We woke up around 9 that morning, which while early for us, would be among the latest we would wake up for the next couple months. Last night had been our first night with our sleeping setup, and overall, it was pretty decent, probably as much due to our exhaustion at the end of the day than anything else in particular.
Our sleeping setup consisted of a tarp on the ground under our 2 person, single pole coleman tent. They call it a backpacking tent, but really, it’s too bulky and heavy to be properly considered this. However, it was only about $60, versus hundreds for the nicer tents from REI. Besides, since the bike would be doing almost all the heavy lifting, the extra 4-5 pounds didn’t seem likely to matter. In the tent, we each had a sleeping bag on top of a fairly lightweight self-inflating sleeping mats, which were in turn on top of a yoga mat. The result was you couldn’t really feel the ground at all while sleeping. We each had a backpacking pillow, though I would later find out that Gianna’s was immeasurably more comfortable than mine.
So, we woke up a little stiff, but overall feeling good. We’d started our journey, and let’s face it, that’s frequently the hardest part. We boiled water for coffee and oatmeal. We had brought a little funnel type thing that fits over a coffee cup, and some paper filters to brew our coffee. However, we had ground our coffee for a french press, which is a much coarser grind, and the resulting brew was barely more than brown water. Very disappointing, especially given the caffeine habit we’d picked up the week before to cope with the absurd amount of preparation that needed to be done for this adventure. We decided this brewing method would be completely insufficient for us, and decided to pick up a french press at the next decent sized town we made it through. We still used the water we’d heated to prepare our instant oatmeal, and then began the process of breaking camp.
This is a surprisingly time consuming process. Washing dishes takes much longer with no sink. Additionally, all of our gear fits extremely tightly in the bags we had. Thank god for years of experience playing Tetris, or this trip may never have happened. Overall, from waking up to having the bike ready to ride, it was about 3 and a half hours. Though we credited this time with it being our first time to break camp, we would only be successful in shaving about a half-hour off by the end of the trip. Turns out, there’s just a large number of tasks that must be done in a very specific order to pack that bike up.
I had attached my helmet cam to my helmet the night before, to give the adhesive time to set, and now it was time to test that baby out. After a quick scan of our campground to make sure it was if anything cleaner than when we found it, we put on all our gear, and powered up the bike. BEEP! The camera clicked on. BEEP BEEP. The recording began, and I started my slow tour around the park. It really was a fairly attractive bit of Texas, especially considering how close to Abilene we were. It was a fairly small state park, and it only took us about 20 minutes to explore the available roads. It was now around 1pm, and it was time to start our journey to Palo Duro Canyon state park. Several of my friends in Austin had recommended it to us, and it was pretty much on the way to Taos, so away we went.
For the second day in a row, I would undergo the longest ride of my life so far. A thing I always love about the beginning of long trips is that end is so far away, that you can’t even really concern yourself with it. It becomes necessarily about the journey, about living moment to moment, and really, truly immersing yourself in the present. We hoped to make it to Portland, but that was thousands of miles away. Today, it was just Texas. And it was a hot day in Texas. We had filled our camelbacks at the water spout at the park, but it was tepid. So while we did keep hydrated, it didn’t do much to keep us cool as the ice water had the day before.
We stopped in a Starbucks in Lubbock, picked up a nice stainless steel french press that was on sale, and got ourselves caffeinated. I used to work at a Starbucks, so I remembered all the free services a Starbucks will provide for you, pretty much whether you’re a customer or not. They may be a huge evil corporation, and they are, but they do take customer service seriously. Odd request or not, we really needed some ice, and so had the employees fill our camelbacks with ice, and the tasty triple-filtered water available for free at every store. Additionally, we got some extra cups of ice, which we emptied into our jacket and pants pockets. A little Ghetto? Perhaps, but there ain’t no A/C on this bike, and it’s still over 100 outside, so fuck off. We bungie corded the french press to the outside of our pack, and smiled wide as the ice began to melt into our clothing, cooling us nicely. Time to hit the road again.
We rode for another hour or so before we stopped for a snack and smoke break. These would get less frequent later in the trip, but for now, we were still unaccustomed to being in the saddle for really extended periods of time. Also, this part of Texas is very very flat, and very very boring. It was necessary to stop pretty frequently just to prevent death by boredom. We continued north in this way, stopping every hour, hour and a half, to eat a little something, smoke a little something, and talk with each other. The radios for helmet to helmet communication were like $500, so I had opted not to purchase them. I still hold that this was a good decision. It was nice to have to so much time to myself and my thoughts on the road, and then actually have stuff to talk about with Gianna when we stopped.
We were pulling into Palo Duro Canyon state park right as the sunset was beginning, and it was completely breathtaking. As we took off our helmets to go inside the ranger station, we looked at each other and immediately both decided we would have to spend at least 2 nights here, rather than the 1 we had originally planned. We’d deliberately not set any specific appointments or made any concrete plans, so that we could just go with the flow for this trip. It was supposed to be a lesson in being more present for both of us. This night, we were both glad for that freedom, as it would allow us to stay in this beautiful place as long as we wanted.
Pro-tip: If you want to know the really sweet off the map spots at a park, ask the ranger what their favorite spot is. We were pointed towards a completely amazing cave system not marked on the map, and not really on a trail of any sort, and we spent most of the next day there. It was about a 15 minute ride down into the canyon from the ranger station, but it was absolutely stunning. I can’t believe I’d never even heard of this place before a couple weeks ago. Palo Duro Canyon is actually the second largest canyon we have, after the Grand Canyon. However, being overshadowed by the Grand Canyon means it’s just a Texas State Park, and it really doesn’t get the attention it deserves. In my opinion this amazing landscape completely makes up for the otherwise shitty smelly flat wasteland that is north Texas. We were the only people in the camp area we were assigned to, which is always really nice. It’s not that I don’t like other people, but I didn’t drive hundreds of miles AWAY from civilization just to see more fuckin’ people.
We made camp, and prepared dinner as the sun continued to sink down past the canyon walls. We made the mistake of leaving a backpack of food on the ground while we went to the bathrooms about a quarter mile away. When we returned, the backpack had been drug off a small distance, and our almonds and dried pineapple were missing. Looking around for the culprit, we spotted a raccoon a short distance away. It’s eyes reflected back the light from our headlamps. Cheeky bastard. It was a fairly bold animal, and it took us throwing small things at it and chasing it away noisily to get it to leave. Lesson learned: hang your food. Fortunately, every moderately well prepared adventurer carries a rope, and we were no exception. Our food hanging securely from the shade structure, we had a last smoke, and headed to the tent. What a long day it had been, but we couldn’t wait to explore this jewel of Texas in the morning.