I made it—3,014 miles in 58 days. There were a few times I had my doubts, as in the Panhandle town of Booker, where I felt very close to calling it quits. I’ve had some difficult days, but many more great days. Then there were days like those spent in and around Big Bend that were challenging, yet very rewarding.
I’ve seen more of Texas in the last two months than I had in the previous twelve years, since moving here in 2008. But of course, there is so much more to see, mainly all that stuff in the middle. I already have a few more adventures bouncing around in my head, like the ride Josh Spradling and I have dubbed “Saint to Saint,” a two- or three-day bike and camping trip from St. Elmo Brewing in Austin to Saint Arnold Brewing in Houston. Look for that in 2021, hopefully. For now, I think I’ll be sticking close to home.
I’ve received messages and comments telling me this journey has been inspiring. I love to hear that. I hope my trip encourages others to take on their own adventures. But also, I think it’s important to acknowledge the massive privilege I have in taking on something like this. Times are hard right now and just having a full-time job is truly a blessing, not to mention a job that will allow me to wander off on a two-month excursion. There are inherent dangers in taking on any bike trip, but as a white, cisgender, heterosexual man, I had an easier and less risky time of it than many would have. All this being said, I hope everyone is able to find adventure and exploration in any way they see fit.
This week, admittedly, was not super exciting and adventurous, but it was the final leg of a grand journey. I’m glad I was able to spend it with friends, new and old, and have my family waiting for me at the finish line.
Comstock to Del Rio
October 20, Distance: 30 Miles
I had a relaxed morning in my motel. I even had time to make a cup of coffee and watch the news. Because of my long ride the day before from Sanderson, I only had a short thirty-mile ride to Del Rio. It was overcast the entire day and the first half of the ride was misty. I was definitely not in West Texas anymore. The hills had almost flattened and the vegetation thickened, even if it was mostly shrubs. Twenty miles into the ride I pulled out my phone to switch podcasts and the phone slipped out of my hand and bounced into the main part of the road. I slammed my breaks and quickly hopped off my bike as an eighteen-wheeler barreled toward my phone. The wheels missed crushing my phone by a few inches, and my heart fluttered. I took this as a sign that, even though there will be tough days on this tour, I will finish safely and in one piece. Not really. I was just happy that I didn’t have to buy a new phone in Del Rio and I could still listen to the next episode of Tom Brown’s Body.
I passed over the Amistad Reservoir on the Governor’s Landing Bridge, which seemed to take forever. I tricked myself into thinking I was almost to Del Rio after getting across the bridge, but there were still about ten miles to go; I took them at a leisurely pace. I arrived in Del Rio just in time for lunch, so I treated myself to Buffalo Wild Wings’ lunch special and a beer on the empty patio.
Del Rio to Eagle Pass
October 21, Distance: 57 Miles
This ride was hillier than I thought it would be. I got the wrong impression the day before, when the landscape appeared to be flattening out. I guess I had to wait till the I got to the Valley before things actually leveled out. Almost every hill I climbed had a Border Patrol vehicle on the side of the highway or off in the grass. I probably passed at least twenty patrol vehicles during my 57-mile ride. Other than that, it was pretty mundane. The highlight for me was passing through the quaint tiny town of Quemado. Sadly, most of the more interesting-looking businesses were closed. A couple cafes were open that seemed to be solely patronized by Border Patrol agents. I spent my time in town at the Oasis Grocery, where I sat outside eating candied peanuts and drinking Gatorade and coffee.
One problem on a longish boring ride, besides the boredom, are the mental battles that come up. Like a tingling ache in your knee that you can’t stop noticing. On this particular ride, I had a twenty-mile stretch where I couldn’t get my mind off my saddle. I kept asking myself questions like, “Has it always been this uncomfortable?” or “Will I ever get comfortable again? I can’t ride the rest of the trip like this.” The only way to get out of a funk like this is to distract yourself long enough for your mind to move on to the next annoyance. Listening to music or making a phone call can usually change my mind-set. I finally made it into Eagle Pass and my hotel. Beat, I had just enough energy to walk across the street to Sonic for a soggy chicken sandwich.
Rest Day in Eagle Pass
October 22, Distance: 0 Miles
This was my last rest day of the trip. Josh Spradling, my friend and Austin Beer Guide business partner, came down to ride with me and offer support for a couple days. He also brought beers from Meanwhile Brewing, Austin’s newest brewery, which opened while I was on this trip, as well as ones from St. Elmo, Live Oak, and Zilker. This was a good distraction before launching into the final leg of the trip.
Eagle Pass to Catarina
October 23, Distance: 62 Miles
While I was getting ready for the day’s ride, Josh went out for a quick run. When he got back, we set off toward Catarina on our bikes. He was going to ride with me for a while and then head back to the hotel to pack up the truck and meet me farther down the road. I suggested he should do a few laps in the pool to get in a quick triathlon. After about 25 minutes he turned back to Eagle Pass. I don’t think he went for a swim.
I pushed on thirty or so miles to Carrizo Springs. There, I met back up with Josh near the courthouse, where early voting was in full swing. After a brief stop at Valero for corndogs and Gatorade, I was back at it and Josh went to our hotel to drop off our stuff. We were staying in Carrizo Springs, but Josh would pick me up in Catarina and we would return to the hotel for the night. Outside Carrizo Springs, the brushy landscape I had become accustomed to in the last three days slowly shifted to one dotted with trees. They weren’t big trees, but they were trees none the less. At the edge of Catarina is a historic hotel that I’d been looking forward to seeing, after spotting it many times on Google Street View in the planning stages of the trip. But as I turned the corner into town, I noticed that all the windows were blown out and that obvious signs of fire damage marked the sides of the building. The entire building had been demolished. Josh later sent me an article about how the hotel had been set ablaze during a thunderstorm in May. Needless to say, it was sort of a depressing note to end my ride on.
Catarina to Laredo
October 24, Distance: 59 Miles
We woke up to the news of the passing of Jerry Jeff Walker. Growing up in Florida, the son of Yankees, I was not familiar with his music. It was not until I moved to Texas that I was properly schooled on his tunes. The news was an ominous start to the day. Also, it was unusually chilly for South Texas, but not too cold for riding. I much prefer a cool start and being able to ride in a flannel.
Josh dropped me off in Catarina and we made plans to meet up twenty miles down the road, where he would cut east toward Interstate 35 to head home and I would continue south to Laredo. A large chunk of U.S. 83 south of Catarina was under construction, leaving me with only a tiny sliver of a shoulder for maneuvering. Eighteen-wheelers whizzed past me with only a couple feet of buffer. This was unnerving, but most moved over and gave me plenty of room. The construction ended just in time to meet up with Josh on the side of the road. I grabbed my bags from his car and attached them to my bike. We waved goodbye and once again, I was alone with a fully loaded bike. A few miles after leaving Josh, I came across a group of four cows that began running as I approached. They ran parallel with me on the other side of a fence for at least a minute. Luckily I was going downhill or I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with them. I’ve never seen cows run that fast or that long.
After a few more hills, it was all downhill into Laredo, via the I-35 frontage road. I ended the night with a Whataburger spicy chicken sandwich and the new Borat movie. Very nice!
Laredo to Zapata
October 25, Distance: 55 Miles
I’d stayed on the north side of Laredo the night before, so the beginning of my ride took me through the city, including downtown and past the bridge to Mexico. It was a fun way to start the day. Once out of town, I took my time riding through the rolling hills. I was in no rush. I had planned on camping that evening, so I didn’t want to show up too early in Zapata just to sit in the hot afternoon sun. I passed through San Ygnacio about halfway through the ride. It’s the oldest town in Zapata County and home to a few historic sights, including a sundial from 1851. Looking back, I wish I had taken a few minutes to steer my bike around the town. I did spend a little bit of time at the Valero on U.S. 83, though.
My plan was to camp at Oso Blanco Motel and RV Park, but when I arrived I learned that it had neither showers or bathrooms for campers. I had three days left. For thirty bucks more, I took a motel room. The worst part about this was that I had been carrying all my camping gear on my bike since Sanderson, just for this one night of camping. This was a big bike touring failure on my part. I’m still learning. I got over it pretty quickly after a hot shower. While dining on tuna and crackers, I watched one of my new favorite shows that I had discovered on this trip, Below Deck.
Zapata to Rio Grande City
October 26, Distance: 55 Miles
I woke up and heard the wind blowing. I checked my phone only to find out it was a headwind and it would be coming at me around 15 miles per hour and gusting up to 25 miles per hour, all day long. I wanted to stay in bed but reminded myself how close I was to the end—only three more days to go. I groaned and rolled out of bed, packed my stuff on the bike, and set out. Most of the day I was skirting the edge of Falcon Lake, and it was so damn hilly. I was climbing more hills than I had since my ride from Sanderson to Comstock. But I knew after today, the rest of my ride was going to be flat as a pancake. With the hills and the wind, I was creeping. Going uphill I was struggling to hit 8 miles per hour. Then the dogs started coming out. I think I was chased by no fewer than fifteen dogs, all running out from their yards to run after me along U.S. 83. Trying to outrun a German shepherd while riding up a hill in a headwind was one of the hardest aspects of this trip so far. It was a beautiful day, though, sunny and in the eighties. On another day, this might have been a wonderful ride.
I slowly made my way to Roma, fifteen miles out of Rio Grande City, taking breaks often. The rode from Roma to Rio Grande City was absolutely atrocious. Most of the time there was no shoulder and the traffic was frustratingly heavy around 2 p.m. This may be the worst stretch of road I’ve ridden on in the last two months, worse than Death Highway in the Permian Basin. I was elated to make it to my hotel. This was not a good day, and I was glad to be done with it. To torture myself I checked the winds for my final two days; to my surprise, they looked good. I crossed my fingers and knocked on wood.
Rio Grande City to McAllen
October 27, Distance: 57 Miles
The finger crossing and the knocking worked, because I woke up and the wind was blowing sixteen miles per hour in the direction I was headed. With just over fifty miles to ride today, plus barely any hills and a tailwind, things were looking good. I had made plans to ride with Pedro Arnulfo, a photographer and Instagram buddy from Mission. We got on the road by 8:30 a.m. and we were immediately rolling easy with the tailwind. He gave me lots of options on routes. I just told him I’d prefer to stay away from traffic as much as possible. Pedro knew exactly when and where to turn to avoid traffic and even some hills. He showed me points of interest left and right, like the Santa Cruz monument atop a hill just outside Rio Grande City and La Lomita Chapel, a historic Catholic site in Mission that became a point of dispute in 2018 when its land was set to be seized by the Border Patrol. The ride was the polar opposite of the day before. We had a tailwind, the sun was hidden behind clouds, and it was pretty much flat. There were dogs, though, and we were chased often. Soon enough we had made it to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where we ended our ride. My brother-in-law, Javier del Castillo, met us there and drove us back to McAllen. That night we were staying at Premier Martial Arts, Eric and Leticia Arriaga’s martial arts school (they’re my brother and sister-in-law). I counted this as camping. Once we arrived there, we parted ways with Pedro and went for a barbecue lunch at Smokin’ Moon BBQ. It was Texas Monthly’s BBQ Week, so as a loyal employee I did my best to eat a huge lunch. For dessert we made our way to a local clinic for a COVID-19 test. It was a precautionary measure, as I was about to arrive at my in-laws’ after spending the last two months traipsing around Texas. Thankfully, I tested negative.
McAllen to Brownsville
October 28, Distance: 47 Miles
Since Denver City, I’ve been carrying around leg warmers and arm warmers. I finally got to wear the leg warmers on this final day, in the Rio Grande Valley, no less. Temps were in the mid-forties when we woke up. When we got to the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, I didn’t want to get out of the truck. The winds were wild, some of the strongest I’d felt since the Panhandle. As luck would have it, they favored me for the day. I’d arranged to ride with Marcos Mancha, an Edinburg firefighter. He was going to meet me somewhere down the road. I began my ride and was making great time. In fact, I was going too fast. I had made plans with my family and some friends from Brownsville to meet at the end point around noon; at this speed, I’d be way too early. I joined Javier fifteen miles down the road for one last tailgate coffee. We were sipping our coffee when Marcos pulled up. He had worked a 24-hour shift and came straight to meet me for the ride. I guzzled the rest of my coffee and we were on our way.
We zipped down Military Highway and rode into Brownsville without much effort. But we were early. We had to kill at least 45 minutes, so I suggested we ride over to 7th & Park, a coffee and bike shop. There we met the owner, Graham Sevier-Schultz, who graciously bought us our coffees. We talked about the trip and riding in Brownsville. As we finished our coffees it was approaching noon, but some of my family had not made it to my finish line at Xeriscape Park. Don’t worry, I am not going to call them out here. Once I knew the entire family was within walking distance of the park, we shoved off from the shop and headed toward the Gateway International Bridge across from the park. It was a short five-minute ride through downtown Brownsville along Elizabeth Street. Anticlimactically, I was stopped by a traffic light just across an intersection from the park, where my family and a few journalists were waiting, my family hooting and hollering. As I pulled into the intersection and across to the park, I had a big grin on my face under my buff. Everyone in my family had on T-shirts adorned with the jagged map of Texas I had drawn with my bike over the past 58 days. We hugged and slowly popped open a bottle of sparkling cider. I took a little time to be interviewed by a couple reporters and have our pictures taken. Then just like that, it was over and we were driving back to my in-laws’ house. I heard they had beer there.