A call around 10:30 pm earlier this week from my two high school friends, Gary and Julie Stillwell, from Austin. They were very concerned about my upcoming bicycle tour that starts in El Paso and goes through the Texas border areas, through the Big Bend National Park area, and to Del Rio, because of violence all along the border. Saying it was a war zone because of all the immigration issues and drug cartels. I would be especially vulnerable on a bicycle and camping, nearly anywhere south of Interstate-10. Gary’s brother and sister-in-law had a nice lake home in the Del Rio area. They sold out and moved out of the area because the violence had become so bad. He and Julie recommended instead that I reroute my trip to Austin from El Paso eastward to the Guadalupe Mts.
I ran all this past my now adventure partner, Keith Tang, via phone right after I ended my call with Gary and Julie. He said he was fine with going that route. And suggested we both look over our maps overnight. There are no American Cycling Association nice detailed maps for this route. We would be ad libbing it all the way, bicycling by the seat of our pants adventure: roads, camping, lodging, etc. Anxiety coming up, but my driving desire for an adventure pushing back.
I told Keith that this is the part of Texas in which I grew up. I had lived in Kermit for a couple of years through the first half of the second grade before my parents moved to Odessa, where I lived through high school: Permian High School. Think, Friday Night Lights fame! Gary, Julie, and my senior class of 1966 having a fantastic year: Permian’s first state championship, one of several.
I thought about it overnight. Gary and Julie’s warning had added fuel to my anxiety and frustrations of trying to get ready to do this trip. I did plenty of tossing and turning that night. Had to remake the bed the next morning as I had pulled the sheet and blanket out. I had been aware of the immigration and drug cartel issues at the border. My understanding from Gary and Julie was that it was so much, much worse now.
As I listened to Gary’s stories, mainly about his brother and sister-in-law and what they had experienced my adrenaline surged. Lots of dangers, and on bicycles, Keith and I would be easy victims. His his brother and sister-in-law had owned a nice house out on the lake in Del Rio. People were getting killed and robbed out in their front yards, even in their nice affluent neighborhood. Gary and Julie’s concern for my safety and welfare really came through to me, touching me. What were my options?
Option 1) Abort the whole idea of a tour! It was all just too complicated, too dangerous, too much of a hassle, etc. But that would mean, no adventure. I could do other adventures. There was still my desire to do a bicycle tour of the sacred canyons of Utah and New Mexico, a tour I would want to do in the fall (2022), depending out on how this one went. This was my shakedown tour for what I hoped would be the first of several in my old age while I still could. At my age (74), things could really fall apart quickly: stroke, heart attack, cancer, etc. Besides, I was really looking forward to visiting Gary and Julie in Austin and already had my airline ticket home from there.
Option 2) reroute to Guadalupe Mts as suggested by Gary and Julie. From the Guadalupe National Park, we could then ride down to Odessa, but the only thing I had in Odessa I would want to revisit was Johnny’s BBQ, and that wasn’t enough to want to go there. After talking the next day with Ed Williamson, who graduated the year earlier (1965) and one of my contacts in Odessa, I decided on a different route: through Fort Stockton, the jumping off place for Big Bend where I had intended going (again), but also straight on the road to San Angelo. Ed said he’d just come back from Fort Stockton and the Davis Mountains area and it had been fine. Everything seemed “business as usual,” he said. From Fort Stockton it is a straight shot to San Angelo, and from their a back road way to Austin, a route I had driven many times as an undergraduate at UT Austin.
In addition, San Angelo was a special place I hadn’t been since the early 1970’s. My master’s research at Texas in Zoology was a population genetics study on an endemic species of mosquitofish on a ranch outside of San Angelo.1 Maybe I could contact the family that owned the ranch now. It would be a great place for Keith and I to camp. From San Angelo, a mere ___ mi to Austin. I often describe Austin as a Woody Guthrie-Alice’s Restaurant: You can get anything you want in Austin–and some you don’t want too. So this our new route:
Once I get to Austin, I can a) catch my plane back home, for which I already have a ticket, or b) go on to New Orleans, my original destination on this adventure and what Keith is planning. I can get to New Orleans via bicycle or by Amtrak. (I’m leaning toward the latter.) I’d like to spend a few days bicycling around New Orleans, eat some great Cajun and seafood, visit a few jazz bars down on Bourbon Street, etc. New Orleans is highly rated for bicycling. The bars will be Uber. From New Orleans, I hop back on the train, Amtrak’s Southern Crescent this time, and get off at Charlotte, NC. Not sure how I’ll get back home from Charlotte though. It’s 133 miles from my house. Probably will want to rent a car.
The Adventure continues…