Thirty minutes ago I walked into this famous pancake house, IHOP. I once new a gal who worked for the national chain, her name, Ei-lean. She only had one leg and she loved to be tipped. It’s here that I sit with a humongous copper coffee pot and my memories of yesterday.
I read the recorded notes in the log book that sat resting on the dining table of the trailer that Jo and I had slept in the night before. Rachel and Olive had stayed there recently, leaving their comments and placing a sticker in the book promoting their ‘Sustainable Bike’ mission. The two ladies are pedaling from LA to Boston. When I phoned Frenchie the prior evening, they were all together, a few days and several hundred miles ahead of me somewhere in the Texas Hill Country.
From Langtry to Del Rio the highway was a series of rolling hills. It was eighty five and humid, making the temperature feel quite warmer than it actually was. Buckets of sweat were beading up and pouring from my brow as I chugged along. I stopped and wrapped a bandana, Willie Nelson style, around my head. That kept my eyeballs from stinging from the face flooding perspiration.
At 1,310 feet long and 273 feet above the water, the Pecos River Bridge is the highest highway bridge in Texas. Jo and I stop in the middle and take a glance over the guardrail peering down at the green water in the deep canyon below us.
We work together as a team. Jo recognizes the sound of my downshifting gears and monitors the ground speed, hopping from his wagon at just the right time when I begin climbing. At the top of each hill I give him his command, ‘load up’. He leaps back in and away we go. He would prefer to be running along side of me most of the time instead of hitching a ride. But I can tell the heat is taking a toll on him so I insist he rest in the shaded Burley Tail Wagon as often as possible.
Texas has the roughest highway shoulder I’ve ever seen. Half the time I feel like I’m mountain biking. These roads will wear a man down and shake his teeth loose. I take a position on the actual highway, in the path of truckers where the asphalt is smoothed by their tires and the intense heat. I monitor my rear view closely, moving over quickly before we’re squashed.
As I approached the border town of Del Rio, I crossed over another lengthy shoulder-less bridge, semi trucks squeezing by on my left. Again, the water is several hundred feet below, the Rio Grande River pouring into the International Amistad Reservoir.
I’ve known for a week that I’ve broken another rear spoke, developing another wobble. And also, my inflatable sleeping pad I carry with me for camping has randomly decided to develop a deformation, creating a huge lump in the middle. I’ve slept on it for a few weeks out of necessity but hope to replace it soon or I’ll need to see a chiropractor or a shrink. It’s driving me nuts.
The forecast is for thunder, lightning and rain. I check in at the Motel 6 in Del Rio. The ladies at the front desk think Jo is adorable. They ask me to bring my ukulele in and sing them a song, which I did.
I scouted online for the towns favored barbecue joint and set out for a place called Rudy’s. Two other cyclists whose names I now forget were in pursuit of the same so we banned together for the walk and the feast. These guys are pedaling coast-to-coast as well; one is 65, the other is 72 years young. They are strong, able to ride circles around me.
A Starbucks was nearby. I haven’t seen one since Blythe, California, a thousand miles or more behind me. The two old dudes suggested that we make all the stops while we’re in a place that resembles an actual city; creature comforts.
Back in my room, I sort through my gear, launder my clothing and gaze at the map that will lead me from here to Austin. Jo and I will be climbing thousands of feet in elevation over the next week.
Online, Tara rally’s friends back home and gathers goodies for Jo and I; granola, protein bars, jerky and other essentials that will be dropped off at the Deschutes Historical Museum in Bend with Kelly, then mailed ahead to me. Fred “Duckie” Bray sits on the Operation Elf Box board, messaging me and says a $50 gift card waits for me at Franklin BBQ in downtown, Austin. David Miller sends press releases out to the towns I’ll soon pass through, helping to share the vision for Operation Elf Box, ‘free toy stores’ everywhere. He also sends me the resupply packages that contain Jo’s TurboPUP meal replacement bars. And Jasmine Helsley updates links on a few of my websites and shares news via social media. Erin wrote me a kind email from the Deschutes Brewery in Bend yesterday, offering support.
Jo slept wedged between the mini fridge and credenza on the wooden floor. He could have slept on the bed but he prefers a cave. I drifted off to dream land with cramping quads and a Lone Star State of Mind; thoughts of gratitude for all these magical moments that are taking place.
Thank you all for the love.