Of Margaritas, Piña Coladas & Mint Juleps

An Improbable Bicycle Adventure Tests a Man's Grit

FROM THE BOOK:Do you need anything before I go?”

“No, I don’t think so. I have my ‘girls’ to help if I need it. Women don’t have to have a man around, you know.”

“Dammit, Judy, I’ve never said that or acted that way, so let’s not go there. If there’s nothing else, I’ll say goodbye.”

I waited.

"Please be careful,” she said, finally.

I paused a few seconds, contemplating the utility of what I would say next.

“Judy?”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“Everything.”

"You're not sorry. Not really ... Just be careful."

*

FROM THE BOOK: We are back on the Adventure Cycling route, and today was, quite simply, wicked. We faced long, continuous rollers and headwind, not always with the kind of courage one hopes he has. Cresting each roller, five or six more hove into view. It shatters the psyche. A dry, penetrating heat and lack of water, the only rivals to the landscape’s punishing monotony, compounded our misery.

The Border Patrol, whose presence is far more ubiquitous than the spooked politicians admit, roams back and forth along private dirt roads on either side of the highway. The resulting broad, yellow ribbon, sandwiching the highway, is an ugly, snaking scar across the scrub. It reminds me of the pre-1989 no-man’s land between West and East Germany—minus the guard towers, dogs, and mines.

At one point, we were stopped by a Frenchman and his Russian-born wife who were curious about bicycle touring in the United States. ‘What an odd place to be curious!’ I thought. They were staring at a pair of hot, thirsty, sweaty stinking men. ‘Is this what they want to do,’ I wondered. But I held my tongue, and instead we offered only encouragement.

We didn’t reach Langtry until 5:30 PM, exhausted, hungry and thirsty, only to find nearly everything shuttered. We were finally able to get food and drink (candy bars and sodas) at a convenience store before it shut down.

A man who rented one of the motel rooms associated with the store let us use his shower. The owner of the convenience store agreed to let us sleep on the property under a covered pavilion or, in my case, the concrete stoop of the motel. I just didn’t have the strength to wrestle with my tent. Bob pitched his a few meters away from the motel, but endured the noise from an outdoor drinking party until quite late. You can imagine how hard it was to sleep on concrete after a difficult day on the bike. Sleep, if you can call it that, comes in five-minute increments.

On a positive note, the owner and his accommodating guest were two more examples to add to our growing list of courtesies extended. A hospitable people in an inhospitable land. Perhaps an appropriate subtitle for this journal should be ‘Tough miles between nice people.’ That certainly pertains to West Texas!

*

FROM THE BOOK: There is a wide shoulder on Highway 70, excepting through Pierre Part. As we approached the town two young men in a pickup slowed, cursed at us and shook their fists out the windows. At least one of those fists held a handgun!

“Get the f**k off our road,” one of them shouted.

The truck abruptly stopped about fifty yards ahead of us and waited.

My hands began to shake. My pedaling cadence slowed.

The man with the handgun stepped out onto the road and turned toward us. The driver tossed an empty beer can out his window.

“What do you want to do?” Bob said.

“It looks like they want a fight,” I said. “Let’s just keep moving and try to ignore them. They’re trying to goad us into the first move so they’ll have an excuse.”

We started to pass the truck, giving it a wide birth, but the handgun man moved out toward us. He reached for Bob’s handlebars with his empty hand, but my partner jerked the bars away and kicked at him with his right leg, nearly causing himself to topple over.

“F***ers!” the handgun man spit, turning red in the face. “Why don’t you work for a living? This’s our road, and it ain’t for Hippies like you! Git yur asses back where you came from! Motherf***kers!”

By that time both of us were past the truck. We didn’t look back, but we heard the handgun man fire three shots in the air amid laughter.

A retired teacher seemingly takes leave of his senses following back surgery. He embarks on a cross-country bicycle journey to test his physical and mental fortitude, and, on the lighter side, his tolerance for sweet alcoholic drinks. The adventure, successful or not, might even salvage his failed marriage.

© 2016 Stephen Fox

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