Stormy Skies

One major event that Chelsea forgot to mention - probably because it was five days ago and we struggle to remember everything that happened more than a few hours ago - was a massive overnight desert thunderstorm we weathered outside of Del Rio.  Fortuitously Jane had sprung an extra $10 for a cabin rather than having us pitch our tents at the campground so we were "indoors", but I wouldn't say the cabin, which was essentially a portable building on a steel frame, was a very confidence-inspiring place to be during the storm.  In any case, after the sun went down Chelsea noticed that the eastern sky was putting on a light show of constant lightning behind a curtain of rain.  We watched the storm approach over Lake Amistad as the winds picked up and soon we were in the middle of it.  For several hours the storm raged around us and at times directly above us, with lightning seeming to strike the lightpoles outside our window and knocking out the power early on.  It was more than a little nerve-wracking to be perched on a hill near the shore of the lake in a portable building and definitely impossible to sleep until the center of the storm finally passed over us.  No permanent damage done - we left the windows in the van cracked so Chels had to run out in the midst of the worst of it to save the Manatee from flooding, and some of our perishables didn't survive after the power went out to the fridge - but we were certainly impressed by the power of a desert thunderstorm!

Lake Amistad, morning after the storm

Rt 90 rest stop, clouds materializing over the mountains

Straight into another storm

Near Alpine, TX

Again near Alpine, TX

Open Spaces

Wow. I said it before and I'll say it again. Wow. The last three days have been incredible. Riding west from Del Rio, our travels have been wonderful, but challenging.

On Wednesday, we continued to watch the vegetation and services diminish as we headed west. Keeping to Route 90 as we had the previous two days, a tailwind helped us to cover 110 miles with time for dinner in Sanderson before dark. We encountered our first major gain in elevation on Wednesday, as the mesas started rising up from the plains. When we coast downhill after a big climb, we've added more calls into our repertoire in addition to the "little piggy from the gieco commercial" noise that are inspired by the wildlife we see.
Leaving Southwinds Marina and Military Campground
"Yes, we're all American citizens." (Border Patrol)
Like I said, open space.
Our last colored flower?
No more water.
Whoa. Cool cactus.
Cool dog!
The following day we were up to the same milage and elevation challenge to the Fort Davis Mountains. With a slow start and a forceful headwind, the miles came very slowly. The last 10 miles into Marathon, our halfway point for the day, we hit a crazy storm throwing wind every which way and pelting rain hard onto our bare skin. As we stopped in town to indulge in our daily ice cream break we had to re-evaluate our plan for the day. We took a lengthy ride-break in Marathon and again in Alpine 30 miles later for a delicious dinner of grilled sandwiches at Eric's. 30 miles left in the day from Alpine to the Davis Mountains State Park, we rode off from dinner into a darkening sky. The temperature dropped and all our lights and reflective wear went on. With a bight moon and some of the darkest skies in the country, we were able to see our surroundings even in the night. We weaved across the road as we tried to star-gaze and ride at the same time up the mountains - luckily there wasn't any traffic. Evening is the most active time for most desert wildlife, and we got our share Thursday night! Multiple herds of javelinas scampered by, deer sprinted across the road, and Stephanie even saved a skunk (her spirit animal!) from getting run over. We are far from the turtle-saving days, in terms of wildlife. Even the just the memory of the vastness and stillness of that evening brings chills to my skin. Thankfully Jane was able to drive ahead and get our campsite figured out so everything was ready when we pulled in many hours after sunset.
RASR was here.
The storm is brewing. And we thought they were just pretty clouds.
Into the storm.

Friday blessed us with a day off after the double-header 110+ mile days. We decided to use our time in this part of the country to the fullest extent by taking the day to drive down to the famous Big Bend National Park. The trip was almost 2 hours by car from where we were staying, but well worth the drive. As the rock enthusiast of the group, my interest in the scenery had been growing as the plants diminished and the rocks flourished in the previous few days. Get ready for a geology lesson: We've been traveling from flat-lying Permian sedimentary rocks through ancient fold-and-thrust belts and to the igneous rocks of the Davis Mountains and Chisos Mountains of Big Bend fame. For our lodging, we found a great warmshowers host who worked at the McDonald Observatory and lived right up on the mountain by the observatories. From the State Park where we had stayed the night before, it was about 13 miles and 1500 feet of elevation, a section of the ride we didn't want to pass up just because it was our day off. So, after returning to the state park from our long side-trip to Big Bend, we unloaded our bikes and put on our helmets for a quick hop, skip, and a jump up to the highest peaks of the range. It was not a hop, skip, and a jump, but with rested legs we were happy to take the challenge. We arrived in time for a quick dinner and then had perfect timing to make a "Star Party" hosted by the visitor center. The Star Party included an extensive constellation tour and 6 telescopes set up to discover a different part of our night sky, from the craters of the moon to the rings of Saturn to M3, a distant ancient (well, what isn't up there?) globular galaxy. Sleeping under the stars for the second night in a row, Stephanie and Jeanie were able to view many shooting stars (theoretically meteors) as they dozed off, dreaming of smoother roads and riding downhill.

Enter: igneous rock.
Chisos Mountains (Big Bend National Park)
The Window in Big Bend National Park
That peak up there, that's the McDonald Observatory.

"This is the last hill of the day, promise."
It has been an incredibly eventful week, although we haven't had any "Safe Routes" events for many days. The four of us have pretty much got a daily routine down, although it is really hard to blend days together when each presents such new and different scenery and experiences. Generally, we wake up between 7 and 7:30, take about an hour to get breakfast (coffee *critical - especially for Jeanie*, cereal or oatmeal with peanut butter, maybe a piece of fruit), get geared up with sunscreen and pumped tires, and then hit the road hoping for as many miles before lunch as possible. By late morning we're ready for second breakfast (maybe half a nutella sandwich), and possibly time to switch drivers. We generally switch drivers/make a stop every 10 to 15 miles to stretch/grab a snack/check in/refill tire air. Sometime between noon and 1pm we're super hungry for lunch, which can be from 30-45 mins. After lunch and a reapplication of sunscreen, we're off again for our 10-15 mile stop routine. Late afternoon, or as available, we stop at a Dairy Queen or if we have to just a convenience store for our daily ice cream treat and moral booster. If we're on track and the headwinds haven't been beating us up too bad, we arrive at our destination around 7 for dinner/shower/blog/learneverythingaboutthehost. Ideally before 11, we're tucked away in our sleeping bags or beds, resting up to do the same thing the next day. AND if we have some sort of school assembly or local event, that's a whole other story...

Well, we're still just on the edge of civilization out here in West Texas, so sorry it's been awhile. We're having a blast, alive and well.

Y'all come back.
Pensamientos desde el oeste de Tejas, con amor,


Blowing west on a tailwind

While Jeanie, Chelsea, and Stephanie were rounding out our Austin visit with their visit to Kristin and Ryan and an early morning bike train and ride to San Antonio, Jane went on to San Antonio Thursday night after a fun dinner and brief reunion visit with Air Force friends and mentor Suzanne and John Shore.  Thanks for hosting me on short notice John and Suzanne!  Steve arrived at San Antonio airport Thursday night in time to attend the Friday retirement luncheon celebrating good friend and tireless USAF advocate and Spurs fan, Nancy William-Sykes completing 23 years of service to country and the USAF.  Great to see Nancy, her daughter, Kelly, and many USAF friends and colleagues. 

Friday night's dinner at Adelante in Alamo Heights gave us a chance to catch up with host/cyclist Dan Soder and enjoy Debbie's delicious Tres Leches cake as a delayed birthday celebration for Steve.  The best Tres Leches ever!

Steve had been busy back in DC before joining the team in San Antonio as he attended the National Bike Summit sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB).  Steve learned how to be an even more effective bicycling advocate.  He met LAB President Andy Clarke who mentioned our trip and mission in his talk at the plenary session and "tweeted" about the trip.  Steve also met Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, a strong supporter of Complete Streets and improving cycling and pedestrian infrastructure nationwide.  Secretary LaHood's staff is continuing to communicate with our team and plans to blog about our ride on the Secretary's blog.  Steve brought us many informative handouts and notes from the three day Bike Summit, which should help us improve our bike advocacy work.

Saturday night we enjoyed a reunion potluck dinner with our friends from the Alamo Group of the Sierra Club at the lovely home of Peggy and John Day.  Thanks to all friends who were able to join us on short notice and update us regarding the ongoing successes and fun achieved by the group during the past 3 years. As supporters of sustainable transportation, the Sierra Club was interested in our cross country bicycle adventure.  It was great to reconnect with other good friends Abbey Walker and Machelle and Greg DeStefano over the weekend.

Sunday, we sent Steve back to DC and gave Stephanie a fun tour of the San Antonio Riverwalk and Alamo.  We are impressed to see the San Antonio bikeshare stations: B-cycle.  Also, great updates from a visit Friday by Jane and Steve to see Mary Thomas, Maggie Thompson and their team at the San Antonio Health Department Communities Putting Prevention to Work office: San Antonio now has a number of very bike-friendly programs: the year old Bike Share, a hugely successful Ciclo-via day twice a year- the most recent event on March 4, saw over 40,000  San Antonians enjoying Broadway free of motorized traffic and filled with pedestrians, bicycles, and  vendors allowed to sell only healthy food.  Other great bike friendly improvements include more bike lanes on major roads, a  program for low-income citizens to earn bikes, and several schools with new Safe Routes to School programs.

Monday morning found us at Woodridge Elementary School in Alamo Heights, Katie, Jeanie and Chelsea's alma mater.  We were able to give two presentations to the entire fourth and fifth grades.  We were glad to see our friend and Jeanie's high school basketball coach, Coach Poarch, and our good friend Jeanie Hickey, another wonderful Woodridge teacher.  The Woodridge students were very enthusiastic and asked some of the best questions of any schools we've visited so far :  "Why did you decide to do this ride?"  "What do you eat?" "Do you ride at night?".

After a second breakfast (see the pattern continuing?) at Taco Cabana on Broadway, we headed out to Uvalde, Texas, with a wonderful TAILWIND!  We arrived in time to enjoy a delicious vegetarian dinner prepared by Tina Quintinilla, at the home of her parents Agnes and Mario- enjoying another reunion with this family of our good friend and USAF colleague, Vicky Zamarrippa.  Thanks for hosting us and also finally fixing our van auxiliary battery problem! 

Another wonderful day with a tailwind blew us along a quick 87 miles from Uvalde to the Laughlin Air Force Base campground at the Southwinds Marina on Lake Amistad.  Today, we met 5 other cross-country cyclists- three of whom stopped at the same lunch spot with us in Brackettville, TX.  The three were coming west to east and warned us to carry plenty of water and watch out for dust storms near El Paso.

Steph captivating the Woodridge 5th grade

Chels taking a turn with the 4th graders

Coach Poarch

After a super tune up the cassette looks shiny and new!

Head-to-head on the old bike rodeo course

Lake Amistad

"Icing" the legs after a long day
Posted by Jane


Austin and San Antonio - bike friendly Texas!

The longer we are in this great state, the more we are loving it!  We've been lucky enough to have a string of nearly perfect weather days, which certainly helps, and as we've traveled from Brenham to Austin to San Antonio where we've been this weekend we've ridden through some really beautiful country.  Rolling hills, open country, and lots of quiet (well-paved!) roads.  With more daylight we can take our time even on longer-mileage days.  We've really been taking it all in and enjoying the riding.

Plus the wildflowers!  It's really impossible to describe or capture in photos how incredible they've been... blues, oranges, yellows, pinks, purples surrounded by lush spring green...  and the fragrance!  Really incredible.

Roundin' up the herd out on the range
From Brenham on Thursday we rode a half day toward Austin but after lunch had to hop in the van to make an early afternoon school presentation at Kealing Middle School.  Austin has had a large and well-funded Safe Routes to School program for many years, rotating their promotional effort through six area schools.  The focus at Kealing has been on starting a bike club that rides after school and leading weekly bike trains of students to school in the morning.  We spoke to a few dozen students during their PE period, and answered lots of great questions from the students and teachers.  Kealing is a magnet school so a majority of students are bussed from a distance and don't have an option to walk or bike to school, but they all still claimed to have bikes and enjoy riding.  After school we stuck around to join the bike club on a short neighborhood ride led by an enthusiastic teacher and cyclist, Mr. Hendrex.  We were impressed that the infrastructure - bike lanes, signs, and trails - was definitely in place in East Austin and that the drivers were very considerate to our group taking up most of the road. Thanks to Doug Ballew and Kristi Stillwell for organizing our visit to Kealing!
RASR with Kealing students

A few stuck around to hear more

Bike club ride
From the ride we stopped in at the office of BikeTexas, the statewide advocacy group, to say hi and get some advice on how we can make our advocacy effort more productive.  We met Fernando, Mark, and Brenda who were manning the office while the rest of the BikeTexas staff was in Washington at the National Bike Summit.  They had lots of great advice and stories about all the work they've done here in Texas.
RASR, Mark, and Fernando at BikeTexas
Austin's reputation as a "bike-friendly" town definitely preceded our stopping there, so we had high expectations that the city definitely lived up to.  We rode across town in rush hour on a separated bikeway and then opted to take the river trail instead of staying on the busy roads.  Big mistake!  Riding the gravel trail at that time of day was like being in a video game - it was jammed with runners and walkers and dogs and strollers and a few other riders.  It was a relief to get back on the road with the more predictable bumper to bumper traffic.  Luckily more bike lanes led us smoothly to our destination - the home of my good friends Kristin and Ryan Chandler.
Oooo, bikeway!

So many modes of transportation coexisting - so beautiful
Kristin and Ryan treated us to some of the excellent and very alternative local culture.  Dinner and a few brews at gourmet vegetarian Bouldin Creek Cafe (sweet potato pecan tamales!), capped off with ice cream at Licks (beet-fresh mint flavor = delicious, who knew?) and a highly competitive game of mini-golf.  Though the stakes were high and Chelsea and I are both champion mini-golfers, Kristin and Ryan barely edged us out for the win. 
Kristin and twin at Licks

Slackjaw mini-golf
Our excellent night's sleep at the Chandler's was cut short by a pre-dawn wake up to join the Kealing students again nearby for a bike train to school.  As we rolled our bikes out of the garage in the dark, still bleary-eyed and chilly, I noticed that my back tire was flat.  Uh, oh - we only had 20 mins to get to our meeting point 3 miles away.  The team instantly snapped into get-it-done mode and despite the cold we had the tube changed in 5 minutes and were rolling again.  We made it to the bike train and were rewarded with a view of downtown Austin during a beautiful sunrise.
Bike train in the dark

New morning sun on downtown Austin
Second-breakfast has become an everyday event for us, so we headed back to the Chandlers after the bike train for another treat - breakfast tacos, fresh fruit, and homemade banana bread.  Though our Austin visit was short we had a terrific time and owe it to our gracious hosts!  Thanks Kristin and Ryan (and adorable puppy Cooper) for a very good time, delicious food and drinks, and refreshing night's sleep.

But alas, the open road was calling and we had 80 miles to cover to San Antonio...
Rolling away from the Texas capitol

Lovely live oaks

Lunch at our new fave pit stop - Taco Cabana

More wildflowers!
Another perfect day of riding led us to San Antonio.  Long-time family friend and avid cyclist Lowell Tacker met us on the outskirts of town to lead us in through rush hour.  We finished the day with a delicious veg-mex dinner at an old favorite restaurant, Adelante. 
RASR and Lowell
Arriving in San Antonio means many things for our team.  It's the former home of the Ward-Wallers, so it feels like we're stopping at home.  We're taking a whole weekend off here to see friends and family, tour some of the bike-friendly upgrades in the city, and give ourselves a true mid-trip break. Significantly, we've passed the 3000 mile mark on our trip, so we're officially over half-way to California - seven weeks in, only five to go.  At this point in the trip we function like a well-oiled machine and any day we ride less than a century feels easy.  The best part is, we still all get along! 

RASR representing at a Trek Bike Demo on Saturday

RASR on the Riverwalk


Liberty, death, or safe routes

B-cycle - San Antonio's bike share
Another big thank you to Lowell and Amy Tacker for hosting us in San Antonio, letting us take over their house and backyard with our crazy day-off cleaning routine, and feeding us endlessly. 

Rested, reorganized, refueled and ready to head west!  One more week in Texas with only desert on the horizon.