Monthly Archives: March 2009

Brackettville, TX to Camp Wood, TX – 49 miles; 1462 total miles

Another rolling rest day, to the extent that 50 miles into a headwind on chipseal can be considered a rolling rest day.  We were tired, but in good spirits.  We traveled roads today that often are flooded.

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We officially entered the “Texas Hill Country.”

p3310478It is spring here, and on today’s ride we saw baby foals, baby sheep, and baby alpacas.    Some of the riders had to rescue a sheep that was caught between a gate and the fence, much to the distress of her baby.  We also saw two (dead) armadillos, and a couple of dead buzzards.

The road was mostly gentle rollers.

p3310480The ecosystem has changed completely.

p3310483The best part of the ride was the opportunity to rest at the Nueces River.

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p3310487We are staying tonight in Camp Wood, at the Woodbine Inn.

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Peggy and I found the cafe, but it wasn’t open on Tuesday.  Besides, I don’t think they mean our kind of bikers.

p3310492Camp Wood is the kind of place that you can store your deer and get your portrait painted in one stop!

p3310493There is a library, but it closed at 2:00 today, while we were at Sister’s restaurant having post-ride lunch.

p3310494Later, when I was coming out of the post office, I ran into one of the sisters from the restaurant.  I love small towns.  I’d been here for 2 hours and I already knew people.

Michelle cooked salmon tonight by heating coals in the small grill, and then packing them around foil wrapped salmon filets.  It was delicious!

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At the map meeting for tomorrow’s ride tonight, she passed out a cue sheet that had “tough climb” written on it.  This is the first time that any of our climbs have been described as “tough.”  We are in “hill country.”  To be continued.

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Del Rio, TX to Brackettville, TX – 42 miles; 1,413 total miles

Today was uneventful, as the day after a perfect storm should be. We had short mileage and no really challenging climbing. Everyone was tired and sore.

We began with a quick ten miles into the town of Del Rio, where Peggy and I stopped at a Walmart(!) for refills on toiletries. The waitress that we met in Sanderson told us that the Walmart in Del Rio is where she shops for groceries—almost 250 miles roundtrip.

There is not much here.

Virgil’s is a typical establishment.

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Some horses came to the fence to see us as we were riding by.

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We rode by the Langley Air Force Base, which stretched on for miles.

We were lucky enough to cross Morass Creek, so we are all set.

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It got very hot over the course of the day (we have arrived in the humidity zone) and so we were happy to see the turn into our stopping place for today.

p3300469We are staying at Fort Clark Springs, the last operating mounted cavalry  base in the United States, and the former home of the Buffalo Soldiers.

p3310476The base has been converted into a recreational center complete with a hotel made from old barracks. The rooms are actually quite nice, but somewhat lacking in amenities.

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If your pets are intent on littering, you must avoid certain areas.

p3300470There are trees here that probably sheltered the Buffalo Soldiers.

p3300471 I was really tired (and hungry!) today.  Lois and I did the stretching sequence and I almost fell asleep.  Jan B. came up to my room to help me patch the tubes from my two flats, and we had an impromptu clinic.  Linda made a fabulous dinner again tonight.  My roommate, Donna, won the rotating award at dinner tonight.  The previous recipient, Lois, nominated Donna for being “a Persistent, Inspirational Gal, who is Long-Suffering (she has had Lupus since the early 80’s) Energetic and Triumphant.”  Tonight will be an early night.

Sanderson, TX to Del Rio, TX – 111 miles; 1,371 total miles

Today was, without question, the hardest bike ride I have ever taken in my life. That says a lot, since I have recently completed some very challenging bike rides.

Apart from equipment failures, there are four factors that determine the relative difficulty of a bike ride—length, terrain, road surface, and weather. Today they all came together in a perfect storm.

The ride was 111 miles. The terrain was very challenging. (One hundred of the miles were quite hilly, and we climbed more than 3,500 feet.)

Here is an example of one of the approximately 30 hills we climbed.

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We climbed at least 30 of these.  Amazingly, we are not in the “Texas Hill Country” yet.

The road surface was almost exclusively chipseal, not easy to ride on in the best of conditions. But the thing that really made this ride difficult was the WIND. It was a combination of headwinds (20-30mph) with gusting head and cross winds (up t0 45 mph.). There were almost no breaks in the wind, and never did we have the slightest tailwind.

The morning was quite cold, but because the day was so long we huddled around the trailer to have breakfast in the dark. We left the minute it was light enough, and despite the cold and hills, I had a great ride for the first 20 miles. (One hour and 15 minutes.) The wind began to pick up right before the SAG stop, but it had warmed up, and we shed layers.

The next 20 miles were really hard. A headwind is equivalent to a grade change. Not only were we climbing, but even on the downhills you had to pedal hard to get any forward momentum. Sometimes I had to pedal hard just to keep from falling over.  Peggy and I usually split up on hills, and so I rode by myself most of the day. There was a lot of time to ponder chipseal. You really couldn’t do anything but hunker down and try to keep the bike upright.

Chipseal is made by pressing stones into tar. As vehicles travel the road, the surface becomes smoother. Unfortunately, those vehicles don’t typically travel in the shoulder, so the shoulder is much rougher than the road.

I have to say that Texas roads have nice wide shoulders, and in general much less litter than Arizona and New Mexico. But there is occasional glass. One of the component stones of chipseal is mica, which glints quite a lot like glass. Mary Jo, who is from South Dakota and who is a die-hard optimist, says that the mica is “twinkling stars lighting your way.” But, of course, it might be glass. So I found myself threading my way up hills trying to avoid the mica/glass, and trying to make forward progress against the wind.

I thought the scenery was beautiful, but it was hard to even lift your head up to look.

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Lots of folks gave up at the 40 mile mark. It was, frankly, not much fun. But I kept going. I am not sure why. It was really hard to just stay on the road. I decided that I’d break the ride into 20 mile increments, and make a decision about whether to stop or keep going each time.

At 60 miles we had our lunch stop.

Note the fully extended Texas flag.

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I spent a half hour eating, stretching, and getting my gear organized, and by the end I was refreshed.  I decided to ride at least to the next SAG stop, at 80 miles. The wind had gotten so strong my speed kept dropping until I was barely averaging 9 mph. I needed to hit 10mph to be able to complete the whole ride before dark. I never could do it.

I did my best to hydrate and occasionally stretch, but it took so much energy just to keep going. Twice I was literally knocked off of my bike. Once towards the shoulder, once towards the road.

I took this picture one of the times that I got knocked off.

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At 70 miles the van passed me with lots of bikes on the roof. I gave the thumbs up sign, since I had decided to ride to 80 miles. We crossed the Pecos River at 78 miles.

p3290459The bridge was being repaired, and traffic was down to one shared lane.  There was a light.  I lined up behind two trucks, and when the light turned green, we went across.  The trucks went a lot faster than I did, and I worried that they’d exit the bridge, trip the light, and the trucks waiting on the other side would begin to cross.  I was very slow.  The wind was even harder coming over the bridge.  Luckily, I had a generous soul behind me.  A truck pulled in behind me and never tried to pass.  He kept the line of vehicles behind him, and let me get safely across before traffic started coming the other way.

After climbing a really steep hill just after the bridge, I decided that I had had enough, and started looking for the SAG, which had arranged to be at the 80 mile mark. It turned out that Ann didn’t realize that I was still riding, and so she moved up from the 80 mile mark to take care of a small group or riders that were about 4-5 miles ahead of me. I never would have caught up with them, or her, since I was riding about 7 mph at that point. At 86.81 miles, Michelle came with the van, and I gratefully accepted a ride the rest of the way.

Our hotel was the best in the area.

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It had the first outdoor laundromat I’ve ever seen.

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Eventually, 6 people actually finished the distance. We all cheered as they came in. They had been riding for 12 hours. Marci was crusted in salt from her own sweat. Jan cried, and immediately decided not to ride the next day.  Sherry’s c0mment was “I don’t know why I did that.”   The rest were pretty shell-shocked. I’m sorry that I couldn’t finish, but I do not regret sagging when I did. I “left nothing on the court.”

Marathon, TX to Sanderson, TX – 54 miles; 1,260 total miles

Sanderson is West Texas as I had imagined it.

p3280450Coming out of Marathon, we rode today for 46 miles without any sign of human habitation.  (When we came close to Sanderson, the first man-made structures we saw were an abandoned Japanese Internment Camp and the ubiquitous Border Patrol offices. )  The only signs of life we saw were several herds of grazing cows.  The scenery continues to be stunning, with mountains studded with volcanic outcroppings.

p3280449We are still in the desert, and are surrounded by Yucca and Prickly Pear Cactus.  Despite the drout, the wild flowers are beginning to peek out.

But all in all, it felt like Peggy and I were just having coffee together and chatting; only we happened to be on bikes moving at 18-19 mph.  When we had wind today, it was almost always a tailwind.

It was hard to leave the Gage Hotel in Marathon, which is right up there with the most interesting places that we have stayed.    We had a late, leisurely breakfast, and didn’t get on the road until after nine.  It was cold this morning, but not nearly as cold as yesterday. It was 55 degrees before we had gone 20 miles, and we began shedding layers as soon as we came to the first SAG.  Ann found a great spot.

p3280448We were making such good time that we got ahead of the SAG, and came into Sanderson a little after one.  The hotel is not really busy, and the rooms were ready!  We had packed peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and ate them in the sunny courtyard of the hotel.

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We had been warned that the hotel,  the Outback Oasis, was another “unrated by AAA” hotel.

p3280454There just aren’t that many options here.   The couple that operate the hotel keep snakes.  We are hoping that they keep them secured.   They have also built a fish pond that reminds me of the one at my Grandmother’s house.

p3280452(That’s he Oasis part.)

The rooms are simple, but clean.  Best of all, since last year a laundromat has opened in the back of the cafe in town.  Peggy and I are sitting in the cafe drinking iced tea right now while our clothes are in the wash.  The cafe has wifi.  Life is good.

Fort Davis, TX to Marathon, TX – 60 miles; 1,206 total miles

Today I used all of the cold-weather gear that I brought, and I was very glad to have it.  It was in the 30’s when we left the Lodge this morning at 8:00 am, and it didn’t warm up all that much over the course of the ride.

I wore bike knickers and knee warmers, a short-sleeved jersey, a heavy long sleeve jersey, and my Gore Bike Wear Windstopper Jacket.  On my feet I had regular socks and my Gore Alaska Socks.  I replaced my regular riding gloves with my Sugoi Extreme gloves.

We were sorry to leave the Lodge, and they were sorry to see us go.

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The first part of the ride was a four mile downhill into town which would have been excellent except for the windchill.  We were sorely tempted to stop in at the Rattlesnake Showhouse, but it wasn’t open yet.

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It was a beautiful ride–some ups and downs, but very easy for us to do at this point.  It is mostly grazing land, and we passed a herd of Pronghorn antelope and some elk.

After awhile I wondered why my right hip was especially cold.  I reached down to touch it and noticed that it was crusty-with ice.  That was when I realized the that bite valve of my Camelback had fallen off somewhere, and all of the water had discharged onto my hip.  So I was without water, and without a bite valve.  Fortunately,  it was too cold to be thirsty, and we were close to the first SAG stop.  At the stop I filled my water bottle, and tucked the Camelback tube up under my chest strap to keep it from leaking any further.

From the SAG we climbed some more into the little town of Alpine, Texas.

p3270425We found a great little cafe, and stopped in for some hot chocolate.  Once we got off our bikes we realized we were ravenous, so we ordered a second breakfast.

p3270423Acting on a tip from the owner of the town’s bike shop,  I took a detour to True Value Hardware, where I was able to purchase a new bite valve.

It was looking good with only 31 miles to go.  For about 20 of those miles we rode very well, and just flew.  Then we hit some killer cross winds.  I have decided that I will never say anything bad about headwinds again.  At least with headwinds, you know what you are getting.  They  slow you down and you have to gear down.  But unlike crosswinds, they don’t try to take you out.  I rode for almost 10 miles with every muscle in my shoulders, arms, and hands clenched.  At one point I realized that I was thirsty, but I could not take even one hand off of my handlebars to grab the tube to my Camelback so that I could drink.

It was with great enthusiasm that we came to the Gage Hotel.  It is a really neat place.

p3270436It is a little like staying in a really fancy monastery.

p32704291Don’t be fooled by the sunshine and abundant flowers–we are supposed to have a hard freeze tonight.

p3270430But until then, my roommate Robin and I are looking forward to Linda’s sure-to-be-excellent dinner, and to spending time in our cozy room.  We have a real cowhide rug, a saddle, and a ceiling like the one at the Soccoro mission.

Layover in Fort Davis

The main office of the lodge has a sign advertising free coffee between 5 and 7 am. I had imagined that I’d hike up there first thing this morning, but when I looked at the clock for the first time it was 7:05. A new record. I got up and dressed quietly, and then walked up to the lodge to work on my blog. (Although there is no wi-fi in the rooms, if you sit in the right place you can get a single bar from the office.)

I had arranged to take the 9:00 shuttle into the town of Fort Davis, First stop was the post office, where I mailed some havelinas to my grandchildren (Sherry spotted a real javelina rooting around in the trash last night, but I didn’t get there in time to see it.

Then into Fort Davis. It was still early, and lots of places were not open yet. I had coffee at a little bakery, and we stopped to watch a craftsman making handmade brooms. We visited a couple of gift shops. There were some great southwestern gifts, and I would have been sorely tempted except for the constraint of having to carry things around in my luggage.

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Harvard University has some connection with this town, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about it.

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This is the town hall.

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I visited the library, which is being repainted.

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What do we do on our day off?

Lois cleaned out the trailer.

p3260400Several people did bike maintenance.

p3260401No one went to the pool, because it was too cold.

p3260402Ann read her bird book in the sun.

p3260403Then 8 of us piled into the van and we rode back up to the McDonald observatory.  The observatory is operated by the University of Texas.  We had an excellent presentation from one of the Astronomer. educators

p3260410p3260406The telescope was amazing.

p3260415The views from the observatory were extraordinary.

p3260407When you are on a bike,  it is sometimes hard to get a perspective on the terrain.  From up here we were pretty amazed that we had actually gotten up here on our own power.

Mary Jo took my picture in front of the elevation marker.

p3260414We ate dinner in the Lodge, and had a reunion with two groups of travelers that we have been running into on the road from city to city.  Here is the couple who are traveling in the Mercedes Roadtrek van (they sag on alternate days) and their riding buddy.

p3260416And here I am with Scott, who we all adopted right out of San Diego.  He is younger than Matthew, and will be entering the Peace Corps in September.  He set out to do a solo ride on the Southern Tier route, but was having trouble convinging his parents that it was a good idea–until his mom went online and found Womantours and our ride.  She decided that it was OK for him to go, since he’d be in contact with 21 surrogate mothers all of the way!

p3260417Scott is self-supported, and is camping.  He has now joined forces with 3 guys from Alaska.  We look forward to seeing them again.

Van Horn, TX to Fort Davis, TX – 90 miles; 1,146 total miles

Michelle told us at dinner tonight that today’s ride was the toughest of the entire trip. It certainly had a lot of specific challenges.  It was ninety miles. We had to start late because we had just entered a new time zone and it didn’t get light until 8:00. It was the sixth day of riding in a row. It featured 4,500’ of elevation gain, including a spectacular 14.5 mile climb up to the McDonald Observatory. And it was VERY windy. Just to make things more interesting, Peggy and I each had a rear flat.

Those of you who are riders know that it is a bit more complicated to change a rear tire than a front one, because of the pesky derailleur. Her flat occurred about 15 miles into the ride, on I-10.  We decided that it was an excellent personal growth opportunity, since neither of us has ever changed a bicycle tire on an Interstate. We immediately went into pit crew mode. One of the neatest things was that we had recently passed two men, riding with panniers, on the same route to Florida. We were doing pretty well when they caught up to us. “Do you need help?” they asked. “No thanks,” we said, “we’re fine. ”  They kept going.

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There were a couple of tricky bits that we actually did need a bit of coaching for, but fortunately, Susan caught up to us and helped us through them. The sisterhood is intact!

We had to exit the interstate at mile 21 to check in with our SAG. For some reason, the shoulder for several miles before the exit was really bad chip seal. A lot of our riders are having ulnar nerve problems, resulting in numb fingers. Some of them decided to SAG up because they couldn’t stand any more chip seal. Peggy and I kept going, and actually the surface improved. We flew along I-10 for 40 miles.

Then we exited to follow Texas Route 118, and immediately rode into a wind tunnel.

This abandoned school was right at the junction.

p3250376At some time in the past, enough people with children lived here to have a school.  it is hard to imagine that now.

It was uphill, with gusts that made it really difficult for me to stay on my bike. I was twice blown way out in the road. Fortunately, there was almost no traffic. By the time we got to the lunch stop, it had flattened out, but the winds, if anything, had increased. We ate in the shelter of the van, and then decided to SAG up to the next SAG stop, where the “real” climbing for the day was to begin. I didn’t want to miss the climbing, but I was prethesitant to ride in the wind for the 17 miles up to the SAG. As we drove up, the wind buffeted the van.

We got out at mile 62, and, as promised, immediately started a climb up Davis Mountain. In this picture you can barely see the observatory in the distance.

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The road surface was really awful, and for a while I didn’t realize that I had a flat. Nothing to do but change it. I was riding alone by that time, but part way through the change Susan and Peggy caught up and provided advice and encouragement. Popping the last several inches of the tire back on the rim is really hard, and Peggy helped with that. Susan, who is a mechanical engineer, helped me get the tire reseated properly. It just wouldn’t center, so the brake was rubbing. She loves a challenge, and probably re-seated the wheel 10 times before we got it right.

I thanked them profusely and headed on. I had passed a sign that said “16 miles to the McDonald Observatory,” so that was my target for the climb. I just kept riding steadily to the next SAG stop. Sometimes it was so steep as it curled around the mountain that the read was as sharply banked as a NASCAR track. Lois S. passed me while I was changing the tire, and I caught up with her at the SAG. Somewhere on the last hill I passed her while she was stopped. I still had 2 miles to go on my odometer when I saw the sign for the observatory.

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I almost didn’t stop. My brain just couldn’t process that I had reached the summit two miles before I expected to. (The discrepancy resulted from the fact that the Observatory has a two mile driveway.)

I waited for Lois to come up, and she took this picture of me in front of the sign.

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Then we began an eleven mile stretch that was mostly downhill.

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The rock formations are really interesting around here. I wanted to ask Sherry (one of my fellow riders is a geologist) about them, but she flew past me as I was stopped to take this picture.

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I passed the Prude Ranch (is that the opposite of a nudist colony?) and finally reached the entrance to Fort Davis State Park.

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From there it was another mile or so (uphill, naturally) to the Indian Lodge, which will be our home for the next two nights.

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The Lodge is amazing, and I will write more about it tomorrow, on our day off.

I am rooming again with my road angel, Susan. We are both really tired. There are no services of any kind here—no cell phone coverage, and no Internet. But it is breathtakingly beautiful, and feels really good to get off the bikes for a day. This is the view from right outside the door to our room:

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