Triplogue - Texas, Part Two (not so bad afterall?)

3 April, 1997, Del Rio to Camp Wood, 81 miles

Yesterday’s plan to wait out the bad weather and spend an extra day in Del Rio kind of backfired on us. Still, we both felt we needed the lazy day of movie-watching, napping and saunaing before hitting the road again. The highlight of our extended stay in what is certainly not Texas’ most charming bordertown was on Monday night, when we went to Mexico for dinner to celebrate our updated Web site. Dinner was good and the margaritas were even better at an old touristy place called Crosby’s; more entertaining, though, was coming back over the border on foot. The bridge over the Rio Grande was long, dark, and full of dubious-looking characters. Immigration officer Paul explained that they were waiting for a chance to cut a hole in the fence, and that fence patching was a big part of a border patrolman’s job. He delightedly told us some of his favorite I&NS stories, like the American guy they caught coming in with a bottle of diet pills up his butt. "If I were gonna put something up my butt, it would at least be crack or something," Paul stated with surprising humor and nonchalance. We gave him our Web address and I hope he looks us up.

This morning we woke up and it looked even nastier outside than yesterday, and since Del Rio was beginning to feel a little like the movie "Groundhogs Day", we decided to ride anyway. It was our slowest and wettest to date, due to a fierce headwind blowing rain into our faces all day. The first thirty-two miles to Bracketville were especially unpleasant. All the other patrons at the Crazy Chicken Café/Gas Station/Convenience Store looked at us in horror as we entered, dripping all over the floor and encrusted in road filth. The woman working the register balked when we told her where we were headed. After trying to dissuade us from taking the possibly flooded back roads to Camp Wood, she paused to stare at us, explaining, "I’m tryin’ to get a good look at you, in case you get swept away by a flash flood." A tattooed off-duty chief deputy assured us that he hadn’t heard of any problems on the road, but with the rain still falling, it felt like an adventure.

Our surroundings changed dramatically as we left Bracketville and entered the famous Texas Hill Country. It was as if we crossed some invisible line that separates the West from the South. Dust and rocks and mesquite gave way to rolling green meadows carpeted with wildflowers and groves of oak and elm. Birdsong and flowersmells filled the moist air. The buildings and settlements also began to take on a Southern aspect: shacks on stilts, tin roofs, fridges on porches. There were more animals too. Sheep and cattle bolted in terror when they saw us, while the goats looked at us with relative indifference. Horses and emus were thrilled to see us; they ran up to fences to get a better look at us, and ran alongside us as far as they could. All of this served as much-needed distraction from the relentlessly bad weather.

Camp Wood appeared not a moment too soon. Fred was beat, so we checked into the first place we could find, a newer motel whose office is housed in a former gas station ("It was once a Dairy Queen, too" explained the manager with peculiar pride). Camp Wood’s claim to fame is that Charles Lindburgh once crashed his plane into a grocery store here; a mock-up of the event protrudes from what is now the town’s Chamber of Commerce. A quick walk up and down Main Street yielded the disappointing realization that Camp Wood and the county which contains it are dry as a bone. We were both in the mood for a scotch, but had to settle for milkshakes and catfish at the hole-in-the-wall café across the street from where we’ll be sleeping in just a few minutes…

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Bluebonnets in the rain

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Andy being chased by a storm up the meanest grade in the world (to date)

4 April, 1997, Camp Wood to the warmest driest place we could find (near Hunt), 68 miles

A day of extremes: My favorite day riding, my least favorite day, Hot and sweaty, cold and miserable, attaining fastest speed, achieving lowest daily average speed.

It all began in Camp Wood at breakfast. Greasy potatoes, badly cooked eggs, cold toast, nasty coffee were eaten in the company of people with a long history of marrying their cousins. A babbling Woodian named Harry, Vern or something like that rolled up to the café on his three wheeled bicycle which spawned a conversation about biking the challenges that lay before us that day. "It isn’t Northern California or anything but it is preeety tough," exclaimed our waitress. A prophecy that would turn out to be more than true. One funny thing about Camp Wood is that everyone we talked to mumbled this disclaimer "I am not from Camp Wood, but I live here." Maybe no one was interested in being associated with Harry or Vern.

Climbing out of Camp Wood at 8:30 it was already hot. Andy took off his shirt and I sweat through mine. We welcomed the heat and the sun for it was the first time it had reared its head in days. If yesterday marked a transition from west to east Texas then today marked the true transition into spring. The bright orb drenched the green and flowery countryside. Sheep bleated, birds chirped, insects lit, and frogs croaked. All the while sun crisping Andy’s back and shoulders as we made our way over very mean hills and ridges to Leaky. (pronounced lee-achy)

Searching for a lunching spot we happened upon the café near the high school. Here again Texan children displayed that they have more imagination then those from AZ or NM by not saying "nuh-uh" when told where we were biking from. The catfish special was $4.99, including fried shrimp, fried catfish, fried hush puppies, fried fries and, fortunately, not-fried salad bar and pineapple upside down cake. Andy went into a food coma after lunch and missed an important navigational detail we would regret later. We rushed out the door, ostensibly with the idea we would miss the oncoming WEATHER on its way from Del Rio.

Sharp, long, steep, thigh- and calf-tearing hills greeted us. The temperature nudged its way to 90 degrees as the humidity mounted. Beat and tired of the hills we stopped in Vanderpool for a snack. As we sipped our water and munched apples two dykes in a mini-van pulled up. They were stocking up to backpack into Lost Maples park up the road. When we warned them of the impending weather disaster the butcher of the two women said, "I come here every spring…and every year its the same thing, a storm warning. I ignore it and sometimes it rains." -- Words to live by.

Out of V-pool we wound along side a charming swift moving river until we discovered that the road builders decided that they didn’t like the canyon we were in and that we needed to climb out of it. I have no argument with their desire to change course, however I would tarry over the route -- this was "the" steepest grade of the trip so far. I concentrated on pumping up the hill all the while sweat pouring out of my body as though I was in a sauna. Not once did I even look back to see Andrew doing the same while he periodically glanced back at the horizon noting the very pregnant clouds approaching. At the top he pointed them out to me and I realized that we were not going to have a nice afternoon.

As we began to realize that this was the end of our ride for now, we came upon a picnic area complete with a roof (no walls) and table. We foresaw the worst; probably we would have to camp here. As we strategized, two Canadian couples came up to us and began to quiz us about what we were doing and criticized our route. This is when Andy realized there might have been a better way out of Leaky. Too late to fret.

When they finally left us the wind was whipping through the shelter and it began to rain. The wind was so hard it ripped a bag of candy from Andrew’s hand, scattered the candy on the lawn and sent the bag zipping towards the fence of the rest stop. At that moment Andy lost his mind. I thought I was dreaming. Andy went skipping out of the shelter into the path of the now falling sky after the paper. He apparently took "don’t mess with Texas" more seriously then necessary.

Now the wind began to blow the rain through the shelter horizontally and we sought warm clothes from our packs to fight the cold and wet bone chilling storm. We had to climb onto the picnic table to escape the rain and then only our head and shoulders were spared. When marble-sized hail started pinging us we became a little worried. Then a miracle occurred. The rain stopped as quickly as it had begun, only the clouds and wind remained.

Now we had a decision to make, should we go back, go forward or hunker-down and camp? Not willing to admit defeat we pushed forward. Thirty miles to do before the sun was to set (in two hours). We rode against the wind up and down more nasty hills with dear running along with us past farmers who scowled in amazement. Rain fell occasionally and we went through water at every low bridge. Darkness was falling, I was wet, the hills were unrelenting and I made the big mistake. I went down the "what the **** am I doing this for?" brain pathway. Just as I was about to become a raving maniac we arrived at a deserted country resort hotel not unlike the one featured in "The Shining". The office was vacant and there were two Hispanic guys throwing pool balls at the walls. They grudgingly gave us a room and told us there was no store or restaurant within 6 miles.

Before passing out we dried our shoes in the oven and ate all of our granola bars and trail mix for dinner, thankful we had made it through the day and hoping for a better one the next.

5 April 1997, Near Hunt to Blanco, 91 miles 

We woke up to a gorgeous day, with birds chirping under blue skies. The nearest coffee was seven miles down the road in Hunt, in the general store/John Wayne shrine. While waiting for breakfast to arrive, I looked through a real estate mag featuring ranches, and fantasized about having a spread of my own. Back on the road, I fantasized some more. Ranches announced themselves everywhere with showy gates and tree-lined drives. The whole area around Hunt and Kerrville appeared to be pretty well-heeled, perhaps a hunting playground for rich city folk. The terrain had become more civilized, too; our route followed the course of the bucolic Guadalupe river with nary a climb.

In Kerrville we had a decision to make. We were both exhausted from the previous day and Fred was complaining of a pain in his calf. Setting up camp in the riverside Sands motel was looking mighty tempting, even though it was still morning and we had only ridden twenty miles. The only thing keeping me from following this plan of action was a tailwind from God, one that could blow us all the way to Blanco, some sixty miles distant. After mulling over the most expensive espresso this side of Naples, we decided to push for Blanco. The weather was too pretty not to be riding, and the next twenty miles along the river would be a joy.

--Or so we thought. What we hadn’t factored into our decision was the high water from the previous day’s storm. Just a few miles out of Kerrville, we ran into our first problem: the water had risen about a foot and a half above the level of the bridge, and was flowing pretty fast. After more deliberation, and a trial wade across by me, we decided to go for it. Only after we had transported our first load across did a big truck show up. The truck’s owner was Texas friendly and Internet savvy, and offered us a ride across with our bikes. Our trip was feeling like an adventure once again.

We blew into an adorable little town called Comfort, and were surprised to find a café serving "healthfood" (Amy's Bluestem Restaurant); Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in West Texas anymore. Our server and chef was called Craig, a seriously cute high school senior. He told us all about his plans for college and his opinions on various towns and regions of the Lone Star State and said he’d look us up on the Web. Fred and I rode away wondering if we could come back to Comfort to help Craig celebrate his eighteenth birthday…

From Comfort, hills began to reappear, and we had to take a detour around an unpassable river crossing. A funny old geezer forded us across in his beat-up pickup truck at a calmer, wider spot in the Guadalupe, adding ten miles or so to our planned itinerary. After chugging over some pretty mean hills, we stopped at the general store and bar in Sisterdale to reward ourselves with some Texas beer and some Texas wine (which was surprisingly drinkable). The place was right out of a piece of fiction, full of dudes wearing cowboy hats and spurs and speaking incomprehensible Texan. The place’s owner was an elderly tough-as-nails type woman who had grown up in Latvia. When I told her we’d be riding through there in August or September, she closed her eyes and said it would be pear season then.

I suffered my first flat in a while in front of the gate of a very noisy ranch, just after a little altercation with the Butthead Driver of the Week (brown Oldsmobile Tornado, Texas handicapped plates, 5HPMS) who insisted we had no right riding our bikes in the road –our first such incident in Texas, surprisingly. These two events, coupled with a bit of backtracking due to a missed turn, got us into Blanco a bit after sundown. We enjoyed watching the sun set from atop our saddles though, and the last twenty miles of the day were along a deserted country road that buckled and twisted its way through some beautiful hills and more than a few frigid streams.

There wasn’t much to Blanco, though it had a genuinely old-time Texan feel to it, with a bunch of crumbling buildings organized around a square with a hulking old courthouse in the middle of it. The only motel in town was a dump, and the menu at dinner looked a lot better than the actual food it described. Perplexingly, the sun-dried tomatoes in Fred’s dish had been fried to a charcoal-like state. We were entertained, however, by the arrival of a Catholic priest, followed by a man of elaphantine proportions in full Orthodox drag. Fred and I hypothesized that it was a themed night at the Sunset Restaurant and lounge, where patrons in religious costumes received a free entree; we never learned if this was indeed the case, though the place’s owner informed us that our options for night life in Blanco on this particular Saturday evening were exactly nil. We headed back to the Bates-Motel-the-sequel for a thrilling night of t.v. and sleep.

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Cute Craig of Comfort

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Hey (pronouned -- Thay),Taxi!!!

Our host in NYC, Mikey

6 April 1997, Blanco to Austin, 28 miles

Breakfast at the Sunset Café, no priests this morning, thank god. As Andy chugged his last bit’o’coffee we watched the flag swing around on its pole in the square. The day went from being "cake" to bad in the time it took the wind to shift. Shouldn’t have laughed at the religious last night. Hard to concentrate on the beauty of the hill country as we slugged it out against stiff and gusty winds at our face. I was looking forward to making a right turn away from the wind and onto Texas 290 to finish out our last 30 miles and arrive in Austin.

290 wasn’t a dream date. Four lanes, undivided, small shoulder with a bad surface, impatient drivers and still a nasty head wind. Stopped at a roadside bakery and met Laura and Anthony. Laura was laid-off from Apple was moving to Johnson City to live in a barn with an outhouse leaving Anthony in Austin. Within two seconds of Anthony offering us a ride into Austin (getting us off the nasty and dangerous road) we had our bikes in the back of his truck thus forever marring the integrity of our coast-to-coast ride.

Now mourning this loss in the comfort of our hotel watching the largest urban colony of bats leave the Congress Avenue bridge at sunset. 

Intermission - Andy and Fred go to New York to celebrate Andy’s son’s Birthday, be back in a few days.

13 April, Austin to La Grange, 77 miles

Austin and New York were a welcome break from the hardships of the road. In New York Fred stayed out late exploring the East Village homo scene, while I got up early every morning to spend time with the little one, who is more amazing than ever. Each time I see him, I am overwhelmed by the desire that he won’t change any more and stay exactly as he is. Back in Austin, we were hosted by extra-friendly Jeff, who even picked us up at the airport. We spent a day catching up with our mail and bill-paying before dining with Fred’s new friend Tim at the bar of a busy restaurant filled with prom-goers and assorted trendoids. The two girls seated next to us, Dina and Catherine, hit on us mercilessly until we set them straight about being queer. They had grown up together in a place called Nacogdoches (pronounced something like "naked duchess" in Texan) and had apparently o.d.’d on estrogen. Dina was the more hyper of the two, unable to utter a syllable without scray-ming it in her high-decibel twang, and neither of them was capable of keeping her hands to herself. They explained that it was customary for Texan girls to be friendly towards men; Tim calmly verified this claim.

Our hiatus from pedaling had lasted nearly a week, and the calluses on our butts were anxious to be reunited with our bicycle seats. The air was crisp and cold (twenty-five degrees below normal, we later learned on the Weather Channel), yet spring was in it in the form of pollen. I cried and sniffled all day in spite of taking megadoses of Tylenol Allergy-Sinus. Biking out of the segregated neighborhoods of Eastern Austin, I was reminded of Charlie’s bar the previous night, which was neatly divided into Mexican, Asian and Black sections. Also striking was how quickly we were in the countryside again, surrounded by an extraordinary array of wildflowers. The road to Bastrop, where we had lunch, was busy and shoulderless and full of butthead drivers, but that soon changed, thankfully.

Just out of Bastrop, we turned onto a road leading through two state parks, and were surprised by the sudden appearance of pine trees and legions of other cyclists. The presence of the latter was quickly understood, since what followed were fourteen miles of sheer cycling joy. Sure, the hills were the steepest we had ever seen, but none of them were very high (my altimeter showed us gaining and losing the same sixty feet over and over), and the many sudden twists and dips were thrilling. Nearly every one of the cyclists we encountered made the same comment –"You guys are really loaded down"—thus exhibiting their powerful Texan powers of observation.

Approaching La Grange, we encountered our first oil pump of the trip (the kind that looks like a giant praying mantis) as well as the first billboard advertising alligator meat; we were definitely entering new territory. Dinner was at Dairy Queen, which was invaded by a group of scary Christians sporting rainbow-colored outfits and accessories shortly after we arrived. I first mistook them for a gay group, but quickly dismissed this possibility based on their flamingly heterosexual behavior. They were doubtless just another group of pinheads-for-Jesus, oblivious to their having borrowed an emblem from the gay movement. Judging from the way that one of their adorable offspring hid his cross in his shirt and proceeded to flirt with us, they may soon have a defector on their hands.

When we checked into our motel, the friendly Gujarati owner gave us news of all the cyclists who had recently passed through (including the elusive Mike, whom haven’t spotted since the very first day in San Diego), and had us sign a special guest registry. The best discount I could chisel out of him was only two dollars though; he must have sensed that we were too exhausted to argue or to seek shelter elsewhere.

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"Alergy fields forever"



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The road took us straight to Gay Hill

14 April, La Grange to Navasota, 72 miles

We awoke in our mint green hotel room in La Grange. The day was not looking promising. A high ceiling of gray clouds and low mercury were in store for us. Had a big american breakfast on the town square while the locals admired our spandex. Unlike West Texas no one asked us where we were from or where we were going. They just looked at us quizzically and stared unapologetically. The waitress asked us what the "Virgin de los Lagos," the adornment on Andy’s handlebar bag, was for. I told her to protect and watch over us; somebody had to. She retorted, "the good lord is wachin’ over you."

Apparently he was, because the clouds cleared and the temperature mounted. As the sky brightened the light played on the hills and wildflowers. Globs of pink, yellow, blue, orange and red blooms dazzled us while they contemplated what it would be like to be cattle food. On our way out of town we stopped at the market to pick up some water an met some hick who had never heard of our destination for the day, and insisted that Houston was only 100 miles from Austin. He told us he was working a little down the road, so it was no surprise when we ran into him in an extra-cutesy little town called Warrington, scraping paint off the general store where he still insisted on the proximity of Houston. Inside there was an 85 year-old dude warming himself by the heater. He kept asking us questions through his rotting teeth, tobacco juice dribbling from the corner of his mouth. Before we’d have a chance to answer he’d giggle at us.

At the general store Andy was in search of electrical tape in order to repair his fraying handlebar tape. He spotted a partially used roll behind the counter. The septuagenarian cashier didn’t not even flinch when he asked for five inches of it. She grabbed a whole roll, handed it to him and demanded $1.31. A few miles down the road the sprawling metropolis of Burton unfolded for us. The town’s café looked all too inviting and very promising. It was bustling with locals, always a good sign. Our waitress was more than a little ditzy and our meal dragged on forever. Hanging out for so long we had a chance to get some face time the county sheriff who was having lunch with his entourage. The five of them probably weighed in at nearly a ton. I fell asleep in a food coma at the table while Andy was in the bathroom.

When I regained consciousness we were pedaling and my knee was aching. The road deteriorated to a bumpy dirt path. We finally had to stop when we reached a road crew that had reduced the road to loose and large gravel that was impassable by bike. We were not looking forward to walking our bikes for two miles through the construction site. Luckily, the flagman offered to radio for a truck to give us a ride through to the other side.

That got us through that little problem but my knee still throbbed and Andrew was becoming impatient with my pace. When we stopped at the next town we both jumped at the general store’s proprietress’ idea of how to clip off a few miles from our journey. O.K., so it involves a few miles of dirt road, but it cuts off 19 miles of the journey, she insisted. This didn’t seem really likely because there were only 26 miles left on the route prescribed by our maps, but sounded good. It worked; we shortened the trip (by a mile or two) and the dirt road was fine.

As we came closer to Navasota the color of the in Texas minorities began to shift from brown to black. We checked into the hotel of the brother or cousin of the hotel operator of last night. Before hitting the room we decided that we would dine in our biking clothes. Rode to dinner at a "B-minus" Mexican restaurant where Andrew ordered a meal so large it came on two plates. He ate so much he almost re-enacted the much heralded scene from Monty Python’s "The Meaning of Life" where the restaurant patron explodes. On the way home we bought a flask and a bottle of Chivas Regal to help us through the last remaining dry counties of Texas. Had a couple of scotches and imagined what life in a state other than Texas will be like.

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