Two Thirds of the Way to San Diego!
Roughly … We made it to Fort Hancock Texas … itchingly close to New Mexico, and a stone’s throw … REALLY … to the Mexican Border. An interesting town in a number of ways. Yes, it’s a “stop” on the Southern Tier Route becauses it’s a long way to anything on either side of it. Groups and individuals oftentimes will overnight in the church, run by the most hospitable people. There’s a motel in town with a “reputation” among those who’ve risked it. There’s a movie-famous border crossing to Mexico there, although it’s existance seems a mere formality since the border appears rather porous here in the farm country. “Downtown” on Route 20 is crumbling …
We stopped for the day in Acala nearby and are resting in El Paso today, but as promised, let me back up to Marathon/Alpine where we started our latest 3-day stretch. We regrouped and restarted our trip in Marathon after the group went home for a tennis tourney / vacation. After seeing the gang off toward Alpine, I took a break at the local breakfast diner and realized how unique this little town is.
Marathon is part of a “metroplex” of art communities in the region, Marfa and Fort Davis being two others and Alpine as the hub by default. Outside of ranching and proximity to Big Bend National Park, it’s not obvious that anything other than the arts keeps these towns alive.
About Alpine. The riders passed through town quickly as it wasn’t the day’s destination but since I stayed there for a week on MY vacation I’ll inject a few more notes. I got in a ride to Fort Davis, ostensibly to road test Mary’s bike and make adjustments. But I suppose I can admit to feeling left out of a great ride back in the spring when I was driving the route while my Adventure Cycling co-leader Paul got to ride the canyon between Fort Davis and Alpine during our Southern Tier tour. What a BEAUTIFUL stretch of road! So, UP the canyon to Fort Davis I rode, had lunch, explored the back streets of town, and returned to my RV park in Alpine a bit later, grabbing a solid 50 mile ride!
I took another day checking out Mark’s bike. I had to bury the seat post as deep as it would go to reach the pedals, and I was still a bit over extended so I decided not to venture out of town. Instead, I visited John, “The Bikeman”. He’s got the only bike shop in the “metroplex”, a region of about 10,000 people, so he seems to be doing ok. He’s been there twelve years, loves his work, loves the area, and loves seeing travelers on the Southern Tier route. He’s got the sticker in his window too, so I wasn’t shocked when he offered to let me use his work stand and space to do any tweeks on the bike.
Great guy … Visit him if you’re riding by! Thank’s John!
But I couldn’t help it … I’d heard enough about Marfa Texas that I couldn’t resist hopping on Old Blue and hitting the road the next day. From Alpine, the route climbs up into what at first appears to be just a range of craggy old mountains.
To get to Marfa, you have to ride through a volcano! Yup, buddy Steve back home would likely freak out seeing this. The mountain itself, which covers nearly two-thirds of the terrain between Alpine and Marfa isn’t a particularly hard passage, but when reaching the top, you drop down into the collapsed caldera of the volcano, see a couple miles worth of geologic detritus, and climb back out the other side at Paisano Pass.
Marfa is ALL about the Arts. If my compatriots from my old gig don’t know about this place, I’d be shocked. I spent some time zipping around town in search of food this day …
… getting a basic familiarity of the lay of the land before heading back to Alpine. I knew we would be spending a night here and decided to save my gallery visits for later. I did stop at “El Cosmico” to see if I might camp there when we pass through, and although it was daytime, I checked out the Marfa Lights viewing area on the way out of town.
I had enough free time back in Alpine to investigate the Big Bend museum at the university, hit every Mexican restaurant in town to compare and decide for myself on “red or green” (chile) …
… have a black cherry and cream raspa, had several Black Eye’s at the corner coffee shop, and like Gulfport and Fredericksburg, rode every street in town. I also had time on the last day there to squeeze in a 20 mile ride heading south out of town to climb a mountain ridge line and look back at the valley where Alpine is nestled.
So after the week away, the gang returned, we restarted and the riders had a BLAST of a ride much like mine getting to Marfa. I spent the afternoon in Marfa touring the Chinati Foundation property on the south of town where the outdoor concrete and indoor milled aluminum works of Donald Judd (the minimalist who denied he was a minimalist) are on display. No inside shots, not permitted, but I snuck a couple of the buildings from the outside …
… and got a few on the grounds of the concrete works.
There’s so much more to see in Marfa if you look. I looked. Reward! I found a back ally coffee shop.
Because I scored a great deal staying a week at the Lost Alaskan RV park in Alpine and even got one night free, I decided to splurge and stay at the Hotel Paisano in downtown Marfa. Sticking to my modus operandi, I asked for the cheapest room in the house, of course. But good things are always happening on bike trips and this day was no exception. Some confusion among staff at the desk after I paid a dirt cheap rate on my card resulted in my scoring a sweet room with an outdoor patio and fireplace!
I figured why stop with that? I had dinner there too … Fried artichoke hearts and a teriaki salmon steak!
Ok … enough of this … back on the road to Van Horn the next day and my peeps had a gift. The morning started with thunderstorms threatening the day while we had breakfast in the dining room, but by the time we were ready to roll, the rain stopped, a dramatic sunrise chased us out of town, and after a few miles of gentle climbing, the winds blew the riders almost the whole way down the flat and descending stretch to Van Horn … 75 miles away, and the longest ride ever for my peeps.
You’d think that with nice weather like this, this thing we found out in the desert would be great fun to fly!
Along the way, we met Eastbounders Connie and Robert. They’re taking the Marfa route rather than the Fort Davis route to Alpine. They either face headwinds this way or big climbs the other way … No easy decision with fully loaded bikes, but as we say … It’s all good.
We checked into motels, waited for the whole town’s power to come back on, (my place was DARK when I arrived) and went to a steakhouse to celebrate their hitting the 2000 mile mark!
On the third day, there was this hill to climb out of Van Horn.
On the freeway. Good thing for tailwinds. Not only tailwinds climbing the hill, but tailwinds all day and going down the other side of the plateau toward Van Horn. Fortunately, much of the mileage was on frontage roads and if only the pavement was asphalt or even chip-seal, but no, it was miles of Texas “Boulder-Seal” (Thank you Joe Sprecco for the education on local lingo!) But now I understand why the 80mph freeway speed limits! At 80mph, car/truck tires just skip across the tops of the stone and don’t have time to fall into the ditches. Smoooooth. Doesn’t work for cyclists though.
Along the way down off the plateau, we met Judy and Todd, Southern Tier eastbounders and headed home toward Florida.
I’ve heard about them through the FaceBook Southern Tier grapevine, and it was great to meet them on the road! They were fighting the wind AND climbing the mountain when we met, yet they were seemingly unfazed … Happy and friendly and excited to be out here in the middle of nowhere! Check out their blog on CGOAB:
Along the back roads near the border just before reaching Van Horn, Mark flags me down for a technical issue. He was having trouble with clipping in and out. Maybe he was doing a Flintstone and dragging his feet on the Boulder-Seal to try to slow his descent off the plateau, but his cleats looked like they were ground to bits and one lost a screw and was flopping around. I did a bit of cutting and filing and tightened the remaining screws so he could at least limp into Fort Hancock, but hey! Another reason to visit a Bike Shop!
After reaching our pre-determined stop in Van Horn with another 75 mile day, Mary pushes on, Mark falls in behind, and they get in another five miles to Acala to make 80 … Another record setting day!
We pile into the RV and hit the road to El Paso where we visit the Crazy Cat Cyclery bike shop … One of their four locations in the huge expanse of the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez metro area. I chatted with some staff there for a bit and they love seeing cyclists doing Adventure Cycling’s Southern Tier Route. Yes, of course they make some money from us at times, but they like hearing the stories too.
And man, have we ever got stories!