October 2010



One of the cats my hosts at the Observatory, John and Deb, were fostering. Mittens slept right next to my head, purring. Deb urged me to adopt him. I protested I didn’t have room to carry him. She countered "We deliver." Tempting

Day 15: Sierra Blanca to McDonald Observatory

The GPS track from today’s ride is highly errorred. Basic stats: 108 miles, about 9:40 rolling time. That’s not the greatest distance I’ve ever ridden in one day, but it’s definitely the most ride time I’ve ever had in one day.

I’ve been riding pretty strongly the past few days, and I think I may have gotten a little overconfident. Plus there’s a whole lot of nothing for a long way from Sierra Blanca on, and my current location is really the shortest ride I was willing to contemplate. And finally, now that I’m back in Texas, I really want to get back to Austin. It’s irrational: I know I have almost as much distance between El Paso and Austin as I did between San Diego and El Paso. But being in the state has lit a fire under me to make as much daily headway as possible.

So I wound up overextending myself today somewhat. I knew as early as 3:00 pm that I was racing the sunset and might not win. I did, but only just. I hadn’t taken into account the headwinds, the fact that I’d be climbing out of the Rio Grande valley even before I got to all the steep climbing in the Davis Mountains, or the generally rough roads, which really slow me down and are fatiguing.

I am staying at a Warm Showers host, John and his family, who live on the premises of the McDonald Observatory. John works on the telescopes. Pretty cool. He also did some cross-country riding when be was younger. Gwen and I were lucky enough to catch one of the star parties out here some years ago, and John has offered to show me the 107″ telescope.

It’s a funny thing: everywhere I’ve gone on this rode so far, I’ve either been able to get cellular data or wifi at the end of every day. So while I’ve been homesick, I’ve still had that thread of connection, getting emails and comments from friends, calling Gwen when possible, and so on. The first transam bike route was plotted and ridden back in 1976, when it would have been vastly harder to stay in touch with the folks back home. I wonder if modern communications tools alleviate the homesickness or increase it, by splitting one’s state of mind.

Day 14: El Paso to Sierra Blanca

Started: Oct 1, 2010 7:28:07
Ride Time: 8:01:26
Stopped Time: 1:58:29
Distance: 100.54 miles
Average: 12.53 miles/h
Fastest Speed: 34.42 miles/h
Climb: 6448 feet
Calories: 4993

A long day, and still somehow not far enough. I really wanted to push on to Van Horn, but would have needed about one more hour to do so safely. Decided not to risk it—I’d also be risking every restaurant there being closed by the time I got checked into a hotel, which might be even worse.

Anyone who has driven through this country knows why I’m in such a hurry to get through it: ain’t nothin’ here. While it would be nice to be able to be in the moment and enjoy every day on its own merits on this trip, I’m not half so Pollyanna-ish as to pretend that’s realistic. There are some days that really are about being in the moment. And there are some I just need to get through. This is one of the latter.

Gwen had predicted that it would take a long time to get through El Paso, and she was right. It was also very unpleasant. The contrast between New Mexico drivers and Texas drivers is stark. By the time I got to Fabens, traffic had lightened up, and riding wasn’t bad. A headwind prevented me from going as fast as I’d hoped, but I made pretty good progress riding on SH 20. Around McNary, my map diverted me onto a rough farm road as a detour to keep me off I-10. It was also around there that I met another Southern Tier rider, Tom. Tom’s got a few years on me. His wife is sagging for him with an RV they bought specifically for this ride. He’s logging about 60 miles a day on a hybrid bike, taking weekends off, and apparently having a good time. The hotel keeper in Superior CA mentioned this couple to me, so it’s fun to meet other people on the route that I’ve heard about.

Anyhow, that circuitous detour probably added about 30 minutes to my ride today. Later, the route did put me on I-10 for lack of any alternative, but only for a couple miles—back onto a feeder road with an especially coarse new layer of chipseal. Ugh. I think I have ridden over every mile of shovel-ready stimulus projects on this ride. Should have just stayed on I-10.

I continued to make pretty good time, despite the surface and despite gaining about 1000′ over the last 10 miles. But it was about 5:30 when I got in here, and even if I were flying at 17 mph, Van Horn would be another two hours. It’s funny how I’ve always viewed Van Horn as a nasty, dusty wide spot in the road when driving, but when cycling, it’s an oasis of civilization. The next town after it of any account that I’ll reach is Fort Davis—111 miles from here, and over the Davis Mountains.