Texas

Austin, TX

My next stop after Lafayette was a leisurely 6 hour, 380 mile ride to Texas to Austin to see an old school mate, Dan, who’s band ‘So It Is Written’ is playing at SXSW 2013.  Who’d have thought I’d meet 2 old school friends from tiny Norwich in the space of a week in the USA?  Norwich inhabitants are slowly taking over the World!…

Anyone that loves different types of beer and an energetic social scene will love Austin, and with it’s cool, laid back inhabitants ‘keeping it weird’, it’s a great place to have fun.  Having been before last year I didn’t frequent ‘Dirty 6th’ this time (a street full of bars & clubs), deciding instead to keep my liver relatively intact and avoid losing my credit card, which I had done on my last visit by leaving it behind some random bar I had forgotten I was even in.  Again, I’m getting old, I guess (or maybe just too drunk) (or both).  So instead we settled for some respectable beers in The Pour House and Lalas.  By the way, I stayed in a great hotel called Allandale recommended by Dan.

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The Alamo and Del Rio

In 1836, 100 odd Texans fought 1500 Mexican troops at the Battle of The Alamo.  Hopelessly outnumbered, their defeat inspired a rallying of Texans to join the army and eventually end the Texan Revolution a month later.  I was surprised to see that a large proportion of the Texans were actually from England, Scotland, Wales & Ireland (and probably a few Norwich lads snuck in there).

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The Alamo

Itself an old Spanish Missionary, The Alamo (originally Mission San Antonio de Valero) consists of several old buildings in picturesque gardens right in the centre of modern day San Antonio, and worth a visit if you’re passing.  I paid a car park attendant 10 USD to look after my bike for me, as I was fully loaded up.

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Beautiful gardens in the middle of San Antonio

My next target was Big Bend National Park, but as it was a 7 hour ride I thought I’d stop half-way at Del Rio, a small border town with the usual strip malls, motels and fast food joints, which was lucky, as I was dying for a burger!  Found a really cool pub with a beer garden like a desert oasis called ‘The Veranda Wine and Beer Gard’ down a side street (using the ‘foursquare’ app – really good) to wash the burger down.  Bed for the night was at the ‘Regency Inn’, an Indian (from India) run motel whose royal name didn’t quite live up to the standard alluded, but for 39 USD I couldn’t complain.

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Lake Amistad, with Mexico over the other side

Del Rio sits on Lake Amistad, a picturesque reservoir on the Rio Grande at its confluence with the Devils River, which connects it to Ciudad Acuña in Mexico across the dam.  The level was pretty low due to a period of drought, but the lake is still well used for boating, fishing, swimming, scuba diving and water-skiing, and there are some good hiking & picnic sites around.

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Big Bend National Park, Texas

Without doubt, Big Bend National Park has to be one of the most beautiful, breathtaking, scenic and adventurous places I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit.

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Lost Mine Trail

The Park covers 1,252 sq miles of the Chihuahuan Desert, including part of the 1,000 mile long Rio Grande that flows along the US/ Mexican border.  Interestingly, US territory only extends to the center of the deepest river channel as the river flowed in 1848, and so crossing the river will put you (illegally) in Mexico.  In fact, there is a 5,000 USD fine for doing this, which I obviously didn’t know when I waded across to take this great photo of the Santa Elena Canyon (from Mexico).  I did wonder why no-one else was following me!  The only thing I was a little nervous about was the strange animal footprints in the mud after seeing the warning signs for Mountain Lions…

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Santa Elena Canyon (from the illegal Mexican side) – I think it was worth it!

Anyway, I survived the illegal Mexican crossing, Mountain Lions, Tigers and Bears oh my, but almost didn’t survive the intense heat when I forgot to bring any water with me (it’s hot in the desert, don’t you know).

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Always take water with you into the desert!

Well it might be hot in the desert during the day, but let me tell you at night it’s a different matter.  I had this bright idea of how nice it would be to camp in the Chisos Mountains in the park, under the coal-black sky lit up like a Christmas tree by millions of stars, which it was until the temperature quickly plummeted.  Whilst my sleeping bag may pack up as small as a mouse in a blanket, it’s about as much good as a fart in a spacesuit when temperatures drop down to freezing.  In the end I put on almost every item of clothing I had, including my motorcycle pants & jacket, and still felt like a skinned polar bear laying on an iceberg.

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Chisos Basin Camp Ground – beautiful setting, but bl**dy freezing at night (in February at least)

I think my pale complexion and sleepless daze in the morning endeared me to my friendly caravan-housed neighbours, who immediately adopted me and fed me hot breakfast and dinner (thanks Bill and Cary!)  Luckily, subsequent nights were a bit warmer so I didn’t have to take them up on their kind offer of their warm spare bed.  We did have some good nights playing Bill’s guitar around his camp-heater (until our fingers froze) and were even lucky enough to be joined by Leon from the camper across the way, who used to play bass for Roger Miller (‘King of the Road’), but who also did an amazing Johnny Cash impression.  I do miss having my guitar with me, but I don’t exactly have anywhere to carry it on my bike.

Throughout the park there are many gravel tracks to explore which make for fun off-road riding, and even the paved roads offer some of the best riding I’ve ever done – perfect sweeping turns amongst beautiful scenery (if you ignore the 45mph speed limit!)

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Great riding – on and off road

I can fully recommend the following hiking trails:  Lost Mine Trail, Santa Elena Canyon and Grapevine Hills (with the Balanced Rock).

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Yes, it took a while, but I eventually managed to balance it on my head

OK, off to bed – I hope it’s warmer tonight…

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A full moon and millions of stars – now where’s me thermal underwear?

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Big Bend to New Mexico – Feb 2013

People sometimes ask me “how come you stay so skinny when you do bugger all and eat burgers all day?”  Well, I can tell you this traveling lark isn’t as easy as it may appear!  Long days in the saddle, fighting against the wind or the cold or the heat, loading and unloading, packing and unpacking, climbing up mountains (and falling down cliffs) etc. etc., all take their toll in calories.  In fact, I am eating like a horse and just can’t seem to pile any weight on.  Below is a perfect example of how my day-to-day activities sap me of all potential weight-gaining carbs – lifting a 215 kg (474 lbs) bike out of the sand is no mean feat!  It is also a pain in the bottom, as it involves unloading all the luggage to make it lighter, and then loading it all back up.  BUT – it is worth the fun riding off the pavement as much as I can.

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DOH!

Leaving beautiful Big Bend National Park I took the winding 170 NW along the Rio Grande and the US/Mexican border.  On the way I passed through the sleepy ghost town of Terlingua, a once prosperous cinnabar mining town (from which mercury is extracted) now famed for its 2 annual chili cook-offs, including the World Chili Championships.  It is also famed for its local somewhat ‘hippy’ inhabitants and visitors with an air of mystery about them (who may or may not be ‘hiding from something’), many of which hang out on the local ‘Porch’ daily, drinking beer and playing music all day; not a bad life!

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Terlingua ‘The Porch’

Upon reaching the windy, dusty border town of Presidio, the only real road out of the area is US 67 which heads straight out NE into the barren Chihuahuan Desert.  Being the pretty much non-existent planner I am, I thought I’d keep riding until I found a suitable place to stop for the night on my way to New Mexico, such as a motel full of Swedish beach volleyball players (female) giving away free beer.  Unfortunately I must have ridden right past that, because I found nothing until reaching Fort Davis (still in Texas) several hours later.

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Look what I found in my tent! (not really…) My pet Rattlesnake

As it turned out, Fort Davis is a pleasant (if very small) town in the Davis Mountains, famed for the McDonald Observatory (which at one point had the second largest telescope in the world) and local rattlesnake collector Buzz Ross’ ‘Rattlers and Reptiles Museum’ (his very interesting & self-professed Largest Live Rattlesnake Exhibit on the Planet).

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On the road again… The beautiful Davis Mountains

 

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Twins!

 

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