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Day 25 – Cleveland, TX

by on March 28th, 2014

Today was a good ride.  With the inclement weather forecast we were prepared to do anything from zero to 75 miles and were lucky to get all the way to Cleveland, TX.  It rained around us all day and is raining now but we stayed dry for the most part during the ride.  It was warmer and actually pleasant compared to the last few days of colder winds.  Tomorrow is supposed to be mid 80′s and a chance of thunderstorms again but at least it will stay warm.

It was very overcast all day so didn’t have too many photo opportunities.  We passed through several towns today, the most significant of which was Conroe with over 50,000 people including a large lake and marina.  We enjoyed the luxury of multiple food choices for lunch in Conroe (many days we eat lunch out of our packs or in gas stations) and had Italian food for the first time since my Cousin Amy’s house in Arizona. We loaded up on some pasta (same guys in same clothes…..different day) and chatted with some of the locals about our trip which is a daily occurrence and always enjoyable.

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We passed through a small town called Cut and Shoot, Texas.

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Dinner choices within walking distance from our hotel in Cleveland (7,000 people) were Mexican, Chinese or chain fast food. We have eaten enough Mexican food to last us all the rest of the trip so we opted for Chinese. Baptiste protested that the food was not really Chinese after having spent months bicycling through it…..the funny part is he ate the entire fortune cookie including the paper fortune inside.

I’ve learned a little more about Baptiste’s trip as we have had more time to talk in the evenings. Before arriving in the US he had already logged over 10,000 miles and will have an additional 3,500 miles or so by the time he reaches Miami (started in Los Angeles). After taking a twelve day cruise from Miami to Spain he plans to bike another 4,000 miles +/- in Spain, Portugal and France. When he completes that leg he will have approximately 17-18,000 miles logged and one year riding since he started on June 30th, 2013. His blog address is passeratparla.blogspot.com. It gives the option to convert it from French to English but seems a little gets lost in the translation. The following are the countries he has cycled through on his journey.

Switzerland
Germany
Austria
Slovakia
Hungary
Croatia
Serbia
Bulgaria
Kyrgyzstan
China
Laos
Cambodia
Thailand
Malaysia
Singapore
USA (now)
Spain (next)
Portugal (next)
France (next)

We hope to be out of Texas in 2-3 days and into Louisiana which will be a mental milestone for the trip.  This is one wide state, not sure of the exact number but we will have logged 1,000 +/- miles in Texas alone, a full 1/3 of the total mileage for the trip. Not sure why, but my impression was that Texas was mostly flat…..it’s not, at least not the southwestern 3/4 of it. We didn’t necessarily take the most direct route across, but even if you took only the interstate from west to east it approaches 900 miles. I found this description on Wikipedia - At just under 879 miles (1,415 km), the stretch of Interstate 10 crossing Texas, maintained by the Texas Department of Transportation, is the longest continuous untolled freeway under a single authority in North America, a title formerly held by Ontario’s Highway 401. Mile marker 880 (and the corresponding exit number) near Orange are the highest numbered mile marker and exit on the Interstate Highway System or, for that matter, on any freeway in North America.

 

 

Day 24 – Navasota, TX

by on March 26th, 2014

We decided last night to make today a rest day and rode a short 30 miles to Navasota this morning. The weather was dicey but we only got some light rain on the way in.  The forecast for tomorrow is down to 80% chance of rain with thunderstorms but we will still try to make it 75 miles to Cleveland, TX, weather permitting.  Conroe is about 40 miles out of Navasota and we have the option to stop there if things take a turn for the worse.  We are still a few days ahead of the loose schedule I outlined to start the trip.  I only took one pic today, these two huge bulls were checking me out as I rode by….

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Side note…. Ben will be in Austin today having made it through the hill country. His girlfriend is there to meet him. As far as I know he plans to press on solo.

Day 22 & 23 – Bastrop, TX and Brenham, TX

by on March 26th, 2014

Yesterday we had a big day making it all the way through Austin and 25 miles or so past it stopping in Bastrop, TX.  It was about 110 miles total but slow going through the Austin traffic and we didn’t finish the ride until 7:45 PM.  The wind wasn’t much of a factor out of Fredericksburg, passing through Johnson City (hometown of Lyndon Johnson) and then spent the next 40 miles or so on a hilly back road that went through a state park, lots of private ranches and had very little traffic.  The transition from brown to green continued as we got closer to Austin and were “escorted” by many types of animals along the way, also a big change over the prior couple of weeks.  We saw our first Texas Long Horn cattle along with buffalo, goats, sheep, deer, horses, ostriches and even camels.

Saw several better examples with wider set horns.

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No pic of the buffalo but here’s the camel, there were several but all on the same property.

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This morning we crawled out of Bastrop, a little depleted from yesterday’s ride. It was chilly, the winds were up and once again out of the east.  I was telling a buddy last night that the Texas wind machine is broken….someone reversed the polarity on it and didn’t change it back. We were considering trying to reach Navasota today, 87 miles away, but the combination of 15-20 mph winds in our face and dead legs from the day before led to a stop in Brenham, TX after about 65 miles.  The winds against a heavy bike with the wide profile of the bags, etc. aren’t great for aerodynamics.  It’s nice to have more options of places to stop in now that we are in a more populated part of Texas.  We stopped in Giddings for lunch at Reba’s deli, the flags next door gave some indication of the wind strength.  In Texas it seems you never see the American flag without the Texas state flag flying next to it.

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While eating lunch we were having the typical conversation with someone asking us where we were headed, where we started, etc., with some of the local folks.  This nice lady and her two younger daughters were having a hard time processing the whole thing but after it sunk in she started telling us about the bluebonnet flowers that are now in bloom and what a big deal they are in Texas. She said to be sure and get some pictures when we saw them on the side of the road…..so we did.  When I was looking up the spelling of “bluebonnet” I found the following quote, ”The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland”.

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After 23 days of mostly dry weather (a little rain on two different days) it looks like our luck is about to change. Tomorrow is supposed to be cold and rainy with high winds, Thursday is warmer but they are calling for heavy thunderstorms and 100% chance of rain and Friday is similar.  So, we may be forced into some light riding days until the weekend and truth be told…..could probably use the rest.  We will see how things develop.

Buck and Baptiste last night after long ride.

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Baptiste sleeping outside of market / bakery this afternoon in Carmine, TX.  The nice ladies at the bakery brought us each a fresh baked danish on the house as we lounged around on their front stoop taking a break.

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Day 21 – Fredericksburg, TX

by on March 24th, 2014

In yesterday’s post I said something to the effect that Baptiste would try and catch up with us over the next day or two.  Well….he caught up with us last night about 10:30 PM.  He rode 60+ miles with Ben yesterday after getting a late start after 9:00 AM.  After stopping with Ben in Ozona he decided to go ahead and try to close the gap all at once, riding an additional 100+ miles after 3:00 PM yesterday afternoon, the last several in the dark.  No mistake on the math, he rode over 160 MILES and showed up at my hotel last night at 10:30.  Blew my mind.  He did some laundry, took a shower, slept on the floor of our hotel room and we took off this morning like it was just another day.

This is what a French guy looks like after riding 160 miles.

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One thing I’ve learned out here (I’m probably repeating myself) is that mileage is only one measure of the day’s ride.  The weather, riding surface, hills, flats/mechanical issues, etc. all have a bearing.  Today was one of those long 55 mile rides.  Apparently we are still entrenched in “Texas Hill Country” although should be out of it soon.  It was cold, windy (some rain) and hilly but it was fun to have Baptiste back in the lineup with us.  We stopped in Fredericksburg in time for me to catch the 2nd half of the big UK win over Wichita State.  It is a town of 10,000+ and very nice place (has been a while since I thought that).  Lots of restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, etc. I didn’t take any decent pictures because the weather was poor.

We are hoping to make it to Austin tomorrow but will be close to 100 miles depending on which route we take.  The weather will have to be better than today.  If in a car and riding the interstate into town it would be about 80 miles.

 

 

 

 

Day 20 – Segovia, TX

by on March 23rd, 2014

We covered 65 miles today after leaving Sonora.  One of those logistical decisions to stop with the next town about 55 miles away.  I saw these photos this morning where I had breakfast…..they show Sonora in the late 1800′s.

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The landscape continues to change as we come to the end of “Texas Hill Country”.  The last two days were a lot of pedaling up extended climbs and coasting down without much total elevation change.  We actually crossed the first creek / river with water in it that I can remember. Not much of a picture but symbolic after a dry couple of weeks in AZ, NM and TX.

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Buck and I checked into a roadside motel in Segovia.  Mimi the cat (big cat) was walking around on the check-in counter.  Then after we got in the room this dog wandered in, jumped on the bed, hung out for a few minutes then took off….ok, I know, a little low on material today.
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Baptiste has made the tough decision to leave Ben and try to catch up with us.  At the end of the day it was putting too much pressure on Ben to keep up and Baptiste did not want to fall further behind. From here on out Ben should be able to go at his own pace and have better options for places to stay as the towns are closer together for the rest of the trip.  I give him a lot of credit for making it this far and hope he is able to stick it out.  Baptiste will likely catch up with us sometime tomorrow or the next day by just putting the hammer down even though he was 100 miles behind us to start the day.  Looking forward to seeing Baptiste but feeling bad for Ben.

Tomorrow is supposed to be cool, windy and rainy.  Our plans are to have a shorter semi rest day (still 55 miles) tomorrow and stop in Fredericksburg (town of 10,000) and also allow Baptiste a chance to catch up.

 

Day 18 & 19 – Sheffield, TX and Sonora, TX

by on March 22nd, 2014

Buck and I rode about 75 miles from Fort Stockton to Sheffield on Thursday. There was one gas station and no other towns along the way.  Another wind battle type day.  We averaged a bleak 11+ mph which makes for a long day on the trail.  We had planned to camp in Sheffield, a town of 500 or so, because there were supposedly no hotels or services other than a two pump gas station.  As we rolled into town we noticed a small building that looked like it might have been a hotel at one time but appeared to be closed and no cars were in the gravel parking lot. There was a phone number on one of the doors so I called it and got hold of a gentleman who owned the place and said he would come down and open it for us. He showed up about 20 minutes later and after a brief negotiation we had a place to stay for the night.  This was the “hotel” and the guy who owned it.

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We ate dinner at Gloria’s, the only place in town.  It’s a single wide trailer on blocks with a few picnic tables in front of it.  You walk up, order your food, Gloria cooks it and hands it out the window.  We were thrilled to have a hot meal and the food was good.  Across the street from the “hotel” was a prison of sorts, a juvenile last chance bootcamp according to the guy above with the beard and big hat.  They were marching in the street and I watched them go through their paces as I cleaned my bike chain outside our room.

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We left out this morning without any real breakfast options and both ate some energy bars we had in our packs. We decided to take some back roads for the first 20 miles which ended up being a lot of very course chip seal pavement and some climbing over one of the hills/mountains that dot the landscape. The two lane backroads in Texas have speed limits of 75 mph and no real shoulder but also have very little traffic. The highways are 80 mph.

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Between El Paso and Austin in West Texas, the only visible industries are the oil fields and some electric wind farms.  Many of these small towns have RV parks where a lot of the oil workers basically live. Some of the larger ones have a few hotels that are also mostly occupied by oil workers as well.

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We arrived in Sonora this afternoon after about an 80 mile day.  Sonora is a town of 2,500 and also passed through Ozona (where we had lunch) which was a nice town of about 8,500.  The landscape is starting to change and it feels more like “civilization”.  I am in a Best Western tonight watching the UK vs Kansas State game as I type this (some great upsets today….most notably Duke!).  Buck decided to camp down the street.

Ben and Baptiste are making good progress and remain about 100 miles behind us.  They have slept outdoors three nights in a row in “non standard” camping arrangements.  Baptiste won’t stay in hotels or campgrounds that charge a fee, so he generally just squats somewhere and I guess Ben is “enjoying” traveling Baptiste style.  The following is a text I got from Ben yesterday….

“Last night he had me sleeping by the railroad tracks which came by about 10x during the night.  Then the temps dropped and I had ice on my tent.  Worst night ever. Woke up every 30 mins”

Not my idea of fun!  I’m a stellar 17 for 19 nights indoors…..bed, shower, locked door, etc.  I’m looking forward to Austin and the more populated East Texas.  Still a long way to go before we are out of Texas.

 

 

Day 17 – Fort Stockton, TX

by on March 20th, 2014

As mentioned a few times, West Texas is very desolate, sparse, arid…..you get the picture.  El Paso and Austin (our next big city destination) are about 600 miles apart and a little more than 2/3 of the width of the state at its widest points.  So, not much new to report different from yesterday as far as scenery or new characters. Today was chilly and winds were not favorable so was a grinder type of day.  Tomorrow is supposed to be warmer but winds still not favorable.

After 17 straight days of riding I am definitely missing family and friends, but at the same time I get much needed daily encouragement from many sources, some expected and some not.  The support for The Dream Factory has been great.  To date, donations total more than $3,000, all from individuals and all in the last three weeks or so. We didn’t really set a goal but I was hoping to at least raise $1 for each mile ridden.  We are basically there with still another 30 days or so to go on the trip. Thanks so much to everyone who has donated, it really is a great cause. Hopefully we will continue to receive donations in the coming weeks.

In lieu of cycling pics today here are few pics of my wife and kids….thanks to them for allowing me to do this! Alex is on spring break and her and Gretchen are in Gatlinburg, TN hiking and horseback riding.

Last I saw Gretchen in Chicago for Penguins vs Blackhawks outdoor game.

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Alex in Gatlinburg earlier today

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Gretchen & Madison

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Day 16 – Balmorhea, TX

by on March 19th, 2014

We (Kevin & Buck) decided to go off the route this morning and come up with a more “reasonable” day after yesterday’s 117 miles.  We continued more directly east than southeast and found a town on the map with basic services 72 miles from Van Horn that kept us going in the right direction.  Buck decided to camp when we got here and I’m holed up at The Eleven Inn in Balmorhea. It’s actually not a bad little spot.  We had the winds with us today but it looks like they will be turning against us the next two days at least.

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We ran into a guy (Russ, 63 years old) out on the road this morning that we met a couple of times earlier in the trip.  We pulled off the road because we saw a gas station (a rare occasion between towns in west Texas)….only to find out it was closed.  Russ and two guys from Minnesota he had picked up along the way were sitting there having just done the same thing.  It was surprising that we ran into them, I think they were the only people not in a car that we saw the last two days between destinations. They also stopped in Balmorhea but are headed further south in the direction of the border tomorrow and I think we are going to continue more directly east (still under discussion).  Some of you bikers might notice that Russ’s bike has a single gear on the front….no climbing gear.  From what I could gather the gear is bigger than my middle ring and smaller than my large ring.  He’s riding a freshly painted 25 year old frame as well.  Needless to say he is pretty fit.

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We saw this sign this morning and have now dubbed Buck the “Michigan Flat” as he is from Michigan and has had seven flat tires.

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Ben and Baptiste are about 100 miles behind us in Sierra Blanca.

Here are a few other pics from the last two days…..

Border Patrol
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Those tiny black things in pic are cows

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It’s cold in the morning so we are riding in jackets and one other layer to start usually

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Day 15 – Van Horn, TX

by on March 18th, 2014

Buck and I left El Paso around 7:30 this morning.  Ben decided he needed a rest day and stayed in El Paso as did Baptiste.  Our scheduled stop today was Fort Hancock with the next day going to Van Horn.  Our plan in the morning was to push past Fort Hancock and try for Sierra Blanca (between Fort Hancock and Van Horn).

We got to Sierra Blanca feeling pretty good and rode on to Van Horn for a total distance on the day of 117 miles, picking up a full day on the schedule.  At some point we assume we will need to take a rest day or not ride because of storms, etc. so it’s nice to have a couple of days “in the bank”.  The only downside to our long ride today is that the next city suitable to stop in for the night is Fort Davis, 90 miles away and about 2,200 feet higher in elevation before we get there.  So, our choices for tomorrow are a rest day or 90 miles mostly uphill.  We will likely do the 90 miles unless we can’t get out of bed in the morning. See the elevation change below between Van Horn and Fort Davis.  It’s not very clear but Van Horn is city on far left andFort Davis on Far right.

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We also had no flats or mechanical issues today which made the long ride doable.  We are now more than a day ahead of Ben and Baptiste and it’s possible that we won’t reconnect with them directly but will stay in close contact via text and phone.

West Texas is pretty desolate and we didn’t see too many people today.  We did pass through a Border Patrol station as we were in close proximity to the border most of the way.  We are currently in the “hill country” and tomorrow’s trip will be the last of the big elevation change days on the route.

 

 

Day 14 – El Paso, TX

by on March 17th, 2014

Today we left New Mexico and entered Texas where we will spend the better part of the next 16 days, longer than we have been on the road total to this point.
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We had a fairly easy riding day with good conditions ….. but a long day at the same time.  We were plagued with multiple flat tires as a group. Buck had three and Ben two for a total of five separate flat tire fix stops.  At that point everyone was also low on tubes so we had to take some time to repair/patch a few as well.

We stopped at a local bike shop in El Paso to restock on tubes and get some tube liners for Buck’s tires to cut down on his flats.  The Gator Skins he is using are no match for steel belted radial wires on the sides of the roads or the goat head thorns / bull head thorns (I have heard them called both). We rolled our bikes off the road to take pics at the Texas state line and all got bull head thorns in our tires.  I spent twenty minutes pulling them out of my tires without an actual flat (Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires are thicker and have kevlar lining).  Both of Buck’s tires went flat immediately.  The thorns are everywhere.  I stepped on one in my hotel room last night.  Flat tire count.. Buck (7), Ben (3), Kevin (2), Baptiste (2). Below are what the bull head thorns look like, they are nasty little buggers.

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Later in the day we rolled through downtown El Paso which was nice on a Sunday afternoon with little traffic.  We were stopped at at traffic light recounting the “flatathon” that made up the day to that point when someone commented that it was not so bad…nobody had been hurt yet or taken a tumble from their bike, etc. Ben made a point that he had never fallen off his road bike or wrecked.  At the next traffic light I looked back and Ben’s bike was on the ground and he was rolling across the sidewalk.  We stopped quickly as the light was a long yellow and he thought we were going to go through and had to slam his breaks on.  Once we realized he wasn’t hurt we had a huge laugh at his expense.

We are once again very close to the Mexican border and will continue to ride near it for the next several days. Tomorrow we are scheduled to stop in Hancock, Texas but may try and push to the next town with basic services depending on how the day goes.  It gets pretty sparse after we leave El Paso for quite a while.