Monday, February 18, 2008

Welcome to Texas...I Guess

I thought that the day was going to be just an ordinary day of riding without any drama, no glory and no misery. As it turned out, the day had: fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters...wait, no, that was the movie Princess Bride. My day had a new state, a flat tire, Mexico over my shoulder and a role played to some critical acclaim by the wind.

I had two route options for the day: one of which was the all too familiar I-10, with the other option taking me right along the Mexican border for 60 miles. I wanted to ride the latter route, but I couldn’t get confirmation that the road along the border was paved. The night before I spoke to a police officer who said it was paved, but that wasn’t enough for me. It was 30 miles just to get there, so if it wasn’t paved, I would have to ride another 30 miles back to catch I-10. My hotel was right down the street from the Department of Transportation, so I figured I would ask those guys in the morning.

When checking out of the hotel the woman behind the counter reminded me it was Presidents Day, so the DOT would be closed. I took a shot in the dark and asked the woman if she knew if my potential route was paved. Not only did she know, but she had driven that route a month ago. It was enough for me.

The day started out just fine although it was cold. I had cut corners off a plastic bag to put over my socks and keep the wind off my feet. While the wind was calm in the morning, it picked up as the day wore on. Overnight the wind changed to the exact opposite direction and was against me again, but it wasn’t that bad. It just knocked off a couple of MPH off my speed.

About 30 miles into the day, my bike was riding funny. I wasn’t sure what it was, so after a bit I pulled over to check it out. Flat tire. It was a slow leak in my back tire. Obviously, I had everything I needed to fix a flat, but the doubt crept in my mind. I had decided to go with only one spare tube, so other than a patch job, that was it. I had picked up a small thumbtack size wire in my tire. It looked to be a piece of the steel belt from someone’s steel belted radials. I suspect I had run it over on I-10 yesterday and with the further riding today, pushed it in enough to cause a slow leak. While I was at it I also plucked out about half a dozen pieces of wire and glass that lodged themselves in my tire. A half hour later I was off again.

At the only store I would pass for the day I stopped in to fill up on liquids. I also bought a pre-packaged sandwich that wasn’t dated, which I knew was a mistake. I took one bite and tossed it. I had to make do with energy bars.

At the store, which was just off the Mexican border, I had inquired about exchanging USD for Pesos out of curiosity. I have been to many border towns where there was a huge market for currency exchange. When I had gone from China to Nepal I was accosted by no fewer than 20 moneychangers at the border. Here though, there was no currency market. The guy from the store said I could change all the USD I wanted just over the border. I would think the legal implications across the border are more lax.

On this part of the ride I thought about passing through a section of Mexico. Being that I didn’t have my passport with me, that idea was out. I usually don’t even go to the mailbox without bringing a toothbrush and my passport, but here I was without my passport.

There was almost no traffic on the border road. There were a couple of instances where I just looked down at me feet for 60 seconds at a time as they turned the cranks. I didn’t have to worry about running in to anything. I was surprised to come across a few guys from the National Guard who were repairing some dirt road, used by the border patrol I would guess. The guys didn’t know anything about it, other than that they were told to fix it. At least they were given a bulldozer to do so.

Further down the road I saw a border patrol jeep parked on the side of the road. I had a chat with the guard. He told me some good stories about people sneaking into the US and walking two or more days to I-10 to try and hitch a ride. Similarly, he mentioned that a lot of drugs came through that area in the same fashion. It is am impossible task for the border patrol to do what they are doing. They just have too much ground to cover and not enough staff. The majority of the border between the US and Mexico is divided by nothing more that a 3 ½ foot high wire fence, nothing more. I also asked what he thought about putting up the wall that was proposed. His thoughts were that it would work for a little while, but eventually people would find a way over, under, around or through it. Before leaving I also asked his opinion about the leniency on illegal aliens that is being discussed. “Don’t get me started", was his reply, to which he added, “What would be the point of me being here?

The other piece of advice my border patrol friend gave me was that this part of Mexico was no place for me to be. He mentioned that the drug wars are in full swing and there have been a large number of killings on both sides of the border.

I wasn’t moving along all that quickly, but those green reflective mile markers came past relatively quickly. I guess I just didn’t have much to worry about on my bike for the day. I also thought that perhaps I should have brought an MP3 player. I could have gotten one of those Spanish language courses.

The desert just seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t imagine that it would ever end, but after 110 miles it finally did, in El Paso, Texas. El Paso was not even remotely like what I would have expected. I knew it was in the desert, but I guess I was just thinking Houston and Dallas. Stranger still was that there was no sign whatsoever letting me know I had crossed from New Mexico to Texas.

I had another race against daylight. Getting the late start waiting for the DOT and a flat tire set me back. I knew I wanted to be on the east side of town and had a hotel in mind, but couldn’t find an easy way to get from where I was to where I wanted to go. I wound up on some sort of freeway and knew I didn’t want to be there in the fading light. I cut through town and had to consult my map (laptop) several times. I didn’t necessarily feel safe doing so, especially after talking to the border patrol agent earlier in the day. Eventually though I found my hotel and called it a day. I ate an entire large pizza for dinner and am ready to call it a night. Adios.

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