It seemed fitting that it should begin this way.
Almost to the turn the Southern Tier traced a route I'd contrived almost two years prior. It was actually one of the more painful rides I've subjected myself to. As I set out from Austin, I had more the feeling of coming home than leaving it. I'd been gone too long.
As I drifted through forgotten towns like Leaky and Bracketville, reaching the Mexican border and the city of Del Rio, I fell into the easy routines of the road. Rise early, cycle, eat, sleep, repeat. I quickly forgot the time of day or week and lived by the rhythms of the sun and the moon.
I met Tom Helbig and was able to cycle with Rob and Ness Howard before the real difficulties began. I broke a spoke. Then three more. My rear wheel was disintegrating by the time I'd reached Del Rio and the only bicycle shop I knew of until El Paso. The fact that the next stretch of the route crossed 700 km of barren desert with just a few convenience stores and dying towns didn't inspire confidence. The desert does not suffer fools.
A few despondent calls to friends, gear adjustments, and teeth gnashing, then I pushed onward. The new spokes were holding up and I had almost stopped worrying until the day I woke to rain. The sky spat hail upon me and I battled constant headwinds until I suffered my second puncture of the day in the unforgiving cold and wet. I finally gave up and backtracked 20 km to the nearest seedy motel.
If only that were the end of it.
Two more days of rain, five more punctures, more hail, and near direct headwinds of 40-50 km/h finally saw me in Marathon, TX. I met Rick on the way, then Sébastien Lévillié in town where we stayed at a surreal desert hostel named La Loma Del Chivo. An eclectic collection of huts and shacks peopled by eccentric transients. Everyone there has a story. Sometimes they are true.
The morning I left the hostel I had a fully developed fever. The last few days of fighting cold, rain, hail and wind had taken it's toll. I needed rest. I limped the 50 km into Alpine, TX and another questionable motel where I slept for almost sixteen hours.
After the fever broke I pushed on to Ft. Davis through another wind advisory and 40+ km/h headwinds only to break three more spokes. I was forced to take a ride back from whence I'd come. Alpine had the only bicycle shop closer than El Paso, still another 350 km away.
I shouldn't have been surprised by any of this. Texas has always been out to get me.
While the above was certainly maddening, most of the last two weeks have been beautiful and transcendent. There is no pleasure without pain just as there is no light without dark. As always, the people are what make the difference. Encountering the basic goodness of human beings everywhere is like meeting an old friend on the road. The trying times only serve to highlight the positive ones. Thus I carry on.
The latest broken spokes have been repaired as well as sealed tubes added and puncture strips installed in both tires. On the horizon now is El Paso. A real bicycle shop for a full wheel rebuild, saying goodbye to Texas with an appropriate gesture, and the promise of grander adventures in New Mexico, Arizona, and beyond.
See you on the road.