Van Horn, TX to Fort Davis, TX
4020 ft of climbing
Before anything else, I want to thank any and all veterans who may be reading this blog. I urge other readers to do the same. It is a great debt of gratitude we owe to those who protect our freedom. Weather you agree with political policy or not, thank a vet.
On to yesterday.
EPIC. All the elements necessary to qualify were present yesterday.
We started by going to the front desk and asking about a breakfast spot. The fellow at the counter began giving me directions that eventually included a reference to Wendy's and I stopped him. I said, "I can't eat Wendy's for breakfast. Is there a café on the way down the business loop?". "You don't understand", he said. "Papa's Café is next door to Wendy's and it's the only place to get breakfast". With that he ran around and grabbed a menu from a stack and insistently put it in my hand saying we would like it.
We got on the bikes and rode. We hadn't had more than one sit down meal a day in two days and I was feeling it. We rode up to Papa's and it was closed for Memorial Day Weekend. Ouch. All that seemed to be left was Wendy's. I was starting to feel a malnutrition headache coming on. In we went. I ordered a burrito, two sandwiches, french toast sticks, hash browns, and three orange juices. Chris could only manage to choke down a sandwich and a half before he started feeling sick. It's not that fast food tastes bad, it's that trying to run your body on it feels like putting watery gas in your car. A lot of sputtering.
To continue our route we had to ride a few hundred meters back to the I-10 business loop and head East. As we rode through the rest of Van Horn we passed a number of cafes. Some appeared closed for the day but most closed for good. The last business on the loop was a motel with an open café. I slowed down and told Chris I'd sit and have coffee if he wanted a real meal. He said, "no, let's just go". On we went.
We road the frontage road for about twenty miles and then the shoulder of the interstate for the last ten or so to Kent, TX. I thought Kent might have a spot for lunch, and it may have, but we came to the 118 which was our route and all we saw was a general store, gas station. We stopped and watered up.
Because of the Warning from Joe, the day before about there being a fifty mile stretch of nothing, we each took an extra liter of water giving us three liters each. We thought surely that would be enough to get us the forty miles to the MacDonald observatory at the top of the climb.
We set out on the 118 East, which actually runs South for the first twenty six miles or so from the I-10.
Hopefully the map links are working so you can zoom in and take a look at what I mean.
We started down the highway driving through ranch land with a minor incline of 1-2 percent. The wind was a mild breeze and it was very pleasant riding. I was appreciating more beautiful Texas countryside.
After a couple of miles the road tilted up a bit more and the wind started blowing. We settled in to a 20-25 MPH headwind with a 3-4 percent grade. Very, very tough as it went on. There were angry skies on the horizon and it looked like we were riding into rain.
As the wind picked up a bit more, not too gusty, just a steady 25-30, the going was slow. I looked at our position and saw we had twenty more miles of this and we were lucky to be going 7 MPH while pedaling hard. I didn't mind the effort but I started to worry about water.
Chris and I often ride at different paces and when a large enough gap forms that we can't see each other, the lead rider eventually stops to wait. We both have what we need to change a tube so only a breakdown would require the lead to turn around and ride back.
As I continued into the wind, I began riding through bunches of grasshoppers. The wind blew them right at me as they hopped up from the highway. It was hot and I had my jersey zipped halfway down when one flew in. I grabbed at it and lifted the front of my jersey to try to get at it but that just made it slip further down. I could feel it trying to hop and eventually managed to pull the jersey over my head and it fell out onto my shorts. No easy feat I can tell you. Our heavy bikes are far from nimble and there is no way to ride with both hands off the bars or the whole process would have been much easier.
At about 18 miles from Kent it looked like rain would start anytime and I found a place to pull over and wait for Chris. As I waited I pulled the raincovers out and battened down the hatches. I assessed my water situation an found two and one half bottles. At the rate we were going it would get me to the Observatory but just barely and only if I was careful to sip. I debated having something to eat, knowing I'd have to drink with it, and decided I really needed the calories. I figured, based on our pace, that the Visitor Center at the observatory would be closed but I would have no bones about knocking on doors if I had to. As I waited, it rained a couple of times. Big drops but not for long.
After a few minutes Chris caught up and pulled over. He looked thirsty. His bottles were empty. He said his knee had started bothering him and he had taken an 800mg Ibuprofen. It had made him feel sick. I offered him one of my bars and gave him a bottle of water. He drank half in one gulp and I immediately started thinking about waving down a car to ask for more. There wasn't much traffic but every ten or fifteen minutes a car would go by so I knew the situation was inconvenient but not dire.
We saddled up and rode on together, faithfully taking turns pulling each other through the wind. It was much better working together. After another three miles, and almost thirty minutes, we came to Texas Road 166 which marked the beginning of the real climbing. I was looking forward to a change of pace. A couple of miles down, the road tilted up, the wind died and even though our speed remained about the same, I was happy for the change. The first climb was crazy steep. 17 percent for almost half a mile. Let me say it again, I'll take climbing over wind anytime. I checked the altimeter and we were already at 5400'. Our climb crested at 6200' or so. We were still 12 miles from the observatory. Our cumulative climbing was at 3000' already and I was expecting a total around 4000' based on the mapping.
I told Chris not to worry, there was a picnic area in the next couple of miles and maybe there would be water.
As part of my ridiculous overpreparedness (except of course for spokes) I am carrying a water filtration bottle. I started looking around for windmills and water tanks in case the picnic area was dry.
As I seriously began thinking about stopping and hiking it to the next windmill I saw, that looked maintained, we came to the picnic area. We pulled in and I saw a couple of cars and tents and we rode straight to them.
A couple of families were spending the day in the mountains. I waved and said hello as we approached. I asked if by chance they had a bottle of water to spare. I was immediately directed to a cooler and one of the men came right over and started handing us bottles while he asked where we had come from and where we were going. They were extremely generous and insisted on filling all of our bottles plus giving us each an extra. I should have gotten information from them to send a card from St. Augustine but I felt like we were imposing on their family day as it was.
THANK YOU! You helped us tremendously!
He asked if we'd had rain and we said, "a little" he said we had a lot of downhill ahead but a big steep climb also. I made sure to thank every single person there, including the kids, and off we went.
We rode another couple of miles, mostly swooping downhills through beautiful forested land but took it easy because of the wet road surface. Then we came to a crushing steep long climb just as the clouds opened up. It started with hail and turned to rain. Pouring, monsoon, thunderstorm rain. Then the lightning started. We were winding our way up a road completely exposed to our right and it was dumping on us. We started seeing lightning strikes in front of us but there was really no place to seek shelter. I looked at the galvanized guard rail next to us and thought it was a toss up whether we'd be hit or the guard rail would. I guess its splitting hairs. A million volts of static discharge will give you a new hairdo whether you get it directly or a few feet away.
The rain tapered off at the top of the climb. The air was crisp and it was magnificently fresh. It must have been super oxygenated or full of negative ions or something but it was glorious. We held back on the wet descents, dotted with short climbs, and eventually descended into a beautiful high plateau when we saw the three domes of the MacDonald Observatory on the hillside across the meadow.
The University of Texas at Austin MacDonald Observatory boasts the largest telescope mirror in the world.
The remaining seventeen miles to Fort Davis were as breathtaking as the ride up but much drier. We got to town just in time for dinner. Our host, Steve, told me that you couldn't see the swimming pool from the office because the rain had been so heavy.
We are, at this moment, considering our plans for today. We decided we need to moderate and nourish our bodies today. We might spend the day here, in Fort Davis, or we may go short to Alpine to help reduce the next two days to hundred mile rides.
What was I thinking when I said the climbing was done after Emory Pass?
More to come.