Saturday, November 19, 2005

Mansfield, Texas

Friends: My nine day 800-mile blitz of Texas from El Paso to Dallas is within site of the measly skyline of Dallas. It is ending all too abruptly. I feel as if I've barely gotten a nibble of this state whenever I open up the map and see all that it has to offer. It is two-thirds the size of France, where I have racked up 10,000 miles of cycling the past two summers. That too has been just been a good start for all that is to be seen in France. With its vast empty spaces Texas doesn't compare to the richness of France, but it would still take several months to do it justice.

I wasn't sure what to expect of Texas, though I had biked through its northern parts some 20 years ago. I knew it was now the Land of Lance, but I didn't know if that would make it a bicyclist's mecca or not. I know that Lance trains with motorized accompaniment here as belligerent drivers are not unknown. But he lives in the Austin area, where there is a sizable bicycle activist community Activists sometimes aggravate motorists and turn them spiteful and vengeful toward anyone they encounter on a bicycle. I have experienced no such thing in the predominantly isolated sectors I've biked. Not even in my several hours of night riding did I prompt any horn blasts, curses, swerves, thrown objects or such.

Texans in general, aside from a couple of figures of authority, who were more comical than threatening, have offered a delightful blend of Southern hospitality and Alaskan individualism. Unlike California and Arizona, which are overrun with recent transplants from other states, the Texans are deeply rooted and committed to their state and relatively undiluted by outsiders. Nor do they draw many tourists obliging them to cater to their desires with cappuccino and various phony and contrived attractions. The people here are just living the lives of Texans. They know
their heritage and are proud of it and happy to share it. They are a genuine and unpretentious people. I will be happy to return and further explore their state.

Though most towns seemed struggling to get by, they retained an authentic air of livability, as the locals were adapting to lives without the affluence they might have previously enjoyed. It has been rare to see a large supermarket. The dollar stores have taken over with their perfectly fine non-brand name merchandise. The town of Comanche, with a population of 4,000, had three such competing stores, all part of chains seen throughout the state. Comanche was one of many towns I wish I could have lingered in. It had taken its name from the Indian tribe. A Historical Plaque on the outskirts of the town described the Comanches as "the Lords of the Plains." The local librarian, however, couldn't remember the last time a Native American had been a resident of Comanche.

There were scores of historical plaques along route 67. I was always happy to see another, especially when I had head winds, using each as an excuse to take a stop. Many related to the road, as an original route of the pioneers or the discovery of a pass or a place in the river that was passable for livestock. They also told of the first settlers and how towns were named and of geological sites. Many went on at considerable length.

So I have camped my last unless Mike and Jill allow me to pitch my tent in their back yard. It has been a hard push without a day of rest and less than 11 hours of light each day since leaving Phoenix 13 days ago. My legs were a bit leaden this morning, but for the first time since Monday I've had a tailwind, so I've been romping these last 50 miles, without about 25 to go. I'll be happy to go meandering around Dallas on my unladen bike tomorrow morning, Sunday, before the Bears game. And then my body will welcome the 22-hour train ride to Chicago.

Later, George

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