Tag Archives: texas

To “Go and See”

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Sometimes “go and see” became a much bigger adventure. A trip to check out the spill way of a dam became an instant playground for Abby and the pups

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An awesome “go and see” with our good buddy Carl, took us to some awesome mining areas in Idaho

I blame it on DNA in my family. Old family homesteads, final resting spots of famous explorers, a house somebody was born in, and other countless road side stops and detours. As a kid I remember traversing landscape in the middle seat of a 1969 Ford F-100 to see the stomping grounds of Zane Grey and keeping myself entertained as we hit other unique wonders in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California. In other years and other trips, the year and brands of transportation stayed the same, but always on four wheels. 1964 Comet, 1973 Chevelle, and 1979 Ford Bronco. Friday night often ended with the words, “in the morn’n, we’ll go ‘n see”… Could be where a sawmill used to be…or any other countless small tidbits of history.

This traversing to historic signs and ghost towns wasn’t limited to just my parents, it was passed down biologically from both sets of grandparents. I have postcards from the largest bowl of pea soup and a key chain from something called the “Muffler Man Museum” to prove this long lineage of exotic exploration.

Throughout my adult life I have found that I as well love exploring the unique. On my recent trip to Washington for the Overland Rally, I found I would stop or even re-route to visit some out of the way…way out of the way historical site.

My poor family has endured all-day long trips to visit the three remaining logs of where some poor soul breathed his last breath. We have seen Cadillacs buried in the ground, birth places of unknown individuals, and monuments made of copper pipe to some great thing in a historical microcosm we never even knew about. I have literally looked at a map and decided to drive hours of dirt because some unknown to us at the time person has a monument.

Speaking as an American, we love the road. It’s in our DNA to explore and seek new places. I point to evidence of our own westward expansion. Following our curiosity of the unknown. We were dumped here in small colonies to fend for ourselves and the hearty, the mobile, the curios have survived and spawned its children of the west.

I love this part of who I am and grateful that both my parents and grandparents provided this genetic trait for me, and nurtured it through all the crowded and cramped road trips we took when I was a kid. I still love the odd detours, the driving an extra 80 miles to see where my family once used as hunting grounds, or a bridge that was built by immigrant labor. I am fascinated by these parts of our history. I live in one of the most target rich areas for “go and see”. Old mines, dredges, plane crash sites, shoot-outs, and rocks with the paintings of ancient and pre-modern people abound. Much of my modern-day adventure is based only on the “go and see” desires I can’t control.

The weekend is coming soon and whether it is with family on board, or if it’s just me and my pup in the Jeep, I will drive out-of-the-way to find something new.

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Aborting a weekend aviation trip to Oregon became a “go and see” in style…we rented the fastest thing in the lot and thankful they never checked the rear tires when we brought it back.

Light Bike Travels

There was a time I was much more carefree in my adventures, and quite honestly the naivety could have gotten me seriously hurt.

I had just returned from Europe with a short detour through the middle east, mainly the hot spots of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, with a bit of Turkey in the mix. Life had smacked me with a recent divorce, the main culprit …. a woman who did not understand my adventurous nature and my unwillingness to be a stay at home couch potato. After being accused of nearly every sin in the book, I cast of my desire to conform with anything, except what the military deemed necessary to be termed “Good Conduct”.

Part of this rebellious streak included buying a motorcycle. My Suzuki Samurai had yet to be returned from the ex, and I was not going to wait around to travel the U.S. now that I was back. I had not been allowed motorcycles when growing up, so combined with the need to travel, soothe my soul, and the need to be far-away from post prompted my purchase of a 1983 Yamaha XT-250.

A barracks mate of mine took me down to buy it. I had some money saved up so we hit the local Yamaha shop. I knew I needed something small with it being my first bike. I also wanted the ability to travel off-road.

After paper work was signed, a small finance package from the dealer who was used to working (read “working over”) service guys, I drove my buddy’s car back to base and he rode my new bike.

I had never ridden a bike except around base camps in southern Turkey and Northern Iraq, so we set up in the parking lot, and I learned the ins and outs of motor-biking. Fortunately my friend was a motorcycle safety instructor for the post and I had great 1×1 instruction on the safety aspects of bikes. For a few weeks I limited my bike rides to our parking lot and on occasion the BX. Eventually through practice, I ventured off-base for a little more freedom.

At the time I was working 12-hour night shift with a three-on/ three- off schedule. I would get off duty around 0600, get a ride back to the barracks, shower and change out of uniform, and be on the road no later than 0700. I had all of Texas to discover in a few days, and packed with a credit card, small tarp for a tent, toothbrush, and change of underwear I was off and down the road with my little 250.

I knew nothing about chain tension, how to change a flat, or other minor maintenance needs of my bike at the time. In those early days I made horrible decisions about riding in rain, fog, and even ice. Looking back, I was gaining experience, simply by being lucky. Within the first three months, at the awe of the dealer, I had put over 12,000 miles on the bike. It wasn’t until I took it in for a negotiated 90 maintenance that I learned both of the need to change or adjust the chain and other preventative task for the bike. The dealer was blown away by the amount of milage I had made on such a small bike. If it had not been for some of my other obligations, a few short trips with lay-overs, etc I would have logged more miles.

While most of my trips had me exploring Texas, after the 90-day period (and a crash course from the mechanic on roadside repairs) I started exploring New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, and even a trip into Mexico. With more confidence in the bike and aversion to interstates, I made most of my trips on the older highways and backroads. While it was slower in ticking the odometer, I was more into racking up scenery and interaction with the locals more than I was about simply adding numbers to my stats.

What I learned about small bike travel has not only shaped my travels today (which is perhaps what drives my wife insane), but paid off several years later when she and I traveled all over Texas on a 250 Virago. Here is a basic outline of the lessons learned that I still apply today.

Rigid Flexibility: I had an idea of where I wanted to go, but I wasn’t afraid to meander, delay, goof-off, rabbit trail, or hang out. I never made the destination the priority unless it was getting back to post on time. I made sure to follow my curiosity. Not once did I book a hotel that I had to be at by a certain time, and never committed to a time of arrival for meet-ups.

Two-Thirds Rule: As far as time allocation, it ties in with the above. I would look at the overall area that I wanted to go to and plan from there back to my home how long it would take to get back using 2/3rds the time I had. Then I would use my rule of rigid flexibility to plan the first 1/3rd of the trip. Was never late to the first formation, and in fact, planned sleep time before showing up for my first shift.

Map Recon: This comes easy as I love maps. I would check out the general area I wanted to go to and during long and boring hours of guard duty I would commit the maps to memory. I would have others quiz me about the section I was going to be traveling in. This also (in one way or another) let others know where I was going. I knew in advance where gas stations, hotels, camp grounds, and even emergency contacts (friends and family of friends) were when I needed them.

Dress for the Crash: I put that bike down three times. Once was jumping it in a vacant lot, the other was avoiding the hood of a truck. The final time, I was over-loaded and entering the interstate outside of Weatherford, Texas. The bike had too much weight on the rear and as I accelerated, the front came up and flipped me backwards. All three times gear kept me safe.

Travel Light: I learned the hard way (above) you can only pack so much on a light bike. It disrupts handling, and is just more stuff to carry. I opted to travel in style since I was on so many backroads, and since most of my “day-job” involved living in the field, I opted to stay in less expensive hotels. Having a pool is great for summer-time travel in southern New Mexico.

Imodium: still in every travel pack I own. At some point you will eat a bad burrito.

Pictures and Journal: Though I still have many of the journal notes, I really wish I had more pictures from this time in my life. Even if it would have just been the bike at a roadside stop or a scenic overlook.

My travels taught me and shaped so much of who I am today. While I long for independent travel still, I also realize that this was perhaps one period of my life, and I have made choices that prompt me to move along. For a young guy who was in the state I was in, it was great. Now with a family, others who depend on me in my company, and other obligations, I have shifted my focus to four-wheel travel. But I do believe that every man needs to have this Lone Ranger era in his life….

Now that I have introduced this period of my life, I will have to post some of the specific trips at a later point…

Big Bend Biking

I still believe that when I die, I want my ashes spread over the various trails in Big Bend National Park. I owe my life to this place. This is where I have so often gone to seek solice. It is where I nearly died, where I learned to live, and it had incredible memories for not only me alone, but also with my wife.

While living in Texas we had made several trips to both the National Park, as well as Big Bend State Park. Don’t let the word “park” disuade you. This is a fierce place where you can quickly find yourself at the mercy of the elements.

Because we have spent so much of our adult lives away from family, Melissa and I have made it part of our tradition to travel on either Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. This is out of the norm for both of our families that draw closer to home during these dates. Because of the geographical distance, it just isn’t possible to get all of us to all of them in the brief period we have for time off. In addition, because of my time in the service, I was often away during the holidays and either drew close to my own family or my military family as we all did with my others being so far away. Melissa and I have had some incredible places all to ourselves including a beach at Thanksgiving, diving in Balmorea on New Years, Mountain Biking Fossil Rim Wildlife Refuge on Our anniversary, and of course, Big Bend at Christmas.

A year before my near death trip to Big Bend, I took Melissa there for Christmas. We left on the day after Christmas from my folks house in Austin. Abby was developing a bit of a cough so my folks asked that she stay with them while Melissa and I traveled the 10 hours west to the Chiuauan Desert.

Winter in the desert can be more than chilli. When you take off without your jackets, it can be downright miserable. Somewhere in the re-packing, the bags containing our jackets were left in Austin. After getting to Big Bend, we opted to drive the 200 mile round trip to buy jackets at the nearest Walmart. Instead we moved our campsite from the shadded Rio Grande Villiage to a sunny site 50 miles west in Terlingua.

Over the next few weeks, me armed with my new Raliegh M-60 and her with a modified Raliegh commuter bike (I beefed up with new shocks and mountain biking tires), we assaulted several trails, traversed into Mexico, and explored several out of the way places. Together we worked our way around the Big Bend area map on our mountain bikes, including a few 30+ mile trips down trails filled with miles of washboard roads, hours of baby head rocks, and endless washouts that would consume our tires. We had much of our belongings packed into a couple of trailers for some of the trips. Together we explored old ranches, rode to abandoned homesteads on the banks of the Rio Grand, and spent hours just riding in silence.

One of the disturbing aspects and one of the moronic decisions made by park authorities in the 1960-1970’s was the tearing down of buildings that had been errected prior to the park’s inception. The idea was to let the park return to its “natural” life, forgetting that there is a historical and archeological aspect to its life as well. Still, there are a few old outpost that still survive.

At the time, l was in great biking shape. I had been racing on the weekends, riding with my buddies all the time, and occassionaly commuting about 100 miles per week. Melissa was in decent shape at thetime, but needed breaks every few days. As a compromise, she would drop me off on a dirt road like Dagger Flat Road in the morning and meet me in the afternoon. This allowed her to pursue her love of history, wild life observation, reading, and just napping. In the evening, we would meet back at our camp and share the experiences of our day. In addition, camping close to Terlingua, we had access to real showers.

We also made sure to reward ourselves for tough days we rode together. I remeber after an incrdibly tough day of biking from Castolon to Buenos Ares and back, we rewarded ourselves with a huge dinner at Tivos. In fact, one evening after a few days of hard core biking we rewarded ourselves with both Tivos and the (can’t remember the name) local Itallian Resteraunt.

Melissa grew up around horses, and since she had been so good about climbing back on a mountain bike after breaking a collar bone, I could mount a horse. While there, we also took a horse packing trip. We signed up for a group horse packing tour. Melissa and I were the entire group. The guide was in a great mood, had no other plans for the day, so he took us to several of his secret spots. I also think that since Melissa is great with horses and I easily adapt to any adventure, he was enjoying our company. I was pretty worried about saddle sore, so I packed a pair of road bike shorts ( the tight spandex) that I covertly wore under my military cargo pants. The horse trip was really cool, and our guide and I would converse on history, philosophy, and politics of the Big Bend region. We capped of the day (late afternoon) with a hot meal at one of local hook-ups. Highly recommend….especially if your wife is really into horses.

We did venture into Mexico, and I will cover that in another post at some point.

New Years marked our last night in the desert. We hung out at the recreation center in the RV park and met up with a couple and their teenage son who had been traveling the US from Germany. I enjoyed the dialog since living in Germany was and still is one of the most influential periods of my life.

The following morning we packed our camp, loaded the car, took one last tour through the park and began the journey home. We stayed the night in a VERY nice hotel to recover. That evening we soaked in a hot tub, ate a real meal, and while she romantasized the trip, I planned the next.

Big Bend is an incredible place, and spending the holidays touring it with my bride only magnified its wonder. We would make several trips to the area for various holidays, and each one special.

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Portait of a Deadman

"Portrait of a Dead Man"
When I took this, I honestly thought it would be one of the last pictures of me alive. Then I changed acceptance to commitment

In the fall of 2003 I decided to do a overland trip by mountain bike in the back country of Big Bend National Park. Don’t let those four letters, (P, A, R, K) fool you. There are areas in most of our national parks that are rugged and desolate. Big Bend has many of these. People die here, and I was almost one of those statistics.

I’ve never really shared this story in whole with anybody, and as I blog, I still may not….we will see.

Throughout 2003 my soul was undergoing some radical changes. I was beginning to live from my heart. I was regaining that masculine love of the outdoors that had become vacant and dormant for a season. I was becoming more of a leader in my home and fighting for the hearts of those I loved. I attribute a great deal of this to the work of John Eldridge in “Wild at Heart”, a book I bought on a whim and actually altered my entire life.

My plan was to bicycle from Rio Grand Village on the east end of Big Bend to Castolon, on thewest side of the park using the old River Road. This trip would take me down rugged back country roads through the old Mariscal Mining district, the Dominguez Trail, continuing on the River Road’s west side, and eventually to Castalon, where I would rest and then make the trip back the same way I came.

Rio Grande to Fresno (Mariscal Mines)

As an avid biker I was physically well prepared for the trip. At the time I was riding up to 200 miles of trails each week. I was riding a 2003 Specialized Stump Jumper with a Yakima trailer. I headed out with tent, food, and water. I knew I would have to resupply so I had supplies dropped for me at Castalon and knew which watering points were known to be active. I planned to have two days water with me at all times.

Fresno (Mariscal Mines) to Castolon

The trip began questionably from the beginning. For starters, after arriving at the park and camping in Rio Grande Village, I failed to get any sleep at all. There was a “star party” going on. I stayed up until sunrise with several astronomy students learning various stars and constellations.

The second moment of failure was when I found I could not park as close to the trailhead as I expected. I had to add additional miles to my already long trip. I had planned to do the entire route in 5-7 days, so I saw the setback as a minor inconvenience.

A larger inconvenience though came at the hands of nature. I knew there had been a flood in the area a week prior to my trip, and in fact was counting on that to fill the springs and arroyos that I would need for water.

What I failed to realize is the damage flash floods can do to the roads and trails I would be pulling a 60 pound trailer on. I struggled miserably with the load and at times had to push my bike through river gravel that would vary between 3 to 8 inches in depth. It took nearly a full day to get to my “planned” lunch stop at the fork between Glen Spring and Mariscal. At this point I was exhausted and dehydrated. I spent the evening trying to rehydrate and take in some energy.

Dragging water and other supplies. Only thing missing in the pic is my water bladder that also worked as a head rest...for a time.

My body immediately rejected the Top Ramen noodles I had prepared. I set up a tent and tried to rest my aching muscles. The only thing I could keep in me was dehydrated ice cream my wife gave me as a joke.

The next morning I felt better, even though I didn’t rest well. I was able to eat some oatmeal, and my urine was returning to clear, signaling that I was rehydrating. I loaded up the tent and returned to the trail. At the fork between Fresno and Solis, the road became a bit better. I no longer had to deal with as much gravel and was able to pick up speed.

I had over-estimated my water needs so I was doing okay in spite of not hitting my next refill point. The trail still required more effort than I had expected and I pulled into Fresno around 3 pm. I decided to stay there even though it put me a day behind schedule. Again as I tried to eat I couldn’t keep anything down.

I set up my tent and decided that I would rest and then re-evaluate the trip when my head was not pounding. It was when I was pulling my tent out of the trailer I discovered in horror that at some point my water bladder had busted. With exception of a tiny bit in my bike mounted water bottles, nearly all my water had either escaped the trailer, or was captured in my tent, clothing, etc. I immediately started consuming as much water from the soaked items I could. I knew at that moment my world was going to be different and if I was going to make it out, I would need to be thinking clearly. I knew this was now a life and death situation.

Looking at the map I had two options. Continue west towards an intermittent spring about a day (on the map) and take my chances on water being there, or head back two-days to where I knew water would be. From what water I could not drink, I was able to fill two bike bottles with water and a partially filled Camelback. Technically it was a lot less than I had been consuming per day. (I had been consuming 1-2 qts per hour…. I now only had water for a few hours, not days.)

At 3 am as the sky was dark and temperatures dropped below freezing, I began my trek back towards civilization. I walked bike and trailer along the path on a moonless night with only a small headlamp I brought along for reading and other camp duties. At the time I was an avid night rider and spent most of my time on the trails after dark when the trails were vacant. I had purposely left all four of my trail lights at home to save weight and remove the temptation of traveling at night, where I felt I was more prone to injury.

As the sun rose in the east, I began to ride for a bit before the temperatures began to climb. The desert is odd in that even-though we had sub freezing temps at night, it would quickly climb to a blistering and mind altering oven in just a few hours of daylight. When I began to feel the increase of the suns rays on my body, I stopped and created a shelter using the bike, tent, and trailer. The wind was picking up and I was concerned that the combination of heat and wind would steal away any moisture my body was trying to conserve. I laid myself under the lean-to, tried to conserve energy, and when not sleeping, kept myself busy studying the map and writing in my journal.

Around 10 pm I began my trek again. I had a bit of rest and in spite of having less than a water bottle left, I felt ready to go. The temps had only dropped into the 80s at this point, but I wanted to get moving. At this point I was pushing through the thick gravel again. I know I wasn’t as aware of my location and surrounding as I should have been but I remember that I resolved to keep to the right side of the road. This way, if I went down the wrong fork, I would wind up at the river. If I stayed my course, even in the confusion, I would be headed back to Rio Grand Village. Somewhere around midnight I drank my last drop of water.

At 645 the next morning I knew I was going to live. I was out of water, severely dehydrated, and barely moving on the bike. It was in a gulch that as I passed through I was gifted with thousands (and thousands) of Monarch Butterflies migrating along my path. I can’t explain it, and maybe it was a private moment for me, but I knew I was going to make it.

Pressing on through the heat I finally made it back to Rio Grande Village, although I have no idea what time it was but knew it was late afternoon. I walked into the store near the camp ground and drank a Gatoraid before paying for it. I think the clerk could tell what was up and never even questioned me. I spent the rest of the day and evening recuperating and the next morning I headed home.

I lived because I had a bit of training and most of all I decided I was going to live. The difference between survivors and non-survivors is having the ability to crawl with-in your self and decide to live. The last stage of dying is acceptance. The last stage of surviving is commitment.

Chasing Cougars (Valentines Special)

Completely exhausted .... but she pushed herself hard on the entire safari

This has to be one of the most memorable trips of all the memorable trips with my wife.

You have to first understand that I am the most difficult person to be married to. I switch obsessions on a moment by moment basis…and when I get locked on one I am going to master it and probably drag you with me. Yes…I am an OCD pain in the @$$.

So this trip was special. At the time I was into mountain biking. Serious mountain biking. We took vacations based on the sport, had special diets for certain events. Mountain bike racing, extended multi-day trips, riding to work, crossing Big Bend National Park (through the back-country of course) and well…100 mile rides in August…in West Texas on a mountain bike. I even worked as a wilderness medic and search and rescue coordinator on a mountain bike patrol.

I introduced Melissa to mountain biking on Mother’s Day 2001. On the same day I introduced her to her first mountain biking injury…a broken clavicle. A broken clavicle in two places. A broken clavicle that launched her watch 10 feet from the crash site…but that is a minor point in this adventure. A break that kept her out of biking for 8- 10 months. It was awesome, I hiked her and the bike out of a canyon. I secured her wounded collar bone with a frozen water bottle, an inner-tube, and a bandanna. I had two bikes strapped to my back. She failed to be impressed.

Some how I got suckered into this as an adventure vehicle...

A few years later though,  I was able to secret my bride away for an awesome bike trip without her knowing the destination. She loves animals and its only now we are beginning to see her gift and desires fulfilled as she transitions into her new career. Melissa only had instructions to pack travel clothes, bike clothes, and nice clothes. We loaded up our Hyundai Elantra (a nice car I still regret buying) and drove overnight to Glen Rose, Texas where I showed her a new world of mountain biking…an African Safari via bicycle!

Don't let the fence fool you. When this thing runs along the fence as you ride you all but soil your shorts

I had always wanted to do a Safari in Africa, but the means to do it just never came together. So the closest substitution was a day trip to the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Located in Glen Rose the animal preserve host several samples of African wildlife including Rhinos, Giraffes, and yes….Cheetahs. Sorry, no cougars, those are North American not African.  The Fossil Rim Ranch has other endangered species including  Addax Wolves,  Prairie Chickens, and Oryx.

The most unnerving part was first hearing the oddly “innocent” meows of the cheetahs. Then as we rode our mountain bikes past their “enclosures” being stalked and then chased!

More dirt than anthing else...not even a limp

For Melissa it was a great return to adventure biking. She was actually reintroduced on a trip to Big Bend where we rode 30+ miles a day in some the most horrendous road conditions. Imagine washboard and baby-head rocks 8-10 hours a day. That is for a different journal entry though. This trip was all about pursuing the things she loved and getting her (at the time limited) access to things very few people got to see. She made it out with only one bruise. (From a brutal and scary crash!)

Cleans up well

The rest of the weekend was spent in tranquility and relaxation. I have learned that she does really well in my adventure world, as long as at the end of it she gets to clean up, eat in a civilized place, and get pampered. We also try not to impress each other with broken bones.

Rob and Melissa do lots of exciting adventures…check them out at AdventureIQ.com