One thing I’ve learned on this trip is to let go of my expectations for each day. When I awoke, I thought it would be relatively boring day, with little to look at and ending in El Paso. I was again wrong.
As I left the Ft. Hancock Hotel and headed over to Angie’s for breakfast (the only restaurant in town), I noticed something different… a tailwind! I’ve never been one to pay attention to weather reports. Where I live, the weather is consistent and rarely impacts my life. However, on this ride, I’ve become a weather junkie seeking out any local report and viewing it with the intensity of a bookie reading the Racing Daily. The weather forecast last night predicted a tailwind and now I had verification.
After breakfast, I checked out of the hotel. As with many hotels that I have stayed in throughout the south, the family that runs this one is from India. I tried to strike up a conversation with them, but it was clear that I was intruding. How strange it must be to spend your life in India and then move to this Texas town of 1,500 people located a few miles from Mexico.
I headed out on I-10 figuring that the smooth roadway would help me make good time. It did, but, after 10 miles of listening to trucks, I decided to head south and intercept Hwy 20. This road runs close to the border and through a number of small farming communities with names like “Acala”, “Tornillo”, “Fabens” and “Socorro”. Pecans are the primary crop in this area and pecan orchards as well as alfalfa and onion fields are everywhere. This road runs close to the Rio Grande, which is the border with Mexico. Looking to the south I could see the Juarez Valley where the Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels are currently fighting for power. The Mexican government has flooded the area with thousands of troops to calm the situation. Just a few miles away here I am riding my bike and enjoying a warm spring day. Interesting thing, borders.
Near Alcala I saw a woman walking along the edge of a field. As I approached she waived me over with her sun hat and asked where she could find the nearest campground. I was puzzled because she had no equipment with her. She introduced herself as Carol and explained that she was walking the perimeter of the U.S. to inspire the handicapped with the assistance of a friend in a support vehicle. With this she pulled up her pant leg to show me her prosthetic, which was nicely decorated with an American flag. Carol also wants to bring to Americans the message of the values of religion – peace, love, giving and hope – as opposed to the message of a specific religion. It’s very hard to ride away from meeting someone like her in a remote and dusty field in western Texas and not feel inspired.
Moments later, I met a cyclist named Andreas pedaling eastbound from El Paso. He is from the Netherlands and heading for Florida. These encounters with other cyclists are brief, but immensely valuable. You shake hands, introduce yourself and then share information about places to stay, avoid and visit; equipment and road conditions all in the space of a few brief minutes. When Andreas complained about the headwind, it was a reminder for me to get rolling. It was thrilling to have even a slight wind at my back after weeks of headwinds. My average speed into El Paso was three times faster than on my ride into Van Horn earlier in the week. The combination of the smooth, flat roadway and tailwind made the day feel effortless. And, the miles rolled by.
El Paso was a jarring twenty-mile long strip mall. After weeks of small towns, entering a city of 600,000 people overloaded my senses with a riotous landscape of traffic noise, signs, billboards and flashing lights. I had intended to stop here for the evening, but decided to continue on another 50 miles to Las Cruces.
Ten miles past El Paso, I entered the “Land of Enchantment”. Almost immediately I saw a change in architecture with homes built in a modern adobe style. There were also many roadside stops for chilies, peppers and still more pecan trees. Texas surprised me in many ways and all of them positive, but I’m happy to move on to my next state and to be a step closer to home.