A Sizzling Sun, A Reclining Rattler, and A Hellaceous Headwind… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

The sun in Texas can beat down unmercifully.

The sun in Texas can beat down unmercifully. For a bicyclist on the open road in West Texas, the only escape is to cycle on to the next town.

 

“Only mad dogs and Englishmen (plus Curt) go out in the noonday sun.” Indian Proverb

 

Life becomes incredibly simple out on the road. The normal aspects of our lives— jobs, family, friends, deadlines, houses, yards, bills, etc., drop behind us. There is a freedom here: the freedom to unwind, the freedom to think about our lives, and the freedom to live in the moment.

This freedom is strengthened by the physical challenge of long distance backpacking or bicycling. The difficulty of getting through the event pulls us even farther out of our normal life while our success changes our perspective on who we are and what we can accomplish. When I led nine-day, 100-mile backpack treks and 500-mile bike treks, I could see people’s lives changing, literally before my eyes. Some profoundly.

There was ample challenge built into my day of cycling between Post and Aspermont. To start with, the temperature was pushing 80°F when I left Post around 7:00 AM. The day promised to be a scorcher. By 1:00 PM, the thermometer had climbed beyond 100 (38°C). I was down to minimum clothing and maximum sunblock, sucking on my water bottle, and worrying about sunstroke, always a danger in the hot sun. Tar began to seep up through the pavement. I climbed off my bike to take a look at the phenomena and my shoes stuck like I was walking on well-chewed gum. I noted in my journal, “I wonder if this is what the saber tooth tigers felt like when they encountered the La Brea Tar Pits in Southern California.”  I imagined my foot sinking into the pavement and me becoming a fossil for future generations to ponder over.

There were also ups and downs, a welcome change from the flat, flat of West Texas I had been cycling across. Several tributaries to the Brazos River flow through the area, cutting down through the plains. I even caught view of what Texans consider a mountain, or two to be more specific. The Double Mountains are a pair of flat-topped buttes that rise 500-800 feet above the surrounding plains and can be seen for hundreds of square miles. Pioneers traveling by horse and covered wagons used them for land marks. Native Americans probably used them to spot the pioneers.

A number of tributaries feed into the Brazos River in West Texas. Eventually the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico south of Huston.

A number of tributaries feed into the Brazos River in West Texas. Eventually the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico south of Houston.

The Brazos River near Aspermont Texas.

The river cuts through the Llano Estacado providing travelers with a break from the flat terrain of West Texas.

A distant view of the Double Mountains of West Texas near Aspermont.

A distant view of the Double Mountains of West Texas near Aspermont.

The break in terrain was welcome. My over-heated body appreciated the 20-30 mile per hour breeze generated by my downhill dashes— although it whined about the climb afterward.  There was even an occasional shade tree! The challenge here is that it becomes difficult to see in the shade when you are quickly moving between shadows and sunlight. Loose gravel, broken glass, and other road hazards lurk in the dark, waiting to provide nasty surprises.

That’s the way it was with the rattlesnake. I was racing down a hill and he/she was relaxing in the shade, enjoying the warm pavement.  I was a few feet away from a fanged encounter when I spotted him, all coiled up. I prefer my rattlesnakes rattling a warning when I approach. But there wasn’t time for him to rattle or me to think, “Oh, there’s a rattlesnake.” Instincts honed by a million years of my ancestors fearing snakes and two thousand miles of me bicycling took over. I zigged, damn lucky I didn’t land on top of four feet of extremely irritated serpent.

Heart beating like a jack hammer, I executed a U-turn at the bottom of the hill and pedaled back up to the rattlesnake. It hadn’t budged. That changed when I lobbed a couple of rocks his way (from a distance). As he grouchily slithered off the road wanting to bite someone— me, I told him how lucky he was to have encountered a bicyclist and not an 18-wheeler.

Adding insult to almost injury, a strong headwind caught me about ten miles outside of Aspermont. The wind had to be blowing at least 40 miles per hour. Tired, hot, and cranky, I dropped into my lowest gear and climbed out of the saddle. Two hours later I reached the town. My journal tells me I drank a gallon of ice tea.

Aspermont was like most of the west Texas towns I rode through: small, isolated, and slightly depressed. Employment opportunities were few. Population was going down, not up. The town’s population had been 1,357 in 1980. By 1989 it had dropped by a hundred or so.  The young people were leaving, heading off to the brighter lights of Dallas, Houston and other urban areas.

High school sports were a bright spot, however. Most towns had signs announcing when their kids had won state or regional championships, even if it was 10-20 years ago. I spent a pleasant evening in Aspermont recovering from my long day and chatting with the friendly locals who laughed at my adventures and regaled me with tales of their own. Texas is a place for story telling. That night there was another impressive thunder and lightning show, reflecting the heat and wind I had experienced during the day.

High school sports are very important in the small towns of West Texas. The local team, the Aspermont Hornets, is featured on the town's water tower.

High school sports are very important in the small towns of West Texas. The local team, the Aspermont Hornets, is featured today on the town’s water tower.

Abandoned homes reflect the dropping population of many West Texas towns. This was once somebody's dream.

Abandoned homes reflect the dropping population of many West Texas towns. This was once somebody’s dream.

The next day, I bicycled on to Throckmorton, a short 60 miles without excessive heat, wind or rattlesnakes. I was really impressed with the town’s beautiful city hall. Not so much with the local grocery store where I went to buy some fresh fruit. The oranges looked like rejects of rejects. (I admit to being spoiled by the fruits and vegetables of California.) Throckmorton is cow country so I booked myself into the Cow Country Motel and ate dinner at the Rancher’s Restaurant.

Highway 380 between Aspermont and Throckmorton.

Highway 380 between Aspermont and Throckmorton.

Some appropriate cattle on the way to Throckmorton.

Some appropriate cattle on the way to Throckmorton.

Peggy and I found this 22 foot high sculpture of a Texas Longhorn bull just a few miles west of Throckmorton.

Peggy and I found this 22 foot high sculpture of a Texas Longhorn bull a few miles west of Throckmorton. It wasn’t there when I bicycled through the area in 1989. The artist, Joe Barrington, is noted for creating  anatomically correct animals.

A side view of the sculpture, which is known as the Bridle Bit Bull. The local rancher who owns the property commissioned the art.

A side view of the sculpture, which is known as the Bridle Bit Bull. The local rancher who owns the property commissioned the art.

A side view of the City Hall in Throckmorton.

A side view of the City Hall in Throckmorton.

And a front view to conclude this post.

And a front view to conclude this post.

NEXT BLOG: A side trip to Archer, Texas, the home of Larry McMurtry and his fabulous bookstore. I also continue my bike trip on to Jacksboro and Fort Richardson, one of my favorite campgrounds on the bike trip.

 

 

40 comments on “A Sizzling Sun, A Reclining Rattler, and A Hellaceous Headwind… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

  1. The abandoned home looks so nice. One wonders why no-one wanted to restore this to its former glory. It seems a lovely home to live in.
    I suppose, a long drought and a farmer struggling, might well be written in its history.

    • I had exactly the same thoughts you had, Gerard. It’s one thing to abandon a shack, which we saw plenty of, but why leave what was obviously such a nice house? There has to be a story there. –Curt

  2. Great episode, wonderful imagery told through your words and pictures. I am always thankful that we don’t have snakes in UK although I used to work in a truck depot where people said there were adders in the long grass. I never went in there but one day my boss did and got bitten. He was off work with a bad foot for about a fortnight!

    • Thanks, Andrew. I seem to have an affinity for rattlesnakes, having encountered them many times in my life. The last close encounter was with one that had decided to hang outside our house next to one of our faucets. Normally, I just chase them off but the grandkids were coming. He got chopped up with my mattock. I suspect your boss didn’t go for any more walks in the grass. –Curt

  3. Even varnishers don’t go out in the midday sun. We’ve got one of “those” weeks coming up, and it’s time to move to my summer schedule — which involves reserving the afternoons for inside/shady tasks.

    I enjoyed the views of the “baby Brazos.” That river certainly did a number on us this year. At the height of the flood, not so very far away from me, the river and Oyster Creek combined to form a land-covering “lake” four and a half miles wide.

    You do get the award for understatement of the year for this one: “High school sports are very important in the small towns of West Texas.” And I love the Throckmorton city hall. Surely you know what I first thought of when I read “Throckmorton.” Well, not what, but who. Talk about a blast from the past!

    • I knew you lived close to the Brazos, Linda, but not how close. I told Peggy I was sure you would comment. Weather, whatever it’s form, is part of the world of long distance bicycling and backpacking. I’d hide out if things got really bad, if I could… The intense interest in high school sports has fascinated me whenever I have travelled through Texas, especially the more rural areas. And thanks for the reminder on Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve. I had to reach so far back in my memory for that one, it almost wasn’t there. I had no problem recalling Fibber McGee and Molly but they couldn’t compete with the likes of the Lone Ranger or the Shadow in my young mind. 🙂 –Curt

  4. Your descriptions of the personal journey that people endure during monumental hikes, rides, and walks like you describe is exactly what makes me want to do it. For years I’ve thought of RVing full time, or walking the Appalachian Trail, but I think it needs to wait til retirement, much to my dismay. But I already understand the feeling you describe. I took journeys like this when I was younger. I always crave more.

    • Early on in my life, Juliann, I discovered that I needed substantial breaks for my mental well-being. Existing in the same job and the same place for too long drove me bonkers. So I created a life style and job that allowed me to take long breaks. Can’t say that it has always been easy, but I’ve been able to make it work and achieved some type of balance between family, job, and my wandering ways. 🙂 –Curt

  5. “I imagined my foot sinking into the pavement and me becoming a fossil for future generations to ponder over.” So this is what 10,000 miles of biking does to your imagination- such freedom to imagine, lol! Good thing you escaped the rattlesnake.

    I can’t shake the photo of someone’s dream house from my mind and wonder the story behind it …

    • Ha, Timi, the imagination does tend to grow a bit wild when you are sitting on the back end of a bicycle for 8-10 hours a day with no one to talk to but yourself and the cows. 🙂 I found the house sad. –Curt

  6. Curt, I can feel the heat bristling through your post. That is crazy high temperatures to bike through and with barely any shade. I bet the odd trees were a lovely respite. Phew, glad all went okay with the rattlesnake encounter. So sad about the old abandoned towns with such elegant houses going to ruin…I wonder if they will ever fully recover and become busy active hubs again?

    • A really good question on the whether the communities will recover, Annika. Oil brings business and fracking has created some boom town type of growth in parts of Texas. But that is boom and bust economy. And the fracking raises all sorts of serious environmental questions. –Curt

      • There is a lot of scientific information floating around that points to the relationship. Yet greed trumps all. Many look the other way, including government officials. Jobs, taxes, graft, etc. are just to much. –Curt

  7. Exciting narration and an awe inspiring cycling expedition across challenging temperatures. The close encounter (almost) with the rattler and the melting road tarmac keeps the reader glued to the adventurous ride. The pictures too add life and the tributaries flowing into Brazos is a welcome relief.

    A perfect treat Curt and I hope someday you would publish a book on your travels and life.

    Thanks and regards.
    Dilip

    • Thanks, Dilip. I actually intend to eventually do a book on bicycling and backpacking adventures using materials I have developed for my blog. You might want to check out my book: The-Bush-Devi-Ate-Sam, which reflects my experience in the Peace Corps in West Africa. It’s available on Amazon. –Curt

  8. What a great way to see the country–for those who have the stamina and guts for it! I like the idea of that kind of challenge and have at times toyed with the idea of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. But instead I’ll satisfy myself with the challenge of joining madogs, Englishmen (and farmers) in the blazing summer heat.

    I really enjoy your posts. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

    • One of my options, Bill, was to hike the PCT. Not sure why I didn’t, given my preference for backpacking since it gets me into the wilderness. I’ve even gone back and read through my notes when I was making the decision to go. When I was young(er) starting at age 14, I worked the pear orchards around Placerville, CA to earn money for books, dates, clothes, etc. It was physically hard work and temperatures raged from 90-100 plus. But I loved it. There is something about farming that is good for the soul. –Curt

  9. Curt, I can relate to the simplicity of life on the road. I have always said that: “Small things become big and big things become small.” Small things = water, food, place to sleep. Big things = Global warming, the latest news, size of the national debt. Oh, and headwinds. It’s really shitty when the headwind is so strong that you have to pedal going downhill! ~James

    • “Shitty” is a good word for it James. 🙂 I think bicyclists dislike headwinds more than any other weather phenomena… especially when the pedaling should be easy and the miles falling away. Sometimes I’d go for a week without really ‘checking’ in on the world. No cell phones helped. –Curt

  10. Heart beating like a jack hammer to be sure! Oh thank goodness for the ability to zig rather than zag when it comes to rattlesnake encounters. yikes! I once almost cycled over a chicken in Turkey (that sounds odd doesn’t it?) but not nearly as dangerous as your encounter.

  11. Ugh. I felt myself wilting just thinking about the southwest sun and heat. I can’t imagine adding exertion to that. But the scenery is beautiful. I think I’d prefer to see it through the window of an air-conditioned car.

  12. Wow, you have been on the road for a while… I went all the way back to April 5 to see your map so I could get a sense of the progress you are making. Quite an adventure. And I can’t imagine biking the whole thing. Incredible!!!

    • We’ve actually made it home now. The review trip of my bike route took 10 weeks. I’ll probably be writing blogs for another couple of months.:) Your going back makes me think I should do an updated map. Driving the route was fun, brought back many memories. –Curt

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