In Search of Texas, Day 1
500 miles of West Texas authenticity on a bicycle
It was the age of school shootings, counter terrorism and the very beginning of the iphone. We didn’t know it yet, but President Donald Trump, George Floyd, and Covid-19 were on the horizon. Americans were, and still are, trying to become better people, and a lot of them are flailing for something that makes sense. In 2008 I met a random man, camping in the middle of Texas. In 2010 him and I decided to go on a 500 mile bike ride together.
Austin, TX. Spring 2010
I took a greyhound bus up from the border and slept at Geoff’s apartment in downtown Austin. The next morning, we sipped coffee and packed last minute stuff like toothbrushes and tortillas for our big adventure. Geoff’s apartment overlooked the State Capitol building. It’s a nice view, but I saw something peculiar. Miles away, over the trees and buildings, I saw a pillar of smoke rise into the sky.
“Geoff, is there any heavy industry up in North Austin? Like a factory or something?”
“I don’t think so,” he joined me in staring at the smoke. “That is strange. I don’t know what that is.”
John and Suzy came in the door. They came to drive us across Texas and drop us off smack dab in the middle of Big Bend National Park. I’d been there before. It’s an exhilarating landscape, vast and far away from whatever’s going on in the world of modern people. It would be a good place to die. By that I mean it puts me in touch with the greater scope of life itself rather than the usual goals and schedules that occupy my tiny identity. The starry skies down there are more entertaining than anything man made. The desert monoliths reveal the elderly face of earth, upon which we crawl like the oblivious little babies we are.
John was British and spunky, much less groggy than Geoff and I. He was a tall fellow with gelled hair who obviously has his shit together. His fiancee, Suzy, looked like a yoga instructor, bronzed from a lot of time outdoors.
“Morning, Geoff. And you must be Boz,” John said. “Did you hear about the psycho who flew his plane into the IRS building this morning?” He asked.
“Shit! That’s the smoke we’ve been seeing all morning. Check it out.” I pointed to the smoke, feeling special for partially witnessing the mini 9/11 from the window.
“Wow, yeah, that’s it alright.” John went on, “Apparently he was an entrepreneur or something and he had his own plane. But he owed a bunch of money to the IRS, his house was repossessed — and well, this morning, he decided to take a little trip.” He paused, noticing his own cheery tone, “But luckily it’s Saturday and nobody was at the office. He was the only casualty.”
“I hope our trip goes better than his.” Geoff said.
John asked, “Hey Boz, you got any problems with the IRS?”
“No, mate. I don’t make enough money to have problems with the IRS. Geoff is the one corralling bureaucrats all day over there at the Capitol. That could bring about some resentments.”
Geoff laughed, “that’s what you’re here for Boz. To help me get away from all this shit for a while.”
We loaded John’s truck with bikes, backpacks and camping stuff.
“You guys are traveling pretty light.” Suzy said.
“We’re trying to keep it minimal. After all we have to carry it all back.”
John said “I can’t imagine biking for that long. You two are crazy if you ask me.”
Geoff slapped it down, “Whatever John. You’ve done a fucking Ironman.”
“Yeah but that’s different. I hate the bike part of an Ironman. It’s the longest part. And so boring. You guys are courageous, or fucking looney, to want to ride across Texas.”
“No. This will be way easier than an Ironman. I’d never do an Ironman. This is just biking, and you’ve got all day to take your own pace. You just stop, camp, and eat. And then you get back home eventually. At least that’s what Boz tells me.”
I agreed, concealing the fact that I do have a tendency to minimize challenges just to get people along for the ride. I planned the route alright and was certain it was possible but I didn’t know what to expect in between.
We drove through the Hill Country, onto the great plateaus into the high desert. Passing miles and miles dead roadkill. Texas goes on and on, which is why most people dread driving across. It’s why I love it.
John kept bringing up the “insane” feat.
“Why would you bike all of this. There’s nothing out here!”
“Well I’m sure there will be something. You just can’t see it from a car.” I replied.
John and Suzy were using this favor to Geoff as a weekend date in Big Bend. Suzy asked, “So how did y’all meet?”
Geoff told the story. “I was headed out to Pedernales Falls one day for a little getaway and I saw this guy in green spandex riding his bike down the road. He had saddle bags and the whole get-up. I told myself ‘I hope I get to meet that guy. I bet he’s riding across country,’ something I always wanted to do. And I was right — he was.”
“Yeah I didn’t mind being noticed,” I added, “Geoff came up to me that evening while I was setting up camp and asked all sorts of questions. Most people are curious about a bike tourist but Geoff seemed like he was ready to up and join me. He didn’t, but he said he would eventually. We stayed in touch this whole time, which is pretty cool considering all the randoms I meet along the road. Most of which I don’t actually stay in touch. Nobody who says they want adventure ever seem to actually go for it.”
“I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Geoff said. “I mean I used to go on little adventures growing up, but life just became all work and I wondered if I’d ever get to do something cool like that before I got old and married and got dogs and a fence all that.”
“And I just can’t say ‘no’ to adventure requests.”
“Yeah, Geoff’s a persistent one.” John joked.
“It was hell getting Geoff to pick a date, though. You’d think he had a real job. What do you do, John? Are you a lobbyist, too?”
“I’m in sales. Mostly government defense contracts.”
“He sells tanks.” Geoff said.
“Yeah. It’s true. What about you, Boz?”
“I am trying to save the ocelots in South Texas. There are only like 50 left.”
“How’s that going?”
“Stupid. The only ocelot I’ve seen was in captivity, besides that all I do is look for grants and try to court rich people.”
“Yeah it’s a bit easier selling arms to governments. They’re really into that.” John said.
“I don’t make ‘John’ money,” Geoff explained, “but at least I can convince government clients to save some money on their light bill. Easier than finding people who want to save ocelots.”
We rode past the Border Patrol checkpoints checking drivers going northward. Geoff asked, “John, how’s your green card status?” “I think it’ll be alright. I’m not the type they’re looking for.”
I bemoaned the Border Patrol’s tyranny for a few moments but dropped it, nobody cared.
Suzy was inspired by the landscape. “Imagine the things you are going to see out there. You could encounter anything.”
Geoff declared “That’s what I’m here for. To find anything besides more unread emails on my blackberry.”
“Well let me know what you find off the beaten path, mate! I’ll stick with my flights to Italy.” John rubbed Suzy’s shoulder.
Geoff reminded him, “Yeah, and your Ironmans.”
We stopped for food and I only had a little granola bar while they ate a full Mexican meal.
“Say mate, you’re not eating much for a guy who is about to go on a bike tour.” John said, honestly concerned.
“I’m not worried about it. I’m just not hungry.”
I was actually trying my damnedest to budget what little money I had for this trip. Plus I honestly didn’t think Geoff and I’s tour would be very challenging anyways. The last bike trip was on the Florida coast and that was anything but an athletic endeavor. We were drunk half of the time and I survived off random food scraps from other people’s discarded meals. But I never seemed to get tired. But Big Bend terrain was by no means Florida. I decided not to think about it any further.
After the 10 hour drive we arrived in the heart of Big Bend in time to see the sunset through what is known as “The Window.” The vantage point is from one of Big Bend’s cozy canyons and the sun slowly falls between perfectly framed distant peaks on the horizon. John and Suzy drank wine and went into date-mode and Geoff and I enjoyed our our last day of not having a bike seat up our asses.
Continue to Day 2.