and within a couple of minutes he returned to the house and kindly said I could stop in the van. I took my bike around the back expecting to see a small caravan but suddenly realised I was being offered a brand new monster thingy, one of those where the sides extend out to make it even bigger. This was no camper van, it was a small luxurious house. Mickey switched on the electrics, water and hot water, showed me around the mansion and said “Come and join us in the house for something to eat when you are ready”. Wow, I had landed on my feet again with the free run of a $50,000 brand new mobile home, and they called this camping! After a wonderfully hot shower I joined them in the house. There was Mickey and Martha and their daughter Jill, her partner Kyle and her son Kamron and I was offered more than I wanted and made to feel very at home. We asked each other questions and chatted away and despite it being Christmas Eve I was soon on my favourite subjects of guns, politics and religion, all guaranteed to create an interesting discussion. “Ah, we have heaps of guns, I always carry one with me the whole time. In these parts every car and every house will have guns, it’s just a way of life”. I was shown a few “Are any of these loaded?” I asked cautiously, must gun deaths here are caused by accidents and I didn’t want to add to the statistics, “No, only that pistol on the counter over there, that is the one I usually carry around with me”. At one point I asked Mickey “So what did you think when a scruffy Englishman turned up on your doorstep this evening?”, I was surprised at his reply of “I thought God had sent you here”. It’s an interesting answer as I always think that I am being looked after. I was also shown pictures of their nearby second home which Mickey had built with a little help from the families. It was wrecked by Hurricane Rita, the one that arrived just three months after Katrina had destroyed much of New Orleans. They had completely rebuilt it only to see it completely wrecked 18 months ago by Hurricane Ike, this time with 3 feet of water in the house. Mickey had rebuilt it in 5 weeks and raised it on to 7ft stilts so that it would not happen again. They were a wonderful family and even offered me the chance to stay on Christmas Day and have dinner with Martha’s family. I would think about it, but this seemed too good an opportunity to miss, to see how Americans really celebrate Christmas. Let me ask you a quick question, what would you do if a complete stranger arrived on your doorstep at 5pm on Christmas Eve?

After a breakfast of delicious biscuits (a cross between bread rolls and scones) and figs we went to their daughter’s Jill’s house who I had met the previous evening. Now Hayes, like all the other villages in southern Louisiana, has a very tight knit little community. Now you remember the close community of Terlingua Ghost Town don’t you, well it was nothing like that. As we just drove a block down the road with presents in the boot (trunk) of the car Mickey said “That’s my sister’s house, that’s my brother’s house, that’s my niece’s house, that’s my daughter’s house, in fact everybody in this street is our family. Mickey’s family also live in Hayes, we known everybody in Hayes and Bell City, the next village along”. In fact I later noticed that the street name was the family name. Each village had a population of about a 1000. This really was a family affair like I have never seen before. It was great to see presents around a tree, then Michael their son arrived with his partner Danielle and the present opening started, I was amazed, there was even one for me! The men’s gift seemed to focus on hunting, though thankfully they hadn’t given me a gun! Around mid day we drove the short distance to Martha’s parent’s house, where I was assured there would be plenty more family to meet (photo, Mickey, Jill and Martha are 1st, 2nd and 4th from the left respectively). And by heck there were too, I was introduced to them all as they arrived but I am sure they must have got fed up with my constant question of “Ok, remind me who you are and where you fit in with the rest of the family”. Dinner was delicious and a traditional winter Louisiana meal of Gumbo, a sort of spicy seafood broth. They were a bit surprised when I helped with drying up the dishes “Men here never do that, it’s a woman’s job” to which Kyle called out “It’s the men’s job to watch the football”. As time went by it was noticeable that there was a split, the men sat outside around a fire listening to Cajun music and talking about hunting, football and drinking beer, all the manly stuff, and the women sat inside and talked about all sorts. It was much colder than of late and being as I can sit around in the cold almost any evening I want, I opted to stay inside where I was bombarded with questions and Brooke, the bossy one (actually not really bossy but the source of most of the questions) insisted that I take their family photo and that I put it on the blog (photo), so there you go Brooke, job done, sorry it is not a very good quality photograph! Martha has 5 siblings, all married with kids, so there must have been about 30 people there over the course of the day, but they were all wonderful, especially her parents who tried to ensure that I ate and drank as mush as possible and that I made myself at home. And I certainly felt very at home, I had met 5 people yesterday and the rest today, yet I felt very comfortable with them all, lovely people, a wonderful family. Most lived in the village, some a few miles away and the furthest just across the border into Texas. We left around 22:30, I couldn’t quite work out where the day had gone, but a wonderful Christmas Day that I shall never forget, I am sure I will remember it at every Christmas in the future.

I took up their offer and stayed for Boxing Day, not that they have Boxing Day here. Mickey took me out to their second home, which they call the camp. They acquired it as a rough piece of land 8 years ago and it is now a beautifully landscaped, located by a large river, complete with hook ups so that other people can bring their camper vans down and join them. Mickey and Martha had done all the work themselves, Mickey being a very talented builder/electrician/etc. I was really impressed with it and Mickey said he loved it most when other people could use it and enjoy it. We then went back and switched from the truck into the little 4x4 buggy and he took me through rough tracks and water which I thought we would never get through, to show me the hunting hides he had built around the fields, there is no stopping this guy he is a workaholic! Then it was into the BMW and back into Lake Charles where the 6 of us that had been together when I arrived went to a seafood restaurant and they bought me a meal of Crawfish, a local seafood and rather like a small freshwater lobster, though judging by the amount we got through on our table they must almost be extinct! This is now Cajun country where some people still speak French as the area was originally settled by French speakers from Canada. As we drove around I listened to the lively Cajun music that heavily features the accordion and the fiddle. A tour of the town brought us to their church which holds 2000 people, then back home before visiting Ronnie, Mickey’s brother whose garage was more like a museum with antiques on the wall and beautifully restored old cars on the floor. In the fields we pass birds that I thought were flamingos, but they turned out to be spoonbills. Spoonbills are normally white, but these had bright pink wings caused by the crawfish that they eat, I just hope I don’t turn pink, it really isn’t a colour that suites me! We then headed out for another meal with Martha’s parents. What fabulous people I had been lucky enough to stumble upon and who had opened their hearts to me at Christmas time. They are relatively wealthy but have chosen not to move to a larger house, but they do give large sums of money to those around them that are less fortunate than themselves, they are wonderful, kind and generous people who I shall never forget.

Even as I was about to leave the following morning Mickey and Martha’s generosity was shining through as Martha asked “Are you sure you don’t need dome money”. I gave my standard reply of “Thanks, but it is me that has chosen to put myself in this position” to which she replied “Yes, but it also nice to be blessed at times”, a good point, but I had been blessed over the last two days with their generosity, company and conversation, and money just can’t buy that. I set off on a nice sunny morning, the fields looked wonderful. People’s gardens had what looked like mole hills, but they were mounds created by the crawfish and flooded fields I passed had the nets in them to trap them all. I also passed swamp land and rivers. This is prime alligator territory, but I didn’t see any, it is a bit cold for them and they tend to bury themselves, the only one I saw was road kill. The going was very flat so a steady speed, though after Lake Arthur I had a nice tailwind and the riding was very easy going, through rice fields and later fields of sugar cane. I made good progress and it seems I have misjudged the distance to New Orleans and I would now guess it will be just 3 days riding and not the 4 or 5 that I had anticipated. Louisiana is known as “Sportsman’s Paradise”, but the sport is the wildlife. Being a Sunday I saw no end of people men in camouflage heading off for a bit of hunting. I’ll tell you what, if I was a duck this is the last place I would come for a holiday!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Day 949 - Silsbee

Merry Christmas y’all.

For those that don’t know or realise, Santa is sat on the shape of Texas, in the style of the Texan Flag. It is known as the lone star state, people have flags and lone star things everywhere.

Being pretty much bike less in Austin was tricky, though Mary was ever willing to run me around, show me the sights and the places to eat. In the car she carried around a few packages for Christmas gifts for the homeless, of which there are plenty here. As we stopped at some traffic lights she gave a package to a man, it was a lovely gesture of her part, but I was really taken with the man’s reaction, he was truly thankful and gave a wonderful smile, I found it uplifting.

The wheel rim arrived on Friday as I had hoped, I took the wheel in and within a couple of hours they called me back to say it was ready for collection, a good service indeed and they even gave me some discount on a chain I bought at the same time. Whilst we were there a Brompton salesman arrived with a couple of folding bikes. Folding bikes are a rare thing in the US so everybody was fascinated by them, especially the speed and the size the folded down to. Back at the house I adjusted the brakes to cater for a slightly wider rim and replaced the chain, then took the bike out for a test ride in the dark, then made a mistake I haven’t made in a long time and rode on the wrong side of the road. Even when a car was coming straight at me my first thought was “What is this idiot doing?”…whoopsie!

So Saturday morning I was ready to go. I set off with a new map case and had thrown the old one away, everything looked so clear for a change. I was also wearing a new pair of sock, well, technically not new, second hand, but they were going free, so I now have to decide what to do with all that money I have saved through stealing loo rolls, I think I have saved as much as 50 cents now. I dropped down the steep hill and braked hard to stop at a junction. Whilst I had been in Austin I felt I could still have used the bike, but having made this stop I was glad I didn’t, I think the pressure on the rim would have completely shattered it. First stop was the library, so I finally set off about midday. I didn’t get very far, I was too tempted by a café I passed. Whilst I was there a guy was checking out my bike, then he came in and had a chat. He was Jacob, about 21 and a cycle tourist himself. Outside I saw his new looking Surly with its Brookes saddle, a nice set up. He was bubbling with enthusiasm, and when I told him I was heading for New Orleans he told me he had just cycled back from there “I would really love to join you, I could do, I don’t have a job at the moment….it’s so tempting…nah, I had better not, I only have $70 and I would slow you down anyway”. I was tempted to persuade him, I think he would have been fun and good company. He had to go, I was sorry when he left, though he gave me a contact for New Orleans, more cyclists. It was about 14:30 before I eventually made my way out of Austin, I wasn’t going to get very far. I quickly covered about 60km, it was easy going. I stocked up with food in Bastrop, then passed a large wood with a path leading into it, I jumped at the opportunity, even if it was a little close to the road, but I was nice and secluded.

The following morning as I rejoined the road I suddenly realised I didn’t have a compass. Sod it, I had thrown it away with the old map case, still, I hardly ever use it, who needs a compass anyway? The road was easy going again, just what I needed, I was going well. I carried on along the 71, then saw a sign saying “Smithsville, next 3 exits”….Smithsville, I shouldn’t be anywhere near Smithsville…shit! I checked the map and where there were two sections of road with no numbers marked, I had taken the wrong one assuming I needed to remain on the 71. A basic mistake, but I am sure if I had had my compass I would have seen I was heading in the wrong direction. I think my loo roll money will have to go towards a new compass, I would have preferred it to have gone on socks, they are cheaper. I stopped at a gas station and checked their road atlas whilst I had a break. I was glad I did, I don’t have a map of Louisiana and where I was going to enter from Texas would have meant a much longer and less interesting route, so I have replanned the route almost entirely. Whilst I looked at the map I had a piece of carrot cake, but this is Texas, it was a big piece. I struggled back to the table with it, carrying it in a wheelbarrow and by the time I had finished it I felt sick, but that may have been caused by the two pints of white chocolate caramel cappuccino I washed it down with……hey, I do have healthy diet ok! That cake had carrots in it! By 14:30 I was at last back on the route I had meant to be on this morning. In Brenham I asked which way the 150 left town, nobody knew and I couldn’t remember the name of the next town I was heading for, the map was outside. I am so missing my compass, I think I must have checked the direction far more than I realised. The camping situation wasn’t good. Having asked somebody where I could camp I was directed to the picnic area a little further along the road “Isn’t it right next to the road?” I asked, “No, it’s set back from the road”. Well it’s all a matter of opinion, to me it was right next to the road, “set back” in this case was about 40m! Beggars can’t be choosers, I set up the tent.

The road continued to roll to Navasota, it was more hilly than Texas Hill Country. At Richards I stopped in a very quaint and cheap little café that soon started to fill up. A guy sat on the next table and asked “Are you on the Southern Tier?” It’s a mapped cycled route across the southern states and clearly my route was crossing it. He was a cyclist from Navasota and said “You will probably reach New Orleans in a couple of days. I thought it was still another 500 miles so I guess he must be a faster rider than me. Two days later I was still in Texas! The back road out was pretty, I was heading for Sam Houston National Forest, it was lovely and had little traffic. I passed wonderful lakes that would have been perfect for camping but I am never in the right place at the right time. I reached New Waverly, I assumed I was still on the Southern Tier as I was asked “Are you coming or going?”. I left town heading for some more of the forest, but it never seemed to arrive. I was passing ramshackle dwellings, mostly mobile homes, but all with piles of junk outside complete with the obligatory wrecked and rusting large old Americans cars scattering the land. It is a very different America to what I have seen so far, I guess I am entering the Deep South. There are far more black people here, some would call out “Merry Christmas Sir” and wave, all very friendly. Most of the properties have dogs, they run along the inside of the boundary fences to see me off, though some get out and chase me, though they don’t seem to be aggressive. I tend to wind them up so that they keep running flat out, how immature!

I left Austin with a very sore throat, now it was turning into a full blown heavy cold, I really didn’t feel like going far, but I had to push on. I started with a head wind, progress was painfully slow, just what I needed! On reflection a head wind wasn’t a bad thing, my nose was streaming, I was constantly clearing out snot as I went along, the headwind made sure it was carried well clear of the rear panniers, the last thing I wanted was to have the panniers caked in a couple of pounds of dried snot. On a day like today McDonalds was a God send, I went in and didn’t want to leave, at least I could use a load of their napkins as handkerchiefs. But leave I had to. The wind dropped and the rain arrived, for the next 20 miles it rained hard, I got a thorough soaking for the first time since Korea, but this time I was wearing shoes and socks and me feet squelched. I stopped at a gas station and rung out my new socks, it’s seems they are not going to be lucky socks! “Hey, I love you accent, where are you from?” I was asked. The rain had stopped when I arrived, it started again when I left, it was going to be one of those days. The ground is generally pretty swampy now, clearly it rains a lot in these parts. I rode past Big Thicket National Reserve where the bush was both thick and swampy. I struggled to find a place to camp and eventually turned through a gate that said “No Trespassing”. I carried on a little way until I arrived at some hunting hides. I camped in full view of them. In the unlikely event that somebody should turn up and use them I didn’t want to be concealed and mistaken for a bit of wildlife, though as yet I haven’t seen any deer coming out of tents wearing faded red T-shirts! On the subject of wildlife the most common road kill on the hit list (excuse the pun) seems to be Armadillo, I bet that makes a funny scrunch, followed by raccoons, though as yet I haven’t seen either of them alive, shame.

It was a warm wet night, I hardly needed a sleeping bag. By morning the ground was waterlogged. Warm and wet signalled the return of my old buddies, the mosquitos…happy days. I set off feeling worse than the previous day with the intention of not pushing too hard, but concentrating on staying as warm and as dry as possible.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Day 943 - Austin

I didn’t have to be in Austin until Monday, it was only 82 miles along the direct route, so I asked Andreas if I could stay another day with them in San Antonio. He said that was no problem and even took me out to lunch. It was another sociable and late night. I am an old fart! It was catching up with me so I returned with Andreas leaving the party animals to return in the wee small hours.

Even as I was departing the following morning Jana and Andreas were still trying to sort me out a place to stay for the evening, bless them. They have been a wonderful family to stay with, talented musicians and very sociable hosts, I have enjoyed myself here immensely. Niko and Rachael will soon be off to Nashville as they have been asked to go there for a few days to do some recording so that there work can be promoted, I wish them all the very best with that. Whilst I stayed with them I saw a sign saying “The family that plays together, stays together” and it certainly seemed to be very true in their case. The route out of town was dead easy, up to the end of the road, left onto Blanco, then just keep going straight. For a Sunday it was really busy, I decided to change my route as I went along, though I never really escaped the traffic, I just probably found more of it. I got there slowly, heading out of town towards Texas Hill County. Yeah, I guess it was hilly, but it was rather like typical British hills, up and down but nothing very high. Despite getting onto the smaller roads that lacked even the smallest of signposts there was still an alarming amount of traffic. The days of deserted roads seem to be over with now. There were houses dotted around the landscape, there was nothing that wasn’t owned and lived on, it didn’t look good for camping, but that is the way it will be from now on, only worse the further north I go. As dusk approached I decided I would have to ask to camp on somebody’s land, there was little option. Most of the gates were large and firmly locked, rather unwelcoming, unexpected guests are not the norm around here it would seem. I looked for a gate that was open, went down the long gravel drive and found nobody at home, probably the reason why the gate was open. A little further on I found some open land with trees set back from the road, so headed across, somewhat wet under foot, but beggars can’t be choosers. I set up my new tent for the first time, a Hilleberg tent, the Rolls Royce of tents. I was surprised to find it a reasonable bit bigger than my old tent, it felt like luxury. Down stairs there is a kitchen, lounge and dining room, upstairs there are three bedrooms. Outside there is a garage and car port, plenty of space for the bike and a large garden, though that tends to vary in size depending on where I camp. The only problem is that it has a outside restroom (loo to you folk at home). Once set up I took out the new sleeping bag, a wonderful down filled thing that should keep me warm at -8c, and down to about -15c if I added the nice snug liner I have to go with it. But what did I need all that for? It was a lovely warm night that didn’t drop below 15c. I was so pissed off, it was so hot that I couldn’t even sleep in the sleeping bag….what a waste of money!

It did rain a little over night, so that was a relief! I went of 3 months packing the tent away bone dry every morning, but a few nights ago I packed it away wet for the first time and have packed it away wet every morning since, the days of a dry tent are over too. I soon passed through the lovely little town of Wimberley, the roads were like roads at home, no shoulder, so traffic was passing close. I reached the 290 that would take me east to Austin, the state capital of Texas. It had a shoulder of sorts, but there were also plenty of road works to make additional hazards. Yesterday had been wall to wall sunshine, but today was back to the normal gloom. As I used the brakes to slow down at some traffic lights I heard a rather menacing clicking noise from the back wheel, one that I had experience about 5 years ago on another bike. I was pretty sure what it was so chose to ignore it in the hope that it would lose interest and was just attention seeking. As I used the brakes at the next set of lights it sounded worse. I got of to have a look at the problem, it had succeeded in grabbing my attention. There was a nice split about 2 inches long in the rim, I cursed the roads of San Antonio that had caused it. They were terrible roads, I was bounced all over the place as I rode along, it had clearly caused the split in the rim, it had nothing to so with the fact that I had ridden over 35,000 miles on that rim with 50 pounds of crap on the back, braking hard through the mountains, no, no, no, it had nothing to do with all that, it was certainly those roads in San Antonio, despite the fact that I was now over 60 miles from it. I only had about 20kms to go to get to Austin, but I was really concerned that the rim would fail completely. I did what I could to relieve the stress on it, I released most of the air out of the tube to reduce the pressure and I did my best to reduce the weight on the back. I thought I was rather clever on the latter, I managed to off load four $1 notes and swap them for a large coffee and a milkshake, that should reduce the weight and help no end. I made my way into Austin very gingerly, avoiding any bump that I could. I little stone pinged around the mudguard and hit me on the leg, it made me jump, for a second I thought the rim had shattered completely. But I made it and arrived safely at my next Couch Surfing host. It was early afternoon and Mary needed to get out of the house as her daughter had to give a piano lesson, so we zipped around town visiting all the bike shops. This is a cycling enthusiasts place, Lance Armstrong lives here and has an investment in Mellow Johnny’s, one of the bike shops we visited, but I couldn’t find a 36 hole rim anywhere in town, they are all a bunch of roadies, with nothing more that a 32 hole rim, most a lot less. I wanted to replace the rim with the same as I have, a Sun Rhino, but it seems they do not exist anymore, so a Sun Rhino Lite rim will be with me in 4 days time depending on the weather, that is a Friday so it’s pushing it a bit. It looks as though my stay in Austin is going to be much longer than expected. We also made a visit to the post office where I picked up my new bank card and even a Christmas Pressie. I called in to the first ATM we could find, it worked, I had made it with just $6 to spare, what a relief.

So it is at least another two days before I have a rebuilt back wheel with a shiny new rim, but I have been enjoying my stay in Austin. I took a walk around the city centre making my first stop the Capitol building. It was built in 1888 and stands 15 feet taller than the US Capitol building in Washing D.C., well this is Texas after all. I was surprised to find that I was able to wander in without even having my bags checked, probably due to the holidays. As I took a few snaps (photo) the guards only really seemed interested in where I was from and having a chat. I guess that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did. The American people are wonderful, always friendly and willing for a chat, so different from what I was expecting before I arrived here. I used to think they would all be loud and brash, they are not, I guess it is just the loud brash type that stand out and are noticed. I made my way south of the river to some wonderful quirky shops, best of all being a massive party costume shop and the nearby ‘Uncommon Things’, basically little antiques in a shop which felt more like a museum. I ate a burger at Fran’s, which reminds me, the further east I head the greater number of larger people I seem to see. There are all sorts of burger places here including a chain called Sonic, a drive in place where you park up with a menu beside the window, order your food which is then brought out to you and you sit in you car and eat. But Austin is mainly about the nightlife and the main reason I came here, though these late nights are tough! Music is the main entertainment, there are literally hundreds of places to see live music and Mary has so far taken me to see Toni Price and to Antone’s, the centre of Blues music in Austin where we saw Malford Milligan. What a guy he is, his band played a while before he came on, but his presence was more impressive than his singing, he loved the music and was a real joy to watch. He is an unusual guy too, he is black but an albino, a big guy and odd looking until you realise he is albino. Toni Price sang a wonderful song called ‘Richest One’, a song I heard for the first time a few days back sang by Jana Laven in San Antonio, then heard it again on a CD chosen sort of randomishly by Mary yesterday, spooky that, 3 times I have heard it in a single week, but I love it, it’s a great song. I am getting into the Christmas spirit too, I helped Mary put up her Christmas tree yesterday, but tonight we are heading out for some more music. I have also been shown some of the restaurants whilst I have been here and had a meal with Mary’s daughter Kelly and her partner Michael at a fabulous Mexican place, the Avocado Margarita going down particularly well. I had already met her other daughter Rebecca and her partner, Couch Surfing offers a great social life.

I had rather expected to be in New Orleans for Christmas which would have been a bit of a problem trying to find somewhere to stay, but with the delay here caused by my rear wheel it looks as though I shall be cycling and camping on Christmas Day, so that sort of solves the problem rather unexpectedly. This will be my third Christmas away, but the first time I will be cycling through Christmas, so it will be different that’s for sure.

Right now I am in the brand new ‘Laura Bush Library’, a name that hasn’t gone down too well with some of the locals, but I have to say the library facilities here is the USA are very good. Sometimes I am reminded rather harshly how long I have been travelling. I have just read a very sad email telling me that somebody I stayed with just over a year ago in Australia has died of Cancer. I feel very saddened, I was made so welcome there, I felt I may well meet them again some day, but it seems that is not to be the case. Life on the road is pretty good most of the time, but sometimes it can be shit!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Day 938 - San Antonio

I made my out of Del Rio, it was warming up nicely, nicely enough to eventually peel off down to shorts and t-shirt, that's more like it. I was heading away from the Mexican border but surprised to find that the Border Patrol were still out in considerable force. They were driving along the wide tacks at the side of the road towing tyres behind them to smooth the surface so that they could detect when the tracks had been crossed, so it was limiting the chances of an undisturbed night. A little further on I approached another border patrol station where the vehicles queued up waiting to be given the once over by sniffer dogs. My turn arrived, the dogs came nowhere near me, they could smell my sock from that far off, impressive. The guys checked my passport and visa, said "You're nuts" and let me carry on. I made another stop in Brackettville and talked to a couple from North Dakota. Now it gets mighty cold up there so they here for the winter, known locally as Winter Texans rather than the more commonly used term of Snow Birds.

The following day was forecast for another cold front, but whilst I packed up miserable, drizzly, yucky stuff was coming towards me from the direction I had to go in. By the time I was on the road it was drizzling and set in for the day. I called in to the impressively big library in the small town of Uvalde, so impressively big they were having financial trouble keeping it going. I went for a coffee in McDonalds, anything to try and stay dry as long as possible in the hope that it would pass. A young lad showed remarkable interest in where I was cycling, his father had trouble dragging him away. I left just after them, just in time to see them reverse into a car coming into the car park...ooops! If they hadn't talked to me for so long it wouldn't have happened. I carried on through Knippa and right before my eyes things were changing dramatically, brown was giving way to green, cactus to ploughed fields, shrubs to trees, dry to even wetter, quiet roads to busy roads. I was suddenly leaving the desert southwest and I didnít like what was happening. After so long it will probably take two or three days to adjust to what is around me, my first thought was that it was the end of easy to find camping spots. I refilled on coffee in Sabinal, there was still no let up in the weather, I was in for a damp night. It was time to start looking for a spot to camp, when suddenly in front of me was large open fields, I couldnít see any more trees at all through the murky gloom, things were not looking good. At the end of the trees on my left was a track, it really offered my only chance of somewhere to camp so I made my way along it. The trees came to an end and I was surprised to see a farm house there so I turned around. A vehicle was coming towards me so I flagged them down "Any chance of putting up my tent beside your track?" I asked the girl, Emily was her name, "I will have to ask my parents" she replied, so I followed her back to the house. Stephanie arrived ìWell you can camp if you like. We are building a house at the back which isnít finished but does have a bed and blankets, you could stay there if you likeî. Well on a gloomy evening it was music to my ears, I wasn't going to say no, that's for sure and with my answer of "Well if you are sure you don't mind" I was welcomed with open arms. Stephanie was delighted to hear I was English "Wow great" she said "Would you like a Gin and Tonic, nobody around here will drink G&T with me", but I wasn't sure if she was serious or not so being typically English I replied with "I would rather not, but I would love a cup of tea". We sat on the veranda chatting enthusiastically, the dogs were pretty enthusiastic too, "Are they friendly?" I asked "They are ok, but just let that one sniff you and she will be fine". It was the sort of dog that looked as though it was about to rip your arm off, but the pink t-shirt she was wearing did nothing for her macho image. "How many cats have you got?" there were a few coming and going "Oh, we have a bunch of cats" which I later discovered meant about 20 on this occasion. We went inside as it got dark, they were all so nice and friendly, I felt comfortable and at home straight away. Kenneth arrived home, the main farmer of the 3,000 acres they farm, looked at me a bit suspiciously and said "I don't do accents very well, I probably wont be able to understand you", but we quickly got on well. I eventually got around to one of my favourite subjects and asked "So do you have a gun in the house?" I asked "Oh yes, lots" but I had rather guessed that already judging by the large Elk head hanging on the wall acting as a hat stand, "They are all over the house, we need them here, different guns for different purposes, guns for shooting snakes that come too near the house, we shoot the wild boars that destroy the land, we also hunt the deer, though most of the time we don't shoot them, only when the numbers get too high". When I mentioned the Elk Stephanie said "Oh I had forgotten about that" to which Kenneth added "Great, does that mean we can have another one? I killed that one with a bow and arrow from 60 yards. We also keep guns handy as you never know who will turn up during the night being as we are so close to the Mexican border. The Mexican used to come passing by looking for work so we used to give them food and drink and then they used to move on, but things have all changed now since they have tightened up the border, people canít find the work so that it has all changed to drug smuggling, people are dying all the time because of the drug dealers. We thought you might be one, but you don't see many Mexicans here on bicycles." It was all an education for me. Whilst we talked Stephanie cooked a wonderful dinner, I could hardly believe my luck, I was warm, clean having had a shower, had a plate of food in front of me and good company all around me. I keep saying that I am being looked after and as yet I have seen nothing to make me think otherwise, I really consider that I am a very fortunate person. Every now and then I would stop talking, Kenneth would look at me and say "No, I didn't understand a word of that!" We covered all sort of subjects including difficult subjects to talk about. They had lost their son Kyle a couple of years ago in a motorcycle accident, the pain was clearly still there to see, but have since adopted a teenage boy and girl from a cousin that had also died. They have faced incredible challenges in their lives as well as running a 3,000 acre farm and bringing up a family and left me thinking what an easy life I have had. They were a delightful family, I could have hugged them all. I went to bed in the house at the back, it was cold but not as cold as the tent and once in bed I was soon snug and warm. There was a knock on the window. Kaleb had been to collect Julie from work at the Dairy Queen and had brought me back an ice-cream so we stood around and chatted longer as I got colder.

With no tent to pack away in the morning I was ready to leave earlier than usual, but I don't normally have anybody to talk to for two hours before I set off, the dreary day outside hardly making it any easier to set off. We could have talked a lot longer, but I had about 100km to go to San Antonio so I was eventually on the road at about 9:45. I neednít have worried about time, the road was flat, there was no real wind to slow me down so I made quick progress, it was effortless with an average speed way higher than normal. I guessed it would suddenly hit me and I would be back to normal
speed, but it never happened, I felt great and the kilometres ticked past at an alarming rate. I felt great, I had a whole bunch of energy, I was on top of the world. I kept trying to work out why I was going so well, there was no tailwind, it wasnít downhill, so the only reason I could come up with was that last night had really lifted my spirits, I just felt at one with the world, life felt good. I was going so well that I would arrive very early at my next Couch Surfing hosts, so I called in at a cafe and drank coffee, now thatís unusual isn't it. I sat there until I felt old. It wasnít that I was there for a long time, it is just that it was next to a school which had just finished for the day and the place was full of young teenagers doing a bunch of things that teenagers do. When I arrived at the house I was greeted by Andreas and we were soon discussing everything, politics was reached even sooner than normal. The rest of the family arrived, Niko then Rachael and finally Jana. You could say they enjoy music. They have more guitars than the average household, probably even the average street, may be more than an average neighbourhood, they have 45! There are about 17 in my room along with drums, keyboards and a bunch of other kit. They all play in a band, The Laven Family, but at Rachael and Niko grew up they decided it was a bit cheesy and they are now just The Lavens and have already recorded three CDs. They write and play their own music, Rachel has been writing songs since she was ten. How did somebody like me end up staying with a family of talented musicians? I guess that is the beauty of Couch Surfing, you get to choose interesting people. I have already decided to stay an extra night so that I can go and see them playing on Friday night. I was taken for a tour of the very exclusive neighbourhoods and to see the Christmas lights in the city centre, then on to see their friend Butch Morgan playing, another singer songwriter. It was fabulous stuff, all very Texan with great songs including one called "God drives pick-up truck".

The Lavens are another cat family, though there are only four in their bunch of cats. One, Monkey, slept on my bed most of the night, then returned in the morning, sat on my chest and pushed his face into my nose. It was all very friendly, a lovely cat, though I drew the line when he started dribbling snot over me. I am not that much of a cat lover. I went off to buy a tent. I had located a place in San Antonio that had four I wanted to check out. It was a great place, I set them all up, spent about 3-4 hours there, then came away empty handed. Clearly this trip has done nothing to enhance my decision making skills, I told them I need to scratch my head for a while and would come back in a couple of days. I looked at new sleeping bags too and was offered a good discount if I bought a tent and a sleeping bag. It made me realise just how thin my sleeping bag has become, more of a sleeping sheet. I have a feeling I will be too hot in a new one, even if it does go below freezing.

I have received an email from Emily whose family I stayed with on the farm, here is a little exert.. "I am so glad that you decided to turn down my parents' driveway yesterday.........It is so nice to be reminded that, as a whole, humanity is good and that strangers don't have to be as long as we are willing to open ourselves up to them. Thank you for showing up and reminding me of that". I can assure it the feeling was mutual and it is these unexpected meetings with people that make travel and life so good. They took me in, gave me a shower, fed me, offered to do my washing, I guess they could smell my socks too, entertained and educated me and what did I do in return? Nothing really, I just sat there and just had to be myself. I guess it is hardly surprising that I rode into San Antonio on a high.

I took the bus for the short trip to downtown San Antonio, I quiet little city centre with a little central tourist zone focusing unexpectedly on the scene of the Alamo. Davy Crockett, William Travis and James Bowie are the three main Texan heroes who lost their lives as the place came under siege from Mexican general Santa Anna and his 1500 strong army for 13 days in 1836. The church at the front of the complex (photo) is now a shrine to the fallen, through there remains are said to be in the cathedral nearby (photo). I visited the old and the new, the old in the form of the King William Historic district with his wonderful early 20th Century mansions (photo), and the new in the Rivercentre Mall complete with outside entertainment area by the river basin. There was also a fabulous riverside walk, a little below the main street level, a tranquil place with riverside cafes, all empty in the cold of winter. The evening for me was the real highlight of my stay here though. At the bottom of the garden the Lavens have their own little recording studio where they are currently working on their fourth CD and I was able to sit in and watch them work on one of the tracks. It was fascinating stuff, I heard the same track over and over again, written and lead vocals by Andreas, it quickly grew on me, I loved it. I now understand why they all wear headphones while they are recording as each instrument is recorded separately, without the headphones you only hear the one instrument, it sounds really strange. Later in the evening we went out to hear some Irish music, familiar sounds and familiar tastes as I listened and watched with a Guinness in my hand.

I spent the following days sorting out a few things, then once done watched a film that until the previous day I never even knew existed, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Jana arrived back from work and watched the last half an hour or so, I could hear her sobbing away, handy that, it helped me disguise my sniffles. Then it was straight out to The Cove where the Lavens were playing. Itís a large bar/restaurant that instantly reminded me of a scene from the Blues Brothers. Do you remember the scene where they stole somebody else's act at a Country and Western venue, then started playing their Blues music until the crowd were in uproar and threw bottles at them, well it was just like that but without the bottles being thrown. It wasn't the ideal way for me to listen to them as people kept coming up and talking to me, but it made for a wonderful social evening. There were lots of Couch Surfers there too as Jana had told the local surfers we would be there. I got talking to Kenny, a Native American though you would never really know he was. Whilst we were talking he told me his lucky number was 7. Occasionally whilst I have been in America people have offered me money, I always refuse, as I have said before it is my choice to be here in this manner, but on this occasion Kenny gave me $7, how could I refuse. I donít know what I will do with it, I will try a do something special with it. When I do I will let you know.

Today is another cold and wet day, the transition from permanently dry to permanently wet has been alarmingly quick. People keep telling me "This is unseasonably cold and wet for this time of year", but I don't see it changing for the better. Don't worry, I expect no sympathy from y'all at home, it is typical British winter's weather. So what do you do on a typically crappy winter's day in Britain? You stay at home of course, so that is what I am doing today, hanging out and giving it one more day and just hoping it will be better tomorrow.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Day 932 - Del Rio

Well, I have finally torn myself away fro Terlingua, but it was tough. People sometimes ask me what have been the highlights of this trip and my answer doesn’t really include places, but it does now. Terlingua Ghost Town and its close knit little community is a place I shall never forget, in fact it is a place I would recommend to other people to visit. It’s a remote place, very remote. I have passed remote places before where on the surface not much seems to have been happening and I could have cycled past here thinking just the same, just another remote place where I wonder how people could spend their lives there. I guess this is different because I have been fortunate enough to have spent a few days there and seen first hand for myself how a small remote community functions, and I will tell you what, the life style is so much better than in a big city. For a start there is space here, you only have to step outside the door to see beauty all around, it’s a place where people still love to just sit and watch the sunrise or the sunset and really appreciate what they have, appreciate each day. Life isn’t easy though, for most it is tough, but the people of Terlingua pull together for the benefit of all. It’s a quirky place full of characters, some very skilled, but if somebody has a problem they know who to call, they know who they can reply on. During my stay somebody accidentally burnt down their house, a slight miscalculation with a propane bottle and years of hard work and loving labour to build the place up was burned down in front of their eyes. News travels fast and that was big news, but everybody pooled in and made donations and helped the person pick up the pieces and restart their life. But living in a remote place where life is tough makes for tough individuals. There is no time to feel sorry for yourself and wait for the insurance man, you pick yourself up, move on and if needs be, start all over again, a lesson learned. The people here are all so wonderful. Yesterday I met Blair Pittman, a professional photographer who used to work for National Geographic, he has also written books too, an inspiration for the path that I dream of heading along. He gave me a signed copy of one of his books, ’Tales from the Terlingua Porch`, illustrated beautifully by Mark Kneesskern, another talented person who I had met a few days ago. Blair also had some great stories to tell and I loved the one about the dynamite throwing contest. The idea was to light the fuse and see how long you can hold on to it. Blair lit his, held it until the fuse was no more than an inch long then threw it as far as he could, it exploded in the rocks, one of the guys saying “That’s pathetic!”. The next guy let it burn to half an inch, then threw it, the thing exploding in mid air above their heads with such force that it knocked them all off their feet. As they picked themselves up the same guy commented “Now that WAS a good`un”. The Porch is where the locals, the characters hang out with a beer and discuss life. They don’t take life too seriously either, an insight to life here can be seen by clicking here, Dr Doug shows how ‘a little medicine and group therapy‘ can improve your life and make you happy. My wonderful host Cynta has been a shining example of how good people can be. She is handicapped through arthritis that restricts movement in her limbs and has caused her to give up the life she loved working as a guide on the rivers here and in Latin America, but does she feel sorry for herself? No, she doesn’t, she is full of life, oozes happiness and is always laughing and has worked her way back to being able to swim a mile a day. She is always on the go, normally out helping other people, running errands, nothing is too much trouble for her. Her doors are always open, literally. People walk in to check up on her, ask a favour or just for a chat. Cynta too used to have her party tricks and her speciality was ’inverted fireworks’. They would all gather around one of the disused mine shafts, then light the fireworks and drop them in and watch them go off as they dropped underground. She eventually had to stop as some of the locals considered it too dangerous. She finds time for everybody but insists it’s the only way, you only get out what you put in to a community she tells me. Helping each other becomes a daily routine. With grocery stores so far away you don’t head of until you also have orders from the people living around you. Wonderful people and a wonderful place, I am privileged to have stayed here for a few days. I was sorry to leave, but leave I had to. I left on my own, Robin my recent cycling partner had to be in Austin on a specific day, where as I dragged my stay out for another 24hrs, I don’t think I overstayed my welcome, at least I hope I didn‘t. One thing I know for sure is that it will make me look at these remote communities with a very different view, I will no longer think “How do you guys survive in such a small remote place? It must be so tough and boring?”, I guess my thought will now be more akin to “You lucky bastards!”. But are they really lucky? No, I don’t think they are, they have all just chosen to live a more simple life in a place they love, something most of us in the western world could probably do, though most of us choose not to. I left town with some quiet advice from the locals “Sssshh, don’t tell anybody”. They have nothing to worry about, I can keep a secret, it’s just those I tell that can’t! Before I left I had a confession to make to Cytna, I had stolen something! Yes, I am a thief. I didn’t steal it from her, more from the community. I used the public loos just outside the Starlight Theatre, named after the roof fell in and wasn’t replaced for a number of years. This was one of the few flush loos in the area and inside were a load of loo roll and I nicked a quarter of a roll. I think they would have been more upset if I had flushed the loo judging by the sign which read “Water is scarce, so if it yellow let it mellow, if it is brown flush it down”. I didn’t like stealing it, but sometimes you are left with little opportunity. Here is the USA every time I try to buy some I can’t find a pack with less than twelve in. I can’t cycle around with a dozen loos rolls strapped to the back of the bike, can you imagine what people passing me would be saying “Ha ha, look at him, he has got a bit of a problem. I will give him a wide berth just in case he farts!”

Wednesday morning dawned bright and clear, a perfect cycling day. Cynta kindly cooked me a wonderful Mexican breakfast to see me on my way. I gave her a big hug, what a wonderful person and what a wonderful place, it was hard to leave but a two night stop had already turned into five. To start with the road dropped down then climbed into Big Bend National Park and carried on climbing. It climbed gently for 400m, odd that, it seemed almost flat when we passed through in the car a few days back. I called in at the visitor centre then headed out north on the road to Marathon. I stopped to see the fossil bones that were signposted only to be a little dismayed to find they were all replicas behind a dirty glass screen. If all they are going to display is replicas they might as well have them in the visitor centre. The road climbed through a gap in the mountains and left the park, the roadside fences reappearing immediately. It made camping difficult but I eventually found a barbed wire gate that could be unclipped.

The cold front that was forecast to arrive on Thursday evening seemed to arrive 24 hours early. The previous days temperature had been between 14 and 20 degrees C, but today would see a top temperature of just 2 and being overcast there seemed a continuous threat of snow. After just a few kilometres I had a puncture on the front, about an hour after I had packed the puncture kit away deep in the tool kit, typical. A little further down the road I had to pass through a border checkpoint, nowhere near the border mind. When they realised I wasn’t a US citizen they set to and questioned me. They thumbed through my passport “What’s this” they asked “An Iranian visa”, “What was the purpose of the visit?”, “Tourism” I replied pronouncing it as carefully as possible to ensure it didn’t sound like terrorism. “And what’s this”, “A United Arab Emirates entry stamp”, “Purpose of visit?”, “Tourism”, “And this”, “Turkey”, “Purpose?”, “Tourism, they are all for tourism, I am cycling around the world”, “What do you do for a living”, “Er cycle!” would have been the honest answer, but I am always worried that it wont go down well, so I lied “I.T.” I said, I guess he must think I am cycling around the world during the weekends, “What’s this?”, “Er, dunno, Oman stamp I think, not sure”, “Purpose?” , “Tourism”. “Are you going to Mexico?”, “Nope” I replied, I was actually heading away from it, that was the whole point of the checkpoint being there. I don’t know what he would have done if I had said yes, I don’t think it an offence to go to Mexico. “Ok, I would love to look through your passport a little longer and give you some more hassle, there is stuff in there I have never seen before, even countries I have never heard of and have no clue where they are, but I am starting to get a bit cold, so I think I will go back into my little hut and sit in front of the fire. Here’s your passport, now clear off and don’t come back!”. Ok, so that last quote might not be exactly right, but in the words of Blair Pittman “If it ain’t true it ought’ a be”. I soon arrived at Marathon, had a snack outside whilst getting cold, then a coffee inside whilst warming up again, then headed east into the breeze on US90. It gently climbed again, it was slow going. At last the road headed gently downhill, but I wanted to loose as much height as possible and get as far as possible too in case the snow arrived during the night. Fences were again a problem when it came to finding a campsite. I eventually headed down a track that brought me to a railway line. It was probably the same line as the one we camped next to last week, at least this time I knew what to expect and didn’t have to camp quite so close to it.

Well if a cold front had arrived on Thursday, an even colder front arrived on Friday morning and by the time I stuck my head out of the tent the 50% chance of snow was already confirmed as 100%. For a while it snowed hard, a couple of inches worth was quickly dumped and I had to get out and clear the gathering snow off the roof of the tent, a lovely job to warm the hands up if ever there was one. Once it had eased I packed up, I could here the occasional vehicle on the road making reasonable progress, so it couldn’t be that bad. I cycled through the tyre tracks and made good progress, but the water splashing up was gather and freezing on all parts of the bike. The mudguards were choked with ice so that the tyres were rubbing against it, the chain rings and cassette were completely covered so that when I changed gear it just jumped until the ice was dislodged. The gear cable had icicles hanging from it stopping me from changing to a higher gear. I got fed up with stopping every couple of miles to free things, so I just left it in one gear and just let my legs spin faster as the road made its way gently downhill. It brought back memories of the days riding my fixed wheel bike. It wasn’t long before I reached Sanderson and called into the large gas station. It was warm in there, lovely. It was awfully tempting to just spend the rest of the day there as heading out from the warm just accentuated the cold. I had huge coffee, 24 oz, then refilled it until I could drink no more. There were a group of hunters there in their camouflage gear, they didn’t seem to want to head out in the cold either, so I wasn’t the only wimp in town. At about 13:30 I dragged myself out into the cold, I had to try and salvage something from the day. It must have been a tad warmer, the snow seemed to be melting, though not enough to make my gears work yet. I set off, still heading slightly downhill, the snow was soon left behind and it wasn’t long before everything was dry, no sign of snow here at all. I had the slightest of tail winds, I felt good and I was racing along. The landscape was pretty flat, I could generally see the road far ahead of me, but I liked the barren feel to the place. I passed through Dryden, not wanting to stop for anything, I was on a roll. I covered more than 50 miles in the afternoon without even stopping, I didn’t even want to stop for the night, but the sun was going down, it was time to call it a day. As dusk fell the clouds disappeared, the wind dropped completely, as did the temperature. By the time I was in the tent it was -3 C. But I had a home for the night and the stars were just incredible and to add to it all a huge moon came up, fantastic stuff. I cooked in the vestibule of the tent, there is something very special about a stove cooking the dinner on such a crisp winters night, I loved it despite knowing that I would be cold during the night.

As I cross the country I notice little changes in language. Here in the south “Y’all” is very noticeable: “Y’all have a good trip”. “Bunch” has been with me for a while, I love the way it is used to describe any quantity. For example, it is not expensive around here “it costs a whole bunch of money”, or perhaps you might do “a bunch of travelling”. Plain old English can be hard work, sometimes I have to repeat myself a couple of times so may be I should just learn their language.

It was a cold night too, -6C when I got up, but the sun soon rose and melted the ice and frost from the outside of the tent, but it meant it was packed away wet for the second night running. With the cold nights I slightly change some of my camping habits. If I am in the tent I usually have the sleeping bag at least covering part of my body, I keep the water bag in the tent and try to leave the water bottles empty as they just end up as blocks of ice and are totally useless. My socks rarely leave my feet. I don’t think they smell but you might get different answer from my couch surfing hosts. Actually, I am thinking of buy another pair of socks, whoa… two pairs, that’s posh isn’t it? I am saving up for them with the money I save by stealing loo rolls, so I should have them by the time I reach New York. My buff is normally a permanent fixture on my head too. I generally have a coffee and porridge in the morning, it slows things down a bit, but it does get the day off on the right note and a bit of extra water is boiled and put in a water bottle to act as a hand warmer. When I wake up I also stuff my cycling clothes into my sleeping bag so that they warm up too. The day started by heading into a gentle headwind, but it didn’t take long to reach Langtry where I took a slight diversion to see the Roy Bean Saloon and Courthouse (photo). I had no idea who he was but I wanted to find out. He arrived here around the late 1800s as the railroad was being built between San Francisco and New Orleans and he became the judge of the area. But he was no judge in my opinion, he was a thug, running the place by his own laws and holding court either in the saloon or on the porch. Fines were typically $30 and a round of drinks for everybody including his pet bear. He held court holding a pistol, he was that kind of judge. He also had a love for the English actress Lilley Langtry. I seem to remember a pub at home called the Lilley Langtry, I think it was in Oxford or am I confusing it with the Lemon Tree, perhaps it was in Norwich. Roy built an opera house and town hall in the hope of enticing her over here to perform, but it was no opera house, it was juts his house, probably paid for by the fines he imposed, but it did work, she did come over. The Texas state has invested plenty of money in the old rogue by building a large visitor centre that is larger than the exhibits. I looked around the rest of the village, a nice place even if it is somewhat falling down (photo). I called in at the post office and gift store across the road and talked an age to the woman working there, I was the only customer and not a very good one at that. She and her husband lived on a 150 acres ranch that supported just 50 goats as there was not enough food or water for anything else. She had 5 jobs including book keeping, working at the post office and also in the gift shop. We talked about all sorts and I was able to find out about all the local issues. She loved living here and in her time had lived in two towns but couldn’t cope with all the people, the largest town having a population of 4,000. My reward for talking so long? A whole bunch of free coffee. Before I left she said “Take care on the roads ahead, they start to get a bit twisty“. It was again early afternoon before I really settled into the days cycling, only today was straight into a headwind that made it feel much colder than it actually was. The road rolled along and at the top of each hill was a cutting creating a huge scar through an otherwise attractive landscape. Twisty? Well there were some bends but it still had a wide shoulder for cycling on, hardly a problem. I crossed a deep canyon with a river in the bottom though couldn’t stop for a proper look as the road was down to one lane.

I reached Del Rio early Sunday morning, the place was big, population 33,000 and it came as a bit of a shock having been through tiny town for the last 10 days or so. From Del Rio it is only about 150 miles to San Antonio, so I should be there in a couple of days, though rain is forecast for tomorrow. My days in the desert are almost over, soon I will be in a land with lots of roads, towns, villages and people, the barren landscape will be behind me and I guess the dry weather will be too. At least I will be heading away from the Mexican border which I seem to have been bouncing along for weeks now.

That’s about it for this update, so y’all take care now, I am off to do a whole bunch of cycling.