Things are going so well, I'm so happy, it's so sunny, and I've been fortunate to meet so many amazingly kind, wonderful people!
And for the first time in my life I've started to enjoy country/bluegrass music! West Texas is really agreeing with me!
To try to explain why I'm just going to type up my diary entry from the last few days:
Sunday 9th Jan. Marathon, Texas.
As I cycled into this small town in western Texas in the pleasant evening sun looking for somewhere to pitch my tent I heard someone shout 'Hey there Scottish boy!' It turned out to be a woman I'd chatted to at the observatory in the mountians the previous evening. She invited me to join her and her English husband for supper in their hotel that night, their treat. She also recommended a really nice motel to camp at, and I'm so glad I did - it has the best showers (or restrooms) that I've had the pleasure to use on this trip. (they've a website at http://www.marathonmotel.com - take a look and listen to the local pirate radio station which plays the most random selection of music I've ever heard - click on 'marathon today' and then 'basin radio'). So I joined her (April) and her husband Charles, who'd just got back from biking in the Big Bend national park for a couple of the best margharitas I've ever drank, then went for a meal. The starter was massive - Charles (who's also veggie, the first I've met here) and i shared a plate of fried onion rings and mushrooms. And for mains had an enchilada wiht portobello mushrooms, rice and black beans. SO good! Had a really nice red wine too. Then had really nice pudding - a bit like a bramble crumble, but with pastry instead of crumble. Turns out Charles is a conservationist - did an MSc in conservation in London, done lots of environmental jobs and is now studying environmental law in Houston. And April is in a band - sort of fusion of country/folk/cajun etc. (they've a website at http://www.sugarbayouband.com). They offered to take me to Big Bend National Park with them tomorrow! Everyone's been telling me I should go, and it sounds amazing, so I will. It'll be good to take a proper break from cycling for a day - give my muscles and butt a break.
As I write I'm sitting at the motel where I'm camping in a really cool adobe-walled area beautifully lit, next to a water feature in the relatively mild night (I'm below 4,500 feet tonight, which is still fairly high though I guess). I'm so happy. Charles & April have been so kind & interesting & lovely!
Monday 10th January
Got up at 7, partly to avoid sleeping in and missing breakfast, and also to watch the sunrise, which is what I'm doing now. It's quite wierd - started as a thin red glow, which died away in the middle and is now spreading to either side. After I wrote my diary last night I saw the other guy camping had a good fire going, so I went to chat and ended up staying 'til after midnight. He had a really nice dog, Q. He used to work and run a cattle ranch in Kentucky, but his mum sold it. He gave me a beer, and we listened to the local pirate radio station, which only broadcasts in a five mile radius from here. Apparently there's just one guy who does it, and every week he comes in and changes the CDs in the 5,000 CD changer! Really random stuff, including a rather freaky Christmas Disney song that was a medley of stuff including 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' and 'all I want for Chrismas is my 2 front teeth'.
I'm meeting Charles and April for breakfast here, then we're heading off to Big Bend!
Just stopped for gas. the guys here look so cool. There's one old dude in tight blue jeans, a dark blue shirt with silver buttons, open at the neck. A beautiful leather belt with a huge silver buckle and a big cream cowboy hat. His face is really weather=beaten. We had a fantastic breakfast of huevos rancheros, and I checked my emails on Charles' laptop - they have wireless internet in the cafe at the Marathon Motel! We're now driving to Big Bend in their Jeep Cherokee listening to bluegrass with April playing the mandolin in the back. I bought the CD of her band, though I'll not be able to listen to it 'til I get home.
It took an hour to get to the park, then at least another 45 mins driving through the desert plain (though it was much more vegetated than all the plain I'd seen due to the lack of cattle) then got into the mountians in the middle. Amazing. Beautiful red cliffs, a bit like the Naranjo de Bulnes in the Picos de Europa. Really steep & craggy. Went for a walk down the Window Trail. It was fairly short, 3 and a half miles each way i think, but strenuous. It was quite an overcast morning, but got really hot later. The walk was beautiful. Saw lots of Cactii, including the Century Cactus (?) which they use to make the drink similar to tequila with the worm. Nice trees, including the grey oak and drooping juniper. Saw 3 deer, a few roadrunners (my first sighting) and a couple of squirrels. April & Charles had seen a mexican brown bear there a couple of years ago, but we didn't see one today. The climax of the walk was where the gorge ended over a cliff. Hung out there a while, took lots of photos. After that ew bought some food to eat in the car (on April's recommendation I opted for peanut butter instead of cheese for a change). We spent the afternoon and evening driving on the old rough tracks in one corner of the park. It was a cool way ot see the park, though I felt a strange sense of guilt! I'm used ot having to struggle a bit more to see such cool places! But in that heat and with no water around there's very little alternative. We saw 2 golden eagles! After about two hours we reahced an old abandoned mercury mine, discovered in 1900 and abandoned in the 20s, apart from a brief use in WWII. It was getting to dusk when we were there, and the industrial ruins were so beautiful@ I took loads of photos, must have taken about 100 all day! Drove back in the dark, stopping to admire the stars. They showed me the zodiacal cone - a cone of light just to the left (south) of where th eusn sets, which you see a short time after sunset. They also pointed out Orion, part of which is one group of stars I've been noticing every night (Orion's belt & 'sword'). There was no light out there, the stars were amazing.
The drive back was slow - had to watch out for deer, etc. Saw 2 herds of javelinas - the wild pigs. Thankfully no problems going through the border checkpoint (it was much more rigorous thatn the last one - the woman at the motel said 2 chineese people had been detained there for hours because they forgot to take their paperwork when they visited the park).
The restaurant at the hotel was closed, so we had a couple of margharitas, but the chef was in the bar and really kindly made us a huge plate of nachos with cheese & beans! And we eat well in the car - April's Italian friend had made them some amazing biscotti & and date things covered in coconut. Lovely. Also lots of nuts & stuff.
It was really interesting chatting to them both over the day. It's dificult to describe how they are - not exactly reserved, but they don't blow their own trumpet, despite some amazing achievemtns. Turns out Charles did a lot of web design before he went back to uni to do environmental law, and he's done a lot fo cycle touring in the Alps. He was really into rock climbing as ateenager - he grew up in the town where Chris Bonnington lived, just south of Manchester. And he's just such a friendly, chilled, intelligent, good person. And he composts! (1st person I've met in the US who does!) And April is amazing! It came up in conversation that my gran's from a Jewish family, which by the female line makes me Jewish, and so was she. She felt this was a connection. It's interesting - until Rick mentioned that a few weeks ago in Edinburgh I'd not really been aware of all that. She's also part Cherokee. But the tings she's done are amazing - her band were one of 35 considered for a Grammy awayrd, with only their first album. She's a qualified pilot, great horserider, very adventurous. Used to do marathons & serious triathlons. She mentioned she did photography and did very arty things with it. But it was only at the end of the day at the mine that I discovered she's actually a really successful internationally exhibited artist! She's got one work at the national portrait gallery in London and loads all over the US! Her name's April Rapier if anyone's interested.
They were such an amazingly kind, friendly, generous, interesting couple; I feel so lucky to have met them, spent time with them and seen Big Bend. Just lovely lovely people. I had such a great day. Charles gave me a lift back to the campsite, and as we said goodbye he said that I reminded him of himself in his younger days. That was the nicest thing he could have said, because he is exactly the kind of person I aspire to be. He reminded me of Mike - chilled, happy, great loving relationship.
Today - Tuesday - Sanderson, Texas
Today's been great - sunny, tailwind, downhill. But the library's about to shut so I'll not write much as it wasn't particularly exciting.
Had two punctures - caused by broken glass where someone had crashed into a deer. And two very kind old germans gave me loads of chocolate, nuts, some carrots and a couple of apples when I was stopped for lunch - so kind!
I'm happy, tanned and having an amazing time.
Get the picture?!
lots of love to everyone,