No Place Anyone Would Want To Be

I said I’d get to the wind later. Later is now. Starting in Wheeler, Texas the wind has blown from the west or southwest every day and night. In this part of the country the wind pretty much only comes from the west or southwest. There are occasions when a front comes through that it will blow from the north or northwest. From here to Tucson, I will have a nearly relentless headwind.

The wind lightens up at night a bit, but picks up in the afternoons to it’s peak, along with the high temp for the day. It has been pretty consistently 10-15 at night, and anywhere from 20-35 in the late afternoon, gusts sometimes higher. For you cyclists that never leave the city, or never visit vast uninhabitable stretches of nothingness, those numbers don’t mean much. You don’t know what wind is. A 25 mile an hour wind doesn’t mean shit in the city, or most habitable places for that matter. Out here, it means something completely different.

I wouldn’t recommend doing what I’m doing to anybody. Very little of it is anything I would call fun. Getting on the throttle after exiting a sweeping turn on a mountain road on a motorcycle, that is fun. Riding a bicycle hundreds of miles across a baron landscape into a relentless headwind at 8 mph is not fun.

I can’t describe most of this trip as fun I can describe most of it as very difficult. But all of it has been good for me. Maybe precisely because it’s been difficult.

I tried to stay pretty close to my original Google maps bike route. I deviated a bit after Minneapolis, Kansas, by heading more south than west, but I’m still pretty close to it. If Google ever wants to rate those routes, I have a rating for this one. Not “Experts Only” like some mountain bike trails or ski runs. “Masochists Only” works though.

The last several days I’ve only managed to make 32-45 miles per day. At least once during my time in the saddle on each day I will explode in a fit of rage and cuss the wind out mighty good. I usually start flailing my arms, and gesturing wildly. A few passing motorists have seen these outbursts. I have wondered what they make of the crazy guy on the bike they just passed. But letting it fly like that actually does help me hold on to my sanity.

Each morning I resign myself to just getting on and grinding out 4-6 hours of riding at 8 mph, rarely looking up. I keep my head down, staring at the pavement 3 or 4 feet ahead of my front wheel.

I play games with myself. I’ll spot a pebble on the shoulder, and as I slowly make my way five, ten, fifteen feet away from it I’ll say to myself, “Well, at least I’m not THERE, anymore.” That spot. I am slowly leaving that spot behind, ever so slowly, until I find another pebble.

That’s what it’s like out in the nether regions between towns. Up until now, parks and towns have been my oasis. Wheeler, Texas was the first town I came to that was a complete shithole. It was the county seat, and I expected it to be a little more than it was. It was an anomaly for towns I had been through up till then, but it was not an anomaly for towns in the Texas panhandle.

When I look at the map to determine where I’m going, I look at towns as an oasis, especially through baron landscapes like the panhandle. And I believed Wheeler was an anomaly. It took passing through 4 or 5 towns after wards in the panhandle to make me stop looking at those spots on the map as oasis.

Every town I passed through in the panhandle was a shithole. But shithole is not very descriptive, so let me get to work describing.

The streets and sidewalks are broken. Grass and sticker patches are sprouting up through the roads and sidewalks. Every available space is occupied by abandoned cars and trucks and broken machinery. Half the buildings are abandoned, but you might spot a Pizza Hut, or Sonic Burger sprouting in some dusty patch of gravel amid the trash. There are no parks, just piles of garbage in every available empty, dry, dusty lot of land.

The people have been unfriendly and not helpful at all. Most people look at me sideways, as some kind of no good high plains drifter.

The relentless wind blows the trash around the towns where it collects on broken fences and in eddies the wind can’t reach.

That part of Texas has a trash problem. But I kind of get it. I developed such a contempt for the ground I stood on, and everything around it, that it felt like a small victory to leave some kind of trash on it. I wanted to litter the landscape because I hated it. Maybe most people there feel the same way, though they might not be aware of it, and that’s why there is so much trash blowing around.

I’m 6 miles north of Portales, New Mexico now. I’ve got a good place to camp, and I’m happy to say goodbye to Texas. But my headwind awaits me each morning. It’s got me thinking about busses and hitch hiking.

I just haven’t hit that spot yet, where I’ll actually do it. I’ve been close, but as long as I can get to the next place with food and water, I’ll probably keep pedaling.

There may be a dead end somewhere. The wind limits my range, and in the American West, services (water, food) can be a long ways apart.

I’ll keep posting and you’ll see how it goes as well as I do.

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    • Nick
    • November 23rd, 2010

    Jesus, Man be careful out there. If you thought Texas was a Shithole, well have fun in New Mexico. Hopefully you’ll run into someone friendly with a jug of water for you. I’ll keep freezing my ass off in MN if you keep pedaling.

    • Bob Bennett
    • November 23rd, 2010

    John,
    I am following your journey and enjoying your commentary. Your current status reminds me of reaching mile 22 of the marathon, although you are of course traveling on a much grander scale, with many more challenges than just running 26 miles. The requirement is mental tougness, and you have that in spades! Even though you don’t have the crowds cheering you on and telling you that “you are almost there!” (I used to just hate that!), please know that we are all with you, supporting you all the way to the end of your journey.
    Best Regards,

    Bob Bennett

    • Jason Wenschlag
    • November 25th, 2010

    Hey John,

    Long time no talk. Your dad passed the link to your journey on to my dad. A guy I rode with a few times biked from Canada down to South America….he documented his journey on a blog and met plenty of interesting people, and saw many interesting things. I have a lot of respect for people who can do something like this….it makes my 25-30 mile rides look like, well, 90 minute work outs (or chicken scratch!). I’m sure this journey will be life changing for you. Today is Thanksgiving, and while many will be stuffing their face and watching football, I’m sure you’ll get plenty of reflection time in as you watch those pebbles go by one by one. Hang in there, man! Enjoy the journey. I’ll be reading your blog and checking your progress.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    Jason Wenschlag

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