By Ben |

I made it! I'm safe and sound in Austin, Texas, my home for the winter.

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on November 23, 2004]

I want to apologize for the somewhat negative tone of some of my recent messages. Between the pain in my joints and the weather and the differences of biking in Texas vs. in other states, at times I haven't been having as much fun as I'd like. Around Dinosaur Valley, I realized this was no good -- there's no point in making a trip like this if it's not fun! So I added an extra day to my itinerary in order to slow down and appreciate Texas more for what it is, rather than comparing it to, say, Wisconsin, which it isn't.

I also want to apologize for describing the hotel clerk with facial burn scars as looking like a Halloween mask. What I meant of course was that hers is the sort of face that Halloween mask makers use as models, on the theory that horrible tragedies produce faces that arouse horror, instead of, say, compassion. She was a perfectly pleasant person as far as I could tell.

Anyhow, Sunday and Monday I continued south and camped at Corps of Engineers campgrounds both nights (Belton Lake and Taylor Lake), sleeping under the picnic shelters because of the rain. I didn't have more mosquito trouble, but my perpetually wet laundry began to develop a certain personality. The high point of Sunday was passing through Crawford, Texas: "Home of the Pirates, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush." Oh, so they're pirates! That might explain a lot... I have this vision of W dressed in pirate garb, saying, "Avast there! Hand over yer booty ur prepare ta be barded! Are ye with us or against us? Arr! Bring it on, ye scurvy evildoers!" I didn't stop in the Bush-themed gift shop for fear I would suggest something like that out loud!

When I got to the Taylor Lake campground Monday night, I found the whole place underwater, but fortunately each site had a very generous concrete slab for a picnic area, more than three times the size of the ones I'd seen before, and fully roofed over. I was able to push the picnic table out of the way and pitch my tent on the concrete in order to keep the bugs and wind out while I slept. In the morning I found not only slugs and snails and daddy-long-legs on my tent, but also a newt. I had the hardest time convincing the newt that I didn't want to eat it, I just wanted it to get off the tent. It was touchingly committed to playing the victim.

The high point of my day today, aside from arriving at my destination, was hearing a radio ad for The Bar Stool Company that sounded just like Weird Al's ad for Spatula City: "A giant warehouse of bar stools for every occasion! Don't forget, they make great Christmas gifts! And what better way to say 'I love you' than with the gift of bar stools?"

The weather today was seriously wild. In the course of one day's ride, I encountered cold, fog, drizzle, light rain, heavy rain, driving rain, hail, funnel clouds, sunshine, and sauna-like humidity. I took shelter during the hail and tornado warning at an elementary school north of Taylor. I parked my bike under an awning and went in search of a restroom and found the school apparently deserted... turned out the students and teachers were doing their best tornado-drill huddling in the interior hallways, and they never knew I was there! Probably just as well.

My friends Rich and Gloria live in the northwest outskirts of Austin, so I haven't seen the town yet, but there will be plenty of time for that in the coming month! You'll be hearing from me even though I won't be traveling; I'll have some more photos ready to share in a few days.

Favorite north Texas quirk: Generous shoulders on the roads. I think north Texas got all of Missouri's shoulders. Seriously, some of them are 15 feet wide. But once I passed Taylor, no more shoulders. I'll do some serious road research before I head east.

Second favorite north Texas quirk: donut shops. There are more donut shops per capita in the Dallas - Fort Worth greater metro area than anyplace I've ever seen. Who eats all those donuts? It's as inexplicable as all the popcorn shops in Minneapolis... popcorn? They must be laundering money.

In any case... I'll be in touch! --Ben