“Only mad dogs and Englishmen (plus Curt) go out in the noonday sun.” Indian Proverb
Life becomes incredibly simple out on the road. The normal aspects of our lives— jobs, family, friends, deadlines, houses, yards, bills, etc., drop behind us. There is a freedom here: the freedom to unwind, the freedom to think about our lives, and the freedom to live in the moment.
This freedom is strengthened by the physical challenge of long distance backpacking or bicycling. The difficulty of getting through the event pulls us even farther out of our normal life while our success changes our perspective on who we are and what we can accomplish. When I led nine-day, 100-mile backpack treks and 500-mile bike treks, I could see people’s lives changing, literally before my eyes. Some profoundly.
There was ample challenge built into my day of cycling between Post and Aspermont. To start with, the temperature was pushing 80°F when I left Post around 7:00 AM. The day promised to be a scorcher. By 1:00 PM, the thermometer had climbed beyond 100 (38°C). I was down to minimum clothing and maximum sunblock, sucking on my water bottle, and worrying about sunstroke, always a danger in the hot sun. Tar began to seep up through the pavement. I climbed off my bike to take a look at the phenomena and my shoes stuck like I was walking on well-chewed gum. I noted in my journal, “I wonder if this is what the saber tooth tigers felt like when they encountered the La Brea Tar Pits in Southern California.” I imagined my foot sinking into the pavement and me becoming a fossil for future generations to ponder over.
There were also ups and downs, a welcome change from the flat, flat of West Texas I had been cycling across. Several tributaries to the Brazos River flow through the area, cutting down through the plains. I even caught view of what Texans consider a mountain, or two to be more specific. The Double Mountains are a pair of flat-topped buttes that rise 500-800 feet above the surrounding plains and can be seen for hundreds of square miles. Pioneers traveling by horse and covered wagons used them for land marks. Native Americans probably used them to spot the pioneers.
The break in terrain was welcome. My over-heated body appreciated the 20-30 mile per hour breeze generated by my downhill dashes— although it whined about the climb afterward. There was even an occasional shade tree! The challenge here is that it becomes difficult to see in the shade when you are quickly moving between shadows and sunlight. Loose gravel, broken glass, and other road hazards lurk in the dark, waiting to provide nasty surprises.
That’s the way it was with the rattlesnake. I was racing down a hill and he/she was relaxing in the shade, enjoying the warm pavement. I was a few feet away from a fanged encounter when I spotted him, all coiled up. I prefer my rattlesnakes rattling a warning when I approach. But there wasn’t time for him to rattle or me to think, “Oh, there’s a rattlesnake.” Instincts honed by a million years of my ancestors fearing snakes and two thousand miles of me bicycling took over. I zigged, damn lucky I didn’t land on top of four feet of extremely irritated serpent.
Heart beating like a jack hammer, I executed a U-turn at the bottom of the hill and pedaled back up to the rattlesnake. It hadn’t budged. That changed when I lobbed a couple of rocks his way (from a distance). As he grouchily slithered off the road wanting to bite someone— me, I told him how lucky he was to have encountered a bicyclist and not an 18-wheeler.
Adding insult to almost injury, a strong headwind caught me about ten miles outside of Aspermont. The wind had to be blowing at least 40 miles per hour. Tired, hot, and cranky, I dropped into my lowest gear and climbed out of the saddle. Two hours later I reached the town. My journal tells me I drank a gallon of ice tea.
Aspermont was like most of the west Texas towns I rode through: small, isolated, and slightly depressed. Employment opportunities were few. Population was going down, not up. The town’s population had been 1,357 in 1980. By 1989 it had dropped by a hundred or so. The young people were leaving, heading off to the brighter lights of Dallas, Houston and other urban areas.
High school sports were a bright spot, however. Most towns had signs announcing when their kids had won state or regional championships, even if it was 10-20 years ago. I spent a pleasant evening in Aspermont recovering from my long day and chatting with the friendly locals who laughed at my adventures and regaled me with tales of their own. Texas is a place for story telling. That night there was another impressive thunder and lightning show, reflecting the heat and wind I had experienced during the day.
The next day, I bicycled on to Throckmorton, a short 60 miles without excessive heat, wind or rattlesnakes. I was really impressed with the town’s beautiful city hall. Not so much with the local grocery store where I went to buy some fresh fruit. The oranges looked like rejects of rejects. (I admit to being spoiled by the fruits and vegetables of California.) Throckmorton is cow country so I booked myself into the Cow Country Motel and ate dinner at the Rancher’s Restaurant.
NEXT BLOG: A side trip to Archer, Texas, the home of Larry McMurtry and his fabulous bookstore. I also continue my bike trip on to Jacksboro and Fort Richardson, one of my favorite campgrounds on the bike trip.