Sunday, February 7, 2010

Thinking of Pheidippides

Total distance: 5098.4 km

By Sundance:

As mentioned in our last post, the town of Langtry turned out to be a surprisingly interesting little place. After looking around the visitor's centre we hopped on our trusty steeds and headed down the hill to look at the view across the Rio Grande. We couldn't actually see the river itself, but the cliffs on the Mexican side of the river were scenic and spectacular. We took some happy-snaps and headed back up to the main highway. It was getting late so we scoffed down a large packet of corn chips and diced tomatoes as lunch (the only other options at the corner store being too beef-based for our tastes), and hit the road.

The countryside was arid and gently rolling, and unlike the previous day the wind was in our favour. The numerous cuttings on the road exposed layers of orange clay and white limestone, laid down 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous period, when this part of the world was a shallow sea. It's funny to think of Mosasaurs and Icthyosaurs swimming in the vicinity of where we hairless big-brained monkeys now ride our bicycles. The countryside was cut with numerous small canyons, which broke up the rolling hills and general flatness of the scenery. It's definitely looking like the countryside from a Road Runner cartoon. And in fact we even caught sight of a road-runner by the roadside, flapping its way up a small embankment as we startled it.
I said "meep meep" to it, but it didn't reply.

Having made a late start, we were still on the road when the sun set. That sure is a beautiful sight in this part of the world. There was an interesting cloud formation to the right of the sunset which I thought looked like a grey dragon. A few minutes after sunset I noticed the sky become suddenly brighter in the space of a few seconds - the dragon was no longer grey, it was lit up red and orange by the sunlight from the sunset that was happening further west beyond our horizon. The sight was almost magical, and I stopped, dumbstruck, to take a number of photos as the colours gradually changed. Shortly afterwards we noticed the bright orange moon creeping over the eastern horizon. Who needs TV?

As we were getting tired and sugar-crashy, we were glad to pull into Dryden to find the grocery store still open. We bought a few supplies for making dinner, asked the owners if there was anywhere in town to put up a tent, and discovered promptly that the owners of that particular store are probably the least helpful, friendly people we've met in the whole USA. They seemed genuinely annoyed to have customers in their store. We rode back down the road to a house which had a light on, and met a lovely woamn named Tammy (who was visiting that house) who said we could pitch a tent in her yard. She led us up there, introduced us to her dog, and chatted while we prepared dinner. After a day of cycling it's funny how good a pot of chicken noodle soup, rice, diced tomatoes, cous-cous, and mushrooms can taste. We crawled into our bed, under the extra blankets that Tammy provided us with, and snuggled up to keep warm.

In the morning we got to enjoy the luxury of a warm shower and clean clothes! Tammy even introduced us to her cat who has two extra toes on each front foot. We hit the road and pushed on to Sanderson, feeling quite weary as a result of not having eaten properly the previous day. Just short of Sanderson we crossed the 5000 km mark of our journey. In fact, Yana almost missed it! We were coming down off a plateau into Sanderson Canyon and Yana had gone ahead while I stopped to take photos. I had to pedal like crazy to catch up to her, and yell at her to stop or else she would have just kept riding. But as it was I managed to call her back to the appropriate spot and we got our souvenir photo of ourselves with my odometer showing 5000.0 km. That's quite a long way we've come. To put it in context, it's one eighth of the circumference of the Earth. Wowie!

Since we were hungry, in Sanderson we asked around and found a wonderful restaurant called the Roundhouse cafe where we gorged ourselves on chicken tacos and fajitas, the best french fries I've eaten in years (they were actually crisp and crunchy, and had a small amount of parsley flakes on them which really worked well), and slices of key lime pie - which I decided is like a limey version of my Mum's lemon cheesecake, cherry pie, and coconut creme pie. We stuffed ourselves until we could barely move, and would have kept going if the kitchen hadn't closed post-lunchtime, then headed out further west, aiming for Marathon. Along the way we added a new species to the roadkill we've encountered, a javelina (wild pig), which made me think of Asterix and Obelix hunting wild boars.

A little before sunset we were around halfway between Sanderson and Marathon. We tried door-knocking one ranch to see if we could pitch a tent, but there was nobody home. The next place we found, a little after dark, had a light on, and the elderly couple and their son Michael who lived there said we were welcome to pitch our tent. The gentleman of the house was clearly the kind who didn't say much, unless he had something important to say. He stayed mostly silent while his wife and son discussed the best place for us to pitch our tent, then led me out to a bunkhouse they had beside the main building, and together we fiddled with a gas heater and got it working, and swept up the dust on the floor, turning it into a very comfy little place for Yana and I to curl up for the night.

In the morning, after feeding their horses, our hosts drove off to town to buy groceries while we ate brekkie in their backyard, and then set off westward again. A little before lunch we saw a buffalo hanging out on a ranch to our left, looking quite bored and a bit scrawny, but still, it was a buffalo! The first one we've seen up close. This put both of us in mind of doing a movie adaptation of the World of Tiers series of novels (for reasons which will only make sense if you've read the books).

We stopped for lunch at a picnic area, and got chatting with a couple of folks who'd paused on the way back from Big Bend park. Yana's chain and derailleurs were still playing up, so I fiddled with them some more and got them to be useable, though still not perfect. We're both beginning to suspect that her rear derailleur is just worn out and needs replacing. Also, while stopped at the picnic/rest area we heard a very impressive-sounding plane fly past in the distance. We caught a glimpse of it, and though I didn't get my binoculars out in time to get a good look, it was moving fast (clearly sub-sonic but I'd guess it was ging close to Mach 1), was sleek and black, and to my untrained eye looked like an SR-71. We pushed on, and eventually made it to Marathon - feeling that the name of the town was appropriate - just before 5pm. On the recommendation of Dani and Greg, we found the French Grocer (which turned out to be stocked with an amazing assortment of good food), asked for the bike hostel place, and made our way through town to our accommodations. The bike hostel is a block of land that's being converted into an organic farm, and has a number of cool little buildings on it where touring cyclists and people who WOOF (Work On Organic Farms) as volunteers can stay for free. We met the other folks staying here (including a Serbian-born Aussie WOOFer called Norbert), headed back to the grocery to buy supplies, and cooked up some turkey paella for dinner, followed by peach crumble cooked in an iron skillet in hot coals.

On Tuesday Norbert and I fiddled with Yana's derailleur some more, and then I got stuck into making bread. I decided it'd be fun to bake by putting the pot (improvised breadpan) into the coals of the fireplace used to heat the kitchen area here. It worked pretty well, although the bottom of the loaf got a bit blackened, so I think I need to have some sort of rack or stand to keep the bread-vessel out of direct contact with the coals.

Wednesday was rainy and yucky, which means pancakes (Yana made some really good banana and pecan ones for brekkie), blog updates, and laundry instead of cycling. A couple of other Aussies showed up, who have been hitching and riding trains across North America. Their visas in the US were almost expired, so a plan eventuated to ride down to Big Bend, look around, and drop off said Aussies near the border where they could head out to Mexico. And so on Thursday morning we piled seven people plus backpacks into a car and drove down to Big Bend National Park. The whole lot of us went for a walk down a closed road (closed due to mud) to bathe in hot springs by a stream that fed into the Rio Grande, and in the evening Yana and I split from the group to pitch our tent and stay overnight in the park. At one point we heard an amazing squeal from an animal that bumped into the tent - halfway between a bird shriek and a pig squeal. I shoved my head out of the tent to discover that it was a skunk (which was apparently not paying attention and had bumped straight into the tent in the dark) but fortunately it didn't spray us!

The next morning we awoke, had brekkie, left our tent and other unnecessary items at the visitor's centre/lodge registration, and went for a day walk to the south rim of the Chisos Basin. The view from the rim, where we had lunch, was gorgeous, and well worth the 24 km round-trip (including 4 km round-trip side trail to the top of the highest peak in the park). The trail up Emory Peak doesn't actually go right to the top, but to a gorge between to stone spires, one of which I climbed up (it turned out by chance to be the taller of the two, which made me glad). The sun was setting and turning all the peaks a gorgeous orange by the time we got back to the visitor's centre. Jarrett and Norbert  from the bike hostel had come to collect us, and we drove back to Marathon feeling tired but satisfied with our side-trip. The following day (Saturday) was a relaxation and repacking day, and we'll head out further west today.

Some photos of our recent exploits:


Part of the pretty cactus garden in Langtry.


5000 km mark!  Hooray!


Breakfast time!


Hanging out in the hot springs with the folks from La Loma Del Chivo - once again, we're just finding winter in Texas unbearable. :-)


The view from the South Rim at Big Bend.


A lone column of rock sticking out of the mountain side... we did get to see some nifty formations on this walk.

The sun sets over the basin. 

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