Well, as Sundance has promised pics from Mexico in our last blog entry, I'll start off with just that, before launching into the story of what we have done since then. :-)
Wandering around a little abandoned church type thing which our awesome Mexican hosts, Jose and Lolis, took us to see.
Can't find Sundance? Yep, he's probably climbing around on top of something. :-)
Obligatory "we were both here!" shot.
Sundance noms on a delicious potato spiral thingie... ah, the things those crafty Mexicans can do with the humble potato!
Oh, and they know how to make awesome sweet corn, too!
Paraplegics throttled here! :-D
The big fountain in the plaza of Piedras Negras.
One of the various monuments paying tribute to the greats of the past...
In retrospect, it's interesting to note that we didn't actually take a whole lof of photos of the social things we got up to. Bother! I guess we were too busy being sociable. Well, hopefully the above manage to convey some of the niftiness of Mexico.
So, back to the what we have been up to since our last post. After a few days of hanging around, we finally got ourselves organised again, and bid Leslie, Alex, and family farewell. It was afternoon by the time we got going, but the weather was lovely, and we were in pretty reasonably high spirits as we toodled along. We were pointing ourselves towards Johnson City, thinking it might be nice to make it there on that day, though we weren't that fussed about it. We just kind of pedalled along, lamenting how much of our fitness we had lost over our Christmas break, especially as we were definitely in the Hill Country now. Pretty, yes, but hilly, as the name suggests. Still, it's a good way to practice for what is to come, as we do have some pretty high passes to get through before we hit that west coast.
We had gone a reasonable distance when we stopped to check out our map. While we were standing there, a bloke in a pick-up truck pulled up next to us, to see if we needed anything. He also expressed his respect for what we were doing, as he had ridden around the US on a motorbike, and could only imagine how much harder it was on a bicycle! We had a brief chat, and then continued on our seperate ways. We figured by then that Johnson City was probably not going to happen tonight, though partway there, there was the Pedernales Falls State Park, which did have camping facilities. It was an option worth considering, though neither of us felt inclined to break our clean streak of not having had to pay for accommodation since all the way back in Indiana. Still, we decided to just play it by ear, and enjoy the scenery as we went. After a while, we were faced with our steepest slope yet for the day, which I was too chicken to go down full speed, though Sundance of course gleefully hooned down it. As it turned out, as the bottom of the slope was a river crossing, which was actually somewhat flooded due to the rains we had taken shelter from at Leslie's place. We took off our shoes and wheeled our bikes into the stream, but it turned out to be slower, shallower and less slippery than it could have been, and we could easily have just ridden across. Still, quite a fun crossing:
Once we had finished the crossing, we found ourselves gaping at our beautiful surroundings, and came to the conclusion that it would be an absolutely gorgeous place to put up our tent:
As there was a house on the other side of the road, we decided to seek out the residents, figuring that this was their property. It took a bit of looping around, but we found our way to the front door eventually, and knocked. We were greeted by a fellow named Ed, who was indeed the owner of the place, and because we did the polite thing and asked, he was quite happy for us to put up our tent in that spot. The timing could scarcely have been better, as it was turning dusky about then. So we got ourselves set up, had some curry and buckwheat for dinner, got some unexpected entertainment from the various people crossing the river (one car actually turned back, which we cracked up laughing about), and turned in at an uncharacteristically early hour.
The next morning, we managed to get up at a reasonably decent hour, and got ourselves packed up without too much fuss. We did spent a little bit of time mucking around in the pretty scenery, feeling all chuffed about the fact that we had finally reached cactus country on our bikes - the jaunt to Piedras Negras doesn't reeeaallly count, as that was with the help of a bus trip. So we hopped on our bikes again just as a gaggle of people on motorbikes crossed over the flooded bridge, and laboured uphill for what was going to be a very hilly day indeed.
After a short while, we reached the entrance of the Pedernales Falls State Park. As we rode in, we noted the $20 tent fee, and felt quite smug for having avoided that the previous night. We still had to pay $5 each to get into the park, but hey, pretty things to be seen. After some more hills, we eventually made it to the Pedernales River itself. Honestly, it seemed a bit of an exaggeration to call what we saw the "Falls", but it was very pretty nonetheless.
We spent some quality time climbing around the surrounding rocks, taking photos, and all that. Eventually though, we had to admit that the day was moving on, so we went back to our bikes, only to discover that Sundance had a flat rear tyre! Curses! So we spent some more time sitting around, changing tubes, and all that. Afterwards, we decided to make one last detour to the Cypress Pool, on the way to which we bumped into a couple, Jeff and Noom. We chatted for a little while, and they were suitably impressed with our journey, and they offered to take us to dinner. We happily accepted, and exchanged phone numbers. We did have a brief look at the river a little bit further down, then made our way out of the park and towards Johnson City, where we would meet Jeff and Noom for dinner. On the way, we established that we had not had nearly enough carbohydrates lately, as we found our energy flagging over all those strenuous hills. We did make a few stops in the encroaching darkness to stuff ourselves with jelly beans, in the name of some quick fuel.
It was completely dark by the time we reached Johnson City, and we were completely ravenous. Luckily, we found Jeff and Noom easily enough, and headed for the nearest acceptable eatery. We chatted over our delightfully high-calorie deep fried meal. Eventually, Jeff and Noom had to head back home to Austin, so we said our farewells, and headed off to find somewhere to pitch our tent for the night. After a little bit of a wild goose chase, we found ourselves in a little convenience store, and got offered a bit of backyard space by a local lady. We gratefully followed her to her place as she drove back in her pick-up truck, and had a nice chat with her while we got our sleeping quarters organised. It was a beautifully clear, starry night, though luckily it didn't get too cold.
The next morning, we woke up with a dew-covered tent, so we headed off to the convenience store were we had met our host, and bought her breakfast there. As it turned out, they offered some very cheap and generous servings of your basic variety of breakfast tacos and pancakes and things. Highly satisfying, especially with the delicious tamarind icy pole Sundance and I shared for dessert. We also discovered that our host was nick-named "Ju-ju" by her nephews, nieces, and the like, which Sundance found surprising as that was also the family nickname for his grandmother. Our host then drove us around to see the various attractions of Johnson city, which is named after LBJ, as this used to basically be his childhood stomping ground. We had a look at the local LBJ museum, then headed back, packed up our now dry gear, and hopped on our bikes to get to Fredericksburg. However, after having battled our way into a headwind for a few kilometres, we found our way blocked by some decent-sized carnage: there had been a huge crash, two deaths, and the road would remain closed for three or four hours.
We spent some time pondering what to do, but eventually opted for heading back, and finding a different way. Of course, it threw a decent-sized spanner in the works of our plans of getting to Fredericksburg, meaning it wasn't going to happen on that day any more now. Aargh! Well, at least we found ourselves a much more pleasant road to go down, with next to no traffic, and plenty of pretty scenery. We actually went past various places which had a bunch of donkeys in the paddock - in the case of one of them, a whole bunch of adorably cute fuzzy dwarf donkeys! We stopped for a few minutes to coo at them, and then continued on our way.
As it got dark, we kept an eye out for a decent place to turf surf. There were various ranches around the place, and we eventually found one with an open gate, paddocks seperate from the backyard, and people home. The fellow we asked, John, readily agreed to let us put up our tent, assuring us that yes, no cattle would come and trample it, as long as we stayed out of the actual paddock. We made ourselves some dinner, and then briefly popped into the house to use the facilities to socialise with John, his wife Shannon, their two sons and their boisterous golden retriever. We also decided to find somewhere to charge up our various gizmos, namely my camera.
The next morning, we woke up to the sound of the cars before dawn. As it turns out, John and Shannon have a decent-length commute for work every day. We slept in a little more, and after breakfast, discovered that I had foolishly left my plastic bag full of various electronic gizmos inside the house, and we were locked out, with no idea of when John and Shannon would return! This resulted in a few hours wasted flagging down cars, finding neighbours who would contact our people, and eventually seeing Shannon return from her Johnson City doings. It was early afternoon by then, but it could have been a whole lot worse. We got the rest of our gear packed up, Shannon bestowed some munchies for the road on us, and then we finally headed off.
We did a bit of a detour to check out the LBJ ranch and the particularly extreme longhorns that hang out there. It killed another couple of hours, but we did manage to get to Fredericksburg that night. After stuffing ourselves at a Chinese buffet there which had been recommended by Jeff and Noom, we went in search of somewhere to sleep. There were plenty of RV parks, but we ended up getting permission from the local police to put up our tent on the fairgrounds instead. It was starting to rain very lightly just in time for us to crawl in, and we went to sleep pretty promptly, as it had turned out to be a late night.
We got up fairly early, as the local cops had warned us they might have to shoo us off if anyone called to complain. We stopped at the nearest petrol station to make breakfast, and then went in search of somewhere to have a shower, as we were starting to get a bit smelly. After a bit of running around, which also involved getting some groceries, we popped into one of the RV parks on the way out of town, who were happy to let us use their shower free of charge. With their permission, we also stuck up our damp tent to let it dry, did what needed to be done, and then set off for Kerrville. We got there around dusk, and pondered our accommodation options. We did actually meet a fellow, Mark, who lived in Leakey. Too far for us to still go that night, but he offered us a warm place to stay and a good Texan feed when we did pass through, which we figured would be the next day. We exchanged contact details, Mark wandered off to get himself a beer, and we went off to find ourselves a turf surf.
We actually ended up riding on to the next town, Ingram, which wasn't too far off. On the outskirts on the other side of Ingram, we started knocking on doors. Our first attempt was in a newly developed suburban-looking area, where the elderly lady at the door informed us no tents were allowed. So we left that little neck of the woods, and kept an eye out for something more friendly-looking.
We found it soon enough, and upon knocking on the door of the first-best abode, were greeted by a gregarious 70-something couple who immediately invited us in, let us use their stove, and pointed us to the less prickly places in their yard to put up our tent. Apparently they, Jan and Jerry, quite frequently put up cyclists, as their house is right on the southern tier route, which they however had not realised until we explained to them just why so many cyclicsts seemed to knock on their door. Apparently putting up weary travellers is one of their hobbies though, keeps them entertained now that their numerous progeny has left the nest. We had a very nice chat, and found out that the German girl travelling alone whom we had heard of twice before had stopped past their place, too. It's sort of making me wonder if we would be able to get in contact with her, as we quite frequently seem to ride in her tyre tracks. We also found out from Jan and Jerry that in this area, a lot of people have game ranches, where they keep all sorts of exotic deer and other quadrupeds - antelopes, axis deer, zebras, and various others. Huh.
We turned in eventually, and got to see a bunch of deer gallop (rather than prance) through the backyard just before we did so.
In the morning, Jan treated us to an enormous serving of pancakes and syrup and pecans, which was pretty much just what we needed right then. We got ourselves all packed up, in between bits of conversation and travel anecdotes. What we had not realised when we knocked on their door in the dark the previous night was that they were right on a particularly beautiful section of the river - probably great for kayaking, especially in summer!
We said our goodbyes and headed off on our bikes, with great plans of avoiding the big roads for as long as possible. We had lunch under a cute ranch sign sporting a metal T-rex skeleton, and then decided to go the shorter, probably slightly less scenic way. We found it very hard to get phone reception, but we eventually reached the main road and managed to leave a voice mail for Mark and his wife Toy, the people from Leakey. Luckily, the road was mostly in our favour. Lots of gentle downhill stretches, very little traffic, lots of space (due to several lanes being closed for roadwork). That being said, after dark, we found ourselves on a rough stretch with lots of bits of gravelly junk, though we still got there okay, a little before 8pm. As Toy had not felt like cooking, we found ourselves taken out for a very nice dinner in town instead of Mark's initial plans of a Texas barbecue at home. That suited us just fine too, and we had ourselves a veritable feast before sticking our gear in the back of Mark's pick-up truck and being taken the last three or so kilometres to their place. We found ourselves with a comfortable room, which was a bit of a nice change after a few tent nights.
We slept in comparatively late the next morning. It would have almost been tempting to stick around, as the place was beautiful, but Mark and Toy had other guests coming, so we cleared the deck. Mark did take us down to the river though, which was absolutely beautiful, and we got to see a couple of Axis deer hanging out amongst some of the trees. It was well into the afternoon by the time Mark had dropped us off out the front of the restaurant, but we still had a decent amount of time. Our next stretch of road would be a tough one, as going into the next town, Camp Wood, involved going uphill for 5km straight! Hooray for switchbacks! We hadn't had anything that intense since southern Indiana! Still, up we went, and it actually wasn't so bad, despite heavy panniers. We actually had a pair of cyclists on unladed road bikes catch up with us and ride along with us for a while, having a bit of a chat. It was actually pretty nice, and was a good reminder that civility between different breeds of cyclist is a fine thing indeed.
Just as we made it to the crest of our epic hill, I caught sight of a little feathered thing dashing across the road: a road runner! Our first one sighted for the trip, which seemed like a very apt reward for the uphill slog we had just done. Possibly even better, we also had a blissfull downhill stretch, and basically went most of the rest of the way to Camp Wood on momentum! Aaaaah, Heaven!
Once in Camp Wood, we got ourselves a few canned dinner ingredients, and rode onwards into the dusk. There would be no proper towns until Bracketville, which we had basically no hope of reaching that night, but we did decide to head on to the 10,000 acre property owned by some friends of Mark and Toy's, another 30km or so away from Camp Wood. It was a nice flat stretch with little traffic, and we reached the spot without too much interest. After some pondering and wandering back and forth, we decided to climb the barbed wire fence into the paddock - the owners of the property were out of town, and we had no idea how far off the gate was, as the property stretched on for eight miles - and get ourselves set up. While Sundance made an improvised, but delicious sort of Nacho stew, I got the tent set up, which involved a very thorough hunt for prickles, which the ground was absolutely covered with!
We had our dinner, and got to bed around midnight. We were pretty much out like lights, despite the occasional car that would zoom by. However, at one point, we found ourselves roused by some headlights pointed straight at us. It was still dark, but a glance at the watch told us it was a little after 6am. The headlights belonged to a border patrol vehicle, who considered a tent in a paddock so close to the border to be a bit suspicious. We tumbled into our clothes and out of the tent, grabbed our passports, and explained what we were on about. The border patrol guys were actually really nice and courteous, which is a incredibly refreshing after the types we have experienced in various airports!
After they had established that we were not illegally in the country, they drove off and we crawled back into our tent, watching our surroundings get lighter. Due to our early rousing, we were treated to an absolutely beautiful sunrise, and we figured it was just as well that we had been woken so early, as we had a big day ahead of us: around 90km to Del Rio!
As we were getting ourselves packed up, another border patrol vehicle showed up, and we had an amicable chat. When we asked if they were going to check if we weren't illegally imported Mexicans too, one of them comfortably drawled, "Nah, we were just bored, thought we'd come talk to you." It was a good chuckle for the morning. They eventually wandered off, and as we continued to pack up, yet another border patrol car showed up. At this point, we had to laugh. These guys didn't even look at our passports. We just had a bit of a chat, and they eventually wandered off, too. We climbed back over the fence, had our breakfast, and were greeted by one of our previous border patrol friends, telling us that there was a pair of Alaskan cyclists about 15 minutes away from us, coming our way. This was pretty cool, we thought, but we decided to get ready to go instead of waiting, as we figured they'd catch up to us when we stopped for lunch. We rode on into the beautiful scenery, over gently rolling hills, and in absolutely lovely balmy weather. However, there was no sign of the Alaskans.
We stopped for lunch in Brackettville, got some lunch ingredients, and sat ourselves at the nearest picnic table. Just as we started to make our lunch, a pair of cyclists came to our spot, laden down in a similar fashion to ours. However, when we greeted them with "you must be the Alaskans," they informed us that they were in fact from Montana, riding in from Portland, Oregon! They sat down with us, and we spent a very nice couple of hours exchanging notes and war stories. It was kind of funny how many of the little things we had in common, although they were on slightly beefed up road bikes, rather than the mountain bikes we're on. We very quickly established that they, Dani and Greg, are a pair of champions, and the whole thing put us in very high spirits. Of course, we exchanged blog addresses. You should check out their adventures, they're on http://dandgtour.blogspot.com/ .
As a result of this meeting, our one hour lunch break turned into three and a half hours, but we weren't a bit sorry, even though it meant that we were not going to make it to Del Rio before dark now. We took a bunch of photos, and eventually parted ways, delayed but delighted. Unfortunately for us, as soon as we turned onto our road towards Del Rio, we got smacked in the face by a headwind that was quite reminiscent of the monster which got us on Christmas eve. We found ourselves struggling along at 12km per hour, with the only consolation being that this meant Dani and Greg had a sweet tailwind, which they probably really needed at that point.
After several hours and jelly bean stops, we pulled into Del Rio, absolutely exhausted. Luckily, our couch surfing host, Niki, lived right on the outskirts of town, which cut several kms off our trip, and she and her boyfriend William had dinner ready for us. Let's just say that we were extremely grateful. I actually crashed out pretty quickly after dinner, though Sundance managed to stay up for a little longer. We eventually headed to our spare room with the air mattress, and slept like fossilised logs.
Yesterday we enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in, got driven into town by Niki to do some shopping, and Sundance experimented with baking a couple of loaves of bread. It didn't rise very much but still tasted yummy, and after pigging out on the delightful sourdough rye we got in Austin he's determined to maser the art of making one's own bread sometime this year.
So now here we are, in Del Rio, chilling out for a little while, eating good food, watching too much TV. But there are things that need doing now, and even though I have some more photos to post, I think I shall do so later.