October 1, 2001

10/1/01 Marathon, TX

86.8 / 8692 miles

Slept pretty well considering. But kind of surprised how cold it is here in West Texas. As I got back on the road, it soon became apparent I wouldn't have made Fort Davis yesterday. I'm following the Texas Mountain Trail and the terrain reminds me of the Appalachians. Had to get off the bike once just to push it uphill.

The white domes of the McDonald Observatory [vc.as.utexas.edu] soon came into view. I've always been interested in astronomy, especially the building of telescopes. So, I'm really looking forward to seeing an 82-inch telescope. The only problem again is my timing. The first tour wasn't for another two hours. And that tour bus looked very good considering the steep climb up to the telescopes.

McDonald Observatory

The 82-inch Otto Struve Telescope was closed to the public but the 107-inch Harlan Smith Telescope was right next door. Just huge! Almost twice as wide as I am tall. After climbing (and pushing some), I wanted to really let the bike go fast but the road was too rough. Had to come down a bit, then push up another peak to see the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET). The HET is a 433-inch telescope using a combination of 91 one-meter mirrors all fit together. I can remember reading about this design. Very cool! But unfortunately, all the lights were turned out so I couldn't even see it. Bummer, and I climbed all the way up here.

It was downhill to Fort Davis. The fort touts itself as one of the best examples of frontier forts but after walking through it, Fort Larned (Kansas) is by far the best I've seen. This fort did have a 'buffalo' soldier detachment. The Indians called them buffalo soldiers because of their kinky hair.

Fort Davis

While it town, had lunch at Pop's Grill. At first I was a little outraged at the cost of a burger, but it turned out because the thing was huge. I mean really huge! From another cyclist travelogue, I'd been expecting a whole different sort of town. "Well-heeled tourist types" he said. But instead, I wouldn't have been surprised to see a cowboy ride up and tie his horse outside the courthouse. The library was even housed in the old jail, complete with bars and inside cells.

By the time I'd checked my email it was already 1:30PM and I hadn't even gone thirty miles yet. So I decided to push on to Alpine or Marathon. While it was pretty sunny up to now, I had to put on a jacket as the clouds moved in and the temperatures dropped.

The 25-miles to Alpine were kind of a blur. The winds were picking up and I couldn't tell if the clouds above had any precipitation in them. Looking around me I didn't think the area got much rain at all, but how was I to know? So I just pushed.

Alpine is a good-size small town, a little over 5,000 with a pretty large state college, Sul Ross University [www.sulross.edu]. Lots of motels and a few RV parks, but I was trying to decide should I push even farther? Someone once told me that a person needed to "get out of your comfort zone." Usually I like to be at camp by early afternoon. But my original itinerary for this last push to Denton had me in Marathon tonight. It would be a long day, plus near to dark if I kept going. "Out of your comfort zone!" I thought. So, we went for it.

The roads were fairly busy, usually level with a few rolling hills. And thank Gog, a little downhill. Now, I really thought of little else but keeping a steady pace so I'd get to Marathon, some thirty miles away, before I lost the light. I think I had more people wave at me during that stretch than the whole way from El Paso. That was a good feeling.

And finally it was there. And I had gotten there with time to spare. I found the RV park listed on the maps, or at least their sign, on the far end of town. But it looked abandoned. So I went back into town to check out the Gage Hotel, [www.gagehotel.com] a Texas landmark. Twin bed and no bathroom was $65. Ouch! I asked about restaurants and the town had two. The Oasis Café looked like a working man's place but it was closed today, Monday. The other was the Gage Hotel. I looked at the menu but the entrée's were all over $20. Still needed a place to stay, so I headed to the only other motel that I passed coming into town.

The motel (& RV park) did have tent sites for $10. What a relief. I signed in and was told where to camp next to the bathrooms and showers. But when I wheeled around the building, I was presented with a packed gravel parking lot without a blade of grass or even dirt. The night manager couldn't understand why I couldn't camp there. We walked the property, but the only grass I could find was roped off-limits by the owner. It was dark now so I just got a motel room. At least for $49 I got my own bathroom. Looks like Texas is going to be expensive.

I didn't even unpack. I took a shower, then laid in bed watching cable TV. I keep trying to let this be a positive experience, but Texas is being difficult. Ended up not even cooking (not allowed in the room), just bought some snacks and went to bed.