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!


John Harwood said...

I have just copied the following comment in from the previous post as it was entered just as I published the next post and you might miss it. It's rather nice.

Hi John,
Just reading back on your travels. Andreas and I will keep up with you on your future endeavors.
I need to send you phone numbers for John McGarvey in NYC and Steve Bratland in Mt. Rainier near DC. I will do this through CS.
Niko will be in Nashville AFTER the New Year as Steve Durr got too busy to record this weekend. Rachel will have to record here and send it in over the internet--amazing thing digital recording.
I always get a little sad watching visitors leave but you left so slow.
Andreas and I stood and watched you make your way up to Blanco with a bit of a tear. Hope we can see you again if we get a tour in Europe. Safe travels and happy times to you.

jac said...

What a lovely post. You really are meeting incredible people.
Your new tent sounds ace. Tell me though, does the garden get bigger or smaller when it's time to mow the lawn? ;-)
sorry to hear about your friend from Australia. Sad news.
Good luck with the new wheel.

caff said...

Remember the book and film "The 5 People You Meet in Heaven"? I think it might be 5,555+ people for you kiddo. I think you may be in for a busy and wonderful time
:-) xx

pip said...

Hi John

You're really living the dream.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you

Phil Magnus

The Sloths said...

Just caught up with your blog again John!! it's great to be reading it again but it's your photos that I really love. They are just beautiful. You have a real talent.
As for us, we left China and went to Hong Kong for 2 weeks, Couch Surfing and free camping, there are nice mountains and beaches there, it's not just big buildings. We also have a Hilleburg and love it!! Now we're in Bangkok for a few days then fly to Burma next week for Christmas.
Like you, we're not really sure what we'll be doing at Christmas, it's also our 3rd Christmas away...if you're cycling then have a good ride and eat lots!!
Merry Christmas from us!!!
The Sloths

Emily said...

I hope you enjoy yourself in my old neck-of-the-woods. I have such a soft spot for Austin. I am sorry to hear about your friend. That news is always difficult. I am getting ready for 2 weeks of vacation (I am literally counting down the minutes as I type this--130 to be exact).
Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

There's a movement to radically change California government, by getting rid of career politicians and chopping their salaries in half. A group known as Citizens for California Reform wants to make the California legislature a part time time job, just like it was until 1966.