Month: September 2015

¡Ah Chihuahua!

It has been six days since I have arrived Chihuahua, the capital city of the Mexican state of the same name, and here I’m now “gathering strength” to continue. After days in the desert it feel so nice to rest for a while and besides I had some errands to attend to. In US my tooth has cracked and since the dental services in US are something that a modest traveller on a bicycle can barely afford, I have delayed a visit to the dentist until I reach Mexico. Apart from that there are some standard things I have to do like laundry, writing this post, planning my next steps,…

Before entering Mexico I had to leave the US first. Mostly routine procedure with Border patrol officer checking my passport and allowing me to continue. But it would be out of my character if I would not go and complicate the situation. My passport has a stamp that allows me to stay in the US only for 3 days and this has already been the source of some complications. Since I have not seen the border patrol officer to register in the computer my departure from the States I have returned to him and pointed out that I have this stamp that only allows me 3 days. Before I have managed to ask him for an exit stamp (I do not trust the computers) the situation became somewhat complicated. I was almost registered as illegal immigrant (overstaying my visa) but for sure I was a special case. So my departure from the States was delayed for about 45 minutes. First I had to wait then I had to explain my story in a long and detailed manner and then I had to wait again. After about 45 minutes another Border patrol officer came with my passport and she said I’m free to leave the country (amazing). I think they have rather given up on me than really dug into my case and check all the facts with all the necessary parties involved. But I’m not complaining, as long as I’m free the leave the country! But before I go, I still politely ask for an exit stamp. As one might say “You never know!”

Exiting_US
And I got it!

Entry into Mexico was different. Some small talk with the police using little Spanish that I know, paying 25 USD for a tourist permit and a stamp in my passport that allows me to stay up to 180 days in Mexico. At least I think so. After all my knowledge of Spanish is limited.
Quite quickly I have left the border town of Ojinaga. All border towns tend to be places that I do not want to linger around since they tend to be dirty and have their share of dodgy characters. In front of me there is again an empty road, the desert and soon enough mountains. Climbing these mountains unravel views into the distance and from the height I have the opportunity to watch the softness of the landscape below. Distance transforms all those roughly cut dry creek beds and rocks, bitten off by the winds, which I have not long ago cycled past, into gentle, soft wrinkles of the land below.

From_A_Distance_Chihuahuan_Desert
From a Distance

Luckily for me the day was cloudy so the temperatures were completely bearable and also the climbs, which were not that rare, have not been too hard. Still I have not managed to reach some sort of a settlement where I would be able to find a place to sleep. Before reaching Mexico, I have been advised not to rough/stealth camp since it would not be such a smart thing to do. And since I have not reached any populated settlement, I resorted to improvisation. At a military check-point I found out that my broken Spanish actually is not so bad that I would not be able to ask for permission to camp. It was a good thing since none of the soldiers spoke any English. Still we managed to communicate and so my first night in Mexico I was camping next to a military check point.

Hosts_For_A_Night
Hosts For a Night

First_Camping_In_Mexico
First Camping In Mexico

The next day promised lots of emptiness and a great deal of sun. After the soldiers stocked me up with water, coffee and food for the road, I have hit the road (uphill) and cycled all day. Most of the time we did not get along well with the wind since according to a well-known, old rule it was headwind. Also the fact that it was sunny with no shade by the roadside did not really help. Nevertheless I manage to cover more than 90 km on this day.
As the end of the day was approaching I started to look for the village which, according to my map, should be just next to the main highway. Boy, was I in for an unpleasant surprise when the road workers, which were probably there just to help me, told me that the village is quite some km over the horizon away with only a small, barely distinguishable dirt road leading there. Instead of taking this dirt road in hope that there actually is a house at the end, I took the offer from the road workers to give me a lift to the next town. The ride on the back of a pick-up where with one hand I managed to hold Lou upright while with the other hand I held down all the stuff so the wind doesn’t blow it away (partially successful since I have ended up without one already torn glove) seemed surreal. Empty road through an empty landscape, wind blowing through my hair, dark, black clouds that have soon produced heavy raindrops, which have, due to the speed I was traveling with, felt like tiny needles penetrating my skin. And at the same time there was this this warm feeling of a long, hard day of cycling is coming to an end. I only had to find myself a place to sleep. And since I have ended up in a small city finding a place to pitch a tent becomes a bit larger challenge. But there are alternatives so I have headed towards the fire station where I have once again tested my Spanish skills. Apparently I can communicate since that evening I managed to sleep in a proper bed after taking a nice, relaxing and refreshing shower that washed away the dirt and tiredness of the day. And I have also managed to cook myself a dinner in their kitchen.

Aldama_Firemen
Aldama Firemen

Without a doubt, in Mexico I have received a warm welcome by very friendly people!

Traffic has been light so far (on the road from the border to Chihuahua only about 4-5 cars hourly on average passed me by) so this challenge still awaits me somewhere down the road.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

PS
For a while I’m saying goodbye since I’m about to go what one could say masochistic exploration of the Copper Canyon which is larger and in some cases deeper than the very much known Grand Canyon in the US.

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Last days in the USA

And so I have reached the border. In front of me lays Mexico while I’m in a small border town of Presidio, Texas. I have decided to treat myself here with a day off. But when my couchsurfing host Jieve offered me to stay another day, I gladly accepted the offer.
The route to here took me through more and more dry and barren land. Towns became further and further apart and dealing with the question of water access became and everyday occurrence. But that is just how it is when you decide to cycle in the desert. The relatively high elevation (up to 1.500 meters above sea level) helped make the days less hot. Actually it has happened to me twice that in the morning when it was still pitch black when I got up and started to prepare for departure I had to put on my woollen sweater which normally serves me as a pillow.
While on the eastern sky there is a play of colours going on and from black through to more and more orange the morning starts to wake up I’m preparing myself for departure. I pull down the tent, make and eat my breakfast and drink my coffee (oh, such a well-known ritual). The sun has already risen above the horizon when I set off on a long, asphalt snake that winds somewhere towards the horizon. The only company is the wind and music that I often listen to. Landscape around me seems barren and empty though I know it’s not (if nothing else, I do see road kill on the road). Shrubs, rocks and hills around me. Above me circles a vulture from time to time as if it is waiting for me to drop down. Altogether seems as if taken from a western. Only the Indians are missing or when I reach a town that there would be Clint Eastwood waiting for me and in the background you could hear the music from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”.

Desert_Life
Life in the Desert

Desert
The Desert

Asphalt_Snake
The Asphalt Snake

The few places I ride through seem to be empty, desolated. Some of them are actually more of a ghost towns. One of those is Langtry. At the peak of its glory (early 20th century) it had 800 inhabitants. Then they first move the highway and later on also the railroad and today the town has 14 people living there. It also has a Visitor centre/museum dedicated to “Judge” Roy Bean. The man had, let’s just say, a very unique approach to justice. But then again those were the days of Wild West and it was not that unusual to use owns saloon as a courthouse or that the fine was paid in a form of buying drinks for the whole saloon (and Bean, being the owner made some money out of it).

Fallen_Giant
Fallen Giant

Memories_of_the_Past
Memories of the Past

Forgoten_Store
Forgoten Store

And here in this Visitor centre is where I have met Brian who is currently in a role of a guide for a group of three cyclists that are traversing the States on the Southern Tier. From Florida to California. He accompanies them driving their support vehicle while they cycle. Empty bicycles and approximately 80 km a day. After that he picks them up and in a nicely cooled down RV takes them to the hotel where they will be spending the night. In the morning he picks them up and takes them back to the point where they left off the previous day. Just to make it clear, this kind of touring is not cheap thou. Just the RV rental will cost them somewhere in the range of 15.000 to 18.000 USD for 90 days. And in these 90 days there will also be some costs associated with accommodation in a 150 – 200 USD/night hotels. And this kind of sleeping arrangements are more of a rule than exception. Yes, it is one way of traveling on a bicycle. It’s just not my way. I feel more comfortable on a full loaded Lou and sleeping wherever the night catches up with you. I’m sure Brian would also rather do it this way.
As I have mentioned at the beginning of this post, ahead of me lays Mexico. Mexico that I’m very much looking forward to and with some level of impatience anticipate. I’m aware that there a culture shock is awaiting me and this gives me joy. I’m getting a bit tired of the US and the easiness of travel here where there are all the “advantages” of civilization on every step. All you have to do is to make it to the first gas station and within easy reach there will be cold drinks, air condition, shelves full of goods and a clean toilet. I imagine Mexico to be somewhat different and this fills me with anticipation.
And the same Mexico I’m also scared of. No, I’m not scared of the narco cartels and all the negative publicity it’s receiving in our media. I firmly believe Mexico (same as a vast majority of places on this planet) is full of good, kind people with whom I will be able to share moments of Life.
What I’m scared of are the roads and the drivers. From several experienced touring cyclists I have heard or read that they tend to be aggressive and completely ignorant of cyclists. Here by the border I have read a news about a young Swedish couple cycling the World and were hit by a reckless driver in Brazil. She died and he is in a hospital seriously injured. It’s the kind of sad news that do not help to build up my courage.

Nevertheless, tomorrow I’ll go to Mexico and will follow my Dreams!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

Last_US_Camp
My Last US Camp

Not_66_But_As_Close_As_I_Got
Not Exactly 66 But As Close As I Got.

Desert_Cowboy_On_A_Bicycle
Desert Cowboy on a Bicycle

Central Texas

First kilometers out of Austin showed me a lesson on cycling that I have forgotten a bit and I had to renew. After all this will be the terrain of the countryside that is ahead of me – Texas Hill Country. First I will have to climb some hills before I reach the desert. And the initial climbs sometimes shocked me so much, that I had to dismount Lou and push it uphill.
One of Austin’s suburbs through which I went offered me a nice surprise. In search of a library where I would be able to connect to the world I found a bookstore. Well stocked bookstore. And they had maps (not one, but several of them and different) of Mexico. And I bought one. This way I will at least know where I’m going (roughly).
A good map is becoming of vital importance. The countryside is more and more desolate, sparsely populated. And it’s good to know this in advance and prepare yourself for it. Especially important are the points where you can get water. You really do need water when you are cycling at temperatures that are still above 30°C. If in the past I could have counted on getting water at the first house by the roadside, Texas Hill Country require a different approach. There are no houses by the roadside. Only endless fences with signs “Privet Property! No Trespassing!” Everything is fenced up and not a soul in sight. In most cases you do not even see a house from the roadside let alone there would be someone outside.
Faced with this reality I have to adjust my route and daily distances to points where I have access to water. These are normally smaller towns, sometimes just a road junction with a gas station/store. Long stretches of nothingness in between. Bushes, individual trees and lots of fences. On these long stretches the brains go their own way. And I let them. So last time, on one of these long stretches, thinking of pursuing one’s Dreams sneaked into my mind. About how lucky I am that I’m able to follow my Dreams and also about how grateful I am for that. At the same time the thought of courage also appeared. And here I’m not talking about the courage to quit one’s job or to say goodbye to family and friends since this is subjective. Different people perceive this topics differently. I’m talking about something more objective. Willingly setting off into the unknown, leaving access to truly vital commodity (not sure if this is a proper way of naming it, but for the lack of a better expression, it should do) – water!
On this day I woke up in a small town where I had access to the greates luxury, water. There were other luxuries as well such as cold drink, relatively good coffee, air conditioned library… But here one realizes that the greates luxury is actually water. Since ahead of me there was 130 kilometers to the next town where I could realisticaly expect to get water, I had stocked up on it. I took with me almost 12 litres. This should do for a day and a half of cycling including camping somewhere in this wastness. And in doing so, I did my duty to prepare myself as good as I possibly can for what lays ahead. After that one has to gather courage and knowingly set off into the unknown. Convinced that you have prepared yourself well and that you did your part of the task, you peacfully set off into the unknown and let the Life take care of the rest.
After 60 kilometers I have reached the first houses (3-4). The map has told me about the existance of this place as well as the fact that I cannot realisticaly expect anything here. But still I got a pleasant surprise of a long closed down sotre that nevertheless offered me shade and also had a faucet that produced a nice, drinking water. Other houses might have been inhabited. Haven’t seen a living soul.
After filling up and full soaking in the shade I have set off. In the evening I have found a nice little spot by the roadside where I was able to pitch my tent. Sheltered by bush and actually about 10 meters above the actuall road I erected the tent and made myself dinner.
After that I sat and observed how one by one millions of stars light up, happy that I was able to live this day and that I had the courage not only to dream of it, but also to Live it!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

Camping_TX_HillCountry
Camping Texas Hill Country

Cyclists_Heaven_IceCream
Cyclist’s Heaven – Ice Cream

StealthCamping
Stealth Camping

Evening_Coffee
Evening Coffee

Texas_Morning
Texas Morning

Texas_Outback
Texas Outback

PrivateProperty
Private Property

Found_It_A_House
I Found It – A House

Highway_Junction_Store
Highway Junction Store

Road_Of_Solitude
Road Of Solitude

Road_Of_Solitude_2
Road Of Solitude 2

Road_Of_Solitude_3
Road Of Solitude 3

100

Well this time I will not be writing about age since it takes a while to go from 35 to 100. But 100 is the number of days I have already spent on the road (technically at the moment of writing this it has been 111 days).
On day 100 I have entered Texas and at the moment I’m in Austin, capital of this second largest US state. Initially Texas was no different from Louisiana where sugarcane and rice fields have been already replaced by forests and logging trucks have become common sight on the road. And then it happened. How do you know you are in Texas? You see by the roadside a sign that says “Horse shoe sale!” A little later, there is a sign that says “Saddle Sale!” Few people that you see walking wear cowboy hats and cowboy boots (stereotype but real). Most of the people in fact are not walking but they drive past by you in their air conditioned pick-up trucks. Another stereotype, but the fact is that here in Texas I have seen more pick-ups than in any other state I have visited so far. And the drivers of these pick-ups do bother me. Not because they are driving these huge, hungry beasts that consume oil like it was water sitting in their nicely cooled air conditioned cabin while I struggle outside pushing pedals in the scorching sun. No, what bothers me is the horrible noise they make with their tires which are more suitable for driving off road than on tarmac. And in their nicely cooled, perfectly sound insulated cabin they do not even realize what kind of an unbearable noise they are actually producing. So I resort to listening to music while I turn the pedals. It does offer me some shelter from this unbearable noise.
I’m in Austin for almost a week now. There was quite some stuff I had to do (among other also this post which is quite overdue). Lou needed some caring as the cable of the front derailleur broke again. While repairing it, the guy whom I have turn to for some help and advice noticed that the handlebar post has cracked. So we (well he) fixed that as well. Also 6.000 km have taken their toll on the tires so Lou got a new pair of “shoes” (in vain I have searched for tires I wanted – apparently the city of Lance Armstrong is not as well stocked with equipment as one might expect – I’ll be using the recommended alternative). And while I was putting on the new tires, I noticed my rear rim has cracked. Luckily for me, I’m staying with a warmshowers host Evan who not only had a rim but an entire rear wheel that he did not need. Uau, thanks Evan! One challenge less for me.
Additionally my brother, Matjaž sent me a parcel via DHL to Austin. In Jackson, Mississippi I managed to lose my Slovenian flag. Also before departing I left back home some materials (maps) for countries ahead. Which was good since here it is impossible to find a decent map of Mexico (also something I have not anticipated). And a new mp3 player made it to here. I have ordered it well before I left home but it has arrived only when I was already in Canada (I left some not good review for the seller at Amazon).
And there are thousand and one little thing one has to do without even realizing when the time goes by. But tomorrow I’ll be hitting the road. It is calling me! The desert to the west, the solitude, the wind (hopefully not too strong and to my back), night sky full of stars and in the morning the first rays of a new day that are to wake me up with a Smile on my face. They are all calling me!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

PS
I have also fiddled around with the website and created a new option – Ask Simon
It is intended for you to send me questions about a topic you are interested in and I have not yet properly covered it.

Are you interested into something specific about traveling with a bicycle or the lands I have visited and I have not yet touched the subject? Do you have a question about life in general and are interested to see what kind of an answer several hours of turning the pedals, contemplating the topic might give? Maybe you would just like to know what goodies I had for breakfast (yeah, it is still valid, food is cyclists favourite topic)?
Search no more. Just first send me the question.

And some photos!

Welcome_To_Texas
Welcome to Texas!

One_American_Experience_I_Can_Live_Without
One American experience I can live without

Fueling_Up
Fueling up

Small_Town_Texas_Stile
Actually there used to be lots of bars and houses of dubious reputation in this town and if you came here there was a good chance you either got cut or shot – Cut and Shoot!

FastFood_Alley
Fast food alley

SlowFood_Baked_BBQ_Potatoe
Slow food – Baked BBQ potatoe

RainbowEnd_6000
At the end of a rainbow – 6.000 km – I will go on!

Heavy_Weight_Toll
Heavy weight toll

Support_Parcel
Support from home