“I could have bypassed Texas about as easily as a space traveler can avoid the Milky Way. It sticks its big old Panhandle up north and it slops and slouches along the Rio Grande. Once you are in Texas it seems to take forever to get out, and some people never make it.”
— John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, 1962
AUSTIN, Texas — The sea breeze and surfer dudes at Ocean Beach in San Diego, where we dipped the rear wheels of our bikes into the Pacific, seem like a lifetime ago.
The torrid heat — temperatures over 100 degrees during the first 10 days of our trip in the deserts of California and Arizona –are fading from memory.
The climb over Emery Pass in New Mexico — the literal high point of our cross-country bicycle journey at 8,228 feet — has come to mind as we’ve compared it to climbs in Arizona, in the Davis Mountains of West Texas and in the Texas Hill Country.
But we’re now in civilized Austin, more than halfway through our trip from San Diego, where we started on Sept. 20, to St. Augustine, Fla., where we’re scheduled to finish on Nov. 21, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, with a ritual baptism of our front wheels in the Atlantic Ocean.
By my calculations, from a daily log of miles traveled, we’re now more than 1,669 miles into our journey of about 3,160 miles — a little more than halfway. The geographic halfway point was a couple days back in the Hill Country town of Comfort, where we had a celebratory dinner at Guenther’s Beer Hall. The jaegerschnitzel with sauerkraut and roasted red potatoes was
superb, by the way.
But the emotional halfway point is Austin, perhaps my favorite Texas city. It’s a place to decompress, rest our weary legs after nine straight days of hard riding from our last rest stop in Fort Davis in the Big Bend Country, to get bikes tuned and cleaned for the rest of the journey, to dry out wet gear from heavy rains in the Texas Hill Country and to reunite with my wife, Mary Ellen, and our golden retriever, Bailey, at my brother-in-law’s house in south Austin.
We arrived in Austin on Thursday afternoon for a three-night stay before resuming our journey on Sunday morning. We gained an extra day in Austin by foregoing a rest day in El Paso, our point of entry into this huge state.
As Steinbeck noted, it can take forever to get out of here, and some people never make it. More than 1,000 miles of our transcontinental trek is in Texas — from El Paso in the far west, through the Big Bend Country of West Texas, into the Hill Country in the central part of the state and then through the dense forests and bayous of east Texas until we cross the Sabine River into Merryville, La.
Several of us took our bikes to the Bicycle Sport Shop on South Lamar Boulevard near the intersection with Barton Springs Road. When we pushed our fully loaded bikes into the shop, looking suntanned and weary from riding halfway across the continent, we were greeted like celebrities. Nearly every member of the shop’s large staff came over to talk to us, offered to buy us fruit smoothies at a kiosk in the shop, helped us carry our panniers and were very expert and solicitous about what work had to be done on our bikes.
“You guys are living my dream, man,” said one of the staff.
The driver of a Yellow Taxi van, called by the shop staff to take us and our gear to the motel where our crew is staying in Austin, joked that the Mexican free-tailed bats that reside under the Congress Avenue Bridge over Town Lake just south of downtown no longer migrate to Mexico in the winter because they like Austin so much.
I feel the same way.