Southern Tier -
Denis Kertz, ©2004
I walked a few blocks for breakfast where there were 2
places next to each other. The first had
a buffet but it was Mexican only so I passed on it. I discovered the other place had pecan
pancakes but then they informed me they were out of pecans, of all things, in
this pecan valley. But they had almonds
so that was substituted and the pancakes were OK. They also had a Sunday paper so I enjoyed a
leisurely breakfast. I had also brought
So when I got back to the house and Laurie was up I suggested that would be a reasonable day trip and we made plans to leave around noon. Meanwhile I checked my front tire and it was low again so I fixed it. I discovered what felt like a small piece of wire sticking out where the tube was punctured. This looked like it could be from the tire itself since there was nothing obvious outside the tire. I used my pocket knife to scrape away at the protrusion and that seemed to work. However, when I tried to close my presta valve I found it wouldn’t close properly so I had to junk the newly patched tube and replace it although my replacement tube was smaller than ideal for the tire size.
When we left for White Sand we first stopped at a bike shop where I got 2 replacement tubes, one to replace the discarded tube and another because I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the smaller tube I had installed in the tire. That gave me 3 good tubes.
We headed to White Sand via Algamogordo on a freeway that we
had to exit. At a light we chose a direction
to White Sand rather than Algamogordo.
This turned out to be the wrong choice as we discovered later when we
got to the
White Sand was a nice destination with a stop at the
Back at the ranch we ate dinner and then I finagled with a stubborn PC before I was able to get an Internet connection and check email.
Laurie made pancakes for my send off breakfast. They were loaded up with wheat germ, oatmeal, bananas, and pecans so I filled up on them. Most places only offer simple Buttermilk so this was a treat, except for the strand of hair that Laurie managed to deposit in one of the pancakes. Filled up, I bid Laurie and Sister Kathleen good-bye around 8:30.
It was still rush hour and traffic was heavy on
At Fabens, where I took a break, I picked up 20 to
McNary. I started seeing familiar sights
– pecan groves, cotton fields, and alfalfa but without the scenic backdrop of
mountains. After 55 easy miles due to a
slight downgrade and a strong tailwind I was at
When I continued I started climbing about 1,000 feet through
the Malone and
I really wanted to continue to Van Horn but it was another 30 miles and I just didn’t have enough daylight. So with no camping available I got a rather decrepit looking motel room for $27 but it had a shower and a bed and that was all I needed. I had another burrito for dinner from a foodmart and settled in for the night.
I got an early start, leaving at sunrise because it promised to be a long day, trying to make Marfa, just over 100 miles. The first goal was to make Van Horn for my late breakfast to augment my cereal breakfast. I didn’t think that would be a problem until I realized the time zone changed just before Van Horn.
I left Sierra Blanca on the frontage road. After 20 miles the state maintained frontage ended but there was a gravel path to the adjacent I10 and I got on I10. There was a little climbing through some scenic mountains and then a nice downhill to the exit to Van Horn. As I passed through the scenery I realized I would have missed this had I continued to Van Horn yesterday evening.
In town I found a restaurant that was still serving breakfast just past 10:30. I had pancakes that were OK but short on quantity. This made it 4 breakfasts in a row where the pancakes were inadequate. While waiting for my pancakes, I met Ted who had ridden this Southern Tier route a year ago. Ted recognized my Adventure Cycling map I had laying on the table and stopped to chat. I also got some information from the waitress who told me there was no food or water riding to Marfa even though there was a small town, Valentine, half way.
When I left I passed right by the post office so I stopped to send my unneeded maps back but the staff had gone on an early lunch break.
It was about 11:30 before I set off for Marfa down 90, 74 miles away. I wasn’t sure I had enough daylight to make Marfa so I had filled one of my 3 liter water bladders as insurance. 90 was a gradual uphill most of the way, gaining 1,000 feet over 50 miles on a virtually constant grade. I made better time than I expected on 90, partially due to some tailwind. 90 was also more scenic than I expected with mountains lining both sides of the road at some distance. Gradually the mountains on my right receded further and further away but my left side was OK.
I passed through a multi-mile pecan grove and some ranches in the early going. It helped that there were some light clouds that blocked the sun, making it almost a perfect riding temperature. Just as I passed through Valentine at the half way mark, the clouds moved on and it became fairly warm. Since there were some trees in Valentine, which had seen better days with a foodmart and several cafes all closed now, I stopped in the shade for a bagel break. I made a couple of other short breaks but mostly I pushed on to give myself the best chance to make Marfa.
I continued to make good time with 90 leveling off after 60 miles and mostly descending the last 8 miles. With abut 10 miles to go I thought I spotted my first live rattlesnake in the driving lane next to the wide shoulder I rode on. So I stopped for a photo only to discover this snake didn’t have any rattles and its head didn’t have the telltale wedge shape.
As it turned out I made it to Marfa, a town of 2,400 famed for the Marfa Mystery Lights that have never been explained, with about an hour and a half of daylight to spare. I made my first stop an ice cream break at a Dairy Queen. Then I rode through town, scouting it out. I discovered 2 motels were under renovation and the only open one was full, which was probably good since it looked like the $50+ variety and it was about a half mile outside of town. So I rode back to town and ate at a Subway. There I learned there was an RV Park with camping and showers. I headed to it at the south end of town and eventually found the owner who said the rate was $5. But after talking a bit he wouldn’t even take my money. I set up in his far back yard and cleaned up. Then I walked to a bar to write my notes.
I packed up at sunrise and rode to a foodmart across the street for milk for breakfast. Since there was nothing until Presidio I also had my pancakes in town which were again lacking in quantity.
When I left it was around 9:00 but I only had 59 miles to Presidio on mostly a downhill route. Shortly after leaving town I saw about a dozen antelopes eating their breakfast and watching warily as I stopped for a photo. I envied them because they had as much breakfast food as they wanted.
The first 20 miles were through open grassland, first a modest downhill and then the biggest climb of the day, gaining 800 feet on a modestly steep hill. After this climb there was a great view of the mountains ahead. This view continued all the way to Shafter at 40 miles. A modest half mile climb followed with views of the mountains in the distance. The last 10 miles were an easy downhill to Presidio and I arrived around 3:00, giving me an easy day after the two previous long mileage days.
In town I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce where I was surprised to find free Internet access but my email server was down so I couldn’t check email. The receptionist said there was no camping near town but pointed out a cheapo motel that I rode past on my way in. There was also a post office a couple blocks away where I mailed my unneeded maps and brochures home.
Then I backtracked and found the cheapo motel for $27 but I
had to pay cash. After taking care of my
motel I rode back to the Chamber of Commerce hoping to find my email server
working only to find it closed at 4:30 which is when I arrived. However, the library was just down the street
where I was able to get my email. That’s
when I discovered that Jill hadn’t gotten my absentee ballot forwarding
instructions soon enough and was consequently still holding on to it. So I emailed instructions to forward it to
Presidio didn’t have the usual array of pizza/fast food places so I ate at a Mexican restaurant for a decent meal. I also saw their menu listed a stack of 5 pancakes for breakfast and I noted that. Then I rode back to my motel and lubricated my chain. There was a grocery store next door where I did some food shopping. Finally, I actually used my room and cleaned up.
Finally, I turned on TV expecting the start of an evening Cardinals
baseball game and discovered the game in the 12th inning. So I got to see
In the morning I headed to the café I ate at last night and
had the super stack of 5 pancakes which turned out to be about what a stack of
3 should be like. I didn’t have my usual
cereal, hoping I would have it down the road at
I left town at 8:30, a half hour after sunrise. The road was 68 miles to Study Butte, at the
west entrance to
The views along the way kept getting better and better as I wore out my camera. The views culminated in a steep climb out of a canyon. This was the first climb of the trip where I needed my lowest gear and that was barely enough as I struggled up the very steep hill at less than 4 mph. Fortunately, there were 2 turnouts that were perfect scenic points to gaze back down the canyon and provide a rest.
At the first turnout I met a German couple who have been
coming to the States every year since 1996 and were enthusiastic visitors. On a previous trip they had been to both the
north and south rims of the
Restarting on the steep hill required starting sideways to get going. Fortunately the hill was only about a half mile long or it could have been impossible. At the top there was another great view looking ahead as the road plunged down the other side, perhaps even steeper than the side I climbed up on. On the other side the mountainous landscape opened up and provided more dramatic views as the road continued to wind and roller coaster. It was very warm but it was better to keep moving to get the cooling effect from the wind.
After 50 miles I reached Lajitas, a resort town built around
As I left the Lajitas area the road left the
I stopped at the
At least the café was a surprise. The Mexican food wasn’t a surprise but it was good, plentiful, and modestly priced. I asked for water and got a large glass of ice water and the waitress refilled it several times. It was some of the best water I’ve had. When I finished eating I just stayed and wrote my notes as darkness set it.
It was a warm night and I didn’t sleep very well, sleeping mostly on top of my sleeping bag. When I got up it was 68 degrees outside and no doubt warmer in the tent. It didn’t rain overnight but I felt a few sprinkles as I was packing my tent.
I ate breakfast at the café and had oatmeal which was
OK. When I left at 9:00 the weather
didn’t look that threatening. After a
few miles I entered
The road sounded like some risk but the alternative route to Santa Elena was much longer and harder with climbing so I went for it. The first 4 miles were rough gravel that I had to pick my way through. Sometimes the gravel would grab my front tire and I had to put a foot down to keep from falling. After 4 miles the gravel changed to dirt and sand. The sand was sometimes unrideable and I had to push my bike a short distance about a half dozen times. Still this was much easier than the alternative on a slight downhill route.
After 12 miles and 2 hours I was surprised to reach pavement
without encountering any mud. In front
of me was a massive mountain wall with a notch that was the
I hiked a little further through some brush to see around
the first bend in the canyon. Then I
wanted to hike a little further to see around the next bend but it looked like
some scrambling was required. So I
decided to turn back after about a half mile in light of potential rain and not
being entirely comfortable leaving my bike unguarded that long. As I hiked out more people showed up in the
parking lot beyond the lone vehicle that was there when I arrived. I talked to a woman in a group who commented
on my tire tracks they saw as they drove the
Leaving, I stopped at the Santa Elena Overlook and a guy there mentioned a big mud puddle up ahead, about a foot deep. This was what the ranger warned about but I had no problem walking my bike through it, although later reflection suggested I would have been better off unloading my bike and carrying everything across in multiple trips. As it was, my sandals handled the very muddy water fine but my front panniers got submerged a couple inches and sported a two tone look afterwards. Of course, my tires and rim got completely immersed and it was good that I had fenders.
There was a second puddle later but I was able to ride through at one edge without problem. After the second puddle I stopped at a turnout for picking up rafts from a trip through the canyon and washed off my feet and sandals. I would have liked to done the same for my wheels but there was no easy access to dip my wheels in the water.
From there I rode about 5 miles to Castolon where I was able to get a sandwich and cold drink at a small store. Then I backtracked a half mile to the Cottonwood Campground where I paid $10 for a tent site. There were no showers but I was able to clean up fairly well with a sponge bath. Mosquitoes continued to be a problem until the wind picked up somewhat. There were a couple of wild turkeys in the campground and one walked past my picnic table as I wrote my notes. Around 5:30 it started to sprinkle and I retired to my tent. Later it rained a little more.
A nice easy day after yesterday’s rather hard day and tomorrow’s expected hard day.
Sometime around 4:00 it rained a little more so my tent was wet in the morning. I ate breakfast in my tent and started to pack up. When I got out of the ten the mosquitoes attacked, obviously upset I had barred them from my tent. It was great to get out of the campground and leave the hungry buggers behind.
I rode the half mile to Castolon, hoping to augment my breakfast, but the store there was closed so I pushed on. The sky was cloudy but it looked like it might be clearing from the west. I expected the day to be hard with about 4,000 feet of climbing and I was not disappointed.
Of course, the reward for climbing is great views and there
was plenty of that on the
While it was all climbing to the
I arrived about 2:30 and made a bee line for the store and nuked a couple of burritos for an emergency calorie injection. Then I checked out the visitor center that highlighted the mountain lion and warned of the presence of bears as well. Then I descended a half mile on a steep grade to the campground where I found the campground fairly full on a Saturday afternoon. Each site had a storage locker, suggesting they were serious about the bears. Most sites also had a shelter over the picnic table and enough room to erect a small tent under the shelter if rain was a serious threat.
After I unpacked I tended to my bike. The front derailleur cable had obviously slipped because I could barely shift from the granny to the middle chainring by the end of the day. However that wasn’t a real problem as I didn’t need anything other than the granny much of the day.
Then since it had been at least 2 hours since I ate I walked back to the grocery store for more food. I also checked out the lodge and discovered they had a breakfast buffet in the morning. Then 3 deer wandered into the lodge complex, calmly munching on the grass in the area. As I walked back to the campground the sky cleared up and the sun came out.
I got up at 7:00 and there were a few rain drops so I quickly moved everything under the shelter. Since it was still dark I packed leisurely and then rode up the steep half mile to the lodge and heaven – the breakfast buffet.
As it started drizzling I met the German couple just outside
the lodge. They told me again with
enthusiasm what they had done yesterday, but they didn’t make it to Santa Elena
because they weren’t prepared to risk their rental car in the big mud
puddle. They started this trip in
Breakfast was great for $6.95 and I loaded up. They had really good oatmeal and the pancakes weren’t big but that didn’t matter since I could have as many as I wanted. I also was in no hurry since it was raining steadily and the amorphous clouds didn’t look promising.
After breakfast I waited around in the lodge gift shop, becoming expert on everything in the shop while I waited for the weather to sort itself out. Just when I was about ready to give up on the day the sky noticeably lightened up around 10:30. By 11:00 the sky was not an amorphous cloud any longer and the sun was trying to break through in a couple spots.
So I took off at 11:15 knowing I didn’t have to make
Back on the main road it was a few miles to Panther Junction
where I stopped at the
I made the modest climb out of the park at Persimmon Gap
where no one was at the
The scenery continued nice with open fields hemmed in by
mountains/hills. I made good time
despite the modest uphill with a slight tailwind. I saw my first Javelinas, both road kill, as
was a jackrabbit a bit later. I made
Marathon right around 6:00 and cruised through town, a town of about 800
considered the “Gateway to the
After cleaning up I walked about a half mile to a BBQ place and had a decent meal. Back at the motel I got the bright idea I could block the shower drain and form a water puddle a couple inches deep. I used that to clean the mud off my tires and rim left over from my Santa Elena mud puddle. I also cleaned off the bottom of my front panniers as well. Then I had 4 memory cards with photos to download to my portable hard drive. Except one of the cards wouldn’t download despite multiple tries so I locked it so I wouldn’t attempt to reuse it on the trip. I also recharged my camera batteries.
While doing this I watched the 2nd game of the World Series. This morning I had finally seen in the paper that the Cardinals were in the World Series, not knowing who had won the 7th game of the National League Playoffs. Moments later I saw they lost the opener and now they were losing the 2nd game. In addition Mizzou lost so it was a losing weekend just like last weekend. Then to add insult to injury, The Weather Channel was forecasting scattered thunderstorms for the rest of the week.
The weather looked OK in the morning so I rode a half mile to a soda fountain place for breakfast. They were a bit disorganized, having to open a new box for cream and a new box for syrup. I had their pancakes that came with bacon but I would have needed a double order for a decent breakfast.
After breakfast I stopped at the post office but they didn’t have my absentee ballot. They had some unpacked stuff that they searched quickly and it wasn’t there either. They said I could try again around 10:00 but I wasn’t confident it would show up and wanted to get on the road with the weather forecasting rain, particularly in the afternoon.
I made a final stop at the small grocery store. There wasn’t much selection but I got a couple bananas and a muffin. I left town around 9:00 on 90 with 54 miles to Sanderson with the second half downhill. The road was mostly bounded by hills that diminished as the day wore on. Yesterday it wasn’t clear whether to call them mountains or hills but today there was no uncertainty. They were hills.
Not long after leaving I saw a murder victim – a dead rattlesnake stretched out in the wide shoulder. Someone had obviously detoured from the driving lane to run over the snake. From the looks of the result it appeared they had braked to smear the snake as well.
While riding, I kept an eye on the sky. The clouds ahead were light and mostly
distinct while those behind me became amorphous. It looked like it was raining in
There really wasn’t much point in continuing since Langtree was the closest next place and it was another 58 miles and it only had a primitive campground. In light of the significant overnight rain forecast and rain the next day I was sure I wanted to be in a motel and in a town of some size in case I had to lay over.
I stopped at a foodmart for something to eat and then found
the library where I checked email. I got
email confirmation that my absentee ballot had been forwarded to
I did find an interesting history exhibit at the town information center. They had an outside exhibit consisting of vertical slabs of rock with a simple painting, such as a train robbery, and an associated plaque with a description. There were about 8 of these rock exhibits along a winding path.
As 4:00 came around I got a room for $30 at the Desert Air Motel, conveniently located across from the foodmart. There was another motel at the other end of town that might have been cheaper but not so well located. The first thing I did in my room was check The Weather Channel which was forecasting rain overnight and tomorrow. It started raining around 5:30. For food, I picked up some tortillas and peanut butter and invented the peanut butter burrito – peanut butter spread on the tortilla and then rolled up. It was pretty good.
It wasn’t looking too bad when I got up even though it was
sprinkling a bit. I decided to head out
to breakfast and I could always retreat if the weather looked too bad. Breakfast was a waste at the No Name Café. The pancakes were probably the smallest of
the trip. The cinnamon rolls at the foodmart
were as large as a stack of 3. I was
really tempted to comment about
Outside it was drizzling but not looking too bad so I donned my rain gear and took off, figuring riding was better than sitting in a motel. It really wasn’t bad riding in the light rain. I couldn’t tell what the scenery was like because of fog but when the fog lifted later I saw I wasn’t missing much. It was just wide open fields of low-lying desert brush.
My goal for the day was to make it at least to Langtry, the
first services of any kind, 58 miles away.
Comstock was another 28 miles.
Just past half way to Langtry I stopped at a road side picnic table for a break and enjoyed some peanut butter burritos. Earlier it had stopped raining but just after I started riding again the light rain returned and I put my rain gear on again. The rain lasted maybe an hour and then stopped for the day. A few blue patches in the sky developed and the sun poked through – something I hadn’t expected to see at the start of the day.
As I got closer to Langtry the land became somewhat
hilly. After 50 miles I stopped at
another road side picnic area.
Fortunately, this one had 2 picnic tables because some guy was lying on
top of one of them. I made it to Langtry
just after 2:00 and stopped for a cold drink before I took the loop into
I spent almost an hour with Judge Roy Bean and took
off. In that time, the wind had picked
up giving me a fair headwind and the road became a roller coaster of long
hills, cut through some rocky hills, requiring moderate climbing and the riding
was slower. Along the way I descended
down to the
Shortly after the
Back at the motel I discovered the TV was useless because there was no cable and no local reception. At least I wouldn’t have to agonize over the World Series critical game 3.
There was a foodmart across the street so I got milk for
cereal. I had been hoarding my cereal
because small towns almost never have any decent cereal selection plus it’s a
good emergency food. But I knew I could
get whatever cereal I wanted in
I left shortly after 8:00 for the 32 miles to
There were some services after I crossed the bridge since this was a big recreational area and I stopped at a foodmart for a break. Shortly after I continued I got that bouncy feeling and realized I had a flat rear tire. It was sprinkling a bit so I rolled my bike a couple of hundred yards to a marine store where I was able to get under an overhang for rain protection. I found the tube puncture quick enough and then checked the corresponding tire location. I felt what appeared to be a bit of wire inside but the outside showed a puncture spot. When I made like a surgeon with my pocket knife I extracted a piece of glass shaped like an arrowhead that was the culprit.
After I fixed the tire it took forever to pump it to 70 psi which raised an alert. I took the opportunity to top off the front tire and the rear went flat during that time. I found another puncture in the tube not too far from the first which I think happened when I rolled the bike on the flat tire and the tube moved. At that point I decided to junk the tube since it already had a number of patches and I replaced it with a new tube.
I continued another 8 miles into
There was a nearby Laundromat where I did a load of laundry. Then I walked about a half mile to a big grocery store where I picked up some food supplies with my choice of cereal.
Finally I decided to replace my derailleur cable, a pretty straight forward deal for the front. I knew the cable needed replacing because I could feel some fraying just under the bar end shifter. However, after I pulled the cable out I found it was OK and the fraying remained. After more inspection I realized the fraying was part of the cable housing and the housing needed to be replaced. That explained why my cable had slipped previously – it became harder and harder to shift due to the increased friction. It was 4:30 and I figured I had just enough time to get back to the bike shop. The shop was open until 6:00 so I left it there for repair, which I could have done myself with the housing but decided it was best not to mess around. I had also noticed the rear derailleur cable housing was cracked so I told the guy to replace it as well.
When I retrieved my bike at 5:45 the guy was just finishing re-wrapping the bar tape. He had put new cable housing for front and rear at the handlebar and new housing at the rear derailleur as well. He also installed new cables and charged $23. That seemed like a good deal and I rode back to the motel happy. Then I walked several blocks to a buffet for $7 and got my money’s worth.
Copyright Denis Kertz, 2004. All rights reserved.