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Day 83 – 91: Sanderson to El Paso, TX

Day 83: Sanderson. Rest day and blog catch up. Not much happening in Sanderson.

Day 84: Sanderson to Marathon (55 miles)

Slow morning getting the bike sorted. Had to replace tube as there was a slow puncture. Nice ride through more desert landscapes. Sanderson is actually the ‘Cactus Capital’ of Texas, and there’s definitely a lot’of’em. Awesome sunset to darkness riding. Totally empty road, and insanely clear sky, to the point where it was more fun to ride in the moonlight than turn on any bike lights. Ended up at a campsite just outside Marathon at about 8pm.

Day 85: Marathon. 

Woke up run down, knackered and chesty, so ended up just resting. It definitely seems pretty easy to get sick whilst on the road, nutrition is super important. Plus side was that it was SuperBowl Sunday. The town is pretty small, and the local hotel was where the game was being shown, in a room with a massive buffalo stuck to the wall. Despite local help, the rules are still confusing.

Day 86: Marathon to Alpine (31 miles)

Paul Kranendonk from Rotterdam was pulling into the campsite as I was leaving. He’d set off from San Diego and was heading to Jacksonville, FL. It was his 11th day on the road. 11th! Talk about fast progress. But understandable considering he needs to be back at work at the beginning of March! In 2008 he cycled the Great Divide with his wife (together they’ve clocked up a massive amount of cycle touring experience), and it was interesting to hear his perspective on the difference between solo versus team travelling. Also, a few days ago he was chased by 4 massive dogs and had to sprint for 3km to outrun them. Fair play!

After chatting with Paul, and stocking up at the Grocery store, it was getting late (recurring theme?!), so I ended up in Alpine fairly late after more night riding. Big thanks to Sam at the Highland Inn for sorting out a last minute room – nice spot to rest and see the town if you’re passing through!

Day 87: Alpine to US-90 Rest Area (5 miles)

Wasn’t feeling it again, with more chesty sickness, even after an indoor night. Cruised into the historic part of Alpine (which is super nice – all local stores that have gone unchanged for years). Spent a lot of time reading in the park, and didn’t even try leaving the town until 5.30pm. It’s always tricky to be motivated after such a late start. Ended up calling it a day at a rest stop overlooking some incredibly aesthetic hills. Location definitely has a big impact on general psyche, and this one helped to improve the day.

Day 88: US-90 Rest Area to Valentine (57 miles)

Brrr. Cold night so good to see the sun and it’s warmth. In Louisiana, Glen the cyclist had mentioned that the roads in West Texas are a nightmare when it comes to rolling resitance. For a while I’ve not had a clue what he was on about. The roads in West Texas seem exactly the same as the ones in all the other states. But for the first time what he was talking about became clear. The road was made differently, with big pebbles stuck into the surface, which definitely slowed everything down. It didn’t last long though, because literally at the sign that marked entering a new county, the road became smooth again.

It’s been quite strange cycling through the Texas desert. Many of the towns are dilapidated, but every so often a town in the middle of nowhere will be vibrant and bustling. Passing through Marfa was one of those times. Small town but with a lot of quirky people and a heavy art scene. This was on the way in to town, a lotta’ heavy Q’s (if you look carefully the artist has signed it):

Left Marfa, after a brief stop and explore, and pedalled to Valentine (once again a tiny town where almost everything is boarded up and shut down – quite spooky). I was running out of water, so stopped to attempt to scrounge some from the farmers who were in their yard. Kirkby and Maria owned the roadside farm in Valentine, and had hosted cyclists before. They offered the yard as a place to crash, and I jumped at the chance.

“You can sleep in the shipping container if you like? It’ll be warmer than outside.” After the previous night, anything to escape the cold was amazing.

Day 89: Valentine to Allamoore, via Van Horn (50 miles)

Woke up in the shipping container. (That’s probably not a sentence that gets written much.) Thankfully it was still on the farm and not out at sea. That would have been more challenging.

Day started off great, through deserty-farm land, similar to the last few days really. Got quite hot and dusty from about midday though. Ended up running out of water close to Van Horn, which even for only 15 miles wasn’t too pleasant. Usually it’s never a problem, there’s always somewhere to fill up, but this stretch is quite sparse (if you’re going to be cycling this stretch, make sure you carry more than you think you’ll need).

The railway ran next to the road for most of the day, and a regular sight was seeing the Border Patrol driving their 4×4’s on the dirt track next to the tracks, towing tyres. Anyone know what this is about?

Quite a tough section pulling in to Van Horn. Not because of hills or anything like that, but because you can see Van Horn from miles away, shimmering away in the distance. And you know there’s water and all that goodness, if you can just make it to the shimmering city. But it doesn’t seem to get any closer, no matter how hard you pedal. It was like a mirage for a while, quite bizarre. But eventually Van Horn provided an oasis.

Stayed in Van Horn until quite late, just to get out of the heat for a while. From Van Horn, the way to El Paso is via the Interstate (I10), which is the equivalent to the motorway in the UK (i.e. busy and fast). Started this section at about 9PM, after getting kitted out in everything high-vis. To be honest, the shoulder is so wide that it’s probably safer than the other roads, but nonetheless it has an air of intimidation, especially getting on from a junction.

Cycled for an hour or so, and ended up finding a spot in between the interstate and the road that runs parallel to it. Crazy clear sky, which made it a bit more bearable, as the bivvy spot was a patch of dirt in between some concrete traffic blocks, near the railway, outside a factory.

Day 90: Allamoore to El Paso (106 miles)

El Paso was a fair way off, so I thought an early start was in order to arrive on time. Didn’t quite realise how early. In the haze of last night (first time on Interstate, finding a sleeping spot etc), it slipped my mind, even after seeing the great big sign, that I’d crossed into a new time zone (MST). Alarm set for 5AM. But of course my phone was still showing Central time. It meant an unintentional 4AM start. All good really though, it wasn’t the most luxurious sleeping spot anyway. Here’s a video of late Day 89 and early 90 (I hadn’t realised the time zone mistake at this point):

(Click here if the video doesn’t load in your email browser)

After a few very early, and very dark miles to Sierra Blanca, the sun came up and brought with it a heavy dose of amazing. The longest and fastest downhill of the trip so far. It was top gear for about an hour, full speed ahead. At points you’re going so fast that pedalling doesn’t make a difference, so you can sit back and let gravity do the work. As good as cycling gets. After the initial steepness, it flattened out a little bit but it was never slow. Never a low gear, all the way into El Paso. Without a doubt the most fun riding so far.

Ended up cycling some of this stretch with Arvid from Sweden, who’s a Navy officer that sailed into Florida and has a month off the boat. He’s travelling light, on a road bike, and between motels mainly. His month off is coming to an end in 12 days so he’s trying to make as much progress as possible and will fly back to Florida from wherever he ends up.

Got into El Paso around 3pm after taking a couple of long-ish breaks along the way. Lucky enough to be staying for the next couple of nights at the Hyatt El Paso. It’s quite a different setup to the shipping container!

Day 91: El Paso, TX

Catching up on the blog, and chilling out for the day thanks to the wonderful people at the Hyatt (thanks for your incredible hospitality!). Staying here until Sunday morning and then will head for New Mexico. It’s amazing to take a full day off the bike, and not have to worry about keeping a constant eye on kit. Even though it’s been slow, travelling through the desert and not getting much sleep in the process was definitely quite draining. Stoked to recharge. But blimey, Texas in it’s own right has been an amazing ride, full of unforgettable experiences and incredible people.

For anyone cycling the Southern Tier east to west – you can avoid the interstate for miles if you come off at Allamoore. There’s a quiet road that runs in parallel until Sierra Blanca, about 15 metres away from the I10.

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Map of this stretch:



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4 comments on this post

  1. Doug says:

    Hey Mate,
    Always a pleasure to wake and read your progress whilst sipping my coffee. You are getting closer to the “climb” north everyday.
    As far as why the boarder patrol tow’s tires behind their trucks. Its to smooth out the “lane” between the fence and the boarder, then they can check for foot prints at a later time.
    Enjoy your ride through NM and AZ, it is good your doing it now, because in about a month it will be 110F by 9 am down there.
    Thanks for taking us along on your adventures.

    Cheers
    Doug

  2. Stuart says:

    Hey David. Watching your progress, from wintery Scotland, water issues, clear skies, and very different landscapes sounds like a change we’d welcome back here. Enjoying the pics and video, and especially stories of your run ins with the locals. cheers Stuart

  3. James Clark says:

    Inspiring! Love watching your progress, but I have to tell you sometimes it make me think about quitting my job, and I love my job (6th grade teacher). So, this is a dangerous for me, but keep it up anyway(as if you need my encouragement), because I’m with you vicariously.

  4. Jim Maynard says:

    Dave,

    It took me about an hour to do the “quick, anti-spam maths test” because math was never my strong point….

    I’m an Engineer with Union Pacific Railroad and I travel the tracks between El Paso and Alpine, Texas freuqently. You traveled a beautiful stretch of road (Highway 90) and got to see some things that I don’t ever have time to stop a train and examine. I’m VERY familiar with Alpine and the Highland Inn is nice. Too bad you didn’t stop at the depot and sign the big travelers’ guest book!

    As for the Border Patrol dragging the tires, the reason they do that is because these roads that run near the tracks are often used as pathways for illegal immigrants who are either on foot or hopping trains to travel East/West. By dragging the road daily, they can get a feel for the amount of foot traffic and where most of the immigrants are either traveling to or from. One of the things I love to do is, when we’re sitting in a siding waiting for an opposing train to pass, hop off the train, make my way down to the dirt road through the brush, then walk out onto the dirt road, creating tracks that run in circles, on top of each other, back and forth, etc..etc… then take of one boot and do a hop and a skip, then put the boot back on and take the other off…. you get the idea. I even throw in my own version of Monty Python’s “Silly Walk”, trying to picture myself as John Cleese taking long, awkward steps, then short ones, sideways, crab-tracking and so on. The best part is watching the BP guys pull up in their jeeps and get out and stand there, scratching their heads in confusion as they try to make sense of my designs in the sand. I’m surprised that they haven’t put two and two together.

    Here’s a suggestion: If you REALLY want to mess with them, YOU can do the same thing if you camp out near the tracks…. ride your bicycle a short distance down the road, then get off, pick it up, walk in circles, walk into the brush, come out of the brush about 100 feet further and do it all over again. You’ll drive some poor bastard in green crazy with your antics. And, it will give you something fun to write about and share later.

    Best of luck in your travels!

    From a Desert Rat who wishes he’d done what you’re doing 30 years ago…
    Jim

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