We left El Paso at 7:15 and it was fucking cold. For the first two hours it stayed cold until we reached the town of Fabens which has a 7-11, sporting the world’s best coffee bar. Nothing goes better with hot coffee on a cold day than the bag of Hostess Donettes we devoured sitting in the sun.
Leaving town we ran into a guy pushing a shopping cart. His name was Steve. He said that he was going to San Antonio, but he was clearly freezing and disoriented. However, like a lot of homeless people I have met, he seemed much more concerned about us than he was about himself.
“Do you have enough warm clothes?” he asked us.
“Yeah, we’re fine. We have sleeping bags and a tent. How about you?”
“Oh, I’m fine. See that? Down there on the bottom of my shopping cart I have eight blankets. I wrap myself up in those and get under a tree and I do just fine,” he said.
“Yeah, a little.”
“Here’s a few bucks. Get yourself some coffee and something to eat.”
“Gosh, that is awfully nice of you guys. You need to be careful out there in the desert. There’s lots of snakes. And it gets cold at night. And these drivers, they drive for shit.”
I suppose part of the empathy that homeless people have for others is there a keen awareness and experience of pain, discomfort, and danger. they know how rough things are and how bad things can be and their first instinct is to protect not only themselves but those around them as well. It’s a quality I never saw much of in the South Bay.
The ride from El Paso to Sierra Blanca was beautiful. It started to warm up, the sky was blue, and our route had us on back country roads with zero traffic. It reminded me of when I first started cycling in Austin, when you could ride for 30 minutes and be completely out of town.
There is something about these kinds of roads that urban riding can never replicate. You lose your fear of traffic, and everything is very quiet. The roads are long and empty and the person you are with can ride next to you. You talk, your laugh, and you enjoy riding in solitude with nothing to worry about except the crazy fucking German Shepherd that tries to kill you.
Unlike California, Arizona, and New Mexico, people in Texas don’t generally give a shit about their farm dogs and they let them run wherever they want especially when where they want is after the little bicycle rider. Kristie was terrified out of her mind but I let the chasing dog get right up next to me before squirting him in the eye with some Gatorade. It always works.
Another farm dog wasn’t really interested in catching us but was very interested in getting in his morning intervals on Strava. So he chased us for about a mile, and only quit chasing when he got bored. Texas farm dogs run far and they run fast.
But perhaps the biggest highlight of the ride was the ferruginous hawk that flushed off of a utility pole and gave us a perfect view of his underside as he flew away. These are gorgeous birds and hard to see, especially in Texas where they only come for the winter and in small numbers at that. Shortly thereafter Kristie got to see her first loggerhead shrike and was duly impressed.
The route was mostly flat and we had a gentle tailwind the entire way. At one point we had to get on I-10 and were surprised after we got off onto the frontage road to see a man sitting on the roadside wrapped up in a blanket next to a bicycle. I asked him how he was.
“Me? I’m fat.”
“You have a flat?”
“No man, I’m fat.”
“Are you okay?”
“Oh, sort of. I left El Paso on Thanksgiving and I’m trying to go to Florida. But I don’t have any more food, water, or money. And I’m tired as fuck.”
El Paso was only about 75 miles away, which meant he had been riding about 7 miles a day. It didn’t look like he was going to make it to Florida anytime soon. We gave him some food and some money and told him that the next town was just a few miles up the road, and we rode on. He was incredibly cheerful, and he had been sleeping in an emergency blanket, not in an $800 expedition winter tent with 0° rated sleeping bag.However, and this was odd, he was riding an outrageously nice Cinelli. I wondered how a homeless dude had come up with such a nice bike, but thought it better not to ask.
Sierra Blanca is a desolate town; I cannot imagine how beaten down it must look and feel in the summer when it’s 110° outside. Most of the town buildings are empty, dilapidated, and the lots are all overrun. There was no grocery store, only a Chevron where you could buy eggs, milk, bacon, and Lucky ass, and onion.
Outside the convenient store there was a stray dog that had just had puppies and was begging for food. She was obviously starving. Christie opened up her pack to give her an English muffin and when the dog heard the package open she came running over. She devoured a muffin with a hunger that only a starving animals can have. A lady walked up who had just come out of the store and saw the dog, and again feeding her groceries from her sack. it was incredibly sad to see the little dog begging, eating, and of course going back to try and nurse her litter, probably somewhere over in the brush.
Despite those negatives, the city park had free camping as long as you didn’t need water or a toilet, which we didn’t. We set up camp and fried up 10 eggs and a pound of bacon seasoned with, you guessed it, an onion. It tasted pretty good especially with coffee afterwards.
All things considered, the 90 miles went by quickly and easily. Tomorrow is going to be a somewhat taller order as we are going to Fort Davis which is supposed to be a solid 110 miles from here. We lost another hour traveling east, so it will be a later start and a later finish.
Curled up in the tent in my new, super toasty sleeping bag, it feels damn good to be back on the road again. Thanks for riding along.