Mending Fences

Clearly we were on opposite sides of the insurmountable divide. Rich held firmly to his stance, and I to mine. There was no meeting of the minds.

It was all a matter of numbers. 1,000 was the critical figure. We were in easy agreement many miles back, that we wanted to reach 1,000 miles before ending this cycling tour. Now that we were zeroing in on the finish line, we had reached an impasse.

It all depended on how you counted. Rich included our shakedown ride the day prior to departing on our tour, as well as a few miles biking to and from the Presidential Museum. Being a purist, I included only those miles we traveled moving forward “on tour.” Those peripheral distances were not legitimate. The difference came down to 20 miles.

Based on Rich’s planned route to our end point, he would easily reach 1,000 but I would come up short. “Just so you know, I’m not stopping until I reach 1,000,” I informed him. “Can’t you just do some extra miles on your own?” he griped. He was getting tired and could smell the end. “No deal.” I made a few suggestions for altering our route to lengthen it slightly, but they fell on deaf ears. The ugly clash hung over us.

With three days to go, lodging proved difficult in arranging our next destination. With great trepidation, I offered an alternative. To my great surprise, Rich was receptive. It involved quieter roads, offered a artsy community, and solved our math issues. Sold. Crisis averted. Maybe.

It happened on the long downhill into town. Switching gears to get more power, nothing happened. Trying again, attempting other gears, still nothing. I was suddenly grateful for the descent, as I coasted well over a mile to catch up to Rich. Standing to climb the final hill and limping into town, I feared the worst. We had nothing but small towns between us and our finish, with nary a bike shop in the offing. “I’ll see if I can fix it,” Rich offered. Then uttered the words I did not want to hear. “If I can’t, we’ll just have to ask your brother to come pick us up.”

We had found winning accommodations in Clinton. The tidy downtown provided a boutique hotel called the Screen Door Inn (and yes, our room had a screen door). The restored building was spare and spacious, with a hint of its original bones revealed in the walls. Rich set up shop in the back of the lobby and set to work. It became obvious that the gear cable had broken, and although he had never done it before, he was able to stretch the remainder to reconnect it. A quick test proved the gears were working again – the tour was still on! Rather than giving it a street test, I preferred to rely on faith. I just did not want to know if the triumph was to be short lived.

RIch fixing my bike

While strolling through town in the afternoon, we followed a BBQ flag to find a music venue with food trucks and event set-up going on. Learning that there was a concert that evening, we knew we’d found our evening meal and entertainment.

Returning at the appointed time, we purchased lawn seat tickets. The ladies from the Chamber of Commerce were nice enough to lend us chairs and we set up right at the front of the grass. A man behind us in line at the BBQ truck told us he was a friend of the lead singer of the band, and that he was a real entertainer. He was so right.

BBQ truck

Michael Hix concert 1

This was no small town troupe. Michael Hix and his band are from the Fort Worth area and play to audiences throughout Texas. They were excellent musicians, and Michael knew how to work the crowd. He was constantly walking into the audience, throwing out funny one-liners and engaging everyone in the act. They did a history of Rock ‘n Roll in the first half, music that we knew well. Much of the choice of music was spontaneous, taking cues from the crowd appeal. So it wasn’t surprising that after the break they moved into country music, which brought the crowd to their feet – dancing. Michael’s outrageous impersonations of Tina Turner and Mick Jagger had us roaring with laughter. He didn’t hold anything back.

Michael Hix concrete 2Michael Hix concert 3

We thought our experience couldn’t get any better until breakfast the next morning. Instead of offering breakfast at the hotel, they gave us vouchers to the Corner Drug Cafe next door. It seemed a wise business model. The cafe was a real throwback to the soda fountain of old, and for a change offered a menu with more than fried eggs and hash. I voted my avocado toast, apple cinnamon protein muffin and latte my best breakfast of the trip! Even though Rich had to deviate from his usual ham and cheese omelette, he was downright pleased with his scrambled eggs and biscuit. And that muffin.

Rich at corner drug cafeCorner Drug Cafe

Setting off in the sunshine down a quiet road that avoided the highway and trucks, all felt right with the world. We had mended our fences and had another unique experience in the process. My bicycle was as good as new. That 1,000 miles was still within reach.

Pampered Cycle Touring

I never even checked the menu online. And my quick glance through the windows which revealed white linen tablecloths didn’t register meaningfully. The name “Bistro” along with rave reviews about the creative dining sold me. In the last three weeks I’ve been in so many eateries specializing in “comfort food” that I jumped at the chance to have a meal prepared by a true chef. I set my heart on eating there.

My plans were almost scuttled when the predicted rain materialized about dinner time. I feared that Rich would balk at both having to cycle the two miles to dinner and risk getting wet. But a break in the weather allowed us to set off. The first few raindrops fell just as we approached the restaurant.

Stepping inside the Across the Street Bistro by Andreas in Corsicana, our cultural faux pas was instantly obvious. The sophisticated narrow dining room with Art Deco table settings, and the upscale attire of the diners was our first clue. The hesitation on the part of the hostess when we revealed that we did not have a reservation was our second. Her sidelong glance took in at once Rich’s track shorts and cycling jersey, my thermal top and capris tights, our clumsy cycling shoes and the helmets we gripped on one hand with our handlebar bags in the other. Sweat lingered in our jackets. The fleeting look of candid astonishment was quickly replaced with a professional warm welcome.

As it happened there was one table left, a high top table nearest the door and lacking a tablecloth. It suited us just fine. The hasty explanations we offered for our odd attire were graciously acknowledged, but clearly superfluous by that point. We were now their diners, and would be treated with the same high level of service granted any other customer.

Panic registered only momentarily as I watched Rich’s reaction to the menu. His eyes swept over the expensive full bottles of wine and nouveau cuisine, glowing large. But he recovered as quickly as the hostess. As I found numerous savory dishes to delight my palate, Rich honed in on the New York strip steak special that our server described in exquisite detail. I finally settled on the lobster risotto and inventive Bistro salad. And they even had a house Chardonnay by the glass. As Rich warmed to the idea I began to breathe again.

“I could have worn my polo shirt and wind pants,” Rich offered with his first sip of wine. We giggled, knowing it was not a huge improvement. “It’s okay, your bare legs are under the table now,” I concluded.

Molly and Rich at the Bistro

It was a dining experience worth savoring, and we did our best to slow down and linger. The service was highly refined, and the unhurried delivery of each course encouraged this leisurely pace. For added entertainment, we enjoyed people watching. The trendy young women gathered for a birthday party. The wait staff impeccably dressed in black aprons and starched white shirts, numbering no less than four to serve the party of five opposite us. The restaurant owner paid us a visit, and Executive Chef Andreas himself came around to greet all the tables, including ours.

Throughout our dinner, I could see the rain pouring down outside the windows. But as with the remainder of the meal the timing was perfect. There was a let-up in the showers just as we exited the restaurant. Giddy following our divine evening meal, we hightailed it back to our budget motel. The puddles and dripping trees posed more of a hazard than rainfall.

Rich outside the BistroMolly in raingear after the Bistro

Tomorrow will probably bring another cafe boasting catfish and chicken fried steak or Mexican delicacies. But for one night I dined in style. Even when cycle touring, I appreciate being pampered.

Down Home Hospitality

I would never have found it without Google Maps. But once I read its history, I knew where we’d be having breakfast that morning. Having gotten an early start, we relished the low morning sun that was already warming the day. It was easy to appreciate our constant companions, the wildflowers, and take in the rural farms. Arriving in Dew, an unincorporated community that is home to 70 people, we found little more than a welcome sign. But I knew that Dad’s Place was just a touch further along the local road.

“Dad” is Monte Atchley, a lifelong resident of Dew. Moving his grandparents’ home place to this spot and renovating in keeping with its original rustic feel, he opened Dad’s Place just last year. It’s a family affair, involving his wife and children. His goal was to provide a country store and cafe that catered to the locals. Sure enough, when we came through the door four regulars were hanging out on the cafe stools while Monte tended the grill. They recognized us as outsiders instantly (that wasn’t hard!) and conversation flowed swiftly and easily. Friendly hardly begins to describe it.

I devoured the tender and filling pancakes I ordered – the best yet. “He makes his own batter,” the waitress divulged. I was stoked and ready to cycle again, yet reluctant to leave, savoring the experience. The community of Dew is lucky to have Dad’s Place – and so were we.

Molly at Dad's Place

Molly and Rich with Dad at Dad's PlaceRich in front of Dad’s Place

Our destination for the day was Fisherman’s Point, a large chunk of land on Richland-Chambers Reservoir. The combination of cabins, RV sites and camping were clearly secondary to the activity happening at the dock and boat launch. Fishing was the focus here. We lingered in the shade of the office after checking in, cooling off with cold drinks and getting the lay of the land from Colleen who ran the place. “See those picnic tables over there, across the inlet? Take your pick, and pitch your tent anywhere you like.” It was that kind of place. An institution.

Rich at Fisherman’s Point office

The sun was hot, but in the shade of the huge trees there was just enough breeze to be very comfortable. In fact, this was the first day in almost three weeks that we did not have a strong wind! The calm lake was perfect evidence. I followed Rich’s example and folded my sleep mat into a chair leaning against a tree. It made a delightful spot for reading. I’ll take the outdoors any day over a dreary motel room.

Molly and tent Fisherman’s PointFisherman’s Point

Birds cackled, screamed and sang all night long. Fish in the inlet thrashed and splashed. Some adventurous fishermen fired up their launch in the wee hours of the morning. I had the odd feeling that when I emerged from the tent I’d find myself in the tropics. But no, dawn delivered me right back out into that bastion of Texas outdoorsmanship.  We may not have fished, but they accepted us all the same.

Smooth fast roads and continued light winds delivered us to Corsicana by late morning. Passing down the main street in the historic downtown we noticed a boisterous gathering in a pocket park. Slowing down next to the street-side picnic tables, we were immediately invited to join the throng. Free hot dogs, chips and soft drinks were on offer. Live music emanated from the park, and and a clown sat at the table next to ours. It was all part of the lead up to Derrick Days, the community festival happening over the weekend.

Molly Rich at Derrick Days 1Molly Rich at Derrick Days 2

Corsicana has a colorful history tied to oil. It became Texas’ first oil boom town after oil was accidentally discovered in 1894 when water prospectors were drilling an artesian well to expand the city’s water supply. Soon oil wells sprang up all over the city, and Corsicana became the site if the first commercial oil field in Texas. Wealth flooded the city, and left behind a collection of big mansions in what is now known as the Carriage District.

The annual festival still pays tribute to those oil days. Our new found friends informed us there would be more food and music that evening. We promised we’d be back. We can never get enough of that down home hospitality.

Beyond Bluebonnets

We could have called this the Texas Wildflower Tour. But we had no way of knowing that every mile we covered would be brilliantly painted by roadside wildflowers.

We were already familiar with the Texas Bluebonnets. They lured us into the Hill Country, causing us to reverse our route just to see them again. The blue spikes topped with a tinge of white are irresistible, just like their larger cousin the lupine which grace the scenic highway on the North Shore. But bluebonnets were only the beginning.

Molly cycling by bluebpnnets

At first it was the Indian Paintbrush, another bloom familiar to us Minnesotans. The reddish orange spikey flowers were joined by other reds, yellows, oranges, whites and purples. We tried to photograph them as we found each new variety. It was a fun yet never ending task. Just as one set of flowers disappeared, new ones came to take their place.

Texas wildflowers 1

We found the flowering cacti to be especially appealing. For all the times we’ve seen cactus, we have never seen them in bloom. The prickly pear burst out in yellow and orange flowers.

Flowering yellow cactusFlowering orange cactus

As we moved into the northeastern part of the state, we detected a definite change. First, flowers that were petering out in the Hill Country were just coming into bloom. It was a spring resurgence. Even bluebonnets made a return appearance.

Texas wildflowers 2

Then the further into the Piney Woods we got, the thicker the vegetation. No longer did we see delicate little blossoms. New bushy varieties took hold, as did tall flowers like black eyed Susans. Competing for sunshine in the heavy undergrowth, when they thrived they dominated the roadside.

Roadside wildflower mix

The sheer delight of mixed BLOSSOMS lining the roadway called to us. We couldn’t resist wading into the explosion of color.

Rich in the wildflowersMolly in the wildflowers

We were drawn by the bluebonnets. Little did we know there was a whole world of Texas wildflowers, beyond the bluebonnets.

Woods and Weather

AD373C57-19F9-482C-8087-A18B8A3C7F19

Progress to date: 17 days, 721 miles

The memories from our last Texas Tour lingered. As we completed our wide arc around San Antonio and angled northeastward, I looked forward to revisiting the forested part of the state. Aptly called Piney Woods, East Texas receives a lot more rainfall than the more desert-like land we had been traveling. And it hosts plenty of pine and deciduous trees.

For a warm-up, we spent a night at Lake Somerville State Park camping in our humble tent. The campground was deserted, with only one other couple and the campground hosts holding down campsites. The park is designed for heavy equestrian use, with huge cages to hold horses right at the campsites. I’ve never seen that in Minnesota!

Lake Somerville campsite

The washrooms were a bit of a hike, and just in case he spotted a bird, Rich carried his camera on his trips through the woods. Indeed, he returned from one such journey with great elation. It wasn’t a bird. It was an armadillo! A live one! And by virtue of his foresight, he managed to get a picture of it. We’ve seen many a dead, squished armadillo on the roads while cycling, and were convinced there were no live ones to be seen. We now know differently. I’m still envious.

Armadillo

We truly reached Piney Woods when we stayed in Huntsville, on the edge of the Sam Houston National Forest. We could already detect the increase in rainfall, with far more underbrush and roadside wildflowers that had to compete with the additional vegetation. With an AirBnB right near the Sam Houston Park in town, we spent a warm evening walking through the well documented exhibits and buildings that were part of his heritage. Once again, we felt enriched by being right in town surrounded by local history.

Sam Houston Park

Not only did the heavier precipitation levels produce beautiful forests, but it also presented us with our first real threat of rain. While we have cycled in soggy conditions numerous times, if we can avoid it we will. In this case, the prudent thing seemed to be to book two nights in Crockett, and make plans for the in-between day based on the weather.

It turned out to be a winning strategy. Although I mourned losing out on spending a couple of days cycling all the way across the Davy Crockett National Forest and back, we dialed back our route to reduce it to a short day trip. The morning held heavy clouds, but remained dry. The clouds even broke enough to give us brief moments of sunshine. We could feel the heat and humidity building as we passed through the lush green and towering pines, and savored riding bikes liberated from all our gear.

Rich in Davy Crockett forest

Molly in Davy Crockett forest

Finishing up about lunchtime, we could see the line of angry dark clouds approaching. Instituting our contingency plans, we bought a bottle of wine and stopped by Pizza Hut to make sure they delivered. It wasn’t long after returning that the rain started. Thunderstorms rattled the air throughout the afternoon and by evening it was pouring. Snug in our B&B and smug about our dry dinner plans, we set up in the front parlor to enjoy our repast.

Dinner in B&B

The rain ended by morning. We’d beaten the weather. And it was time to begin moving out of the woods. I wasn’t so ready for that.  But no doubt Texas has plenty more to show me in our final remaining week of cycling.

Tales of the Road

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.

Rich by roadside

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!

Rich at county lineRich kissed the pavement

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.

Rich cycled farm road

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.

Molly at Taqueria shack

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. Cows and cattle egretsMusician lawn ornamentOil rig with wildflowers

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.

A Trip to the Library

Taking a rest day is not in my vocabulary. But after two weeks without a break, Rich was ready for a day off the bikes. He approached the subject carefully, suggesting a two night stay in College Station. Little did he know that I had already been eyeing the George Bush Presidential Library there, eager to visit it. A deal was struck. We were both happy.

Molly and Rich at Bush’s presidential library

Our timing proved to be unique. With Barbara Bush’s death just the day before, there was heightened interest in the library. Already the media was swarming the place, and preparations were in process for her burial there later in the week. Admission fees were waived, and ample volunteer guides were on hand to steer us through the exhibits and add personal notes of interest.

Entrance to Bush library

This was my first visit to a Presidential Library, but I already know it won’t be my last. I found the whole experience fascinating. I expected the exhibit to chronicle Bush’s years as President. What I didn’t realize was that it actually encompassed his entire life. It was a complete picture of the man, his background, his wife Barbara, his family, his career and his life principles. By the time I finished, I had gained a deep respect for both George and Barbara as role models as well as our country’s leaders.

I realized how little I really knew about Bush. I discovered the breadth of experience he had amassed before becoming President, and how each position prior to that one contributed to his depth of expertise and knowledge for the job. I found repeated messages about how he treated everyone with respect and continually reached out to others personally, resulting in his powers of diplomacy. And woven through it all was his commitment to family. From his firstborn to the large family photos with at least a dozen grandchildren, his and Barbara’s involvement in their lives never wavered. Nor did their devotion to community service. Above all his bravery in World War II, his political accomplishments, and his stint as President, my biggest takeaway is the constant drive to serve others that he and Barbara embraced.

I was impressed with the selection of themes for the numerous exhibits and the tasteful way they were presented. The numerous artifacts and photos wove a compelling story for each scenario. What I enjoyed most was that in addition to the informational write-ups, there were little “Did you know?” posts that delved into the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of George Bush and his family and compatriots. They contributed humanity and feelings to the exhibits.

Piece of Berlin Wall

A piece of the Berlin Wall, which came down during Bush’s Presidency

Molly and Bush’s limo

I had two favorite rooms. One was a replica of the Oval Office as it was in George Bush’s day. The docent pointed out that the desk was two sided. Best of all, they invited visitors to sit and pose in George’s chair. How could we could resist?

Molly in Oval Office

Second was the office George Bush used at Camp David. George himself narrates the description of various items in the office, including as mundane an item as his coffee cup warmer. I was amazed to learn that he spent three weekends a month there. What a blessing it was, mot only to have a place to retreat but to have space for family to join them. Equally important, George made Camp David available to other staffers during the week when it was not in use. Once again, his humanity reigned.

Camp David office

Exiting the building after spending over three hours there, it was impossible to miss the flags at half mast for Barbara. Just beyond, memorials we’re already being left for her. Not only flowers, but children’s books in honor of her untiring drive to improve literacy in our country. It was a very touching. A fitting closure for our unforgettable trip to the Library.

Memorials for Barbara Bush