Desert Dharma: Bicycling Big Bend

A Mindfulness-Centered Ecotherapy Adventure!

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…

Desert Dharma

I will be bicycling across the Chihuahuan Desert of Texas as I make my way from El Paso to Del Rio. So, that is where the ‘desert’ comes in.

As I have discussed elsewhere, the wildness, simplicity, and solitude of the desert has a call for me. It is a place of both hostility and spiritual connection for me. My shamanic power place is on one of the high cliffs overlooking the Rio Grande River in BB, even though I’ve never been there except in shamanic journeys. I discuss this a little in my Guru On the Mountain book. I grew up in the desert in “nearby” Odessa, Tx. (Tx note: ‘nearby’ is 250 mi in this case.) So, there is a coming home sense when I return to the desert even though at 19 I couldn’t wait to get out of it. Now I try to go ‘home’ to it periodically to replenish my ‘desert soul.’

At the same time, on my several trips out here alone, especially when I back in the backcountry far away from civilization and others, which is where I need to go and just be for a while for renewal, there is often an uncomfortable anxiety and loneliness that creeps in and out. I try to be mindful of it, not get caught up in (attached), and just let it be there as I strive to stay nonjudgmentally in each present moment. Being out there on a solo bicycle tour could be quite an experience in this sense. Now, let’s move on to Dharma.

Dharma

Dharma is a complex Buddhist concept that basically can be summarized as, Ultimate Truth, which has to do with “phenomena” or thingness: all things/phenomena/forms are subject to laws of causation, i.e., dependent on cause and effect, and impermanent. True Self is No Self. We, everything, is created from interconnected causes and effects in each moment and therefore change, that is, is impermanent. Not wanting to get into a long discussion on this here, I cop out and refer to Roshi Kapleau’s book, The Three Pillars of Zen.

Mindfulness-Centered Ecotherapy (MCE) and Bicycling Big Bend

Intimate experiences of Nature can be not only therapeutic, but transformative. BB is a sacred place, a place of spiritual transformation, for me as outlined in my first two books, WindWalker: Journey into Science, Self, and Spirit, and Guru On the Mountain. Many studies have talked about how such experiences can be transformational, often leading to transcendent experiences of the “other.”1

I have traveled and camped in BB now on my Harley (WindWalker) and my trucks, and four days alone in its desert on a vision quest. In terms of intimate (read, intense) interactions with nature, the vision quest marks one end of the spectrum, and the trucks more toward the other end, with the Harley experience being in between. Now comes the bicycle experience, not as intense perhaps as the vision quest, but greater than the Harley or the trucks, I’m willing to bet and will let you know.

How does one ride a bicycle “mindfully”? Let’s let that be a later post as we need first to discuss mindfulness in general. But, in general, you can do anything mindfully.

After my visit up to the Davis Mtns I ride 24 mi to Alpine. From Alpine I’ll head down Tx Hwy 118 to Terlingua and BB. In Terlingua, I hope to stay at one of the local artist and entrepreneur, Evin Hanke’s, campground, for a couple of ‘rest’ days before venturing into BB. Terlingua, site of two international chili cook offs, both held on the first weekend of November each year, and some really good Tex-Mex eats, art galleries, and campgrounds, is an interesting little town. I thought about moving there for a number of years.

My loop to BB is shown below by the dark line, except that I’ll be cutting northward at a little town named Valentine before I get to Marfa, going up for a visit to the Davis Mountains, then back down to Alpine. I have a tough ride down from Alpine to Terlingua. It’s 90 miles! There’s a designated dispersed camping area 26 mi outside of Alpine going toward Terlingua, but that leaves a 60 mile ride the next day to get to Terlingua. Ugh! From Terlingua I ride to the park entrance on that side at Maverick Junction and go left toward the main park entrance at Panther Junction, or, what I’d really like to do is turn left and go down to Saint Elena Canyon and then bicycle up the Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr.

Unfortunately, the latter would mean 13 miles of gravel road. My bike is a touring bike meant for hard road surfaces (e.g., asphalt), not gravel. That being said, I’ll be on a special set of tires better adapted for gravel. I’ve tested them out on Clemson University’s Experimental Forest gravel roads and they worked fine. Am I willing to trust that in BB though? I’ve driven that road in my 4×4 truck. It’s a pretty good road, though bumpy in places. I’ll have to make that decision when I get there. Also, what determines my direction and touring of the park is 1)weather, mainly wind this time of year; and 2) where I can get camping sites. Since the pandemic, BB has become much more popular despite its isolation. The even had a first-ever traffic jam at Panther Junction in 2021.

From Terlingua, if I turn right and head toward either the Chisos Mts campground (38 miles) or to one of the camping sites (22-28 miles) along Old Maverick Rd, the parks main road, depending on what camping sites are available. The latter is preferable in terms of miles I have to pedal, but there is a store and cold beer at the Chisos Mts campground.

The next day I pedal on around and down to the Rio Grande Village campground or head out of the park at the Panther Junction crossing toward Stillwell’s RV and Campground, some 56 miles. After camping at Stillwell’s, I head to Marathon (55 miles) and am back on the Southern Tier and headed to Del Rio.

Footnotes

  1. Jordan, M. & Hinds, J. (eds) 2016. Ecotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice. Palgrave/Macmillan. pp 208.

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