It was done. 300 Miles from Austin to McAllen. Two days. One new man.
Let me expand a bit on just why I did this. Like was said in the previous post, Austin was my birthtown, and McAllen was my hometown.
Even though I have no memories of living in Austin, I have always felt some sort of strong connection to it.
I remember as a kid, Austin always seemed so exciting. Even though most weekend trips were to San Antonio because of it's many attractions, when we would go to Austin it felt weirdly right.
Not that I don't have love for where I did grow up. It has contributed highly to this dude typing.
Some people leave home for college and "grow up" or change. I ended up going to UT Pan American and started growing there. While at Pan Am, I had this very eccentric political science professor. It was his first semester teaching, and he managed to get arrested by university police when Ricky Perry visited one day. Yup, that eccentric. At the time, I thought he was a weirdo for riding his bike everywhere at promoting the idea. Beyond biking, he was quite an influence on my outlook on a variety of subjects. JCC, thanks.
Part of my growing included realizing that I want to get to Austin. I had a friend who had also started at UTPA and transferred to UT soon after. With him telling me how great Austin was, and me working my ass off (studying was a new concept), I made It to Austin in 2003
I have loved my time in Austin. Many transformations and much growing, including becoming a CycleBum.
And that it what it comes down to. These two locations have had such a profound impact on me.
This is where it gets weird...
I sometimes think about how human experiences are so different now than hundreds or thousands of years ago. Can you image a hiking trek between villages/settlements/whatever? A voyage on a sailboat? Heading west by horse?
I'm sure hike-camping is close, but I think there is a difference when your locations have meaning in your life.
I wanted a glimpse of how that feels. I wanted to be excited/scared/in-danger/proud/confused/sad/determined/vulnerable/delirious/exhausted between these places that are important to me. That just does not happen in a car, bus, or plane.
So yea, this idea of riding from Austin to McAllen has been floating around in my head for about 3 years or so.
As was said in the previous post, my mother's joke about riding home struck a cord. I did an insane amount of planning and research in one day. I was obsessed with the idea. It felt like everything had been built up over my life, and my mom pushed the button. It was go time.
Although I told my mom right after her joke that I was going to ride home, I let her think she had talked me out of it. She worries enough with my "regular" cycling. I let my brother and sister know what was going on. My brother didn't believe I was serious at first, and my sister was scared I was serious. I told them that I would give them updates on what road I was on, and between what cities.
Leaving my apartment was pretty weird. It was like an exaggerated parade of emotions in fast sequence.
I leave on my cross bike and a backpack full of technical clothes and supplements.
I took off my racer boi seat and put one one with history.
My first stretch of road was 183 South out by the airport.
I wound up in Lockhart before BBQ time (what a shame), so I asked a local where to get the best breakfast tacos.
Ill be riding to Lockhart soon for a BBQ cruise. Any takers?
Mr. Taco time.
I stopped in Nixon and got a Dr. Pepper I had never had.
Kennedy was interesting. Urban/Industrial decay photogs, check that place out, much material to work with.
Between Kennedy and Tuleta is where I found my feather.
Some people have no problem keeping things from or lying to parents. Well, I'm pretty close to my mom. We usually chat a few times through out the day. She knows me and my habits. Call me a mama's-boy........because its true.
When I started the ride, I texted her that I would be on the bike most of the morning. When she called later and heard traffic, I lied and said I had been busy after my ride, and was back out on the bike just commuting. She questioned me. She sensed something, but I insisted I was telling the truth. I find out later that she tried getting info out my my siblings, and even asked them to log onto facebook. My brother and sister managed to protect my surprise and my mothers sanity.
In Tuleta, the first setback. Cramp. Inner quad on the right leg. Nuts...
More than nuts actually, this is trouble. I was still like 13 miles out of Beeville. There was a flash of worry, but a collected myself, ate some salt, drank water, and massaged that mouse out. I took my time, but wanted to get back on the road before something else got cold and cramped. Another seven miles...cramped up again. Again, massaged it out.
I get to Beeville, and start looking for a place to stay. No, no camping for me. My next tour (or bike-packing) adventure will include that, but I have no panniers or cold camping gear right now, so hotel for me.
I look for one on my cell phone, reference my GPS and head to a Best Western. Well, seems I was little confused and I rode 5 miles in the wrong direction. Man I really just wanted to sit down.
I roll up to the Best Western on Hwy 59 around 4:30.
While asking about a room, the lady could not ignore my get-up and asked what I was doing. I explained, and got a nice discount out of it.
I just sat and did nothing, and pretty much thought nothing (a very very very rare thing in my brain) for about 45 minutes.
Then, I make a call home and struggle to act as normal as possible, but I pull it off.
I knew though, I had to get stuff done. I need to eat, do some sort of therapy on my legs, and plan/prep for the next stage.
I pedaled on over to a convenience store and got two sausage wraps, some junk food, and a fat Budweiser. I loaded up on that and some supplements for muscle recovery.
My shower that night was great. I let the hot water work on my legs for a while. I was worried that that muscle that had cramped would become a problem. I tried out this idea. I got one of the towels, wet it with hot water. A makeshift heat pad. I massaged and heated the area while looking over my maps and prepping my clothes and support gear for the next day.
I make a few calls.
One was to my grand parents, who didn't know either. At the end of the call, I asked for my cousin's cellphone number. He was my closest cousin and we tinkered with bikes together as youth. I didn't expect she would think anything of it. I learned later, that after we hung up, she called my cousin to her house and grilled him. She felt something was up, and that he knew (which he did). Very weird and very awesome. He managed his way out of it.
I had a good night's sleep.
I woke at 5am with tiredness and some soreness pretty much everywhere.
My knee hurt a little.
I looked outside and the weather guys were right. Low 40s and rain. I selected my clothes and packed the rest.
Before coffee and psyche-up:
This day I wore a lycra base layer, northface rain jacket, skullcap, craft rain pants, seal skinz neoprene socks, and spenco cold snap gloves.
This was a good setup, but I found out, not perfect.
I check out around 6 am and hit 181 south.
It was dark. I ran my NiteRider MiNewt Mini to see the road/debris and a NiteRider ultrafazer max as a flashing front.
FlashBak had me covered on my pack. And I had a Princetec red flasher on my seat-bag.
No lies. I was pretty beat up that morning. I convinced myself that it was just part of the warm up, that it would all start getting better after 20 miles.
My first stop after leaving Beeville was Skidmore. That muscle that had twice cramped the previous day, had a tingle going on in it. I picked up a pickle in a bag type thing at a store. I drank the juice and had a few bites, putting the rest away for later.
It was very tough getting into my zone the first few hours. I was "less than" comfortable after after the first two hours. Either I managed to sweat too much, or water worked its way in. I wasn't wet, but damp. Damp though, is not good in cool weather with fast winds.
Effort management is key. I needed to work hard enough to maintain heat, but not so much to exhaust myself or risk a cramp. Also though, I am trying to make it home before dark. I really did not want to ride through Edinburg/Mcallen at night, too dangerous.
Ah...danger. Might as well address the subject now. It was dangerous, but not carelessly or unmanaged.
Danger in a tour can arise from a lack of preparedness. I did my homework, thought of the various scenarios, and planned for them.
I have a good number of highway and country road miles under my helmet. My riding partners know how cautious I am. I look back very very frequently. I ran my rear lights at all times. Flashbak has great daytime visibility. I always look forward looking for bail opportunities or situations where I need to be extra vigilant and prepared. For instance. On smaller roads, bridges over creeks and such will not include a shoulder, and leave you no way out in a worst case.
And honestly, my most dangerous stretches were in Austin and Edinburg/McAllen. The highways and FM and county roads great, as were most of the drivers. Most gave me as much room as possible. Some gave me thumbs up/nice honks/brake flashes. Got a few encouraging blasts from truckers.
But hey, if there wasn't danger, it would be less interesting, fulfilling, epic, primal, etc.
Things started to look up when I hit Alice. That marked the 2/3rd point, and was my longest rest stop.
I stopped at a Whataburger. They usually have clean restrooms, and do have hot food.
Step one: base layer and sock change.
I learned at the last cyclo-cross race that even a slightly damp base layer will have you shivering in no time.
I took off my seal skinz and went old school. Two pairs of regular socks covered with two convenience store plastic bags.
The employees got a kick out of my story. Pretty much every stop, I got some questions, but that was the first long-ish dialogue.
I destroyed a burger combo that I loaded with extra salt, and got back to it.
Now I looked at my next step, the century home. I looked at it as a entity/goal in itself. Never mind the 200 miles prior in just over 24 hours time. I was back on the road and feeling good. I was cruising fast for a good time. I had popped a ibuprofen somewhere between Skidmore-Alice, and was feeling great.
About 20 miles out of Alice, a sharp acute pain in my right knee pops up. I unclip and shake my leg around a bit and convince myself that will fix it.
That is an important aspect of doing things that are great, painful, challenging, crazy, less-than-believable or slightly stupid.
Was there little reason why I should have believed that I could pull off 300 miles in two days.
I ride often, but this thing was spur of the moment, no training "per se".
I'm not generally a long distance man. My road racing is crit (30-60min) or around the 40-70 mile range. Cyclocross races are usually between 30 and 60 min as well. Ive only done one century prior, the Tour Das Hugel.
I lied to myself in order to experience a different/new edge.
I chose to lie to myself and not quit.
I knew friends that were on driving to McAllen from Austin that day. I could have called my sister or brother to pick me up.
Another 20 miles later, I noticed my left wrist was not working properly. I couldn't managed to shift the front derailleur because my hand was cold and perhaps not getting good circulation due to the long hours on the bars. They had been uncomfortably cold (for my normal standards) two hours into the ride. My gloves are meant for the cold and wet, but not for prolonged periods, more like commuting or short race scenarios. This is why you don't see any pictures of this second part. I could not hold onto the camera while riding in these conditions, and stopping was just not practical.
I stopped in Falfurrias to get my hand back and to get pickle and Redbull in me.
I had another person come up and chat for a while. Not a type I would have predicted to be so enthused and supportive about my trip, but he was. Thanks dude, I needed any and every motivation that day.
Next stop. Encino. That burger had been utilized and I needed something quick, sugary and calorie loaded. While not very PRO, I destroyed three candy bars while waiting again for my left had to regain function.
More cool people encounters at that store. The girl at the register shot off a genuine set of 20 questions with a quickness and was very very nice with her well wishes. A pair of state troopers were also impressed and cool to chat with.
Encino though, was where I started to be concerned about my hands and feet. It was low 40s, not below freezing, so I was not concerned about frostbite. I was conerned about the combination of cold and wet over such a prolonged time making my skin pretty raw, like enough to start bleeding. I had some small spots, but I only had 50 miles to go, so I got back on it.
I leave Encino tired, cold, but determined.
Fifteen miles out of Encino I am tired, cold, with a flat, pissed, worried, but still determined.
Yup, my first flat. Now it is easy to assume a flat is no big deal, and in most situations thats true.
I detail how because it takes the embarrassment out of me admitting that I was legitimately scared, sad, and furious.
To fix a flat, you have to stop. Well, considering the wind, rain, and temperature, stopping on the road can lead to the cold experience of hypothermia.
Not having fully functioning/sensing fingers made changing the tube and feeling for the cause a challenge.
When I found the cause, it uped the stakes again.
A tiny shard of rock from the road material had sliced through my tire. The problem was, my entire bike and all my clothes were covered with this coarse, sand-like, shard containing stuff.
I had to use one of my reserve base layers to clean the tire, wheels and myself. At this point, it was worth being careful.
I got that new tube in, and hit the road hoping all was fixed.
I was pretty worried those first few miles, but it held.
It held, but 10 minutes after the first flat, I got a second flat on the other wheel...
I cursed, I cursed with real sincerity.
I lost my marbles for those few seconds while slowing down, but as soon as I dismounted, I got right back to work. I find the culprit. It is shard of rock exactly like the first. Man...
I did the complicated tire change again and got back on.
Now I am starting to think it is not luck or normal probability working here. I begin to think that the material used in this section is just murder to bike tires in the wet. I often noticed how road construction and material changed from county to county and depending on the category of road.
I only brought two tubes. I figured that I would patch most punctures, and save the new tubes for valve failures or a catastrophic cut.
I did not foresee using the new tubes like this, but it was the practical thing to do.
I don't know if I could have had a patch stick without some sort of shelter from the wind and rain.
So it pretty much came down to luck in the next 25 miles. That was the distance to where I would have options for shelter at walkable intervals.
I was nervous. I really did not want to have to call someone. I contemplated possiblity of hitching a ride to the next store if I had to.
It turned out alright. I reached the outskirts of Edinburg without a flat. A lot hurts at this point. When you reach a urban area, there are way more stops. It was the starts that would make the knee scream. I had plenty of energy since I was so close, but the pain was not cool.
The streets were near flooded and hide contours of the street. Twice I nearly pinch flatted with some hard hits on tires with low-ish pressure.
Riding back in an urban area wasn't fun, but riding by the old campus (UTPA) was awesome.
It felt great, and I am glad I passed by, even with the traffic.
I was about 20 feet from turning into my neighborhood when I starting having a crazy 3 second accelerated trip through human emotions. I cant describe it. I can say it was weird and extremely awesome.
I roll up to my house.
It just happened that my little sister had just gotten home. I handed her my camera to start snapping pics.
I think my brother saw us through his window, and he got my dad to meet me outside. I had decided during the ride that I would dedicate it to him.
He was pretty shocked, but got to it. He asked, where did you ride in from, I told him Austin, he laughed and hugged me.
At this point I feel mostly relieved and cold.
Step one was the gloves. Honestly, I was worried to see what could be under there, but it wasn't that bad.
My feet were ok too and I went to the restroom to get the rest off. My sister got a bunch of towels warm in the dryer and I sat and warmed up for a while.
My mom wasn't home when I arrived, but was home soon and could not believe I went through with it.
Pretty soon it was all food, beer and story sharing.
Now nourished with alcohol and teriyaki, I began reveling my experience and accomplishment.
I wouldn't have had it any other way. I would not trade those flats or pains for anything. They, along with every instance and obstacle made the experience rich, intense, and fulfilling.
The knee pain stuck around that night, but was it was replaced with tendonitis in my left Achilles.
Five days later, I still can't ride. Im guessing its gonna be another five days till I'm ready to go. Still soooooooooo worth it.
I have a new understanding and appreciation of the words we use to describe and evaluate life's experience. I have made some amendments to my understanding of life and my philosophies.
What's next? I'm not sure, but this was awesome. I can see a more relaxed tour out west, or a bike-packing adventure near town.