Keys to Freeze: Crossing Texas
“Everything in Texas is trying to kill you.”
We’d left Shreveport, Louisiana and had twenty perfect miles to the Texas border. The roads were smooth and traffic was kind. I had never set foot in Texas before and when I asked about riding through the massive state, my partner jokingly warned that everything there was out to get you. Wind, tarantulas, goatheads, chasing dogs, heat, and traffic.
I took this warning with an extra large grain of salt and didn’t think too much about it in the time leading up to the new-to-me state. I trailed behind, last to cross the border, and stood on the Louisiana side for a moment. Texas would mark the 44th state I would be biking across in the five years since I had clipped in for the first time. With plenty of excitement, I rolled forward. Just as my wheel crossed the state line a gust of wind came out of nowhere and slowed me to a snail’s pace. Dry, loose sand and dirt kicked up, and Texas welcomed me with a wink and a nod.
We took a moment to celebrate the state line with a brief dance party to the smooth beats of “The Monster Mash”. It was a graveyard smash. The wind, which was nonexistent in the twenty Louisiana miles leading up to Texas, didn’t quit, and the roads went from flat as a pancake to abrupt rolling hills. In my head I heard, “Everything in Texas is trying to kill you." So with the wind and the hills, the smaller shoulders, and the dust getting crazy, I also experienced seasonal allergies for the first time. My sneezes nearly matched my cadence and my sinuses seemed to busy themselves as well. Alright, I thought, Texas.
The northeastern part of Texas proved its beauty with endless pine trees and lovely farm to market back roads. We passed along canopied gravel roads, which we mostly had all to ourselves, and we had our fair share of misadventure. My favorite being a detour we took from the main route to try the older roads on for size. The particular road in question quickly became somewhat abandoned. As the pavement started to crack and crumble, we simply brushed right by the sun-faded road closed sign which had nearly grown into the roadside brush entirely.
The canopy of trees were back along this closed road, and just about every dog in the neighborhood came out to pay us a visit. And by visit I mean unleashed chasing, snarling, aggressive how-do-y’dos. The dogs could mostly be outrun, but on one memorable occasion we were climbing up a hill when two fellas darted out towards the street. I was slightly bit by the smaller of the two, which was more of an experiment of mine than anything else.
You see, the tater-tot sized dog was accompanied by a real badass comrade, a German Shepherd mix with a snarling bark, and I seemed to have adopted the human sacrifice method of confusing chasing dogs. I simply slow down, sometimes to a stop, and see what they actually do when they’ve got me right where they want me. Turns out most dogs slow down too, eventually stop, recognize me as human, and grow bored. This one little munchkin, however, leapt at the chance to get a taste of my ever-appealing ankle knob. I was in full on hysterics as this yipping cotton ball sank its teeth into my sock, and I unclipped and gently tossed the little guy back to its yard. Challenge accepted. Before I could clip back in and move forward, the little guy was back underneath me yipping and jumping towards my foot. I was not in a great gear to make any moves so I was left spinning with my left leg practically in granny gear, not being able to clip back in with my right for fear of kicking and squishing this little fluff ball, and it donned on me that the term ankle biter is actually fairly appropriate for this particular pup. Who knew?
Once we reached the Dallas Fort Worth area my allergies settled and we were preparing for a not-so April Fools 111 mile century ride to Wichita Falls. The forecast called for massive headwinds and we knew it would be an early day, and most likely the longest day yet. Why we let our ambitious endurance junky alter egos plan the routing and logistics for this trip, I’ll never know. Now wasn’t the time to stew over those details, now was the time to ride bikes.
We rolled out of Fort Worth well before the sun rose, a rag tag bunch of white and red blinky lights, and we had a beautiful lightning show to spark the sky purple every few minutes. Turns out what we thought might be heat lightning was really just a full-fledged intense storm headed directly for us, so four miles into our ride we darted full speed under the cover of the nearest gas station and waited to see what else mother nature had intended for this day.
Once the rain and lightning passed, we felt something unbelievable. Could it be? Tailwind? We took to our bikes and started knocking out miles before we lost this magically impromptu tailwind. Turns out, this tailwind would fly us all the way to Wichita Falls, and we would have an incredibly uplifting day. How we could ever be so lucky is something I may never figure out.
I am a person who believes in balance. When we get gifted with unimaginable and well-timed tailwinds, I know it won’t be long ‘til I am fighting through terrific headwinds. I do so without complaint, or at least I try. The wind upon my face will be at my back again one day. I have to believe this. If you’ve ever been kicked in the teeth by 35mph headwinds on the bike, much less a fully loaded touring bike, you know that every tailwind is earned.
So it was with relentless headwinds that we would climb and climb our way to west Texas, where we found an outrageous amount of sky. With high mileage days matched with that zealous headwind, we had a few long days on the bike. We were gifted with perfect sunsets as we rode into town day after day. We passed by tumbleweeds, jackrabbits, ghost towns, pump jacks, and cattle ranches, slowly as we climbed into the wind. The wind which met us at the Eastern border of the state, trying to keep us out, was still coming at us with a fury, this time trying to keep us in. Now it was New Mexico’s turn to show us what headwind is all about.
One thing I learned in Louisiana was the idea of radical hospitality. That is something we have experienced so much of on this trip already. The kindness of strangers completely restores my faith in people and community when riding my bike across the states. Often I day dream about the chance to host other travelers and passersby whenever I manage to rest the bike and put roots down somewhere. I owe it to the world to do so, and I can’t wait. It is this anticipation that keeps me pedaling into the wind.
"George and Megan are part of Keys To Freeze, a group of six twenty-something cyclists currently riding across the United States in a 9,000 mile unsupported journey to raise awareness for the preservation of America's National Parks. They will ride from American's southern-most point, the Florida Keys, to its northern-most point of Deadhorse, Alaska. Here at Machines For Freedom, we are incredibly grateful and excited to support Megan and Rachel, Keys To Freeze's two female members. Through their photos and the stories they have shared with us along the way, it almost feels like we are making the journey with them! Megan, Rachel and the rest of the crew still have about 4 months left of their journey. Be sure to send many positive vibes their way, and if you'd like, you can support them by donating to their cause. "
- Jennifer Hannon, Machines for Freedom