This is a continuation/expansion on my earlier post updating my 2022 bicycle tour, focusing on Big Bend National Park (BB).
I was excited way back in January to read that Adventure Cycling 2022 bicycle tours included Big Bend National Park! Big Bend is where my 2022 bicycle tour idea originated on my last trip out there in 2019. I recently published a post about the dogs on that trip. While out there in the park, I passed a number of bicyclist riding the main loop of the park, Old Maverick Rd, up near the park headquarters and visitor center at Panther Junction.
I really wanted to stop one of the bicyclist and ask about their tour. I was envious and wished I had brought my bicycle. But then, what would I have done with the dogs while I was out peddling around BB? (Sigh) And I drove on. Here I am now in 2022 and about to be off on my Texas Road Trip Bicycle Tour, which includes a loop down to Big Bend following a loop up to the Davis Mtns, departing from Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP) April 16, the day after I turn 74. This trip is a birthday present to myself. What does this have to do with Mindfulness-Centered Ecotherapy, and what is Desert Dharma? Let’s anwer the latter first…
I’m borrowing this title from the movie, Animal House: when all the shit was hitting the fraternity’s fan, the dean and college were coming down on them, their solution? A road trip!
I’m still doing part of Adventure Cycling’s Southern Tier, but only the portion from El Paso to Austin, and adding in side trips to old Fort Davis in the Davis Mtns and Big Bend National Park. The latter being the birthplace for me of this whole bicycling tour idea. Here’s the first half of my route:
I fly out of here from GSP airport at 4:30pm, Saturday, April 16, with bike and gear and land in El Paso around 7:55pm, the day after my 74th birthday. I have a hotel room reserved east of the airport, the direction I’m pedaling, which has an airport shuttle service that will pick up me, my bicycle and gear at the airport. Sunday I get up my bike and gear redied, and head out on my journey across the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas. I’ll stop and do some shopping on the way out of El Paso: food, water, and necessities. The first day it may just be a short ride (22 mi) to Faben. (See spreadsheet below.) Depending how that goes, I can split the next segment into two days or not: a 23 mi to Fort Hancock and a 35 mi to Sierra Blanca, or do them in one long ride. I’m trying to ease into doing 50 mi days by doing a couple of short days rides at the beginning. Here in the foothills of South Carolina,,my longest ride has been 32 mi because of the substantial hills in any direction I go. So, 50 mi rides look pretty daunting. Out there though, a large part of my ride will be on fairly level ground, not the hills I have to contend with here. Although, there is a climb up to Sierra Blanca and ups and downs all the way to Sanderson Tx. Also, I’ll be adapting to a higher altitude. Here in Liberty, SC, we are at around 1000 ft elevation. Sierra Blanca is ~4600 ft.
My trip from Del Rio to Austin I’ll post about later. I have a plane flight out of Austin on 5/12, but have built in some extra days for weather and rest. A total of 915 miles. Wish me well!
For those that want to see the breakdown of my trip, below is the spreadsheet of the trip I’ve put together…
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you have to keep moving.
I want to take a moment and focus of my personal challenges and blessings in 2021. As the end of 2021 slams shut and 2022 comes roaring in, I am thankful for my family, friends, blessings, health, and that I still have a sense of adventure–and the ability and resources to do something about them. In short, 2021 has been a year of life shifts for me, two which have taken place in the last week. Following on Einstein’s quote above, I have been able to keep moving forward and thereby, maintain my balance. That said, 2021 was a year of significant changes for me.
The first six months of 2021 for me while sitting at home in hermit isolation from THE COVID pandemic, I poured a lot of effort into going deeper into my Zen spiritual practice. In this regard, even though I was very isolated, the pandemic had a blessing: via Zoom I was able to participate in several intense meditation “retreats,” called sesshins, from home, including meetings with my Roshi, during those first six months. I had not done a sesshin for about seven years. If the pandemic had not come along, my Zen Windhorse Center would have never (probably) started offering remote services, sesshins, and meetings with the Roshis via Zoom. Zen is an “in person” type of practice. Offerings via Zoom and Internet was almost unheard of prior to the pandemic. Since those first days, and with vaccinations and precautions, the Center has backed off somewhat, but still offers Sunday services, weekly sittings, and the first three days of sesshins via Zoom.
Did I make any progress with my efforts to go deeper? Yes. I found out how to reach a point of great stillness, which I’ve blogged about earlier (see, “Stepping into the Stillness“) and started working on my first koan, the famous Mu koan. As I have moved away now from those intense days, tapping back into that stillness is often elusive or short lived. In these holiday season, I have slipped out of being consistent in my practice. I’ve paid a price for that negligence. I can only briefly touch that stillness but not hold onto it. To “hold” it, that is, to be able to stay in it, requires more practice. The stillness helps me maintain my equanimity to cope with the ups and downs of my life. Consequently, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to get back deeper into my practice.
That first six months of 2021, I also closed down my counseling practice. I had been a professor of Clemson University for 23 years, so I thought it only fitting to step out of counseling at 23 years too. I like symmetry. No counseling practice, no need for the office space upstairs. I could downsize and move a reduced office to the multipurpose room downstairs. It occurred to me after a couple of months of being away from the counseling that, Ah ha! I could renovate my upstairs office suite into a studio apartment for rental and replace some of my counseling income.
This is one of the stories my editor had me leave out of my Guru book, expanded here for this telling. It’s a story worth telling though–and funny–but not funny at the time it was happening. Actually, a lot my adventures are like that: they are funny in retrospect. Here are the two main characters of this tale–
Back then I still had an active mental health practice and these were my therapy dogs, Morgan and Lacy. At the time of this trip, Morgan (left, black), a.k.a., Old Dog, was ten-years-old. He is a Retriever mix; Lacy (white) was a 14-month-old Great Pyrenees. There was still a lot of puppy in her then and still is now two years later. Morgan is Top Dog between the two of them. Lacy may be younger and outweigh him by some 2x pounds, he is nonetheless, the Boss Dog–and the leader in this case into mayhem.
This was our last Big Bend, Tx, trip in 2019. As I write this post revision (10/18/21), that was almost exactly two years ago. I’m also adding some additional stops we made headed out there. So, it’s a little expanded from the version that was in the book. It was a farewell trip. It was the only long-distance trip I took them on. I found trying to handle them both by myself was a little too much.
I was pretty sure this would be my last trip out here to the Big Bend area and even to Texas. For some 50 years I had been driving to Texas to visit my parents, both of whom now, recently had passed. Consequently, there were some special places I wanted to stop along the way and say goodbye. It was a trip of memories, of goodbyes, as well as a farewell trip to Big Bend itself.
However, the old saying, “Never say never” applies here, as I am now planning my 2022 epic bicycle adventure tour, which includes touring Big Bend and surrounding area on my bicycle. In truth the whole idea for my upcoming bicycle tour started here in Big Bend on this 2019 trip. Consequently, this story and trip is part of the background for my evolving 2022 tour for which preparation, planning, and training are now ongoing. (Anybody willing to assist me in this venture, there is a “Donate” button below, and thanks.) Back to our journey…
We had spent four long days driving out to Big Bend, making stops for lunch at Mary’s Cafe in Strawn, Tx., home of the best chicken fried steak in Texas, or for my money, anywhere, except, of course, the one I prepare from my own kitchen! Here I was at that “last meal.” Don’t worry, the dogs got a share as I couldn’t possibly eat the entire thing–and that was their small!
I hadn’t told anyone in Texas, family or friends, that I was making the trip. Just me and the dogs on a last trip West. It was a trip of closings, including my third (and final) marriage and my parents’ deaths. After Mary’s and just up the road about 20 miles, we stopped and visited my parents’ graves. Dad had died in 2016, Mom in 2017. It will probably be my last and only visit since there burials. In it reside many of my relatives: aunts, uncles, grandparents, and more. The graveyard sits on property donated by my grandparents and later my parents. It abuts the family farm. From it you can see the house my parents built and lived in for over 20+ years. They then later moved nearby to Ranger, Tx, just down the road.
Then there was an early evening dinner at the famous Johnny’s BBQ in my growing-up town of Odessa some 250 miles down the road from Strawn. Our destination for the night was Ft. Stockton. Johnny’s was one of my favorite places to eat BBQ as a teen growing up in Odessa. Still there and still making a great BBQ! Hadn’t changed much in 53 years. (Somewhere I have a photo of this and will update if/when I find it.) I wasn’t hungry from my big lunch, but got it to-go, and had it later that evening at our motel in Ft. Stockton. I put it in the back of the truck as the dogs, who mainly road in the back seat, would have gone crazy smelling it. Maybe me too.
Arriving at Big Bend the next day around noon, we were all three exhausted from the four days of driving and riding. However, we still had about two-and-half hours to go before we got to our camping site. Once past the entrance to the Big Bend NP, it is still about an hour’s drive to the ranger station to get a camping permit, another 20 minutes around to the turnoff to the back country on Old Ore Rd, to our camping site. An hour and ten-minute, four-wheel drive later on Old Ore Rd, we arrived mid-afternoon at our campsite. After an initial, cautious sniffing and exploring by the dogs, we all three just laid around, exhausted. Morgan liked the back seat of the truck and was sacked out there.
Lacy was lying out in the shade of the bear box, a heavy-duty metal box to put your food and trash in to keep it away from the bears, javelinas (peccaries), mountain lions, etc.
I need to point out at this point before we go further, both of these are “city dogs.” Neither has been to the desert, and the desert can be a very nasty place. Everything bites, stings, or has a nasty disposition, or chemical defenses. Survival in the desert is a very Darwinian “bloody tooth and nail.” I had been concerned about bringing them because of their unfamiliarity with and the many dangers of the desert. So far they were doing okay. I had brought some special first aid stuff to get thorns out, etc. But, Jesus, there were rattlesnakes, scorpions, cacti, thorny bushes, all kinds of nasties everywhere. I grew up in the desert and had spent time camping and hiking in it, so I knew it. It is my natural stomping ground.
I was napping/dozing in the front seat when I heard Morgan charge out of the truck. I sat up and went into panic mode: Lacy had spotted a badger and Morgan was tearing off after it! I didn’t even know badgers occurred out here! Morgan had no idea just how dangerous badgers were. He thought it was a funny looking cat probably. He loves chasing cats. Doesn’t know what to do when one doesn’t run or turns and faces him off. He just stands there wagging his tail, unsure what to do.
Not only did it turn out to be a “shake down” for my gear but for me too! Monday (10/11/’21) after my annual eye checkup and a readjustment from my chiropractor, I headed out for my first bike camping trip, a shakedown adventure for both me and my gear. Let me just say, the gear shook down fine, me, not so fine. Before it was over, and with great chagrin and on my return trip, I ended up calling my daughter, Elian, to come rescue me, still 16 miles from home. How embarrassing!
As learning goes, it was a successful trip. I “learned” a lot! Nothing like the real experience to put things into perspective. The basic and most fundamental thing I learned was that I’m still a long way from where I need to be to do my planned epic, 2022, Sacred Canyon bicycle tour, much less the longer Southern Tier portion. Lord, help me. I’m going to need it. I need to be 20, 40 years younger, not 73. So, here’s the story–
It was beautiful weather as I pulled away from my home at 2:00pm: 70 degrees and sunny, with sunny weather and 77 degrees predicted for tomorrow. Humidity was a low, wonderful, with a dew point at about 60 degrees. It was just a single overnight camping trip to a park I had gone many times in years passed. Never mind, these earlier trips were always in a motorhome, not a bicycle and a tent. I was in near full gear on the bicycle. As this was a training run, I took my touring bike as opposed to my e-bike. A choice I would soon regret.
It was just for one night, so I was not carrying as much gear and food as I would be taking out West next year, which will mean even more weight. It was my first trip “geared-up”: trailer, panniers, tail bag, and handlebar bag. On my first uphill I was a little surprised that I could tell the weight difference with all the gear. It was only 20 miles to the park, Keeowee-Toxiway State Park. No problem, right? I mean I was routinely doing 18 – 20 mile training rides these days, with longer rides of 26-32 miles. This 32-miler, however, was on my e-bike as I had just done a 26-miler two days before and had not fully recovered from that. The e-bike turned out to be a wise choice on that ride as it would have been for this one.
So here I was on my way, pedaling happily and naively down the road. This time, however, going a different route, guided by Google Maps bicycle app. It was a great back roads route through hill and dale, pasturelands, farms, sparsely populated, and with low traffic. It didn’t take long for that scenic, idyllic illusion to start to crumble–on about the fifth hill climb. To make a long, hard ride/story short, let me say, it was a brutal ride! I could swear Google Maps must have plotted to take me on every hill in the area. Most of it was uphill it seemed. (But I also knew, it would seem like that going back too–i.e. uphill.
I was still not half-way there, around mile 7 of the 20, and I knew I had made a mistake in not bringing the e-bike. Before it was over, I had to get off and push the bike and trailer up three hilltops and take several rest stops. Three hours later, I arrived at my camp spot–exhausted, done in. A big average milage of 7 mph!! I had been averaging around 8.5mph on the bike in my trainings, 8.1 on bad days.
Here I am now at the park. Putting up tent time. It had been several years since I had used my solo tent. No problem, I had the instructions in the bag with the tent. I was so fatigued, however, I struggled to follow them, having to reread several sections multiple times to get them into my addled brain. What seemed hours, the tent was finally sat up, my sleeping bag thrown in, the air mattress and air pillow blown up, and the sun setting. I sat on the picnic table bench, sipping on water–hydrating after my long, sweaty ride. I had brought an easy-fix supper, but was too tired to eat it. The bottle of wine, decanted into a plastic water bottle to cut the weight, however, was calling. Before I indulged the wine, my left-brain kicked in and I ate some trail mix and the apple I’d brought. I still needed to finish setting up my camp. I knew from too many times experiences, the alcohol would render me worthless.
As I returned to setting up my camp, one of the fellows in the next campsite over approached me, apologising for bothering me, but he was very interested in what I was doing, where I had come from, where I was going, etc.? He said, I was the most interesting person around, pointing with his chin to the other campers in their cars or vans. /this was strictly a tent camping section. RV were up further on the hill.
I explained that this was a shakedown camping trip for a longer tour in 2022. He got called away, saying he would be right back. In his absence, the two women from the campsite across the road came over and started asking me the same questions, curious about what I was doing, going, coming from, etc. When I started telling them about the longer bicycle tour, the older lady, 63 she said, had always wanted to do a cross-continental tour on a bicycle. The previous gentleman returned saying he didn’t want to miss out on the conversation. The two ladies went back to their campsite after a while, and he and I continued talking. Turns out he was a bicycler too and knew about Adventure Cycling.org and even the Southern Tiers portion I would be on for much of my tour.
That night, after about 250 ml of wine, etc., I settled into my tent and sleeping bag, exhausted from the day’s activities. I knew I was in trouble for my return ride the next day. Sure enough, through the night, my left hamstring started cramping. Not bad, but still, not good. My right hamstring was giving me little notices that it was thinking about joining the party. I had hydrated up well before and after the ride, so I didn’t think it was a hydration issue. More like a potassium issue as I have chronic low electrolytes (potassium, sodium, and chloride) in my blood screens.
The next morning arrived. I had breakfast (coffee, oatmeal, and granola breakfast bar), packed up my camp, loaded up, and said goodbyes to my neighbors, giving the women one of my old business cards that I had found. Ten minutes down the road toward home on my second hill, I knew I wasn’t going to make it. My left hamstring started trying to cramp, and I just didn’t have it in me to get up the hill. Had to get off and walk up the hill. Next hill, same thing. At this point, I threw in my hat in, disappointmented and defeated, and called my daughter to come get me. We agreed to meet at the realtor’s office where the highway forked. I told her that, if I wasn’t there, to come down the road looking for me. As it turned out I was almost to our rendezvous point. I had made it four miles of the twenty back home. Sigh.
Now for some comments from my learnings for my fellow aspiring, older (read elderly) athlete want-to-be’s, thinking to do something crazy like this–you know, do a long bicycle tour, or other high physically demanding, distance thing…