Big Bend was an interesting ride.
I rented a Chevy HHR which worked out nice. Bike fit in back nicely and great gas mileage. I had planned on two days from Scottsdale to Balmorhea but made it in about 10 hours of a steady 80 mph. So I camped two nights at the state park. The next day the rest of the group pulled in.
My ride buddies where “Spoon” in his 77th year with controlled AFIB. Absolute amazing rider under those conditions on a bent. Spoon is from Blue Springs Missouri . “Harpo” at 70 was the youngster and strongest rider from Linden, Texas on a Tour Easy. Both Spoon and Harpo have toured together before and have a lot more touring under their belts than me. Spoon had set this tour up as he wanted to show us what he considers an underappreciated ignored area of the US. Spoon has spent a lot of time in the Big Bend area touring on a bicycle, RV’ing, and flying into the area with his airplanes. Not many people know an area better than Spoon does of Big Bend.
Tons of climbing which meant slow going with the fully loaded bike and a bit of walking and pushing too. I recall doing that about four times. 90% was on Texas chip seal which sometimes made cobblestones look smooth. But always had a nice wide shoulder except in the National park.
We left our cars at the state park in Balmorhea (balm-moore-rhea) after talking to the park ranger and rode on to Fort Davis, a short 36 miles up through Wild Rose Pass. Nice camp ground at the Fort Davis state park where we were visited that night by a herd of Javalinas. On the way in we stopped at the Fort Davis National monument where Harpo and I toured the old fort. Spoon had already seen it.
Fort Davis to Marfa was a short ride. Stayed at an interesting “camp ground” owned by Felipe, a county commissioner who also loaned us his truck so we could run out and see the “Marfa lights” that night.
Marfa to Presidio was a long 61 miles with a bit of climbing. We rode into Presidio at 102 degrees and stayed at a motel. We all were pretty bushed.
Presidio to Chisos Basin was a pickup bed ride/tour. Coming into Presidio I had noticed Spoon’s rear tire wobbling. I thought maybe a loose spoke, something easy to fix before we left the next morning. Well the next morning the loose spoke turned out to be a tread separation. We waited until the local “walmart” store opened and Spoon bought a very heavy Bell mtb tire. But it did go on and seemed to be okay to ride on. However in the process of putting the wheel back on we somehow managed to pull out a BB7 brake pad. None of us had ever dealt with disc brake pads and it took us a long time to figure out how to get everything put back together. By that time the heat started coming on and this we knew was the toughest section of the whole tour, “the river road.” The original plan was to do the 50 some miles in two stages. But now with the heat and late start we op’ed to hire a ride. Spoon rounded up Alberto who $100.00 would haul us over to Chisos Basin in the Park. He would also turn out to be our “tour guide” as he had worked the road in construction and was interesting to talk to. Harpo took the first turn riding in the pickup bed. After that I wouldn’t give up the spot as it was great for taking pictures and seeing the country. We stopped in Study Butte for lunch where we did get some cell service. We saw quite a bit of the Rio Grande as we drove along the river road. But all said and done I doubt if I could have ridden that segment in three days. I would have been pushing my bike most of the way. It has the steepest grade maintained by Texas. In fact two cyclists died coming off one hill.
Chisos Basin was a great place to camp and we had maybe a three quarter mile walk up to the lodge and store. The lodge had a good restaurant so we made the trip a few times. The only downside was there no showers but good restrooms.
The views were grand and we hiked a couple miles down to the “Window” and back up. Spoon only had spd bike shoes and I only wore Shimano spd sandals so rock scrambling was an interesting time. Harpo only wears normal walking shoes so he had fewer issues. Spoon saw a black bear up at the lodge. While walking up to the lodge we saw a black bear cub. So the bear boxes at camp were nice and well used. There was no cell phone service at all but there was free Wi-Fi at the lodge that Spoon could use with his iPhone. (I just went over to the dark side and switched out the Blackberry for a Droid Razr Maxx because of that issue). Harpo had a run-away air mattress as high winds tossed the rocks he had anchored it with. Scott, our neighbor, had rescued it. But we had the whole camp ground looking for it.
If you imagine Chisos Basin being in a volcano with a steep climb up into it and another steep climb back out that was the situation. 17-20% grades on a narrow curvy road. So the plan was always to get toted up and back out. The main issue we were faced with was coming out and heading back north was we were faced with a 90+ mile ride with the last 50 or so miles without services on a steady climb to Marathon. And the heat was coming on strong now. Harpo made arrangements with the general manager, Danny, of the lodge and services for the park concessioner to carry us out to the northern park entrance $25. This would cut off about 42 miles and we would then make a run to Marathon. We all hauled about two gallons of water and Gatorade each. It was a hard hot ride that day and as we pulled into Marathon we were running dry. Along the way Scott a camping neighbor in the basin stopped on his way out. In Marathon we stayed at a motel and Harpo took me on a tour of the “Goal Hill” hostel. A funky hippie free will bunch which lets bicyclist stay free in their “accommodations.” Spoon had found a motorcycle group (Harleys) in the basin that had an air pump so he aired up his new tire. The downside was to come as the tire had to be continually pumped as a slow leak had developed. Not sure if it was due to the tube tire misfit or rough handling using the air pump. In any case it did not help Spoon’s day.
We got an earlier start the next day for a 36 mile climb up to Alpine. Probably the best riding day we had as there as an overcast most of the day. Along the way we had a couple we had meet at the Chisos Basin Rest aunt stop and visit with us. In Alpine we rented a car and drove back to Balmorhea and picked up our vehicles and returned to Alpine and got our bikes and gear. I was too early in the day so I headed out and overnighted in Lordsburg, NM. The next morning I was in Scottsdale by 9 am.
All said and done it was a great and enjoyable experience and I am glad I did it.