January 29, 2016 – Sunny, 65 degrees
Miles Today: 31
Miles to Date: 11,027
States to Date: 28
West Texas was sunny and bright today, the desert jagged and brown, the people as varied as any I’ve met during my trip.
I started at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, where I had a conversation with Andy Cloud about the archeological work of the Center for Big Bend Studies. By the time I rolled downhill from campus the day was already warm, almost summery. Ten miles out I met Georgia, Mark, their two dogs and over 200 pounds of gear, including a dog trailer, on a 10,000-mile trip with a route as circuitous as mine.
U.S. 90 parallels a major railroad line, Half-mile long freight trains pass several times a day, an Amtrack Silverliner slithers by daily, and I hear train whistles all night long. Giant snakes of containers stacked on the flat beds; often bright blue, red, or green; move across the monotone landscape like cubes of modern art. Of course, due to the Marfa effect, there are also conscientious pieces of landscape art here, the most recent being the Target outside Marathon.
I pedaled into Marathon a few minutes before three. A woman sitting beneath the covered walk that connects the storefronts flagged me down. “Oasis Cafe closes at three. Get in there for the best burger in West Texas.” Of course, I complied. Phoebe, my waitress, is one of the most patient people on earth. “I’ve got plenty to do here. Enjoy your lunch. Use our Internet. Take your time.” By the time I was finished Phoebe was mopping up. “You can move outside, our Internet works there as well.”
I checked in at San Rosendro Crossing, a collectibles shop next door. JJ, the proprietress, said, “Sit here as long as you like.” In a few minutes Carol came by with a pair of longnecks between her fingers. “Its beer-thirty, want one?”
Suddenly, I was in a group of eight people, including Carol, JJ, Phoebe, and Phoebe’s cowboy friend Howdy drinking beer and smoking Marlboro’s along Main Street. The conversation probably doesn’t vary much from day to day: the merits of the candidates running for Sheriff, a murder in the next town, a local brush fire, Border Patrol hassles, how to draw a red circle around Marfa and delete it from the state of Texas. Carol’s husband Charlie stopped by. “Lord, I cannot hide from that man.” I reminded here she was sitting smack dab on Main Street. She got up and gave the guy a kiss.
When the sun slung low I pedaled to the locally famous hostel, La Loma del Chivo, a remnant of hippie days that welcomes itinerant cyclists. Hostels are odd places; purposefully disorganized. La Loma has a wonderful, warm host, Ingrid, aka Goat Queen. The gestalt of the place probably changes every day. This night, a profoundly quiet German couple kept to the edges while Tom, an obese former lawyer fresh from a Wal-Mart grocery run who claimed to be a long-distance cyclist filled the silence. He was engaging until I distilled he’d been drifting within a hundred miles of here for nearly a year. We were a disparate group of guests. Nevertheless, I enjoyed strolling around the bizarre place, taking in the perfect sunset, followed by amazing stars. Since the longer-term guests had claimed the bunks, I slept on a comfy sofa beneath heavy quilts.