Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Days 20, 21, 22 & 23: El Paso, TX to Presidio, TX

Day 20: Monday, November 28    El Paso, TX to Fort Hancock, TX     Miles: 52 (total: 979)    Flats:  0  Elevation: 3,740 ft to 3,580 ft

Back in the saddle again! Riding today felt great. It was hard to imagine leaving El Paso again, but getting on the bikes again felt right (except for all those extra layers we had put on).

We passed pecan orchards and cotton fields (marshmallow plants) and mostly stayed in populated areas. That was a nice change, because so often we are going 30, 40, 60 miles of nothing but nature, which is usually really lovely, but more difficult on the mental game.

Marshmallow plants!

We rode a good part of the day along an irrigation canal of the Rio Grande river which was amazing because every once and a while we would spook up beautiful white egrets or huge blue herons from the water.

Amazing (camera-shy) egrets!

We had the name of a Sister in Fort Hancock and tried calling various times during the day with no luck. Upon arriving in town, we swung by the parish office where she works, but it wasn't open. We had arrived about 3:00pm so we had plenty of time to find a place to stay so we just bought a Powerade and were chilling outside the little convenience store, asking people who walked by if they knew the Sister.  After asking only a few people, a woman invited us to stay with her and her 5 kids next door. What generosity!  And to trust a couple of strangers like us!

It was a really fun night, watching zombie movies and helping with homework with the kids who ranged in ages from 4-19.  The older girls (14, 16, 19) were so fun and didn't even blink an eye when they saw us sitting in their living room.  The mama made us dinner and chatted about the family's history of moving back and forth from Mexico to the all around Texas.  It was such a privilege to be part of this family for a night!

One member of the family we stayed with!

Day 21:  Tuesday, November 29     Fort Hancock, TX to Van Horn, TX    Miles: 74 (1053)   Flats: 0    Elevation: 3,580 to 4,050 ft

We headed out of Fort Hancock plenty early and decided to pop across in order to see Porvenir, Chihuahua.  We just biked over and back, took some pictures of the wall and chatted with the CBP agents. I kinda wish we had made it a point of the trip to cross through every port of entry, pero it's a little late now!

Just across the border in Porvenir, Chihuahua

After that honeymoon day back on the road on Monday, this day was rough.  Early in the day, our nice quiet road ended and we had to get on highway 10--our second stint on the freeway.  And it was a couple hours of uphill in the Sierra Blanca mountains.  I kept thinking how great the coast downhill was going to be, but it never came! 

Up, up and away

After lunch in the town of Sierra Blanca, we got back on the frontage road and seemed to continue going slowly up. Then all of the sudden, our frontage road ended and we had to haul our bikes across the oncoming traffic to get back on the right side of the freeway.  We knew we had to ride the freeway earlier, but we didn't expect to get on it again!

End of the road!

By that time, the sun was setting over the mountains behind us and we finally got to fly down into Van Horn where we were planning to camp.  We got a nice diner dinner, overpaid for a tent site and went to sleep, totally exhausted and apprehensive about doing another 75 mile stretch the next day.

Day 22:  Wednesday, November 30     Van Horn, TX to Marfa, TX     Miles: 74 (1127)    Flats: 0    Elevation:  4,050 ft to 4,685 ft

Rough day(s).  Lesson learned:  when you rest for over 2 weeks, go easy on the first couple days back on the road. Two 75 mile days in a row was probably not the best idea, but we really had little choice as Texas is frickin' huge and cities are quite far apart.

After a few miles on the road, we had a little pick-me-up and just the encouragement we needed to push all the way to Marfa.  Our contact in Marfa, Tim Johnson, a former Annunciation House volunteer who we had not met, but had been in contact with, pulled over as he drove by to introduce himself.  He confirmed that we would have a nice, warm place to stay when we arrived in Marfa, which really helped us push on.  He was on his way to El Paso, but assured us he would be home by 4 or 5pm.  For the rest of the day, I kept thinking how it took us three days to get to Marfa from El Paso, but in a car you can go there and back faster than we can cycle 60 miles! We travel in one day the distance you can drive in one hour in a car!  Tough to think about as you crank down (or up) the road.

This was a sloooow uphill day and the wind, once again, was not on our side.  There is one little town between Van Horn and Marfa, but there isn't even a shop to stop at.  Instead, we stopped and had our lunch at a art installation right outside this little town of Valentine--a Prada store in the middle of the desert.  It's fantastic.

we had ourselves a little pizza-Prada photo shoot

We ate some pizza that a very friendly man gave us and had ourselves a little nap outside the Prada before pushing on the last 35 miles.  We got to Marfa after dark, so happy to meet Tim, his girlfriend Caitlin, and his friends for a beer and some room temperature water at a local bar which used to be a funeral home!

We spent two rest days in Marfa since we couldn't even bear to look at our bicycles seats, let alone sit upon them, and because our contact in Presidio wasn't going to be in town until Saturday.  We mostly just hung out and walked around town, checking out local shops, galleries and The Marfa Book Company owned by Tim, who had graciously offered us hospitality.  We also got to see the first showing of the film Pincus on Friday night, made by David Fenster.  It was very well done, about a man who cares for his father who has Parkinson's.  It seemed quite personal too, as the man with Parkinson's in the film was actually David's father. After the film and a visit to the Museum of Electronic Wonders and late night Grilled Cheese Parlour (awesome), we watched some short films online by David which can be found here.  I recommend Wood and the Fly Amanita (the only two we've watched, so far).

Day 23:  Saturday, December 3    Marfa, TX to Presidio, TX    Miles: 62 (1190)   Flats: 0   Elevation: 4,695 ft to 2,580 ft

We bid our farewells to arty Marfa and headed South to the border.  Since the elevation drop between Marfa and Presidio is significant, we thought it would be all downhill, but of course, there was plenty of ups and downs and a headwind to keep us warm and keep us working.

This was one of the most beautiful rides of the trip and none of my photos do it a bit of justice. 

lunch at the church in Shafter ghost town
After about 45 miles, we were past the Chinati Mountains and we were practically able to coast down to Presidio.

We are excited to visit Presidio, TX/ Ojinaga, CHH because in asking for contacts all along the border, we haven't heard of any organizations or work being done in the area.  Luckily, via couchsurfing.org, we found a place to stay and the host happens to work at the Mexican Consulate!

More on Presidio/Ojinaga in the next exciting episode! (after a few days in the cold, camping at Big Bend National Park)


  1. I loved this post. I'm re-reading the Grapes of Wrath write now and your trip along this part of the country and the story of migrants crossing the border bears so many similarities.

    Steinbeck describes the Joad families migration to California, "the path of a people in flight, refugees from dust and shrinking land, from the thunder of tractors and shrinking ownership, from the desert's slow northward invasion, from the twisting winds that howl up out of Texas, from the floods that bring no richness to the land and steal what little richness is there."

  2. My two favorite things about this stretch were definitely:

    1. Your awesome experience in Fort Hancock, getting accepted into a stranger's house. And getting to watch zombie movies with the kids. Just terrific.