Since conditions were so favorable yesterday, I made the rookie mistake of thinking they would be favorable today as well. They were not. From the moment I left my hideout, I was battling the twin terrors of headwind and lots of rollers. Endless rollers, in fact.
I got my wake-up call about 6:30 when the border patrol shined a light in my tent and asked me what I was doing. “I was sleeping,” I said.
“Oh, sorry to disturb you.”
It was actually no disturbance; I had been awake since five and had already eaten and was simply waiting for enough daylight to depart. My first stop was supposed to be Langtry, about 34 miles away. It took a solid three hours to get there and when I arrived the only services were the world’s surliest man in the world’s most poorly stocked convenience store.
Long before I reached Langtry, I stopped at a roadside picnic area which served as the local dump. I wish that I could say that Texas roadways are especially filthy, but they are not. All public roadways are public dumps and when you travel by bicycle you see in detail what an extraordinary amount of garbage lines the roads.
There were places in Arizona and New Mexico where it looked like people had simply dumped hundreds of pounds of broken bottles, and no matter what state you are in the filth that lines the highway is endless in quantity and variety, although the garbage of choice appears to be the empty beer receptacle.
I wonder why no one cares. This isn’t a matter of a few tons of trash, it is a matter of millions of tons of trash. At one point I began measuring the distance between pieces of garbage, and at no spot was there one full foot of empty space. You can’t really see this in a car, but on a bike you can see the glass, the rubber, the plastic, and the hundreds of thousands, I mean millions of pieces of junk that people throw out of their cars or that get ejected from trucks.
It’s funny that every state highway department devotes billions of dollars to building roads but devotes almost nothing to keeping them clean with the exception of the occasional silly sign and ineffectual littering fine. Why not accept that people are filthy pigs and simply have a staff of five, 10, or 15,000 full-time employees whose job it is to do nothing but clean the highways? The absurd “adopt a highway” program is less than ineffectual; at best it is free advertising, at worst it is a travesty.
This particular rest stop was especially nasty; people simply used it as a dump. I munched on some cookies and peanut butter and while munching a pick-up drove up and parked. A terribly obese man got out, perhaps in his late 60s, with a gut big enough to hold 10 barrels of frying oil. He lurched over to the side of his pick-up and tried to bend over, in obvious pain. He could barely walk, his back hurt so bad. He tried to stretch but was too fat to do anything other than jiggle a little bit. After a few minutes he crammed himself back into the gigantic cab for a few more hours of misery. America’s roadways are filled with trash, which makes sense because America’s stomachs are filled with trash, too.
After Langtry, a small black car pulled over. The occupants had gotten out to take pictures, but when they saw me they struck up a conversation. The guy, Floyd, is opening his own bike shop in Waco and is a tourist turned bike racer. His big trip was Dallas to Los Angeles and their car was filled with goodies. They gave me the best pear I have ever eaten. “I know what it’s like to have somebody pull over and give you food,” he said. It turns out that they are also hosts on Warmshowers so if I ever head up towards Waco I will definitely give them a call.
A few miles later and still having the bulk of the trip to Comstock ahead of me, a solid 25 hilly headwind miles, I saw a blue pick-up on the other side of the road. The man was throwing rocks up at a giant cliff. “What are you doing?” I asked as I rode by. “Are you a geologist?”
“Kinda!” He said.
“I have a buddy who is a geologist and he told me to keep an eye out for about seven or eight mountain ranges here in Texas.”
“Yeah, I have a friend who is a geologist and he told me that this is a pretty interesting formation where it’s likely to find some good fossils.”
He began explaining the strata and the different minerals that you could see in the cliff, as well as giving me a little history about the geology of the area. His name was Cone and he owned several hundred acres on the Rio Grande, not too far from where we stood. He was from Lubbock and had more interesting stories than I could shake a stick at.
He told me about the fallen down store I had passed many miles back at Dryden, where his grandfather had worked after being forced to leave Coleman County for killing a man after the man refused to stop letting his bull eat Cone’s grandfather’s corn.
“They took that kind of thing personal back then,” he said.
It got time for me to go, but before I rode off he asked me if I wanted a barbecue sandwich. “Hell yes,” I said. In fact I had been wondering how I was going to make the next three hours to Comstock since all I had was a Dr Pepper and a few cookies.
We sat in the shade of his pick-up, ate sandwiches, drank soda pop, and I listened to his stories about the border patrol, about migrants crossing the river on his property, and about the conundrum of having security but also being independent from government control.
It made me think this: you can be secure or you can be free but you can’t be both.
We finished lunch and parted. His friendliness, his willingness to share, and his interesting stories were one of the nicest parts of the trip. Following that nice interlude I had three miserable hours to Comstock. I stopped at the grocery store there to stock up, and asked the clerk if there was anywhere I could camp.
“Let me call the preacher,” she said. “The Baptist church might let you stay there.”
I sat at a table and ate my first serving of Blue Bell ice cream since arriving in Texas while Mary got things set up for me. Shortly thereafter I was encamped at the Baptist Church, cooking up eggs and bacon, and being thankful for the kindness of so many strangers.
As the man at the grocery store said, “Well, around here we just don’t leave a man when he is stranded.”
Not even a scruffy one on a bicycle.