“It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.”
— Dave Barry, humorist and newspaper columnist
FORT DAVIS, Texas — Monday was a day on our self-contained, transcontinental bicycle ride when I kept asking myself: Why in the hell am I doing this? Isn’t there a better way to see America than hauling 50 pounds of gear over mountains in the wind and the rain?
The ride from Van Horn to Fort Davis was the hardest of our journey so far — 91.6 miles along Interstate 10 and then a climb into a stiff headwind over the Davis Mountains. And did I mention the rain?
For lack of alternate routes, we rode the interstate eastward for 37 miles from Van Horn to Kent, making fairly good time because the wind was minimal or at our backs and the shoulder was wide and smooth.
The road surface on Texas 118 is chipseal — gravel laid down on a layer of tar to hold the gravel in place. Eventually, traffic on a chipseal road drives the sharp gravel into the tar and smoothes the surface. But so few vehicles travel across the Davis Mountains on Texas 118, that it will take a geological eon to smooth the road. So riding a bicycle on 118 is rough and slow-going.
The climbing was moderate for the first 23 miles on 118, under overcast skies. But with the start of the serious climbing toward McDonald Observatory, the rain began to fall — a cold, steady, autumn rain that chilled to the bone.
Several times along that route — with its steep climbs followed by rapid descents, only to be followed by another steep climb — I was tempted to find a sheltering tree, pitch my tent and spend the night. Did I mention the rain?
A few miles along the descent from McDondald Observatory, I rounded a sharp curve and saw two pickups, one with flashing lights, on the side of the road. As I passed, I looked down to the right and saw a vehicle, right side up, in a deep gully about 15 feet below the road surface. The driver apparently had failed to negotiate the curve in the rain and plunged off the road.
Further down the road, I was passed by more than a half-dozen emergency vehicles heading for the accident site — three state police cars, an ambulance, a fire marshal’s truck and eventually a wrecker.
The ambulance passed me again, this time heading back to Fort Davis with its lights flashing but no siren. I don’t know the fate of the driver or passengers, if there were any.
Monday was our longest day on the road so far. I left Van Horn just after 8 a.m. and didn’t get to our intendend destination — Fort Davis State Park — until around 6:30 p.m. — and I was the third rider in. The rain was still falling, showing no sign of a let-up, the tent sites were muddy, the park office was closed.
So we early arrivals all sought alternate accommodations — under roofs.
One rider, John V., had made a reservation at the Indian Lodge in the state park, which is about four miles west of Fort Davis.
I and a German couple on the ride — Felix and Jennifer — rode into Fort Davis in the gathering gloom and found shelter at the Stone Village Tourist Camp, where we’ll have a rest day on Tuesday before pushing on to Marathon.
My hands were so wet, cold and numb when I checked into the motel that I couldn’t fill out the sign-in sheet. The proprietor, who has hosted several contingents of cross-country cyclists, handed me a towel to dry off and filled in the sign-in sheet for me.
I was worried that nearby restaurants might close by the time I settled into my room and took a shower. So I went next-door to a Mexican restaurant in my wet clothes and devoured two baskets of chips with salsa and a large beef fajita burrito and gulped down several glasses of iced tea and a cup of hot coffee.
Back at my room, I stood under the hot shower for about a half-hour trying to get warm and to restore circulation in my stiff, wrinkly hands.
Five riders in our 14-member caravan — Reg, Kami, Cathy, Derrick and Gerben — took an alternate route out of Van Horn on Monday to go to Marfa to visit art galleries. It was a shorter, flat route of about 75 miles to the southeast that bypassed the Davis Mountains. They plan to rejoin us Wednesday evening in Marathon, the next stop on our trip.
The nine of us who came to Fort Davis — and I still don’t know where the rest of our riders ended up Monday evening — will spend the day resting, decompressing, doing laundry, cleaning muddy bikes and exploring the town.