Adventure, Bicycling, Road Logs, Texas, The Great Adventure, Travel

Road Log: To the Border!

Last time I paddled a kayak 100 miles down the Gulf shore and washed up on a lonely beach after dark. This time I pick up from the same beach and bicycle with two friends: Blake, my roommate in Texas, and Pixi, an old friend from Minnesota. Our goal is to reach the US/Mexico border crossing in Laredo, Texas.

This particular adventure has already been covered in great detail by Pixi herself, so I’ll stick to charting our route and a few observations on each day.

Two things bear mentioning however:

  1. Having two good friends with me made this was one of the happiest sections of the entire adventure. Adventure always has its difficult moments but with good companions everything is happier. Riding with Pixi and Blake made me believe that my Adventure can be everything I hoped it would be—if I go with friends and kindred spirits.
  2. I was very sick throughout this trip. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had a stomach parasite (thanks to produce at a Texas grocery store). I had gastrointestinal troubles every day, got fatigued easily, and may have been running a mild fever. When I mentioned this later, both Blake and Pixi said they had no idea I was under the weather.
Our "before" picture. Photo by Amber.

Our “before” picture. Photo by Amber.

Thursday, July 18, 2014 (Day 742 of the Great Adventure)—The Fast and the Falfurrias

The three of us needed a ride to our starting point. Amber, the wife of Blake’s brother, generously stepped in. Soon we were in her truck with our bikes and gear in the back, heading down the highway toward the tiny town of Riviera, Texas. From there we easily found the beach where I’d washed up in the kayak months earlier. Picking up from this last stopping point, we mounted our cycles and headed out, Amber and her toddler son Kayson waving behind us. (Kayson may have been screaming rather than waving.) If you’re reading this, thank you Amber!

The first section was a peaceful country stretch. I made up some Texas history and we had no problems. It was cloudy and soon we got rained on. I was worried this would dampen my companions’ spirits but they seemed fine.

We took a break at a gas station. When the rain passed we pushed on toward Falfurrias, Texas, now on a more heavily trafficked highway. Everyone seemed fine. It got quite warm toward the afternoon (July in Texas is, according to every Texan who weighed in, just about the worst month we could have chosen for this expedition). When we reached Falfurrias we stopped at a former gas station and called a local RV park. They said we could camp there. A couple more miles and $15 later we had our tent and bivy set up.

Blake got a flat tire on the final mile and we did “how to fix a flat” session at the park. Mexican for dinner. Stomach grumbling, I declined the margaritas. 34.9 miles.

Map.

July 19—Falfurrias to Hebbronville

We got a fairly early start, hoping to beat the heat. Today there were no rain clouds to help keep us cool.

It was interesting to see everyone’s unique style. Blake, an athletic swimming coach with a brand new cycle and minimal gear, rode ahead at high speed and then came back to take photos of us. He was fueled by punk rock playing in one ear (earbud) and frequent texts from his girlfriend. Pixi, true to her Minnesotan origin, was quiet and stoic. I kept a close eye on her because her bicycle effectively had just one gear (actually three, but we couldn’t get it to shift correctly to the others). It didn’t seem to affect her pace at all.

As the heat intensified our pace lagged. I was struggling and I could tell Pixi was too. We took turns dumping water on the back of each other’s t-shirts (“it’s like a shot of espresso,” Pixi said). Temperatures climbed over 100 degrees. This was expected but still brutal. By the final run into Hebbronville I borrowed water from Blake. We finally reached a hamburger stand where we sat in air conditioning, ate, charged our wireless devices, and looked for lodging.

The only major RV park in town turned down us tent-campers. Checking out what looked like another, smaller RV park we ended up knocking on a random residence thinking it was the office. The man there not only introduced us to his mother, who let us camp at one of her RV spots for free, but also invited us to a barbeque that night.

I took a long afternoon nap, completely beat due to the parasite. 36.5 miles

Map.

Sunday, July 20 (Day 744 of the Great Adventure)—This Way to Mexico!

Taking a lesson from the previous day, we got up so early it was still dark when we left. The first 40 minutes of our ride out of town, after a coffee-and-ice-water stop at a gas station, were in total darkness, occasional trucks passing us and giving a friendly berth to our flashing rear lights.

The sun came up all too soon and temperatures began to climb. This was our longest mileage day and also involved real hills. Blake maintained his previous free-spirited pace, like a puppy running at a park. Pixi’s body had already acclimated to the hard pedaling. She became the leader of the pack, zooming forward with relentless determination.

My own pace suffered. I have a strong constitution and I can endure almost anything. There was no question I would make it to Laredo, but how long it would take me and in what condition I’d arrive were open questions. It wasn’t just the heat and the parasite, but also the gear: I had more and bigger saddlebags than the others, and carried most of our shared gear. Slogging up those hills was a challenge and I fell behind.

I think Blake later felt guilty for letting me get behind. At one point I shouted at a dog to scare it off, and Blake fell back thinking I’d shouted at him (!). Luckily it didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits.

The final stretch of big hills and heavier traffic took place in the oven-like hours of late morning/early afternoon. We hopped on a freeway for about a half mile to get into town, then stopped at a Whataburger for a long lunch/hydration session/cooloff. Blake got his 48th flat tire of the trip or so, and all my assurances that a patched tube was as good as a new one were proven wrong.

After changing the flat we biked into the downtown area to reach the border station. There are two bridges and two international crossings, only one of them valid for cyclists, so we had to cruise around a bit figuring out where to go. Finally reached a sign that read “TO MEXICO ● ELEVATORS ● ESCALATORS.” We had arrived.

The sign in question. Photo by Blake.

The sign in question. Photo by Blake.

The point of this leg was not to cross the border, just to reach the border so I could pick up from there on the great Mexico leg. We had achieved our goal. Sweating in the afternoon heat, we posed in front of the sign and I high-fived a nearby pillar. I would tag it again months later when starting the next leg, proving I hadn’t skipped a single inch.

(André’s note: also on this day, I surpassed my 3,000th mile of the trip!)

Afterward we went to a nearby park surrounded by colonial buildings. Pixi and I napped in the shade while Blake went present shopping. Later, Blake’s mom and step-dad (hi guys!) generously picked us up for the ride back to Corpus Christi. We stopped for tacos for dinner, which I could barely eat. I was proud of having finished 130 miles in 100 degree heat even when I was ill. But more than that, it felt good to have shared this accomplishment with friends. 57.5 miles

Map. (Note: The portion of this map in Laredo contains approximations due to one way streets. Also, our actual end point is several hundred feet to the east of what is marked—in the “Paseo del Antiguo.”)

Our "after" pic. Great job guys! Photo by André.

Our “after” pic. Great job guys! Photo by André.

Total traveled this leg: 128.9 miles

Total traveled since Day 1: 3007.8 miles

That officially catches us up on old road logs. See them all here, and get ready for new stories from my current adventure, the ride across Mexico. I’m current in the highland desert town of Cedral, in the state of San Luis Potosí. I’m just a stone’s throw from the ghosts towns of Real de Catorce and have much to report. More soon!

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2 thoughts on “Road Log: To the Border!

  1. Alan says:

    Sorry to hear about your stomach parasite. How did you treat it? And how to you know what it was. I’m very interested to know as I will be making that trip next year. Thanks, Alan

    • It didn’t come from Mexico, Alan. There was actually an outbreak of the parasite in question in Nueces County, TX transmitted mainly by fresh produce. I purchased veggies at a Corpus Christi HEB and I washed them but not thoroughly enough. I ate some of them raw while cooking the others and I git sick shortly thereafter.

      Once it had gone on for a week I realized it wasn’t just a stomach flu or something. A traveler friend suggested it might be a parasite. I went to the doctor and they did a stool test and confirmed it. They were able to identify the parasite although they initially gave me the wrong type of antibiotic. Eventually I received the correct one and it cleared up promptly.

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