Too much wind, too much cursing, one too many flats, two time zones and too much sand.
We left Van Horn, Texas, heading due north only to encounter sustained headwinds of 15 to 20 miles per hour (24 to 32 kph), gusting to 40 mph (64 kph), all day long. An hour later we had gone less than five miles.
I was in two-year-old tantrum mode threatening to do the only thing sensible and blow back into Van Horn and take a bus to our desired destination for the day.
Somehow it made sense at the time to take a break and try to wait out the wind…by taking a nap in the drainage ditch running under the road.
This was not a snap decision. We did carefully evaluate the local real estate market for ditches. Luckily, we found deluxe accommodations in an extra wide drainage ditch. We had previously passed smaller ditches, which while potentially suitable, would have been cramped. Our new ditch was the nicest we had seen. It easily had parking for two bicycles while allowing us to spread out a nice blanket.
Our newfound napping hole provided great protection from the wind. It was an unusually cold day, so being out of the wind made it quite cozy. We grabbed the sleeping bags and promptly fell to sleep.
Several hours later, I was blissfully dreaming of pizza, when I was startled awake by a woman’s voice.
Are you okay? There is a grader coming.
Being half asleep, with a dream of pizza still fresh in my mind, this question made perfect sense. “Grater?” I thought, “Perfect! I’ll take extra parmesan cheese.”
A concerned, very thoughtful lady had driven past and seen our bikes parked in our new garage and turned around to check on us. She had noticed a road grader operating in the area and was afraid we would be covered if we continued to slumber.
We assured her we were fine but she offered to throw the bikes in the back of the truck and give us a ride. Unfortunately, she was heading back to town, not the 55 miles we needed to go north; otherwise I would have jumped at the offer.
In all my bicycle travels, I have never encountered the relentless, demoralizing wind like today. The route was a net uphill gain. When there was a downhill, it required pedaling, otherwise we stopped dead in our tracks.
Additionally, in all the years of visiting west Texas, I never encountered such poor visibility. It was as if we were fogged in, except the air was filled with fine red dust from the dry soil. Visibility was reduced to about two miles.
Seven hours later, with both of us crazy talking and cursing the wind we made it to the highway intersection (and a reminder, there were no services (food or water of any sort, this is west Texas. It is not unusual to go 50 to 70 miles without respite). At that point we were both nearly deaf from the constant howling headwinds. At that moment Sarah got a flat.
Luckily, we had just crossed into the Mountain Time Zone that gave us an extra hour to enjoy the day. A small portion of this time was devoted to the flat repair. Trying to change a flat in the cold, with blasting winds and no shelter is a bit frustrating. But it was as if it never happened because we were warped back an hour in time.
After the repair, we were faced with two choices: continue another sharp uphill into the wind to the campground in the National park (about ten miles away) or get the wind to our backs and blow to El Paso, Texas.
I had spent a significant amount of time planning the route through New Mexico. Along the way was Guadalupe Mountains National Park, our last point in Texas, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a handful of New Mexico State Parks and some amazing scenic roads through the mountains to Cloudcroft before hitting White Sands National Monument.
In our frayed sate, there was only one logical choice. Blow to El Paso. We had been to all the aforementioned National Parks. While all spectacular in their own rights and definitely recommended if you have not been, it was not worth the effort for the effect on our fragile mental state. We were done and borderline stark raving mad.
So turning with the wind, without pedaling, we were traveling over 20 mph (32 kph). We descended into the Salt Flats of west Texas.
The salt in the flats was considered sacred by the Native Americans and was an important commercial source of salt. Needless to say, it was a point of contention between early settlers, the original Americans and commercial interests.In fact, it started a war.
Already crusted with salt from sweating through the earlier headwinds, we had our ready supply of sodium chloride. We did not feel the need to stop and fill our shaker. Cows were looking at us and drooling at the chance for a lick.
At that point, it was approaching sunset. We managed another fifteen miles (again with no sort of town or services) passing decaying buildings hauntingly howling as the wind whipped through what remained of doors and windows.
After sunset we turned down a dirt road. Luckily we found our second deluxe accommodations of the day.
There are no trees to make a tree fort in west Texas so at some point in the distant past someone made a fort from shipping pallets. The reason I know that it was an upscale establishment is that it contained several pieces of Weider exercise benches and equipment, obviously torn apart and scattered in a steroid rage. With a few modifications it provided some relief from the relentless winds blowing sand.
We managed to cook a passable meal of fine red sand (high in iron!) with a side of ramen noodles and yams. Not our greatest culinary achievement, but filling.
The constant wind caused the tent to flap and snap all night, even though tightly staked and protected by some precariously arranged pallets as protective walls. I had every confidence in some ten year’s old’ construction abilities. I’m sure he had the site permitted and everything was up to code so that I would not wake up to face full of collapsed pallets in the middle of the night. Surprisingly, we slept well, surely due to mental and physical exhaustion. I did harbor the minor fear that the builder, a junior versions of Lou Ferrigno, would show up and evict us while flexing his oversized pectorals.
Sarah dubbed it our pallet palace.
A side note on gear, before closing this entry. Optimally, most everything carried should have two functions. For example, our dromedary bags work to haul water and allow us to take showers in a pinch.
Likewise, our mostly mesh tent does a spectacular job of keeping out the bugs, while providing excellent ventilation in the hot weather. We found that its secondary function is to act as a fine sieve.
We woke covered with a fine layer of red sand everywhere.