July da 5th!
I woke up feeling a little weak but better than yesterday. The morning sun had that hot sting to it and I could tell today was gonna be hot and miserable.
Breaking tradition, I headed for the Ghost Town Cafe for breakfast. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
When I sat down at the table, I noticed a grizzled character across the way. As I studied him, I began to recognize the face. I got up and approached the table, introducing myself and asking if he was a photographer by any chance. Turns out he was Blair Pittman, a National Geographic photographer I'd met in Big Bend in 1981. My first trip to the region was on a college class trip, and Blair had been the guest speaker and guide to remote places. Blair had specialized in the Big Bend area, doing many books and articles on the region.
We chatted over breakfast and caught up on 36 years of history. Turns out he was heading to the barbecue and dance in Marathon a little later and I told him we might bump heads again if I headed that way.
National Geographic photog and Big Bend expert Blair Pittman
I headed up to "the porch" after breakfast, to find a couple of locals already following tradition. Lone Star beer and coolers, enjoying the shade and watching the touristas wander past. I sat on the bench to upload my ride report before heading into the park for a late morning ride.
Three hours later, I was still engrossed in the hilarious conversations and local gossip on the porch. Of course I felt like a dweeb in all my riding gear with a laptop while the locals drank beer in shorts and t-shirts. It didn't go unnoticed and I got my share of ribbing. The sheriff showed up with a dog he'd found on the road, delivering to it's owner who was quite happy. He had run off during all the fireworks last night. The sheriff sat down next to me and we all talked for an hour or two. Topics ranged from oppressive government to high fuel prices to the sexual persuasion of the "artists" in Marfa... whom they call "Marfadites"... Pretty much everything else was covered in the conversations.
The local outlaw radio host wandered in and they tried to get me to climb the wooden radio tower and install something. I told them no, as I knew they only wanted to see a dumb tourist fall off a tower. Then he tried to rope me into taking over the radio station since he was having to deal with glaucoma issues now. The thought intrigued me and I envisioned myself late at night, keeping the locals entertained and informed with my wit and wisdom between songs from George Jones and Led Zeppelin... somehow "Wolfman Joe" just doesn't fit me... so I declined.
Having passed the initiation test, I was made part of the Terligua SWAT team... they handed me a flyswatter and told me to do my part.
God it is sooooooo refreshing to be around folks who don't care what people think about them. I get tired of the cookie cutter society we have that produces Abercrombie Kens and B*tchy Barbies. But enough about that.
By the way, at this point I must interject that my trip was inspired by a last minute email from my wonderful friend Helen (you know who you are) who foolishly forwarded the video "I've been everywhere man" by our honored TWT'er who did the great video. I also must mention that her husband is my best friend and a great man, as is their daughter (but not a man) who I happen to work for - it's an honor too! I leave your names off since I care about your reputations, but you know who you are
Where was I? Oh yeah... By now it was dead hot and I was getting sleepy in the cool breeze on the porch. If I didn't leave now I'd never leave. I got on the bike to well wishes from my new friends - except for one who told me to take chances, ride dangerously and do foolish things. I laughed and headed out.
I passed Passing Wind, and sure enough Jimmy had finished the submarine. Somehow I had expected more than just a conning tower, but at the same time I really didn't expect much, so it was fine. I felt all warm and fuzzy and patriotic after seeing our Navy protecting Big Bend.
The first dangerous and wild thing I did was stop at the Study Butte store for a root beer to cool off before entering the park. The second foolish thing I did was sit down by a wild and dangerous dog.
Here's the pic in case you don't believe me.
Surviving the dangerous encounter, I hit the road for Big Bend National Park.
The park was absolutely spectacular today. The rains had cleared the air and greened up the place. I was feeling hugely better than yesterday and just rode slowly, taking in the colors and smells. The clouds were gorgeous and every direction was a photo op. The skies really were magnificent.
Needless to say, there were very few visitors and even fewer bikes. I saw maybe 12 in total on this trip. I think there is a fear of the heat in summer, but don't be afraid - it ain't that bad and there's plenty of excuses to go cool off somewhere.
I headed on up to the basin, enjoying the cool air and winding road. In the gift shop (no, I didn't buy you a gift), I bumped into an 80 year old man who'd been on the porch for a while. He and I gabbed while his 40 year old girlfriend bought out the place. He shared a few stories and advice on a couple of roads to take. Figured I'd avoid marriage advice from him tho.
Heading back down from the basin, I was engaged by the scale of the valley ahead. That's one thing that always amazes me out here... the scale is so large! It's like having a bit of Wyoming and Utah to ride through.
Rio Grande Village called my name and I headed east from the basin, watching the gigantic valley ahead. The heat grew more intense as I dropped lower and I sucked my Camelbak dry in short order. The temperatre difference from the east side to the west side of the park got my attention. The west was hot, but having a few showers obviously kept the temps a little cooler. Now I've been in 120 degree heat a few times, and ridden through desert in 110 heat but I went through some patches of heat that absolutely took my breath away. I have no idea how hot it was in spots, but it was hoooot. My sweat glands developed sweat glands.
I gassed up at the Village and ate lunch about 4 pm. Mmmmm mmmmm. Not.
The attendant told me the old river crossing was no longer accessible since the terror ban, which is a shame since it was fun to float over on the barrel boat and ride a donkey up for Mexican food. Oh well, at least I have the memories.
Village food... un-mmmmmmmmm
Heading towards Boquillas Canyon
At the river overlook, I could see the old Mexican town of Boquillas and a good view of the river. Probably why they call it a river overlook.
Those darn illegal aliens. They'll do anything to get across. Here, 2 dressed as a cow try to graze their way over.
However, next to my bike and taped to a rock was a hand written sign with "Walking sticks for sale, Scorpions $5" and a little jar of money on the ground by the rock. The sign also mentioned donations for the orphans or something. I desperately wanted to buy a scorpion, and waited but there was no one around. I called "hey scorpion man", but he must not have understood English or was just plain invisible. The longer I stood there, my instincts began to come alive and I figured it was probably a highly sophisticated multi-miilion dollar government sting operation and I was being watched by snipers, satellites and the Terlingua SWAT team. I decided not to wait for a scorpion and instead rode on.
In case you don't believe me...
By now it was really hot and I was having paranoid delusions induced by the heat and lack of root beer in my system. Also, I had planned to ride to Marathon and spend the night, going to the Post Dance this evening.
Realizing I still had to go all the way through the park and up to Thon, I raced out at the mind-numbing park speed of 45 mph. It was now so frickin hot I thought I was gonna die or the Feds were gonna catch me for interfering with their multi-million dollar sting operation.
It seemed like hours before I finally got out of the park, heading north and into actually cooler temps. Woohoo!
Ooops, the Feds were waiting a coupla miles south of Marathon at the border checkpoint. (thank God I hadn't bought that scorpion). The officer began asking me questions, but I couldn't hear with my ear plugs in so I shouted "Wait, I gotta take my ear plugs out" and started trying to undo my helmet, finally getting one plug out of my ear. The officer said "Take it easy, I just need to ask a few questions."
Maybe it was my sunburned face, maybe it was me talking louder than normal since I had earplugs in, but I have no idea why he thought I was NOT taking it easy... anyway, he asked me if I had come from the "Legion"?... thoughts raced through my head "The French Foreign Legion?", the demon Jesus talked to in the Bible called "legion"?
I had no idea what he was talking about and said "What are you talking about?" Then he said something about the Legion meeting down south. I said "no, I didn't know anything about that. I was in Terlingua and just rode through the park." I didn't mention the scorpion set-up. He looked at me a bit and then said "Ok, be safe" and waved me through. Weird.
The last coupla miles to Marathon were nice, but it was gettin' late and I had a feeling I was gonna have trouble finding a room. My fears were confirmed when I saw all the cars on the street outside the Gage Hotel. I rode down to the Marathon Motel, and the attendant was kind enough to call all the hotels for me, but said nothing was available in town, the Post Dance was going on, and somebody died the day before so the whole town was full.
I headed out for Sanderson, and on a whim pulled in at the Gage. They had one room left - woohoo x 2!
It was kinda shee-shee and I felt awkward in my smelly shirt and helmet hair. Lots of guests were all duded up for the dance. Unfortunately I had left my tux in Kerrville.
Here's the lobby
My room is up those stairs
I woulda taken a pic of the room, but it was so small I couldn't raise my arms to take the pic. All for $106 bucks as well. Well Biff and Muffy, at least they have quail's tongue brazed in kitten's milk on the menu.
Took a quick shower (in my room of course) and changed into my least smelly clothes, then wandered around the hotel - very cool place - and finally flopped in a chair across the room from a stuffed mountain lion. I have to say it is the most realistic one I've seen and it has stared at me the entire time I've written this report. Creepy real. No, really. Creepy.
About dusk I hopped on the GehllandStrasse and rode down the road to "the Post". The air was actually quite cool and chilly in my t-shirt. About 100 yards from the park entrance, the local trucks had begun parking on the side of the road. I pulled on in and parked next to a Harley, just as I heard the band singing the National Anthem. I paused with the crowd and put my hand over my heart, surrounded by cowboys and country boys, proud of our flag.
The local ranchers and others were dressed up for the dance, in pressed Wranglers and starched western shirts, cowboy hats centered perfectly. The folks were bringing chairs and coolers and a constant stream were arriving. There were about 150 already and as it got dark, the number was close to 500 I'd guess.
As the western music played, the boot scootin started on the sand covered concrete pad. i wandered around the little park, as the crowd grew and the crescent moon rose over the hills. It was fascinating watching the families and folks enjoying themselves.
As I watched the dance under the tall trees, a cool night breeze blowing and fireworks exploding overhead, I was swept back many years to a time in America's past. The families, the cowboys and their wives and girlfriends, the young teen boys dressed up hopefully, it all came rushing in. For a second, I started to tear up... America still exists in hidden places.
This has been one heck of a 4th of July!
More tomorrow my friends...