Warning: this was written very late in a semi-comatose state, and the censoring police had already gone to sleep, so maybe some bits got through that shouldn’t have – apologies in advance, but it’s sharing the real experience. Skip if easily offended.
Today was a fabulous day. We left Brackettville at dawn, just so grateful after yesterday’s killer session to have found an RV park with both shower and electricity. We got lost almost immediately and I hailed down a cowboy. He asked where we wanted to get to. I said: “Charleston, South Carolina!” It’s tongue in cheek really, and I’ve often said it to see people’s reactions. The equivalent would be to flag someone down in Slough High Street and ask directions to Athens. Everyone I’ve said it to – either because of my accent, or because their brains just can’t compute such a crazy thought – has just ignored my answer and asked another question. I said it again, and when he grasped what we were doing, his eyes widened, and he said: “Oh mah Lo-r-r-rd! Gr-r-r-racious!” And, as we’ve also experienced before, these uber-helpful people then want to map out your whole journey and go into incredible detail eating up valuable minutes when all you want to hear from them is that you overshot the previous left so just head back, take a right, and right again!
I was in a great mood as the weather was perfect, the scenery was becoming progressively more beautiful, and we’d burned off a load of extra miles yesterday so were ahead of the game, which is always good for morale and takes the pressure off. John, however, was a little downcast. It’s a lonely job being the driver, and his job never stops. He’s been rock-solid, but it’s no doubt wearying for him. He needs company, so it’ll be great to have Geoff back tomorrow night. Craig was also subdued, missing his son Joel in particular (we’ve both found that it’s one particular child who seems to feel the strain more). It’s tough to be away from family. Actually, each day leading up to 2pm, if Craig hasn’t spoken to them back home by phone, he starts sweating and hairs begin to sprout on the palms of his hands, only receding if he gets to talk to precious Beth and Joel before their bed-time. I totally understand him, he’s a doting father and husband.
Staying with Craig, it’s as if he has an anointing to get punctures – another four today. One tyre simply exploded, reminiscent of Burundi gunfire. What’s going on there?! Maybe it was linked to his wearing a short-sleeved shirt for the first time. He made the decision because his only long-sleeved top has been worn too long now without being washed, and is a little stinky and dirty, and so it was a selfless call which received full endorsement from the rest of us. But you have to understand that Craig is pasty WHITE. He’s the shade of paleness that you’ll see every few hundred yards along the beach on the Costa del Sol in Spain every summer in Union Jack swimwear which will give you a migraine after just ten minutes’ exposure if you don’t get your protective sunglasses on in time. He plied himself with sun-cream, and quite right too. I remember back in 1993 when we were in Brazil together working with street-kids, and one night I sat with him through the early hours as he lay there horizontally rigid, in extreme pain, with silent tears pouring down his cheeks, no longer WHITE but rather lobster RED after too much time spent in the sun. So be careful, Craig! Ironically, I’m the one who finished the day with sunburnt legs after only using Factor 30 instead of the usual 50!
What’s more, we didn’t know when it’d happen, only that it was inevitable. The day has now arrived. He has a cole sore (or is it called a cold saw, or cole saw – my spell check wants it to be cold slaw). Oh dear, apparently herpes is very contagious and frequently spreads to different parts of the body. In the confines of this RV (I share a double-bed with him), I don’t hold out much hope that I’ll be able to steer clear, and he’s just told me that once you’ve got them, it’s for life. Who needs enemies with mates like that?! We’re being very careful with not sharing toothpaste, bottles of water, etc, we’ll see. I’ve got enough issues without adding to them cold slaw!
I love Craig. He’s one of my most faithful friends, and we’d take a bullet for each other. His name means ‘rock’, and he is indeed rock solid and dependable. He treats me a bit like he’s my mother: he rolls his eyes a lot at my puerile antics, completely disassociates himself from our lavatorial humour, and I feel in a way like a child with him, as he cajoles and encourages me. There’s so much positive to say about him, but just now over supper, Jeff was questioning how come he hadn’t heard a single case of flatulence coming from Craig’s corner. Craig said because he only did it in the toilet – how well brought up is that? To which Jeff replied: “Well that’s why you’ve got a bleeding butt-hole!” Sorry if that’s a bit low and crude. Jeff is indeed incorrigible, but some things just need to be out there, and now you know what to pray for poor Craig.
I just mentioned my puerile antics. The thing is, I spend so much of my life having to act very responsibly, maturely, and frankly, boringly. In Burundi particularly, I am high profile and can’t let the side down; but not just there. In general, because of my role, I tend to have to behave myself a lot and can’t totally let go of myself. On this trip, for much of the time, I can really let what little hair I have left down. I feel like a dog off a lead. That could be misconstrued as saying I feel like I’m on a lead back home with Lizzie. Don’t take it that way. If Lizzie’s holding the lead, I love being yanked around! No, I’m not totally switched off. I’m still leading this trip so have to kick everyone out of bed in the morning and have my finger on the pulse of things; but at the same time, because the lads are such low maintenance, I can enjoy a lot of time just being a big kid.
To redeem Jeff a little from the above comment, let me share some of his insights into flora and fauna. He studied environmental science for his degree, so has lots of very interesting tit-bits of information to share. At one stage we went past a huge number of vultures enjoying some unfortunate rotting carcass. He proceeded to tell me that vultures urinate on their own feet, because the uric acid turns them white which reflects the heat and keeps them cooler. Furthermore, vultures don’t just have an instinctive ability to seek out blood, but also oil. So oil prospectors used to follow vultures in the hopes of finding out where they might strike oil. Not a lot of people know that…
Both Craig and Jeff know a lot about flowers and plants. I know virtually nothing. And a lot of today’s joy came from seeing those multiple long thin green things, which we’ve missed for the last week or more due to being in the desert. Yes, today was suddenly so green. Parts of the landscape could have been Dartmoor, or the South of France. After the desolation of the desert, the contrast was amazing. Maybe beauty has to do with contrast. The scenery today was so awe-inspiring because we had just gone through a week of sand, scrubland, cacti and rotting roadside deer. The long thin green things – that’s it, the grass – were such a welcome change. Jeff said: “Is this the prettiest place I’ve ever been in my life, or is it just because we’ve been in the desert for the last week?!” I saw lovely purplum flekidora explora and golden dandelions (having not seen any flowers or colours for aaages). It was a veritable sensual overload. Actually, speaking of contrast, only cyclists will be able to relate to the feelings of heightened euphoria when you transition from a bumpy road (which we’d been on for four hours, clenching tightly on the handlebars through the vibrations as we juddered along) to a smooooooth road. It honestly feels like holy ground, you want to jump off the saddle and kiss it. Contrast… very interesting.
(Live Oaks and Prickly Pear cactus in the beautiful hill country of Texas)
We had no phone reception all day, being deep in the Boondox. But in one town(let), we came across a sign: “Great Food at the Boot ’n Buckles Bar & Grill” – real cowboy country. A father and son combination stopped off when I flagged them down after yet another of Craig’s punctures, to ask them to alert John further back along the road to bring a new tyre. They looked slightly odd. In fact, I said: “Hmm… those guys looked a little inbred, didn’t they?” which was exactly what Jeff was about to say to me!
In an isolated field we saw umpteen old rusting geriatric tractors and other such decrepit metallic farm instruments. There was a skillfully-soldered overhang with the words: ‘Rust In Peace’. A border collie chased after me, and kept up with me at an impressive 20mph for 300yards before giving up the challenge. The other two were further back, and it was my pleasure to see it now take them on, snapping at their heels. These dog attacks never cease to make me laugh – at least after the event if I’ve emerged unscathed – and watching Craig and Jeff struggle away as I looked back over my shoulder in hysterics meant I cycled off the side of the road and nearly came a’cropper.
The new terrain was essentially rolling hills, which were forgiving in that you could work up enough speed on the downhills to get up most of the way on the uphills. Not all, however. We had our steepest climbs of the whole trip, which were exhausting, but also elating because of the surrounding beauty. Towards the end of the day, John went off to find an RV park for us. He was to find it, check in, come back to the main road and tell us whether we were staying there or not, and then we would come back to it. However, he missed it, and drove on. So suddenly as dusk approached, we thought we’d lost each other. I approached a delightful farmer, and he said I could use his internet. I imagined us trying to track John down through Facebook if he then managed to find some house to get on internet at. Remember, there was no phone access and it was extremely isolated. In the end we decided to cycle on, thinking that as a last resort, we could return to the farmer and hopefully sleep on his floor and maybe have a fun random evening with him, depending on how open he was to hosting three smelly skin-tight lycra-clad dodgy-looking cyclists. And a few miles further up the road, that scenario was blown out of the water (actually a little to my disappointment, as it would have been a fascinating and unusual night which would have made a good story). There was the RV, and around the back, there was John, cheesy grin on his face, lying in his hammock and reading his Kindle.
We made it to 106miles and then drove to Hunt, an obscure place when we have pitched our RV, but are without water or wifi. So I don’t know when I’ll be able to send this, but need to go to bed now as I listen to the others snoring, and because we need to get off before dawn due to having an evening speaking engagement a fair drive away once we’ve completed tomorrow’s miles, so the pressure’s on. Today was probably the most enjoyable of the trip, and the irony is that we nearly missed it, because we had been advised that we could use an alternative route and cut out the hills. That would have been tragic. Any ACA Southern Tier cyclists planning your own journey and reading this, make sure you go through Leakey, it is simply wonderful. Over and out.