Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Valentines in Valentine

Total Distance: 5372.4km

By Sundance:

On our last night (Friday night) with John and Debbie, we hoped to get a sound night's sleep, and awake bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to attack the ride through the Davis mountains. What actually happened was something like this;

We contacted Kevin, a mechanic at the observatory (and John and Debbie's next-door-neighbour) to see if - with his skills and access to the observatory machine shop - he would be able to find a way to fit an old rear panier rack that John gave to us onto the front forks of Yana's bike. Later, I cooked up some Moroccan chicken with green olives for dinner, after Debbie prepared an apple pie. We had a very pleasant dinner, followed by pie for dessert. I ate a subtantial quantity of pie. Then we visited Kevin to see how things were going (quite well as it turned out), and turned in for the night. Then the cats decided to cause trouble.

Yana and I are cat lovers. But we very nearly threw all the kitties out the front door to "sleep with the javelinas" (or rather, in the javelinas bellies). They found their way into the pantry and started rustling paper bags of catfood. They tried sitting on our heads while we tried to sleep. They broke into the pantry again. We threw them out of the pantry and tied the pantry door shut with a handkerchief. The cats started meowing. Loudly. We chased them around the house and herded them into spare rooms and locked them in. Then we discovered that one cat had hidden out in the pantry and was crying to be let out. And on it went. Partway through the night I also discovered that my digestive system had taken a disliking to something in dinner - either the chicken was a little bit old, or all the fructose in the huge serving of apple pie I'd had sent my intestinal flora into paroxisms of delight. In any case, it was clear that I'd be making regular toilet stops over the next day or two.

We awoke (did we ever actually get to sleep?), had breakfast, collected the bikes from Kevin's workshop, and despite feeling rather zonked bid farewell to John and Debbie. On the way out the door I noticed that their daughters have a snakeboard which I decided to try riding - and discovered that it was a lot easier than I'd ever expected. After a little mucking around, we finally hit the road, stopping briefly at the visitor's centre to buy a couple of souvenirs, and then onto the open road.


By Yana:

Once again, it felt good to be back on the road, making some actual progress towards our eventual destination. Of course, we expected the whole thing to be rather gruelling and difficult, as we were right in the Davis Mountains. Still, it was a pretty cool feeling, knowing that we had started out in flat old Ontario, and were now riding through mountainous country right out in the middle of nowhere in far West Texas. John had predicted that we would probably see only about three cars until we hit the 90, so we made a bit of a game of counting just how many we encountered. Meanwhile, we rode through some gorgeous countryside, which was once again eerily reminiscent of the Adelaide Hills. If the road had been a freeway, I swear we might have expected to suddenly find ourselves riding around the old Devil's Elbow (which, for you non-Adelaideans out there, is a famous bend in what used to be the main route from the hills into Adelaide).

We made a little stop at a rather nice picnic area, reasonably pleased with the time we were making. It looked a little unlikely that we'd be making it into Valentine that night, but hey, we were kind of used to that kind of thing. The last stretch towards our first junction turned out to be a nice, long, downhill coast, which was bliss after all those climbs we'd had. We took our turn, and found ourselves on a somewhat flatter stretch, though we still had some hills to cover before the end of it.

We got to see some beautiful rock formations though, and had a bit of a snicker at the spy balloon in the distance. Apparently, the local government is sufficiently worried about illegal Mexican immigrants that they invested in a blimp with what is practically Star Wars technology in optics to patrol the border. Opinions are divided on just how effective and cost-efficient the thing is, to put it mildly.

Close to sunset, we came upon a ranch, and decided to see if they'd let us turf surf. The people at the door turned out to be extremely friendly, though they explained that there would be hunters on their ranch that night, so camping there would be a bad idea. They did refill our water for us though, which was nice of them, and informed us that the next picnic spot was only a quarter of a mile away, and was frequently used as a camping spot. So we took our leave, and found that it was all downhill to the picnic area, although it was a quarter of a country mile rather than a regular mile. Not that it matters when you're just coasting downhill.

We got ourselves set up, had ourselves some dinner, hung up our foodstuffs in a tree in a bid to not attract the javelinas, and turned in for the night. This time round, we certainly got the silence that the cats had deprived us of on the previous night - it was the kind of quiet that many city folk would probably describe as "eerie", as you could practically hear your own heart beat if you stood still for a moment. We slept very well, and didn't get pestered by any of the wildlife. We had also established that if you counted the two motorcycles we had seen, our total of car encounters for the day had been 25.

When we woke up in the morning, we discovered that the tent had kept us comfortably warm throughout an impressively cold night. Our tent had acquired a thick layer of frost, and our drinking water had frozen solid! Yow!

Still, it was a sunny morning, and as we had our breakfast, we managed to thaw and dry our tent quite effectively.

We managed to get going at a time that wasn't too embarrassingly late, and kept a blissful pace of about 25 km/h for a 30 km chunk of the day. We did make a few photo stops for the scenery, as well as a paddock full of strange critters which looked like some sort of antelope. Apparently, we're still in game ranch country.

Once we turned onto the 90, we found that the blissful mostly-tailwind was now a wretched headwind/crosswind. Of course, we had known this would happen, and made sure to enjoy the fair wind while it lasted. Still, our last 11km into the town of Valentine had us going at nearly half our previous speed. Lovely. Still, we managed to smile tiredly for the photo of ourselves with the sign telling us we were entering Valentine - it was after all very fitting, as it happened to be Valentine's Day. Not a holiday we really observe much, but good for a laugh in this case. Unfortunately, our hopes for a comfy bought lunch were dashed. While Valentine had a decent population of 217, we found out from a Spanish-speaking lady that there was absolutely nothing of the sort to be had before Van Horn, which was another 60 km away. Well, it was a nice irony, in a way. We sat ourselves down on the veranda of an apparently uninhabited house, and made ourselves some sandwiches and an impromptu bean and rice soup, which turned out to be quite satisfying.

By the time we got back on our bikes, it was well into the afternoon. The wind was still against us, and we had to accept that we were probably not going to make it to Van Horn that night. There was another town, Lobo, about 40 km from Valentine, but it was one of those many itsy-bitsy things that only barely qualify as a settlement.

A few kms out of Valentine, we were greeted by a very strange sight indeed: a Prada store in the middle of nowhere!

As we found out from a Dallas couple who pulled up in their car moments after we had stopped, it was actually an art piece of sorts. A pair of nordic artists had decided to build this little replica of a Prada boutique, complete with shoes and handbags from the 2005 collection on display, and then just leave it. Apparently the idea is to just let it decay as it will, although at the moment, it's still in pretty good nick. Might be interesting to come back in a few years' time, see how it's doing. I'm just mildly surprised that nobody has smashed the window to get at the merchandise - at least the handbags, as the shoes are all missing their counterparts. I suppose shoplifters with such expensive tastes wouldn't come all the way out there though, and I guess any fashionista would probably sneer at how out of style the 2005 collection is now.

We pushed into the wind for a bit longer, and stopped at the sight of a ranch on our left. Sundance suggested we try for a turf surf there, as it was still a reasonable distance to Lobo, and the sun was close to sinking behind the hills. It turned out to be a very good idea indeed, as the wind picked up like crazy once we reached the house, and we were in fact offered the use of a very comfortable little bunk house out the back. Brilliant! We even had a heater, stove, and shower at our disposal. So we had ourselves some stir fry for dinner, watched a movie on the laptop, and turned in for a reasonably comfortable night, though we ended up having to crank down that heater.

The next morning, we got ourselves going at a reasonably decent hour. The people who owned the place were nowhere to be seen, which was a pity, as it would have been nice to thank them again. Oh well. The wind was more in our favour now, and we headed towards Van Horn at a fairly reasonable pace. It was still a bit tiring though, as the road surface was in fact that strange knobbly glued-together gravel that tries to pass for tarmac. Still, can't really complain. We also got to see our very first substantial tumbleweed, sitting right in the middle of the road.

In fact, there was a whole lot of the stuff caught in the fence to our right, which was a bit of a sight to behold. We also encountered a new critter to add to our roadkill catalogue: an owl! Poor thing looked like it had died only quite recently, too. As there weren't a whole lot of trees around, we had to wonder if it was perhaps one of those burrowing owls which supposedly live in the area.

The last few kms into Van Horn proved to be quite taxing, but we got there without further incident, although Sundance's bike was making unhappy noises. After establishing that the closest thing to a bike shop in town was a motorbike shop, we stopped for some lunch at a Tex Mex place. I also took this opportunity to get a map of New Mexico, as we are getting very close to there indeed. Over lunch, we had a look at the new map, and had to wonder whether our original plan to head to New Mexico via Guadalupe Peak was such a good idea after all. Apart from it being a very desolate area, with water availability being quite questionable, it also meant that we would either have to go over some very steep mountains, or make some huge detours. As time is slowly becoming an issue again, we had to wonder whether it wouldn't be a better idea to head towards El Paso after all, and then just hire a car to look at the various sights of New Mexico for a few days which would otherwise be too much out of our way and possibly take up several extra weeks. We left this question up in the air while we got stuck into figuring out what to do about Sundance's unhappy bike.

We ended up asking the nice fellow who runs the motorbike place if we could hang out in there while making our repairs. He was nice enough to grant us some space and some tools to use, and Sundance established that his rear axle had in fact snapped. Wow. Thing is, that has happened once before - we had discovered a broken rear axle on his bike way back at the beginning of this trip, when we went into Recycled Cycles in Kitchener to get our bikes road-ready. It shows that not all our repair jobs are in sync.

This turned out to be a problem, due to limited availability of parts in this town. Sundance went for a walk along the main street looking for second-hand shops that might have bike parts, and incidentally got waylaid by a local fellwo who insisted on telling him in drawn-out, tedious detail about a mountain lion that attacked and killed a jogger back in 1986. Eventually he escaped and ascertained that the local hardware store had bike wheels, but only the old fashioned sort, rather than the whizz-bang quick-release types we are used to. As it was, we had to accept that we were going to have to stay the night in Van Horn, and as it was getting late, we decided to figure out what to do the next day. Fortunately, Russ the bikeshop owner consented to let us stay the night in his shop, which we were very grateful for.

This morning, we got stuck into finding some appropriate parts for the bike. There were a few people in town who might have the parts to help us out with. After some wild goose chases and the acceptance that there was only the old-fashioned sort of axle to be had in town, we established that we may be able to cannibalise one of the old rusty bikes owned by the lady who runs the hardware store. She was nice enough to drive us to her place and showed us a selection of bikes we could get stuck into taking parts from. Apparently, two of the three had been standing outside for ten years. Judging by the rusted-stiff chains, stuck-fast gear clusters, and thoroughly degraded rubber, I can believe that.

Still, we found some decent candidates, and the nice lady also drove us to the place of another fellow with scrappable bikes, just in case we could find the quick-release type. However, looking through a large box of old wheels yielded nothing useful. The guy actually offered to sell us one of his complete bikes for $40, though it was obvious that those bikes would have been a recreational mode of transport at best, and certainly not up for the rest of the journey to California. Still, the whole thing made us think of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman's adventures on their first huge motorbike trip, going through the desolate areas, and having to improvise. It actually explains why so many people have been commenting lately on how nice our bikes are, even though they are really quite comparatively cheap models. In the end, though, the brand-new wheels for sale at the hardware store proved to be the only viable option.

While Sundance got stuck into his repairs, I headed off to the grocery store. Foolishly, I didn't think that the mile it was said to be away was in fact a country mile. I guess even in a decent-sized place like Van Horn, these things still apply. Well, it made for a decent walk, and we have established that the repairs will keep us in town for another day and night, which has pretty much convinced us to head to El Paso rather than Guadalupe. The old-fashioned axle will do the trick, but it'd be nice to get something more modern to replace it with as soon as we can. That way, we can keep the other one as a spare, for whenever the next rear axle decides to snap.


  1. Yikes, we might have helped with the axle; we're going to EP on the 23rd if you're still about. d & j

  2. Oh, forgot to say:

    a) perhaps we shouldn't have started dieting the cats when you were here. One is breaking into the food closet right now.
    b) so now you know why the fates decreed you spend three nights on the mountain: so you could be in Valentine on the appropriate day
    c) I think we're gonna try the rice bowl tomorrow; am trying to figure out how much chickpeas inflate (or whatever) right now...

  3. Sounds like you both have been having quite the time. We are glad that you were able to hook up with John and stay on the mountain. Also, never had a broken axle, so hopefully you are able to make it work and find a newer/better one somewhere out there. West Texas can be, well, deserted. Good Luck!