I have never been to Texas and would have expected it to be the last place I would want to ride a bike. I have heard that almost everyone carries guns, and I have read about cyclists being harassed in the US south.
In the weekend paper I was pleasantly surprised to read an article by a couple cycling through Texas at the end of a round-the-world self-propelled trip. The present leg is to cycle from Costa Rica to Vancouver, and it follows rowing across the Atlantic. You can read more about their trip at http://www.expeditioncanada.com but I copy what they said about Texas:
'My word, I can't believe y'all are crossing the U.S.A. on your bicycles. I've heard of people doing things like that, but I've never actually seen it for real," the gas-station attendant drawled.
Julie and I were in Texas, having stopped in a service station to purchase snacks for the road. The attendant's surprise was a fairly typical reaction as we passed through America's largest coterminous state.
The Texans' curiosity and surprise stem from the fact that very few long-distance cyclists travel through the state.
We were a complete novelty.
Ironically, even though Julie and I saw only four adults on bicycles during our passage through Texas, it turned out to be the most bike-friendly region we've encountered after cycling through 16 countries around the world.
All the roads we travelled sported three-metre-wide shoulders, which, when combined with the courteous drivers who would pull out to give us even more room, offered a level of safety we've not experienced before now.
For the most part, we travelled north through the heart of rural Texas on Highway 83. This quiet road traverses ranch country in the south and then more agricultural farm land in the north.
Our route bypassed all the major cities, and most of the communities we encountered ranged from 300 to 1,500 in population. Many of the towns were founded as early as the mid-1700s, and sported skillfully crafted stone and brick buildings in their centres.
The proximity of towns allowed Julie and me to eat most of our meals in diners, which offered enormous, tasty meals for reasonable prices. Hotels, too, were frequent and affordable, although most often we opted to camp in the fields and wilderness off the road.
Our highlight in Texas, though, was the people. Texans are extremely proud of their state and went to lengths to make sure we enjoyed ourselves. The police would stop to give us directions and offer assistance. Road workers insisted on giving us bottles of icy water to combat the heat. And motorists stopped their cars to say hi or to give us chilled drinks. Even paying for our meals in diners was difficult, as invariably a friendly farmer would insist on picking up our tab.
Texas may not be world-renowned for its scenery, but the landscape comes alive in the red light and long shadows of the setting sun. Windmills are another charming (and common) sight, clattering and squeaking as they use dry winds to pump well water for thirsty cattle.
And, while a local explained to us that Texas doesn't have mountains, it has holes, the state is proof that holes can be beautiful. Deep canyons, carved by wind and water, create Wild West backdrops of hoodoos and cactus. The rich red clay changes hue throughout the day like a concave Ayers Rock.
After a pleasant 10 days cycling through Texas, we crossed into New Mexico and spent a day crossing its drought-stricken northeast corner before entering Colorado. Since we left Texas, the road conditions have deteriorated, but are still excellent by world standards.
After ascending Raton pass at the boundary of New Mexico and Colorado, Julie and I were treated to a spectacular and familiar sight: the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Suddenly the scenery doesn't look so foreign, and we feel like home is close.