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.