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El Paso to Austin Bike Trip
Oct. 2001

Note: Though this trip occurred in Oct. 2001, I wrote this up in Jan. 2003, based on the notes I took during the trip.

Late September, 2001. My friend Bessie writes to me saying she's thinking of bicycling from Utah, where she's finishing a biology internship, back to her home in Austin, and wants to know if I had any tips for long-distance touring? She's never done a tour before, hasn't biked all summer, doesn't even have a bike of her own, and would be embarking on this, her very first tour, with no training, all by herself. Some would say this was crazy, but I found it breathtakingly impressive. Here was someone who REALLY just grabbed life by the horns, letting nothing stop her.

Of course I offer what tips I could, and refer her to the journal from my only real tour, Austin to Louisiana. After reading that journal she says she's REALLY motivated to do a tour of her own. I ask if she'd like some company, from, say, El Paso to Austin? I want to go because I've never done a real bike tour, doing 70+ miles a day. My leisurely Austin to Louisiana tour was incredibly fun, but a little too easy. This time there would be more miles each day, fewer rest days, more camping, and going through the desert and over the mountains. Another reason I want to go is that I like Bessie, and I'd look forward to being stuck with her for two weeks. Bessie readily agrees to have me along, for while she's willing to do the trip alone, she knows it would be more fun, and safer, to have a riding partner.

The plan is that Bessie would bike from Utah to El Paso, itself a huge trip, and I'll fly out to El Paso to meet her, and then we'll both ride to Austin from there. Maybe there will be time for me to hit the casino in El Paso, the only one in Texas, since I'm a novice card-counter at blackjack.

Rather than making you wait until the end, here's how our mileage turned out.
Today's Mileage
Total Miles for Trip
Miles if we do 55 miles/day
Avg. miles/day, biking days
Avg. miles/day, all days

1. Mon, Oct. 8, 2001


2. Tue 10/9


3. Wed 10/10


4. Thu 10/11


5. Fri 10/12


6. Sat. 10/13


7. Sun 10/14


8. Mon 10/15


9. Tue 10/16


10. Wed 10/17


11. Thu 10/18

(today counted as 1/2 day)

12. Fri 10/19


13. Sat 10/20


14. Sun 10/21


15. Mon. 10/22



Sunday, Oct. 7. I meet up with Mike Librik of Easy Street Recumbents, who helps me box up my bike to ship on Greyhound. It was only about $40 or so, about the same as UPS, but it gets there much quicker. As long as Greyhound doesn't screw up and the box doesn't get stolen and I'm willing to deal with various incompetent Greyhound employees along the way. But I'll save my horror stories about Greyhound's incompetence for another time. Anyway, we box up the bike, and although Librik is willing to take the bike to the Greyhound station on his huge bike trailer, I'm pressed for time so I break down and have a cab drive it the two miles to the station. Greyhound misspells my name on the ticket. (How hard is it to spell "Michael"?)

Back at home, I gather my gear, and walk to the bus stop for the bus that will take me to the airport. There's a guy at the stop who insists I read a long article from the Atlantic Monthly about the incompetence in the U.S.' intelligence system -- part of the flood of articles following the 9/11 attacks. Like most Atlantic feature articles, it's far too long for the point it's trying to make, and there's no coherent summary. I skim the article, declining to read the whole thing, and engage in a little banter about it. I can't quite tell whether the guy is brilliant or nuts -- maybe a little of both, a crazed genius. I ask if he has a personal or professional interest in the topic. He's evasive. I think maybe he wants me to think he's got some experience on the inside, but then again, if he works for the bureau, why is he riding the bus?

At the airport a whole slew of Texas National Guard troops are stationed on the far side of the security checkpoint, in full camouflage combat fatigues. It's an obvious overreaction and absurd. The 9/11 terrorists were armed only with box-cutters, for Christ's sake. And if someone runs past the checkpoint, is there any chance in hell they're getting on the plane? Finally, exactly how many Texas National Guardsmen does it take to shoot a suspected terrorist? Five isn't enough? It strikes me that with all the weaponry on display and everyone's nerves on edge, a person is more likely to be accidentally shot by a Texas National Guardsman at the airport than to die in a terrorist attack.

Arriving in El Paso, I find the bus stop at the airport, and get a reminder of how laughable public transit is in the U.S. There are a few different buses I can take, but there's no indication of which one(s) go downtown. Sure, there's a map, but the word "downtown" doesn't appear anywhere on it. I could call the phone number on the kiosk for the bus service, but the area code isn't listed. I get the area code from inside the airport, and called the bus service, but their offices are closed now. I figure I'll wait and ask the bus driver which bus to take, except the bus doesn't come when the kiosk says it will. Ten minutes after it's supposed to be there, I start thinking about catching a cab, but then the bus appears. The bus driver tells me that the routes and schedules have changed, but the bus company hasn't bothered to update the kiosk. I'm the only one on the bus, and he offers to let me ride for free. Once I know I'm headed downtown, I call Bessie on my cell phone, and she confirms that we'll rendezvous at the Greyhound station downtown. When the bus arrives I try to tip the driver since he let me ride for free, but he refuses.

I meet Bessie at the Greyhound station. She arrived the previous day, and made friends with some folks from a local bike shop, who are there with her. We'll all go out to dinner together and then they'll be putting us up for the night. Damn, Bessie really scored.

Greyhound is the typical ordeal. There's nobody in the package pickup area. I'm tempted to just go inside and look for my package, yet apprehensive that I'll get in trouble if they catch me. I wonder how many packages get stolen from people just walking in off the street into the unattended package area? We get the bike, throw it in the back of her friends' pickup, and drop it off at their apartment. Then we head to the restaurant with Mario, a Mexican national, driving us in a car. He drives really recklessly, squealing tires and everything, and it's kind of ironic. His friends tell us that he's one of the top bike racers in Mexico. The restaurant is a buffet, and there's enough vegan or mostly vegan food for me and Bessie. Though our companions are cyclists, they're amazed at our vegetarianism, and ask us all about it, while insisting they could never do it. I've heard it before, but it doesn't bother me. Hopefully we at least set a good example, showing that we're healthy enough to do a cross-country tour on vegetables.

I'm excited to be starting the trip, so I buy Bessie's dinner. She's surprisingly extra-appreciative, which makes me happy. When I toured with Lara, I paid for everything, because that was part of the deal -- I'd offered to do that because there was no way that Lara could go otherwise, since she couldn't afford it. And I didn't mind doing so, but sometimes I felt she took it for granted since she never said much about it. I think that's probably just her style, though, and maybe she felt awkward talking about it. It wasn't a big deal, I would definitely tour with Lara again. But the fact that Bessie heaps lots of thanks on me just for buying her an inexpensive dinner does make me feel good.

Bessie updates me on how she got to El Paso. She biked for most of the way from Utah, but the mountains got to be too ridiculous, and she knew she wouldn't get to El Paso in time by biking, so after a couple hundred miles she put her bike on the Greyhound and rode the bus the rest of the way. Her adventures included taking a spill when she hit some gravel, which made her really wary of even the slightest amount of gravel for the upcoming trip, and being followed around on a reservation where she tried to camp by what she described as a crazy old Navajo man.

Back at the apartment I unbox my bike and assemble it, occasionally getting some pointers from the bike shop guys. There are a few items I can't quite get working, so our friend says he'll take my bike to the shop in the morning and fix it there. We sleep on the floor. We'll leave in the morning, and there won't be time to find the casino.

Monday, Oct. 8. I get up before Bessie, and since I don't have anything else to do I take a couple of pictures of her while she's sleeping. She looks really funny and cute. The guy whose apartment we're in has already gone to work -- he trusted us with his apartment! We bike to the bike shop, me riding an extra bike our friend had at the apartment. It really zips up the hills compared to my BikeE recumbent. At the shop our friend gets my bike ready to go. There are a few minor problems, one with the shifting, and another in which I discover that one of the bars supporting the seatback is broken. He puts a clamp on it, hoping it will hold. While he's working on the bike, Bessie and I walk to the store and buy some beer for him and his buddies as a thank-you. At noon we're finally ready to hit the road and begin the journey.

We start out on the access road to a highway. We're in desert country, it's perfectly flat. Because it's flat and because we're eager to get started, we go pretty fast. But we miss our turn because Bessie read the map wrong. It's easy to do, it's deceptive -- you'd think you follow the thick line, but actually you follow the red line. As we try to get to where we're supposed to be, we happen to pass right in front of the casino! What a stroke of luck. Wouldn't have happened if we hadn't made a wrong turn a while back. Bessie doesn't like gambling, but doesn't mind checking out the casino for a few minutes, so we decide to go in. But we're worried about leaving our bikes outside with all our gear on them. The casino security guard won't let us park them by the door where he could keep an eye on them either, but he insists they'll be safe way out in the parking lot. We're not so sure. We ride another block down, and find a staffed paid parking lot. The guy agrees to let us park our bikes next to his shack for $4. Seems like decent insurance, so I pay.

The casino is the only one in Texas, and it's run by Native Americans. Once inside I discover the bad news: in order to try to make the games legal on a technicality, the blackjack games require a separate fee of $0.50 per hand. At 100 hands per hour, that's $50, which easily wipes out the $25/hr. I could hope to make by counting cards. I decide to play a few hands just for the hell of it, since we're already there. After about four hands I'm up $7, so I quit while I'm ahead. I examine the paytables on the slot machines and try to pick a couple with the best odds, but I lose the $5 I play. So I leave with a $2 profit -- or a loss of $2 after the $4 for parking. On the way out, someone in the casino gets us to sign a petition to keep the casino open -- state attorney general John Cornyn (Republican) is trying to shut it down -- the state never approved it and the tribe just set up the casino without approval and insisted they weren't breaking any laws. Locals seem to like the casino, not only because they have a chance to gamble, but because it's been helpful to the local economy. Me, I figure the government doesn't have any business telling people whether or not they can gamble, so of course I sign. [Note: Shortly after our trip was concluded, Cornyn succeeded in shutting down the casino. The following year he was elected to the U.S. Senate.]

After being at the casino for only 30 minutes or so, we hit the road again. As we head out of town, we go through some really economically depressed areas, with lots of old, boarded-up buildings. We get supplies at a grocery store, and get a reminder that we're near Mexico since most of the customers are of Mexican descent and the radio station in the store is in Spanish. I know maybe 20 words in Spanish, but fortunately the only question I know how to ask is the one I need to ask: Donde es agua?

Bessie takes a spill. She's okay, and thinks the bike is okay, but when we start riding again, her chain is making lots of noise and won't shift properly. Damn, are we screwed already, on the first day, in the middle of nowhere, with no bike shops around, because of a mechanical failure? I examine the chain. It looks like it's just bent. Well, nothing to lose, right? I take some pliers and try to bend the chain back to make it straight. It works! Hallelujah.

We ride through cotton country. There's a bad smell in the air, and we wonder if it's the pesticides. Something like 1/3 of all pesticides used are used just on cotton. There's also a strong sulfur smell, which we assume is coming from factories just over the border in Mexico.

I ride in front because I'm the slower one, so I can keep the pace down to something I can manage. This is opposite of my trip with Lara, in which she rode in front because I was faster. I feel a bit inadequate.

Though we don't like biking at night, we don't get to our destination before sundown because we got off to a late start. At least we have the ridiculously powerful emergency strobe I got from REI. We're lit up like a Christmas tree with that thing. There's no way NOT to see it -- it'll give you retina burn.

The last ten miles of the trip is a real killer. I'm not sure I'm going to make it. I whine quite a bit about it, actually. This is easily harder than the hardest day on my last trip. I'm also a little miffed that Bessie is having such an easy time of it. We get to the cheap motel having put in 63 miles for the day. Already, on our first day, I've put in more miles than the longest day of my Louisiana trip (56 miles). I've done 105 miles in a day before, but that was years ago, and it was a one-day thing, not a multi-day trip. Somehow we only averaged 10.6 mph, probably because we were crawling at the end. Still, this is way faster than my Louisiana trip.

The motel is the Ft. Hancock Inn, Indian-owned (as in India, not Native American), as per my experience on my last trip in which all the motels were run by Indians. After that trip I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who referred me to an article online that tried to explain the phenomenon, called something like "Patel's Motel Cartel".

I ask if there's a discount for people bicycling across Texas and they give us $2 off. They say there's no place around to get aloo pathra, though.

The Simpsons on the TV is in Spanish. I feel ill, like I have a cold. I've almost never gotten sick since I went vegetarian sixteen years ago, but I just really taxed my body today. I'm worried that I won't be able to ride the next day, and we've just barely started, and Bessie's gonna be mad at me.

Tuesday, Oct. 9. I slept eleven hours, from 9pm to 8am. I needed it. But the sleep completely cured me, I no longer feel ill and I can ride again. That's the great thing since I went vegetarian -- I almost never get sick, and if I ever feel something coming on, a long night's sleep is usually all I need to throw it off completely.

At the convenience store they charge me only $0.59 for a $1.49 Power Bar, thinking it's just a candy bar. Whoo-hoo! We hit the post office down the street so I can mail home some stuff I don't need, to lighten the load as much as possible. I send back the pedal wrench, which I no longer need since the bike's assembled, and my lock, since Bessie has one and we can lock our bikes together, and my map, since Bessie has the same map.

We get ready to go, an I give Bessie a vitamin. I can't help but say, "Take your protein pills and put your helmet on!" I discover that my face and chest are already sunburned. I hadn't noticed that we were getting so much sun because it wasn't very hot. I'll have to make sure to use sunscreen. Also, I'm wearing my normal biking gear, which is a long-sleeve dress shirt open in the front. That keeps the sun off my arms and back, and is cooler than a t-shirt since it's vented. But it leaves my face and chest exposed.

Today Bessie didn't leave me in the dust, we were pretty evenly matched, so we took turns taking the lead. Occasionally she was a little too fast for me, but it was nothing like yesterday.

The riding is great. There's zero traffic. I mean, ZERO traffic. We go for an hour or so at a time without any autos passing us. God Bless those Adventure Cycling maps which take us off the major thoroughfares.

We can see the mountains across the border in Mexico. At one point we think we're just a mile or so from the border, but everything is quiet -- no vehicles, no people, no houses, no animals. We do mysteriously see a whole bunch of peppers in the roadway. We figure that they fell off a pepper truck.

Soon we're overcome with the most horrible stench either of us has ever felt, almost incapacitating it was so bad. We finally get close to the source, some mysterious huge mound of something, maybe 20 feet high by 100 feet wide, covered with plastic sheets, held down with old car tires. Maybe it's some kind of manure compost from farming operations. I stop to take a picture, and Bessie hurries me back on the bike so we can get going before she collapses.

Bessie's rack comes undone. The nut fell off, and we can't find it. Fortunately I'm able to get it to stay together with a zip tie. Glad I brought some of those, they're so incredibly handy sometimes.

The biking gets hard for me again, although we've just barely started for the day. After only 21 miles when we get back to the highway I'm nearly defeated. We stop at the Tiger Truck Stop to refuel. I take pictures of the misspelled signs, like I did on my Louisiana trip, which I refer to as the Southern Illiteracy Project. I think this annoys Bessie, maybe because she's from the South, or maybe because she's not as judgmental as I am. Maybe some of both.

There's a sad sight inside the Tiger Truck Stop. A baby tiger on a ceramic tile floor, with a badly written For Sale sign ($5000). There's another sign that says "Free Picture with Tiger for $10 Donation." I mention to Bessie that they have a curious definition of the word "free", but she seems to buy the technicality they're going for. But even that I take issue with, since it seems like it's a for-profit business raising and selling tigers so it's not really a "donation".

Many of the convenience stores have what I presume to be illegal video slot machines. I think the technicality is that you can only win vouchers for merchandise, but even so that's probably sketchy. Probably the only reason they get away with it is that it's not a big enterprise and nobody cares. I lose a dollar in the slot machine here then give up.

I buy a hose clamp for Bessie's rack, since I don't trust the zip tie to hold the whole trip. I also want to get a small gift for Bessie, but something light, so it doesn't add to her load. I settle on a pop magazine in Spanish, with N'Sync on the cover. We note with some amusement that one of the commercial brands of packaged food they sell at the store is the "Big Az Burrito".

We check out the restaurant but there's nothing even close to vegan, so lunch consists of our provisions of bread, granola, and oranges. The portable water filter I got for the trip isn't working too well, bad local water still tastes like bad local water. I buy a couple of energy drinks with caffeine, because next we're going up the big mountain. I drink one before we start and save the other for the trip up the mountain. Although I favor legalization of drugs, I don't do drugs myself because they seem like a crutch, and I have this feeling like I'd be weak if I did them. And I'm pretty hard-core about that, I don't even do soft drinks. So the energy drink is a pretty unusual thing for me, but I want to make sure I get up the mountain. The topographical chart on our map scares me. It looks like it's straight up. It's a 1000-foot rise over ten miles. I worry that I won't be able to make it. Bessie's not too worried, because on the way from Utah she already did a 3000-foot rise in 30 miles. She's been rocking, kicking my ass, while I struggle and whine.

We hit the road again, heading up the mountain. To keep ourselves occupied we think of acronyms for Kanab, the name of the city in Utah where Bessie did her project this summer.

  • Kabul, Afghanistan needlessly attracts bombs.
  • Kansas and Nebraska attacked Baltimore.
  • Killer anthrax nearly annihilated Bob.
  • Keep attacking [the mountain], Nirvana awaits beyond.
  • Kittens allow no armed bandits.

After a while we stop at another convenience store, with an attached motel. The proprietor is a 40-something guy who regales us with various stories and allows how he hasn't slept in days, since he recently inherited the business and he's been trying to fix it up and get it going proper. His breath stinks to high heaven. When we hit the road again I refer to the place as the Halitosis Hotel, which seems to bother Bessie, because she thought the guy was nice. I guess she's making me realize that I'm a negative person. She sees only good, and nothing seems to bother her. I wish I could be more like that. I'm not sure whether I can, though, maybe I'm permanently jaded. Still, I'll try to keep it in mind. Besides making me a better person, I might also wind up annoying Bessie a lot less on this trip if I don't make so many negative comments. We're going to be stuck with each other for a while, so it won't pay for me to be someone who's not fun to be around.

We got to the top of the mountain before I knew it. I mean, really before I knew it. I kept waiting for the mountain to start, not realizing we were already going up. I expected a really steep climb, but instead it was slow and gradual. That was nothing! The hill in Austin to my house is worse than that. I can take a long, gradual incline all day. It's the really steep hills, no matter how short, which do me in.

Biking on top of the mountain is a little weird. All the mountains around us no longer seem so tall, since we're so high up. There's almost zero traffic on the frontage road -- nice! It was so traffic-free we're able to ride side-by-side for much of it, though we still don't talk much. At first I'm able to keep up just fine, too, and don't even have to touch that energy drink I brought along. But I start dragging on the final four miles uphill, which are really tough for me. But then we go downhill so it's okay. Unfortunately it's gotten dark on us again, and the frontage road has ended, so we're biking in the dark on the shoulder of a highway -- no fun. We have the strobe light and the safety triangles, but still. Huge freight trucks blow their horns right when they're next to us and scare the hell out of us, almost blowing us off the road.

We logged 75 miles today. We get a really cheap motel, $20 a night. Not Indian-owned though, and just like my Louisiana trip, whenever the motel wasn't owned by Indians, there's no phone in the room. Weird. This theme will repeat throughout this trip.

[My notes here say "Boxcar Willie, cheerleaders." I wish I could remember what the hell that referred to.]

Tomorrow we have 85 miles ahead of us. Towns are few and far between out here in desolate West Texas, so we have to go that far because if we stop at 70 or so we'll be in the middle of nowhere. I suggest to Bessie that we take the next day off, because to do the 85 miles we'll need a lot of sleep, and it's already 11:30pm since we crossed a time zone and arrived late besides. I really think a rest day will do us (especially me) good before tackling our longest day yet. Bessie is reluctant to agree, since she's full of energy, raring to go, and we've only had two days on the road so far. That, plus she misses Austin and is eager to get back. I throw in that initially we'd only planned to do 55 miles a day, so the extra mileage we'll have put in over the first three biking days will make up for the rest day -- we'll still have averaged 55 miles a day over four days, even though we only rode three. When I travel with someone I try to be easygoing and do whatever they want, but this rest day was really important to me, so I really lobbied for it. Bessie finally agrees. I'm not sure I really convinced her it was a good idea, she might have agreed just because she was trying to be nice and accommodating.

Wednesday, Oct. 10. I sleep until noon. I really needed the recovery time, and now I'm extra glad we'd taking a layover day. It's clear I needed the extra sleep time, and I feel justified in insisting that we take a rest day.

Turns out there's a trampoline at the hotel. Bessie is super excited about it, she couldn't be happier.

We head down to the local Pizza Hut. When Lara and I were at the Pizza Hut in La Grange, Texas, we put La Grange on the jukebox. But now Bessie and I are in Van Horn, Texas. Fortunately there's a topical song on the jukebox: "Bicycle Race" by Queen.

I order a large deep dish pizza but they bring us a thin crust pizza. I don't want to ask them to make us another one, because I don't want to waste food, and we're hungry besides. But I think I should at least ask for a small discount because that's not what we ordered. Bessie disagrees because she doesn't want to cause any trouble. Okay, I know I can learn from Bessie about being more positive, but does that mean I can't seek simple redress for consumer-related problems? I wasn't going to yell or hurl insults, I just wanted to politely ask for a small token as acknowledgment that they didn't give us what we asked for.

Bessie has wanted to try my recumbent, so we swap bikes to ride around town. She finds she loves my bike, because it's fun to ride, and comfortable, and you can lean back and see everything easily. This makes me feel validated since she'd been poking fun at my bike for being slow. She's right, though -- her bike is definitely zippier than mine.

The clamp that our friend in El Paso put on the seat didn't hold, so I got to a machine shop where they weld it back together for $5.

We go to a shop which is a combination Van Gogh museum and used book store. The proprietor paints reproductions of Van Gogh works and sells them. I pick up a National Geographic magazine from the 70's with a cover story about a couple who walked clear across the United States. If we needed any inspiration, that was it. I also pick up a Sherlock Holmes paperback. Bessie gets a diary written by a poor Brazilian peasant single mother a few decades ago. It supposedly caused quite a stir in Brasil when it was published. It mostly chronicles her day-to-day activities of trying to find food and sell scraps for recycling to support her and her children. Bessie relates that she feels a bit guilty spending all this money and time on our bike trip, when that time and money could be helping poor people. I can sympathize with that perspective, but I rationalize the trip that it's a matter of degree -- we both live very low-impact lifestyles, and neither is wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. We both know we'd be more generous if we had more money. I'm not sure it's fair that we should have to deprive ourselves of a bike trip, or give away much of what little we have.

Back at the motel, the proprietors and their friend are curious about my bike, so I let them try it. (see picture) They can't decide whether to be more amazed by our biking from El Paso to Austin or by the fact that we're vegetarians.

There's a beauty salon across from the motel (see picture). Doesn't this place just reek of beauty?

I make some phone calls to friends and family, and sew up a hole in the pocket of my shorts, then we go out for dinner. A local restaurant featured the "John Madden Haul of Fame". I thought the misspelling might be intentional, but I can't find any hint of satire anywhere. Anyway, the restaurant uses lard in everything, so we head back to the pizza place for a proper deep dish pizza.

Thursday, Oct. 11. We leave at 8:45. Since we have a long day ahead of us and want to travel as light as possible, we pack just enough water to get to the next town, planning to refill with just enough water to get us to the next one, and so on.

Right away we miss our turn. We have to backtrack a couple of miles to find it. The map could be more helpful. The turn is right across the street from the great big Love's Truck Stop. I complain that the cycling map producers could have simply said that the turn is right across from the Love's, but Bessie counters that they couldn't do that because the Love's might not always be there. I reply, "But Bessie, Love's is eternal!"

In any event, I don't think it's likely that the Love's is gonna disappear any time soon, and besides, the maps are updated every couple of years anyway. But it's not a big deal.

Bessie gets a flat. It's really difficult to get the tire off the wheel, because these are special puncture-resistant tires (ironically), which are very thick and not very flexible. But then here's my trusty metal spoon the rescue. While Bessie patches the tube, I examine the tire carefully, trying to find whatever it was that caused the puncture. I locate the wire brad that had penetrated the tire, very short but also very thick. Unfortunately Bessie threw it away before realizing that I wanted to take a picture of it.

After killing an hour screwing with the tire, we hit the road again. We're on a service road, almost no traffic -- exactly two cars pass us over a distance of 20 miles. I'm really sleepy, and the urge to close my eyes is fairly powerful. I go ahead and close them for a few seconds at a time. I figure that Bessie's in front of me, I can just listen for her bike and follow the sound. Bessie is faster up hills again.

Bessie's degree is in biology and she's a budding entomologist. She always stops to check out interesting bugs. At one point we stop for a "big honkin' grasshopper" that she saw.

The next convenience store has several illegal slot machines, one of them based on blackjack, and another was 8/5 Jacks or Better. The odds on these machines aren't bad, but I wind up losing $3 in a few minutes and gave up. I buy a Cliff bar for Bessie, only to discover that she'd bought the exact same kind for me. Though it was pointless, we exchange them anyway so they'll seem more like gifts.

We hit the road again. For a while we maintain a 17mph spurt. We went up a mountain at 10mph, but even at that speed it felt like we were flying because it was a mountain. I notice that I'm faster up the hills than Bessie now, so I have to slow down for the first time on the trip. Maybe it was the energy drink.

We pass an old, crumbling school, made of stone. It was interesting so we spent a couple of minutes poking around.

In Kent, Texas the only energy drink at the convenience store is Red Bull, and I notice that one of the ingredients is taurine. That's unusual, because taurine isn't an essential nutrient for humans, though it is for cats. Cats who are fed a vegan diet without supplemental taurine go blind. Taurine is found naturally only in meat, but the taurine in most commercial cat food is synthesized. So the Red Bull is probably vegan, but it makes me think of drinking cat food, so I pass.

Speaking of cat food, there appears to be a homeless kitten wandering around. Bessie buys her a can of cat food and leaves it open on the side of the building. We eat on the side of the building too, on the pavement. Bessie was a little beat, and laid out on the pavement for a while. Bessie's getting pretty burned, so I put some of my vitamin C cream on her. Vitamin C is great, it's really underrated. I've had a lot of success with it, including getting rid of some small warts I had on my hand that the doctor couldn't get rid of with conventional therapy.

It didn't seem like we were there that long, but somehow another hour disappeared in Kent. Now we're off to tackle big mountain #2. I announce to Bessie, "Let's go fuck with that mountain."

I suggest we should have special names. I suggest calling Bessie "Xena" since she's a bike warrior. And together we could be Team Roadkill.

It's mostly uphill, but occasionally it's down. Bessie offers a quote which would be great out of context: "When I go down, the whole world gets better for me."

Like the last mountain, this one is long and gradual, so it's actually not too hard. And again, there's almost zero traffic, about one car every hour. But then as it gets close to sundown the mountain suddenly gets a hell of a lot steeper. Bessie has to get off and walk her bike on parts of it. I struggle to stay on mine, at 4 mph. When I can't stay upright and I have to stop, it's almost impossible to get going again because it's so steep. But I'm determined to bike the whole way. I'm breathing heavily and grunting as I force my way up the mountain, screaming, "Take that, you fucking mountain of fuck!" By 9:30pm it's taken us five hours to go only 27 miles. During this time we remember passing only one house. It's desolate out here.

It's another 18 miles to our destination, the next town, but at the rate we're going it's gonna take another 3.5 hours, and we can't even maintain that rate, because we're exhausted, cold, tired, and hungry. And it's getting late besides. Our 67 miles for the day will have to be enough. We pull off the road to sleep on the shoulder, us and our bikes hidden by trees and brush. The stars are incredibly bright and beautiful out here. That's probably why they located the McDonald Observatory close by. We see a really spectacular meteor burn up before falling asleep.

Friday, Oct. 12. Breakfast is peanut butter sandwiches. Then we continue up the mountain. Not a fun way to start, it's still ridiculously steep. It takes us 1.75 hours to go the 10 miles it takes to get to the peak, going as slow as 2.5mph at times. I'm SO glad I had the big 34-tooth chainring put on my bike for this trip so I'd have very low gearing for the mountains. (Note for my next trip: the peaks are at 31 and 37 miles from Kent.) If we didn't have the wind helping push us I don't know what we would have done. Bessie is faster than me, and has been leaving me behind. I had asked her not to, that I really didn't like being left behind. But she's way ahead of me anyway, and I can't catch up. It's all the more frustrating because I'm trying to catch up, but I'm at the limits of my physical abilities, and my body and mind are already straining. I guess this intensity makes my pretty emotional. When Bessie finally waits for me and I catch up, and we pull over, I get really emotional. Seems like I have abandonment issues, and am scared about being left behind, which was exacerbated by the effort I was putting into trying to not be left behind. I probably scared Bessie a little by being so emotional, but she's sympathetic and I feel a little better now that she knows how important it is to me not to be left behind.

Heading down the hill, we hit 41mph, and that's with intermittent braking. We could have easily gone faster, except that there were lots of curves and we were scared of losing control, plus 41mph on a bike is still pretty scary no matter how you cut it. I keep having visions of my front tire blowing out. Anyone who makes this trip, beware the cattle guards as you start to head downhill.

At the store in Ft. Davis, we meet a local who's also an avid cyclist. He tells us about how he had the same 34-tooth chainring that I have, for getting up the difficult hills when he biked through Colorado. He says he went 3mph up hill, then did 50mph on the way down, passing RV's in the process!

We have lunch in a Southern themed restaurant called the Dry Bean. There's not much veggie food we can eat besides beans and potatoes, but it's enough. I leave my water bottle at the restaurant and have to swing back for it.

It's 41 miles to Alpine. At least the mountain is behind us. I take a picture of a sign for a propane business. Bessie wonders what's so special about a propane sign. I want the picture because on the animated television series King of the Hill, the main character is a propane salesman in a small Texas town. I love the show because it pokes fun at small Texas towns like the one I grew up in. And here I have proof that propane goes along with the landscape.

The grocery store in Alpine has vegan Boca Burgers, yea!

We're sharing the road with more traffic now, but a paved shoulder has miraculously appeared just when we need it. We see that we're on a collision course with a storm to our left. It's kind of odd, the storm is really clearly defined, like big wall from the horizon to the sky. I think we can beat the storm, but Bessie is skeptical. There's nothing to do about it, though, so we keep biking. The next hour is uneventful. Then the storm hits. There isn't any rain but the wind is really intense. Sometimes we think we're going to be blown off our bikes. Fortunately the wind is mostly behind us, so we're really flying, zooming up hills at 17mph.

After an hour of wind with no rain, the rain starts. It's cold, hard, and makes it difficult to see and to ride. It's also getting dark. Bessie is freezing and scared. She thinks we should stop and hitch a ride with a truck. I think it's not too much farther to the campground and that we can make it. But I quickly realize that that's rude position for me to take, besides the fact that it will be my fault if we get killed. So I tell Bessie that whenever she wants us to stop to try to hitch a ride, that's fine with me. We keep going in the meantime because there's not much in the way of traffic that we can hitch a ride on. And then pretty soon we get to the campground anyway.

Turns out that it's actually a campground and motel together. The proprietors are amazed that we rode through the storm, and hate to see us camp instead of getting a room even though we're determined to camp to save money. The proprietor offers us a room for the camping rate, $10, if we lay out our sleeping bags on top of the bed, so they don't have to wash the sheets. Sure, sounds great to us! They also make some tea for Bessie, who's freezing. Really nice people. But they're not Indians, and as a result there's no telephone in the room.

Once we get to our room Bessie gives me a big hug and exclaims how happy she is that we made it without being killed. I guess I didn't realize how dangerous our journey into town was, but adventure is what makes life interesting.

We did 83 miles for the day, our longest yet, aided by going down the mountain at lightning speed and the storm pushing us up the hills for the last couple of hours.

After we settle down for bed the storm REALLY hits. It's hard to sleep with all the noise from the wind. The electricity goes out, and with it the heat, and it gets pretty damn cold since the room is so drafty. I can't see how we could have camped outside under those conditions. Not if we wanted to sleep well enough to be able to bike all day the next day.

Saturday, Oct. 13. We didn't sleep too well because of the cold and noise from the wind, and don't leave until 11am. Bessie takes a picture of me because she notes that I haven't taken any of myself the whole trip. Well, I know what I look like, I don't need to have pictures of me, but of course I consent to the picture anyway.

More mountains. Actually, I think technically they're just hills, but they're as steep as the steepest part of the mountains, so they're just as difficult to bike up, so I feel justified in calling them mountains. And Bessie is leaving me behind again. Oh well, nothing to do about that.

The sun today is relentless. I find myself wishing that we had some relentful sun.

Bessie has this liquidy-gel energy food in a tube. Her offer to share it is the quote for the day: "If you need a shot of goo to get you going again, just let me know."

In Sanderson the store was selling feeder corn for deer hunters. The brand is called "Trophy Buck". Hunters put the corn out, wait a little ways off, and then shoot the deer who come to eat it. This strikes me as the epitome of cowardice, as if shooting non-threatening animals with mechanical weapons wasn't cowardly enough. Now if hunters want to go after bears with spears and knives, THAT would be a fair fight.

On the road, I regale Bessie with stories from high school. She listens politely, but I'm probably boring her no end. We get to Dryden, but the store is closed. (For reference, the hours are 9-5 weekdays. The store is Dryden Mercantile, on the south side of the street. Our map listed the Dryden General Store, on the north side, but that's out of business. Dryden Mercantile is at 915-345-2382, 1946 East Hwy 90, 78851. There's a public phone inside the store. The post office in town is open 9am-1pm, M-F. The door is open after hours.) Though the store is closed, there's a water faucet outside, which is good, because we're out.

Unlike the map says you can't buy gas, not that we need any. But unlike the map says there's also no camping, which is a bigger concern for us. We ride around and find a concrete slab next to some railroad tracks, probably the foundation for a house that was torn down long ago. There's lots of thorns in the brush around it, and I worry for our tires. I light the candle lantern and we have dinner, satisfied with the 78 miles we put in today, and especially our 13.5 mph average, both aided by a nice tailwind. Almost immediately the game warden appears, telling us that we're on private property and we can't camp there. It's kind of silly, there aren't any houses for miles around, and what does anyone care whether we sleep on a concrete slab in the middle of nowhere? But of course that's not my response. What I actually say is to apologize, and explain that our cycling map said there was camping in this town, but that the map appeared to be outdated, and we didn't know what else to do. He confirms that there's no official camping anywhere close by. I ask what he suggests we do, since it's too dark to cycle, and we don't know where else to go. Faced with that, he realizes the best thing for us to do is to just sleep on the concrete slab. During the night we realize that it might not have been the best idea to pick a spot 40 feet from the railroad tracks. Trains come by about every two hours. The rolling of the trains themselves is kind of soothing, but the blaring horn is irritating when you're trying to sleep.

Sunday, Oct. 14. We get up at 7:30. I discover that one of my spokes is broken. It's not surprising, I'm carrying a lot of weight. I wonder how long it's been like that. I true the wheel the best I can so it rides as straight as possible, because once a spoke is gone the whole wheel can go way out of alignment really quickly. I also air up my tire, which has gotten a bit low.

The store's open, and I gather the correct info on it to report to the bike map publishers (see above). The restroom is more like an outhouse, and a sign asks that we put used toilet paper in the wastebasket instead of the toilet so as not to clog the sewer -- never seen anything like that before. I want to mail my tent back home to save weight since we're not using it, but it's Sunday and the post office is closed.

We load up on water. I've been eating vitamin C like candy, and sharing it with Bessie. Maybe it balances out my more questionable choices, like the Captain Crunch sandwich I had for breakfast.

It's 40 miles to Langtry. There's no tailwind, and the terrain is rolling, up and down. Then we get a headwind blowing into us. It's so strong it makes the downhills feel like uphills. We could only hit 14mph going down, which pales to the 41mph we did down the big mountain. Yesterday we averaged 13.5mph but today it's only 8mph. That might not seem like a big difference, but yesterday was 68.75% faster. It means that for seven hours of cycling time, we'll go nearly 40 miles fewer.

Overall we're on a descent. We're pondering what it's going to be like when we get to the Hill Country when we get closer to Austin, which has rolling hills. I offer, "This is like the Hill Country except for one thing: This is generally down, while the Hill Country is generally neutral. So it's gonna generally suck."

Today I'm way faster than Bessie up the hills. Maybe it just took me a few days to get up to speed, or maybe it's that my recliner, while not a performance machine, is more comfortable, so it's not taxing my body so much, while Bessie is starting to get the soreness that accompanies touring on an upright bike. I ride next to her and grab her bike seat, trying to help pull her up a difficult hill, like I did for Lara on the Louisiana trip, but Bessie insists that she wants to do it herself. Her determination is impressive.

We can see Mexico, about a half mile away.

We find out that the Langtry Exxon also has motel rooms for $35 a night (915-291-3227). I should get that added to the bike maps. It's not useful to us now because we've got more riding to do today. The manager, Candy, argues with me about nutrition for a while.

With our slow speed from battling the headwind we can't make it to the next town, so we sleep on the side of the road again, hidden by an embankment. In the dark we accidentally put our sleeping bags in some animal poo, but fortunately, it's the small, spherical, hard kind, and it's semi-petrified. We're near train tracks again, but because the tracks don't intersect the road, the trains don't blare their horns, so we hardly notice them.

Monday, Oct. 15. Today's our one week anniversary.

I was going to shave this morning but didn't have enough water. Oh well. I true my rear wheel again. And we're off.

I compose a little song in my head to the tune of "These are a Few of My Favorite Things". I incorporate some of Bessie's preferences and dislike.

Headwinds that hurt me and shoulders with gravel.
RV's that swerve on the road as they travel.
Sun pounding down and the sunburn it brings.
These are a few of my least favorite things.

Towns without squat and mechanical failures.
Trying to shift with a crappy derailleur.
Diners that serve only buffalo wings.
These are a few of my least favorite things.

But downhills and Luna bars and good water fountains.
Tailwinds that blow me clear over the mountain.
Getting to shift into my highest ring.
These are a few of my favorite things.

Bessie: "Why would anyone plant palm trees out here?"

Me: "So when people retire out here they can think they picked someplace good."

We were excited to be going to Del Rio, a virtual Metropolis compared to the tiny little villages we'd been going through for days. We'd be able to hit a bike shop to get me a rear spoke, maybe even find Internet access to check our email, and just feel like we're a part of civilization again. Oh, and showers. With a few more miles to go we started racing into Del Rio like it was frickin' Disneyland.

We arrived at 5:15pm, with daylight to spare, whoo-hoo! The motel, Motel 6, was the most expensive yet, at $40. I hastily drew a $1 off coupon, but they wouldn't accept it. This embarrassed Bessie considerably.

Tuesday, Oct. 16. Turns out my spoke is nonstandard and the bike shop didn't have any. I call Librik and get him to overnight some to the shop. Guess we'll be stuck in Del Rio for a little longer than we expected. We find a cheaper motel and move over there. It's Indian-owned, and so the rooms have phones. I mail back my tent at the post office.

At the library we research a new route to Austin. The route on the Adventure Cycling maps we have goes clear past Austin into Bastrop. Screw that, we're not adding 50+ miles to our trip just for the hell of it. I remember that someone posted a route from Austin to San Antonio on the bike email list, and that I'd added it on my site at BicyceAustin.info. We can just reverse the route and that will give us a South -> North route into Austin. Kind of funny to be using my own site for research.

In the evening we take a taxi to across the border into Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. Following 9/11, the tourist industry has completely dried up. We're the only tourists walking the streets, at all, period. Nobody else besides us. It's creepy, like some kind of post-apocalyptic movie in which we're the only survivors. We go to a restaurant and we're the only ones there. I don't know how they can afford to pay the six or so people we saw working there with no customers. The mariachis entertain us, and since they have a piano there, I jam with them on Ay Como Va by Santana. This delights Bessie quite a bit. With the favorable exchange rate as well as the low prices in general, dinner is only something like $7 together. Of course the only thing they had that we could eat was soup.

On the way back into the U.S., the border patrol gives us the third degree. We have to get out of the car, empty all our pockets, answer all sorts of pointless questions. They eventually let us back in to the U.S.. Back at the hotel Bessie takes advantage of the Indian-provided phone and calls lots of friends, and we both write postcards. I'd been wanting to write some for a while, but there was never time -- our days are completely filled by biking and eating, and sleeping at night.

Wednesday, Oct. 17. We check out of the motel, I head to the bike shop and Bessie goes to the post office. While I'm waiting for the spoke to arrive I help out in the shop, building up a new bike out of the box. I also discover that there's a huge thorn stuck in my tire, but that the tire didn't go flat because the thorn was holding the air in. I probably picked up the thorn in that thorny area where we slept on the concrete slab. I do remember that following that is when I started having to air up my tire more frequently. I pull the thorn out, which flattens the tire, so I patch it.

Bessie returns from the post office to tell us that it's closed, and there will be no mail delivery today. Somebody (later I heard it was some local), sent some anthrax-looking soap flakes to somebody else in town and so they shut down the whole post office. Sure, like someone's gonna be the target of a terrorist attack in Del Rio. Great, this means we have to stay here yet another day.

I reflect that maybe it's a good thing. Maybe if the spokes had come in today, we'd be at the right point in time and space out on the road to get hit by a truck or something. Maybe by having our time path changed we get to avoid that. Who knows, but if I think like that, it's easier to accept that we're stuck here another day. I actually don't mind too much, but Bessie misses Austin and is eager to get back, and I feel a little guilty because it's my bike that's the reason we're stuck here for two days.

We go check back into the motel, then run around town a bit. Bessie buys a specialized book of Texas maps, to aid in our plotting our special route back to Austin when we deviate from the bike maps we have. I play a guitar in a pawn shop. As a musician I was kind of going through withdrawals not having played any kind of instrument in a while. I go back to the motel and take a nap, and Bessie takes in a movie. When I wake up I read some Sherlock Holmes. Bessie gets back and calls some friends. It strikes me that she's very sociable, and very connected. She's all about calling and writing her friends frequently. I do some of that, but I can tell it's not the same thing. I'm a little jealous that she seems closer to people. Maybe I'll try to stay in touch with people more.

Thursday, Oct. 18. We check out of the motel for the third time in three days, and this motel in particular for the second time. We're still waiting for the mail to be delivered, so I head to the library to finish checking my email (the computers are really slow and I didn't have time to finish the other day), and I head to a thrift store to see if I can get a bike helmet, since I left mine at home. Yeah, I've been riding without one. I haven't felt too bad about it, because the truth is that bike helmets are only rated to have much benefit in very low-speed crashes, like hitting a curb and falling off your bike, which is very unlikely for me. If we get hit by a fast-moving vehicle out on the road, which is the real danger, then a flimsy bicycle helmet will likely do squat. Still, it's kind of ironic -- on the Louisiana trip, I was coming off a period in which I'd felt kind of suicidal, so I shouldn't have cared to protect my life, yet I wore a helmet and Lara didn't. (I had an extra one for her, but she didn't want it.) But on this trip, Bessie's wearing a helmet and I'm not.

I've been wanting to get a helmet at a thrift store, but none of the little towns we've been in so far has been large enough to have a thrift store, and we haven't had much spare time besides. Del Rio has a thrift store, but unlike the larger ones in Austin, no bike helmets. I could go down to the local Wal-Mart and get one, but I'd rather not support a monolithic company that pays poverty wages, destroys local businesses, and serves to line the pockets of a family that's already the richest in America. (more on problems with Wal-Mart)

While downtown I saw a cross-dresser. Didn't think that Del Rio would be large (or tolerant) enough to support a fringe element.

I get a new bolt for my kickstand at a hardware store. Back at the bike shop I help clean up while Bessie reads her Brasilian autobiography. The spoke finally arrives by mail, and they don't charge me for the installation since I'd helped around the shop. Sweet!

Waiting for the part means that we don't hit the road until 3:30pm, so we can't go very far today. We'll just do 30 miles to Bracketville. There's a headwind which keeps our speed down to 9.5mph, so it takes just over three hours. I tell Bessie, "The 30 miles we did today was 60% of the miles we did on Monday, but it only took us three hours to do it." Bessie counters, "Not all miles are created equal."

At the convenience store there they charge me only $0.64 to refill my Gatorade bottle with Gatorade from the fountain, saving me nearly a dollar vs. buying another bottle. Anyone who happens to read this journal is probably incredulous about my joy in saving a dollar here and there, but hey, it pays to get pleasure from small things.

The campground wants $23 just to camp, more than we've paid at some motels. So we sleep in a lot next to a Baptist Church.

Friday, Oct. 19. After a sponge bath in the restroom of the store that gave me the great Gatorade deal, we're off. The shoulders disappeared, but there's almost zero traffic. Then the shoulders reappear after 30 miles. I'm way faster than Bessie now, especially uphill. I should say potentially faster, because of course we ride at the same speed so we can ride together. At first I was regretting taking a heavy, entry-level recumbent bike on this trip, but now my choice has been validated as Bessie starts experiencing soreness from her upright bike while I have none at all. Even if my bike is slower, I can ultimately go faster if it doesn't hurt me to ride it.

As we enter Leakey, Texas (I love the names of Texas towns), Bessie shouts, "Leakey, Leakey, yee-ha!"

Bessie's back is really starting to hurt. It seems to me that her seat is too high, which robs her of power, makes the ride less comfortable, and takes a lot less effort as she has to keep swinging her butt side to side as she pedals. I offer that I get a better show from riding behind her that way, but it's probably not good for her. She's reluctant to lower her seat because she thinks the seat will be too low and that will hurt her knees. But after 41 miles, with her back hurting, she decides to try it.

My shifter snaps. I can't fix it. Great, I'll have to hold it in place on the handlebars while I ride. Good thing we've only got a few days of riding left.

Discussing some safety issue, Bessie remarks, "I draw the line at death."

There are 2-3 miles of difficult mountainous hills with no shoulders before we hit our destination. Our 73 miles today were done at a 9.5mph average, but somehow we don't arrive at our destination town until 9:30pm. Thank god for the strobe light. The Welcome Inn indicated on the map is now Mountain Laurel, normally $50, but we got a discount to only $35. It's not Indian-owned so of course there's no phone in the room. Other changes I note for the bike map: Camp Wood is actually Campwood, pop. 822.

As we fall asleep I ask Bessie if she'd hold me. She smiles and puts her arm around me. It feels really special, and I don't want to fall asleep because then I won't be conscious of the experience.

Saturday, Oct. 20. Today we continue with difficult mountains. We can tell we're out of the desert because the humidity has increased dramatically. Before, we could cycle all day, even two days without a shower and not feel too gross, because the air kept us dry. Not now. Now we feel icky just 30 minutes into our ride. By the time we get to the top of the mountain we're drenched in sweat, in October. It feels like someone's poured water all over us. Nasty water, that is.

We battle some difficult mountains. It's not fun, but at least it's easier for me than Bessie so I don't have to feel like I'm holding her back. Then we bike along the river, which is nice. But we knew the good road conditions wouldn't last forever -- the shoulders finally disappeared and the traffic finally increased.

Lunch at the convenience store includes pie filling and pop tarts. The pie filling actually kind of tastes like pie if you eat it with graham crackers. We're in hunting country, and the bathrooms are labeled Bucks and Does instead of Men and Women. It makes me wonder if someone's gonna try to shoot us when we go potty.

Bessie starts telling me something: "There's this dude... No, wait, there's this religion in India..." We talk with a woman who was part of the UT co-ops many decades ago. She takes our picture. I'm glad to have one of me and Bessie together.

We ride some more, and see a veritable holocaust of roadkill, including a deer, a javelina, and a porcupine. Then it gets dark. The hotel has only suites available, normally $125 but the guy will give it to us for $65. Even at half price that's way more than we wanted to spend, but the alternative is continuing on by biking in the dark on a Saturday night with drunks on the road. We're reminded of all the roadkill we saw. We take the suite. We did 62 miles today at a 9mph average.

Sunday, Oct. 21. We hit the road at 9:15am. The shoulder reappeared, yay! The towns are getting closer together now. We'd stripped the nut on Bessie's seat trying to loosen it so we could adjust it, so in Kerrville (pop. 20,425) we stop in at the Wal-Mart to get a replacement. (Yeah, yeah, so sue me.) As we head into Comfort, Texas I note, "Now we're seeking Comfort." The map showed two wrong turns. Oh, Waring, Texas also now has a service station. We see a plethora of sheep, and take some pictures. In Sisterdale we get some apricots, and the shop had a piano, tuned to the wrong key, but I play for Bessie the other song I'd composed in my head, to the tune of Grover Washington Jr.'s "Just the Two Of Us" (which unfortunately I no longer remember, so I can't list it here). Bessie really liked it, though, trust me.

The water from the tap has a nasty sulfur smell and taste, which my filter doesn't really reduce at all. I turn it into Gatorade with the powdered mix, which usually takes the edge off, but not this time -- I can still taste it, even when the Gatorade is at a dangerously high level of sweetness. Turns out the water wasn't too good for me. I started having intestinal cramps once we were back on the road. About an hour or so later I had to pull off the road to relieve the discomfort in my intestines. I don't know why Bessie wasn't affected, maybe she didn't drink the local water in Sisterdale.

Roadkill today includes a cat and a raccoon. The Hill Country hills started after about 50 miles of the 76 we did today (at 9.5mph avg.). The first motel is full because of some biker (motorcycle) convention, so we find another one, though we were chased by dogs getting to it. The new motel is $35, and we can't swing a discount. Our neighbors are sheep, just a few feet from our door. (See picture.) Non-Indian-owned motel, so no phone. The consistency about that is frightening. If I ever go to India I'm going to expect to see temples with telephones on pedestals.

Monday, Oct. 22. We leave at 9:20am, battling a headwind part of the way, and roller coaster hills. We still manage 10.5mph to Wimberly. We're experiencing that deadly combination of no shoulder and increased traffic, and worse, we see idiot after idiot zoom around us even when there was oncoming traffic. They do this nearly every time, never waiting until it's truly safe to pass. I'm certain we're going to witness a head-on collision, or get run over ourselves. With all the reckless drivers on the road, we must be getting close to Austin.

In Blanco there's a natural foods store. Hallelujah! We load up, and of course eat way too much. Bessie: "My stomach is like, 'Now you've eaten yourself into a stupor'."

And we ride into Austin! We split up in the center of town. It's kind of weird biking ride up to my house after being gone for so long, and biking all the way across Texas. It felt like a real achievement, and it was an experience worth having -- all the more so because of a great riding partner.

[See reader comments about this trip.]

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