Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Days 36, 37 & 38: Laredo, TX to McAllen, TX

Day 36:  Saturday, January 21     Laredo, TX to Zapata, TX   Miles:  52.5 (total: 1814.5)  Flats: 0   Elevation:  415 ft - 395 ft

Our riding day to Zapata was sunny and warm, and I pulled out my bicycle shorts for the first time since southeastern Arizona.  The first portion of the ride was calm, but we were moving quick. The second portion of the ride was scary due to road construction and we again kept a high speed to try and get past it.

I think this was our first major road construction and it made riding a lot more stressful.  For over 15 miles, the highway narrowed to two lanes with no shoulder and often times, we were riding along the temporary concrete wall, holding our breath when cars would pass us, praying they wouldn't meet oncoming traffic.

Our plan was to camp at Falcon Lake, a reservoir on the Rio Grande near the city of Zapata.  We crossed a bridge over a little finger of the lake and found the public road that led us to the shore where several people were down fishing.  We just hung out, ate Reese's Pieces, and waited for the sun to go down so we could pitch our tent.

This being our third time guerilla camping, I found myself a lot less nervous and I had a great night sleep.

Day 37: Sunday, January 22   Zapata, TX to Rio Grande City, TX    Miles: 57 (1871.5)  Flats:  0  Elevation: 395 ft - 175 ft 

The next morning, just as we were finishing packing up, a game warden stopped by our makeshift campground.  As he made small talk, I was just waiting for him to pull out a pad and write us a citation.  Finally, Eric broke the ice and said something about how he was glad this guy didn't come by last night to kick us out.  And the game warden tells us he isn't kicking us out, we were totally legal!  Because of the low level of the lake right now, more of the shoreline is actually property of the International Water and Boundary Commission and apparently it is totally legal to camp on their land.  Who knew?  Here we thought we were badass, but we were in total compliance of the law.

On our way to Rio Grande City, where we planned to spend the night, we stopped for lunch and a nap in Roma, Texas, and we also found a bird-watchers' deck and got a nice view of Ciudad Miguel Alemán across the river .

It was also interesting to us to blow right past Roma, while we have spent several days in other border towns that are half Roma's size. Perhaps if we did it again, we would slow down and explore this section of the Rio Grande Valley more, but we had actually heard of McAllen, so that is where we headed.

Unfortunately, there wasn't any formal camping options in Rio Grande City.  We got there mid-afternoon, thinking we would have plenty of time to come up with something, so our first stop was the H.E.B. grocery store.  After acquiring dinner ingredients, we lingered outside, chatting with people who inquired about our bicycles, laying heavy hints that we needed a place to camp, and any old lawn would do.  No one took our bait, so we headed over to the county park.  Lots of people were having cookouts and playing with their kids on this warm Sunday afternoon, but the gate locked at 9p.m. and, of course, no one answered when I dialed the phone number posted on the park fence.  I called the only motel in town and was told the cheapest room was $60--way more than we were willing to shell out.

It was getting to be dusk and we still didn't have many options to we did something that would make most our anarchist friends cringe: we called the police non-emergency line for help.  They asked us to come down to the station, which we did, and there we were referred to the fire department who had a great lawn they let us put our tent in.  Why hadn't we thought of this before?

The Rio Grande City Fire Department

Day 38:  Monday, January 23   Rio Grande City, TX to McAllen, TX   Miles: 49 (1920.5)  Flats: 0  Elevation:  175 ft - 121 ft

The population in the Rio Grande Valley has exploded in recent years, and this riding day, like the one before it, felt like we were riding through suburbia, only with signs every few miles letting us know which city we were entering now.

Because we were making excellent time getting to McAllen, we were able to make a short trek out of the way to see the only hand-drawn ferry on the Rio Grande, connecting the towns of Los Ebanos, Texas and Gustavo Dias Ordaz, Tamaulipas.   The privately run ferry began operating here in 1950, and now employees three sets of brothers, all cousins, to pull the barge across about 45 times each direction, each day.  The barge holds three cars and up to 12 people, charging $1 for pedestrians and $3 for cars.

It was fun to go see the ferry, well worth the $.50 they charged each of us just to go look at it, and it is surely the #1 tourist activity in Los Ebanos--we saw several winter Texans while we were there.
the team of ferry workers pulls the barge across the Rio Grande

We had the luck and privilege to spend our first night in the McAllen area with a Sister of Mercy, Marion Strohmeyer who lives on the farm where she was raised and where her brother and sister-in-law planted at grapefruit orchard in the mid-1990's to give them an income in their retirement.  More on those delcious grapefruits later.


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