Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nibblers With Altitude

Total distance: 5194.0 km

By Yana

We ended up leaving the town of Marathon at about 4pm, after some delicious vegetable burritos to fuel us on our way.  Good thing we were only heading for Alpine, otherwise the late start would have been frustrating as hell.  In any case, the road was reasonably nice and flat, and we were going at a reasonably decent pace, although my derailleur was still making a nuisance of itself.  We basically came to the conclusion that it needed to be replaced, as every time we adjust it, it deteriorates back into its previous state within 10-20km.  Annoying, but bearable for the relatively short trip we had into Alpine.

By the time Alpine came into sight, it was well and truly dark.  We weren't entirely sure of our accommodation for the night, as our potential host, Chris, had not returned our calls, although he had given us directions to his place.  We rode downhill into the actual town itself, passing a cop car and two cops apparently conversing with an open-mouthed apparently handcuffed fellow on his knees - our guess was a drug test.  We stopped at the nearest petrol station to try calling our host again, didn't get through, and decided to head to his place in hopes that he was there.  The house was dark when we arrived, and after a brief chat to the neighbour, we established that he was indeed not around.  So we turned around to find some other option, but as luck had it, the next car we crossed paths with turned out to be driven by Chris, the man himself.  Close call!  As it turned out, he doesn't have access to his phone at work, hence our inability to contact him.

We stowed our bikes in his shed, and Chris set up some indoor sleeping arrangements for us in the adjoining house, which he also owns.  He then called over his girlfriend, Phyllis, who came with a potroast in tow.  For the sake of some non-beefy sustenance, Chris also got a massive slab of frozen fish out of the freezer.  In the name of quickly separating it into smaller pieces for easier thawing, he actually took the slab into the toolshed and cut it into four pieces with a circular saw, which was a very entertaining sight.  Phyllis also did very delicious things with that fish, and we went to bed extremely satisfied, intending to return the favour and cook them dinner the following night, if our derailleur problems were to keep us in Alpine for an extra day.

The next day, we headed to the local bikeshop.  As we knew it would be, it was closed, as many businesses in Alpine are on Mondays.  Sundance had e-mailed and called the owner in hopes of asking if he might briefly open the shop for us - apparently he had done so for Dani and Greg, the cyclists we had bumped into in Brackettville - but we didn't get through to him.  So we rode around town a little bit, had a look at the eclectic little art galleries and cafes, had ourselves some Tex Mex for lunch, and decided to go say hi to our next potential host, Sue, who lives in Fort Davis.  As she works in Alpine, we called to announce ourselves, and then dropped by to meet her.  She turned out to be absolutely lovely, and showed us around the place, with the interesting red stonework walls and marble floors which actually seemed to contain a few seashell fossils.  She also introduced us to some of her colleagues, who were also avid cyclists, and we had a very pleasant time chatting before getting stuck into our next problem: on our way to Sue's work, both Sundance and I had somehow acquired a puncture in our rear tyres!  Sue was nice enough to call another one of her cyclist friends, who arrived with a pump in tow, so we could at least ride the short distance to the hardware store in order to get some more tubes to replace the old ones with.  Of course, whenever we ride somewhere without replacement tubes or a patch kit, we get a puncture!  Murphy's law strikes again, I suppose.

We actually stopped for some groceries, and upon our return, discovered that while Sundance's tyre seemed fine, mine had deflated completely.  As we were only a very short distance from Chris's place, we accepted the hardware store staff's offer to let us use their bike pump so we could pump it up again, and then quickly rode back.  It was certainly preferable to sitting around in the cold to fix it.  We got back without too much trouble, and I got stuck into the fixing process.  As it turned out, my puncture had not in fact been caused by a goat's head (the Texan version of three-corner jacks, those horrible pricklies that are the bane of bike tyres), but by the tyreliner, which had pinched the tube open!  This was the third time that had happened, which made us wonder whether those liners are actually worth it.  Thing is, we don't know how many punctures they have or haven't prevented.  In any case, I replaced the tube, patched the puncture, and Sundance and I made ourselves some dinner before turning in for bed - there had been no sign of Chris, so we figured that work had been keeping him.

The next morning, Sundance discovered that his rear tyre had gone down again after all, and after some fiddling, I established that his puncture had also been caused by the liners.  Hmmmm.  In any case, we did a quick replacement job, had our breakfast, got packed up, and headed off to the bikeshop.  I happened to be in the toolshed when Chris and Phyllis left for work, so I got to say goodbye and thank them again for having us.

At the bikeshop, we met the owner, John, as well as another touring cyclist, Rob, who was also having derailleur problems.  As John was almost done with Rob's bike, it didn't take too long for my bike to be put in the stand, and John established that apart from my derailleur needing replacement, my chain was also stretched beyond belief - a thing that Sundance had suspected, even though it had been brand new when we got it in Austin.  I guess it's proof of our strenuous riding, how quickly stuff wears out.  We spent some time in the shop, in interesting conversation, and John made pretty quick work of my bike.  I took it out for a test ride, and it felt pretty good, which was a nice change.  The mysterious ticking noise was gone too, which Sundance guessed to have been due to the chain.

We left our gear at the shop in order to go get some lunch, as well as some cash to pay John with, as the shop doesn't accept card payments.  As most places had already closed for lunch, we ended up going for a Chinese buffet.  On our way to get money, we actually also got talking with a fellow who runs a local martial arts academy, and who has a pommel horse, but none of us had time for Sundance to have a whirl on it.  Pity.  So we got our money, wandered back to the bike shop and spotted a lime green firetruck on the way, paid John, and also decided to get some more patches for our patch kit, and some thorn-resistant tyre tubes.  They are absolutely enormous.  I practically dare anything to give us a flat now! 

As the day was getting on, we basically had to accept that we weren't going to get to the Observatory, which had been our optimistic goal, but we were still going to go for Fort Davis, where Sue lives.  As her work was on the way, we popped in on her to get directions, and then got on the road.  Riding felt surprisingly hard, and we spent quite some time wondering why it was tiring us out so badly.  Sundance finally clicked with a plausible hypothesis: altitude.  We are over 1.5km above sea level!  In fact, we came to realise that yes, taking a deep breath wasn't really doing as much as we felt it was supposed to.  Well, it's just one of those things we'll have to adapt to, and we kept riding through the extremely pretty scenery.  To a certain extent, the mountains start to look the same after a while, but they were closer and more clustered around us now, and there were large boulders strewn on either side of the road, which was a pretty sight.  Apparently the countryside around here was largely produced by volcanic activity, as opposed to the stuff further east which formed as sediment on a sea floor back in the days of teh dinosaurs. But one of the best things that happened was that once we left Brewster County and entered Jeff Davis County, the road went from pebbly bitumen to the proper smooth stuff!  Aaaaah, bliss!

It still got dark and really quite cold by the time we got to Fort Davis - the ride had taken us two-and-a-half hours, even though it had only been 40km - but at the end of the day, it hadn't been so bad, just really tiring, what with the altitude.  We found Sue's place without too much trouble, and were greeted with warm beds and smoked chicken with vegetables, which was an absolute delight.  We also got to meet Sue's astrophysicist husband, Matt, who works at the observatory.

We had a reasonably late night, but went to bed reasonably satisfied, although the weather forecast for the next few days is a bit icky for cycling, which was a frustrating thought to bear in mind.  For now, we are taking care of mundane things, such as laundry, blog posts, and putting those uber tubes into our tyres.  It would be nice to go up to the observatory tonight, although the skies are inconveniently cloudy.  A fellow named John, who works and lives at the observatory, has also offered us his hospitality, as he is very interested in touring cyclists such as ourselves.  It'll be a hard slog up the mountain, but no doubt worth it.

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