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Dry'd, Fry'd, and Sky'd by Headwinds and HeatMy Trans-Texas Bicycle Odyssey
By John Eyberg
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 John Eyberg
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDry'd, Fry'd, and Sky'd by Headwinds and Heat:
My Trans-Texas Bicycle Odyssey
"You're going to bicycle across Texas from El Paso to Louisiana in one of the hottest and driest Summers on record? Are you CRAZY?" was the e-mail from my good friend, KJ.
My reply seemed logical and simple: "Probably, but with our daughter in Austin, our son in Houston, and only three specific commitments to my district, I have a block of time that will allow me to pedal to and from the Sabine River. I've been wanting to do this for decades!"
* * *
Maybe KJ was right, I could be crazy. After all, I had not had this extensive a biketour since 1983, 28 years ago—and 28 pounds/13 kgs lighter. Besides gaining so much weight during the intervening years, did I gain more intelligence as well?
Yes. I was definitely smarter now. After all, acknowledging my possible lack of sanity should be an indicator—though not necessarily my lucidity. Perhaps it was my megalomania? Anyway, I was happily married to Ellen, and we have two grown children, both of whom are successful. My career as a teacher at fantastic Parkland High School in the exceptionally fine Ysleta Independent School District was in it's 22 year and I was performing at near-best in my assignment as a Vocational Adjustment Co-ordinator/Transition Specialist/ Work-Study teacher. I was participating as much as possible with the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) regarding our region's cycling routes. With my son's help, I had established a website (www.juanitohayburg.com) as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In accounts. And I was still pedaling, sometimes joking that my first marriage was to my bicycle—that relationship was longer, albeit much less stronger!
Since my 1983 circum-Missouri bicycle odyssey, taken during my last undergraduate Summer at the University of Missouri-Columbia, I have pedaled on numerous shorter excursions which included Big Bend National ParkTX; Medellín-to-Miro's-mountain-home, Colombia; El Paso-Las Cruces; El Paso-Alamogordo; El Paso-Artesia; Boy Scouts of America Cycling Merit Badge counselor for my son's troop, 192; and daily riding when in-town, with special emphasis on biking to-and-from Parkland High School most school days during the 2010-11 year.
The PHS pedal is a 14 miles/23kms one way trip which usually takes me 1.5 hours, including a death-defying 3 miles/5kms of hostile Global Reach, the Northern extension of Yarbrough Drive, but more importantly, the connector between Montana Boulevard and Walter Jones/Spur 601/Liberty Expressway/Sergent Sims/Old Ironsides entrance to Ft. Bliss East/Biggs Field. The hostility only occurs during certain times of day, specifically the morning and evening rush hours, Monday through Friday, and, thankfully, only by a infinitely small ignorant percentage of the knowledgeable motorists. Of course, all it takes is one of those massive (motor) vehicles to barely tap my vehicle and I'd be down, wrecked on the road, possibly seriously injured or even dead.
* * *
I invited thousands of people to my (14:00) send-off from The Crazy Mexican Grill, 3019 N. Yarbrough, on Saturday, 11JUN2011. One invitee, Susan, actually showed up. I was delighted to see she had brought Liz, my former department chair. My wife brought another guest, Ruth. Not exactly the crowd I had anticipated, but the weather might have stopped a few—it was a dry 101°F (38°C) with no clouds in sight.
Only the foolhardy, or supremely confident, would be attempting my feat.
I like to think of myself in the latter category.
Within a half-mile, I turned East onto Montwood and stopped in the shade of a Mesquite tree at the Bank of the West, double-checking all of my straps and packs. Ahead of me, a neat red Focus pulled off the road and the driver, another good friend, Mike, strode toward me.
"I would've made it to your start," he told me, "but your timing was not exactly the best."
We had an animated discussion for several minutes before we were both off and away, each on our own mission. I had forty-three days and a wakeup to complete mine.
I had barely gone uphill and passed Lomaland Drive when I heard the disheartening hissssss of a front tire going flat. I couldn't believe it! A hole was being punctured in my fundamental belief in my Trouble Free Touring. The tube hadn't been in for more than a week!
I was in front of the Milan spa, and knew that to be the cause of my flat.
I still haven't resolved my ill will toward Milano, Italy, after having to overnight there with my family on a 2004 trip. It was bad karma! How long will I suffer? Obviously, I have to return to break the Milano Curse.
Then a golden beemer whipped around me and pulled into the church parking lot, and saw my closest friend from work.
"I wasn't exactly sure where the Crazy Mexican Grill was," Gil greeted me, "but I remembered you telling me your route out of town."
Elated that he had shown up, I began pushing my Doublevision tandem recumbent off the street.
"Get over into the shade to repair that," came his gentle directions, "it's too hot in the Sun. What can I do to help?"
"You've already given me good help by directing me to the shade, Gil, but there's nothing more you can do," I assured him. "If I can't repair this by myself, then I shouldn't be pedaling anywhere!"
I quickly stripped out the faulty tube, checked the rim and tire for anything that might have caused the flat, then installed a new, slimed BikeNashbar 20-inch tube. Pumping it up partially to achieve the correct seating, I deflated it, then reinstalled the wheel, and pumped it to its full 110psi/ 7.6bar. Solid! Literally, it was hard as the cement sidewalk we stood upon.
"On second thought, Gil, there is something you can do. Can you take this busted tube, and I'll get it from you next month?" I asked.
He was glad to do so, and admired my preparation for the heat, specifically carrying fresh water.
"I have almost three gallons (11 liters) of fresh water; two water bladders apiece are in those blue denim holster-like bags hanging from each side of my seat were created for me at Alterations by Mina," I told him. "In fact, she has done a lot of work for me—see the seat bag, and that folded orange material is a tarp-tent, a very special job by her."
"Do you think she could do some delicate work on my flight jacket?" he asked.
"I don't know why not, but you'd have to talk with her first," I responded. "If you rush, you can catch her before closing time at sixteen hundred. Just go back down Montwood, turn right on Yarbrough for a mile to the light at Pebble Hills, and look in the Karen Plaza strip, behind the Seven-Eleven. Anyway, I'm ready to go. Thanks for taking that tube, Gil. See you next month!"
Yes, it was hot. Really hot. I felt the Sun beating down, but I also felt protected, having coated all of my exposed skin with NOAD SPF60 Sunblock at home. I took another swig out of my Tour de Tolerance Water Bottle, one of the items that is included for all participants in the annual October fundraiser bike ride. I felt good, ready to get gone.
This mid-day departure might not be the best thing, but since I had stayed up all night to help with Project Celebration (a safe party-environment for the new graduates that goes all night until 5am), I needed some rest before beginning my own 2000 mile/3219 kilometer bicycle tour. And I had to get pedaling on that as soon as possible; every day counted.
Continuing my cycling, I listened for any more hissssssing and consciously avoided any debris that might cause another flat. I was feeling very good until I turned off Pellicano onto Berryville when it became unbelievably hard to turn the crank. I crossed Eastlake drive and coasted into the Western shade of a purpose built structure, the Valero mini-mart gas station, stopping beside a water machine.
The derailleur cable had snapped. If it's not one thing, it's another. Maybe these were signs that perhaps I should wait until tomorrow morning for a much cooler departure? No, and within two hours, I had replaced the cable. Unfortunately, I unknowingly had fed the wire through the incorrectly positioned housing, not discovering the error until I had put the final tighten on the cable bolt. I sure didn't want to spend another two hours repairing that. Resigning myself to the fact that the cable will likely break again, I only hoped it wouldn't happen soon.
"Trouble Free Touring" indeed!
While the shade had made my work immeasurably easier, I was still guzzling liquids, primarily water and Gatorade. A Red Bull route driver approached me and commented that the product he carried was just as effective. I agreed, having often sought it out while pedaling in the Ciclovia or Tour de Tolerance or anytime I was particularly exhausted. So who was I to turn down a free can of it, albeit warm? It was different yet familiar; something akin to a decades-ago Lik-M-Aid candy, which would effervesce in my mouth.
Measuring the zenith of the Sun with my hand, I saw possibly an hour of ride time. I was desperate to get underway, get farther than Horizon City. I had been jokingly telling people that I might not get farther than Clint, the next town along the way. Now it was looking as though I might have unintentionally set myself up for not even progressing that far.
With the ball of light descending behind me, I pedaled steadily East on Darrington Drive, thinking about campsites. I could layover by the landfill, but that thought was erased when I passed it speeding downhill in the setting Sun—the Beta 1 cyclocomputer mounted on my underseat handlebar indicated I was at 29mph/46kph. My new Magura HS33 hydraulic brakes ensured a smooth stop at the crossover of I-10, before proceeding South, down into the floodplain of the Rio Grande.
It had been a long time since I had been out this way, and the next stop sign at North Loop (Farm-to-Market 76) was absent, having been replaced by traffic lights. Making the lawful right turn, I wondered what else had changed over the years since last coming out here?
I remembered a short-cut into Clint, and made a quick left turn on Celum, a narrow, winding, well-paved road. This had not changed; it was more like a lovely, tree-bordered driveway that crossed a water-filled aqueduct and a single railroad track before curving away. It continued, bordered by homes, Texas A&M extension, and Clint city offices before passing the water tower and intersection with Alameda Avenue.
My most prominent memory at that moment was of Flick's Pizza, in the middle of a business strip on Alameda, close to Clint High School, and compelled by a desperate hollowness in my stomach. Turning right, I slowly pedaled, anxious to not miss my evening meal site. But it was not there. Having passed the business district, I made a U-turn and began slowly moving East, this time beside them, stopping in front of an empty space. Seeing a couple exiting the Lencho's Meat market, I called out,
"¿Donde está Flicks?"
"¡No mas!" was the response.
I couldn't believe it; the much-anticipated hot anchovy pizza drowned with tumblers of ice-cold water that had powered me here disappeared along with the last rays of Sunlight.
Oh, well, San Elizario is just a little bit further, and now I envisioned myself at the Horseshoe Adobe restaurant, enjoying delicious fajitas or burritos, and surely polishing off a basket of tortilla chips as well. Maybe I could find a campsite beside the Presidio, or Billy the Kid's jail? I pedaled the wide, smooth, debris-free shoulder of what was now Texas 20, waving at families enjoying the twilight in their more dispersed farms. It was not too long before I had to stop, turn on my own bike lights in the stark darkness of this remote Texas corner.
I pedaled with a concerned sort of delight. My target was a street light, which must surely be San Eli, but I wasn't getting any closer. I thought back three-and-a-half decades, when, aboard ship, I had been told that on a quiet sea, the red glow of a cigarette butt is visible for five miles. If that was true, then a white light on a calm warm night like tonight, might be visible for ten miles?
Good thing I love bicycling, and was particularly keen for this cross-state trip. It seemed a good long while before I came abreast that one light, but it was among the many that lined the streets of the busy community of Fabens.
Somehow I had neglected to observe that my route through Clint and Eastward movement on Alameda was not the way to San Elizario. Did I miss this because of my exuberance, or exhaustion? But, heck, Fabens was farther along my intended route anyway, and I really had gone a long distance despite my late start and repairs. I waited for a green light, and continued moving East, looking for potential camp sites.
After seeing a possibility, I turned North on 4th Street, crossed the tracks, passed public schools, turned West on Camp Street and pedaled back to the main drag through town where I knew I could find the needed food. I continued North, passing a small eatery, and came to a grocery store. I met two guards outside, who informed me that it had just closed and wouldn't re-open 'till mid-morning, after church. On the North side of the parking lot was a Subway, also closed, so I wheeled across the street toward McDonalds and KFC when I remembered passing a small eatery. I decided to support as much non-chain business as possible, and this would be my first opportunity to put that pledge into action.
My Doublevision tandem recumbent took up the the remaining room on the G Avenue edge of Rojeros Snacks when I parked it. An object of attention from the locals sitting at the tables under the porch or on the wall, I was unafraid of theft—I had labored all afternoon to get the heavily-loaded bicycle to that point and knew it would intimidate any who might even begin to move it. I saw customers happily eating ice creams, burgers, and other delicious looking foods (Did I mention that anything edible at that moment looked delicious?) and approached the window. I was motioned into a small dining area, and they unlocked the door for me—re-locking it before I sat down.
A few hairs stood up on the back of my neck, although I could still see my bicycle and the keys were left in the lock. Confident enough that my bike wouldn't be tampered with, I spread myself out at one of the tables and considered choice from a much larger menu—this was much more than just an ice cream stand.
I saw an unfamiliar choice, chilindrinas, which intrigued me. Always ready for adventure, I had to have it, and ordered the local delicacy, undeterred by quizzical looks and questions from behind the counter. It arrived very fresh, consisting of chopped cabbage, onions, and tomatoes piled on top of a waffle. What a delight this dish was, and soon occupied a place in my stomach that declared I was "full". But not quite; I followed it with an vanilla ice cream chaser, one that apparently came with this unusual meal.
Other customers saw me sitting inside, and made an attempt to enter but were thwarted by the locked door. If I can't help, then what use am I? I got up, unlocked the door, and a family of three came in to sit at the other table. The woman came from behind the counter and scowled at me while she re-locked the door. Looking around, the service window had been closed and I realized that they were actually closed for the day. I had lucked out, even if it meant some inconvenience for the cook.
I was soon retracing my route South on Fabens Road and came to the street lights at Camp Street, noting an exceedingly nice Auto Zone store on the corner. Crossing the railroad tracks, I went to the possible campsite seen earlier and became dismayed with it. I returned to the Auto Zone store, thinking that if it was so nice in the front, the backside might be very acceptable, too? I circled the closed business a few times before deciding, that, yes, I could lay down in the shadow in back. Looking above, a bright swath of stars told me no rain tonight, and knew how much less intrusive I would be without having to put up the tent-tarp. Pulling out my sleeping bag and Z-rest, I settled down between the building and my bike.
I was amazingly comfortable, and called my wife. The connection was excellent, but our conversation brief. Due to my proximity to the border, T-Mobile couldn't compete with the Mexican tower that had picked up my signal, thus making the cell call an international discussion, with incredibly steep rates. This was a rather expensive mistake which I resolved to never make again.
The daytime heat had given way to a surprisingly cool night, and recently blacktopped lot was now releasing the heat which had been absorbed all day. My enjoyment came to a quick end, when that most annoying sound of a mosquito buzzing in my ear made me slap at it. My sore ear proved, once again, that either I'm not very fast or there are a multitude of these insects, each one ready to take the place of the next, or both.
Excerpted from Dry'd, Fry'd, and Sky'd by Headwinds and Heat by John Eyberg Copyright © 2012 by John Eyberg. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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