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  1. #1
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    Big Bend NP in late April advice needed

    I am looking for a 2-week tour in late April and in this thread, I asked for destination suggestions. After considering the suggestions, I've decided to look into a loop out of Alpine, TX that is a tilted figure "8". The loop starts/ends in Alpine goes up to Ft. Davis and then down to Marfa back through Alpine to Marathon down to Big Bend NP and then back up to Alpine (proposed route map in mapmyride)

    I have some questions about it and hope someone who has toured there can help.

    1) It appears the wind direction is from the south. Will the wind likely be a major factor on this tour?

    2) Is it better to overnight in Ft. Davis or Marfa? Should I do start with short rides and spend a night in both?

    3) It is about 80 miles from Big Bend NP (Study Butte) to Alpine with hills. I don't believe there are any services between the two places. Has any one stealth camped along highway 118 in west Texas?

    4) Taking a rest day in Chisos Basin and stealth camping between Alpine and Study Butte, the route above would take 8 days of 50+ miles/day. Is this reasonable at this time of year and with this route? Given the loop I mapped above, should I plan to take longer to ride it?

    5) I see that there is another way to go north from Big Bend and that is taking the road west to Presidio that goes along the Rio Grande and then north to Marfa. But, in this thread, cyclebum said that the road was dangerous. Has anyone else ridden this?

    6) Should I start somewhere other than Alpine (which has an Amtrak stop)?

    Any information you can give me would be useful.
    Last edited by raybo; 01-11-13 at 02:58 PM.
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  2. #2
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    the southern tier of the Adventure Cycling maps goes through that area and i followed it (mostly) and a tour a number of years ago. the entire southwestern part of Texas that i am familiar with is suitable for stealth camping. just get off the road when nobody is looking. find a conventient swale and set up camp.

    that area south of Alpine to Big Bend is pretty desolate and very dry, i wouldn't be surprised is there are no services or water available. i've found it necessary on occasion to stop at a private residence and ask for water. your personality and safety concerns will no doubt dictate whether or not this is an option.

  3. #3
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    might encounter snow.. then.. check local weather.. being an NP you can find thePark website.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    Raybo, I'll answer by the numbers.

    1)Wind is always luck of the draw. 30 mph out of south today at Alpine. Don't ride south today. Wind was not a significant factor on a ride there last Sping.

    2)How much rose smelling is on your agenda? If camping, that can be done in Marfa at Felipe's rv park. PM me for details.

    3)Cowhead Ranch is the overnight spot on 118. 'Bout halfway.

    4)Yeah, it's reasonable, depending on winds and rose smelling. 2 overnights at Chisos is recommended. Lots to do there. The grade into the park is VERY steep. Pedal or push.

    5)I have only driven 170. Will ride it early Feb. There are memorials on that highway for two cyclists who lost control and plummeted over the edge. So we were told. I did not confirm this. It is steep and winding in sections. No shoulder. Many cyclist do ride 170 without incident. There are a couple of primative camp spots.

    6)Alpine is fine as your route will cover many of the major attractions. Do not leave out La Loma del Chivo hostel in Marathon. Totally unique.

    Link to my route in Feb.
    Last edited by Cyclebum; 01-11-13 at 05:27 PM.
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  5. #5
    Senior Member saddlesores's Avatar
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    howdy, i used to live out that way, just east of marathon, before moving to china.

    it should be warm enough in april (i moved out there in january, 90 degrees), but weather
    can be unpredictable. except for the wind. there will be wind. only the direction will be
    unpredictable.

    here's a guy riding that area in april:
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p..._id=49488&v=3w

    folks is pretty friendly out that way. if you're worried about water/camping, check in with
    the local sheriff, or a coffee shop. they know who owns which parcels, and who would be
    willing to let you set up your tent or stop for water.

    i'm thinking that memorial to the cyclists is to two motorcyclists who died during the
    annual buzzard rally, hit by a car on a blind curve.

  6. #6
    Senior Member adventurepdx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by raybo View Post
    6) Should I start somewhere other than Alpine (which has an Amtrak stop)?
    Alpine doesn't look like it has checked baggage service, meaning you can't get a boxed bike on/off the train. Nor does the Sunset Ltd/Texas Eagle, the train going through there, have special bike accommodations.
    http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/Conten..._Page&code=ALP

    Don't know if you are bringing a folding bike, but if you're not, this might put a crimp in your plans. El Paso looks to be the closest stop with baggage service, 200 or so miles to the west.
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  7. #7
    Bike touring webrarian
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    Quote Originally Posted by adventurepdx View Post
    Alpine doesn't look like it has checked baggage service, meaning you can't get a boxed bike on/off the train. Nor does the Sunset Ltd/Texas Eagle, the train going through there, have special bike accommodations.
    http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/Conten..._Page&code=ALP

    Don't know if you are bringing a folding bike, but if you're not, this might put a crimp in your plans. El Paso looks to be the closest stop with baggage service, 200 or so miles to the west.
    I was wondering about that. My bike is S&S coupled and I was going to bring it in its case, which is smaller than the carry-on baggage restrictions. As a result, I am assuming that I can "simply" carry it on.

    Is this understanding correct?
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  8. #8
    Senior Member adventurepdx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by raybo View Post
    I was wondering about that. My bike is S&S coupled and I was going to bring it in its case, which is smaller than the carry-on baggage restrictions. As a result, I am assuming that I can "simply" carry it on. Is this understanding correct?
    I can't speak from experience, but if it falls within the carry-on restrictions, it should be ok. Probably best to not refer to it as a bicycle, as Amtrak can get weird about that.

    Technically a folding bike that fits under the dimensions of 34" x 15" x 48" is ok on board any Amtrak train, but it has to be a "true" folding bike. Of course, the Amtrak website is a bit vague about what a "true" folding bike is.
    http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/Conten...=1251621565020
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclebum View Post
    Raybo, I'll answer by the numbers.
    5)I have only driven 170. Will ride it early Feb. There are memorials on that highway for two cyclists who lost control and plummeted over the edge. So we were told. I did not confirm this. It is steep and winding in sections. No shoulder. Many cyclist do ride 170 without incident. There are a couple of primative camp spots.
    I rode down 170 from Big Bend to Terlingua about 15 years ago. The road was not bad and there was no traffic, but it's true that there was no shoulder and locals even then talked about cyclists who had gone off the edge on the looonnngg downhill into Terlingua.

    In my case we had delayed until late May (big mistake), it was over 100 degrees, and there was a bar w/ a beer-drinking goat at the end of an insanely long downhill, so I let it rip. Total idiot, hit 58 mph on a seriously loaded mountain bike riding a rear wheel I had built up three weeks prior, w/o knowing anything about building wheels.

    And yes, Clay Henry Junior was waiting at the bar. Give him a longneck and he'd guzzle it and toss the bottle over his shoulder onto the rocks next to him.

    Texas.


    As an aside, coming down 67 from Marfa we were passed by maybe five vehicles during one long empty stretch, and two stopped to offer us water. One guy wouldn't take no for an answer, put a gallon jug on the ground, and drove off.

    Again, Texas.
    Last edited by northerntier; 01-12-13 at 06:42 AM.

  10. #10
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    I'll throw out a few thoughts. There is an interesting historic lodge at Davis Mtn state park, built by the CCC in the 1930's, I think. The road from Marathon to Big Bend seems longer than it actually is. The climb to Chisos Basin is steep. The Ross Maxwell Dr on the west side of Big Bend would be a nice out and back. I like the road to Presidio but I've only driven it, not on a bike. That would be my choice for a return route. If you have time, I don't think you would be bored spending another couple of days in Big Bend.

  11. #11
    Bike touring webrarian
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    Quote Originally Posted by adventurepdx View Post
    I can't speak from experience, but if it falls within the carry-on restrictions, it should be ok. Probably best to not refer to it as a bicycle, as Amtrak can get weird about that.
    I measured my bike box and it is 26x26x10, which are the airline maximum dimensions. But, Amtrak says its maximum dimensions are 28x22x14, more linear inches but not the square dimensions I need. Will some stop me from taking my bike box on the train?
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  12. #12
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    Probably be ok. Especially since you fall within the linear inch allowance. Up to the conductor and what mood he's in that day. You could ship the bike by bus.
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  13. #13
    Bike touring webrarian
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    I did a bit more research and discovered there is a bus by All Aboard America that runs from Midland to Alpine whose website claims it runs twice daily.

    If this works, then I can fly San Francisco to Midland on Southwest (no luggage charges) and then takes the bus. As an added kicker, the bus goes all the way to Presidio which might figure in somehow.

    Does any know anything about this bus?
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  14. #14
    Senior Member adventurepdx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by raybo View Post
    I measured my bike box and it is 26x26x10, which are the airline maximum dimensions. But, Amtrak says its maximum dimensions are 28x22x14, more linear inches but not the square dimensions I need. Will some stop me from taking my bike box on the train?
    Again, I don't have much experience in this department. I've been on many a train where there were carry-on items over the restriction dimensions, so you may have no trouble. But as cyclebum says, a lot is up to conductor/train crew.

    But I'm assuming you're going to bring more than just a bike on board, and this is another area where you might run into trouble. You can only bring two pieces of luggage as carry-on, and the bike in case will count as one. You'd probably be okay getting a set of panniers plus case on board, but they'll probably give you grief if you trundle on four panniers, tent, etc with a bike in a case.

    I'll also note that train personnel tend to be more forgiving of carry-ons (in amount and size) on small town baggage service-less stops somewhere down the line, vs. the major city at the start of the line, where there's plenty of Amtrak crew running around.
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by raybo View Post
    I did a bit more research and discovered there is a bus by All Aboard America that runs from Midland to Alpine whose website claims it runs twice daily...

    ...

    Does any know anything about this bus?
    sounds good. i say "get on the bus Gus!".

  16. #16
    Bike touring webrarian
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    Using the new itinerary feature of the tour planning system on my website, I've started building the touring plan for this ride, should anyone be interested.
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  17. #17
    Senior Member saddlesores's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by raybo View Post
    I did a bit more research and discovered there is a bus by All Aboard America that runs from Midland to Alpine whose website claims it runs twice daily.
    you could also bicycle from midland-odessa to marathon and alpine......thru big bend........
    and then to el paso and take the train back.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    Link to another attraction, west of Presidio, that I did not know about until today. Hot springs resort. Days ride.

    For a cyclist, there's 3=4 weeks of stuff to savor in the BB. You'll have an excuse to come back.
    Last edited by Cyclebum; 01-12-13 at 08:02 PM.
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  19. #19
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    Looks like a great trip. I've been on most of the route on a motorcycle and it is amazing country. It might be out of your range but considering Balmorhea State Park and McDonald Observatory while you are in the area. I can post a link of my trip with a few pictures in you are interested.

  20. #20
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    Okay, I'll ask a little bit of a crazy question, yeah I'm paranoid. How much of a risk around BB do you have of running into drug runners? I'm looking quite a bit about having my trip to west central TX in early August go on down into BB and my biggest worry is about running into the drug runners/illegals more than anything else. Like I said...yeah I'm paranoid.

  21. #21
    Senior Member Cyclebum's Avatar
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    Rightfully paranoid from what you see in the news. For 99.99% of folks minding their own business, just a bunch of hysterical hype. I'm more worried about being raided by the Border Patrol at my campsite on the Rio than about drug runners or illegals.
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  22. #22
    Bike touring webrarian
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikenh View Post
    Okay, I'll ask a little bit of a crazy question, yeah I'm paranoid. How much of a risk around BB do you have of running into drug runners?
    A couple thoughts.

    I suspect that drug runners aren't going to be concerned about a bike rider on a paved road.

    I will only be staying in campsites, motels, and/or rented RVs.

    Big Bend is a national park patrolled by both the Border Patrol and NPS rangers. I have much faith in their abilities.

    Something random can occur at any time.

    My main concerns at the moment are water and heat.
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  23. #23
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    Have you seen this CGOAB journal?
    http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...id=311910&v=4k

  24. #24
    Bike touring webrarian
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    Quote Originally Posted by reed523 View Post
    No, I hadn't. Thanks for the reference.
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