Rich coined a new term, “Road Surface Roulette.” It pretty much describes how fate rules our bike touring days. Spending around five hours a day physically pushing the pedals, and up to seven hours total travel time, the road is our constant companion. The road holds our mental state hostage and toys with our physical stamina.
A smooth road surface (oh blessed blacktop) makes for effortless cycling. Combined with a good wide shoulder it overcomes wind and fatigue. It is the secret sauce in the recipe for happy, upbeat cyclists. Freed from road worries, sightseeing takes over, miles fly by, legs pump tirelessly and all is well with the world. In this state of euphoria, it is easy to fall prey to the notion that it will go on forever. We know better, but prefer to live in the moment.
Without warning, the shoulder disappears. Pavement crumbles. And – horror of horrors – rough chip seal takes over. Texas highway departments are in love with chip seal. That rock encrusted road coating easily takes three miles per hour off our pace. Now we bounce along, wheels slowly grinding over the pebbles, bicycles rattling, teeth chattering. Our world view takes a nosedive.
We have a love-hate relationship with counties. Crossing a county line guarantees a change in road conditions. The sign signaling a new county can bring salvation or devastation. Our psyches recalibrate accordingly. At one such crossing, Rich was so happy he dismounted to kiss the ground of the new road jurisdiction!
We have developed a special affinity for Texas Farm Roads. Whenever possible, Rich routes us along these country lanes. The small back roads feel like private bike trails, with minimal traffic and pastoral scenery. Road conditions are not always ideal, but it matters less when we have the road to ourselves. The one exception was the mile of rock strewn dirt road that we encountered. I prefer to block that episode from memory.
Getting off the beaten track does come with its trade offs. Less civilization translates to fewer options for food, and we learn not to be picky. It means having breakfast in some pretty interesting places. And sometimes being pleasantly surprised.
Farm road scenery is up close and personal. Cows get up and run when we cycle past. Sometimes the whole herd follows us. Lawn art amuses, oil rigs pump amid wildflowers, Rich watches for birds and we observe local life. We even find some great specimens of Texas Longhorns.
Life on the road is never dull. It’s the tales that emerge from our cycling that make it worthwhile. I’ll try to remember that the next time the roulette wheel comes up chip seal.