I survived Texas. And all it could throw at me. Almost 1000 miles of it. As I write this latest instalment I am in Lordsburg New Mexico having come down from the over 8,000 feet Emory Pass and crossing the Continental Divide to find myself in the plains and deserts of New Mexico. More about that later.
First, let me tell you about Texas. I reckon it falls into three parts, East, Middle and West. Obvious really, no ?! As for the east, it is relatively green and wooded, at least the bits on the route I took. It appeared prosperous in comparison to some of the other places that I’ve gone through. As for the middle, well that is definitely prosperous. A lot of it is ranching and evidently pretty nice ranches. The sort that LBJ had. And of course there is the capital Austin, which definitely is a cool bright jewel in the crown of Texas. I could live in Austin with all the beautiful people and the nice shops and restaurants. The sort of place you would find an American equivalent of Waitrose, something like Whole Foods, and where you could find a decent Italian deli to buy guanciale di porco, imperative for spaghetti carbonara. We have such a place in Birmingham, Laghi’s at Five Ways ! West Texas, on the other hand, is a different world. It’s dry, arid, semi desert, and there isn’t much there. Except for pecan groves / orchards, which are in abundance. The climate must be suitable and all they need is water, and lots of it. So in the semi desert they plant pecan trees and flood the groves with water from deep artesian wells / aquifers. That water was laid down millennia ago and they simply dig down and use it to water pecan trees and let what’s left over evaporate into the air. I very much doubt if it’s replaced, having taken millions of years to accumulate. And so they carry on pumping it up until one day there is no water left. I suspect they haven’t thought about that. Pecan nuts are very expensive, and I’m told that the Chinese buy huge amounts of them. Sanctions permitting. And until the water runs out, I guess. Pecan pie will never taste the same. So, if you plan to settle in Texas, go be a prosperous rancher, or go be cool and hip in Austin TX, or be a pecan nut farmer.
The end of my last post saw me in Bracketville TX where I had camped on an old army base, Fort Clark. Early the next day, Saturday 30th April, I headed off further towards west Texas through territory where there is little of note and few services. The cycling map keeps warning that there are no services - water, camp sites, motels, service stations, food stores, restaurants - for 50 0r 60 miles or more. You are on your own, and have to bring extra water and provisions. One stretch of ‘no services’ ended with a rather run down and chaotic small motel in Langtry TX in the middle of nowhere, run by an elderly guy called Jesse who didn’t seem to have a price list and everything just seemed to happen and be paid for by mutual agreement. He was very kind and generous, and even had some cold beer which he was happy to share, as well as to provide some Mexican food. As I say, chaotic, but refreshing and chaotically wonderful, and a welcome stop for rest and refill. There I met a Canadian couple, Fiona and Paul, from Victoria on Vancouver Island, who are also doing an east to west crossing, and we shared experiences and stories, and then the next day, Sunday 1st May, headed off in to another ‘no services’ desert of west Texas, and eventually we met up again at Sanderson TX, bypassing the rather sparse looking camping site and opting for a small motel. Which proved to be quite an experience. The only eating place in town was closed, missing out on 8 people at the motel who were all looking for food, and all of us ended up buying pot noodles from the service station and having an evening of lean pickings. What was of particular interest for me, however, were some 60 something guys on motorbikes, one a retired airline pilot, the other a rancher, the latter packing a Glock pistol on his hip; the other chap’s was lying on his pillow in his room. They were Texan right wing Republicans - guns, God, family and pretty much anything else that Attila the Hun would appreciate. But, in actual fact, they were really interesting and happy to discuss all the issues that they stood for or against, most of which I would not be for. I think the most revealing thing about the conversation was that both did not want Trump to stand in 2024, because they said that he was too divisive, and whilst he had done some good things in his term as president (really !?), he had also caused great division and alienation in the country, so much so that politics now was just a case of taking up a position and holding to it rather than being willing to respect others and their views and to discuss openly and amicably and seek a democratic consensus As we were doing. Their world view was not mine, but it was so interesting to talk with them. The gun culture is a big thing in these parts, and all sorts of people carry them without giving it a thought. I hope that we stick to truncheons. Maybe the odd Tazer here or there..
Monday 2nd May saw me head on early in the morning further along Highway 90 through Marathon TX to Alpine TX. Alpine sounds as though it should be something special, but like most places it appeared run down, with just an odd hint of hippie interest about it. I at least managed to get some decent pasta there, having told the waiter to tell the cook to make sure it was al dente, rather than the usual boiled up mush that so often passes for pasta in these parts. I had to explain al dente to a waiter in a US Italian ersatz restaurant, mind you. One of the waiting persons was a cross dresser, rather badly cross dressed I have to say, but I didn’t bat an eyelid. My take on cross dressing these days and all those associated gender identity issues is simple - if somebody is brave enough and desperate enough to do it, then respect, because they must put up with a huge amount of aggro. I wouldn’t. Even if I was desperate to. It must take a lot of guts, courage and determination. Now, bad cross dressing, I think, it is fair to criticise from a style perspective. And the said waiter / waitress / server / serviette / whatever - what a nightmare trying to find the right non gender specific tag - was a bad cross dresser. From the style perspective. Enough ! Before I get myself in to trouble. The only interesting other thing about Alpine is the Amtrak cross country train from New Orleans to Los Angeles goes through Alpine and stops at something like 3 am. From my experience of Amtrak from Miami to Jacksonville at the beginning of my trip our cross dresser serving person would be nothing unusual on an Amtrak train.
Tuesday 3rd May, still on Highway 90, I went through Marfa TX and Valentine TX to Van Horn TX where I stayed in perhaps the cheapest motel of this trip, definitely at the wrong end of town. Nonetheless, it had all I needed, including a Mexican place to eat next door and a petrol station across the road to get a beer in the evening and coffee the next morning. So, all boxes ticked. I spent some time talking with an Afrikaaner South African who was staying in the same motel, rather more long term than was I, who had come over on contract from SA to work on one of the farms in the Texan locality. He was in his late 50s, had been a police officer in SA, presumably before things changed, and said he was over here because the likes of him could not get work in SA. White, Afrikaans etc, and now surplus to requirements. So here is Dion spending nine months of every year working on a Texas farm in order to provide an income for his family back in SA. He did say that it was financially worth it, because every $1,000 he sends back to his family becomes 16,000 SA Rand, and that is a lot of money in SA. So, that’s why he does it. However, I felt sad watching a man well on in life having to be away from family and home, living in a down at heel cheap motel, because back home there is little or no future or prospects for him. I suspect he is not alone. Another interesting person and story that I have encountered on my budget motel tour.
I think I’ve mentioned before that almost without exception the motels I stay in are run by people from India or Sri Lanka. Almost always. We talk about cricket, about Modhi, about Boris, and about their children, who don’t want to be in the parents’ business (and I suspect the parents don’t want them to be motel keepers, either) but go on to be professionals - lawyers, accountants, doctors, dentists etc. Sounds familiar ? In Wickensburg TX one motel boasted that it was ‘American Run’ !
Where am I up to ? So, Wednesday 4th May saw me heading further east towards El Paso TX. All day I skirted the border and the wall which I could clearly see, at least in those parts where it was considered a possibility of illegally entering the USA. Where there wasn’t a manmade wall, there were high cliffs and bluffs above the Rio Grande which acted as effectively as the wall in keeping people out. By the way, the Rio Grande in these parts is anything but grand, in fact it is just a sandy dried up river bed that relies on release of water from dams upstream , which at this time of year is not happening. Most unimpressive and it definitely does not live up to its name. There are also in these parts lots of border guards patrolling the roads and a number of check points. All part of fortress America. Quite unnerving and upsetting, really, to see such industry in the name of keeping people out and frustrating ambitions which, if we are honest about it, we all have. Not necessarily to live in the USA but simply to try and better oneself and look for a good and peaceful life. The border and the wall and the apparatus of control is very much a feature of this bit of the world. I ended the day in Fort Hancock TX which wasn’t much to write home about, but it had all the requirements necessary to keep me happy at the end of a day’s cycling - shower, bed, food and drink.
Thursday 5th May I made my way in to El Paso TX, definitely a border town, with the Mexican town of Ciudad Juarez just on the other side of an imposing wall which cuts an ugly swathe between the twin towns. I had some errands and jobs to do in El Paso and was able to accomplish all in the afternoon that I had available to me. there. And then on Friday 6th May I moved inland away from the border for a night of camping in Leasburg Dam State Park just outside Radium Springs. There wasn’t much chance of pitching a tent on the stony and unforgiving ground, so I put my sleeping mat and bag down on some concrete beneath a covering and spent the night there hoping that a tarantula or a scorpion wouldn’t come sniffing around me. Primitive though it was, I still managed a shower, followed by a supper of some sandwiches and fruit that I had brought with me to the wilderness. Sometime you have to slum it in this life !
At some stage during Thursday I had left Texas and entered New Mexico. There wasn’t a sign to bid me farewell to Texas after almost 1000 miles, and to welcome me to New Mexico. Most cyclists I meet speak of surviving Texas and feel jubilant, as did I, at having passed through TX unscathed and undefeated. I’d have broken open a bottle of Aldi Monsigny Champagne if I had one. Aldi are here in the USA, stores just a touch smarter than at home, and with Monsigny at $19.99 a bottle !
Saturday 7th May was a long day of uphills and wind as I worked my way to a point near the beginning of the climb up to the highest point of this ride, Emory Pass at 8,500 ft. It took me forever to do the miles to Kingston NM to the Black Range Lodge, a B&B which was delightfully welcoming and full of people who could have been superannuated hippies, cult members, opt outers etc, but they were delightfully eccentric and just plain nice people I arrived late, and they fed me wholesome quiche, hearty soup and homemade bread, and were very welcoming. I couldn’t work out who were guests, who worked there, who volunteered there, who had just popped in. It was just a different kind of place.
The firm objective of Sunday 8th May was to make it up and down over Emory Pass and get to Silver City NM, so I started off as soon as it was light, taking two and half hours to make the ascent to the pass, and then a quick descent down the other side, followed by many ups and downs riding in to the wind to get to Silver City NM. It was hard work. I welcomed the delights of a basic weed smelling Motel 6 at the end of along day. As the name Silver City suggests, around here there was a lot of silver mining in the mid 19th century, including at Kingston NM. However, silver plummeted in price in a depression in the late 19th century, and many of the silver mining towns were emptied as people moved on to other things. Copper was also a big earner here, and still is, with a number of large open cast copper mines, such as at Chino mine near Santa Rita NM, still churning out rock and copper ore since the mid 19th century. The opencast mines are awesome in one way, but also ugly and a blight on the otherwise starkly majestic landscape.
On Monday 9th May after crossing the Continental Divide a couple of times I descended swiftly and gratefully for about 15 miles down on to the flat plains and deserts of New Mexico, to Lordsburg NM, which isn’t anything to write home about but had the essentials for a night’s stay - Motel 6, food and beer. Around the down slope and in Lordsburg I ran in to a number of hikers, who are walking the Continental Divide Trail, which follows the CD from the Mexican border all the way to the Canadian border. They were all solitary hikers, a different kind of individual who is prepared to spend four or five months walking the length of the USA along the CD, mostly sleeping and camping in primitive conditions wherever they find themselves, provisioning every now and again at places like Lordsburg NM along the way. One guy I met was a Czech about 30 years old, Jan; he had quit his job and was spending six months walking the CD trail. The Continental Divide is the ridge running north to south through the continental USA from which the waters flow either east or west. You may think I am a bit strange to be cycling across the USA by myself. I think these CD Trail hikers must be a bit different, at least very self sufficient and happy with their own company as they trek the length of the continental USA.
Lordsburg NM is in the desert / plains of NM and as I cycled out on Tuesday 10th May it was absolutely lovely and wonderful. Huge plains / desert / brush, with glorious mountains in the distance surrounding the plains like the rim of a bowl. The sky was crystal blue, the air fresh, and the wind still. Nature's cathedral.
I’ll finish there for this instalment. I’ll follow up with the last 10 days shortly. I should be in San Diego CA by 18 May, and see an old friend, Art, before heading north on the train to LA in order to get myself ready to meet up with David who will fly in from London for a two week road trip up and down the west coast of CA, seeing old friends, some family, and lots of lovely sights. I cycled the west coast from Vancouver BC down to the Mexican border in 2019, so I well know have spectacular the West Coast USA is.