When the London Underground (which is mode of transport in London and not revolutionary sect – best joke in a “A Fish called Wanda”)) reaches Kennington tube station, the message comes over the tannoy “All change, all change …”. That is how we felt after today. Today started like any other cycling day.
We cycled 10 miles south to central El Paso. As we went along fairly main road a young man looked across at us from the sidewalk and said “You must not do that – it is SO unsafe”. Well meant but what was the response? There was minimal traffic and a bike lane on the road – so we respectfully disagreed. But it voiced a common perception here that cycling was really, really unsafe. For me, sitting in front of the TV consuming junkfood was far more unsafe – but that is just a perspective too.
At the centre of El Paso we joined the third section of the Southern Tier Route going South East out of El Paso along Mission Valley, following the Rio Grande and with the Mexican border a few miles to our West.
We stopped for a totally superb breakfast at a Mexican Restaurant and, as soon as we entered, it made us want to speak Spanish. The Mexican Spanish character is so loud, in your face and fun loving. As reserved English people, we wanted a part of it.
Then we pressed on through flat irrigated fields and shopped at a Mexican food store in Fabens – friendly, much lower prices and able to buy small quantities. Much better for cyclists than the larger supermarkets.
The wind was light, the road was flat and it was not too busy. Occasionally we saw a border patrol vehicle but it was pretty low key. That is in comparison to something we saw yesterday when we were on the major dual carriageway out of El Paso. All of a sudden we saw three young men running across the carriageway – vaulting the central reservation in an impressive way and dodging the traffic. They made it across unharmed, I am pleased to report and then we saw a Border Force Patrol car pull up to the side of the motorway and a patrol officer got out. There was just a moment when we could see indecision in his mind – do I risk my life by following them or is this “one that got away” or, more accurately, three that slipped through. The prospect of running across a motorway having abandoned his vehicle was too much and the young men were not pursued – at least at this point. Goodness knows what will happen to them next because the streets are not paved with gold in El Paso, but it may be years before anyone official catches up with them. All that was yesterday – today we saw parts of the wall and other sections where there is no wall but there is electronic surveillance – including a truck with a collapsable viewing tower. All very technological but, so it seems, no match for young men who can vault central reservations.
After 65 miles we got to Fort Hancock and checked into the only motel – just off the I10. The woman at the desk was Indian and spoke English with a strong Indian accent – the first time we have come across this in the US. She asked where we were from and we said “England” – and she responded “Leicester?”. Not London but Leicester – demonstrating the fame of that East Midlands city for the Indian diaspora throughout the world. I sadly said no but remarked that my late father was from Leicester, which was something at least.
Once we got to our room, we started to think about the next few days and the problems facing us loomed large. A major weather system is coming in and the winds on our route will make it impossible to cycle for the next 5 days or so. Although it is quiet now, 60-70mph winds are predicted. That will cause sandstorms in the desert and there is a severe weather warning. The winds are all over the place but that is pretty irrelevant – since we cannot cycle against winds of that strength and it’s too dangerous to cycle when they are cross winds or in our favour.
We are idiots to be honest. This weather was predicted a few days ago (albeit not the severe weather warnings) and we had not thought through the implications. We are on a route and we just thought – “we’ll get through” – but of course we will not.
So what to do? We vexed for an hour or so and realised we had a few options, none of which seemed great. The best option by far seemed to take a train across the area of rubbish weather and replan our trip. For all the downsides of splitting the journey, in fact this has some attractions because (a) most people describe the Texas desert as a “challenge” and some of the most boring riding imaginable (with 89 miles between water points in one place), (b) the next part is the Texas Hill Country which is fine but it is reported to us that it seems to go on for ever, and c) if we take a train across part of Texas, we could start again in Austin and make it all the way to Florida rather than finish in New Orleans as planned.
So – on balance – it’s the Kennington tannoy call. Tomorrow we will ride back to El Paso and then get the train on Monday to Austin, Texas. That means tomorrow’s blog might be very boring (if we write it at all) because it will be the same route we followed today in reverse. Sunday night will be back in El Paso and then Monday we will load the bikes onto Amtrack and have a 15 hour/overnight train journey.
The one thing we can say for certain is that nothing is certain on a bike trip.