500 miles of West Texas authenticity on a bicycle
Big Bend National Park, TX. 2010
We awoke with some gusto knowing we had to hop on our bikes and ride through the desert. Though I had been on a couple bike tours before and Geoff was in decent shape, we decided to acclimate slowly with the first two having short itineraries.
We started off by riding our bikes around the parking lot, checking stuff. I was using Geoff’s 2nd bike, a hybrid mountain/road bike. It was a nice bike with comfortable geometry, but there was one troublesome part of it. Geoff had put a brand new Brooks saddle on the bike. These are famous leather seats that take a year of consistent riding to break in. When they’re new they are literally as hard as wood. I didn’t bring bike shorts so I had a feeling this seat was going to be a serious pain in the ass. I brought plenty of Ibuprofen instead.
John and Suzy bid us farewell and John said “You sure you guys don’t want a ride back? We’ll get a good lunch and everything.”
“No thanks, John.”
“Alright, have at it.”
I always felt like such a green little bitch on the first day an adventure. All geared up and ain’t even broken a sweat. It’s so anti-heroic, so boyish, like you should be holding a sack lunch and getting a kiss on the cheek from your mom. That feeling lasted as we rode a half mile straight uphill leaving the lodges.
We laughed at how out of shape we felt, heaving and traversing around the road to minimize the steepness.
“Wow, maybe we should have trained. At this pace we’ll get to Austin next year,” Geoff joked. But alas the peak released us and we embarked down the day’s mountain. That imposter feeling faded, replaced by profound intent, like taking off on a one way flight to a new country. The next 5 miles of our trip was straight downhill — not a bad start momentum-wise.
We hit the quintessential desert heat once we were off the mountain and started on our route. It was nice to see Geoff with a sweat and red in the face from riding — such a contrast from downtown-apartment-Geoff.
He couldn’t stop smiling. His stubble was showing since gave up shaving on Wednesday or so in preparation for the road. And I looked like I always did, like an “alien hippy queer,” as Geoff called me ever since I told him about the strange reactions I’d receive along the road from country folk who didn’t know what to think of me.
We only rode 15 miles that afternoon, enough to get away from the established campsites, park ranger station and tourist center. We saw a couple javelinas run across the road — good mountain lion dinner, I thought. We set up camp in a little pull-off overlooking a wide valley. To set up your tent and unroll your sleeping bag is to truly be in the grips of the trek. I felt nurtured by both sides of time, past and present, each containing freedom, and physically surrounded by nothing but sweet clean wild air and mountains cut with mysterious nooks, so vast and impossible to know.
We ate beans from cans and tortillas from the bag. We peed in the brush around our tents to warn bears and mountain lions. I sat on a rock to write in my journal while there was still enough natural light. After the sunset, we sat in silent awe admiring the stars above, a story of the universe bigger than any disgruntled American who flew his plane into a building, bigger than my little job, bigger than all of us.
I didn’t feel small though, to the contrary, I felt large and powerful in the freedom of a bike trip.