Steve sent us off this morning with fried eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, and a big ol’ passel of lies. “It’s all downhill and tailwind from here to Marathon,” he said.
There was no reason to believe him except for blind optimism, but this ride had killed that baby on day two, so we knew that the only thing we had awaiting us today was brutal misery. We had to climb to get out of Fort Davis, and then we descended for a bit, and then we hit the flats going into Alpine. It was about a 20 mph sidewind for 10 miles.
“Glad that’s done,” I said to Kristie. “It’s easy street from here to Marathon. Let’s get coffee!”
We wasted some time drinking coffee, eating granola, and chatting with a local lady. “Are you sure it’s going to be a tailwind to Marathon?” Kristie asked. “It doesn’t really look like a tailwind to me.”
And a tailwind it was not. It was an even stronger crosswind for 8 miles mostly uphill, after which the road gradually bent more and more into the wind until we had about 20 miles of straight headwind riding.
One of the best things about riding through Jeff Davis and Brewster counties was getting to reconnect with my roots. We had spent part of the morning at the Brewster County Courthouse looking up land records for the old Davidson Ranch, which was located between Alpine and Fort Davis on Highway 118, on the eastern side of the road across from Mitre Peak. We found my great-grandfather Ed Davidson’s purchase record for his home in Alpine, as well as the purchase record for 8 acres in northeastern Brewster County. It turns out that the rest of the ranch was in adjoining Jeff Davis County; it wasn’t a large ranch but it was still about a section, 640 acres in total. For a region of Texas that is considered “big ranch country” that is pretty small potatoes. Many of the working ranches in those days were easily 10, 20, 30,000 acres or more.
However, one of the things that visiting the courthouse and reading my family’s records impressed upon me was how important it is to own your own home. It made me really happy that before leaving Los Angeles I had taken the time to finally invest some of my hard-earned money in a residence that would be mine for as long as I wanted to live there. Putting down stakes matters. It mattered for my forebears, and I guess deep down it mattered to me, too.
Of course the home that I bought, since I bought it in Southern California, was modest compared to the average Texas ranch house. One bedroom, a sunny breakfast and kitchen nook, and detached bathroom/shower; well it certainly wasn’t anything that would have impressed great-grandfather Ed. But nonetheless, homeownership is almost always one way that you can measure whether or not a person has finally grown up and become a mature adult, ready to accept the responsibilities of life and become a stolid member of the community. As much as I have fought against it, I suppose that time had come for me, too.
We were surprised when we reached Marathon. There was a text from Steve that said, “They have a room for you at the Gage.”
The Gage Hotel in Marathon is a historic, beautiful, luxury hotel. There is no way that I would ever stay there, especially with the financial commitments that I had to make in order to own my own home. But what could we say? We wheeled up to the hotel looking like something the cat had dragged in after the dog had dragged it in after the dog had barfed it up, and we knew what that looks like.
The nice folks at the hotel pretended that they were accustomed to dirty, smelly guests on clunky bicycles carrying a jug of milk and a plastic bag of granola for fine in-room dining. We got set up, which means we chucked off our backpacks, brushed our teeth, took a quick shower, and then went out for a cup of coffee.
There was an ol’ boy standing on the sidewalk with an ol’ gal and they were looking at us. People in small Texas towns look a lot because they have time and not always have so much to do. “Where are y’all coming from?” The ol’ boy asked.
“Fort Davis,” I said.
“That’s a fur piece.”
“Yes, it is.”
“What brings y’all to this neck of the woods?”
“My family used to ranch out here, and we are passing through so I wanted to take a look at the old family ranch.”
The ol’ boy wasn’t impressed. Lots of people show up in Alpine and Jeff Davis counties talking about their grandpa and great-grandpa and great-great-grandpa who used to ranch, fight the Indians, rustle cattle, work as a Texas Ranger, fight in the Civil War, etc. etc. etc.
“Is that right?” The ol’ boy asked.
“Yes, it is.”
“What was the name of the ranch?”
“The Davidson Ranch. It was on Highway 118 on the other side of the road from Mitre Peak.” The ol’ boy looked at me for a second. His expression didn’t change except for his right eyebrow, which lifted just a little bit. “Did you ever hear of it?” I asked.
“I reckon so. We ranch right next-door to the Davidson Ranch. My name is Kimball, Kimball Ranch. Pleasure to meet you. I knew your great-grandfather when I was just a young ‘un.”
“It was a small ranch, just a section.”
“No. It was two sections.”
“He had to sell it because he got too old and couldn’t keep ranching it by himself. None of the kids wanted to continue it.”
“I remember,” he said disapprovingly.
“I will tell my dad that I met you,” I said. “It’s been a pleasure.”
And then he did that thing that you think they only do in the movies. He nodded, and tipped his hat.