In Search of Texas, Day 3

500 miles of West Texas authenticity on a bicycle

Picture by Geoff, the clouds beneath

The sun woke us up into a different world. Below us was an horizon-spanning sea of white clouds pierced by mountains that looked like cloud islands, one of which was our little island, containing only our tents and smatterings of cacti. I had never seen anything like it. “Geoff, you gotta see this.” I said to his tent. “We are in the sky.” He unzipped his tent and crawled out.

“Whoa. Already worth the price of admission.”

“We get to ride into those clouds today.”

But the clouds evaporated within the hour as we ate a small breakfast, tortillas and something. We hit the road, deciding to pick our next camping spot whenever we felt like it. We planned to do a little hike since it was going to be another short day of riding.

The road zig zagged through the rolling hills cutting between the thorny chaparral and boulders. I watched startled deer hop over the ridges while great crags passed my view slowly, patiently. My rock hard bike seat was the last thing on my mind, for now. There was a pull-off indicating some sort of tourist attraction. We noticed some RVers looking at an old archaeological dig and reading the sign about the dinosaurs who lived here.

The old man, with his sun hat, shades, long black socks and camera made some jokes about how hot it was. It was one of those cases where the tourists at the attraction were more interesting than the attraction. As romantic as dinosaurs, native american nomads, and Spanish conquistadors are, it was this Michigan man with his long black socks and shorts pulled over his belly button that characterize the modern epoch. Oh well.

Moving along we saw more scurrying javelinas and a Big Bend patch nosed snake bathing on the side of the road. The day was a relaxing safari. Definitely a good way to start. I don’t think Geoff had checked his blackberry all day — not that he would have had service.

We finally came upon a nice primitive camping area that we thought was secluded enough from the park road. We hiked into a nearby canyon.

My favorite part about Big Bend is the fractal like nature of the terrain. Here is what I mean: At first glance, the view in front of you looks simply like a long flat area with some brush and then a mini-mountain up ahead. But as you walk the “flat area” you realize it’s not flat, it’s a bunch of dry washes, each one very different with plant surprises and animal tracks and a special little comfort(or harshness) all its own. And once you get to the giant rock you had set your eyes upon, you realize it’s not simply a giant rock. It’s a little world with canyons and cut throughs and cliffs and caves, a waterfall if you’re lucky, and all of which you couldn’t have seen from a mile away.

I ran around among these cut-throughs, invigorated by the god-sized playground. Geoff took out his camera and began to try to capture our otherworldly setting.

“You look like a fucking caveman!” He yelled.

“I am a fucking caveman!”

I embraced the feeling of being a caveman, or an Indian, and went around throwing rocks, inspecting stuff, trying to understand my environment — as if I was going to make a home of it. Part instinct, part play.

When we got back to the campsite, there was a white van sitting there.

“Well, there’s our rapist. Right on time.” Geoff said.

“It looks more like a murder van than a rape van.”

Nobody was around the van however, not yet. We’d have to wait to see who was right.

We set up our tents and snacked on a can of beans over a crappy little fire.

Just after dusk, a man on a dirt bike pulled up covered in desert dust. This was our murderer. He was dressed in all bike leather and a black helmet — now colored khaki from dust. He parked his dirt bike behind the van and pulled off his helmet.

“Howdy, neighbors.”

“Howdy.”

I walked over the greeted him as Geoff finished his beans.

He pulled open his van doors and inside he had another motorcycle, a touring bike, and a bunch of well-organized camping gear and tools.

“Nice garage,” I said.

“Yeah, it is my garage. Thanks for noticing.”

“Hey Geoff! No bodies in the van!” I said.

“Oh thanks for checking! Asshole.” Geoff was more easily embarrassed than I.

“I’m Will,” the guy said.

“I’m Boz.”

“Geoff!” Geoff yelled from the fire.

“And y’all must be the ‘bicycle killers.’ Honored.”

“Likewise. White-van-murder-guy.”

Will gave us a tour of his set-up.

“I retired from Coast Guard at 48, and now I get retirement of $700 per month. I just travel slowly. Keep my expenses below that. Only travel about 50 miles a day, if that. And then I park and bike and motorcycle and dirtbike wherever I want.”

“You sleep up there?” I pointed to his roof where he had a hard-top tent contraption.

Will’s set-up

“Yeah that thing pops up, it’s pretty comfortable actually.”

I left Will to his evening routines and joined Geoff at the campsite.

“Can you imagine living like that? He’s really figured it out.” Geoff said with great envy.

“Yeah. I’d like to figure that one out myself.”

He laid back on the log that served as a bench. “I can’t imagine building that kind of life. I guess his Coast Guard pension helps. God I’m so stressed all the time. I was barely able to get these ten days. But God, these stars…”