Texas has a lot of pride, but that may be a sign she has very little to be proud about.
Large families with a lot of siblings, for instance, tend to have a strong sense of family identity (“we Jacobs can all hold our liquor;” “Don’t mess with one of us Hesses”) yet, since their resources are spread over so many kids, they also tend to be poorer and succeed less than smaller families, all else being equal. I feel like that’s what’s happened with Texas—she’s gigantic, she collects few taxes and most citizens are stuck fending on their own. They’ll stamp a Texas logo on anything but you better hope you don’t need a doctor while you’re here.
I won’t go on at length about the casual racism, giggling homophobia, or everything-is-bigger wastefulness. And it’s probably not worth mentioning that Houston has a bronze statue of George W. Bush. The political climate and proud redneckery are things I expected before I came here. But I also expected some positives:
- Texans are supposed to be more friendly. Unless you’re introduced by someone they know, they aren’t. (Lots of places have a reputation or super-friendliness, but travelers know it’s never true. Except Ireland.) I have made some good friends, but on the whole Texans are no friendlier than New Yorkers—and a lot more suspicious of strangers. Tip: if you need to hitch a ride when your bike breaks down in Texas, you’re better off just walking.
- There’s supposed to be great food. I mean, it’s not like people speak of Texan cuisine in the same breath as Thai or Italian, but it is legendary for its barbecue, its excellent Mexican food, and its unique Tex Mex style. I’ve had to hunt hard to find just a couple good local eateries.
- Beautiful landscape? Texas has wide open spaces: wooded hills in the east, prairie in the north, desert in the west, and endless Gulf coast here in South Texas. It’s all covered in sprawl, industry and Wal-Marts.
- Culture. No matter where I go I try to seek out hot spots of local culture. It’s been very hard here.
I only stopped in Corpus so I could become a good sea kayaker, with the hope of switching from bike to paddle for the next 1,000 miles of coast. But that’s also had setbacks:
- I have no companions for voyage, making it more dangerous than needed.
- The costs for the gear are high. This was expected, but it’s a bigger factor as I consider whether it’s worth it for a risky solo trip.
- Kayak training takes time away from Spanish practice, which is essential to the Mexico leg (and everything thereafter).
So what happens when you live in a place you don’t love, to do something you’re no longer sure you can do?
I Have Doubts
I’ve grappled with confusion over my purpose while I’m here. I have three main kinds of doubts: a painful loneliness, financial discomfort, and uncertainty about how to continue my Journey.
The loneliness reached a new peak as I bicycled away from New Orleans. There were always hard days on the road, back on the first leg, but now I was leaving a place that felt like home—and the woman I love. We had a fragile plan to attempt the long distance relationship (which, as a wounded veteran of past such conceits, I’ve always framed as “a special kind of agony to inflict on oneself”) with frequent back-and-forth visits: her to Texas, Belize, or wherever I am; and me to New Orleans.
I’m not exaggerating to say that most of the days on this last leg felt more like an act of endurance, than an act of bold venture.
Corpus has not been much different, though Ken’s personality and a new pair of excellent roommates makes it tolerable. (Roommate Blake, a philosophy student with a penchant for building beautiful gardens or any other structure he can envision, and his girlfriend Roommate Elise the shy-but-funny Journalism student and baker, have finally given me a sense of home here.) During the day I keep busy but at night my mind wanders away from my writing, torn between dreams of the Mexican coast and fantasies of a Garden District home with my lady.
Financial discomfort is not new to me, and by the numbers I’m doing great—I doubled my income from last year. But double a new writer’s salary is still a small salary, and the expenses of a life of travel are constant. I always expected to bootstrap this adventure, but I also expected to move much faster. I’m finding that I don’t fancy the idea of 2 or 4 more years of scrabbling by—it’s become important to me that I build a stronger on-the-road income. In storms of irony, taking the time to actually build up my writing career would require hunkering down in one place to work, work, work instead of training or traveling.
Perhaps uncertainty about the Journey itself is the most painful of my doubts. It’s not that I would give up: it’s that I don’t know how to go on. 2,000 miles in I have no companions to join me on the high sea. I pictured forming a little group, meeting bold people who would try this alongside me, training together and doing it together. Why haven’t I found them? And since I haven’t, do I do the kayak segment solo, which seems unwise but epic, or do I change plans and go inland on bicycle—or foot?
These uncertainties plagued me ever since arriving here, even as I continued to go out and paddle as if the kayak voyage is a sure thing. Ken has been patient, waiting for me to decide.
So am I quitting? No.
I believe that travel changes lives. Heroes exist, and there is no formula to become one—but you can prepare, you can hone yourself. The more you push your own limits, the more ready you are to act for others. My Adventure is my way of doing that.
My purpose in my Journey hasn’t changed, I’m only unsure about how next to continue it. Plus, now I have a timeline: I hope to be back in New Orleans by June for my first long-term visit to Jessica. I never envisioned my great trip would take this shape, but I knew it would surprise me many times.
What Should I Do?
I’d like your advice. Before anyone answers, “Do whatever you think is right, Rogue Priest, we’re with you no matter what you want to do,” thank you. That’s sweet, but the problem is I don’t know what I want to do. Certainly, I won’t commit to a plan purely because of the majority vote, but I could use a nudge. Here’s the situation.
I know I’ll kayak seven days to Port Isabel, the last town before the Mexico Border. From there I have two options:
Option 1: Bicycle and Risk
Ken is happy to meet me at Port Isabel when I complete the seven day kayak trip. I’ll give him back his kayak, and he could deliver my bike and my equipment. I would then set off overland, powered by my own body, toward my next destination—Guanajuato. Total covered (bike & kayak): 700 miles.
Advantagismos: This is a logical next step for my trip and should involve lots of good scenery and small towns. There would be a sense of accomplishment in pushing the Journey so far forward before returning to New Orleans. I’d have momentum again.
Negativos: My lack of Spanish. I’ve focused entirely on my paddling training and neglected my language skills. Northern Mexico is a war zone and a high crime area—limited Spanish adds unnecessary risk. Additionally, the time spent on the bike would reduce the time I get in Guanajuato before I have to leave, and all those weeks on the road would further pinch finances.
Option 2: Bus and Sabbatical
Instead, from Port Isabel I could take a bus to Guanajuato. This doesn’t mean abandoning the eventual bike trip—it only means delaying it. After the short bus ride I’d have months to write in a beautiful city.
Advantagismos: Many. I’d be able to live inexpensively while writing, focusing on my career and building my financial security. I’d also be able to perfect my Spanish skills in a safe city, so that when I eventually bike through the border region I’ll have much better fluency. And the bus trip would essentially allow me to scout the terrain for the later bike trip, giving me an idea of what to plan for.
Negativos: Substantial. I think the trip loses something of its original essence if I’m busing ahead over every segment before I cross it “powered by my own body.” It would also mean that I’ll have to go back to Port Isabel to bike through an area I’d already passed. It’s confusing, it looks like cheating, and it feels like going backwards.
What do you think, dear readers? Some of you have been with since the beginning, and know me well; others just got here for the first time because you Googled “how to adventure,” and that alone speaks highly of your judgment. Is either of these a good plan? Do you have some other even better suggestion?
Please leave a comment and tell me what you think. What’s the best way for me to proceed between now and June?
My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.