January 03, 2009 GMT
Once again we set about finding ingenious ways of drying our damp clothes in our motel room, got down to uploading our photos and carrying on our ritual of going through the photos of the day, deleting, straightening and fixing, separating the good from the bad, looking through the map, to see how far we had come, and how far we had to go, and checking the weather forecast before collapsing on the bed in preparation for the day ahead.
The day that followed was as grey as the day that came before, so we got togged up with our thermals under our jeans, a few layers, and off we went, back to Wholefoods, for a hearty breakfast. By the time we left there, it was still chilly, but the sun was breaking through. At Jacquie’s request, and much to my chagrin, we set off on a “brisk walk” to the downtown area and beyond, in search of Allen’s Boots, the World’s biggest boot store, one of the many “World’s Biggest’s” we would encounter in Texas.
We walked and walked, passed the Capitol building, down Congress, over the river, up South Congress, until we finally came across some signs of life, or at least, shops. We dived into the first thrift store we found, and started searching through T-shirts. I was coming out of the changing room with a dozen or so $1 T’s when I heard an English accent. Further investigation of this familiar accent led us to the guitar wielding Johnny UK, an ex Londoner who had moved to LA in the 70s and never gone home. We got to talking, and he insisted on playing us a song once we had finished shopping, Sure enough, he was waiting for us outside, and as he played for us, we were both reminded of our good ol’ pirate mate at home, Nick. Both old rockers, anti establishment, rough round the edges, but perfect gentlemen.
The lyrics to his songs were so apt for our situation, they could have been written for us. We listened intently as he sang, it was more like listening to a gritty story, being told just for us-and they really hit home. Songs about living your life for yourself, and not for the corporations, treating each other well-stuff like that. It was great.
After a few tunes, we headed further up the street, passed the Austin Motel, whose slogan was “so close, yet so far out”. Nice- it pretty much summed up this cool little town-and on to Allen’s boots. Jacquie was in heaven, but unfortunately, her favourires were just a little too expensive, with a price tag of $1000! Talk about expensive taste!
The next two pair of favourites weren’t available in her size, so she put it down to Karma, and left the shop empty handed.
We caught a bus back to our end of town, headed back to our Motel, and got ready for our night out in The Music Capital of the World. After a flick through the local rag, we decided on the Broken Spoke Honky Tonk. An added bonus of this authentic venue was the 1-hour dance lesson in between bands. We were both looking forward to learning how to Line Dance, and thought it would be a right giggle. When we turned up, the band was in full swing, we ordered our cowboy nosh, and enquired about the dance lesson, but instead of the expected Line dancing, we were informed “only Europeans do that”. We decided to pass on the Waltz/Two Step class, and got chatting to Marley-the Man at the Bar- while we waited for the next band. Marley turned out to be another one of those diamond characters that we kept meeting on our trip. Extremely open, interested and interesting. We ended up chatting for hours with our new mate, until the time came to get back on the bike and head into town.
I couldn’t resist a quick glimpse of 6th Street, with its numerous bar and live music venues, but after putting our heads into the doors of a couple of very loud, and almost empty venues, we decided it was time to hit the sack. The next day we would head for San Antonio.
Posted by Dan Shell at 06:07 AM
San Antonio, also known as the gateway to the West, was to be out last city for a while. We had decided that this was where we would have our last shopping spree before hitting the desert and Big Bend. We had also made contact through the Horizons Unlimited website with a fellow biker, Andy, who had ridden to Ushuaia a couple of years prior. I was excited at the prospect of our first rendez vous through the website, and to hearing about aspects of the trip that we had only read about from a first hander.
We reached San Antonio as the sun was setting behind the Golden Arches of the ever present McDonald’s and pulled into a hotel car park to steal some internet signal and get our bearings, before heading out to Andy’s place on the outskirts of San Antonio, in Kirby.
Andy was expecting us, well, he was actually expecting us two days prior, but, as usual, we were running a little late!
We sat in his lounge, and immediately started swapping road stories, as bikers do. Andy was great. He quelled many of our fears almost immediately, with his no nonsense approach to road tripping. Nothing was too dangerous, too troublesome, or too difficult. In comparison to the horror stories we had heard from those who hadn’t actually been there, our trip now seemed a lot less stress free than we had been led to believe, but we would see.
Andy made us feel very welcome in his home, after taking us out for a Thai meal, we nestled in his spare room, ready to be up at 6am, yes, 6am, to meet up with some of his biker mates for a pre-work Friday breakfast.
The following morning, we rose, dressed and got on the bike to ride in the predawn dark, and freezing cold, to meet the gang.
We arrived on our Harley, following Andy on his KLR, and, feeling slightly out of place, parked up next to a collection of off-road bikes.
The conversation with the guys flowed freely, and we all got along straight away. We talked bikes, roads, routes and weather, ate a hearty breakfast, and one by one, the bikers set off for their work day, while we stayed, drank more coffee, and planned our day.
First on the agenda was a trip to Alamo Harley for Garth’ s 10,000-mile service. We rode up to the dealers, dropped the bike at the service entrance, and hung around for the work to be completed. 2 hours and $350 later, we were ready to roll into town.
We headed straight for the Alamo, a sight I was keen to see, before taking the street car to the Market Square, then a walk to the river for a totally cheesy , and rather unnecessary river tour; ”to the left is such and such hotel, to the right is blah di blah Hotel” and so on, then it was time to race over to the Tower of the Americas to look over the city as the sun set and the moon rose.
The San Antonio River Walk
Alas, we missed the sunset, in fact Jacquie missed the lot, as on reaching the top of the tower, at some 700 feet, she remembered about her vertigo, and couldn’t even peek out the window. The full, low moon over San Antonio was just beautiful, and after a run around the outside of the tower, snapping away on the camera, we headed back down, where I managed to persuade the manager to re-reimburse half of the $21 fee, due to the missus’ vertigo.
We strolled back into town, warmed ourselves with a hot chocolate from Starbucks (sorry) before heading back for our last night at Andy’s.
Sunday was time to leave, Andy gave us some roads we had to ride, and sent us out to Bandera, and cowboy country.
Posted by Dan Shell at 06:21 AM
We were ecstatic about finally travelling off the interstate, and as we rode further west away from San Antonio, the road became less and less congested, and more and more twisty. At last!
We rode on for some 45 minutes or so before we turned left at a junction and were presented with Bandera.
We simply had to stop here. We hadn’t expected this. Bandera was like a real “Western” town. We parked up and headed straight for the Bandera Saloon. We got some menus and sat down at a table, and then in walked our first proper cowboy. His thick greying moustache was an inch or more wider than his face on each side, and he was the epitome of a good ole cowboy in every sense. We exchanges “ Howdy’s” and he came over and started chatting with us, where we were from, where we were going…the usual. He had a very gentle and warm way about him, and we both liked him instantly. After a few minutes, he said, “Well, you folks will just have to come stay with me tonight, it ain’t much, but it’s a roof over your heads if you want it”.
We jumped at the chance. Walking John, as he was known in the town, shared a fantastic old house with his gal, Janet, a few minutes walk form the Saloon. This too, was as cowboy as you could get, and beautiful, complete with Wagon wheel chairs on the porch, and a couple of dogs lolling about in the shade.
He sent us off on a ride that we just had to see, and told us to just come on back when we were done.
We complied, went on our ride along some fantastic farm roads, past grazing Buffalo and over rolling hills, before turning up at his porch a couple of hours later.
John started a fire for us in the living room, in front of the blow up bed Janet had prepared for us, and we all went and sat on the porch and listened as John got out his guitar and sung us some songs he had written. This was all too good to be true. John told us part of his story-how he had arrived in the town, meeting Janet, and how he had once enjoyed all the trappings of a city lawyer, before falling fowl of the law himself and roaming until he had made Bandera his home. We spent a wonderful evening with John and Janet, and that night at their house was our first real “moment” of the trip so far.
After the songs and some chit chat, we all strolled down to the Bandera Saloon for some good ol' Country music, and a wee dance. A couple of beers, and some good Tex mex cuisine, and we were ready to get our heads down.
We slept well in front of the fire. At one point John came in to quell the flames that were filling the room with smoke- unbeknown to us- and opened a window to let in some air. As Jacquie put it, it felt like our Grandad came in to check we were alright.
The next day, John and Janet left early for church, leaving us to our own devices in the house. We walked into town for breakfast at the OST, the Old Spanish Trail. We were halfway through our cowboy breakfast when the familiar rumblings of a herd of Harleys led me to look out the window. A dozen or so Harleys were parking up on the street opposite us. I made my excuses to Jacquie, grabbed the camera and headed out to greet them.
As I had hoped, we were soon invited to ride with the “Calientes” a Harley Chapter from San Antonio, up into the hill county.
After our hearty breakfast, we saddled up and rode off along the 337 to a few secret hideaways, well known the bikers of the region, but well hidden off the tourist trail.
Our first stop, after riding up and down twisting mountain roads, up tight hill climbs, and down long, easy slopes, was Dave’s Place.
Built into and on the edge of a canyon, overlooking Toad creek, this place was sublime.
Dave built the bar, then added a few rooms for overnighters, then a pool room, an aviary, and so on.
Dave was a weather beaten old cowboy, who loved to tell us tales of his time in the Movies, his adventures on the cattle runs in his youth, and how he built the place with his bare hands, and a little help from his friends and neighbours.
After strolling along the banks of the river at the foot of the cliff where Dave had built his bar/restaurant/hotel/aviary/retreat, and getting to know our riding buddies a little better, we got back on our bikes again, and in a cloud of dust , headed back to the main road and off to the next stop. An hour or so of more riding up and down, and round and round these fantastic Hill Country roads, we arrived at our next stop along the way, Koyote Ranch.
The Tepee at the entrance was our first surprise at the “Ranch”, but this was far eclipsed by what awaited in the urinal, which was fully stocked with ice and beer , I guess those were for the bikers who were real thirsty and real poor. Again we sat and chatted and got to know our hosts a little better, shared stories and jokes, refreshed our thirst and then once more saddled up and hit the road for what was promised to be some of the best roads in Texas, the “three sisters”, comprising the 335,336 and 337 roads.
We headed back down the mountain and started the loop just outside Medina, but a few miles into the loop, George, who was leading the ride, spotted an upturned car just off the road. We pulled over a half mile up the road, as what we had just seen kicked in, and we doubled back to check if anyone was still in the vehicle. And there was.
A mother and her two children had been travelling in the car. The Mum, who was in the front but had managed to move over to the passenger side of the car, and her kids, who were both hanging upside down in their child seats, were all conscious, but also bloody and shaken. George and I set about trying to open the front door, while Dan and Gibb, another two of our riding group, started to cut away at the straps holding the kids in place. It was an horrific experience .The sight of blood is nothing new for me, after 20 years working in bars I had seen my share of it, but seeing these two young children, with blood coming form their heads, mouths and legs, was enough to shake me up good and proper. George had called for help and within minutes more rescuers were on hand. There were enough people on hand now, so I backed off and went back to tell Jacquie and the others what had happened. A little while later we heard, and then saw the medical choppers coming down to take the injured to hospital. George, Dan and Gibb rejoined us a little while later, they had been held up when the police blocked the road for the helicopters to land and take off again. Gibb, probably the biggest guy in our group, was visibly shaken; I went over to him, gave him a big man hug and offered him a cigarette.
“I don’t smoke really, but I think I’ll take one now” he said, extending his quivering hand.
“You did well, mate,” I said, “good job”.
None of us were really in the mood for much riding after that, so we all headed back into Bandera, where the we had a group photo at a gas station before saying our farewells, exchanging e-mails, and going our separate ways.
It was approaching the end of the day, so Jacquie and I decided that we would stay another night in Bandera, and head off on our scenic loop that had so far eluded us along the 335 and 336. We couldn’t think of anywhere we would like to get stuck in than here, so it was no hardship, until we woke the next morning.
The temperature had plummeted to a spine chilling 30 degrees overnight. A 50-degree drop in a little over 12 hours.
Looks like we were stuck again. Neither of us could see much point in going on a scenic ride when the visibility was down to 100 yards, and it was freezing cold.
We decided to have a catch up do, write our diaries, e-mail friends, do some laundry, all the stuff we had been putting off. We had been having too much fun to keep on top of it all, and now was a good time to catch up. We spent most of the day doing our chores; we did some shopping in town and posted our Christmas presents back home from the local Post Office, and had a pretty productive day, and in the midst of it all, we bumped into an intriguing Yorkshireman. Walking into to a shop in the town, we saw “Good morning” to a couple coming out. The “Mornin!” reply came with such a recognisable, and out of place accent, that Jacquie and I both performed a double take.
“You ain’t from round these parts are ya mate?” I said,
“No, Yorkshire me, how’s about you”. Once again, the chat started, as it turned out, our new compatriot, Ian Coates, had been riding his motorbike around the world for some 8 years .His fleece jacket was covered in patches from all over, Guatemala, Argentina, New Zealand, Fiji, Chile, Peru-all the places we were aiming for and more. We all went inside the shop and started gassing about his trip. He was a truly inspiring fellow who didn’t seem to be fazed at all about being out on his own in the wildernesses of far flung places.
He’d thrown rocks at Crocs, laughed at gun toting rebels, and outwitted the corrupt South American police. Again e-mail addresses were swapped, and we split off,
We went to bed fairly early and sat up and watched o movie on the TV in our room. That was a mistake-only in America would they the cut the movie down so they can fit in more ads! We must have spent as much time watching the same ad for “Extenz” the pill that makes you larger AND perform better, than we did watching Will Smith and Martin Lawrence Blow $**t up, the dubbing was another annoyance.
Posted by Dan Shell at 07:11 AM
January 24, 2009 GMT
To Big Bend
The following day was no better. 33 degrees, foggy and really quite depressing, but nonetheless, it was time to go, we needed to get on the road and put down some miles. We decided that there would be no point in riding the roads that everyone had raved about as we wouldn’t be able to appreciate it in the cold and with very low visibility.
We headed out into the cold, grey day, in the vain hope that the weather would warm up at some point, which of course it didn’t. After only 120 miles or so we pulled into the resort town of Leakey to find shelter and a room for the night.
Leakey, a summer holiday destination, appeared dismal and dull in the grey. Our first contact in the town was equally dreary. The woman who ran the two-wheels-only motel was a miserable as the weather when we asked if her rates were negotiable, as we were the only tourists in the town that day.
We finally settled into the lodge across the street, and set about our routine of downloading photos, writing the diaries and generally killing time.
Unfortunately, the morning was even drearier than the day before, and wet to boot, oh what joy!
Once again, we set out into the unknown, dressed to combat the cold and wet. We could barely move in our thermals, sweaters, jackets and waterproofs, so we sat, uncomfortably hot and stuffy, on the bike for some 3 hours until we arrived at Brackettville, and the Alamo village film set.
We blagged our way in for free and rode down the bumpy unpaved road down to the village, where we were met by John, the Sheriff/Barkeep with a welcoming smile. Business had been slow. The holidays hadn’t yet started; the weather was miserable, and we were the only visitors to stop by for a while. We walked into the Saloon together, and were given Hollywood guns, cowboy hats and other props to set about the serious business of being tourists and taking photos. I swapped places with John, replacing him as the bartender and showed him a few of my bartending tricks, while he showed me some of his gun fighting tricks. We had a walk around the deserted set before heading off to get to Del Rio before the sunset.
Our Motel, Del Rio
Del Rio was all you would expect from a border town. Big, busy, dirty and devoid of all character. The only saving graces were an extremely cheap movie theatre and an even cheaper motel. We settled into the room, unloaded the bike, and headed off to the cinema. During the film, we managed to completely forget where we were. Both of us were kind of expecting to get out of the cinema and into Jackie’s BMW back in Tunbridge Wells. Funny, that.
The next day started off the same as the previous one, grey and gloomy. Once again we slipped, slided and slithered into our riding gear and made off West, again, this time towards Big Bend. Our grey day gradually improved, and after lunch the sun came out for real. It never ceases to amaze me how much a little sunshine can make such a huge difference to the dynamic of the trip. It lifts our spirits, and even if it’s colder, it feels warmer if the sun is shining.
We rode over one of the oldest bridges in north America with stunning views over the Pecos river, stopped off in Langtry, where the “hanging Judge” Roy Bean held court sessions in his saloon. He named his saloon after the love of his life, English actress Lilly Langtry;http://www.desertusa.com/mag98/aug/papr/du_roybean.html
As we rode into Alpine, the town on the North end of the Big Bend region, the sun was dropping behind the mountains, we made a quick pass of the town, checked out the motels before picking one that was not the cheapest, but also not the dingiest, and settled down for some well earned rest and recuperation.
We hit up our new internet friends, Paul and Voni, who lived in Big Bend and replied to our e-mail on Horizons Unlimited, a bike traveller’s website, and had helped us with finding a place to stay in Big Bend while we were there, and arranged to meet up with them the next day on our way into the park.
Posted by Dan Shell at 11:02 PM
January 25, 2009 GMT
Arrival @ Cowhead Ranch
The directions gave us some clue as to how sparsely populated and undeveloped Big Bend was. Paul told us to clock 52.5 miles south of the railroad at Alpine, and look for a house on the left, and sure enough after 52.5 miles, and after passing maybe three buildings, we came across the Adobe, standing alone. We pulled into the driveway, and Voni cam out dressed head to toe in red, which we later came to realise was her signature colour.
Paul and Voni were really “good people”. We sat with them in the kitchen after a quick tour of their great house, sipping iced tea, and watching the sun set behind the mountains at the end of their back garden, talking bikes, roads and journeys, before we left for our accommodation for the night, at the Cowhead Ranch, just a short ride down the road, owned by their friend, Cowboy Chris.
We had heard a fair amount about Chris and the ranch, and had been on his website, but nothing could prepare us for what we were about to encounter.
As we entered the ranch, we had a pack of small dogs and a goat came running over to us, barking and braying in welcome.
Chris arrived on the scene as we were getting off the bike, and showed us around the place, which we had all to ourselves, another bonus of travelling in the off-season. We had the choice of 4 separate-how should I put this-shacks, to take up residence, 2 were bunk houses, one was a small hut with 2 single beds, and one was just large enough for a double bed and a little dresser.
We picked the double bed,”Cow Palace” offloaded our gear, and took the bike out for a quick shifty of Terlingua, the nearest “town”.
Terlingua, was a fairly small place, comprising a bank, a filling station/grocery store/restaurant, a bar and Kosmic Kathy’s,
a bright pink affair made up of an old school bus-in pink,, a pink van and a Betty Boop trailer, and a scattering of odd tables and chairs for diners.
After a delectable bowl of homemade Chilli, there was just enough time for a short ride down to the Terlingua Ghost town, home to a community of artists and a fab restaurant called The Starlight Once an open-air theatre, the Starlight was now a busy bar and restaurant, and the main focus of Terlingua Ghost town. Then it was back to the ranch to get ready for our first night out.
Once again we were greeted by a raggedy collection of animals when we pulled into the ranch, dogs, goats and chickens all came running out, dangerously close to the bike. We had a walk around our new temporary home; Jacquie got acquainted with the horses while I played with the collection of guns and Cowboy hats. Before long our new pals Paul and Voni came round to pick us up and take us to La Kiva, a funky bar in Terlingua where there was an art show launch party.
La Kiva was a cool place. A “Grotto” bar, in a cave with Adobe walls, carved wooden chairs and a huge selection of world beers.
We had a few drinks, wondered around the exhibition, before heading outside to watch the fire dancers, which was a great show, especially made interesting when one of the girl’s dresses caught fire!
This was also the first night we met Ara and Spirit.
Ara is a French Armenian ,ex uber-Chef, was now living in his RV off the road in Big Bend, and travelling around on his BMW and sidecar combo-which is where his pit-bull, Spirit sat. Ara had been riding around the States until he came across Big Bend, and decided to put down some roots for a while. Every now and then, when the mood takes him, he packs up his bike and he and his dog would head off out into the wilds, camping where they fancied. He had taken up photography and had some amazing pictures, as well as running his own website, blog; http://theoasisofmysoul.com and online shop with his photos, camping recipes and other cool stuff to help him fund his desert lifestyle.
The nest day we were woken by the cockerel and the smell of bacon. Chris was in the “Social Club “ preparing our cowboy breakfast of bacon, biscuits and eggs, in preparation for our day of horse riding and shooting.
We helped Chris saddle up the horses, donned our cowboy hats and headed off into the surrounding desert, for a wee walk around the land behind the ranch.
My horse, Domino, was intent on stopping at every opportunity to eat some grass, but somehow we managed to keep up with Chris and Jacquie, both far more accomplished on horseback than I.
A couple of hours later we were back at the ranch,getting dressed for the bike a quick ride to Lajitas, another ex ghost town that had been bought up by a Billionaire who had tried to turn the place into a luxury resort for the rich and famous. Unfortunately for him, the rich and famous seemed to have other plans, and the place never took off. It lost all its charm in the remodelling, and ended up looking more like “Frontierland, Disney” than an old cowboy town.
Now Lajitas was under new ownership and management and was edging its way back into the Big Bend community. On our visit, the place was still as devoid of people as it had been during its heyday of Ghost down-ness. The boardwalk was far too well kept for our liking, and after a brief walk around, we carried on along the road to Presidio, around the mountains, and took in some of the amazing scenery.
That night at the Ranch, Chris and his daughter, Sunny, set a huge campfire, and we sat around I, ate our dinner and swapped tales, stories and jokes.
Posted by Dan Shell at 05:20 PM
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