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.

5 comments:

JCH said...

My favorite line in this post: "I am saving up for them [socks] with the money I save by stealing loo rolls, so I should have them by the time I reach New York." You are so funny! Stay warm and keep rolling along ...

aoiffe said...

Just please have the new socks when you couch surf with me...

As I recall the Lillie Langtry pub was on the Unthank Road in Norwich.

dad said...

Judge Roy Bean featured in a western film some years ago, Walter Brennan took the part of the judge and was very good.

daniel said...

I have always been curious about functionality in websites and, well, the world in general. I read this article with great interest. It does seem to me that the reason we comment is to speak our minds so why not have the comment field first? However, as others have pointed out, one gets used to the conventions regardless of reason.

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