Sunday, December 27, 2015

El Paso to Alpine, TX

December 12 - 20, 2015

Garmin info with maps

This sculpture was above a highway in Mexico.
We had no choice but to take a rest day just north of El Paso. The rains fell all day with howling winds and I spent the time putting some work into updating the journal. The next morning saw a big improvement in the weather and we got packed up. The unexpected benefit of taking a rest day was we would ride through the city of El Paso on Sunday.  The city is on a big hill and we started the ride with a good deal of climbing. We followed a route plotted by Googlemaps that zig-zagged on deserted roads through the industrial section of El Paso. The border fence for Mexico was usually within view. Maybe it was just our route through town but El Paso seemed to be a poorer city than we had ridden through so far on this tour. The buildings were old and roads were in rough shape. Pretty soon we were beyond the city and riding along quiet pecan orchards. With the big winds yesterday there were lots of nuts in the shoulder. We stopped to pick some up. I used Myrtle's front tires as a nut cracker. The pecans were delicious. A few miles from our destination we were on a farm road going through old small mission trail villages. The road was damaged and there was a detour. A passing motorist stopped to escort us to the road we needed to be on. We ended the day in the town of Clint at a very inexpensive run-down but comfortable hotel just off I-10. Mamacitas restaurant next door was surprisingly busy with depressed Cowboy fans who were watching their team lose to the Panthers. We enjoyed a nice meal with a cold beer before getting a good night's rest.

Myrtle the nut cracker
Pecans on the road

El Paso
Historic Catholic Church in Fabens
In the morning, we started our day with breakfast at Cotton Eyed Joes before getting back on Hwy 20 riding through more farmland. Our day started quite cold and the forecast calls for even colder weather in the next few days. We stopped in historic Fabens to check out a beautiful old Catholic church. We enjoyed riding on quiet Hwy 20 which was in fairly good shape with very little traffic. The road had a very gentle incline and soon we were riding through the small town of Fort Hancock looking for a community church that allows touring cyclists to stay for free. I found this information in a blog on CrazyGuyOnABike. The church isn't on Google maps and it doesn't have a website. In fact, there is no information about this church on the internet at all. We rode passed a number of churches not finding the one we wanted. I tried to ask a local but he didn't speak English. My poor Spanish didn't help. The Catholic church was locked up and we decided to ride back to the Baptist church. On the way we passed the Junior high school where a few teachers were walking in. They not only knew of the church but one of their teachers runs the church. Soon we were talking with Jennifer and getting directions the few blocks to the church.  We were met by Terry who showed us around. The church had heat, a kitchen and a bathroom.  Fort Hancock has a motel but the reviews aren't good and the owners charge too much. This was a much better place to spend the night. We had a lovely evening when the 4H club kids showed up to make cookies and get their Christmas presents. I worked on a project that's been on my list for awhile.  My cooler bag has a been a terrific addition to my gear list for this tour. It just needs a small fix. I usually add a bag of ice to keep the contents cold while traveling and when it melts my food sits in a puddle of water. I went to a fabric store on the way out of Tucson and picked up a grommet kit. I wanted to add a grommet to the bottom of the bag as a drainage hole. It seemed like a good idea in concept but I wasn't sure how to do it. The bag is made of recycled bicycle tubes with a layer of insulation in between. I was worried that the layers were too thick to add the grommet. While I was fiddling with the bag Terry came over and offered to help. This was perfect. He went out to his truck a few times to retrieve tools. Even though he had never done this before he had a better grasp of what was needed than I did. After a couple of good attempts he was successful in getting the grommet to go through all the layers.  Now I had a cooler bag with water drainage!

Tailwinds into Sierra Blanca
Very generous Fort Hancock Community Church
Cooler bag with drainage grommet added
Ft. Hancock accommodation
The next morning was very cold as we made our way through town for breakfast at Angie's. We had heard a lot about this small restaurant. Apparently, the chicken fried steak is legendary. I'm not fond of foods covered in gravy and we were too early to try the chicken fried steak anyway. After a delicious breakfast big enough to take half for later, we pedaled onto I-10. The roads to Sierra Blanca all merge onto I-10 to get over the pass. The pass requires 1,300 ft of climbing with a gentle grade over 10 miles. Once the sun rises the temperature warms quickly. Soon I was striping off my jacket, booties and skull cap.  Over the last couple of months Maryann has become a much stronger rider than I am. Once we set out she rides ahead and we meet at the end of the day. Sierra Blanca is another small interstate city that caters to travelers. There are many motels and we ended up getting rooms at the Americana Inn for $45. I took both trikes into the room for safe keeping for the night.

Myrtle warm and secure in the motel room

Nice tailwind

We had another ride on I-10 ahead of us. What's been nice about the rides since leaving Las Cruses is we have had much more reasonable miles every day. I'm such a slow rider I prefer distances under 40 miles a day. Lately our mileage has been in the low 30's.  Less mileage means I have time to be more relaxed. We can check out the towns, talk to people, learn about the area and still get all our daily chores done. What I especially appreciate is being able to wash my clothes out with time enough that everything dries overnight.  

Very cold in the mornings

Entering Central time
Again today, we would have a very manageable mileage day with a big tailwind. Woohoo!!  The shoulder was very wide on I-10 with plenty of room. Funny enough, sometimes there were 2 rumble strips. One on both sides of the shoulder. Quite ridiculous but the strips never effected us. Even though we lost an hour entering Central time, we got into Van Horn in the early afternoon checking into a Motel 6. Sometimes hotel rooms are cheaper if booked online. This one was the same price at the counter and the receptionist gave me a discount using Maryann's AARP card. Maryann was already checked in and settled in her room by the time I arrived. On our way to dinner we stopped in at the Van Horn Chamber of Commerce to ask about the road ahead. Our next town is the only place in this section of the tour that doesn't have a place to stay. The distance from Van Horn to Marfa is 74 miles which is too far for me to ride in a day. We needed to find a place to camp on the way. Most blogs I've read describe the halfway point of Valentine as a ghost town with many abandoned buildings. Until the weather overnight turned so brutally cold, I was thinking we could wild camp in an abandoned building. But 20 degrees is very cold for camping and would push the limits of our gear. We were hoping to find something warmer. I had asked for help on BentRiderOnline and someone responded with the address and phone number of the library in Valentine. If someone at the Van Horn Chamber of Commerce didn't know anyone in Valentine maybe they could call the library to make introductions for us. At this point, we were hoping to camp outside the library. Interestingly enough, Brenda at the Van Horn Chamber of Commerce used my information to call the librarian in Valentine who was very agreeable to letting us camp there. We would be cold but at least we now had a place to set up our tents. After leaving Brenda, we went for dinner at Chuy's which is famous as a favorite place of John Madden with lots of football and sports memorabilia. The food in this restaurant is really terrible.

View from the road
Riding on I-10
Enthusiastic road crew on Hwy 90
In the morning we, again, started riding is very cold conditions. But first, I had to fix a rear flat I discovered while taking the trike out of the motel room. In 10 years of trike riding, this is the first time I've had to fix a rear flat. It sure was nicer to fix it in a warm motel room than in 20 degrees on the road. Luckily,  we had another tailwind for the desolate ride to Valentine. The road had a gentle climb all day. About 7 miles out of Van Horn the road was redone and pavement was smooth. What a pleasure it was to ride on until we hit the next county. I saw coyotes, lots of rabbits and javelinas crossing the road. 

Abandoned Lobo, Texas
Prada, Marfa
A few miles before Valentine I came across a very odd and famous sight. A Prada store. This is an art installation that has been out here for 10 years. I've seen pictures of this piece in many blogs and it was cool to finally see it in person. The building is truly in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by empty ranch land. The shoes and bags on display are original Prada. The shoes are all for the right foot and the bottom of the bags have been cut out. There is also a live security camera to keep it all safe. While I was there, a young couple from New York showed up to take pictures. I gave the man my red reindeer antlers for the pictures.  We all said goodbye and I continued on to Valentine. Maryann sent a text that she met the librarian and was going to ask about staying inside. Valentine doesn't have much to offer. Most of the buildings and businesses are closed down. At one time the town had many cafes, gas stations and motels. Now it has a school and a library and not much more. Surprisingly, people do live here. I was running out of town and still hadn't seen the library. I was at the far end of town before I saw Maryann's colorful flag and trike parked outside a small brick building. She was letting some very excited kids sit in her trike and they were having a great time. The librarian also agreed to let us stay inside the library for the night.  Woohoo!! This library is an old house with heat, a kitchen and a bathroom. This was great and I couldn't thank Lety enough for her generosity! The library was originally built by a family with deep political ties. The pavilion out back was named for Laura Bush and the house was bought and named as a memorial to Kay Johnson whose family also had a ranch in the area. Kay's sister is married to Karl Rove.  We happily set up our mats and sleeping bags between the book stacks getting a good night's sleep.

Ride to Valentine Public Library video

Valentine Public Library and, sometimes, motel
Lety the librarian with puppy Woody
My first rear flat on the road - ever!
Hwy 90 has been a really good road. There's a wide shoulder and the road surface has been smooth. Until our ride to Marfa. Everyday, Maryann and I have breakfast together and then start our ride. It doesn't take long and Maryann is out of sight. She always gets to the next town long before I do. A few miles out of Valentine Hwy 90 crosses into Presidio county and the road became really terrible. The surface was so rough it might as well have been unpaved. Not long after getting on this stretch I had another rear flat. This would be the first time I would fix a rear flat on my own and I wasn't really sure I could do it. Actually fixing the flat wasn't hard although I found lots of goat heads and one was huge. They were really hard to remove and I ended up using tweezers from my toiletry kit. I also noticed the tire seemed to have an irregularity on the inside. The part of fixing a rear flat that had me worried was getting the wheel back into the derailleur and then seated correctly. I was really surprised how easily I got it done and I was back on the road. Until another 10 miles when I had another rear flat. At least this time I was confident I could get it fixed. Again, I pulled out lots of goat heads with one being especially thick and sharp.  The goat heads were embedded deeply in the tire and it took a long time to get them out. Thank goodness I had tweezers! By the time I got to Marfa it was late in the afternoon and I was exhausted. In Marfa I stopped at a bike shop to get a new patch kit. The shop was an old automotive garage and the mechanic was listening to heavy metal music at it's loudest level. Most of the bikes on display were refurbished cruisers. He was also selling extra thick 20 inch tubes and I picked one up with a patch kit.  

Camping at El Cosmico

Walking around El Cosmico video
Riding through Marfa
Holiday antlers on the trike
Maryann was waiting at El Cosmico. She had been waiting there for hours. Turns out Marfa is very expensive. She tried to get motel rooms and the cheapest room was $115 - ouch! El Cosmico has vintage trailers, tents and yurts for rent. The trailers were sold out and the cheapest one was $230. The tents, which include a heating pad on the mattress, went for $145 and the yurts were also sold out at $185. This is a very small town in desolate west Texas that I had heard a lot about and was looking forward to seeing. In fact, this was the only town in the area I wanted to visit. Maryann had ordered ACA Southern Tier maps delivered here and had picked them up from general delivery. We were hoping the maps would tell us the inexpensive places to stay going forward. Marfa is an idea from Donald Judd who started the Chinati Foundation. He brought the idea of installing large scale artwork in this barren landscape inviting a small number of artists year after year until it built into an important foundation. Marfa continues to be written up in magazines and newspapers bringing tourists from all over the world. Many actors and musicians including Beyonce and Matthew McConaughey have said Marfa is their favorite place. All this tourism has pushed up prices so high the locals are being driven out. The schools are having trouble keeping teachers because no one can afford housing. This isn't at all what I expected. The prices for everything was much higher than I wanted to pay and I felt foolish for being here. Even though the temps were going to be very cold over night we ended up camping at El Cosmico for $32. The outdoor bathroom was extra special. The structure has toilets and showers that are roofless. The walls don't have mortar and anyone can see in between the wood slats. The toilets have canvas doors that don't stretch all the way across and there's no way to lock them. One toilet didn't even have canvas covering the door. Yes, very special. The outside sink also didn't have soap and in the morning the pipes were frozen. It was too cold to take a shower anyway. I went to the front desk to complain about the shower building and they said it was typical of any campground. Not for these prices. Very strange place!

El Cosmico entrance
Tents for $145/night
Wood burning hot tub for $92 at El Cosmico
Alpine, TX mural
We had planned to stay for a rest day in Marfa but we couldn't wait to get out of there. The town didn't feel real like it had been diminished to an art idea completely out of context within this bleak and empty landscape.  That juxtaposition is probably part of the beauty of the idea behind Marfa.  This would be a more meaningful experience if I was with art people but from the viewpoint of the bike tour we couldn't relate and decided to move on. Maryann had made arrangements to stay with a Warm Showers host in Alpine and the host was ok with us arriving a day early. The temperatures were warming up and we had a nice ride in bright sunshine. We got to Alpine and had a look around. This is a really sweet town with a lot of charm. Our host owns 2 homes next to each other. Maryann stayed in the main house and I stayed in a sweet guest house. Liz, our host, has worked as a public defender all her career and is also very involved with the community and the local art world. She has a lot of style which was very fun to see. We were totally taken care of and she let us stay an extra day which I was especially grateful for. Liz travels a lot and we were lucky she was in town. I loved her stories and she gave us a very interesting view of the area. Liz made us great meals, let us do laundry and we met some of her friends too. Liz also has homes in Sanderson and family further on the southern tier that she is making available to us. Thanks for everything Liz - you are awesome!

Guest house.
Cards and champagne with Liz and Debbie
After a relaxing 2 night stay in Alpine we were ready to get packed up and back on the road.

Another lovely mural in Alpine

Friday, December 25, 2015

Deming, NM to El Paso, TX

December 7 - 12, 2015

Garmin info with maps

View from I-10

Giant Breakfast
Pancake sandwich to go
Somehow, I expected Lordsburg would have more to offer. Maybe it was wishful thinking and maybe it was because there are so many motels. Lordsburg is like a shell of a town. It seems this is a town that people only stay over night on their way to some place else. Our rest day was Sunday and most everything was closed including the one small grocery store. We did manage to find a very good Mexican restaurant open. The train was stopped on the tracks and we needed to cross the tracks to get to the restaurant. We ended up walking to a crossing under the tracks but the restaurant was worth it.

Fantastic pecan rolls for our ride
Feeling more rested, we got packed up for the longest ride of the tour so far. Today we would ride over 60 miles to Deming. All on noisy I-10. We were well fueled by a huge breakfast. It was so big we took half to go. The pecan rolls looked too good to pass up so we had plenty of calories for the big ride.

Trading post stop for shot glasses

I-10 isn't very interesting but the shoulder is very wide and the road is graded gently. It is legal for bikes in this section of the interstate. Our first stop was to the Continental Divide trading post. They had my favorite Asian style snack mix. I love the wasabi peas! Maryann also picked up some New Mexico shot glasses so we could enjoy our night caps in style. 

Nightcap purchase

Bikes are allowed on I-10
The next section of I-10 had about 3 miles of construction and this was a very frightening ride. A bridge for an exit was being redone and the construction company had reduced auto traffic to one lane. The shoulder was repaved leaving 6 inches of asphalt between the gravel edge and the rumble strip.  There was no warning or other riding options. We were placed much too close to traffic. With our left wheels on the rumble strip and our right wheels in the sloping gravel edge we had no choice but to ride through it. This had to be very scary for vehicles as well, especially the semis. They all drove as close to the cement barrier on the other side of the lane as possible. No one honked or gave us any problems. Everyone seemed to understand that this was simply a terrible situation and tried to make the best of it. I was furious at the short sightedness of the construction company and took pictures of the name and phone number as well as the New Mexico DOT info. They were all going to hear from me. To put us in such a dangerous situation made my blood boil and I wasn't going to let it pass. The construction company should have posted a number and offered a shuttle service for cyclists since there wasn't a frontage road to take. We took a long break to recover and calm down when we got through it. At least we did get through it!

Trucks passing very closely. Notice the shoulder width.

Here is a video I sent to the New Mexico DOT:

Birdseye view of riding in the construction zone on I-10

We arrived in Deming as the sun was setting. This is another I-10 city with lots of cheap hotels. These hotels weren't as cheap as Lordsburg but we got checked into comfortable rooms for $45. Tonight I had the trikes in my room. Again we found good Mexican food for dinner and toasted our lucky escape from the jaws of death with new shot glasses.

Highest point on I-10
The mornings continue to be chilly in the upper 40's as we are gently climbing to Las Cruses.  We are right around 4,000 ft in elevation. Today again, we would be on noisy I-10 with, hopefully, with no construction! Often, I-10 doesn't offer anywhere to pull off and rest. We have started going to breakfast and ordering something big where we can eat half in the morning and use the pancakes to make a sandwich with an egg and couple slices of bacon. It's just too hard to make our usual lunch in the shoulder. This way we have plenty of calories for the ride. There was another trading post type stop where we could take off the highway just before the fabulous down hill into Las Cruses. Here we could take a frontage road which was much nicer than being on the interstate.

We probably won't be picking up hitchhikers
Downhill into Las Cruses
Debbie and Kerry loading up the trikes in Las Cruses
Catrike purple for Maryann

Today we are meeting up with friends of Maryann, Debbie and Bill. We flew down the long hill into Las Cruses and Debbie met us at the KOA with another friend who had a trailer. Kerry loaded up the trikes and drove the few miles through the city center to Debbie's house. This family couldn't have been nicer. They have a large RV in the driveway where Maryann and I were made very comfortable. Maryann hadn't seen these friends in a long time and we ended up staying for 3 nights. Bill is a terrific cook and made us fabulous meals. It was wonderful eating home cooked food. We went out for long over due pedicures and Debbie showed us around the White Sands National monument.  This is a really beautiful place. Bill's daughter and nephew were also staying and they took us to historic Mesilla and the famous La Poste Mexican restaurant.  We had a really nice time with them all. Many thanks to Debbie and her family for a very nice stop and much needed break. 

White Sands
Enjoying White Sands
Another one of Bill's fabulous meals
Las Cruses sunset

Ostriches tried to get my phone
After a 3 night rest stop, we got packed up for the ride to El Paso. This was a cool ride mostly on a frontage road.  We stopped at a very interesting feed supply store that had lots of animals outside. There was a pen with a camel, a bull and an unusual looking cow all hanging out together. There was another pen with ostriches. The ostriches pecked at my phone while I was getting pictures. This sure caught me by surprise. The store was completely surrounded by dairy farms and feed lots.  The winds were blowing very strong and in our favor. We flew down the road ending the day on the north side of El Paso at another Motel 6.  The weather forecast for tomorrow wasn't good with a big rain storm on the way. Sometimes these storms materialize and sometimes they don't...we'll see what tomorrow brings....

Texas...I think we are going to be here awhile