5/30/2015 Alpine to Kent

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I was awoken from my sleep by water hitting my face. In the early morning twilight I saw dark bands of clouds racing towards me. Flashing lightning told me the storm was serious. I sprang into action, getting dressed and breaking camp as fast as humanly possible, especially because in the howling winds everything wanted to be torn away.

“I’ve paid my dues in Texas” I complained to the cyling gods, while chasing my blowing tent across Texas carpet in bare feet. SNAP! I jumped two feet in the air, hair prickled, white light and roar of thunder.

The rain never came. I rode off into the howling headwind which quickly transformed into a wonderful sunny cycling day! I can eat headwinds for beakfast with my electric bike, and the long climbs were just amusements.

This is what I was riding through:

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What an inviting picnic area:

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This was next to some adobe ruins. I was shocked to read the last lines, “while the country was being cleared of Indians and bandits” Whoa! I read the date of the monument- 1936.

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The McDonell Observatory.

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I charged up my bike at the observatory, but not a full charge, because my next stop was Kent, which was only 32 miles away. The clerk at the observatory said there were two gas stations there. So I bombed over the mountains.

When I arrived there was only graffiti covered gas pumps and abandoned homes. The I-10 runs right through the town, but I can’t ride on it. The next town was 31 miles away by freeway, and 52 miles away by bicycle, Google Maps explained. Fifty two miles away over rolling hills after a 30 mile ride on a not-full-tank. Problematic.

But I had no other good choice. So I rode to the first turn off the main road. Oh No…. The gate was unlocked, just closed to keep the cows in. I talked to myself: “It will be an adventure. Google wouldn’t steer you wrong. Just hope after 20 miles of this the gate is unlocked at the other end.”

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Along the way.

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And then I found this spring fed cow watering cistern. I know a bathtub when I see one. Refreshed, I continued.

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My bike battery didn’t die, but my cell phone was having trouble accepting a charge and was flashing warnings. Without Google Maps telling me which cow trail to take, I could get very, very lost- if I’m not already. So I made camp. The fly on the bike helps block the ever present wind. What a lovely place to camp. So sight or sound of anything manmade as far as the eye can see in every direction. I love it!

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Let’s see if I get out of here tomorrow!

5/27/2015 Bracketville to Langtry

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Have you ever met a 60 year old man who has never been inside a bar except to shoot a movie? That was me, until today. I saw a touring bike with a solar panel draped over it’s trailer and had to meet the owner. I walked into the only habitable building in town. Cowboys were shooting pool while the building sighed and sagged.

I knew my man right away. You can always pick the one who doesn’t quite fit in, and now there were two of us. I introduced myself to Adam and sat beside him at the bar. A pretty girl walked up and asked me what I’d like. I said “Orange juice?”…….. She said “OK” patiently, and went in back- “Mike, do we have any Orange Juice? No? Any juice at all? No? Ok” She returned, “Sorry, we’re all out of juice.”

“Ok”, I said, “then I’ll have a ummmm, a ummmm, a Beer!” I was proud of myself for thinking of that. Then she said, “OK, what kind?” I hit a brick wall. I didn’t know any beer names except “Bud”, and I am too special to order a “Bud.” I was about to say Schlitz when Adam volunteered “He’ll have one of these lagers” “Yeah” I chimed in. Phew, that was scary. “What’s a lager?”

Know what? It was good, really good! And you know what else? I think I’ll drink more lager-no sugar rush, and it does quench the thirst.

Adam turned out to be a reality TV editor working and writing his way around the US. We had much in common. We talked excitedly for an hour, then he shot a video about my bike. Thanks Adam, it was fun.

At last I am riding in desert, though with all the rains and flooding the desert is green and blooming. It really is lovely.

Desert Sage in bloom.
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Crossing the Pecos river.

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In Langtry is the original home and bar/courtroom of Judge Roy Bean, in it’s original location! “Judge Roy Bean was the law west of the Pecos” my father, who was an attorney, used to tell me, “and he would dispense liquor and justice at the same time”

It was connecting to be able to see this place of legal legend that gave my father so many stories to tell and so much pleasure telling them.
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The Bar and Bench.

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Langtry itself is filled with decay. I camp behind the community center, take a water bottle shower, and walk the streets. Kneeling houses surrender to gravity. Twisted tin roofs moan in the wind. Adobe bricks rejoin stones and soil. A well kept yard has a sign “Trespassers will be shot on sight. Any survivors will be shot again.”

The wind howls. I must stay in my tent to keep it from blowing away. But, no mosquito bites!

5/26/2015 Bracketville Texas

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I ride into the small town of Bracketville, tired, damp, needing to charge. Older towns with older facilities- especially brick ones- can present a little charging challenge. But I find a park with outlets and plug in. The batteries began to charge but at a very slow rate. Why?

Can’t focus- frustration builds: Light rain is falling. Chigger and mosquito bites itch all over, especially where I can’t scratch in public. Mosquitoes swarm me when I stop. I am damp and flypaper sticky and my tent is soaked. I smell skanky. I’m hungry. My bike’s tires and wheels have been problematic. Fixed now? Maybe, maybe not. I want a fast charge, my bike charges slowly. Why? Another annoyance. What to do?

I call my friend Mike. “Mike, I am thinking about renting a van and coming home and repairing and starting agin. But I am afraid that if I come home I may not start again.”

Mike has good advice. “Shawn, find a hotel room. Rest for a few days. Eat a lot of good food, drink three beers and call me in the morning.”

I don’t want to hear it, I want to come home. I want this trip to end now. But I called for advise and I got it. I follow it.

I find a campsite just a few miles away in Fort Clark. I take a hot shower. dry my tent, and start feeling better. I have a hobby room to work in, a pavillion to camp in, a kitchen to cook in, and people to talk to. Diane the manager brings me Skin So Soft and Anti Itch cream. OMG, what a relief.

Relaxing, I begin work on the battery problem. The BMS is shutting off because the battery is not balanced properly, several cells are too high. I wire it in parallel to balance it, all indoors with AC!

I use the DPDT switches in front to wire BMS bypasses. If they start acting up, like not accepting a charge, or not letting current flow when it is fully charged, I can bypass those little troublemakers.

I look for better ways to avoid BMS’s, devise three wiring schemes, then hit apon a way to ditch the BMS and use a hobby charger. It will simplify the pack and give me better control over charging. But to do it elegantly I will need my shop with all it’s resources.

I’ve told myself many times over the last few weeks that this is what this trip is about; to see what breaks and figure out how to build it better.

I’m about halfway through the first of the four tiers. I have to pay my dues. I may be one day away from a month of trouble free joyous cycling.

It’s adventure, not Disneyland.

Shawn

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5/23/2015 Shertz to Hondo Texas.

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I am leaving the Texas hill country into the prairie. I am climbing slowly, and it is a big relief to me to be mvoing out of the humid tropic climate.

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My rear tube blew out again. The valve stem seperated from the tube! It is easier for me to repair the rear wheel by taking off the front wheel, as it lifts the rear wheel off the ground and I can slide it out easier! Sure a lot easier than laying the bike on it’s side. Another good reason to have a center stand.

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On inspection, the Schwalbe tire was developing a slit where the rim met the tire, just like the other one. I have been watching the pressure, what the heck? Could I have gotten two defective ones? Is my use so extrememe that the Schwalbe can’t take it? I have no spare tires… What to do?

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I did the only thing I could. I put a new tube in the old tire, inflated it to 40psi and avoiding bumps rode seventeen miles to the nearest Wal Mart for a new tire and tube.

Major thunderstorms were rolling in by the time I was done shopping. The manager wuld not let me set up a tent in the WalMart grass- “liability” so I rode off in the rain to find the closest field.

I got the tent set up, dancing and swatting off mosquitoes and the rain began in earnest. My phone was flashing flood alert warnings as the gods of lightning and thunder showed their firepower. The rain was roaring down on the thin piece of nylon that was supposed to keep me dry, the fly. It was failing, and water was running into my tent. Soon the floor of my tent was soaked. THen there was a loud whistle, and a train added it’s ground shaking rumble to the din of thunder and rain. I had camped very close to a train track!

My air mattress kept me out of the water. The mosquitoes were having a feast. I lay my towel underneath it, and woke often from a fitful sleep to wring it out. I am so glad that night is over!

5/21&22, 2015, Stoneham to Shertz Texas.

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It’s a 10 mile ride into San Antonio, and I’m pretty stoked to be this far. It’s now 1900 miles since I left home. After San Antonio, I am told I will start climbing “the mesa,” and that it’s a long slow climb. I am looking forward to higher altitudes, cooler temperatures, and less biting insects.

I was trying to keep the watt burn below 350 watts an hour, but the continuous rolling hills here led me to adopt a different riding style. Now I pick up speed going downhills and tap the mode button as I ascend to add boost to keep up the momentum. It’s a lot more fun! I’m just not worried about watt burn any more. The bike with it’s big batteries and big chargers sucks up the amps, and there are tons of places to charge. So I burn ’em more freely.

I used to be always looking at how full my battery gas tank was. Now I glance at it about as often as you look at the gas tank in your car. I always have plenty of chances to fill the tank. In fact, the tank hasn’t gotten much below half yet.

I keep learning things every day. For example, each day I fill my 5 gallon water bladder at the end of the day so I can shower and rinse out my clothes. Today I was filling it at a convenience store bathroom faucet and noticed the water was hot! Duh, get hot water! Tonight my shower was much warmer than usual!

My big find of the day: Two twentys and two tens! What luck! Lots of cars had driven past it. Has anyone got a good moral for this story, like, “it pays to be slow”?

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I wanted to camp in the Bastrop National Forest but the Pine Bark Beetle got there first:

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One thing that has left a lasting impression is how much money there is in oil, what a big part of the economy it is, and how it leaves wastelands behind. I took this picture from an otherwise idyllic gravel road.

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The back roads of Texas are lovely.

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Here’s another place to charge!

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Camping in flowers!

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5/20/2015 Sour Lake to Stoneham Texas

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It has been a while since I wrote. I decided to stay an extra day in the hotel to rest and work on the bike and my camping gear. There is a sporting goods store nearby and
the timing seemed right. I especially had to repair a missing window in the fly of my tent, and replace my smelly shoes with open sandals.

Then Leslie called me and said that if I wanted to come visit her in Maintou Springs the time must be now, as she didn’t want to wait another week. So I said “I’ll leave today”. I rented a car and stored my bike and drove to Colorado to see her. I returned to Texas with Leslie and she took a bus for home. My ride resumes.

Leslie and I in “Garden of the Gods” Manitou Springs, Colorado.

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Sour Lake is not sour at all. It is a very sweet little town with intersting neighbors- little oil wells. It’s kinda like house, house, house, oil well, house, oil well, house, house, house.

The librarian suggested I camp in a storage shed on library property. I rigged up a shower, pitched my tent inside, and was completely ready for the storm that never came.

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These little oil wells are everywhere.

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This one was drilled in 1957, at which time it produced 25 barrels of oil each day. By 1957 production had dropped to 4.5 barrels of oil a day. In 2000 it was producing 2.1 barrels of oil each day. In 2010 it was producing 1 barrel of oil a day. The income from one little oil well like this would be a comfortable retirement!

The weather is very overcast. There is an El Nino weather pattern and I ride all day in grey dodging thunderstorms and showers. Visibility for autos is low in heavy rain and so I keep off the road. I am getting tired of it and long for sunshine.

I camp in a cemetary tonight. The grass is long, the flowers faded, the road rutted. It’s very peaceful here and I feel like a welcomed guest. One cemetary resident reminds me as I visit his grave “The only difference between your condition and mine is a few short years- and they go by fast.” I do basic bike maintenance, wash clothes and cook a good dinner. It is so humid that I sleep without my bag and take a second shower in the morning. All is good.

5-12-2015 Merryville LA to Beaumont Texas

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I wake up feeling good. The sky is grey with clouds but it is not raining. Charley, the cyclist that was going to meet me in Austin, for whom I was slowing down, cannot make the trip right now due to medical issues, so I decide to ride more quickly. I ride 60 miles by 10:30AM.

I cross over into Texas! Yay! My body has many bug bites, even behind my ears, and I’m looking forward to camping in dryer climes.

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In Silsbee Texas my rear wheel starts feeling wobbly. A brake is rubbing. I check and there are two broken spokes. I must get this repaired, as soon as possible. Google tells me the closest bike shop is in Beaumont, 26 miles south, out of my way. I call and they do have a spoke cutting machine. I head off down the four lane at 22 mph, a little aprehensive with my wobbly wheel.

I arrive at the Kick Stand bike store and am greeted by Bhavani- pronunced Vivani- who wonders how I got there so fast, and tells me her husband, who is the wheel expert, has left to run errands so he could be there when I arrived, which they figured would be hours from now. She allows me to take my bike apart in the store, and we enjoy talking.

When Tom arrives, we get cutting. He cuts and I replace the spokes in the wheel. The shop closes at 6:00, and as Tom is truing my wheel, I move my bike out in front of the shop for assembly, so they can go home.

Then it starts to pour. There are flash flood warnings on the news. It is almost dark. My bike is in pieces in front of the store. I am confident things will work out, I just don’t know how yet. And then Tom offers to drive me and my bike to a hotel, which I happily accept. A bike store customer then offers to let me stay at his house! See, things always work out! I can’t begin to tell you how often this sort of thing happens!

Tom negotiates the lowest rate for me at the hotel, by telling the receptionist about my adventure. Then we sneak the bike and all it’s parts past the receptionist by using a side door, nabbing cookies on the way. I am exhausted and have a lot of work to do. I am really glad to have met Tom, and feel like I have a new friend.

It’s been another one of those roller coaster rides of good things and bad things.

5-11-2015 Oberlin to Merryville

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It is raining in the morning. I chug along, trying not to smell my feet! My shoes and socks and feet have developed a strong odor. I have been trying to ignore it, but it follows me everywhere! Wet shoes and wool socks and hot feet make bacteria very happy. I need to get some open sandals to ride in.

The back wheel feels wobbly and the brake is dragggin so I pull over and look…. I am afraid that I will see- Broken Spokes. Criminee, not again… Two. Must repair, there is no procrastinating, the wheel could collapse. I find an old church that is now a community center with a covered front porch, and take my bike apart.

I decide to buy all new spokes and respoke the wheel when I can. This is happening way too often and I am running out of spare spokes.

A traveling cyclists tells me about Merryville, the last town in Louisiana before Texas, where the historical society has a museum that allows cyclists to camp on their grounds. Wow! I arrive there, call a number, and Elene Shows up with the lock code for the hot showers and a cabin to sleep in! Wow!

At the library I meet Sam, an old timer. He talks to me about farming and cycling and wants to know why I shave my head and what I eat when I am camping. I tell him that I always have some sardines to eat in a pinch. He wrinkles his nose, then says; “You should carry a trap, and put the sardines in the trap. Then you could catch a possum and eat him instead”. He keeps a straight face for a second and I stare at him intently. He smiles and I burst out laughing! He invites me over for dinner.

Log cabin at the Merriville Historical Society

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5-10-2015 Simmesport LA to Oberlin LA.

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It’s fascinating to me how similiar the electronic sounds of today are to the ancient calls of birds and insects. Sometimes in nature it sounds like I am in a sea of electronic noisemakers. Probably the noises that these things make are a physical requirement of their similar sizes, but maybe it’s the sounds of the laws of the universe leaking out from behind.

This morning I get stuck riding gravel roads and after a dozen miles I am greatly relieved to emerge onto asphalt. And then I am in a land of perfect homes with perfect lawns. A sign reads “Welcome to Plattsville. No loud noises or littering or we will fine you. We mean it.”

I am impressed. Everything is tidy and orderly. I stop at the convenience store. The proprieter, a handsome woman, greets customers by name. Everyone seems happy, and pleasant. The whole feeling becomes erie, like The Stepford Wives….

The feeling of Plattsville.
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The farmers are out plowing their fields. I look at the prices of their equipment in a magazine. A lot of the stuff costs more than a house. I have a great respect for the hard work and financial commitment of these men.

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I’ll probably cross into Texas tomorrow!

5/09/2015 Baker to Simmesport, LA.

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My friend Charley wants to ride his electric bike with me. We will meet in Austin, Texas. Problem is, I can get there in four days, but it will take him seven. So I slow down. In that very moment of surrender, this modest little moving assemblage of camp and bike and battery and food became home to me. I’m not destination bound, I’m just living at home, doing what my home does.

Our sense of scent can be developed by paying attention to it. Every inhale is different; here is water, here is flower and water and dirt, here is rot and pine, here is cigarette and pollen. Have you ever watched a dog smile as he sat there, sniffing the wind?

I am cycling along the banks of the Mississippi river. On this side of the river, there are 50 foot levies which the cows look heroic on:

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On the other side of the levies are the occasional fish camps. You have got to be bold to own a building there, as the mighty Mississippi has risen almost high enough to overflow these levys.

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When I was cycling back to Baker to get a new phone, I saw this man pushing a shopping cart on the other side of the four lane highway. Today, as I was cycling I saw him on the same highway perhaps seven miles down the road. His name is Mike, he served 24 years in the Air Force. He is now a traveling evangelist, and wants everyone to know that Jesus will take care of you. Just this morning Jesus gave him three $100 bills. As I said goodbye, Jesus gave him a peach.

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Entomology or Avian alert!! Can anyone identify the creature that makes these lovely mud tubes? That’s my finger for size.

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The farms are mostly growing sugar cane and corn. This area used to flood when the Mississippi rose, and the soil here is rich. By the roadside rests an abandoned processing facility.

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ZZ

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To top off an extraordinary day, I find a glowing field of waving grass surrounded by trees to camp within. It’s deep down forgotten roads in the flood plain of the Mississippi in the beautiful state of Louisiana. It’s so remote only dreams can find it.

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Dinner’s on!

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Happy Mother’s Day!