Trickling towards Mexico

    Ok, so in my defense, I did have a few very important errands to run while I was in Houston, but yes, I know, its still not Mexico.  Ya know, when you spend eight hours or so on a bike each day, its real easy to get comfortable sleeping in, eating home cooked meals, and wearing clean underwear every day.  I eventually did make it out of Beaumont (after almost a week) but only to hasten towards Houston, where I quickly took to my new hosts, Sam and Linh, and found myself lingering (again) longer than planned.  

    It was about ninety-five miles to Houston, and not a bad ride at all.  I made great speed, oftentimes careening along at almost twenty miles per hour and was expecting to have my first truly on time arrival – 6:00pm sharp.  But as I finally drew into Houston’s massive radius and was riding along the city streets of the periphery, I found myself bouncing over a railroad track, and then immediately scraping against asphalt.  As I pulled over to the gravel along the side of the road and looked back, I saw that my rear tire was completely flat, generally meaning that it was something big.  Exasperated, I decided that this would be a quick fix and was still determined to make to Sam’s place by our arranged time.  I leaned the bicycle up against a chain link fence and began removing the bungee cords that strapped on my camping bag, pulled the bag off, and then proceeded to remove the panniers.  Soon thereafter I had the wheel off and was beginning the repair process.  Well, unfortunately a huge, old rusty nail had gone straight through the tire, not only puncturing the tube on both sides, but also severely damaging my fancy Kevlar lined tires (bullet-proof my a*s).  As you can imagine, once I had patched both holes, gotten the tire back on the bike, reattached all of my equipment, and finally gotten underway, I’d already lost over an hour of my time.  I glanced at my clock and wondered just how fast can I possibly pedal?

    This quickly became a non-issue, as Houston was filled with traffic lights, shoulder-less roads, and infinite bridges and overpasses, generally impeding my progress.  Oh well, time to make that phone call (or in this case, text message) – I was going to be late again.  So long story short, I did eventually make it, and only about an hour late.  Sam and Linh were happy to point me to the shower once I arrived, as I was looking quite ripe and, I can imagine, not quite fit for company.  Once I was all spic and span, Sam and I headed to the store for some dinner ingredients and were soon back out the house chowing down on some fantastic left-over Thai, jasmine rice, and rotisserie chicken, followed by some fresh green grapes and a bottle of white wine which had been donated by his generous neighbor.  Although Linh was feeling under the weather that evening, Sam and I enjoyed one another’s conversation and he shared stories from some of his travels and experiences living all over Asia.

    When I finally awoke the next morning (which was quite difficult, when you’re lying in comfy, pristine white sheets and a fluffy yellow comforter, with diffused rays of sunlight gently cascading in through the venetian blinds), I went down and joined Sam and Linh for some casual breakfast.  Our plan for the day was to head to a few of the shows in the Houston PhotoFest and by mid-afternoon we were on our way.  Our first stop was G Gallery in the heights where we were able to admire such pieces collages made from unclaimed human remains, paintings by primates (for a zoo fundraiser), frozen clocks, and ghastly mummies made from what looked like a paper mache technique.  We also met two sweet little hairless Egyptian dogs (who I believe were from Argentina or Peru) whose skin was crinkled and rough like sandpapered leather.

    Linh and Sam made the mistake of taking me to a buffet style restaurant called Souper Salad for lunch that day, and, seeing as how my post-cycling appetite apparently takes several days to calm down, you can imagine how many times I went back for more… and more and more.  Finally I was satiated (and somewhat in shock by some of the other patrons), and although the other show that we had planned on hitting had already ended, we headed back to the house to unwind for a bit.  I managed to get a lot of reading done during our downtime, and that evening we headed out to meet Linh’s friend Naki and a few others for some dinner at Goode Co. and then some bowling.  We found a table out on the patio, and as I devoured an enormous burger with mozzarella, canadian bacon, and sauteed mushrooms, I enjoyed the company of the new friends that I had met and sipped on frozen margaritas (of course, followed by a cinnamon chocolate shake).  Although I had originally planned to join the gang for bowling, my old neighbor from Atlanta was in Houston on business and I headed downtown to meet him.

    When I arrived at the Flying Saucer to meet up with Gavin, I decided that I had already consumed my limit, and that a beer tasting was not in order, but did thoroughly enjoy the conversation (in between pestering from a severely drunken character whom Gavin had taken pity on since they were both from the same town).  We stopped by a pizza joint around the corner and then finished up with another drink on the second floor of a restaurant called Cabo before calling it a night.

    On Sunday Sam and I headed over to the West side of the city to hit the REI and a few other sporting goods stores and which ended up turning into a rather exhausting day of shopping.  However, I did manage to get all of my last minute purchases done in the final major US outpost before I leave the country and REI even exchanged my damaged panniers for me! (greatly relieving my stress with respect to the effects of torrential tropical rains and how they would affect my equipment)  Later that evening we had dinner plans with Sam’s family and were on our way to his parents’ house.  This turned out to be quite a treat, as the event included a variety of my favorite things – yummy barbecue, delectable brownies, creamy Blue Bell rocky road ice cream, and some of the most delightfully quirky conversation I’ve had since I left Atlanta.  Sam’s parents were truly an entertaining couple to dine with, and I found myself constantly laughing with his mother’s witty responses and comedic anecdotes.  After dinner it was time for the Macho show, a feat of chihuahuan skill and coordination.  Together, Macho and his sidekick (of whose name I can’t recall) performed by jumping, rolling, dancing the cha-cha, playing dead, and acting roles in well fitted costumes.  Finally, after a thoroughly satisfying evening, it was time to hit the road, and Sam, Linh and I were off (but not before getting some brownies to go ;).

    The following day was my intended departure to begin working my way Southward.  After sleeping in later than intended, I eventually awoke, showered and headed downstairs to fix myself some waffles and a cup of coffee.  Then began the fun part, repacking all of my things which I had strewn about the bedroom, back into my panniers.  This always tends to be mission impossible after I’ve spent a few days in a place, but after an hour or so, and lots of cramming and grumbling, the task was finally complete.  I headed downstairs and bid adieu to my wonderful hosts, almost tearing up at the thought of another three days without a shower (no, I’m not completely unhygienic, but rinsing and scrubbing yourself with a water-bottle and towel while standing out in the woods naked and being bitten by bugs is hardly an enjoyable task).  A few minutes later I was pedaling away, with visions of white sandy beaches in my near future.  But it wasn’t quite so simple.  I had purchased some new sneakers while in Houston, but unfortunately I had made the mistake of compromising with a size twelve and a half, a half size smaller than my usual thirteens.  As I rode insolently along the side of what had turned into a rather unwelcoming thoroughfare, I realized that my toes were going numb – hardly the way to start an international voyage.  I tried to give it some time in case the shoes just needed to be broken in, but after an hour and a half I realized that this wasn’t going to be the case.  I glanced behind me, wincing at the thought of having to wind back up along this highway and into Houston again.  An hour and a half later I was back at Sam’s house.

    Well, by the time I had gotten back, unloaded my luggage, and decided to pedal back out to Westheimer Road to make my return I realized that I’d might as well get comfortable, it was gonna be another night in the big city.  So I headed out to the super-strip malls of West Houston for a little shoe shopping.  After searching around, I finally found the perfect pair – the North Face Rucky Chuckys, the shoes of my dreams!  Hardcore hiking boots in trail runner form and fit for spider-man.  Pleased and more confident with my purchase, I rode around a bit more before heading back to the house.  Me and my new family got to spend one more pleasant evening together and then on Tuesday I was really leaving… no really.

    Fortunately, Sam had helped me re-plot my route, and to my great pleasure I was met with an absolutely gorgeous next few days of riding.  I decided to head down route 152 towards the coast and then follow it along to 35 then all the way to Corpus Christi.  Although civilization was sparse along the way, the countryside was filled with brightly colored hues of tall-grass, wildflowers, deliciously green foliage, and fluffy angel-white clouds against a pure blue sky.  After riding about ninety miles on the first day, I was ready to camp.  Although I began to worry that I wouldn’t find a suitable spot as the sun was melting onto the horizon, I amazingly spotted a perfect campground overlooking the Colorado River just as I went over a large bridge (and had almost lost hope).  It really was the perfect spot – well, until Paco showed up.

    Ok, so there I was just unloading my cargo and in the first stages of setting up camp for the night, when who should come ambling along but Paco.  He was a rather curious little racoon, and I was convinced that he was part kitty cat, and that surely if he didn’t get out of my equipment, his curiosity might not kill him, but it was going to hurt.  I tried to talk it over with him, but he just ignored me, climbing all over my bike, delicately fiddling with the drawstrings of my bags, and leaving little dirty coon prints all over my stuff.  Well, I’d just about had it, I told him that we couldn’t be friend anymore and then began prodding him away with my tent-pole.  But he still needed some more convincing.  So, as the last light of day was fading away, there I was, chasing after a raccoon and yelling, hoping I could intimidate him into leaving me be.  Eventually he got my subtle hints.

    The rest of the night went along uneventfully, and although I did wake to overcast skies and a light drizzle, the view across the river from right out my tent door was quite lovely.  I began riding and a few minutes later, as I passed a massive power plant (the South Texas Project), I couldn’t help but think that yes, ignorance is bliss.  The drizzle soon subsided and for the rest of the day I rode along past dazzling bays, endless farms, shrubby fields, and vibrant bayous (with a brief stop in Port Lavaca for a seaside lunch and some library wi-fi).  Eventually the day caught up with me though, and I began looking for a camp-site.  This time I wasn’t quite so lucky however.  As the wind picked up against me, I decided I had to call it a day and turned into a rest stop on the side of the road (three pic-a-nic tables with shelters in the middle of flat, endless farmland).  I set up my campsite, socialized with some passing RV drivers, and was soon on my way to sleep, optimistic that tomorrow would be a beautiful day and that I would be in Corpus in no time.  Well, things aren’t always that simple.

    A few hours after drifting to sleep I was awakened by a flashlight pointing into my tent and was soon engaged in an interrogation, not because I wasn’t allowed to camp there, but mostly because the policeman was curious.  Afterwards I realized that he’d just been talking to a tent, since I never actually got out, but hey, I was sleepy and disoriented.  After I finally made it back to sleep, then I was awakened again by a first a suspicious vehicle which pulled up nearby, turned off its lights, and then the passenger got out and I could hear them walking around outside – kinda creepy.  Later, after he was gone, a truck then pulled in and decided to park there and, I guess take a nap, but with its loud engine on, for the next several hours.  You can imagine, this was not the most blissful night’s sleep I have had so far.

    Nonetheless, I awoke the next morning to my tent shuddering and the wind howling outside, somewhat reminiscent of Dorothy and wondering if I was still in Kans… err, Texas anymore, or if my tent had been deposited in Munchkinland (which honestly, would just be another day in my life).  I stepped outside to fix my breakfast of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and much to my chagrin was greeted by gale force winds – uh oh.  An RVer pulled up to my picnic table as I was eating my continental breakfast and the gentleman was kind enough to tell me that the winds were gusting at forty five miles per hour and would last all day, oh and to the North.  Fantastic, this was going to be a really long day.  But there was nothing else to do but get on the road and get going.  So I broke down my camp (which is always fun, folding up a tent in heavy wind) and hopped on my rig, gloriously pedaling down the endless, straight farm-road at seven miles per hour.  This went on for a while, absolutely grueling, my heavy and bulky load acting as a sail to pull me backwards.  But then I got a call from Ken, whom I had contacted in Corpus Christi about some kayaking, and he offered to come and pick me up!  Well, at first I was headstrong and insistent that I refused to be such an imposition, but an hour later, haggard, cursing at the ground and shaking my fist at the wind, I reconsidered.  I called Ken back and he agreed to head my way.  I pedaled onwards towards Corpus, hoping to close some ground, but hey, who was I fooling?  I had barely gone eight miles when Ken pulled up an hour later and much to my relief, since its difficult to endure an entire day of complete misery (especially when you’re out in the middle of nowhere and singing “Ohhhhklahoma, where the wind comes whipping down the…”).  We were soon cruising towards Corpus and to happier times.  

    Once we reached Ken’s place I instinctively headed for the shower, and, once I had reemerged, Ken had prepared a tasty home-cooked meal for us and a glass of highly addictive raspberry green tea.  We chatted for a while and it was amazing to hear all about the fantastic places that Ken had lived and his decision to move to Corpus Christi to retire and dedicate his life to kayaking.  On that note, after lunch we loaded up the kayaks onto the hitch and made our way to the Nueces River to enjoy the rest of the day kayaking and admiring the idyllic sights along its banks.


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