Texas Hill Country
October 12, 2020
Palo Duro Canyon and Amarillo, TX
Elevation: 3,711 ft.
Distance: 110.6 mi.
Odometer: 733.3 mi.
Woke up and actually got going for once. Was about to make it on the road only a little after 6:00 AM. Then I noticed I had a rear flat. The culprit was a one-inch piece of metal sticking straight up inside the tire. I know the tires are supposed to be flatproof, but it's hard to blame it for not stopping a one-inch piece of metal. I was already packed up, so I used the tube I keep for quick access in my wedge bag under my top tube. Put the punctured tube back where the good one was, intending to patch it later. Considering I was trying to get to Palo Duro Canyon early enough to do some hiking, it wasn't a good start to the day.
The wind was about 20 mph from the southwest, gusting to 30 mph. I was heading due west. That's effectively very close to a straight headwind. I was moving 10 mph when I was trying, 8 mph at cruising speed. More than once I yelled at the air. This went on for 50 miles. I was gaining elevation on slow inclines the whole while.
I started seriously considering going to Amarillo instead of Palo Duro Canyon. It would make tomorrow shorter. It looked like it might rain, which would make both hiking and camping in the canyon less fun. And best of all, Amarillo was to the north (tailwind), and Palo Duro Canyon was to the south (headwind). I had plenty of time to debate with myself while I was fighting the headwind, and started thinking that I might not get the chance to go to Palo Duro Canyon again, and just that I didn't wanna wuss out. I eventually decided that I'd man up and go.
The route I'd planned on involved a private road with "No Trespassing" signs posted. So did everything my Garmin came up with. I eventually stopped and asked directions. The only way in was going to be even farther than I thought. In fact, the only entrance was in such a place that it would've been quicker if I'd planned a different route for the last few days.
Went ahead and turned south. The wind was starting to die down a little. After a while, I started feeling a little bump under my front wheel, like there were bumps in the road. Didn't see any though, and they kept coming on regular intervals, like it was once per revolution. I thought maybe I'd broken a spoke, and since I have no spares, that would be disaster. Stopped to check things out. Didn't look like any spokes were broken, but wait a minute...ah, crap. Flatproof, my ass!! I mean, I've gotten maybe two front flats in my life before, and they were on tires that could hardly be called "flatproof." After this morning, I hadn't put a good tube in my quick access bag, so I went ahead and patched the tube instead. The panhandle must not like me. Last time I biked through, I got three flats in one day, and an entire tire had to be thrown away.
Finally made it to Palo Duro Canyon, two hours after I'd hoped, only to find out that there weren't any campsites. The ranger mentioned an RV park just outside the park entrance. I figured that would work, so I got a day pass and asked which one trail I should hike.
I'd been warned for a few days that I'd have a lot of fun coasting into the canyon, but might hitch a ride on the way out. Well, I remembered what happened last time I was warned about a hill in the panhandle. Right. Caprock. Got it. Turns out this one was for real. It is, after all, the 2nd-largest canyon in America. The road in and out of the canyon was a 10% grade for two miles. To the layman, that means long and STEEP. After the descent in, I now know for sure that my brakes are really good.
Less than halfway through my hike, I already knew it was worth it to come. Palo Duro Canyon is something every Texan should see. Weird to think that there's this big, beautiful place right here in Texas that I've never seen. I can't even think of anyone I know that's ever seen it. And that's right here in Texas! Made me realize that it's truly a big world out there. You just have to get out and see it. Started thinking about all the places I've never seen, and probably never will. Made me want to go have more adventures. I thought about how cool it was that Peyton's also the adventurous type, having already done so many herself. Then I wondered why so few of ours have been together. I guess I got a little sad. Maybe someday they will be.
The hike was an out-and-back, and on the way back, it sprinkled a little. Right as I got back to Freebird, it started raining for real. As I pushed off to leave the park, I realized that I'd have to climb the big hill in the rain.
I stopped in front of the hill just to look at it for a second before I took it on. Before today, I figured that I should be able to make it out of Texas without using my granny gear. Fail. Occasionally, people passing in cars would yell encouraging words out the window. I guess I was quite a sight.
When I got back to the park entrance a little after 6:00 PM, it was still raining lightly, and according to the ranger, it would keep raining tonight. Amarillo was 25 miles away. I now had tailwind. I figured I had at least two hours of daylight to work with, so if I could hold 12 mph with a tailwind, I'd make it. I'd have to get a hotel, but after today, I've earned it.
On my way to Amarillo, I remembered that awesome burrito place Peyton and I once had here. Couldn't remember where it was, other than somewhere on the interstate, and I wasn't about to ride up and down the interstate looking for a burrito. Tried the Garmin just in case, and it found the place and gave me directions and the phone number. Holy crap! With 108 miles behind me, that was the absolute best burrito I've ever had.
Found a Motel 6 that was worth every penny and here I am. It's early in the voyage, but this may be the day I remember as the most epic. A lot of it was self-inflicted, too. Sure, I can't control inclines or headwind, but I could've decided not to go to Palo Duro Canyon, or to stay in that RV park instead of heading to Amarillo. In fact, the detour to go to Palo Duro Canyon added an extra 41 miles compared to going straight to Amarillo. Saves a few miles tomorrow though. And I think every bike tour needs an epic day of ultra distance, relentless headwind, rain, and a hill that makes you want to cry. I'm glad I had a day like today. But I won't mind if there aren't any more.
from Pedal for Potatoes