February 12, 2022
In early January, I set out for El Paso, Texas by train. I brought along my other bike, Bike of Thor. It’s a 26 inch steel mountain bike, from the 80’s. As my primary bike is still in storage in Barcelona. In November while I was staying in California I set up Bike of Thor with racks and paniers and most of the equipment I am used to carrying. To save weight and cost, I did not bring any cookware, nor sleeping bag, nor tent. Though for emergency I always carry a space blanket.
I bought a copy of the Adventure Cycling Association southern tier cycling maps. I figured this would save me a lot of guesswork in finding a good cycling route through Texas. Which it did. It also provides hotel locations along the way with phone numbers. My plan was to stay in hotels, or Airbnb’s all the way.
On the train ride down, I realized an important weakness in my plan. West Texas is sparsely populated high desert. In January, it will frequently get below freezing during the night. Furthermore, towns with hotels could be 100 or 130km apart.
So, this is not a show stopper. I can do 130km in a short winter day, but I would not want to depend on that. When I got to El Paso, I bought a sleeping bag. I consider it money well spent even though I haven’t had a chance to use it yet.
Following the style of the Les CycloMigratuers, I got my bike box from the baggage claim and assembled my bike on the sidewalk. I got some astonished looks and comments from the other passengers as I rode off on it. In Vietnam, I would probably have had bystanders eager to help me reassemble.
Take one day at a time was my mantra, starting out. So, ten years ago I would take on 300, 400km, days or more without hesitation. But that was with a light weight racing bike, in an environment that had alternatives like a crew vehicle, or many closely spaced towns.
Here I had a bike and baggage weighing in at more than 50kg, and no really good plan B options if I didn’t make it to the next motel. Further, I didn’t have lots of history with this rig. And I was not in racing shape. So, I planned. Before launching for the day, I’d take into consideration the distance, weather, elevation change, even wind direction. I felt pretty good about up to 100km days. That was good enough to get me across west Texas.
The first 200km east from El Paso, the ACA course follows Interstate 10. It follows side roads though. It is not legal to ride a bike on the interstate. This also followed a train track carrying freight and Amtrak. I’m guessing the towns along this route sprang up as a result of the train line, and now it appears that the truck stops servicing the interstate dominate the economy in these small towns.
At Van Horn, the course leaves I-10 and turns south on state road 90. I think the towns after that point have more character, more than just a truck stop, associated motel and restaurant. Though Van Horn is the home of Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ new space tourism company.
Some brief videos
Monterrey is an easy 90km from Villaldama. On my way there from Villaldama, I took it easy and stayed one night in my tent in a local park. In the little town where I stayed, Google Maps shows that there are at least two hotels and several restaurants. When I got there at 2pm, I found no hotels, no restaurants. I pitched my tent in a local park and made friends with Enrique who lived nearby. He fed me dinner and stored my bike in a secure location.
This afternoon, I made it to Monterrey, Mexico. It is a major city. lots to explore.